Saturday, February 26, 2022

I WANT MY BOOK BACK! A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

 Do you remember back in August when I posted a cover reveal for Viviane Elbee's second picture book, I WANT MY BOOK BACK? It releases on March 1 and here's your opportunity to win a copy of this fun, book-friendly and make-any-librarian-happy picture book. 


Darryl's passion is introduced immediately in the opening of this book.

 His problem is also introduced: his book was NOT for sharing.

Over and over again his mother renews his favorite book until one day, Darryl realizes that he can't put it on hold any more. When his mother tells him it's time to share it with others, Darryl responds with:

No amount of cajoling from his mother helps. Darryl is angry and inconsolable. 

And no amount of dinosaur tricks help him get his book back.

The next day when he returns to the library, he is shocked to discover that the librarian is holding HIS BOOK! Darryl is ready to let out another enormous roar when the fast-thinking librarian asks him to share the book with his friends. Darryl not only does that, but he--

--demonstrates what dinosaurs do!

So, what happens next? 

Everyone joins in!

The smart librarian offers him a different book and Darryl finds out that there is more than one book in the library he can love. The librarian earns her stripes and young readers learn that every book is meant to be enjoyed, shared, and celebrated.


For a chance to win, leave a comment with your email address, or send me an email if you prefer. If you share this on social media, you will get one extra chance; if you follow my blog you will get another chance. Tell me what you have done and I will enter your name accordingly. U.S. addresses only. Giveaway ends March 3 at 9AM.

If you live in or around Charlotte, Vivianne will be reading and signing books at Park Road Books on March 12. 


Tuesday, February 22, 2022

THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN: A Middle Grade Review by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta


The View from the Very Best House in Town (Walker Books, 2022) is a tale of friendship, told with a twist. Sam and Asha are both autistic and ostracized as a result. They’re each other’s best friends, playing soccer and their favorite videogame, Househaunt, together. 

As the summer ends and Sam and Asha are preparing to begin seventh grade, they’re suddenly separated by Sam’s acceptance into the most prestigious school in Coreville, Castleton Academy. When Sam is pushed into the privileged world of Castleton, more of an outsider than ever, he meets Prestyn Donaldson. Prestyn is the most popular girl in school, and her family lives in the biggest mansion in Coreville—Donnybrooke. Meanwhile, Asha makes new friends and does her best to forget about Sam, but she can’t stop worrying about him. He’s been hanging out with Prestyn, who happens to be Asha’s nemesis ever since a disastrous party years ago. Is that why Sam’s been skipping soccer practice every Thursday--to go to Donnybrooke? But why does Sam keep going to the best house in town if he looks miserable every time he leaves?

Meera Trehan’s debut novel sets itself apart with its original premise. Not only does she have two incredible protagonists with touching journeys, but her book also includes thirteen chapters from the viewpoint of Donnybrooke itself! As the main characters of The View from the Very Best House in Town are portrayed as middle-schoolers, their descriptions and phrasing can at times be simplistic. Even so, no detail is left out of the narrative. A well-thought-out video game that serves as an analogy for friendship and a weathervane containing an important message, are both examples of the book’s multiple layers. Older or experienced readers are best suited for this book, as they will recognize and understand the underlying themes.

Even though friendship is the driving force of The View from the Very Best House in Town, there is another, underplayed but equally important message. Asha and Sam are both subject to discrimination because of their autism. In Asha’s case, she was humiliated by the Donaldsons during their housewarming party, while Sam is made fun of and called the ‘Miracle Boy’ after his classmates find out about an embarrassing article. Despite having good intentions, Asha’s mom doesn’t understand her daughter’s pain and can’t relate to how Asha’s feeling. Sam’s parents try to encourage their son, but inadvertently push him to remain silent about how he’s feeling. Asha and Sam are both struggling, and they need each other’s support.

This tween drama is slow to develop, but will entrance readers with a mix of drama and personal growth. A spotlight on what it means to be different, The View from the Very Best House in Town is a necessary read for anyone who has felt lonely or has felt the need to belong. No matter who reads this touching book about friendship, the moral of this story will stay with them long after the end of the book—always remember who your friends are.

Elliott is a prolific reader of various genres who is more than happy to share his opinions on books. 
In his free time, he enjoys writing, reading, and running. 
He is an 8th grade homeschool student in Charlotte, NC.  


To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog. U.S. addresses only. If you share it on social media or start following my blog (or both!) I'll put your name in for extra chances to win this book. Giveaway ends Tuesday, March 1 at 6 PM. 

Susan Wroble won Racial Just in America: Topics For Change and Theresa Milstein won Marching for Change: Movements Across America from last week's blog.


Find this review and other great books on Greg Pattridge's terrific blog.


Thursday, February 17, 2022

TWO MIDDLE GRADE NONFICTION BOOKS from SBP Publishing: Reviews and Giveaways

 In honor of Black History Month, I'm introducing two books published by SPB Publishing. This publisher is a crossover of two Cherry Lake Publishing imprints: Sleeping Bear Press which specializes in fiction and nonfiction trade books, and the more academically-specialized Cherry Lake Press. Both books were published in 2021 but are still pertinent and will impact students for a long time. Since my personal interest leans towards history, I've selected a few pages from each book which highlight history. In both books, the text is complemented by thought-provoking questions and photographs which will promote discussion.


As the author, Joyce Markovics, states in the introduction, "This book describes three protest marches that shaped--and are still shaping the history of the United States. You'll read about the 1963 March on Washington, the 2017 Women's March, and finally the Black Lives matter marches that began in 2020....Keep Marching America!"

1963 March on Washington

What was this march all about?

It was about the biggest protest in US history--250,000 people--coming together to demand equal jobs and freedoms for Black people.

Rooted in enslaved Blacks being abused as slaves as well as the inequality of Jim Crow, the protest brought together people from all over the country with one purpose: to fight against racial injustice. The result of that protest and others was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which helped thousands more Black Americans vote.

2017 Women's March

On January 21, 2017 women all over the country marched for women's rights in regard to immigration, healthcare, and racial equality. 

But the women's movement started years before that.

An early women's rights parade.

Women won the right to vote in 1920, but women continued to call for more active roles in society. 

In 2017, 653 marches changed many women's attitudes and actions. The ramifications of those marches are still felt today.

2020 Black Lives Matter Marches

In 2020, the first BLM marches protested the death of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd. Marchers were looking for radical change after experiencing years of racism.

"Because of racism, Black men are viewed as more dangerous than other people. This can lead to false arrests and killings.

BLM was formed after Trayvan Martin's murder. It continues today to as a voice that says, "Black lives should be just as important as other lives."


The introduction of this book, written by one of the authors, Kelisa Wing, states: "No one is born a racist. Racism is taught, and anything that is taught can be unlearned... We hope this book will create a safe entry point for you to start to have courageous conversations, give you a safe and brave space for learning, and allow you to see yourself as an agent of change."  This theme is carried throughout the book through Ms. Wing's words and those of Hedreich Nichols and Leigh Ann Erickson.

What is Anti-Racism?

After the basics of racism are shown, the authors explore where the word "race" came from and how the concept of a "master race" was promoted in Nazi Germany. This exploration also includes how Native Americans were percieved and mistreated because of their skin color. 

The authors point out racism in the past,

as well as in the present, and how students can fight against racism at home, in their schools, and in their community. This section ends with a quote from civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, "Nobody's free until everybody's free."

What is White Privilege?

Using the image of a runner, the authors explain that the obstacles which are placed for a Black person's "race" are much different --and more difficult--than for a White runner. They go on to discuss how White boys are more likely to graduate from college and obtain a successful job than Black boys. 

Where did White privilege come from? The authors look at the consequences of slavery, the KKK, and segregation. 

The authors end this section with ideas about how students can take action. Going back to the running analogy, they point out, "...will you really feel good at the end of the race when you look back and see others fighting obstacles that you didn't even have? Instead of taking off down your path, what if you helped take away the obstacles in other runners' paths?"

What is the Black Lives Matter Movement?

Many students are aware of BLM, but do they know the backstory behind it? The authors take readers back to enslavement and Jim Crow laws and segregation.

They show the results of mob violence,

discuss the formation of activist groups like the NAACP, and highlight important aspects of civil rights history.

This section ends with the impact of BLM today and how students can support the movement.

Both of these books will be useful in promoting classroom discussions.

I will be sharing this book on Greg Pattridge's wonderful middle grade book blog on Monday. You can find LOTS more books there!



Leave me your name and email address (if you are new to my blog) in the comments along with your book preference. U.S. addresses only. Giveaway ends Tuesday, February 22 at 8 PM.  Congratulations to Sue Heavenrich who won I Escaped North Korea.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

I ESCAPED NORTH KOREA: A Review by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta

I'm happy to have Elliott Kurta back for another book review. Since he's enjoying the opportunity to read and review a variety of books, you can look forward to more of his reviews in the future.


            I Escaped North Korea is an informative book about the struggles North Koreans faced during 2007. Dae-hyun, the protagonist, is only fourteen when his father is arrested and his mother journeys to Pyongyang to save her husband. Dae-hyun realizes his mother isn’t coming back, so he tries to survive by stealing coal and food. Soon, Dae-hyun longs to leave his country and journey to China, where there is hot running water and readily available food. He’s offered a job which would pay well and send him to China--at the cost of endangering his life. He accepts the job and is charged with delivering medicine across the frozen Yalu river. Once in China, Dae-hyun finds he doesn’t want to leave, even if he’d be staying as an illegal citizen and an orphan. While looking for other work, Dae-hyun stumbles upon a minister who offers to send him to Mongolia in order to obtain political asylum—thus beginning the journey of  his life and for his life.

            Throughout their first novel together, Ellie Crowe and Scott Peters provide an ideal example of ‘show, don’t tell’. Unlike most middle-school books, information is not presented in a manner that tells readers what they should think. Instead, they will come to their own conclusions about life in North Korea as they read about Dae-hyun going to school and being asked to share a personal failure in a class exercise. However, I Escaped North Korea is not overly graphic, except for two minor expletives in the first twenty pages. While themes such as corrupt governments, violent and cruel police officers, and starving families are present throughout this historical narrative, Dae-hyun also experiences the kindness of strangers. From the kotjebi or orphan Ki-moon who helps Dae-hyun find food and shares his stolen goods to the South Korean minister who brings Dae-hyun on a journey to seek political asylum, Dae-hyun’s journey is spectacular. 

            Seeing North Korea through Dae-hyun’s eyes makes the struggles of citizens in another country personal for the reader. With an average of four pages per chapter, I Escaped North Korea will ensnare reluctant readers from the first page with increasingly high-stakes action.

            Even with all the captivating action present, I Escaped North Korea is still a heartfelt and emotional novel. The brevity of the novel does not take away from its descriptions, like when Dae-hyun describes how his father’s crimes have brought his family ‘low’. Even though most readers will not be able to relate to Dae-hyun as he’s chased across a frozen river, when they read the sentence below they will find themselves running alongside him.

 "With a sickening snap, the ice beneath his feet moved.

            He pictured the water beneath the splitting surface. Black. Cold. Deadly.

            'Dae!' Ki-moon screamed…”

            On top of the facts presented in this book, at the end there is a sheet of additional information and a brief appendix with a study guide and more books to read. After the study guide, there is an afterword that further explains the route to Mongolia and what life is like in North Korea. There’s even a website link at the back of the book that directs to study questions for each chapter and a coloring sheet of North Korea and surrounding countries.

        For 8–12-year-old reluctant readers, this book will serve as a great introduction to the historical fiction genre. The short chapters of this book are both engaging and informative. Be prepared for a barrage of questions after your child, friend, sibling, or students breathlessly finish reading I Escaped North Korea. For another, equally thrilling read, check out the rest of the I Escaped nine-book series, which ranges from surviving the brutal Salem Witch Trials to escaping the ruthless pirates of the Caribbean.   

Elliott is a prolific reader of various genres who is more than happy to share his opinions on books. In his free time, he enjoys writing, reading, and running. He is an 8th grade homeschool student in Charlotte, NC.          


Please leave a comment by 6 PM on February 17 with your email address, or send me an email. If you share this on social media, you will get one extra chance; if you follow my blog you will get another chance. Tell me what you have done and I will enter your name accordingly. U.S. addresses only. 

Congratulations to Tiffany Slack who won Rock and Vole for the Matthews Christian Library and to Rosi Hollenbeck who won Where is My Cow? By the way, Rosi also reviews and gives away lots of children's books!


Tuesday, February 8, 2022


 I recently attended a webinar "Feel the Feelings: Crafting Picture Books" with Bethany Hegedus, author and founder of The Writing Barn. As a result, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is front and center in my brain.  Bethany emphasized that readers should be able to take away kindness, empathy, understanding, bravery, and inclusion after reading picture books. 

Here are five SEL components: 

            • Self-Management
            • Social Awareness
            • Relationship Skills
            • Responsible Decision-Making
            • Self-Awareness

Pay attention to these--because there will be a test!

Without further ado, here are two picture books from Sleeping Bear Press.


Author-illustrator Jennifer Sattler is no stranger to my blog. Her illustrations are dynamic and there's always a cleverly disguised "message" within a playful story that children will understand--without being preached to.

Here's the first page:

Vole, (like many of us) followed her comfortable, predictable routine. 

But, one day when she woke up, she wanted something different--she
wanted an adventure!

In her organized fashion, 

She set off, backpack ready with all of her essentials, and everything went according to plan. Until she met,


Vole tried everything to get the rock to move out of her way so she could complete her adventure. She talked to it. She showed it her map. She tried to cajole it.

Nothing worked.

Until the sun started setting and Vole realized that the rock was lovely.

After Vole redid her map, she rested against the rock.

Which SEL skills does Jennifer Sattler subtly communicate to the reader in ROCK AND VOLE? Leave me your thoughts in the comments.


This fun picture book was inspired by author, Susan Blackaby's observations of the symbiotic relationship between egrets and cows. The dynamic illustrator, Scott Brundage was featured on my blog here

Here is the opening spread:

When the flock of egrets whirled off to explore the sea, one little egret preferred sticking close to his cow.

While the egrets were gone, the cow told him stories about the places she'd seen and the food she'd eaten. All the talk about kites and kayaks and toasted marshmallows gave the little egret ideas. With his cow encouraging his explorations, the egret flew off and found a view of the ocean that took his breath away!

But, he looked down, saw the herd far below and thought, 

"Where's my cow?"
Queasy, the egret gulped.
Sputtered. Plunged.

Fearing he'd never find his cow, he wouldn't fly far from home.

His cow encouraged him to try again and look for the cow with twitching ears.

As the following illustration shows, that didn't work!

While cow suggested other unworkable plans about how his egret could find her,

the egret gains confidence in flying further and further away. Each time the egret returned with a gift for his cow: a shell, a string, and a twisty stick. 

Finally, egret came up with a solution that would help him find his cow. When he looked from high in the sky and wondered where she was, he spotted...

Test time! Which SEL components are expressed in WHERE'S MY COW? Leave your answers in the comments below.


For a chance to win, leave a comment with your email address, or send me an email if you prefer. If you share this on social media, you will get one extra chance; if you follow my blog you will get another chance. Tell me what you have done and I will enter your name accordingly. Winner must live in the continental U.S and please let me know which picture book you are interested in winning. Giveaway ends Friday, February 11 at 6 PM. 

Friday, February 4, 2022

UNDER THE TANGERINE TREE: Author Interview with Esther Bandy

 Elliott Kurta, who reviewed Under The Tangerine Tree on my last post, decided to follow up with an interview with the author, Esther Bandy. Take it away, Elliott and Esther!


ELLIOTT: What inspired you to write Under the Tangerine Tree? Was it a single moment, conversation, or photo, or did it take a larger experience for the ideas in your book to come together? 

ESTHER BRANDY: I began writing Under the Tangerine Tree after my dad died in 2005. I loved my dad, and even though I knew he was in heaven, I still missed him. I’d also met many children who lost their fathers due to death or divorce. I wanted to write a book that would help children deal with their grief and allow me to express my own feelings of missing my dad. In addition, I had a desire to share God’s love and help children understand the gospel. It’s such a blessing to know that when a person receives the Lord Jesus as Savior, he becomes a child of God and has a heavenly father who loves him and will always be there.


ELLIOTT: What does your writing process look like, and how long did it take you to write Under the Tangerine Tree?

ESTHER BANDY: I have many medical problems, and Under the Tangerine Tree is my debut novel, so it took a very long time to write, revise, research, and edit my novel. I started writing it in 2005 after my dad died, but I often set it aside for long periods of time due to personal and family health problems. In addition, we sold our home in Washington state and moved to North Carolina during those years. I was often so busy or sick that I neglected my writing completely. Even when I wasn’t writing, I often thought about my novel. I remembered moments from my life, historical events, and inspirational themes I wanted to include.


ELLIOTT: In ‘Under the Tangerine Tree’, Angie Mangione moves to Florida to start a new life, one that more intimately involves God. Are her experiences in any way reflective of your own?

ESTHER BANDY: Angie’s faith journey is different from mine since I was saved in a Good News Club when I was five. However, several of Angie’s experiences are echoes from my life. I never lived in New York City, but my dad was Italian, and he was born and raised in NYC. Mom was southern born and raised near Tampa, FL. We often visited NYC to see dad’s family, but I was born in Tampa. Dad was in the Air Force, so we lived in several places when I was young. Like Angie, I didn’t like moving and being the new kid at school. I was glad when dad retired, and we moved next door to Granny’s house on a country lake in Florida.


ELLIOTT: Did you have to do any research before or during writing?

ESTHER BANDY: I remembered many of the historical events from my childhood, including President Kennedy’s visit to Tampa and his assassination four days later. I did extensive research to make sure I had the facts right.


ELLIOTT: Did Under the Tangerine Tree start out with the same plot line and characters it has now, or were there unused ideas, and if there were, can you share some of them?

ESTHER BANDY: It had the same general plot line and characters, but some have been added and others have been deleted. I had several more scenes from Angie’s school with a variety of other characters, but I finally deleted about 10,000 words with scenes and characters that seemed to weaken the overall story.


ELLIOTT: What made you choose Under the Tangerine Tree as the title for your first book?

ESTHER BANDY: There was a tangerine tree at the end of my dirt road in Tampa when I was growing up. It had the best tangerines I’ve ever eaten. I walked past that tree on the way to and from my elementary school, and my best friend and I often sat under that tree while we talked and ate tangerines.


ELLIOTT: What message or messages do you want each of your readers to leave your book with?

ESTHER BANDY: I hope my readers will understand that even though this life is filled with challenges, life is good, and they can have hope. Why? Because God loves them, and He has a wonderful plan for their lives. When they understand the gospel and receive Christ, their sins are forgiven, and they become children of God. They also have the Holy Spirit who indwells them and helps them understand the Bible and have victory over sin.


ELLIOTT: What made you decide to start off  Under the Tangerine Tree with the main character’s father dying?

ESTHER BANDY: When I began writing Under the Tangerine Tree, my dad had just died, and I knew children who had lost their fathers due to death or divorce. I wanted to offer people hope while they were grieving, and I needed to express my own feelings of grief. I want my readers to know that even when the challenges of life are difficult to deal with, we can still have hope for a better tomorrow.


ELLIOTT: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

ESTHER BANDY: When I was in second grade, I wanted to be a nurse, a missionary, a teacher, or a writer. My teacher said I had to choose one, but I couldn’t. I wanted to do all of them. Over the years I’ve worked as a nurse, a missionary, and a Spanish teacher. When I became disabled, I realized that it was time to write.


ELLIOTT: How difficult was publishing your first book?

ESTHER BANDY: I submitted it to several traditional publishers who rejected it, so I finally decided to self-publish it. I’m thankful to my wonderful son and to several friends who have encouraged me and helped me publish it.

Thank you Esther and Elliott for this informative interview. You can find Esther  on her website or connect with her on Facebook 



I am giving away a copy of Under the Tangerine Tree. Leave me a comment on this blog and you'll receive one chance; leave another on the review and you'll receive a second chance. U.S. addresses only. If you prefer not to leave a comment, email me and I'll enter your name. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NAME AND EMAIL ADDRESS IF YOU ARE NEW TO MY BLOG. Giveaway ends on Wednesday, February 9 at 12 PM.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

UNDER THE TANGERINE TREE by Esther Bandy: A Book Review by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta

Some of you know that one of my passions is teaching writing to teens and adults. I haven't had that opportunity for awhile, but I recently met a young man who loves to write. I've taken Elliott Kurta under my writer's wing and am excited to share his first book review with you. 

Without further ado, here is Elliott's review of Under the Tangerine Tree, a debut middle grade book by Esther Bandy.


Under the Tangerine Tree is a Christian novel set in 1963, geared towards readers 9 to 13 years old, written by Esther Bandy. It details the adventures of Angie Mangione as her father is killed, causing her to move to Florida with her mother and five-year-old brother, Joey. Angie meets a cast of memorable characters along the way, including her best friend, devout and optimistic Melanie, embittered teenager Leroy, and friendless and ostracized Juan.

Esther Bandy does an exceptional job portraying young Angie and her little brother, Joey. Both characters are likable with natural dialogue packed with plenty of quips that betray their naivety. One of my favorite lines from the book is spoken by Angie, in response to her friend Melanie.

“The Bible says He (God) is just, too.”

Angie frowned. “Just too what?”

You can find other instances of Esther Bandy’s wordplay present throughout her debut novel. "Angie felt like a mouse in a room of hungry cats" and "That smell pulled me right out of bed," are more examples of what you’ll find throughout Under the Tangerine Tree.

The Christian aspect of this book is not apparent until nearly a hundred pages in. From then on, references to God are frequent and there appears to be an unexpected paradigm shift. I was surprised by the sudden appearance of religion in a seemingly neutral novel, especially given its intensity. However, if readers take this change in stride, they’ll find the rest of the book enjoyable.

Not a single page of Under the Tangerine Tree is wasted; even when the plot appears to slow down, Esther Bandy is simply planting references that will be tied together later. The characters in Under the Tangerine Tree have complicated yet easy to follow personal histories. The book begins on a sad note, the death of Angie’s father, but is not overly melancholic. Esther Bandy jumps right into her story, quickly introducing us with goals and obstacles that reveal more of Angie’s, Joey’s, and Mama’s personalities. Some characters, such as Leroy and Granny, appear at first to be archetypical. However, their unique histories defend seemingly stereotypical behavior.

Throughout Under the Tangerine Tree Angie struggles with her father’s death and accepting God as well as better understanding the Bible, but ultimately comes to terms with each issue. Towards the end of the book, Angie accepts God and as a result, is brought closer to her family and friends. Angie has changed as a person, becoming more understanding and devout, and readers will like her all the more because of it.

In conclusion, the religious aspect of Under the Tangerine Tree might not appeal to readers of other faiths. However, middle schoolers can appreciate the relatable and original story present throughout Under the Tangerine Tree. Esther Bandy’s storytelling will surely inspire children and help them discover what it means to be a Christian with her moral-rich writing.

Elliott is a prolific reader of various genres
who is more than happy to share his opinions on books.
 In his free time, he enjoys writing, reading, and running.
He is an 8th grade homeschool student in Charlotte, NC. 

Come back on Friday and read Elliott's first author interview!


I am giving away a copy of Under the Tangerine Tree. Leave me a comment on this blog and you'll receive one chance; leave another on the author interview and you'll receive a second chance. U.S. addresses only. If you prefer not to leave a comment, email me and I'll enter your name. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NAME AND EMAIL ADDRESS IF YOU ARE NEW TO MY BLOG.

Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won VALENSLIME from last week's blog.


  Although I moved to WordPress for my new website , I'm still having issues with sending out blog notifications. Here's this week&#...