Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker's Daughter by Liz Kessler

Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker's Daughter by Liz Kessler
Geared Towards: Ages 8-12
Published By: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7636-4202-0

Philippa Fisher is a girl no different from any other, except for the fact that she believes in fairies. She doesn't just blindly believe in them either; she knows they exist- has met one in person. But now her fairy godsister, Daisy, has gone back to wherever it was she came from, and Philippa has been feeling exceptionally lonely in her absence. Lucky for Philippa the feeling of loss goes both ways.

On a family vacation to a little known town in the middle of nowhere Philippa and her parents set out to have fun. Unfortunately for Philippa, her parents' idea of fun doesn't always match that of her own. Philippa loves her parents, but spending every waking moment with them here in this quaint, albeit pretty, little town doesn't really overwhelm her with excitement. She craves the attention and interaction of a relationship with someone her own age. With both of her best friends currently out of her life, Philippa just needs a friend she can count on- someone she can talk to and just be a kid with.

Never in a million years does Philippa think she'll find that person here in the tiny town of Ravenleigh Woods. Yet that's exactly what she finds. Robyn is a local with a story of her own, but like Philippa she doesn't want to share too much too quickly for fear of being rejected or laughed at. Whatever it is though, it must be good.

It's not every day life takes you on a path of mystery, which is why, with only so much time before her vacation draws to a close, Philippa knows she must get to the heart of Robyn's story. Because if her intuition is anything at all to go on, Philippa senses she and Robyn have far more in common than either first thought. And maybe, just maybe that's what brought them together in the first place.

As if on que, before she can even realize what's going on, Philippa suddenly finds herself face to face with her best friend, Daisy. That's right; here in Ravenleigh Woods. Daisy, her fairy godsister. Thought to be gone away forever to continue on her magical missions, Philippa is simply delighted to see Daisy again. Daisy claims she couldn't stand to be apart of Philippa any longer and tells her she's snuck off to see her, despite the rules at the ATC. It's a story Philippa would love to believe, except now she questions whether Daisy's unexpected arrival is because she sincerely wanted to see her, or if she's just part of another of Daisy's missions. Philippa soon decides she doesn't care what the reason; she's just glad to see Daisy again.

What she's not expecting though is how Daisy's turning up ties in with her friendship with Robyn. But maybe work and play can go hand in hand. When things start getting really strange, Philippa finds herself and her friends in real danger. With no one else to turn to, Philippa knows their only chance of survival lies in her hands. The time has come to suck up personal feelings and lay it all out on the line. Philippa wants Robyn to be her friend, but when push comes to shove she knows she doesn't have any more time to dance around the subject of Robyn's insecurities and secrets. Daisy's life depends on it!

Philippa Fisher and the Dream-Maker's Daughter is a stirring tale of enchantment bound to capture the attention of any young girl. Full of magic and excitement, this story brings life to those things which dreams are made of and showcases the importance of true friendships. Young girls everywhere are going to be drawn to this book, not only by the amazing story, but first and foremost by the resplendent cover. Let's face it, it's gorgeous! The whimsical colors and design called out to me, and I'm an adult. So I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they'll entice readers at the age level this is marketed to.

Note to Readers: Do not let the fact that this book is a sequel deter you from picking it up. If you really can't stand to read a follow up book without first reading the intial release, then by all means first pick up Philippa's debut adventure by Liz Kessler, Philippa Fisher's Fairy Godsister. Undoubtedly doing so will give you an all around feel Philippa and her history with Daisy. However, if this book sounds too good for you to pass up right now, know that you can easily jump right in without having first read the original book. I did, and I didn't have any trouble following along. Kessler did a great job of including enough information to keep new readers on track despite not being already familiar with Philippa's and Daisy's earlier story.

OUR RATING: 5 stars

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mother Osprey by Lucy Nolan

Mother Osprey: Nursery Rhymes for Buoys & Gulls by Lucy Nolan
Illustrated By: Connie McLennan
Geared Towards: Ages 4-8
Published By: Sylvan Dell
Publication Date: August 2009
ISBN: 978-1-934359-96-9

Today's is Talk Like a Pirate Day so I can think of no better time to share with you a review of Sylvan Dell's Mother Osprey: Nursery Rhymes for Buoys & Gulls; a book celebrating the world of nursery rhymes "from sea to shining sea". Everyone enjoys nursery rhymes, and most of the ones in this book will be probably seem oddly reminiscent of the ones you yourself were read as a child. But don't worry that this is going to be just another reprint of a collection you already have on your child's shelf. No, quite the contrary, because what you'll find here, in each rhyme, is a clever new rendition of Mother Goose's own original verses. Set to a tune that celebrates all things piratey and of watery goodness, Mother Osprey is a nonpareil.

Move over Mother Goose; Lucy Nolan is in the house! The whimsical quality of Nolan's new retelling of yesterday's nursery rhymes is irrefutable. The way Nolan took every rhyme, no matter the original topic, and rewrote it to tell a completely different story, while maintaining the initial cadence, is both creative and ingenious. And technically speaking, she did it flawlessly. As did Connie McLennan, who skillfully produced the classic style illustrations which also add to the fun, lighthearted tone of this book.

Plus, did you know that even while your child is reading nursery rhymes he can be learning too? It's true. Because no Sylvan Dell book can be complete without some form of educational gold dust sprinkled throughout. They are nursery rhymes, so naturally there are some that are comprised of nothing but sheer silliness. There are others, however, that actually take the time to educate while entertaining. Take for instance the rhyme titled "One Flamingo". In this amusing little piece readers get schooled on the names and classes of several waterfront creatures. (Example: Jellyfish in a group are called a smack and geese in a group are called a gaggle.)

There's more, of course, in the 'Creative Minds' section at the tail end of the book. The first two page spread focuses in on one or two particular aspects of each poem, and then offers more fun details about each. (Example: The fun fact for "Buoys & Gulls" explains what a buoy and gull really are.) Then there's a two page map that later ties in to a fun activity sheet where the reader is asked to located different things on the map. There are also a few poem-related questions that will test the readers knowledge and understanding of a handful of the poems. And last but not least, there's a small segment that simply allows readers to discuss the importance of water, the key component found in each nursery rhyme found in Mother Osprey.

So even if you're dubious as to how a rhyme originally penned about a lamb can be recreated to feature a clam or how one originally about a shoe now includes a shell, you should be sure to give this new collection a chance. It's remarkably funny, and I can almost bet you'll find yourself secretly trying to relearn your classic favorites with today's new spin.

OUR RATING: 5 hearts

Friday, September 18, 2009

Moose and Magpie by Bettina Restrepo

Moose and Magpie by Bettina Restrepo
Illustrated By: Sherry Rogers
Geared Towards: Ages 4-8
Published By: Sylvan Dell
Publication Date: August 2009
ISBN: 978-1-934359-97-6

I never thought this day would come. As a diehard fan of Sylvan Dell and their amazing children's books, I have never had anything but good words to say about their books that I've had the pleasure of reading and reviewing. Today, however, I'm going to break the cycle. Today, I'm not going to be able to tell you how much I adored this book; because if I did, it would be nothing more than a boldface lie. For the truth is, I really didn't like this one at all.

From the very start, Moose and Magpie by Bettina Restrepo seemed to feel disconnected and choppy. I wasn't sure where the story was going or if there even was a point.Unfortunately, it seemed like more time was spent building jokes for Magpie to tell than actually building a backbone to the story. Truthfully, even by the end of the story I wasn't really sure what the point of it all was. It could have been to show that while moose begin growing their antlers at a young age they eventually shed them like a snake sheds it's skin. It could have been, but I really don't have a clue. That's what happened in the story, but it was so heavily inundated with jokes, (Which if I'm being honest, many of them weren't even very funny.. even for a little kid.) that Magpie was telling, that it was hard to focus on what, if anything, was actually supposed to be taking place.

I mean no disrespect to the author, as I know each person's taste and style are different. And I know that no matter how popular or unpopular it ends up being, an author's work is like his/her own offspring. Despite my opinion on the book, this is a story that the author undoubtedly slaved over and put her heart into. As a reader though, I can't help but think back to other works published by Sylvan Dell. In doing so, I see much stronger structure to the writing styles which not only aides in the smoothness of each story's flow but also makes them more enjoyable to read.

As far as content is concerned, I really didn't think there was much to the actual storyline in Moose and Magpie. What I will give you though is that there were some good facts interspersed throughout the story every couple of pages. (These were separate from the story, and included in their own little subtext boxes.) It looks like the author attempted to work each fact in to the story itself, but a lot of the times the meaning was lost due to the lack of fluidity in the story telling.

There are, once again, several wonderful education resources to be found at the end of the book in the "Creative Minds" section that all fans of Sylvan Dell have likely come to know and love. In this particular CM section readers won't find as many play along games, but they will find plenty of moose facts ranging from those regarding tangible interaction between real moose and birds, what moose eat, moose antlers and body parts, and to the complete life cycle of the moose. The one game that is included is a fun matching section where readers are asked to match pictures of each moose body part with facts about those parts.

All in all, given the combination of educational facts and the charming illustrations by Sherry Rogers, I'd rate this book somewhere in the middle of the scale. To me it lacked too much in the way of the story, because of this I didn't really sense any passion or excitement coming through. I did appreciate the overall effect of the complete package, but it won't be a book my girls and I read over and over again. As a matter of fact, I'd be good never reading it again, and that makes me quite sad as we always love to read and re-read the titles in our growing Sylvan Dell collection.

OUR RATING: 3 hearts

Friday, September 11, 2009

Count Down to Fall by Fran Hawk

Count Down to Fall by Fran Hawk
Illustrated By: Sherry Neidigh
Geared Towards: Ages 4-8
Published By: Sylvan Dell
Publication Date: July 2009
ISBN: 978-1-934359-94-5

Nature is beautiful no matter what the time of year, but when Fall arrives there is no mistaking it for any other season. We know the minute it begins because the tree leaves start to shift from their vivid greens to an awe inspiring array of brilliant colors. Rich reds, stunning purples, golden yellows, bright oranges, and deep browns. Each of these will eventually fall to the ground, leaving the tree sparse and bare in preparation for Winter.

It is this evolution author Fran Hawk and illustrator Sherry Neidigh have given life to in their book Count Down to Fall. Perfect to read, right now, as we embark on the close of Summer and make our way head long into the cool, brisk days of Autumn. Readers who live in areas where the seasons do complete this phenomenal change, will assuredly find themselves inspired to look at nature a whole new way after reading this fun and informative book.

Count Down to Fall is a journey through the woods, past ten different deciduous trees. Through the rhyming stanza storyline, Hawk educates her readers about the different types of trees and what their leaves look like as they release their hold on their branches and start their slow, flutter to the ground. But the learning doesn't stop there. No, like with every Sylvan Dell release, there's more educational aspects hidden inside the fun story exterior. In addition to teaching readers about each specific tree, leaf, and fruit this book also teaches basic backwards counting from ten to one.

Remember, I said there were ten different trees featured, and the author has cleverly written her tale to show each tree losing a certain number of leaves. Starting with the first tree, the sweet gum, ten leaves falls to the ground. Next nine leaves float lazily down from the dogwood tree. I won't give any more away by continuing to list the trees, but you get the point.

Don't worry that young readers will shy away from this one because of the educational benefits. For as has been mentioned already, Sylvan Dell's line always blends the perfect amount of fun with education. Your kids won't even realize they're learning until it's too late!

Illustrated by the ever so talented Sherry Neidigh, this book will leave you counting down the days until you can see the changes in nature for yourself first hand. Bright, bold illustrations bring home the beauty of nature in the Autumn, and show readers just exactly what each tree and leaf should like. Seriously, I simply love how Neidigh incorporated so many aspects in to each of her lovely pictorial spreads. Each picture shows what the tree looks like in Fall; a close up of the bark, leaves- both in Summer and Fall, and any fruit the tree produces (such as pinecones and nut); and it presents it in it's natural environment, complete with pictures of the animals that would be living in, on, or around it. It's a complete illustration package.

The "Creative Minds" section, found at the end of the story, is another fine example of what Sylvan Dell brings to the table through their books. The first section gives information about each plant part (stems, seeds, roots, etc), and then has the reader match the part descriptions with a small picture of each one, as found in the story. The second section touches on the various shapes, sizes, and colors of the leaves. Again, readers are given a descriptive list of the shapes, and then are asked to match them to the pictures of leaves featured on the page. The third section talks about the importance of plants, and shows how each animal in the story relys on those plants for basic survival. Lastly, in the fourth section of the "Creative Minds" portion of the book readers are given pictures of five types of leaves in both their Fall and Summer state. They're then asked to match the leaves into pairs.

It's the best of both worlds, where in parent's are concerned. Your child reads this and enjoys a short break from the craziness of today's technology dependant world. He uses his brain as he not only processes the story and plays the games, but also as he learns something new. The best part of all, he has no idea how educational the experience actually was!

Fall is almost upon us, and with it comes the relief of cooler temperatures and the beauty of changing leaves. So, can you think of a better time than now to settle down with your child to read Sylvan Dell's new release, Count Down to Fall by Fran Hawk? I certainly can't.

OUR RATING: 5 hearts

The Free Library of Philadelphia Needs Your Help!

If you or someone you know lives in the Philidelphia area you have likely already heard the disheartening news about what's to become of their Free Library there in the months ahead. Unfortunately, it seems that due to state budget cuts or simple lack of financial planning all of the Philidelphia Free Libraries are at risk of being closed effective October 2, 2009. As anyone with a love for books knows, we simply can't allow this to happen!

Books are a huge part of libraries, but what we must remember is that our libraries offer so much more than just the opportunity to read and borrow books. Additionally, they offer media services where patrons can check out audio and video products for use at home. They offer free on-site computer stations with internet service, so job seekers can look and apply for jobs; so students can do homework and online research; so seniors can get needed information about social security and other benefits. There are countless programs and services available to the community through the library, and all are free. That's why it is so important, especially in today's economy, for our libraries to be available and well funded.

With libraries being in such popular demand by children and adults alike, residents in the Philidelphia area must band together now to contact their elected state officials to let them know that losing the Philidelphia Free Community Library system is not an option. Let your voices be heard, and be sure to pass along the word to anyone you know who will also feel the loss should the government not come up with a budget solution quickly.

Here's the link to the Free Library of Philadelphia home page- When you get there a pop-up window should open up with the link for how to contact your local Philadelphia region elected official(s). Also, should you be interested in more information on this, please feel free to check out the library's We Need Action Now! page.