Book review, Received for Review

Sophie Washington: Secret Santa by Tonya Duncan Ellis

Statistics

Format: Paperback 

Length: 120 pages

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Page Turner Publishing

Date of Publication: 9th September, 2018

Rating: 5/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review


Kay Macleod organised an Indie Advent Calendar like she has been doing for the last two years. Through the advent calendar I met several authors and Tonya was one of them. I love reading children’s fiction. This seemed to be the perfect read for the Christmas season and I was very excited to read it.


The Blurb

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Christmas is three weeks away and a mysterious “Santa” has been mailing presents to sixth grader Sophie Washington in this adorable, illustrated chapter book for middle grade readers. There is no secret Santa gift exchange going on at her school, so she can’t imagine who it could be. Sophie’s best friends, Chloe, Valentina, and Mariama guess the gift giver is either Nathan Jones or Toby Johnson, two boys in Sophie’s class who have liked her in the past, but she’s not so sure.

Sophie uncovers clues to find her secret Santa and the final reveal is bigger than any package she’s opened on Christmas morning. It’s a holiday surprise she’ll never forget!

The Book

The story revolves around sixth grader Sophie Washington, her family and friends, especially her little brother Cole with his corny jokes who was my favourite. It is almost time for christmas break when sophie begins to receive packages from her Secret Santa. In the boxes she finds her favourite candies, a gingerbread house, and jewelry. She racks her brain to figure out who could be sending things to her and how they know what her favourite things are.

Along with this vein of mystery, the book also has other important aspects like dealing with bullies, forgiveness, and the importance of friendship and which makes it a wholesome read. I was reminded of Enid Blyton books because of the very clear distinction between right and wrong, good family values, and kids who are still innocent and likable. I now desparately want to read all the books in the series for their feel good factor.

The Author

Tonya Duncan Ellis is the author of the Reader’s Favorite “Five Star” rated Sophie Washington children’s books series, geared toward readers ages 8 to 12 and is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She has received awards for literary excellence and worked as a journalist and freelance magazine writer.

Tonya was born and raised in Louisville, KY and has also lived in Michigan, South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Indiana, London, England, and Strasbourg, France. She currently resides in Houston, TX. When she’s not writing, the author enjoys reading, biking, swimming, travel and spending time with her husband and three children. 

Her work include:
1. Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee (2013)

2. Sophie Washington: Things you Didn’t Know About Sophie (2013)

3. Sophie Washington: The Snitch (2014)

4. Sophie Washington: The Gamer (2017)

5. Sophie Washington: Hurricane (2018)

6. Sophie Washington: Mission Costa Rica (2018)

7. Sophie Washington: Secret Santa (2018)


TL;DR: A feel good book with mystery, humor and wholesome values


What did you do this Christmas season?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

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Book review, Received for Review

Horse Town by Moshank Relia

Statistics

Format: Paperback IMG_20181016_130023_580-min

Length: 74 pages

Genre: Children’s fiction

Publisher: Pigeon Post Literary Press

Date of Publication: 1st October, 2018

Rating: 5/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review


I love reading children’s books. They have an innocence about them that is always missing in every other genre. I had heard good reviews for the author’s debut book so I jumped at the chance to read this one when the author offered a review copy.

The Blurb

Horse Town is a story of two boys who are brought together by chance and bound together by their willingness to make sacrifices to each other- and strangers. The young boys, Arjun and Maruthi, live together in a single room, scraping together a meagre living by doing odd jobs.
Beside their residence looms the mansion of the reclusive Uncle Grim, a mysterious man who inexplicably receives free food and services from the townspeople. Uncle Grim is even rumoured to practice magic!
When two other boys from the town go missing and Arjun’s hard-earned coins begin to disappear, Arjun and Maruthi search for answers. Something has to explain these strange events. Could it be the peculiar and private Uncle Grim?

The Book

Horse Town is a short but sweet read. The book has beautiful illustrations both on the cover and on the inside by the author. It is a story of trust, friendship, and bonding. The story revolves around two orphan boys who have only each other to rely upon. Arjun has been living on his own for three years and his heart goes out to Maruthi who seems abandoned on the streets. He takes on the responsibility of creating a respectable life for the younger boy even though his efforts seem to be in vain.

The character of Uncle Grim gives the story a much-needed oomph. What was a simple story until then, takes a turn towards a mystery. We find ourselves rooting for Arjun at every turn. I was heartbroken when he believes that his trust was misplaced.

The story has you on your toes right until the end wondering who the culprit really is. It has naivety, intrigue, mystery and lightheartedness that make it a very ‘feel good’ book. It highlights the human nature of suspicion and showcases how important it is to trust your gut.

The author kept in mind the age of the book’s audience. The font is comfortable to read and the illustrations are simple to understand. The book can also be used as a readalong in schools or for parents that want to introduce the concept of trust, hard work, and friendship to young readers.

The Author

Moshank Relia is a graduate in English literature and has earned certificates in creative writing, sketching and theatre. He also holds a diploma in photography and has worked as a fashion photographer. He has trekked a number of high-altitude ranges in the Himalayas, including the mighty Rupin Pass (15,250ft.), Kedarkantha (12,850ft.) and the Kuari Pass (12,516ft.). His love for adventure, his deep affection for kids and his wide-ranging creative experiences drove him to write children’s fiction. Even though he is based in New Delhi, he can often be found sauntering along Camel Back Road, Mussoorie, where he spent most of his teenage years.

His work include:

  1. Adventures in Farland (2017)
  2. Horse Town (2018)

TL;DR: A short but in no way simple read that introduces concepts of trust, friendship and hard work to young readers


What was your favourite book as a kid?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

Brandon Makes Jiao Zi by Eugenia Chu

Statistics

Format: eBook (Kindle) brandon-min.JPG

Length: 27 pages

Genre: Children’s Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Date of Publication: 27th June, 2017

Rating: 5/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review


I love reading children’s books. They have a sense of innocence about them that is sorely lacking in every other genre. I have previously reviewed Great Grandma Joins the Circus, Police Officer Penny, Operation Pied PiperThe Adventures of Tootsie Lama, and Bill the Jungle Octopus and loved them all.

When I saw on a Facebook group that Eugenia Chu has a book for children, I asked to review it.


The Blurb

Mommy surprises Brandon with his grandma from China, Po Po (婆婆), when she picks him up from school one day. When they get home, the adventure begins! While Brandon and Po Po (婆婆) are making Chinese dumplings, called jiǎo zi (餃子), Brandon makes a mess and he and Po Po (婆婆) have a good laugh! They chat and bond over the experience. Then Brandon eats and eats and eats and makes a surprise at the end that delights the whole family! This adorable story includes some conversational Mandarin Chinese (including Pinyin – pronunciation) and is written the way a real Chinese grandmother and her Chinese-American grandson would speak with each other. It is a fun read for families with children who are learning, or are interested in, Mandarin or Chinese culture.

The Book

The book begins with an introduction to the intricacies of Mandarin Chinese, the various characters and symbols and how they are spelled and pronounced in Pinyin. It made me go on YouTube and search for the right pronunciation of words. Anything that makes me want to go and research more on it is a win in my books. The book also has a glossary in the end for the reader’s reference.

The story centers around Brandon who is ecstatic that his Grandmother (Po Po) is visiting him. They get together to make dumplings or Jiao Zi which Brandon loves. We are treated to both the English and Chinese variants for words. The sentences are written first in one language and then in another so as to familiarize the reader with various expressions. The family dynamics were sweet and the Chinese-American characters could be a point of reference to the many children who do not find books that are inclusive of the Asian culture in everyday literature.

It is a simple story that is beautifully illustrated by Helena Chu Ho. The repetition of sentences and words are sure to be useful to new learners of the language. I was glad that the author saw the lacunae in literature and took matters into her own hands and came up with a creative solution. I wish that there were such books in the various regional languages of India to help young readers familiarize themselves with their native tongue.

The Author

Eugenia Chu is an attorney, turned stay-at-home mom, turned writer. She is a first generation Chinese-American citizen and lives in Miami Beach with her husband and son, Brandon, who is the inspiration for her stories.  When Brandon was very little, the author couldn’t find children’s storybooks to read to him which touched upon Chinese culture and which included some Chinese (Mandarin) words to teach and/or reinforce his Chinese vocabulary, so she started writing her own.


TL;DR: A short read that is sure to capture the hearts of any reader who yearns for the representation of varied culture and heritage in literature


What languages do you speak?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

Bill the Jungle Octopus by Angela Pink

Statistics

Format: Paperback

IMG_20180607_185948_HHT-01-min

Length: 44 pages
Genre: Children’s fiction
Publisher: Olympia Publishers
Rating: 5/5 stars
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review


I have discovered that I really enjoy children’s books. There is something about the innocence of the stories and the black and white moral and ethical values in them that make me feel at peace while reading them. I was glad that I asked for this book from Olympia Publishers and was even more glad that they sent a paperback for it.

The illustrations are beautiful and colorful. They are sure to grab the attention of little kids. If it inspires children to start reading more, the world would definitely be a better place.

The Author

Angela Pink is a 30-something animal lover from Essex. Bill the Jungle Octopus is her first book.

The Blurb

Bill the Octopus lives a happy and carefree life with his friends in the ocean, until one day he is scooped up and taken on a jungle adventure where he does his best to avoid becoming lunch!

The Book

Bill the Octopus lives with his buddies in the ocean until one fateful day he is rudely removed from his home. He then has to live in a jungle with the other animals who don’t fully accept him. This is a very apt representation of how removing an animal from his natural habitat causes disruption to the animal as well as the new habitat and the animals there.

IMG_20180607_190023-01-min

The story takes a dramatic turn with the animals being threatened and the Octopus coming in to save the day. Here we see that even the underdog can rise above the situation and help others in need. A good heart prevails even in face of bullying and neglect and everyone, however insignificant, has something to contribute to the society. Even without reading too deeply into the story, it still maintains its uniqueness. The illustrations are sure to grab the attention of readers, young and old alike. I enjoyed every bit of the colorful 13 pages.


TL;DR: A fun short story that will grab your attention. The beauty of the illustrations leave you wanting for more.


Do you have a favorite illustrator?

Tell me more in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review

The Adventures of Tootsie Lama by Stuti Agarwal

Statistics

Format: Online IMG-20180511-WA0005-01-min

Length: 39 pages

Genre: Children’s book

Publisher: Juggernaut Books

Rating: 4.5/5 stars


As you are all aware, I have trolled the juggernaut.in site for free books (Who hasn’t had the misfortune of their need to read exceeding their financial means to buy all books ever to be written?). The Adventures of Tootsie Lama has been receiving a lot of attention over Bookstagram and on Juggernaut and I was very curious to see if it lived up to its hype.

The Author

Currently based in New Delhi, Stuti Agarwal grew up in Darjeeling, playing in the mountains and slurping hot thukpa. The Adventures of Tootsie Lama is her first book.

The Blurb

She is eight, unafraid, and loves Thukpa.

In many ways Tootsie is like any eight-year-old in the hilly town of Darjeeling. But in many ways she is completely different – she lives on her own and cooks her meals. One day Tootsie decides she would like a delicious bowl of thukpa, just like her aama used to make it. Now all she needs is a plan.

The Book

It is very rare to find Indian books written for children which are grammatically impeccable, witty and morally high all at the same time. I was so glad that I could compare The Adventures of Tootsie Lama to short stories by Enid Blyton, who in my opinion is the undisputed Queen of Children’s Stories.

Tootsie Lama is an eight year old orphan who is adopted by a loving couple. However fate turns cruel yet again when her adoptive parents become casualties of an environmental disaster. This gutsy girl does not give up hope just because she is abandoned by adults. She takes care of herself, the house and the garden. She manages to survive by working and feeding herself. True to her 8 year old form, Tootsie also goes on adventures with her friend Tenzing.

Our story begins with Tootsie craving for Thukpa that tastes just the way her Aama used to make. The resourceful girl hatches a plan and enlists the help of Tenzing to steal a bowl of the delicious noodle dish from a restaurant.  What happens next and how the little kids are rewarded for their crimes is what makes the 39 paged book exciting.


TL;DR: A fun and exciting children’s book with a moral at the end.


What is your favourite children’s book?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

Great Grandma Joins the Circus by Lois Davis

Statistics

Format: Paperback

Length: 34 pages

Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Olympia Publishers in exchange for an honest review.


Blurb

A charming quintessentially English children’s tale about the time when The Great Alfredo Macaroni and The Great Randolpho Ravioli’s most spectacular circus show on earth came to the quaint little village of Howdoyoudo. Much to the amazement of Mincemeat – the food-loving and baking-mad ginger cat – and his and Great Grandma’s friends and relatives, Great Grandma becomes the evening’s great surprise and star of the show. For Great Grandma, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfil one of her life’s ambitions: to become a flying trapeze artist.


The Book

Great Grandma Joins the Circus tells the story of Great Grandma, a feisty old lady who longs to be a trapeze artist so that she can fly in air. It is targeted at the 8 to 10 year age group and is upbeat and positive till the end. Great Grandma lives in Howdoyoudo with her magical flying cat, Mincemeat. They and their friends, Peggy and Rose Petal with live a quaint life and enjoy Mincemeat’s baking.

The sentences in the book are simple enough for a young child to understand and to try independent reading. The illustrations are colorful and catchy and are sure to hold the interest of the child. However, I wish more thought was given to the names of the characters. Names such as ‘Joe Parcel It Up’ could have been better.

The book is very upbeat and tells that anything is possible if we set our mind to it. Age and appearance should not matter when it comes to living our dreams. Hard work and perseverance are needed to achieve our goals. When seen from the point of view of Mincemeat, it tells that we have to be supportive and loving towards our friends, encourage them and be happy for their success.


TL;DR: A positive and upbeat story that tells the importance of working towards our goals, no matter what our age or appearance.


What are some of the positive and encouraging books that you have read as a child?

Tell me in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Book review, Received for Review

Police Officer Penny by Claire Harrison

Statistics

Format: Paperback

Length: 47 pages

Rating: 5/5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Olympia Publishers in exchange for an honest review.


The Author

Claire Harrison was born in Blackburn and grew up happy with wonderful parents. She has always worked hard for her goals and believes in setting new goals and dreams and aiming high. She now lives a happy life with her husband and her son and works as a primary school teacher. She enjoys watching children’s faces light up when she reads great literature to them.


Blurb

“Call the Police Station! Someone in Sunnyside town needs Police Officer Penny’s help! Can she find missing little boy, Jack at the zoo? What if she wakes the lions? What if Jack has fallen in the crocodile’s pen? Where do you think he could be? Will Police Officer Penny save the day? Follow her thrilling adventure and see…


The Book

Claire Harrison wanted to do a series of books on ‘People Who Help Us’. She felt that there were no good fictional stories about police officers to teach children that the police keep us safe. She also wanted a female character who could be a positive role model for both boys and girls. Police Officer Penny was well received by her sample audience consisting of her pupils before it was illustrated and officially published. Harrison has designed an activity sheet based on the book and is planning a television character based on Penny.

The book is a short read that is targeted at children of the 4 to 7 year age group. The story revolves around Penny, a police officer in the town of Sunnyville who is loved by everyone. She is helpful and loyal. She loves her job and works very hard. The story goes on to describe a few offenses that happen around the town and how Penny deals with them but the main story begins when little Jack gets lost in the zoo. His frantic mother enlists the help of our heroine to find him. Penny goes to various areasof the zoo and encounters a number of animals in order to search for the lost boy. She is brave and smart through the entire story.

The font and the illustration are very pleasing to the eye and are sure to be a hit with the target audience. The sentences are simple for the children to follow and they will enjoy learning new emotions (flustered, distressed etc), new words (wandered, sneaky, enclosure etc), new professions (Baker) and new animals (Ostrich, Penguin etc). It is perfect for a bed time story or as a story to be read on a short car ride. It can also be the child’s first independent-read book.


TD;DR: A sweet story with a brave female character and public service officers painted in a positive light.


Have you read other books based on public service officers? Suggest more of such stories in the comments below or on my Instagram @the_food_and_book_life

Advanced Review Copy (ARC), Book review

Gregory and the Grimbockle by Melanie Schubert

I received a digital copy of Gregory and the Grimbockle from Melanie Schubert in exchange for an honest review. It is a new venture by the debut author and New Wrinkle publishing with illustrations by Abigail Kraft and soundtrack designed specifically for individual chapters by Jared Kraft.


Blurb

Ten-year-old Gregory is about to find out that the enormous mole stuck straight beneath his nose is not just a mole, but is actually a humpy crumpy portal of skin that hides a creature called the Grimbockle.

What’s more? The Grimbockle is just one of the many strange little creatures called Bockles tending to the mysterious threads that connect all humans from one to the other. It is a very important job and one that has long been carried out with incredible secrecy…

…that is, before tonight.


Gregory and the Grimbockle is a book designed for middle graders of the 8 to 12 year age group but it makes a great short read for adults as well. The sentence structure and the flow of the book reminded me of Enid Blyton books and I read the whole book in the voice of the girl from The BFG. I was also reminded of Roald Dahl for the magical setting but without the inherent darkness of his books. The reiterating rhyming reminded me of Dr. Suess books but this one had more substance to it.

The book tells a story of 10 years old Gregory, a “bloomberbine”  who finds that a Grimbockle uses his mole as a ‘humpy crumpy portal of skin’ to make its home. The boy befriends the creature in a totally non-self-conscious way that only children can. While interacting with the Grimbockle, he learns that the bockles mend exoodles of ‘hoo-mans‘. Exoodles that are now being damaged because  humans have forgotten how to maintain friendships and relationships in the modern era.

The beauty of the book lies in the scene build up and the camaraderie that it creates. The story and sentence structure are not too hard for middle graders to follow but at the same time gently introduce a variety of new words and concepts that the children can easily grasp. The book gives us brilliant lessons on being happy with the appearance of our body and the importance of working on our relationships with family and friends. With Ethel and Ted, it teaches the necessity of looking beyond first impressions. It says that love conquers all and we should give people, even ones that are rude, a second and sometimes a third chance. It gives the children a reasoning for people’s meanness and shows that even when people seem uncaring or downright nasty, they can still carry inside them a softness that can be brought to the foreground with our nice gestures. People that are dark, hard, crusty and sad can be helped with our love and they deserve politeness and our good company.

The illustrations are beautifully made, simple and elegant. I can see it captivating children’s interests just as much as the actual story. It will definitely play a role in interesting younger children and adults into reading the book. I personally don’t like reading with music on but it might be a good addition for when we want to read the story aloud to children. Seeing that the book was created for them, a lot of children could be enticed into cultivating a reading habit with the help of appropriate music. The sound track that accompanies the book is very soothing and keeps in mind the mood of each chapter. My favorite was the score called The Exoodle Expressway. It was very upbeat and trilling.


Best feature: A wonderfully woven story with great lessons for children (and adults) without seeming condescending or preachy. It gives such feel-good vibes that I just wanted to gather my little nieces and nephews around and read the book out aloud to them. The illustrations were on point as well.


What are some of the books that were designed for children that you loved? Tell me in the comments below or on @the_food_and_book_life