Book Scavenger

This book is such fun with all of the puzzles and ciphers. It’s also a great story about friendship, family, and love of literature.

Chapter book, fiction
Interest level: grades 4 and up
YHBA 2017-2018 intermediate nominee
5 out of 5 stars

Emily and her family has just moved to San Francisco. Emily’s parents have a goal of living in all 50 states, so while Emily is used to moving constantly and usually without any notice, she is not used to making friends. She figures why bother getting attached, since she won’t be staying anywhere.

So it is very different for her when she discovers that the boy who lives upstairs, James, shares her love of puzzles. Emily and James quickly become friends and Emily introduces James to her favorite pastime — playing the Book Scavenger game. Book Scavenger is an online game where participants hide books and then post clues and map locations for others players. The creator of the game, Garrison Griswold, lives in San Francisco, so Emily is thrilled to move to this new city.

The story begins with Garrison Griswold being attacked and a book he was going to use to begin a new scavenger game gets lost. As Griswold lies unconscious in the hospital, Emily and James discover the book, recognize it as one of Griswold’s puzzles, and are determined to solve it. So are the bad guys, which sets up tension as they are searching for the the children they know have the book.

There are similarities to the Mr. Lemoncello books by Chris Grabenstein, with puzzles and ciphers being scattered throughout the story. What makes Book Scavenger a story with depth are the growing friendships, family issues, and historical details that Jennifer Chambliss Bertman has incorporated.

Emily struggles to understand and navigate the dynamics of one of her first good friends ever. She and James have a falling out that makes her examine who she is and what her priorities are. She also confronts her brother who is no longer as close to her as he once was, and ultimately she lets her parents know how she feels about the constant moving. Emily really grows as a character, and many of her struggles can make the reader think about their own actions and feelings.

Bertman has included a lot of information about San Francisco, as well as historical writers, including Edgar Allen Poe. The information is presented in a way that is authentic to the story and educational at the same time.

The strong characters and plot, as well as the fascinating world of ciphers and puzzles, make this a well-written story that will be popular with many young readers.

The Book Scavenger game is also a real online game. You can participate by going to

Who Am I? An Animal Guessing Game

Very young children will enjoy guessing who each animal is from clues and close-up illustrations.

Picture book, nonfiction
Interest level: Pre-K
4 out of 5 stars

I am a big fan of Steve Jenkins’ collage illustrations. The minute detail that he can depict with paper just amazes me.

This is a nonfiction book that is geared to very young children. Seven animals are featured in the book. Each animal starts with a page of assorted details and close-ups of animal parts. These sections are titled “I have…” and end with “Who am I?” The page is turned to reveal the animal and a declaration of “I’m a ____!” Most of the featured animals are fairly easy to guess, so that is why I recommend this book for very young children. Older children, elementary age, will not be challenged.

The back of the book contains further information about each animal, as well as a resource section to find out more information. This book could possibly be used with kindergarten or first graders who are doing beginning animal research.

I Got It!

I like the message of this wordless story — how it feels to want to do something that feels overwhelming (in this case, a child wants to join a baseball game) but how if you persevere you can overcome obstacles that feel huge at first.

Wiesner’s illustrations depict a child struggling to catch fly balls during a game. The obstacles that trip the child up, and the other players, grow larger and larger as the child struggles with insecurity. Then the child uses those things that are blocking his way to actually catapult himself into a position to catch the ball.

The first reading of this wordless book was somewhat confusing for me, so I have some concerns with the concept and illustrations resonating with younger readers. This would be a good story to share with a child so you can discuss what is happening in the illustrations and what it means.

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

This is a quiet story that focuses on friendship, getting along with others, and a small mystery.

Chapter book, fiction
Interest level: grades 3-5
YHBA nominee
4 out of 5 stars

Owen Jester is the main character in this story, and he inhabits a fairly small, contained world. He lives in Carter, Georgia, and spends most of his time with his two close friends, Travis and Stumpy. The three friends try to avoid the annoying girl next door, Viola, who thinks she knows everything. The characters in the story are written in a way that is real and genuine. I couldn’t help but root for Owen Jester.

Owen and his friends spend time at the pond behind their house, exploring the railroad tracks, and hanging out in the hay loft of Owen’s barn. They aren’t supposed to be going to any of those places, but the lure for the boys is stronger than the fear of getting in trouble.

One night, as Owen lies in bed, he listens to the steady sound of the train that passes each night. Except on this night, Owen hears other sounds…a thud, the crack of wood, and a tumble, tumble, tumble sound. The plot of the story has Owen focusing on two things — the giant bullfrog that Owen caught and named Tooley, and trying to figure out what the strange sound was.

There is some action as the boys search for whatever made the sounds in the night, but for the most part, the story focuses more on the schemes and plans that the boys concoct. The action is contained to a few locations and only the few main characters. There is lots going on, but in a subtle way.

This story would make a good read aloud, with lots of opportunities to discuss what motivates characters to act in certain ways, and to note the changes characters undergo throughout the story.

Voyagers: Project Alpha

The first book in a series about four teens who must save the world.

Chapter book, fiction
Interest level: grades 4-6
YHBA 2017-2018 intermediate grade nominee
3 out of 5 stars

The plot of this series is something that will really appeal to upper elementary age readers. It features four teen protagonists, space travel, puzzles, adventure, and a lot of suspense. It falls within the realm of dystopian fiction, set in the bleak future where the earth is about to run out of fossil fuel.

Project Alpha is book one of the Voyagers series. The series will eventually have six books, each written by a different children’s author. This first book is written by D.J. MacHale, who wrote Pendragon. This format is very similar to the popular 39 Clues series, and like that one, there is also an online component that will interest readers.

The story starts with eight tweens reporting to a top-secret training camp. They are the finalists in a search for some of the smartest people who want to experience space travel and save the earth, which is about to run out of fuel. A possible fuel source has been located in a distant galaxy and four of the tweens will be trained to retrieve it.

The book is divided into two parts — the first part focuses on the final trials to determine who the four will be, and the second part focuses on their initial travel into space.

I definitely believe that the Voyager series will appeal to many readers. Personally, I was disappointed in book one. We learn very little about the eight characters, aside from who they are in some of the trials. There is no back story to provide motivation for why these eight want to participate in the project, and there is little personal interaction between the characters. Overall, the characters felt flat and two-dimensional.

There are plenty of suspenseful scenes, but I never really felt immersed in the story. Instead of watching a movie in my mind while reading, I felt as if I was watching a news report — some live action scenes, but then a lot of a narrator telling me what the author wanted me to know. I am not sure that I will invest myself into the six-book series.

Welcome Precious

Beautiful picture book to welcome a new baby to the world.

Picture book
Interest level: Pre-K, new parents
4 out of 5 stars

Nikki Grimes has written a beautiful poem that shows family welcoming a new baby. It is full of love and warm moments, and highlights the joy of new life in a family. Bryan Collier’s illustrations show the baby engaged with the family in everyday moments, and also special connections between a grandmother and each parent.

This book would be a perfect gift to families expecting a baby, or who have recently had a baby. It makes a good bedtime read with the soft, flowing text and gentle illustrations.

Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker

Aimed at young readers transitioning into chapter books, Beatrice Zinker is a quirky child with a friendship problem.

Beginning chapter book, fiction
Interest level: grades 1 through 3
4 out of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of books that are written for readers who are ready to transition from picture books to chapter books. Beatrice Zinker is 155 pages long, and almost every page features some type of drawing to break up the text. It is not overwhelming and can help readers build stamina.

Some of the text is written in a rhyming style, but the majority is prose. I must say that I was a little scared at first that the entire book rhymed, which would get old!

Beatrice is a child who thinks outside the box. “Beatrice does her best thinking upside down” is a tagline that is often used to promote the story. For Beatrice, the “upside down” is both literal and figurative. She loves to climb trees and hang by her knees, and she doesn’t necessarily think like her classmates, or want to participate in the same type of activities.

When her best friend Lenny returns to school at the end of the summer and has a new friend, this causes some turmoil in Beatrice’s life. Lenny wants to try new things, and Beatrice had planned on things being the same way they were before.

Beatrice will have to use some of her upside-down thinking to come up with a way to maintain her friendship with Lenny, but without sacrificing her fun and funky spirit.