Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee by Tonya Duncan Ellis

Sophie Washington: Queen of the Bee by Tonya Duncan Ellis
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Middle Grade
Length: Short Story (90 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Sign up for the spelling bee? No way!

If there’s one thing 10-year-old Texan Sophie Washington is good at, it’s spelling. She’s earned straight 100s on all her spelling tests to prove it. Her parents want her to compete in the Xavier Academy spelling bee, but Sophie wishes they would buzz off.

Her life in the Houston suburbs is full of adventures, and she doesn’t want to slow down the action. Where else can you chase wild hogs out of your yard, ride a bucking sheep, or spy an eight-foot-long alligator during a bike ride through the neighborhood? Studying spelling words seems as fun as getting stung by a hornet, in comparison.

That’s until her irritating classmate, Nathan Jones, challenges her. There’s no way she can let Mr. Know-It-All win. Studying is hard when you have a pesky younger brother and a busy social calendar. Can Sophie ignore the distractions and become Queen of the Bee?

This is a wonderful little book that really captures the character and interactions not only between schoolmates, but also with siblings. I have a younger sister and can remember the love-hate relationship we had as we were growing up.

I especially liked the message about working hard to achieve your dreams. This is, I think, a message that all children need to hear. They also need to see that in life, not everyone wins. There was a winner and there were losers…that’s life and a good lesson.

Sophie is a well-developed character and the other characters, although not as developed as Sophie, are fully drawn and not just stock characters. The setting of Texas also serves as an extra character, and the author does a wonderful job introducing us to the area and making this reader feel like she was actually there.

Strongly recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Short Story (128 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Written by New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by UK Laureate Chris Riddell, this new edition of the thrilling, wintry Nordic tale weaves a truly magical story of legend and adventure that will grip and enchant readers from beginning to end. This new edition is heavily illustrated and has an oversize trim, much like the New York Times bestselling The Sleeper and the Spindle.

Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid, and in his icy, ancient world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear…and then Odd’s destiny begins to change. The eagle, bear, and fox Odd encounters are Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giant who has conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Now our hero must reclaim Thor’s hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods…

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

I liked Odd from the first moment he first appeared in the plot. Not only was he a brave kid, he was kind and compassionate as well. He’d been through several difficult experiences before his journey began in this tale, but he didn’t allow those memories to overshadow all of the happier times he hoped were on the way for him.

The adventures that Odd had with the Norse gods he met while spending time alone in the woods were fantastic. Their quest was an exciting one. Asgard was full of all sorts of unusual and wonderful things that have never existed here on Earth. One of my favorite parts of their visit to that land happened at a pool of water that Odd and his friends visited right after they arrived there. It set the scene nicely for everything that happened after that point, and it was also a lot of fun to imagine what it would be like to visit that pool myself.

There’s nothing better than witty dialogue, and this book was full of it. The gods all had funny takes on how they should speak to a young boy who was far away from home and a little frightened. They definitely didn’t seem like they were used to spending time with human children at all. This made some of their conversations with Odd sound delightfully strange, especially when they were trying to reassure him but completely missed the point of what was scaring him.

Odd and the Frost Giants is the perfect choice for anyone who loves fairytales or adventure stories.

I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark

I Dream To Be by Rebecca T. Clark
Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You

Publisher: Be Heard Publishing LLC
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

What does your child Dream To Be?
Meet Jersey – a young girl who loves to dream and imagines that she can be anything….

I Dream To Be

A book that encourages readers to use imagination by dreaming of different occupations.
She encourages her friends to dream with her. She imagines she is an Astronaut, an Engineer, a Veterinarian and much more.

The book ends by asking her friends what do they dream to be.
A fun story that will encourage any reader that possibilities are endless.

It’s never too early to start setting goals in life and thinking about how they could be accomplished.

I loved the fact that Jersey wrote down all of the different types of jobs she could have when she grew up. She even made lists of the kinds of subjects she’d need to do well in if she wanted to work in a certain area. This was such an organized way to approach this topic, and it also fit Jersey’s personality perfectly. She was exactly the sort of kid who would want to put everything down on paper before she could even begin to make a decision.

After sharing a few sentences about every occupation this character dreamed of having one day, each page ended with a short pun or other play-on-words that made me chuckle. It was a beautiful flourish and such an entertaining way to end each section. I wish that this tale had been a little longer so I could have read more of these twists! If the author ever writes a sequel, I will be eager to see where her creativity takes her next.

My favorite section happened at the end when Jersey listed many other jobs and encouraged her readers to brainstorm what their lives would be like if they worked in those areas when they grew up. I was glad to see such a wide variety of possibilities being offered to young readers. There were so many different types of work that kids who have many different types of skills and interests would have a lot of ideas to choose from.

Witty Kids When Imagination Talks to You “I Dream To Be” is an excellent resource for any child who is beginning to wonder what he or she might be when they grow up.

Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre

Frede and Santa by Leen Lefebre
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (36 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

In a faraway village there lives a farmer with his wife. The summer harvest has failed and winter already arrives. So, how should they feed their three sons? The idea arises to fetch wood in the northern forest. They could dry it, sell it from door to door and earn some money to buy food.

Frede knows that his parents are doing their best, but is it enough to withstand the most barren period of the year? Together with his brothers, Rhune and Folke, he wants to visit Santa and ask him for help. But, first they must travel through that extensive forest where the evil Elf King lurks.

One bad harvest can seriously hurt anyone who makes their living through farming. Only time will tell if Frede and his family will have enough food to get through the winter.

Frede was such a brave boy. He faced all kinds of dangers while he was trying to travel to Santa’s house, yet he never gave up no matter how difficult his journey became. He kept pushing on even when it looked like there was no way to win. I especially enjoyed seeing how he reacted to the elves he met on the way. Not all of them were friendly, but he didn’t let that stop him.

There were a few editing issues. I noticed multiple run-on sentences and punctuation errors. Some of them took a minute for me to figure out because they could be interpreted in more than one way. A couple of sentences also seemed to be missing important words. If not for these errors, I would have chosen a much higher rating as the storytelling itself was creative and beautiful.

This book was full of magic that refused to be tamed. Everything from the elves to the forest itself was so wildly different from how humans behave that I didn’t know what to expect from them next. This is exactly the kind of storytelling I always hope to find in fairy tales, so I was quite happy with how unpredictable these scenes were. They made my heart beat faster in a good way.

Frede and Santa should be read by anyone who loves Christmas.

I of the Hurricane: Eating Up a Storm by Kali

I of the Hurricane: Eating Up a Storm by Kali
Publisher: Friesen Press
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (57 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Instant love takes place between a young pet store employee and a small white puppy. She takes her pup home to meet the household which includes another dog, Prince, and two white cats – Thunder and Lightning. Aptly called Hurricane, the pup lives up to her name by sweeping up the household with her love of food and wisecracking outlook.

“I run and spin and swim and dry.
Mother calls me a bundle of joy. Oh my!”

If food wasn’t meant to be shared, it wouldn’t smell and taste so delicious.

Hurricane definitely lived up to her name. From guarding her bone so none of the other family pets could eat it to quickly learning which English words were referring to food so she could be sure she got her fair share of it, this dog had plenty of strong opinions about how life should be lived and she wasn’t afraid to let them be known. I adored her spunky personality just as much as I did her obsession with trying to taste every kind of human food she could find.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to developing the plot. While Hurricane definitely got into more than her fair share of funny scrapes, there wasn’t enough conflict to tie all of these moments of her life into a story that had a solid beginning, middle, and end. It would have been nice for her to have a dog-sized problem to solve or something between her attempts to eat everything she could find.

The conversations between Mother and Hurricane made me smile. No, Hurricane didn’t speak the same way a person would speak, but this didn’t stop her human from understanding exactly what she was thinking at any given moment of the day. Reading animal body language and getting to know a dog really well was all it took for Mother to know what Hurricane wanted and when she wanted it.

I’d recommend I of the Hurricane: Eating Up a Storm to anyone who loves animals or who has ever secretly spoiled a pet.

The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan

The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade, Holiday, Historical
Length: Short Story (112 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Experience the magic of authentic giving in this holiday classic from the Newbery Award–winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall.

All year long Lily and Liam look forward to the holidays at their grandparents’ farm. It’s always the perfect trip: walking to the lilac library, trimming the tree, giving gifts. But this year, thanks to a white cow alone in the meadow, things will be different. This holiday, Lily and Liam will find out the meaning of a special gift.

This holiday classic from a beloved author rings in the season by celebrating the joys of family, community, and true giving.

No one should be lonely over Christmas, not even a cow!

Lily was a kind and compassionate girl who obviously loved her younger brother a lot. It was heartwarming to see how hard she worked to make him feel better about White Cow being all alone in the barn, especially once she realized that he wasn’t going to give up until he figured out how to find a friend for that lonely cow. Some of the most memorable scenes showed what happened after she decided to help him track down another cow before Christmas arrived.

I would have liked to see more time developing Lily and Liam’s characters. There were a few times in the plot when I wondered if Liam was supposed to be written as a kid who was living with an invisible disability because of how difficult it was for him to accept change and how determined he was to follow the same routine every day. Lily’s strong urge to protect her brother was also something that caught my attention. While all of these things could have simply been normal parts of their personalities and not hints about how a family dealing with special needs might experience the world, it would have been nice to know for sure how I should be reading that.

One of the nice things about living in a small town is how people in rural areas can look out for each other. I really liked seeing how the adults in that community quietly looked out for Lily and Liam. These kids were obviously known to be the visiting grandkids of a certain couple, and I enjoyed seeing how they tried to reach their goal while being surrounded by adults who were keeping a friendly eye on the situation.

The True Gift is something I’d recommend to anyone who loves animals.

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy

Nine Short Chapter Books by Gita V. Reddy
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (161 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

As the title suggests, this is a collection of short chapter books by Gita V. Reddy. The chapters are short and the word count of each book is between 5000 to 7000 words. The book also introduces young readers to different genres. A brief description of each title is given below.


A young bird is left behind by his flock. Unable to fly by direction, he takes the help of a boy, and shares with him the plight of his flock.


Magic is no bag of tricks, discover two boys after they are trapped in the magician’s turban.


A monkey spends some time in the city. When he returns to the forest, he is a changed monkey – but not for the better.


A Himalayan girl who has knowledge of herbal medicine refuses to live away from her hamlet and study in a school. Until a resourceful doctor finds a way.

MAKE A WISH (Fairytale)

Niki had only one wish: to meet a fairy. It comes true and now the fairy wants to grant Niki a wish. What should niki wish for?


Krishta of Planet Ayzeon is a poor student. She comes to Earth to understand the basics of science and becomes friends with a student working in a lab. All goes well until Ikor from her planet wants revenge.

THE FORBIDDEN FOREST (Action and Adventure)

The animals are mysteriously straying out of their habitat. A factory that is shut is working secretly. Are the two connected? Abhi and his cousins find out.

DEARIE (Animal Story)

Everything scares Dearie. When his fear becomes a thread to the herd, he is made to leave. If Dearie must stay survive, he must learn to conquer fear.

THE MISSING GIRL (General Fiction)

Sneha goes missing. The presence of strange car points to a kidnap. But Sneha is having an adventure – an adventure of a different kind.

There’s something for everyone in this collection.

After not being able to fall asleep one night, Ranjan found a lost bird named Vajra who could talk in “The Homeless Birds” and decided to help his new buddy find his family. Ranjan was such a kind boy that I couldn’t wait to find out how he’d react to his magical adventure. I enjoyed seeing how he reacted to everything that happened to him. This felt like a modern fairy tale, and I’m a big fan of that genre. I also appreciated how open-ended the final scene was. It could easily lead to a sequel, but it also gave this reader plenty up to think about if Ms. Reddy doesn’t end up turning this into a series.

Two young friends named Ismail and Hassan met a magician and tried to figure out his secrets in “The Magician’s Turban.” Was the magician cleverly tricking them, or was he really capable of making things appear and disappear out of thin air? I was fascinated by how hard these characters worked to learn the answer to this question, especially during the scenes that honestly could have been explained either way.

“Knife and Fork” was a fable that showed what happened to a monkey named Bholu who heard rumors about what life was like outside of the forest and couldn’t wait to find out if they were true. After he returned from his adventures, he tried to teach the other monkeys about what he’d seen. The lessons in it were a little hard to pick out since all of the characters had flaws that made it hard for me to relate to them. I would have liked to see more examples of their good sides so that it would easier to understand where they were coming from.

The title of “Daksha the Medicine Girl” told me almost everything I needed to know about the premise. Watching her settle into a long, snowy winter in her isolated mountain village made me wonder what would happen to her before spring arrived. I liked seeing how brave she was when something frightening happened just after the first big snowfall that kept anyone from going for help. She was a kind and mature girl for her age, and it showed.

Niki decided to find out if fairies were real once and for all in “Make a Wish” by using her birthday wish to meet one. After being told by the fairy she could make another wish, she had to choose what to ask for next. The problem she tried to solve was one that most kids never have to think about, so I was curious to see if it would really be solved and how the fairy would react to such an unselfish request. This was something that adult readers may enjoy just as much as the intended audience.

“Krishta, Daughter of Martev” followed a boy named Suraj who had to stay after class to make up missing chemistry schoolwork from an illness he had developed earlier in the year. While I liked seeing how these characters met and discovering what Krishta wanted from her new friend, the pacing was so slow that I had trouble staying interested in the plot. I struggled to keep reading it because of this.

In “The Forbidden Forest,” Uday introduced his friend to his cousins and planned out a fun visit for all of them. After getting into some minor mischief, they decided to play detective and find out if any of the adults were secretly committing crimes. I enjoyed this character’s playful sense of adventure. He was good at paying close attention to his surroundings, and that made for some entertaining storytelling.

Anyone who skips around in anthologies should read “Dearie” first. It was about a delicate fawn named Dearie who had to learn a lot of lessons about surviving in the forest as he grew up. This was by far my favorite story here because of much the main character changed between his birth and who he was as an adult. Life isn’t easy for wild animals, and Dearie had to work hard to stay safe once he was too big to be protected by his mother. Many of the rules he learned can apply to humans, too, and that was yet another reason why I liked this one so much.

Sneha sent her whole neighbourhood into a panic after she failed come home on time one night in “The Missing Girl.” Some of the details of what really happened to Sneha made me wonder if kids would try to recreate what happened to her. I wouldn’t have a problem giving this to older children who understood why her choices could be so dangerous if they were repeated in the real world, but I’d be cautious about sharing them with anyone who was impressionable or impulsive. With that being said, she did have a charming personality and a real knack for figuring out problems.

Nine Short Chapter Books was a creative collection that I’d recommend to any young reader who is ready for longer pieces of fiction.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp by Sierra Luke
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (37 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

BoM LASR YA copy

Meet E.C. Max, a lovable know-it-all. He has many misadventures while solving everyday problems using science and technology. His inventions and experiments usually have wacky, unexpected results.

Slap that mosquito as you read how Max deals with pesky pests in E.C. Max, Kid Genius Critter Camp!

If not for the bugs that bite and sting, camping would be the perfect vacation. Can E.C. figure out a way to solve this problem?

E.C.’s invention was creative. He put so much thought into making something that would shoo mosquitoes, ants, and other critters far away from him and his dad. There are a few different things these insects don’t want to be around, so he made sure to include all of them in his invention. The only thing I liked more than reading his description of it was seeing if it really worked once he had a chance to test it.

There were a few minor pacing issues in the beginning. E.C. needed some time to explain who he was, why he was a kid inventor, and where he got all of the equipment he used. While I enjoyed reading his funny and informative explanations of all of these things, they did slow the plot down a little bit.

With that being said, I was hooked on this story as soon as E.C. and his dad started their camping trip. The main character and his dad had so many fun experiences once their tent was set up and they had time to explore their surroundings. I liked seeing how they passed the time in the woods and what they thought of their father-son trip. They really seemed to get along well together.

E.C. Max, Kid Genius: Critter Camp should be read by inventors and science-lovers of all ages.

Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump by Carole P. Roman

Oh Susannah: Things That Go Bump by Carole P. Roman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, suspense
Length: Short Story (44 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by Xeranthemum

Susannah Maya Logan is not having a good day. She doesn’t want to go to her best friend, Lola’s sleepover. Susannah thinks the house is big and spooky, not to mention the ghost that is said to live there. Lola’s big brother, Kai, loves to tease Susannah with scary stories. Throughout her day, she sees people deal with things that scare them. Her sight-impaired friend, Macy, is terrified of unicorns, of all things. She sees a boy at a party who’s frightened of clowns. Her teacher is afraid of getting a cold. Susannah realizes everybody is scared of something. She wishes she was more like Lola, who is not afraid of anything, or so it seems. Susannah discovers people have different ideas of what is scary and what is not, and only they can determine the difference. Join Susannah as she learns to confront her fears and not let her imagination prevent her from having fun.

Adults that remember Alfred Hitchcock’s belief ‘The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement” can also relate it to young children, especially those that are on the verge of awakening to the bigger world and all its linguistic complexities. We take things for granted; our allusions, metaphors and colloquialisms and idioms. Those are big words to explain that what you hear isn’t always what is meant. Susannah, the heroine of Things That Go Bump learns firsthand how scary life can be as her imagination fills in the gaps for things she doesn’t understand, is worried about or is unknown. This little novella reminded me that our tendency to fear those kinds of things don’t necessarily go away just because we ‘grow up’.

I get the impression that Susannah is a lot braver than she gives herself credit for. She questions even when she’s nervous or confused at times, and her best friend’s brother can sometimes be a huge pain in the neck. I think Kai has figured out how much fun it is to tease Susannah because of her reactions. He’s a typical boy who means no harm; he’s just mischievous with a heightened sense of fun that gets carried away now and again. There is a grin worthy payback at some point in the story and I enjoyed that scene.

I really liked Things That Go Bump and I think it’s great for kids to read, or adults to read with their children because it shows and explains how what we take for granted, what we think is ordinary, isn’t so for kids just learning about how the world works, making even simple things big and scary. I enjoyed the ending when Susannah finally faces her fears about sleeping over at Lola’s house and eventually comes to the realization, after a bit of excitement, that everything is going to be alright. The wrap up made me feel good and assured me that Susannah is going to be just fine.

I wish this book had been available when my own kids were younger; I would have absolutely shared it with them. That’s the best recommendation I can give.

The Ride That Was Really Haunted by Steve Brezenoff

The Ride That Was Really Haunted by Steve Brezenoff
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
Genre: Children’s, Suspense/Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (88 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The trip to the amusement park should be fun. But when Samantha “Sam” Archer and her friends try out the haunted house ride, things go terribly wrong!

This is a field trip that Samantha isn’t going to forget anytime soon.

The mystery was fun to solve. I liked seeing how quickly the first clue was given to the characters and what they did with it once they realized that something odd was happening on this ride. It was also interesting to watch them try to understand what was happening and figure out if their first guess was correct. Samantha and her friends were smart kids, and it showed in how much time they spent trying to solve the problem of what really happened during the ride.

I would have liked to see more descriptions of what was happening in this story. For example, it would have been nice to know more about what Samantha and her friends saw in the haunted house ride after everything began to go wrong and they realized that they’d have to work together to find a way out of that building. The descriptions of those scenes didn’t contain enough details for me to imagine how they played out.

The dialogue was well done. All of the main characters really sounded like kids, from the silly jokes they made about each other to how they talked about the strange things that were happening when they were trying to figure out what was actually going on in the haunted house. There were a few different times when their conversations made me grin because of how playful they were.

The Ride That Was Really Haunted should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a short, lighthearted mystery.