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Reviews Written by
Shanna A. Gonzalez "" RSS Feed (Gaithersburg, MD)

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Irving and Muktuk: Two Bad Bears
Irving and Muktuk: Two Bad Bears
by Daniel Pinkwater
Edition: Hardcover
34 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars If Sly Humor Is Your Thing, You'll Love This Series, December 10, 2014
If sly hilarity and perfectly-paced comedic gags are your thing, you'll love this series. In the introductory volume, the polar bears Irving and Muktuk appear in the Canadian town of Yellowtooth, at the annual muffin festival. Officer Bunny -- the highly competent law enforcement officer is a bunny dressed as a Canadian Mounty -- foils their attempt to break into the muffin warehouse by loading fresh muffins in his police car and luring them into it, and a helicopter soon carries them north of the Arctic circle. Not to be deterred, the bears reappear at successive festivals in more and more ludicrous costumes, only to be caught and carted away. Finally Officer Bunny sells them to a New Jersey zoo... but only after ascertaining that the town has plenty of muffins.

Not everyone will love a children's series dedicated to the criminal exploits of two polar bears driven by an insatiable desire for muffins. Some parents might feel the author treats stealing too lightly. But it's clearly a fantasy, and the bears' bumbling attempts never lead them into violence. For a perceptive readership, parents might even have a discussion about how when you lack self-control, you make foolish decisions that get you into trouble. This isn't a moral story, but it happens in a moral world, where the bears' outlandish behavior leads to consequences. It's best for an elementary audience.

Sleds on Boston Common: A Story from the American Revolution
Sleds on Boston Common: A Story from the American Revolution
by Louise Borden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.49
89 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting, Story for Children Based on Local Massachusetts Folklore, December 9, 2014
It's refreshing to find a piece of historical fiction placed squarely in the middle of important historical events, yet focused on children's natural interests. It's even better when the story events are loosely based on local folklore. This is the story of a group of children who ask the British general to stop his soldiers from destroying their sled runs. Although tensions are rising between the British and the American colonies, soon to erupt into the Revolutionary War, General Gage responds to the children's request by ordering his soldiers to clear their sled runs and leave a pond unbroken for skating.

This small kindness shown by a general on the edge of war, taking the time to listen to children who want to play, will help young readers understand that although war provides opportunity for the most terrible of evils, individuals involved in war are complex people, each motivated by his own human interests.

This is best suited for elementary ages, and because of its historical setting it's especially good for those who have the chance to visit.

Christmas Wombat
Christmas Wombat
by Jackie French
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.39
60 used & new from $0.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Rendition of Our Favorite Wombat, December 3, 2014
This review is from: Christmas Wombat (Hardcover)
This time our imperterbably stubborn wombat takes a flight of fancy -- on the back of Santa's sleigh, where she settles in to nap after shoving the reindeer aside to get their carrots. She follows Santa down another chimney ("A wombat hole?") and after visiting several homes decides the "strange creatures" pulling the sleigh are useful for finding carrots.

The gently ironic humor of the original books is continued here, and several jokes are repeated, enhancing the comic effect. French's text is again very spare, and the story is beautifully paced, with a satisfying conclusion. Since several jokes depend on their repetition from previous books, it'll be best appreciated by kids who have experienced the original Diary of a Wombat. And it's so clearly make-believe that it shouldn't matter whether the audience believes in Santa.

Diary of a Baby Wombat
Diary of a Baby Wombat
by Bruce Whatley
Edition: Paperback
51 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Follow-Up to Diary of a Wombat, December 2, 2014
This review is from: Diary of a Baby Wombat (Paperback)
Jackie French's wombat is back, this time with a baby who tells her own story through "diary" entries complemented by visual scenes. These humorously highlight the difference between the baby's perspective and that of her mother. In the course of a week the young wombat befriends a human child, helps her mother look for a new hole, and eventually finds her way inside the human house.

While it would be impossible to equal the brilliance of the original Diary of a Wombat (Ala Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards)) by French, Jackie (2003) Hardcover, this is a pretty good follow-up. Kids who loved the original will enjoy this one almost as much. Like the original, this one is good for reading aloud and for early reading practice.

Diary of a Wombat
Diary of a Wombat
by Bruce Whatley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.99
81 used & new from $0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An Unforgettable Introduction to an Endearing, Likable Animal, December 1, 2014
This review is from: Diary of a Wombat (Paperback)
It's not easy to write a page-turner showing an animal's ordinary life, in such a way that it conveys a real sense of the animal's basic characteristics without overly anthropomorphizing it. Even when it's done accurately, books about real animals often lack the kind of story quality that makes a child want to read them again. Jackie French has done it for the wombat, though. In this story, a young wombat discovers new "neighbors" grilling right next to her new dust bath. The neighbors provide much in the way of amusement for her: soft dirt for digging (their flower garden), scratching posts (their outdoor furniture) and a limitless supply of carrots and oats. At the end of the week the wombat decides that "humans are easily trained and make quite good pets," so she digs a hole under the corner of their house to be near them.

Each event is delivered from the wombat's perspective: hence, we see the word "welcome" on a new mat, while she describes a "flat, hairy creature invading my territory" which she destroys, concluding happily, "Neighbors should be pleased." Children will easily recognize this flat, hairy object, and they'll savor the irony that the wombat has actually annoyed her humans, even as she demands a reward.

An introduction to an animal we won't see in the wild outside of Australia, a satisfying story suffused with ironic humor, and an endearing, likable character which retains its animal qualities, all combine for a read-aloud with very wide appeal. I highly recommend it.

It's suitable for elementary ages, and is written in simple enough language that early readers can probably handle it.

Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration
Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration
by Dr James Dobson
Edition: Paperback
106 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Devotional Mature Enough for Teens With Activities for an Elementary Audience, November 29, 2014
In this collection of Advent devotionals, four prominent Christian leaders each contribute a devotional to use for the four Sundays of Advent. On the other days you simply read a well-chosen scripture selection taken from the King James Version and the New International Version of 1973. Each verse builds on the last, beginning with prophesies about the Messiah in the Old Testament, proceeding through the Gospel accounts of Jesus and one description of him in Colossians, and finishing with his promised triumph in Revelation.

The Sunday devotionals consist of a scripture passage, a familiar song to sing together, a two- or three-page essay, a family activity, and a closing prayer. The essays, especially the first two, seem geared more toward adults and teens than children, and the activities are rather time-consuming, so it may be better to just read the essay ahead of time to shape your own discussion.

If you like the versions of the Bible used, on most days this book provides a low-effort, off-the-shelf reading to focus your attention on Christ. The Sunday devotionals require some preparation and thought, especially if you want to contextualize the essays so your particular age group can understand them. If you have a mix of teens and younger children, this book could make a nice bridge, providing mature discussion for those who are old enough for it, and a hands-on activity to engage the younger kids.

The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes
The Nativity: Six Glorious Pop-Up Scenes
by Veronica Heley
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from $26.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Pop-Up Advent Book for Preschoolers, November 28, 2014
How do you engage preschoolers in an Advent ceremony? One way is to get this beautiful pop-up book, illustrated in Renaissance style, that tells the story of Jesus' birth in simple prose. The illustrations are quite pretty, and the pop-up pages are well designed. Many of them have pieces that move when tabs are pulled.

If biblical accuracy is important to you, you will want to know that the story has details that are different from what is written in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20. It shows Mary riding a donkey, where the Bible doesn't mention one; it has the angels singing when they announce Christ's birth to the shepherds, where the Scripture just describes them praising God; and it has the ox and ass breathing on baby Jesus to keep him warm. If this bothers you, you could just skip those parts or read the original scripture passages instead.

This book is best used with adult participation, since preschoolers will quickly destroy the fragile cutout pieces if left alone with it. It's surprisingly expensive on Amazon, but you can find it used at

A Family Advent: Keeping the Savior in the Season
A Family Advent: Keeping the Savior in the Season
by MacKenzie Clark Howard
Edition: Hardcover
53 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars An Easy-to-Use Resource for a Zero-Prep, Brief Devotional, November 28, 2014
The Christian tradition of Advent -- anticipating the coming of Christmas with a month of reflection -- has been observed for centuries. The use of the advent wreath probably began with Martin Luther in the late 1400's, and in the rush of modernity, many Protestants have fallen out of the habit of observing the ceremony. This book is intended to help Christians re-institute the tradition in their homes.

There are four weeks of 5-10 minute daily devotions consisting of a brief scripture passage and 2-3 paragraphs to be read aloud, followed by a brief prayer. It appears to be written by a collaborative team, since there's no author cited, and its visual presentation is quite beautiful. Each week has a page with interesting historical facts about Christmas, and an activity to try out with your children. It's designed to appeal to a broad variety of Christians, and for that reason it lacks some theological specificity: The meditation on John 3:16 on p. 60, for example, says that Jesus died to provide a way for us to reach the Father, but it doesn't mention our sin which required His death. But you don't find the kind of doctrinal specificity I might prefer, you probably also won't find much to offend.

This is an easy-to-use resource for parents who want a zero-prep, brief devotional for a busy holiday season. It's easy to read, reasonably engaging, and everyone will learn something. The suggested activities are well-chosen, except perhaps for stargazing in December (brr). It's best suited to an upper-elementary audience, but readings are brief enough that smaller kids will probably sit through it.

Tattered Sails
Tattered Sails
by Verla Kay
Edition: Hardcover
22 used & new from $12.74

4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Introduction to the Pilgrims for Younger Listeners, November 27, 2014
This review is from: Tattered Sails (Hardcover)
There aren't a huge number of Thanksgiving books truly accessible to a preschool and early elementary audience. This one doesn't specifically mention Thanksgiving, but it can do the job. It follows the story of three children who leave England to make a new life with their parents in Massachusetts. It ends with the family kneeling to pray next to a harvest meal.

The story line is minimal -- a few choice details on every page -- delivered in rhythmic, rhyming verse, with very nice illustrations. If the verse isn't of the highest poetic quality, its rhythm is pleasant and it gets the story across. This is a good addition to the Thanksgiving reading list, especially if you have younger listeners.

Birthday Monsters! (Boynton on Board)
Birthday Monsters! (Boynton on Board)
by Sandra Boynton
Edition: Board book
Price: $6.00
225 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Snappy, Silly Book of Hilarity for Preschoolers, November 26, 2014
Sandra Boynton brings us yet another snappy, silly book of hilarity for preschoolers. This is a fantasy about waking up on your birthday and finding that a group of cheerful monsters have arrived to give a party. They do all the things that bad party guests do: Arrive too early, give self-serving gifts, cheat at games, eat up the cake, and make a big mess. But it's all in fun: they return to tidy the mess and replace the gifts and cake.

Preschoolers will love the rhythmic, crisp way this story is told, and will really enjoy the over-the-top bad example of these birthday monsters. And it's actually funny enough that you might not be tempted to hide it on a high shelf after a few dozen readings.

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