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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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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.

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!



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!

Series Spotlight: Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green

friend2Sophie Mouse, her family and friends live in Pine Needles Grove. Her mom owns a bakery, her dad is an architect, Mrs. Owl is her teacher – families gather for parties, children play together, everyone knows each other. In each book, along with her friends Hattie Frog and Owen Snake, Sophie has an adventure and a problem to solve. She gets lost in the forest, has to figure out what to do about a ruined dessert, and tries to find her lost scarf. With good thinking and the help of others, Sophie always figures out what to do.

The series should interest children who are ready for more complex, longer stories that relate to their lives. Fans of the Adventures of Sophie Mouse series are going to know exactly what books in the series they have read, what book they want to read, and probably will read many books in the series until they move on…to another series.

Do talk with readers about Sophie’s adventures. Sometimes things happen in Pine Needles Grove that probably a child living in the real world should not do – such as going into the home of a stranger to get help.

A New Friend is the first book in the series by Poppy Green. Each series title has 117 pages, 10 chapters, and black/white illustrations on most pages. Lexile varies between 430 and 600.
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Wreck-It Ralph (2012) PG

51mtooacrwl-_sy445_Once Litwik's Family Fun Center and Arcade closes for the night, the characters of each game visit each other and meet in a power strip that connects them all.  Wreck-It Ralph, the antagonist of the game Fix-It Felix Jr., is tired of being the bad guy in his game.  When he's challenged to earn the game characters' respect by gaining a medal like Felix, Ralph enters various video games causing chaos and hilarity.

I can't believe that I missed Wreck-It Ralph when it first premiered in 2012.  I am so glad that the sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet came out to remind me to find the original. This is a fantastic comedic adventure that will engage the whole family.  Kids will root for Princess Vanellope, who they will likely relate to as she's constantly told "no" and left out of the race. Ralph will make them laugh and gain their support by the end of the movie -- a "bad" guy that everyone loves.  Adults will enjoy moments like the bad guy support group meetings and the Diet Coke/mentos mountain -- a chemical reaction that yields some fantastic YouTube videos.

Definitely give this a re-watch before the sequel comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray in February.

A Dog’s Purpose (2017) PG

81i2yytjxl-_sy445_When we are first introduced to Bailey, the lovable narrator in A Dog’s Purpose, he’s a spunky newborn pup full of wonder and curiosity.  He asks, “What is this place and why am I here?”  As his story unfolds, these questions are answered, and we come to understand all the wonderful reasons dogs exist in our lives.  This movie weaves together the separate stories of Bailey’s nine lives and explains how the humans he accompanies on each life’s journey have a unique reason for needing and loving a dog.

I loved this sweet movie for the message it shared, but be warned, it will leave you and your children in tears.  Keep a box of tissues nearby! If you love A Dog’s Purpose as much as I did, you’ll find more movies featuring our furry, four-legged friends here.

Big Hero 6 (2014) PG

844856_1_ftcBig Hero 6 is a superhero movie that adults would enjoy watching with the whole family.  The plot revolves around orphans Hiro and Tadashi, technological whiz kids living with their aunt.  College-age Tadashi created an inflatable robot named Baymax, whose purpose is to act as a portable paramedic/doctor. When someone steals younger brother Hiro’s invention to use for evil, Hiro gives Baymax a few superhero upgrades.  Also, check out our list, Great Movies: Kid Movies for Adults.

 
 

Moana (2016) PG

moana_dvd_coverMoana is a spectacular adventure movie.  Charged with returning the heart of the goddess Te Fiti, Moana leaves her island nation and sails away on her mission.  I absolutely love the animation of this movie.  The ocean is a character in and of itself because of the creative team's work.  Some of my favorite moments though are those of Moana's introspection and self-realization.  Moana is a very different Disney "princess."  First of all, she rejects the word princess, and she has her own agenda, making the decision to follow her draw to the ocean. Also, she alone solves the mystery of Te Ka in order to save Te Fiti.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful music that sets Moana soaring.  While I love Auliʻi Cravalho's voice (the voice of Moana) and "How Far I'll Go," my favorite songs are the ones that are sung in Tokelauan.  Lastly, I would encourage you to seek out reviews from Pacific Islander reviewers to speak to the culture represented in the movie.  This Buzzfeed article is a great round-up of dialogue, and so is this review from Strange Horizons.

All in all, I think Moana is a genuine, worthwhile story and a great Disney film that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Ugly by Robert Hoge (2016)

uglyhogeIn this real-life Wonder story, Robert Hoge describes his early life being born with not only a large tumor on his face affecting the placement of his facial features, but also legs which were underdeveloped. While he addresses some of the surgeries he underwent as baby up through high school, this autobiography centers around his family life and his determined spirit, despite challenges with his physical appearance and abilities along the way. I highly suggest the audiobook, read by the author himself.

Check out Ugly and other titles on this year's 2019 Bluestem nominee list targeted for grades 3-5.

Rockabye Baby! Lullaby renditions of songs from Hamilton (2017)

rockaby-babyTo all the caregivers and parents out there who want to listen to their own tunes while riding in the car with their babies, but worry about the adult language or themes...I give you Rockabye Baby.

Rockabye Baby takes popular music and transforms it into soothing instrumental lullabies.

I personally like to jam out to the Hamilton original cast recording by myself, but when my nieces and nephews are around, I'll put on the Rockabye Baby Hamilton edition so I can listen to something appropriate and also what I want at the same time.

This label has EIGHTY different albums released, with more coming every day. Check out all of them upstairs in the K&T department. We'll get you Beyonce or Coldplay lullaby-style and you'll be on your way.
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Diamond Willow by Helen Frost (2008)

diamondwillowHelen Frost tells the story of 12-year-old Diamond Willow, named after diamond willow sticks, which when carved and polished, have beautiful diamond-shaped designs. These designs are the forms that Frost's poems take in the book, each containing a hidden message.

Willow struggles interacting with other humans; however, she loves dogs and has a special connection with her family's favorite sled dog, Roxy. While attempting to save Roxy's life, an unexpected snowstorm ends up landing Willow in a harrowing predicament. Ultimately, though, this adventure leads to the reveal of a family secret kept hidden Willow's entire life.

A quick read and a creative format, Diamond Willow is on the Bluestem nominee list for 2019 for grades 3-5.
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Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (2017)

hellouniversekellyHello, Universe was one book that I had to read in a single sitting because I was so enthralled with the story telling. Told by four very different characters, their storylines intertwine and meet throughout . The adventure is high-stakes (at least for a claustrophobic like me!), and I loved watching the characters develop and progress through their actions and thoughts.

My favorite character was Virgil Salinas. I loved his relationship with his pet, Gulliver, and with his lola (grandmother). He feels out of place in his family since he's not interested in sports. He's also the character who I felt the most concerned for, in terms of the adventure that he takes.

But I think what really made this a special read for me is that I read it the week before I heard Erin Entrada Kelly give her acceptance speech for winning the Newbery Award. The combination of book and speech is unforgettable and I'm so looking forward to anything Kelly writes next...including the Golden Valley High series. Ha!

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson (2016)

msbixbysWritten from the alternating perspectives of three sixth grade boys, this exceptional novel follows their quest to create a very special "last day" for their teacher, recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and unable to finish the school year. Clever, funny, and heartwarming, this quick read will take you through a range of emotions as you are part of Steve, Brand, and Topher's mission for their beloved Ms. Bixby.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson is among the 2019 Bluestem and Caudill Award nominees for the State of Illinois, designed for students in grades 3-5 and 4-8, respectively, but grownups, don't discount the opportunity to enjoy this book as well!

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (2017)

aminasvoiceAmina loves music and especially loves to sing. But whenever she stands on stage, words never come out. And Amina has more than just stage fright to worry about: friends, family visiting from Pakistan, and her parents have signed her for a Quran recitation competition! Can Amina find her voice in time?

Hena Khan writes a realistic, relatable character in Amina. Readers will cheer for Amina throughout the book; even when Amina makes some mistakes, she is quick to make amends.

I thought that the story was fast-paced and very engaging for readers. I had to keep turning the pages to find out what would happen to Amina.

Amina’s Voice is currently on the Bluestem 2019 Nominees list for grades 3-5. Make sure to pick up a copy of our challenge log when you check out a copy in the K&T Department.