Perfect Picture Book Friday! Sophie’s Squash Go to School by Pat Zietlow Miller

1 Jul

Susanna Leonard Hill has a feature on her blog called Perfect Picture Book Friday. It is a list of “perfect” picture books recommended by all sorts of people. I chose this book because sometimes it takes a bit of work to grow a friend.

squash2Sophie’s Squash Go to School
Written by Pat Zietlow Miller
Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
40 pages – ages 5+

Published by Schwartz & Wade on June 28, 2016

Theme/Topic- Making friends

Genre- Realistic Fiction

Opening and Synopsis- Opening: “On the first day of school, Sophie peeked into her classroom.”

Synopsis from publisher: “This charming sequel to the beloved Sophie’s Squash is the perfect antidote to the back-to-school jitters. Sophie goes to school for the first time and has no interest in making friends that aren’t squash. Here’s a gently humorous read-aloud that proves that making friends, just like growing squash, takes time.

On Sophie’s first day of school, nobody appreciates her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter, baby squash that she grew in her garden. Even worse, one classmate, Steven Green, won’t leave Sophie alone. He sits by her at circle time. He plays near her during recess. And he breathes on her while she paints. Steven just wants to be friends, but Sophie isn’t interested. Still, Sophie knows that her squash friends won’t last forever. Maybe it would be nice to have some human friends after all. . . .”

What I Thought- Ms. Miller did a fabulous job with this sequel to Sophie’s Squash! I enjoyed the way it dealt with making new friends, showing the Sophie was perfectly fine without human friends (or so she thought), but when Bonnie and Baxter need to get planted in the ground, she gets lonely. I thought that that was a marvelous idea. Ms. Wilsdorf’s illustrations are perfect for the book, with a soft glow created from the watercolors. This is a great picture book about friendship!

Activities and Resources- You can visit to read an article about helping your kids make friends HERE.

You can visit to read an article about growing your own butternut squash HERE!

To find more Perfect Picture Books please visit Susanna Hill’s blog HERE!

Review and Author interview! Green Changes You Can Make Around Your Home by Carol Parenzan Smalley

30 Jun

changesmakeGreen Changes You Can Make Around Your Home

By Carol Parenzan Smalley

48 pages – ages 8+

Published by Mitchell Lane Publishers on September 22, 2009

Synopsis- Have you ever thought about helping the environment, but didn’t know what to do? Do you even know what you need to fix? If you are feeling unsure, and are in need of ideas, this book will help you get on your way to being environmentally friendly.

What I Thought- This was a good nonfiction book. Although the book was written in 2009, the environmental message remains the same – we need to start taking care of our resources, and here is how you can help. The book offers positive things we can do to help make changes. There are real-life examples of people doing things to help their environment, and ideas for how you can save water, keep gas levels down (oddly enough, eating beans is actually encouraged!), and recycle. It’s a good book for families to read.


I was given the chance to interview the author, Ms. Parenzan, about the work she did on her book, and her works as a Riverkeeper.

Erik: When did you decide to start your book?

Ms. Parenzan: The publisher of this book – Mitchell Lane Publishers – contacted me in 2009 to determine if I had an interest in being a member of the writing team for the series of books that “Green Changes” is part of. Of course I had to say YES! I had written other books for them prior to this book. The book was released in 2010.

Erik: How do you think your book has impacted the lives of the kids reading it?

Ms. Parenzan: I have actually had the opportunity to talk with some of the book’s readers! They shared with me that what impacted them most was the stories about other young readers who have made and are making a difference. They enjoyed learning about the Green Teen’s salsa and the Food from the ‘Hood’s salad dressing. They laughed with Alyse Lui and her description of her family as the “French Fry Family” because of the smell that was emitted from their biodiesel fuel that powered their car! They started to consider the size of their own carbon footprints and encouraged their own families to make small green changes. Overwhelmingly, they realized that it’s the cumulative effect of all the little changes we each make that has a large impact on the health of our planet.

Erik: Have we gotten better, as a species, with our green acts? 

Ms. Parenzan: Overall, I do believe we have gotten better. Back when I was your age, recycling wasn’t even practiced. Today, it’s common practice. That’s the beauty of being a change maker. If practiced long enough, it becomes an integral component of your daily life. It becomes part of your regular routine. But we still have a long way to go. We know more today than we did yesterday, and hopefully, we’ll all know more tomorrow than we know today. We can’t let up or give up. We are the change.

Erik: What is the hardest part, in your opinion, of living green? The easiest?

Ms. Parenzan: I believe the hardest part of living green is staying positive in a world that feeds on negative information. You just need to turn on the evening news to get a daily dose of negative reality – from the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay to rising sea waters due to climate change. Sometimes we are made to feel that the problem is bigger than the person, that our individual acts won’t make a difference, but that’s not true. The easiest part today to living green is having access to information to help you make the best educated decisions. Your answers are but a click or book away. The information is there for you when you’re ready to receive it and act on it. You just need to be ready, and that happens at different times for different people.

Erik: If you could only do one thing to help the Earth, what would it be?

Ms. Parenzan: Simply be the example for others to follow. There’s no need for finger pointing or poster waving — that only gets you attention in the moment. Your actions will have a longer and more positive impact.

I like to share this song and video with others: The song was written and performed by Dan Berggren, a folk musician from New York. The photos and videos were taken by Carl Heilman and primarily feature the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. It brings me hope.

Erik: Could you also tell us about your current work as a Riverkeeper?

Ms. Parenzan: A Riverkeeper is part of the Waterkeeper family of licensed voices for watersheds around the world. Today, there are almost 300 waterkeepers on six continents in 34 countries. The parent organization is Waterkeeper Alliance, which was founded and spearheaded by Bobby Kennedy Jr., an environmental attorney and activist. Each of our work is based on the Clean Water Law that states that every citizen on this Earth is guaranteed the right to swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. Here in the United States, we turn on the tap and take good, clean water for granted. That is not the case, however, around the world. Although the Clean Water Act is the foundation for our work, each program can take on its “own flavor” depending on the watershed being protected and the background of the waterkeeper.

This short video will help you understand our mission:

My work as the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper focuses on about 10,000 square miles of the watershed in and around the North and West Branches of the river. Basically, I start at the dam in Sunbury and go north on the North Branch and west on the West Branch and all the drainage area feeding these two parts of the river.

My approach is multi-faceted: I educate. I investigate. I advocate. And, when necessary, I litigate.

My watershed is rich in energy concerns. We have legacy coal mining issues: abandoned mine drainage and abandoned land drainage. This drainage lowers the pH of the water, making it acidic and incapable of supporting aquatic life. The west branch of the river is the most impaired because of it. The good news is we are seeing improvement in parts of the watershed due to acid mine drainage remediation programs! There are hundreds of thousands of abandoned and orphaned natural gas and oil wells out there, many of which are leaking methane. Energy companies drilled them and then walked away. We don’t know where they are. We need to find them and close them. There are thousands of fracked natural gas wells with hundreds of miles of pipelines connecting these wells and transporting gas in and out of the watershed. There’s an old coal-burning electric generation plant (that will be converted to a dual – coal and natural gas – electric plant in the next few years). There’s a proposed small hydroelectric dam planned too. Of course, we also have a nuclear power plant. All traditional energy generation requires water and makes some impact on the earth. But here’s the “kicker”: we don’t need all of this energy. For every megawatt of power we use here in the Susquehanna River Valley, two megawatts are exported. The many miles of proposed natural gas lines are not to bring gas to the residents of Pennsylvania but to transport gas to other states – and other countries. Pennsylvania and her communities are paying the cost to be energy exporters. Isn’t it time we put the people of Pennsylvania ahead of the profit of big companies?

We are also contributing to the nutrient loading of the Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehanna River contributes about 50% of all freshwater entering the Bay and about 40-45% of all pollution. Some of this pollution comes from our farming practices. As Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper, I am exploring ways that my organization can help to lower the amount of pollution reaching the Bay from this part of the Susquehanna River watershed.

I hold an environmental engineering degree with a water focus from Penn State University. For over 30 years, I worked in engineering, technical communications, and business development. To date, I have written over 30 children’s books and a few books for adults too. There are several books planned for the next year. We just received a grant that includes the creation and publication of a children’s book for young river stewards. I am also talking to one of my publishers about a history book about Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna River, with a focus on water activities.

Thank you very much Ms. Parenzan!

Review! The Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson

27 Jun

evillib2The Knights of Crystallia

Series: Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians Book 3 (#1, #2)

Written by Brandon Sanderson

320 pages – ages 9+

Published by Starscape on April 19, 2016

Synopsis- Alcatraz Smedry is back in another adventure! This time he is going to the land of Nalhalla, a country that the Evil Librarians do not control. Only, on the way to Nalhalla, their giant glass bird they were riding in blew up. Which is not fun. Thankfully, they didn’t die. Unthankfully, the Librarians are trying to negotiate with the monarchs of Nalhalla, and it looks like they are succeeding. Negotiations are normally a good thing, but it seems like these are hiding a sinister purpose…

What I Thought- This book as well as the series is hilarious! The plot is solid, but the narration is what really sold the book – it is written as a memoir of Alcatraz Smedry, so we hear it as he would write it. It leads to an interesting story. Alcatraz does his best in the series to make himself seem like a terrible person, and that he is not the hero he is made up to be. The story itself is fun, and I enjoyed finally getting to see the country/continent of Nalhalla, where the Smedry family resides. The characters are incredibly wacky, providing humor as a whole. There is a lot of character development going on in this book, including really meeting Alcatraz’s father. I really enjoyed this new-installation in this amazing book!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks


Perfect Picture Book Friday! So you Want to Grow a Pizza? by Bridget Heos

24 Jun

Susanna Leonard Hill has a feature on her blog called Perfect Picture Book Friday. It is a list of “perfect” picture books recommended by all sorts of people. I chose this book because it tells you about how to grow what you need for a pizza in simple ways.

GYF_Pizza_cvr2.inddSo you Want to Grow a Pizza?
Written by Bridget Heos
Illustrated by Daniele Fabbri
24 pages – ages 6+

Published by Amicus Ink on February 2, 2016

Theme/Topic- Making your own food/Eating healthy

Genre- Realistic Fiction

Opening and Synopsis- Opening: “Pizza is delicious. Have you ever wondered where it came from? Like all food, it comes from plants and animals. How would you like to grow a pizza at home?”

Publisher’s Synopsis: “If you really wanted to grow a pizza, you’d need a wheat field, a cow, a pig, a vegetable garden… and you’d run out of room quickly! The sensible narrator advises each child gardener to start small, and they all gain an appreciation for fresh ingredients by the end of each book. A young boy wants to grow his own pizza, learns where the many ingredients come from, and learns how to grow the ingredients to make pizza sauce. Includes kid-friendly pizza sauce recipe.”

What I Thought- This is a really nice book, with gentle humor, present in the tone that the words and illustrations take. The book is rather encouraging, while also informing the reader of what they can do. Kids will enjoy reading the book to learn how they can make their own pizza. The illustrations have a certain warmth to them that generates a feeling of hominess. This is a great book part of a series about making your own food (like a pie, a taco, and a salad). The book features a recipe in the back for making your own tomato sauce, which gives the kids something to do with what they have grown. It’s a great idea to have kids learn to cook and where their food comes from.

Activities and Resources- You can find a recipe for making homemade pizza at HERE, which I think would go nicely with the pizza sauce recipe featured in the book.

Even if you don’t have a big field, you can still grow your own wheat in your garden! has a nice tutorial for growing your wheat crop HERE.

The book does mention that you can start your own compost pile, including basic directions such as what can go in it, but has a nice tutorial for creating your own compost pile from scratch right HERE!

To find more Perfect Picture Books please visit Susanna Hill’s blog HERE!

Review! Waybound by Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz

23 Jun


Series: Ore book #2  (book #1 review)

By Cam Baity & Benny Zelkowicz

368 pages – ages 11+

Published by Disney-Hyperion on April 12, 2016

Synopsis- Phoebe and Micah are still in the metal world of Mehk, and are now helping the Covenant, a secret Mehkan resistance group fighting against the evil human-run Foundry. Phoebe has been declared Loaii, which is similar to being enlightened in the religion of Mehk. Phoebe and Micah were given a mission to find the Occulyth, which belonged to the Ona, the Mother of Ore of whom the religion is based, and had been lost in a supposedly barren wasteland. They must go deep into Mehk, while also staying under the Foundry’s radar. It’s going to be hard, but the Ona knows they can do it.

What I Thought- This was a gripping book. There is a lot going on as Phoebe and Micah try to find the Occulyth, and Dollop, their mehkan friend, tries to find himself. You can see how both Phoebe and Micah grew from book 1 throughout the story. There is still language (cussing) throughout the book, but it is less than in book one – just a note for parents of younger readers. In book 2 you “see” more of Mehk, and the lifeforms in it. It was enjoyable to see the authors breathe life into the world by expanding the story. The co-authors write well together, and make the story realistic, even if it is put into a dystopian world. The series is perfect for middle grade and young adult readers who are looking for a great fantasy story to get lost in. I highly recommend this book!

I give this book five out of five bookworms.fivebooks

Review! The Nethergrim and the Skeleth by Matthew Jobin

20 Jun

nethergrimThe Nethergrim

Series: The Nethergrim Epic #1

By Matthew Jobin

368 pages – ages 9+

Published by Philomel Books on April 8, 2014

Synopsis- Edmund Bale was the unhappy son of the local innkeeper. He was unhappy because he wanted to be a wizard but his father is going to have him to take over the family business. He was trying to convince his friends (Tom and Katherine) to run away with him because they would be able to make something more of their lives. That plan was interrupted when they heard a scream from not that far off. They go to the source of the sound, and end up being attacked by a bolgug – an evil creature supposedly only controlled by a supposedly dead monster called the Nethergrim. Edmund and his friends defeat the bolgug, but find out that Edmund’s brother was taken by the creatures. When the local hero leaves to make sure that the Nethergrim is actually dead, the kids promise to stay out of trouble. That is, until his horse comes back alone. Now it is up to Edmund and his friends to get the hero out of trouble and save the land from an impending invasion!

What I Thought- This was an amazing book! The fantasy world created is perfect, with just the right amount of magic, monsters, and medieval times! The magic is explained with a good amount of counterbalances – keeping it from being a deus ex machina. The characters really add depth to the story, keeping you reading. I really enjoyed reading about the creatures serving the Nethergrim. Mr. Jobin has a great writing style, which made the setting even more plausible, even with the magic and monsters. I read the book rather quickly, which I believe is a testimony to how involved I was in the story.

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

skelethThe Skeleth

Series: The Nethergrim Epic #2

By Matthew Jobin

400 pages – ages 9+

Published by Philomel Books on May 10, 2016

Synopsis- Edmund and his friends have returned from the Nevergrim’s lair. Edmund is learning magic.  Edmund’s friend Tom, who was a slave, and only had a whipping to return to, ran off with Katherine’s father to go talk with the legendary Tristan, who fought alongside Katherine’s father, to discuss what happened in the lair; and Katherine finds herself working in the Baron’s castle. When a neighboring baron comes to visit, his jolly demeanor is not as it seems, for a war is brewing, and it is unclear what the cost will be for both sides! Will Edmund, Tom, and Katherine be able to stop this new threat in time?

What I Thought- I liked this book even more than the first, and that says a lot. Mr. Jobin really gets into the world he created, fleshing it out, making it his own. You really learn about the characters, and you see them grow as well. There is a lot of action, subterfuge, and mistrust going around, all of which amounts to a thrilling story! The new characters are interesting, and I liked trying to figure out their motives. I really enjoyed the book, and read it faster than the first! The trilogy is very good so far, and I cannot wait to read book three!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Perfect Picture Book Friday! Can I Tell You a Secret? by Anna Kang

18 Jun

Susanna Leonard Hill has a feature on her blog called Perfect Picture Book Friday. It is a list of “perfect” picture books recommended by all sorts of people. I chose this book because it is a good story about facing your fears.

secretCan I Tell You a Secret?
Written by Anna Kang
Illustrated by Christopher Weyant
40 pages – ages 4+

Published by HarperCollins on May 31, 2016 

Theme/Topic- Facing your Fears

Genre- Fiction

Opening and Synopsis- Opening: “Pssst!

Yes, you.
Could you come here for a sec?”

Publisher’s Synopsis: “From the author-illustrator team of You Are (Not) Small, winner of the 2015 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, comes an adorable picture book featuring Monty.

He’s a little frog with a BIG secret that he’s ready to share. Monty learns how to face his fears with some help from his new friend—YOU!”

What I Thought- This is a really cute book. It’s by the same people as those that wrote You Are (Not) Small (Review HERE), and the art and writing style collaboration is perfect for the book. I was glad to see another book by them. The book has a good message on how to handle fears, without sounding preachy, as the reader is “helping” Monty out with his fears. It’s a nice story that kids will enjoy reading, and learn a little without realizing it. The illustrations are simple. The white space on the page draws the reader’s eye to the illustration, giving it nice emphasis.







The book also shows that it is a good idea to talk with someone about something you are afraid of and not keep it inside.

Activities and Resources- 

Check out a sample of the book at the publisher’s website HERE.

Family Education has a good article on how to face fears objectively, found HERE. has an article about how to ease your child out of fear, found HERE.

To find more Perfect Picture Books please visit Susanna Hill’s blog HERE!

Review! The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

14 Jun

apolloThe Hidden Oracle

Series: The Trials of Apollo (Book 1)

By Rick Riordan

384 pages – ages 9+

Published by Disney Hyperion on May 3, 2016

Synopsis- Meet Lester Papadopoulos. He’s a half-blood, sixteen years old, covered in acne, and just happens to be the god Apollo. You see, after all of the trouble with Gaea rising (in the Heroes of Olympus series), and almost taking over the world, the blame fell to Apollo. As Zeus said “Your fault, your punishment.” – so he turned Apollo into a human, of all things. Apollo just expects to have an easy time of being a human and expects that Zeus will feel Apollo learned his lesson. Apollo finds it a bit hard to win back the favor of his father. Where can he turn? Camp Half-Blood of course!

What I Thought- It is no secret that Riordan is one of my favorite authors. Every time I see a new book come out, I brace myself thinking it may be the one where he jumps the shark. I was especially hesitant with this one because it is yet another expansion of the Percy Jackson universe. I am happy to say Riordan once again did not disappoint. The story highlights Riordan’s masterful use of humor weaved into an action story. This book was hilarious. Apollo is so full of himself, you can’t help but like him. It is also really interesting seeing his character and personality change as the story goes on. It is a really unique perspective on Mr. Riordan’s world, finally seeing it truly from the eyes of one of the gods. Kids will enjoy reading the story, and meeting new characters, along with revisiting some of the older ones. Meg – the half-blood Apollo is charged with serving, is a great new character with an interesting past who I will enjoy getting to know in the coming books. The level of action and suspense is on par with what I’ve come to expect from Riordan’s work.The book reminded me of Riordan’s writing in the Lightning Thief (the start of the Percy Jackson series). With each book, the series gets more intense. I am wondering if that is what will happen with The Trials of Apollo series. Overall, a great concept and a wonderful introduction to a new chapter in this franchise.

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Review! A Spark Ignites by Michael Lachman

12 Jun

sparkA Spark Ignites

By Michael Lachman

264 pages – ages 12+

Published by Amazon Digital Services LLC on March 17, 2016

Synopsis- Matt Stone is an average high schooler. That is, until his brother unexpectedly dies in a car accident, his last words to Matt cryptically tell him to keep the legacy. His legacy, it turns out, is that of the superhero Spark. Matt feels compelled to take up the job, even if he doesn’t want to, out of honor for his brother. But what if Matt’s brother dying wasn’t an accident? What if there was foul play involved?

What I Thought- This was an intense book – it has a plausible way for there being superheroes (all are electronically powered via suits and gadgets), and Matt and his friends are pretty realistic teens. The story is a bit dark, with a lot of uncertainties on behalf of the characters, as Matt tries to figure out who killed his brother. I enjoyed reading it, and trying to figure out the mystery. Mr. Lachman’s writing style is very engaging, and draws the reader in. You can believe that everything is actually happening. I really enjoyed reading the story. I think it is for a slightly older reader because of the intense and dark plot.

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Perfect Picture Book Friday! My Little Sister and Me by Maple Lam

10 Jun

Susanna Leonard Hill has a feature on her blog called Perfect Picture Book Friday. It is a list of “perfect” picture books recommended by all sorts of people. I chose this book because it really captures the relationship of siblings.

littlesisterMy Little Sister and Me
By Maple Lam
40 pages – ages 5+

Published by HarperCollins on May 10, 2016

Theme/Topic- Siblings

Genre- Realistic Fiction

Opening and Synopsis- Opening: “For the very first time, Mom asks me to take my little sister home from the bus stop – all by myself!”

Publisher’s Synopsis: “It’s a big job when a big brother gets to take his little sister home from school for the very first time. In debut author-illustrator Maple Lam’s charming story, she celebrates the incredible relationship between a little boy and his younger sister. Similar to books like I’m a Big Brother by Joana Cole and What Brothers Do Best by Laura Numeroff, this book is perfect to read with both older and younger siblings, as well as with youngsters getting ready for back-to-school!”

What I Thought- This is a really sweet book. It shows the care and affection siblings have for one another perfectly. It is also incredibly realistic, because even though they love each other, they may not understand each other – such as when the sister is picking up trash to look at it, and the brother says “Ewwwww.” The book is simple, but funny, as the sister runs off after whatever catches her eye, and her brother tries to keep her on track (wow – that pretty much sounds like my sister and me). The illustrations go perfectly with the book, the watercolors create a feeling of soft love. This is a fabulous debut!

Activities and Resources- has a good article about things you can do to reduce friction in sibling relationships HERE. has great ideas for strengthening the sibling bond HERE.

To find more Perfect Picture Books please visit Susanna Hill’s blog HERE!


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