Blog

Heather

Noelle

Disney+ has finally arrived!  Based on cast alone, my first viewing selection was Noelle (2019, G) which was originally intended for theatrical release, but was later reserved for the launch of Disney+.  It stars Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader as Kris Kringle's kids, Noelle and Nick.  Also in the cast are long-time actors Shirley MacLaine and Julie Hagerty, with comedians, Billy Eichner and Ron Funches.

Nick has trained his whole life to take over for his father as Santa, but as the pressure builds, he takes a vacation on his sister's recommendation.  Unfortunately, Nick took that to mean a one-way trip to the southwest.  Noelle has to venture out from the North Pole to find him, all while learning that Christmas is more meaningful when you focus on giving instead of getting.

Overall, this light-hearted film, albeit slightly predictable, will bring laughter and maybe even some tears to you and your family.  Find other Christmas movies to watch with the family on our website.

View Noelle and everything else Disney you can imagine with a Roku featuring Disney+.


Heather

The Bad Guys

I read this book in one sitting with a three year old: I'd call that an accomplishment and give a lot of that credit to author Aaron Blabey. We follow Mr. Wolf and his associates, Mr. Snake, Mr. Piranha, and Mr. Shark, on a mission to turn around their longtime reputations as bad guys. They hit just a couple bumps along the way, but are determined to make amends.

This early chapter book is part of a series, so get caught up in Blabey's sketchy characters' silly escapades. The Bad Guys (2017) is a 2020 Monarch Award nominee, recommended for grades 2-4.


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Jack S.

Loot

Have you ever wanted to plunder all the treasures on the open sea?  If you find that the letter "R" rolls off your tongue as "Arrr," then Loot is the game for you.

In Loot, take on the role of a pirate captain and guide your crew to merchant ships full of treasure, but watch out for your pirate friends who want some loot too and will fight you for every bit of it.

The objective of the card game is simple, collect the most gold by the end of the game.  The gameplay is quick and takes about 20 minutes.  The game is for ages 6 and up, some simple math skills and color matching are needed.  If you want the thrill of the high seas matched with the fun of playing with friends, check out Loot.


Heather

Aladdin

If you are a devoted Disney fan like me, you may be reluctant about the company's recent foray into live-action remakes of their classic animated movies.  In this 2019 live-action version of Aladdin (rated PG), I went in with low expectations, especially for Will Smith in the role of Genie, because Robin Williams' performance as the 1992 animated Genie was so outstanding.  Smith ultimately does not try to mimic Williams' style and interpretation, but rather adds his own flair to the part.  Genie even gets an expanded storyline in the live-action.  I also appreciated that Jasmine was a more developed character, expressing a desire to break down the oppression of her society and voice her opinions as a leader.

Composer and songwriter Alan Menken returns to score the live-action film, enhancing his original music and adding additional songs not part of the 1992 version.  So perhaps Disney can, in fact, be successful in livening up their animated classics after all!

Be sure to check out the soundtrack as well on CD or via Hoopla.

Heather

Are You Scared, Darth Vader?

Fellow parents and Star Wars fans, this is sure to please! Adam Rex writes this book in a conversational style, so I highly encourage reading in your best Darth Vader voice for an extra fun experience. Parents (and Star Wars buff kiddos) will appreciate nods to the movies and characters throughout.

All in all, Are You Scared, Darth Vader? (2019) is a hilarious book with a special twist ending. So, are you ready to find out if there is actually something frightening enough to scare Darth Vader?

Check out this book in print or digitally via Hoopla.



Heather

Under the Big Umbrella by Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could

This delightful album focused on being kind will fill you up with happiness!  Grownups might recognize covers of popular songs on a couple of tracks, but the majority are fresh new tunes for your family to enjoy together.  My son and I have already listened to Under the Big Umbrella several times, and our favorite songs are "Under the Big Umbrella" and "Drop in the Bucket."

Check out this 2019 release from Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could.

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Kelli

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Lucy does NOT want to go to middle school. She's been home-schooled since she was struck by lightning and became a math genius, but now her Nana insists that she try middle school for one year. Will she be able to keep the numbers in her head quiet and make at least one friend? Read The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty (2018) to find out how a dog named Pi helps three middle school misfits succeed!



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Judy

Series Spotlight: You Choose Stories—Justice League

In order to enjoy this series, the reader should be a fan of the Justice League stories. There are seven Super characters in the Justice League, and they work together to protect the Universe! Many books and movies feature the Justice League.

The You Choose Stories—Justice League series engages the reader by requiring them to make decisions. The reader will notice as they start reading the book that…there, on the lower right corner of the right side page…in red…are choices to make:

If Batman goes after Black Manta, turn to page 23.

If Batman stays to help save the island, turn to page 29.

Throughout the book, the reader will make choices to continue the story.

Although this sounds complicated – and it will be too complicated for some readers – for those children who enjoy the "game" with the story – this will be an enjoyable book. Choose from Cosmic Conquest, The League of Laughs, The Portal of Doom, and The Ultimate Weapon.

Each book has 105 pages, and there are several full-page color, cartoon-style illustrations throughout the book. At the end, there is a glossary with pronunciations and definitions. There are four titles in the series – so far. The Lexile is 640-710.


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Judy

Series Spotlight: Peachy and Keen by Jason Tharp

The cat, Peachy, and the dog, Keen, are best friends. The series, Peachy and Keen, feature the two friends in stories of their school adventures at Happy Trails School.

In the first book, A School Tail (2018), Peachy wants to work on the school newspaper but discovers there is no longer a print newspaper. Peachy has the idea to replace the newspaper with an online magazine. With Keen's help, Peachy finds four classmates to work on the PURRFECT9: Rue, the high fashion kitty, Connie the octopus, Nanner the monkey, and Gertie the unicorn. Of course, they need a faculty sponsor and recruit Rocco the llama, who is the janitor. Principal Trunx, an elephant, is not helpful to Peachy but in the end… the PURRFECT9 staff wins him over.

These books by Jason Tharp are full of puns. To enjoy the stories, a reader will need to understand (and enjoy) puns. Even the title – Peachy Keen – is a pun.

Each book is 96 pages. There are full color, cartoon-style illustrations on each page and these add to the story and are fun in themselves. There is a significant amount of text, which makes the books look harder than they are. The Lexile is 590-770.



Megan

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julia Denos (2016)

In this story, we follow a free spirit who can't help but want to tame all of the beautiful colors she sees. We join her wild and wonderful world and hunt for colors along with her. Swatch soon encounters an ethical challenge and we see how our heroine resolves her dilemma.

As picture books go, I think Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color is a perfect example of the power of illustrations and how beautifully and creatively they help tell a lovely story. Additionally, the overall layout and design of the book is great and helps capture the energy of it all.

This is the first book both written and illustrated by Julia Denos. She also wrote and illustrated Windows.


Kathy

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

I first read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in fifth grade, so when my son, now a fifth-grader himself, said he needed a Newbery Prize winner for his book report, I was quick to suggest it to him. The adventures of Claudia and her younger brother Jamie are what childhood dreams are made of. After running away from home, the siblings live on their own in a strange and wonderful new city. They uncover a mystery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that they're determined to solve. Their clever sleuthing leads them to discover much more than clues however — it leads them back home.

I enjoyed reading this classic children's book by E. L. Konigsburg just as much as an adult as I had as a child. The audiobook would be great to listen to on a family road trip as well. Check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine for a glimpse behind the story and its author. 


Judy

Series Spotlight: The Critter Club by Callie Barkley

Four friends – Amy, Ellie, Marion, Liz – have created a club to help "critters" such as pigs, puppies, mice, chickens, and cats. Amy's mother, a veterinarian, is instrumental in helping the girls with their adventures at the Animal Rescue Center in Santa Vista.

Each book features one of the four friends but all four girls are in each book. The Critter Club has problems to solve and they always find a good solution. In Amy on Park Patrol, the girls work to keep the town park for animals—not more stores. The girls help find a home for Plum the Pig in Ellie and the Good-Luck Pig. The girls start a pet sitting service – Critter Sitters – in Liz Learns a Lesson.

This is a great series for a reader who loves helping animals! Each book in the series of 18 books (so far!) is about 120 pages with black and white illustrations on most pages (book 1 is Amy and the Missing Puppy). Sparkles on some of the paperback covers add to the charm of the stories. The Lexile scores range from 460-630.

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Katie

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) PG

This 2018 movie adaptation of Madeline L'Engle's 1963 Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time was highly anticipated by many book fans.  I was not one of those book fans. I distinctly remember reading the first chapter of the book during a thunderstorm and getting too frightened to read any further.  I was probably in third grade.

When the movie was announced, I was excited to finally go back to the story that I had paused on so long ago.  The movie met every one of my expectations: a little bit strange, a lot of CGI, and a huge heart -- driven mostly by actress Storm Reid.  I would recommend this to families who want a gentler fantasy adaptation for younger children.  As for fans of the books, I have heard that the movie was less than perfect, but isn't that always the case with movie adaptations? (Don't get me started on Remus never telling Harry who the Marauders were in Prisoner of Azkaban...)  Check out A Wrinkle in Time and decide for yourself.

Judy

Series Spotlight: Ada Lace by Emily Calandrelli

Ada has two turtles: Oxygen and Hydrogen. For children who know why Ada used those names…this is the series for them! Author Emily Calandrelli is a graduate of MIT and works with Bill Nye, The Science Guy. She knows children, science, and technology.

Ada, a third grader, uses science to solve mysteries. She keeps a field guide noting what is happening all around her. The field guides are an important tool for Ada. Maybe the reader of these books will start a field guide?

The first book in the series (Ada Lace, On the Case) finds Ada watching Mr. Pebbles' apartment and she wonders…is there a dog in the apartment? Another adventure (Ada Lace Sees Red) finds that Ada has programmed a robot – George – and he does what she asks (think Alexa)…but not without problems. In Ada Lace, Take Me to Your Leader, Ada's neighbor gives her a ham radio. Ada is trying to connect with someone/something. Her friend Nina thinks aliens are answering but are they really?

At the end of each book, a "Behind the Science" section explains several of the issues and concepts in the book. There are five books in the series so far. Each book is about 118 pages with black and white illustrations on most pages. Lexile scores range from 570-610.

And…could there be a connection between Ada Lace and Ada Lovelace? This is a good opportunity to practice research skills!



Katie

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz (2016)

inqThe Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog (on the Rebecca Caudill 2019 nominees list) was thoroughly surprising and delightful. I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened this book, complete with the drawings of an illuminated manuscript, but I was completed unprepared to fall in love with it.

The three children (William, Jacob, and Jeanne) absolutely won me over and I cheered for them and their friendship. I found myself looking forward to the twists and turns of the story, especially when different travelers took over as the narrator.

I think this would make a fantastic family read, although there are small bits of violence (a village is burned, a dog is killed -- but comes back, and capture) to be aware of.

I can't imagine how Adam Gidwitz could possibly write a sequel, but I would love to follow another adventure in this same style!