Dear Dragon Goes to the Library by Margaret Hillert, illustrated by David Schimmell

Margaret Heller began her career as a first grade teacher and it didn’t take her long to discover that there weren’t too many books out there that her students could read independently, so in the 1950s she began writing her own children’s stories, including the simple retellings of common fairy tales and the introduction of the Dear Dragon series. These were among the first books with a controlled vocabulary similar to the Dick and Jane Readers.

The Dear Dragon Beginning-To-Read Series became very popular and numerous illustrators (Carl Kock, David Helton, and Craig Deeley) have taken their hand in portraying this loveable character. Dear Dragon is featured in books about holidays and seasons, sports, and visits to common locations such as the zoo or the circus. In the New Dear Dragon books, beginning in 2008 with Dear Dragon, A Is For Apple, David Schimmell has created an adorable version of this creature sure to appeal to both children and adults. In the most current book, Dear Dragon Goes to the Library, our pet dragon friend helps his buddy return a pile of books to the local public library where they join other children in listening to the librarian read a story, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and drawing dot-to-dot pictures. Then they select some new books from the library shelves to borrow which they read together after they’ve returned home. Not only is this story readable, it presents the public library as an interesting and exciting place to visit plus it promotes a love for books. At the end of this story are some ideas for Reading Reinforcement, including Phonics, Phonemic Awareness, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Text Comprehension. There is also a list of the vocabulary from the text to review with the child.

Hilbert’s life spanned 94 years and her passing a year ago on October 11, 2014, is lamented by librarians all over the world. Yet she leaves behind a catalog of over 80 books which children today can still enjoy.

I wish to thank Netgalley and Norwood House Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Four Stars.

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Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Betsy Cornwell was born in New Hampshire, but currently resides overseas with her horse-trainer husband, and it’s the mystique of Ireland which has infiltrated the fanciful tale called Mechanica. At twenty seven, Cornwell has not forgotten her childhood, as she embues life into her youthful characters. Mechanica is Nicolette Delacourt Lampton’s story beginning in her early years when she is trained by her engineering mother instead of being forced into the traditional schooling of her peers. At a young age she is able to repair the fanciful creations of her mom, Margot, which her father, William, sells at an exhorbitant price to the curious. You see, her mom has magic in her touch, faerie magic, which makes her creations of delightful, winged insects come alive. Ironically, it is the fey croup which eventually kills her, the one whose only cure is the forbidden Lovesbane. After the Queen’s death from an overdose of this medication (more than a few drops is fatal), magic was banished from the realm. William, swayed by the hysteria, rejects all things fey and refuses to purchase this expensive item from the black market as he helplessly watches his wife die. The nine year old Nicolette is devastated by this loss, but continues to practice the craft her mother had taught her under the supervision of Mr Candery, the half faerie housekeeper/nursemaid, until the day her father brings home a new wife, Lady Halving, and her two beautiful daughters, Piety and Chastity, to Lampton Manor. Nicolette’s excitement on acquiring two playmates quality dissipates as her step sisters immediately show their scorn at her attempts at welcome and decide to mockingly refer to her as Nick. While out of town peddling his wares, her father is caught in the beginning hostilities between fey and man, becoming one of the first casualties of the banishment of faerie life. At the age of ten, Nicolette finds her life totally transformed with the immediate dismissal of the only link to her past, Mr Candery, and her new job title of household servant. Run ragged by her step family, her chores are made easier by the bits of magic left behind by the kindly Candery as well as various household cleaning inventions which lighten the load. On her sixteenth birthday, Nick mysteriously finds a letter from her mom leading her to a secret workshop containing her mother’s fanciful creations. Back in her element, Nick practices her craft and begins to design new creations with the help of Jules, a tiny intelligent mechanical horse who organizes the others to help his new mistress in her numerous chores, including the sewing of the many outfits demanded by her greedy and vain stepsisters. When news of a ball is announced, they both must have new, stunning ball gowns just in case they get to meet the secluded, closely guarded Heir. Nick is more concerned about the Inventor’s Exposition, a sort of invention convention, to be held the following day. Here is her opportunity to break free of life under “The Steps” and set up her own business, if she could only find a likely sponsor interested in backing her designs.

As you might have guessed, this story is a unique twist on the Cinderella tale. While there is no fairy godmother, there is the magical Jules and the talented and resourceful Nicolette who has her own magic touch. With the help from her dwindling storehouse of fey “magic dust” and a couple of secret friends, Nick sets out to accomplish her goals of independence.

Utilizing elements of steampunk, a subgenre of science fiction (which in this instance tweaks 19th century technology with elements of Victorianesque society sprinkled with bits of fantasy), Cornwell has created a unique world complete with a struggle for power where nothing is what it seems. Some of the twists and turns are obvious while others are a surprise. The ending leaves wiggle room for a sequel as the threat of an all out war between the fey and the kingdom looms on the horizon. Beautifully written, the reader has been transported to this wonderland which casts a spell on all who enter. Fascinating more for the setting than the plot, the tale is told in exquisite detail, although the ending feels a little rushed and confusing and the two mysterious friends could use some additional fleshing out. In spite of the possible comparisons to Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Mechanica readily stands on its own merit. Four stars.

An electronic copy of this book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Getting Ready For Bed by Mary Lindeen

Currently with the Common Core Standards there is a push towards introducing nonfiction to young readers. Getting Ready For Bed by Mary Lindeen, is an emerging reader book designed to assist the early elementary student in developing their reading skills. With a defined set of frequently used sight vocabulary plus several common content words, the young child, after repeated readings with their parents, should be able to read the text independently.

What I like about this book is the way it models the bedtime procedure. It actually starts with the family dinner after which the children assist in cleaning up and doing age appropriate chores. There is a set aside play time with clean up, bath time, changing into pajamas, a bedtime healthy snack, brushing of teeth, and a nighttime story. The illustrations are photographs of all sorts of children representing different races. In this way, the reader can not only identify themselves in the book, but also realize that bedtime procedures are common to all cultures. At the end of the book are some suggested extension activities for parents to do with their children in order to enhance the reading process. Please note, the simplicity of the text will only appeal to young elementary age children who are just beginning to read independently, although it could also be used as a read-a-loud for preschoolers in order to reinforce bedtime procedures.

My only complaint is that the book idealizes family life with two parents and happy, smiling children who willingly follow directions. As I said, this book models appropriate behaviors, it doesn’t represent the reality of normal family dynamics. Three and a half stars.

I was given a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

I picked up this book to read for two reasons – first is the author and second is the subject. Susan Campbell Bartoletti is well known in library circles for her previous award winning literature including nonfiction works such as the 2006 Newbery Honor book – Hitler Youth and the 2009 ALA Best Books for Young Adults novel The Boy Who Dared. At a time when many states are embracing the Federally sponsored common core standards with its emphasis on the reading of nonfiction, it is important for teachers and librarians to seek out high quality subject matter to engage their students’ interests. Bartoletti is an author who easily meets all criteria. Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America deals with an immediately recognizable topic. Since this name has become a part of our cultural vernacular representing the unwitting spread of a deadly disease, I was curious about the details surrounding her life. After reading Bartoletti’s fascinating account, I can now fill in the blanks of my knowledge.

Mary Mallone was an Irish immigrant who made a decent living as a cook for privileged families in the New York City area at the turn of the century. While her skills in the kitchen were laudatory, she was a carrier of the deadly typhoid virus, infecting each household where she was employed. Using Sherlock Holmes type detective work, George Soper (a sanitation engineer who was hired to track down the cause of an outbreak of the disease in a well to do household) tracked down the culprit. Soper had a theory that certain individuals could be immune to a virus but still pass on the germs to others through contamination by unwashed hands. As a person who handled food, Mary’s prepared dishes put others at risk, especially those who ate her homemade peach ice cream dessert. Dr. Josephine Baker, a famous suffragette and doctor, assisted in arresting Mary when she refused to cooperate with authorities. The New York City Health Department in those days had the legal right to detain and quarantine individuals who were a threat to society without going through proper legal channels. Mary insisted she was healthy especially since she had never been sick with Typhoid Fever. Effectively imprisoned in a small cottage by Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island, she resented her loss of freedom and the way she was used as a human guinea pig, especially when doctors filled her with drugs in order to “cure” her of this curious infliction. To add insult to injury, when other typhoid carriers were located, they weren’t sent to a quarantine hospital on a remote island. There was a definite discrimination against Mary Malone especially evident when male carriers were allowed their continued freedom while hers was involuntarily curtailed. While the courts disallowed her release on civil liberties issues, Mary was still allowed her freedom for a brief period before being returned to her Island home for the remainder of her days after violating the terms of her release. Only she had the infamous honor of the title Typhoid Mary, a term noted not just in the US but throughout the world. Her story is a captivating look into life in America in the early 1900s when medical science was on the cusp of some incredible milestones. Eventually an inoculation against Typhoid Fever was created and the discovery of antibiotics helped curb the fatality of this disease, yet Mary was still ostracized. Her life was a tragic, albeit enthralling, saga which should mesmerize any reader.

Despite being a biography, Terrible Typhoid Mary uses a narrative style which reads like a fiction book. The documentation and bibliography represent the incredible amount of research gathered from newspaper articles, letters, and other primary sources, which enabled Bartoletti to accurately recreate the situations surrounding Mary Mallone’s life, also represented in a detailed time line. Mary’s only available written words were those of an unpublished letter to the editor of The New York American, but they provided a rich source of material reflecting her state of mind during the initial trauma. A note from the author about her research techniques, numerous relevant Illustrations and photographs, and a detailed index round out the 240 pages (176 of text). The manner of writing was straightforward, easy to read, and included explanations of various events, often comparing them to current life situations in order to enhance a child’s understanding of these historical times. A welcome addition to any school library shelf. Four stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for providing this ARC in exchange for a honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Let’s Learn About the Lord’s Prayer by Catherine DeVries, illustrated by Ryan Jackson

Let’s Learn About the Lord’s Prayer by Catherine DeVries begins with four year old Emma, a cute little girl with an appealing face, greeting the reader and inviting them upstairs to her room for a play date. Immediately the reader will feel like a welcome guest as Emma shows us one of her favorite things, a Teddy bear named Blueberry. Emma’s mom calls us down to the kitchen for a snack, but before we eat, Emma says a prayer. She then tells us about a new prayer she is learning, the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Lord’s Prayer. As Emma repeats the Lord’s Prayer she explains what the words mean with illustrations by Ryan Jackson to reinforce the concepts. Afterwards she explains that this prayer is a way to express our thanks to God. Back up in her room, she begins playing with Blueberry, teaching him the Lord’s Prayer as well.

The appealing illustrations and engaging tone create an enticing atmosphere for children to learn about the Lord’s Prayer. By having Emma introduce the topic, a child can learn about the love of a God and Jesus in a non threatening atmosphere. Most of the text consists of simple sentences and the prayer itself is broken down into small chunks which is perfect for Sunday School teachers or parents to introduce preschool or young elementary students to one of the basics of Christianity. Although simplified, the text might still be too difficult for some of the younger tots, although they will enjoy the coziness of the illustrations. This is the first book in the Introducing HeartSmart series exploring various key scriptures. There is also a website containing a custom song of an adapted version of the Lord’s Prayer. Three and a half stars.

This ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads and Amazon.

Vengeance Road by Emma Bowman

The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine is an American Legend which vies with the Tale Tales of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, yet contains a flicker of truth mixed in with the myth. Emma Bowman has taken aspects of this story and woven it into her own fictionalized version of events using some of the known historical facts to give her western tale a touch of reality.

Vengeance Row begins with heroine Kate Tompkins down at the creek hauling water where she sees smoke and rushes home to discover her house burning and her father hanging from a tree with the mark of a rose carved into his forehead. After burying her dad next to the grave of her mother, she rides off on her horse Silver, disguised as a boy, to avenge this seemingly senseless death. First, however, she must stop at Abe Colton’s house (according to her father’s instructions) where she finds a letter explaining the reason for his death. Kate would never have guessed that the murderers were after her dad’s diary with directions to a hidden gold mine her parents had found up in The Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix, Arizona. Although Abe is dead, his sons insist they accompany “Nate” (Kate’s disguised name) on her journey. Along the way they discover the identity of the murderers, the dreaded Red Rose Riders, led by vile Waylon Rose. Kate, Will and Jesse Colton, and Apache Liluye travel together, each pursuing their own goals while on the tail of the vicious gang. The resulting mayhem leads to an unanticipated climax which is guaranteed to surprise the reader.

Meant for young adults, this violent story is full of death via bee stings, hangings, shoot outs, Apache massacres, fires, and illness. Even the main characters aren’t safe from harm. There is a touch of romance once Kate’s true identity is discovered, but the journey through the haunted mountains in pursuit of revenge is the main focus. Taking place in 1877 Arizona, there is a map of the area at the beginning of the book so the reader can follow their trail. The tale is told in first person present tense using the supposed vernacular of the times which gets a little getting used to, but flows along at a brisk, richly detailed pace. At times the dialogue seems a little hokey or cliched with phrases such as: “Ain’t nothing more to it than that.” or “She’s the only thing left between me and the dark quiet of my own thoughts.” However, it is a western with the main character a tough eighteen year old female who is as capable as any man. The young age of the heroes who are able to outwit their elders is always appealing to YA readers. Four stars for the successful weaving of Kate’s story with the Lost Dutchman legend.

A thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Lord Byron’s Secret Obsession by H. C. Brown

I was curious. How does an historical romance involving two men compare to one about a man and a woman? I picked up Lord Byron’s Secret Obsession by H. C. Brown to explore the differences.

This novel is more matter of fact then I expected. There are no flowers, no romance, but an excess of sexual escapades. Yes there are expressions of love, but lust seems to be the overwhelming emotion. The plot is simple. Wealthy Lord Byron Wilton, heir to a Marquis, is desperately in love with Lord David Litchfield, the second son of a Duke. He enjoys binding and caning the young Adonis, sexually dominating his lover who seems to enjoy the submissive role. When Lord David publicly exhibits jealousy over Byron’s friend Lord John Henley, Byron buys a commission in the colonies to escape any resulting gossip. In 1792, sodomy was a situation punishable by death. Since British society was totally intolerant of such behaviors, men with these predilections had to hide their same sex escapades. Upon Lord Byron’s return to London, he discovers that Lord David has become a sex slave to the evil Joseph Hale and his two despicable friends. The trio are unwilling to let Lord Byron pay off the lads debts, although they do allow him to rent the boy, thereby removing David temporarily from their cruel sexual appetites. Together with Lord John, who had also experienced the depravity of Hale, Byron devises a plan to rid the earth of these scumbags.

Although short in length, this novella contained too much repetition, with the dialogue often replicating the characters’ thoughts. While Lord Byron was supposed to be noble, I found him calculating and self centered, even while attempting to be considerate of others feelings. Lord Byron decides to marry David’s sister Sarah who was raped and inpregnated. In this way, except for the wedding night, he didn’t need to visit Sarah’s room. She admits she is not interested in his sexual advances and he inadvertently discovers she prefers the attentions of her lady’s maid. Sarah believes that Byron has a mistress, and doesn’t suspect that he is in love with her brother who has an adjoining room with her husband. Many of the other characters also maintain a jaded view of their lives. Due to their attitudes, it is hard to feel any sympathy for their plight.

Ultimately, this topic just wasn’t my “cup of tea”. I am more interested in the romance aspect of a novel, not raw sexual experiences which border on porn. Even if the subject matter was enticing, the writing is too stilted for my taste. In addition, while doing some research on other works by this author, I discovered this plot is almost identical to Brown’s book Lord and Master published in 2013. The love interest is even named David. One star for writing the “same book” twice.

I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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