Category Archives: Childrens

Review: OLIVER AND JUMPY, Stories 16-18

Three stories starring a genteel tomcat and his kangaroo best friend.

Oliver and Jumpy, Stories 16-18 (Oliver and Jumpy, the cat series)

Oliver and Jumpy, Stories 16-18

Oliver has a distinct voice and a rather urbane outlook on life for a cat living in the Australian outback. In “Who Am I?”, he’s hit on the head and loses his memory. He wanders around asking every creature he meets if they know him. One animal in particular tries to use Oliver’s injury to get himself a free lunch…Oliver!

In “Up a Tree”, Oliver explores a tall tree and meets a variety of animals. Not all are thrilled with his dropping by without an invitation. The whimsical beings at the very top came as a surprise. Their little dance made me smile. Each story usually has a fun little twist at the end. Either an unexpected turn of events or an amusing play on words.

“Moon Crystal” has Oliver and jumpy traveling to the moon to recover some special crystals that are essential to the well being of mankind. How they get there had me shaking my head. No rockets or launch pads for Oliver!

I read the kindle version on an older e-reader with a black and white display, so I didn’t get the full effect of the many illustrations. However, the drawings complemented the story and punched up the humor. I imagine the full-color versions must be even better, especially judging from the cover image on Amazon.

OLIVER AND JUMPY will delight young children and early readers. They’ll get a lot of laughs out of Oliver’s lively personality and poor sensible Jumpy’s attempts to rein him in before his enthusiasm and curiosity go too far.

*Author provided a copy of the book for review.

Review: IF YOU WERE ME AND LIVED IN CHINA

A short, beautifully illustrated introduction to China for young readers.

If You Were Me and Lived in...China: A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World

If You Were Me and Lived in…China: A Child’s Introduction to Culture Around the World

This book attempt to give children a brief, flavorful introduction to the geography and culture of china. Each two-page section takes on a specific aspect of the nation…geography, history, food…and included boxed text and a lavish illustration. The text presents Chinese terms along with a bracketed phonetic pronunciation. By the end of the book, the reader has a nice handful of useful Chinese vocabulary words and phrases.

I did find the text a bit cramped and the text boxes dark, especially in contrast to the light, bright and generously proportioned illustrations. illustrations. I read the book on a new tablet with back lighting and I had to almost squint to make out some of the text. Part of the issue is likely the black font is enclosed in a burnt orange text box. A paler color would’ve worked better. And taking the font up even one or two points would have made a big difference.

Overall a fun and informative book.

Review: LITTLE MISS MOLLY

*Book provided by the author for an honest review

A more detailed video review can be viewed HERE.

Melissa M. Williams's Little Miss Molly

Little Miss Molly

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

Molly the lizard’s birthday is in jeopardy when her favorite pink party dress is ruined in the wash.

Molly is a fun character. She’s so caught up in her Princess world, you have to giggle at her. She and her pet dragonfly are adorable and have a lot of pizzazz. They both stand out no matter what they wear, but Molly is fixated on the color pink. Is her party (and her reputation as the school fashion plate) doomed when her brother’s blue sock runs all over her pretty pink outfits?

The illustrations in the book are gorgeous. Plenty of cute details and vibrant colors. Kids will want to read this one again and again. And there’s a princess quiz in the back

Review: LOGAN AND THE MYSTICAL COLLAR

Note: 1) This book was provided by the author in return for an honest review. 2) My video review of this book is HERE.

A retired greyhound finds himself transported to ancient Egypt where his intelligence and bravery are put to the test.

Logan and The Mystical Collar: Adventures in Ancient Egypt (Greyhound Stories)

Logan and the Mystical Collar–Adventures in Ancient Egypt.

Logan is a pleasant point-of-view character, a lively mix of curiosity, intelligence and inner strength. Through his eyes we get an insider’s view of what palace life might have been like at the time of Cleopatra. Burke’s description of the city of Alexandria is a nice balance of historical fact bolstered by imagination.

The plot itself provides plenty of excitement as Logan tries to figure out how to fit in with the palace pack, and sneaks off at night to explore the city. At one point he and his rival Zeus face off for a big race. This changes their relationship in a way that becomes pivotal later on…when the Romans attempt to invade the city.

The illustrations are plentiful and well done, especially for being in black and white. There’s also a nice amount of informative endmatter–questions, vocabulary lists, historical facts.

One of my favorite features is the “cast” list at the end. Burke’s characters are based on real Greyhounds. She provides their photos and biographies.

A fun an exciting chapter book adventure for readers 8 and up.

Interview: Tween and YA author Christopher Cloud

I may be pushing 46, but I love books geared to all ages. Author Christopher Cloud writes exciting and emotionally honest fiction for tweens and young adults. Here he talks a little about how he connects with his young audience. Be sure to read past the interview for my review of his middle-grade novel The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon.

Christopher Cloud, author of books for tweens and young adults

Author Christopher Cloud

 

The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon takes place on a cattle ranch in New Mexico and your descriptions of the environment and landscape are quite vivid. Do you have any personal experience of the area? Do you need to visit a place to write about it?

I do have personal experience with the area, and for me, it is important that I visit a place to write about it. Petroglyph Canyon is a beautiful, wilderness gorge out in the middle of nowhere. The closest town is 50 miles away. The New Mexico canyon is part of a 90,000 acre cattle ranch owned by the Thompson family. They gave me full access to the scenic ravine, whose walls are covered with primitive petroglyphs I made about a dozen or so trips to the canyon while I was writing my story.

Pablo, Pia, and Kiki are vivacious and engaging. How do you develop your characters? Do they come before the plot itself, or do they suggest themselves as the project moves forward?

I pretty much know who my characters will be before I start writing a story. (I will often add characters as I get into my story.) I make a list of personality traits for each of my characters and describe them to the reader with dialogue and action, not adjectives. It’s important that each character’s personality remain consistent throughout the story. He or she cannot appear weak or wishy-washy in one scene, but bold and strong in another scene.

How did you come to write for middle-grade readers? What is it about this age group that interests you? Do you plan any books for older readers?

First, let me say that middle-grade readers of today are not the same middle-graders readers of twenty years ago. I was made aware of this transition several years ago when my grandson—at ten years of age—and his friends were tearing through the Harry Potter books, which I believe are more on a young adult/adult reading level. I have another young adult story roughly based on my two years of high school in Japan. It’s titled Voices of the Locusts and tells the story of a 16-year-old boy who falls in love with a 17-year-old Japanese girl who has been promised in marriage by her parents to an older man.

What do you find the most challenging part of the writing process? Is it the initial draft that’s the challenge? Or shaping it into a polished piece of work?

Finding an original story idea presents the greatest challenge for me. All of my stories, even the middle-grade and young adult novels, are based loosely on personal experience. Once I have the kernel of a story idea, again mostly based on my personal experience/observations, the writing process will fall into place. I have never encountered a road block in the initial draft, and working the story into a polished work has always been rewarding.

The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon has plenty of action and gets pretty scary in places—Pablo, Pia, and Kiki are in real danger from the criminal ring they uncover. How do you balance the story’s need for tension and drama with the age of your readers? Do you ever second guess yourself and say, You know, maybe I should dial this back?

This can be tricky. However, middle-grade readers today are more “worldly” than their parents were when they were tweens. This level of sophistication still requires self-censoring. Although I have crossed the line in many pieces of dialogue and action, I generally call upon an editor to make that decision. For example, I wrote a descriptive suicide scene in my young adult novel Voices of the Locusts, but I would have been less descriptive had the story been targeted to middle-graders..

These days writers have to spend almost as much time marketing and promoting their work as they do creating it. How do you arrange and guard your creative time?

This is a great question, and one that plagues most writers. I am no exception. It’s hard for me to write part-time and market part-time. I have to limit myself to one activity or the other, not both. I normally set aside time to write or market. It’s difficult to build up a head of steam with a story, then put the story aside and begin to work on marketing. The story suffers. However, marketing goes with the territory.

What is your favorite way to connect with readers? Does reader feedback ever influence what or how you write?

I allow my characters to connect with my readers with dialogue that is reflective of their gender, age, economic status, and education. Reader feedback is important to me, and I generally incorporate all or parts of this feedback into subsequent novels.

Are you working on anything now?

I’m working on a middle-grade story about three kids who find themselves in a runaway hot-air
balloon. I don’t have a title yet.

About Christopher Cloud
Award-winning author Christopher Cloud writes middle-grade and young adult novels. He began writing fiction full time at the age of 66 after a long career in journalism and public relations. Chris graduated from the University of Missouri in 1967 with a degree in journalism. He has worked as a reporter, editor, and columnist at newspapers in Texas, California, and Missouri. He was employed by a major oil company as a public relations executive, and later operated his own public relations agency. He created the board game Sixth Sense in 2003. Chris lives in Joplin, Missouri, and enjoys golf and hiking.

Visit Christopher Cloud’s website

More books by Christopher Cloud:

Adelita’s Secret

Voices of the Locusts

Searching for the Treasure of Jesse James 

My Review of The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon:

* I received a free copy of the book to review

Three kids visiting their uncle’s New Mexico cattle ranch stumble upon a criminal ring bent on stealing Native American artwork.

The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon

The Ghosts of Petroglyph Canyon

THE GHOSTS OF PETROGLYPH CANYON is an exciting adventure full of dramatic plot twists. I was surprised that a middle grade novel could hold me in such rapt attention. Pablo and Pia Perez and their cousin KiKi are realistic and full of energy. The bad guys Red, Gordo, Pirate and Harvey Ragland are bumbling but also scary and full of malice. Uncle Antonio seemed a little underutilized, but he is dealing with a drought emergency that has left him understaffed and in economic hardship.

Christopher Cloud does a great job depicting the New Mexico landscape and the daily activities on a cattle ranch. The archaeological details are accurate and well presented. Also, though this is a book for kids, the author doesn’t write down to his readers. Cloud ratchets up the tension little by little until it explodes into a wild and frightening climax. Every time I thought “this has to be the end,” he threw another challenge at his young heroes.

My one tiny issue with the book has to do with the cover. Sure, it gives a great flavor of what the plot is about. But why are the kids are blond when the characters in the book are clearly Latino?

The cover is only a small bump. Overall, this is a fun book full of adventure and excitement.

Review: THE ADVENTURES OF AN URBAN FOX–MAGGIE ARRIVES

A pair of cats must make some adjustments when a fox begins visiting their East London garden.

The Adventures of an Urban Fox: Maggie Arrives

The Adventures of an Urban Fox: Maggie Arrives

In this early-grade chapter book, Tabby Cat and Black Cat are not quite in agreement about what to do when Maggie the Fox begins visiting. It’s bad enough that she’s intruded upon their garden, but then she comes inside the house and makes an awful mess. Black Cat is ready for war. Tabby isn’t so sure and thinks they can all come to an arrangement acceptable to all sides. Territorial rivalries turn into serious business when Maggie becomes ill and the cats struggle to arrange help for her.

I love how each of the animal characters has a distinctive voice and personality. There are many funny parts. My favorite is when Maggie discovers the humans’ socks. I do wish the humans themselves were brought in just little more prominently. It’s never explained how/why they begin leaving food out for Maggie.

Overall, though, this is a charming story with beautiful illustrations. It manages to entertain as it instructs readers about the nature and habits of urban foxes.

Review: THE CURSE OF THE FATES

* I received a Kindle copy of this book from the author in return for a fair and honest review.

A young girl fears she’s cursed when she suddenly loses her hair.

The Curse of the Fates

The Curse of the Fates

There is so much to like about this book. Lottie is just lovely. Her shock when she wakes and finds her beautiful hair all over her pillow is palpable. Her confusion, embarrassment, anger, the need to blame someone or something, is all real and natural.

Lottie’s attempts to hide her situation from her friends and family–and how they rally around her when they discover the truth–adds a hopeful note to a disturbing situation. Also, the way Lottie struggles to decouple her appearance from her essential self, which at such an age is incredibly difficult, pulled at my emotions.

To be honest, the text could benefit from a little more editing. But the story is powerful, and the illustrations bring Lottie’s world alive. I would recommend THE CURSE of the FATES to parents and to those educators and medical personnel who serve children learning to cope with alopecia.