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3rd in Planet of the Dogs Series Is Best, Reviewer Says June 26, 2009

Our last blog was all about Robert McCarty’s Planet of the Dogs series. For the third in the series, I’m letting my assistant reviewer Thomas Jarvis, age 10, officiate. Take it away, Thomas!

Lake swimming at 40 feet depth

Thomas Jarvis: Lake swimming at 40 foot depth

 Two elves worry for three sleds carrying food and supplies deep in the blizzard. But that’s not their only problem- two reindeer are gone, Dasher and Dancer. Without them there will be no Christmas. Meanwhile, at the Planet Of The Dogs, the dogs hatch a plan.Well, at least those were my favorite parts. This fun story will make dog-loving readers go crazy for more. I loved it! 

Posted by Thomas Jarvis for www.magicbookshelfonline.com

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Planet of the Dog Series Barks Up the Right Tree May 31, 2009

“Out in space, on the other side of the sun is the Planet of The Dogs. This is the story of the first time dogs come to planet earth to teach people about love…” When I heard from author Robert J. McCarty about the premise of his Planet of the Dogs series, and would I like to take a look, I gave an unequivocal “Yes!” Moreover, my middle son Thomas, who’s just finished third grade, is an avid reader, particularly of  “animal stories.” We embarked on our first book co-review project.

This series for ages 6-12 (and dog lovers everywhere) from Barking Planet Productions is an impressive read that not only offers great story, accompanied by lovingly realistic illustrations by Stella Mustanoja McCarty, but conveys a refreshingly sincere, unaffected message about the necessity, nobility, loving natures, and even healing abilities, of dogs. Unlike most “dog books”, a single dog is not the hero here; the heroes are the whole race. And they save the world by following their noses with unconditional love.

I also most enjoy books from small presses and individuals because no big-publisher editors have diluted the spirit. While his message is clear, McCarty does a good job of delivering it in a non-didactic, entertaining way with good storytelling. His (and his illustrator’s) depiction of a planet where dogs roam freely and govern themselves, and their decision to journey to earth to save people from themselves, is really delightful. In fact, once we misplaced the book I was co-reading with Thomas (no finger-pointing here!), and I became pretty anxious to locate it because I truly wanted to learn what happened next!

Now I’m giving the reins to Thomas for his review based on the first two books of the series, Planet of the Dogs and Castle in the Mist. His review of the newest installment, Snow Valley Heroes: A Christmas Tale will appear soon.

“Our story begins a long, long time ago before there were dogs on Planet Earth,” the author, Robert McCarty states at the beginning of the first book of Planet of the Dogs. It’s a great read for people of all ages about the love dogs provide for humans all over the Earth. Dogs inside the book negotiate problems throughout the Earth with love as they work together with two children, Daisy and Bean. This heartwarming story shows happiness, love,healing, and teamwork as the dogs treat the world to peace. It contains realistic illustrations drawn by Stella Mustanoja McCarty, his daughter in-law.

The second book, Castle in the Mist, is very exciting. At the beginning, it introduces Prince Ukko and his guards, and we see again Daisy and Bean, the two children. But in the meantime, Prince Ukko has kidnapped the children of the Stone City ruler, who is now friends with the people of the Green Valley, thanks to the dogs. So this book is about how the dogs team up to rescue the children.  I can’t wait to finish Snow Valley Heroes.

I really recommend these books to all kids looking for some good summer reading.

–Thomas Jarvis

You can learn more about the Planet of the Dogs series and read sample chapters by visiting www.planetofthedogs.net. Libraries, bookstores and wholesalers can obtain all the books through Ingram.

Posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

 

Kids need REAL real-world experience October 20, 2008

My sons’ entries into a library-sponsored Wii tennis tournament on a recent teacher workday off from school only reinforced my decision to continue to limit electronic gaming in our household.

We don’t have a Wii, so I thought getting to play it outside a friend’s house would be novel. Well, competition was stiff. I mean, cutthroat. You could immediately see the lay of the land in that fluorescent-lit library multi-purpose room amid the gray metal folding chairs.

There were the jocks — the winners — those who had their own Wii’s at home and played so much they knew they were good. In typical self-satisfied A-team jock-style, they punched each other’s shoulders and snickered at the frightened little kids dotting the rest of the room. Then there were the in-betweens — those who had some experience, weren’t great, maybe, but comfortable with the game. They were OK.

Then there were the perceived losers, the Wii “have-nots” — excitedly yet nervously warming the little row of chairs in the very back. My boys, ages 9 and 11, fell into this group.

My younger, athletic and competitive son made friends quickly with the middle-level kids, trying to reassure himself. My older one, more sensitive, hung back with the other bench-warmers and, sadly, cried bitterly after two losses in the double-elimination format. (It was the pressure that got to him, I think. He’d actually done pretty well — he was a leftie playing with a right-handed setting, and he won one game in a set.)

I did question myself later if we should have even entered this little exercise, which had seemed harmless and fun the day I signed them up. I did tell them I’d have been more impressed with the hoody-wearing tournament winner if he hadn’t been such a braggart. I told them I’d have been a whole lot more impressed by him if he’d won a real tennis tournament, not a virtual game he obviously invested so much of his free time into to get that good.

But in the real world, the cliche is really true: you win some, you lose some.

Here’s the question: is a Wii tournament the “real world”?

I’m not really knocking Wii. I realize we that have no Wii are kind of rare, and this blog entry really isn’t about Wii anyway — it’s about making sure kids get real-world experience. We have Nintendo DS handhelds and lots of games, the boys’ dad has a Game Cube for them — heck, my mom has a Game Cube. We’re already nervous about the (engineered?) Bokugan “shortage” this close to Christmas.

But I don’t want every minute of my boys’ days wrapped up in electonic, or otherwise faddish, pursuit. I think some of the virtual games are super clever — my older son loves Guitar Hero — but I’m sorry, they’re just not real. So after homework every day and every chance I get on the weekends, I shoo the boys out in the yard or wave them off on their bikes, or insist they walk the dog they begged for several Christmases ago.

Reading books instead? Well, I’ve never seen more so-called “reluctant readers” created so fast as with the advent of the ever-intensifying gaming that takes up increasing amounts of time. But as long as parents insist time is made for reading, I believe they’ll read. The bulk of my book The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever is devoted to helping parents find exciting, challenging, meaningful books their children will devour, whatever their reading level, age, or interest.

For today’s purposes I have some book suggestions for kids who don’t quite know what to do with themselves in this “real” world. Scouting, state park Junior Ranger programs, and other groups devoted to exploring the natural world can be great in this area. Family activities like camping that force an electronic break (which is why I love it) help reel the family back to earth.

Check out these favorites from my own kids’ shelf (and, where desired, alternatives for girls):

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden is a gorgeous hardback volume with nostalgic-style illustrations, and just crammed with the ever-elusive Things to Do. This is cool stuff, like building a fort, cracking a code, and, if in a particular pinch, escaping quicksand. Maybe there’s no quicksand in your backyard but boys (just like their adventure-deprived dads) eat this up!

The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan, in the same style and vein, contains not only projects and practical applications (how to play hopscotch, tie a sari, build a swing) but also snippets on influential women and literary characters like tomboy Jo from Little Women (Unabridged Classics). And for those who find the suggestions too sterotypical (although I think the average girl would like them — I would have), there’s no reason not to buy the boys’ edition for girls.

Then there’s How To Be The Best At Everything (The Girls’ Book) by Juliana Foster, and How To Be The Best At Everything (The Boys’ Book) by Dominique Enright. Both are self-explanatory and have lots of fun stuff for kids to master, like juggling with one hand, analyzing handwriting, making a boomerang — and maybe challenging an indoor-type bully some day.

If your children’s eyes are becoming a little glazed, or you’re always peppered with the “what can I do?” question, do check these out, and their counterparts in the recommended book titles that pop up (like The American Boy’s Handy Book: What to Do and How to Do It (Nonpareil Book, 29) and American Girls Handy Book: How to Amuse Yourself and Others (Nonpareil Books)).

Maybe your kids, like mine, get whipped at virtual golf, but they’ll know how to do the important stuff: like fend off a crocodile and spot poison ivy.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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Kids’ Election Suggestions September 20, 2008

I blogged last week about presidential election books I don’t recommend for children (because these titles are really just campaign propaganda disguised as juvenile nonfiction — and one so-called biography I’d go as far as to classify as straight fiction).

But in sorting out some Caldecott and Newbery-award winning books for the Magic Bookshelf store, I ran across two real winners — one from each of these highly respected award programs at that.

From the picture book category (for which Caldecotts are generally awarded, primarily for illustrations) comes 2001’s So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George, illustrated by David Small. This very fun and approachable book for ages 7+ serves up lots of trivia and humorous anecdotes about what being elected President really does take (and not always what you think).

For example, being named James (like six former presidents) is a help (I’ll be sure to tell that to my older son, James Riley); as is being born in a humble dwelling. A log cabin, preferably, like the birthplaces of a whopping eight Presidents. (Would a triplex apartment in midtown Atlanta, circa post-WWII count as humble enough? I’m still thinking about young Riley’s chances.)

Best of all, the Presidents have come not only from all walks of life but all kinds of occupational backgrounds. I certainly never knew Andrew Johnson had been a tailor, nor that he didn’t learn to read until the ripe old age of 14.

Moving on to the Newbery winner, and a rarity here because Newberys typically are awarded for fiction, is Russell Freedman’s lovely 1988 work, Lincoln: A Photobiography.

Lincoln offers plenty of text for older elementary-age and middle school readers, but includes fascinating photos to go with the full coverage of Lincoln’s life, as well as samples of the former President’s writing. One interesting page illustrates the ravaging effects the Presidential post has on aging.

So when stocking a home or classroom library, or searching your local library catalog for books to satisfy the curiosity of young election-followers, I’d urge parents and teachers to stay clear of the newer spun-sugar offerings and go for the real meat and potatoes.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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Listening together: Audio adventures September 19, 2008

Audiobooks are magical: when you pop in something riveting enough, on CD or tape, in the car, kids’ room, kitchen, or anywhere there’s a CD or tape player, a truce between quarreling siblings can be instantly struck; a troubled child may stop whimpering and grow quiet and listen; your own jumbled thoughts will calm and you begin to focus on what you’re hearing, not what your overworked mind is telling you.

I’ve always been resistant to TV/DVD players in the car — and none of my used cars ever came with one anyway, removing the tempation. I knew I’d never get around to installing one. And you know what, I’m glad. I’m not saying TV in the car is so terrible — but although it keeps the kids quiet, it segregates the family just as it does at home (not always a bad thing, this I know).

Audiobooks can also be musicals, operettas, radio broadcasts (the very best!) and the like. Among the finest we’ve heard are The Little Prince: A Magical Opera, based on the classic Antoine de Sainte-Exupery book; and a well-restored, eerie collection of The Shadow radio serial broadcasts from the 1930s — which made us shudder deliciously as we drove toward our beach vacation destination down dark two-lane roads at night.

A quick stop at a Books-A-Million in Augusta, Georgia halfway home from a trip to Beaufort, SC to visit my mother one weekend when I was on my own with the boys, then little more than toddlers, once netted a well-produced audio compilation of all the Beatrix Potter books from Peter Rabbit to the Tailor of Gloucestor. The family visit was typically wonderful, I’m sure, but what made that trip charmed for me was listening to the stories together on that long drive home, kids’ meals in small laps eaten sporadically between the exciting parts.

The country-themed restaurant Cracker Barrel has an audiobook lending program that lets you rent recent audiobooks for the cost of a DVD rental. This is very handy on long road trips when everyone begins to get bored and restless. 

These days, the boys are in 3rd and 5th grades, but we listen on the way to their new charter school to stay quiet and experience some calm and focus before the school day begins. This week it’s Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost by Cornelia Funke, procured from our local branch library (the very best, no-cost way to check out audiobooks). The boys beg to put it on the second we get in the car.

The New Magic Bookshelf includes much more about audiobooks, and the bookstore offers a selection.

Here are a few websites I recommend to get started browsing for some wonderful audio adventures for your family:

http://audiobookco.com

http://blackstoneaudio.com

www.recordedbooks.com (includes a rental option)

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

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Madeline Redux September 18, 2008

Now, here’s a comeback worth noting: and this girl doesn’t skimp on her costume or botch her choreography.

Juvenile fiction star Madeline, the irrepressible little Parisian orphan, sporter of the trademark blue coat and yellow hat since her debut in 1939, has waited nearly 11 years for a new full-length adventure. Her creator, artist Ludwig Bemelmans, died in 1962, but his style is revived by his grandson, John Bemelmans Marciano, in Madeline and the Cats of Rome, new from Viking.

Interestingly, though Viking was Bemelmans’ established publisher, that house actually rejected the first Madeline book, which was picked up by Simon and Schuster.

Marciano has author/illustrated other Madeline books, a board book, Madeline Loves Animals, and a more novelty-style manners-themed book, Madeline Says Merci.  1999’s Madeline in America, and Other Holiday Tales was based on Bemelman’s unfinished manuscript, “Madeline’s Christmas in Texas,” which Marciano, a self-taught artist like the grandfather he never met, completed and illustrated.

But Madeline and the Cats of Rome marks a return to Madeline’s more familiar storytelling style. The cover alone is almost eerie with its classic Bemelmans-influenced illustration.

This new adventure puts Madeline and ever-sweet Miss Clavel’s other students in a typical outing-gone-wrong, meandering through the sites of Rome and culminating in a feline rescue typical of the daring yet compassionate Madeline.

In a culture of iffy influences and unbalanced role models, I’d gladly have my kids follow Madeline anywhere.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever

Visit magicbookshelfonline.com