Be Brave, Little Penguin by Giles Andreae

Be Brave, Little Penguin by Giles Andreae
Publisher: Orchard Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Little Penguin Pip-Pip would love to join in with all his friends swimming in the sea, but there’s just one problem . . . he’s scared of water. Can Pip-Pip overcome his fears and finally take the plunge? This irresistible story shows that sometimes all it takes is a little bit of encouragement — and a whole lot of heart — to finally make that leap and be BRAVE!

Be Brave, Little Penguin is the eagerly awaited new picture book from the creators of the bestselling Giraffes Can’t Dance. Written in true Giles Andreae style, this feel-good rhyming story portrays a positive message of confidence and self-esteem. Illustrations filled with humor and warmth by Guy Parker-Rees will help make this touching tale a family favorite.


Everyone gets scared sometimes.

This story was full of empathy. Not only was the audience given the chance to understand why Pip-Pip was so afraid of jumping into the water, the narrator also talked about the fact that everyone is frightened of something at some point in their lives. It was a brief message, but it was also an important one. Feeling alone can be one of the worst parts for someone who needs to admit that they’re afraid of something. The sooner kids realize how common this is, the better off they will be.

There was a scene early on where Pip-Pip was teased for being too frightened to jump into the ocean. While the taunts were mild and ended pretty quickly, I do wish the other penguins had been a little nicer to Pip-Pip. This was an incredibly minor complaint, but the inclusion of this scene would make me a little hesitant to recommend this book to kids whose anxiety includes thoughts about other kids making fun of them.

With that being said, I adored the way this character’s parents reacted to his fears. They were so warm and supportive of him while also encouraging him to find out if the things that made him worry were actually likely to happen. I also appreciated the way Pip-Pip’s mother taught him to imagine happy things happening to him instead of only focusing on what could go wrong.

Be Brave, Little Penguin is a must-read for anyone who has ever been worried about trying something new.

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis

A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length Short Story (44 pages)
Age Recommendation: 3+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Edna the penguin only knows the three colors that surround her: white ice, black night, and blue sea. She is convinced there is something more out there. So she sets out on a quest—a quest for color. When she finally finds what she’s been looking for, it’s everything she hoped for and more. But that doesn’t mean she will ever stop looking.

A little exploration is a good thing for a curious penguin like Edna.

Edna was such a brave main character. I loved her adventurous personality, especially once she’d wandered far enough away from home that she began to see things that no one else in her flock had ever imagined might exist. She wasn’t about to stop until she’d figured out what she was seeing and how it all worked. This made me like her even more than I did when I first met her.

The ending was a bit of a letdown. The first scene gave a lot of hints about what Edna would find when she went on her quest to discover what colors existed in the world other than white, black, and blue. I was surprised by how the narrator interpreted those hints because of this. It wasn’t what I was expecting to find at all, and I would have appreciated a better explanation of why it all turned out the way it did.

There was a creative plot twist about halfway through this tale, however. I hoped for something exciting to happen, and the way this scene was written made me pretty happy. It fit it beautifully with what Edna had dreamed about in the very first scene, and it also include some humor as well. If the whole plot had been written this way, I would have given it a much higher rating.

I’d recommend A Penguin Story to anyone who is looking for something new to read at bedtime.

Broken Roots by Michelle Diana Lowe

Broken Roots by Michelle Diana Lowe
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary YA
Length: Full Length (224 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

After her father’s invention earns them millions, sixteen-year-old Teisha Cole moves from London to Florida with her family. Uprooted from the place she loves, she now lives in a broken home full of secrets and lies.

After Teisha’s grandmother dies, her fractured family is replanted in rural England, where a kingpin and his clan are laying in wait. What follows is a dangerous game that brings their house to its knees, as the family’s wealth begins to disappear.

When her father develops a mysterious illness, Teisha turns detective to unravel the truth. Escaping onto the streets and stumbling into the foster care system may be her only hope of survival.

Money changes everything right from the start of Broken Roots.

Written in a first person in a very conversational style, the story is like the main character Teisha’s, true confessions.

She a teen, transplanted from her home and not really enjoying what seems like it could be a great, if different, new life. However, ‘great’ is far from the truth. Sunshine and beautiful beaches hide misery.

Violence begins to mark her everyday. Its a relief to find she has friends, but yet another worry when we realize what they are really like. The ups and downs of Teisha’s life are unpredictable and frightening. She seems a victim of all; of people as well as circumstances.

We have the main character’s take on everything, including some things it’s hard to believe that a teen would know. There is definitely an ‘older’ world view in play here. That said, the older world view, while affecting believability, does contribute to the impact of the plot.

“The digital image of love excites you. Actual love means nothing. That is a major issue…” This sixteen-year-old says to her mother. This, and other of Teisha’s insights seem out of character, although this main character’s style is such that it is as if we are staring directly into her psyche: We may be doubtful, uncomfortable; but also enthralled.

My chief complaint is information overload: some repeated (I feel alone/isolated) and some simply too much. Her misery is very apparent. Her family members have become strangers… she lives in this ‘less than,’ yet idyllic-looking world.

Unique, unpredictable and engaging. Once you start reading Broken Roots it is hard to put down! The mystery adds to its intrigue. For a real change of pace from practically anything that is your usual, add it to your list!

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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.

December Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards

Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (286 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: Best Book
Review by: Orchid

BoM LASR YA copy

Fairy tales are simply tales, told and re-told, but changed over time. It has been four months since Maggie learned the dark truth behind the tale of the Princess and the Pea and freed Princess Lindy from the cursed Emerald. Lindy is now back in the past where she belongs, queen of her tiny Scandinavian country, and Maggie is a fully reformed ex-stalker. Except … she can’t stop doing internet searches on Lindy and her country. One morning, Maggie wakes to find history turned on its head. Apparently, you can’t destroy a centuries-old curse without consequence. In order to prevent the changes in history from wiping out the present, Maggie resurrects her stalking gene and learns that fairy tales don’t stay dead for long. Or at all. Back in 1623, Lindy is juggling a threat to her family, a handsome new guard she’s not supposed to have feelings for, and a cursed Topaz with ties to the tale of Thumbelina. When past and present collide, Lindy and Maggie are brought together again, and another of Andersen’s tales turns from twisted fiction to chilling fact.


An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale

An Unstill Life by Kate Larkindale
Publisher: Evernight Teen
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (232 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Stargazer

When your whole world is falling apart, what are the chances you’ll find love in the most unexpected of places?

Livvie feels like she’s losing everything: her two best friends have abandoned her for their boyfriends, her mother continues to ignore her, while her sister, Jules, is sick again and getting worse by the day. Add in the request Jules has made of her and Livvie feels like she’s losing her mind, too.

Her only escape is in the art room, where she discovers not only a refuge from her life, but also a kindred soul in Bianca, the school “freak”. Livvie’s always felt invisible, at school and at home, but with Bianca, she finally feels like someone sees the real Livvie. As the relationship deepens and it comes time to take the romance public, will Livvie be able to take that step?

Livvie’s about to find out if she has what it takes to make the tough decisions and stand up for herself—for the first time in her life.

How far can you be pushed before you give up your quiet life and take a stand?

An Unstill Life is a deep journey into the life of Livvie, a fifteen-year-old girl with more than her share of life’s problems. Her sister Jules is sick with cancer and Livvie’s mother is preoccupied with the medical diagnosis. Hannah and Mel are Livvie’s two best friends, but boys become the major obstacle and distraction that tears the three apart. Livvie finds herself isolated and overwhelmed with everything going on.

An Unstill Life is a perfect view of how fast everything can spiral out of control. Kate Larkindale balances difficult topics with true to life emotions. The descriptions of events, emotions and reactions that each character has is directly on point and plays out smoothly within the situations presented. Issues of bullying, discrimination and even deep rooted domestic frustrations are cleanly addressed in an honest way.

The story, while told from the point of view of Livvie, really is something that could happen in most families. Events from both home and school are intricately interwoven to provide a great immersive plot that draws the reader in and makes it difficult to put the books down. Each event that piles onto Livvie’s daily life, is reflected in the change to her personality. The author takes great care in showing the transition and shifting of Livvie’s personality throughout the pressure, frustration and difficulties that she endures.

The dialog between characters is strong and flows naturally. Each character has a strong back story that unfolds throughout the story, including the mysterious Bianca. Each secondary character has strong personality development throughout the story as well, showing a depth to the storytelling that Kate exhibits.

If you enjoy an enveloping psychological look at life and how fast things change to shape and mold who we are-make sure you don’t miss An Unstill Life.

Prophecy Awakened by Tamar Sloan

Prophecy Awakened by Tamar Sloan
Prime Prophecy Series

Publisher: Clean Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full (346 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 stars
Review by: Poinsettia

On the first day of her new school all that shy, wounded Eden wants is to finish her senior year and escape to college. It can’t be too much to ask for, can it?

Noah has spent two years not knowing why he failed to come of age as every one of his ancestors has. Two years drifting aimlessly, searching for direction…

When the two meet the connection is instantaneous and undeniable. A connection that has Eden running and Noah burning to know more.

A connection destined to be the catalyst for a prophecy that neither knew existed.
A prophecy others are willing to kill for.

As families rupture and struggle to realign, as their hearts connect and ignite, Eden learns to trust. But with their love and life on the line, Eden must find the power to believe.

Prophecy Awakened is the first book in Tamar Sloan’s Prime Prophecy Series. If you enjoyed Stephanie Meyer, Lauren Kate or Maggie Stiefvater, then you’ll love a series that captures their best traits in an epic, captivating story of a love that defies boundaries.

Eden has one goal, survive her senior year.

Eden just wants high school to be over. While Eden is a bright and kind young woman, she’s never been popular at any of the numerous schools she’s attended as her mother moved them from place to place. Eden doesn’t think Jacksonville High will be any different. Eden has no idea just how wrong she is.

Eden is a very likable character. She’s intelligent, considerate, attractive, and deeply cares for animals. Many students want to be her friend when she arrives at her new school. Unfortunately, Eden’s fractured relationship with her mother and her experience at her other schools has made her extremely hesitant to trust others. Everything changes when she meets Noah.

Eden and Noah have an intense connection from the moment they meet. Instant connections can be problematic in that they are hard to believe. However, Ms. Sloan orchestrates the tension between Eden and Noah very well. Eden does everything she can to ignore Noah and the spark of attraction between them. Noah is very gentle and patient with Eden. He knows what he’s feeling is special and he is persistent in his pursuit of her heart without being overbearing and pushy. Once Eden stops fighting her feelings for Noah, I really like that they had time to get to know each other. Even though Noah and Eden are not normal teenagers, I enjoyed watching them do normal things like watching movies and doing school projects. It made the story and their relationship feel realistic. Unfortunately, Eden and Noah’s world is soon rocked by tragedy, and their budding relationship is put to the test. They are both forced to make some tough decisions. Will their relationship survive?

Prophecy Awakened moves at a steady pace as the tension gradually builds. Little by little I learned more about Noah and his family. Eden and her abilities remain a mystery for most of the story. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that Eden has a very special way with animals, one that she doesn’t fully understand. I’m not even sure that Eden’s mother is aware of Eden’s power. I’m definitely curious and hope to learn more in the next installment.

I must admit I was hoping to learn more about the prophecy. There is just a vague hint about it at the end of the book. I did expect there to be some sort of mention about it since the title is Prophecy Awakened. However, this book is devoted to building the relationship between Eden and Noah. I have a feeling that something big is on the horizon for the young couple, and I sincerely hope they are strong enough to survive whatever comes their way.

I enjoyed reading Prophecy Awakened. The characters are solid and likable and the story is compelling. I look forward to reading more about Eden and Noah in the next book.

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley

Snobbity Snowman by Maria Bardyukova and Quiet Riley
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Childrens, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Snobbity Snowman has everything a snowman could possibly want: a shiny hat, freshly-picked noses and enough pride to last a lifetime. In fact, he is so egocentric that he can’t even see when his life starts falling apart.

What disasters must take place to open his charcoal eyes? To help him see that pride and possessions cannot bring true happiness? Will he defrost his chilly ego and embrace the warmth of friendship? Only Snobbity can tell.

Depicting winter in rich and whimsical tones, Snobbity Snowman’s quirky characters and unexpected twists promise to leave a lasting impression on all its snobbulous readers.

Nobody likes a snob, even if that snob is a snowman!

The vocabulary in this story was very advanced for this age range. There were several words that the average 6-year-old won’t know, but I liked the fact that the authors provided so many context clues about what those terms mean. I’d recommend reading this aloud as a group so that those terms can be explained if the clues don’t give enough hints. With that being said, it was a pleasant surprise and it’s definitely something that will work well for young readers who would like to be challenged a little bit.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how Snobbity behaved before his makers moved away. He had such a terrible reputation in his neighborhood that I was expecting to see him spend more time looking down on the people who lived nearby before his circumstances began to change and he got a taste of his own medicine. While there were examples of his bad attitude, having more of them would have made the final scene much more meaningful.

The conclusion was well written and completely satisfying. Some of the earlier scenes involved people treating Snobbity very poorly, so I was curious to see how his life would turn out after they were finished mistreating him and he was left alone with nothing. The lessons he learned in life only became clearer once I saw how his tale ended. I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion to it.

Snobbity Snowman was a heartwarming book that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something kindhearted.

Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell

Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant and K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Genre: Childrens, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

They say there’s a girl
Who lives by the woods
In a crooked old house
With no garden but gloom.

She doesn’t have parents.
No one knows her name.

But the people in town
Call her Wee Sister Strange.

Like Emily Winfield Martin’s bestselling Dream Animals, here is a bedtime read-aloud sure to entrance young listeners. Each evening, as the shadows grow long, Wee Sister Strange climbs from her window and runs into the woods. She talks to the owls and rides on a bear. She clambers up trees and dives into the bog. She is searching for something…. She looks far and wide, over forest and marsh. What is it she seeks? Why, it’s a wee bedtime story to help her fall asleep!

Just because the sun has set doesn’t mean it’s time to go to sleep quite yet.

The descriptions in this book were vivid and beautiful. One of my favorite parts of it had to do with the main character’s origins and how the people who live nearby reacted to her unusual habits for a girl of this age. There were just enough details to explain what was going on without making her life seem any less whimsical than it was. I also liked the fact that the author left plenty of room for a possible sequel here. While I don’t know if she’s planning to write it, I’d sure like to read it if she ever does.

All of Wee Sister Strange’s adventures made me smile. I was intrigued by the idea of a young child wandering around in the dark, especially since she was so confident in every corner of the woods. The forest was her playground in so many different ways. This wasn’t necessarily something I was expecting to find, so I was thrilled to see how much she loved doing everything from talking to the animals to going on a late-night swim.

After spending so much time hinting at what the main character was searching for when she ran through the woods alone at night, I couldn’t wait to get an answer to this question. The ending not only satisfied my curiosity, it fit in perfectly with the general tone of this tale. While the blurb does give away part of it, I also appreciated the fact that it left some of the final scene a mystery. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised once I reached that part of the storyline.

Wee Sister Strange was one of the most creative bedtime stories I read this year. It’s a must-read for children and adults alike.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Genre: Childrens, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (40 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she?

Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey.

The only thing scarier than being the new kid in class is feeling rejected.

All of the adults in Unhei’s life were supportive and kind. They listened to her when she talked about the anxiety she felt over having a name that was so different from the American names of her classmates. I especially liked the fact that they took her seriously and worked hard to help her feel better about having a name that other kids didn’t know how to pronounce. They couldn’t have been more encouraging of her when she began to wish she could pick a new name for herself.

The friendship the main character developed with Joey, one of her classmates, made me smile. He barely even knew her, but he still tried his best to make her feel included and understand why she felt the way she did from the beginning of their friendship. His kindness made a huge difference in her life, and I enjoyed seeing how much work he put welcoming her to her new country.

Unhei experienced some mild teasing in the beginning because none of her new classmates knew how to pronounce her name. What I liked most about that scene was how much care the author took in showing why the other kids reacted that way. It was definitely a painful experience for the main character, but digging into the reasons why her classmates weren’t being very nice to her helped to set the stage for everything that happened later on.

The Name Jar was a beautiful tale about acceptance and diversity that I can’t recommend highly enough. I loved every single moment of it.