Secret Service Saint by Janet Ann Collins

 The legend of St. Nicholas comes alive in this touching story by Janet Ann Collins. Loosely based upon the legend we all know of the gift-giving Greek Bishop, Nikolaos of Myra, in Secret Service Saint, Nicholas is seen as being keen on adventure. When he is shipwrecked and forced to swim ashore, he finds the people happy to see him. They had been praying God would send someone to lead their church. They make him a special red robe and hat, so everyone will know how important he is. After a time, Nicholas feels his life no longer is filled with adventure. When God gives him a secret charge, Nicholas finds a way to help the people and satisfy his need for adventure too.

I have to admit, I’ve never read much about the saint who Santa Claus is based upon. It’s odd considering I was brought up Catholic, where saints are revered, but Secret Service Saint made me want to perform some additional research into what I could find. For kids, this is a charming story of how a man is changed by God’s will for his life. Told using words and actions young people can understand, they will easily be able to grasp the message of servanthood and true discipleship behind the story.

Talented artist, Eugene Ruble, provided the illustrations for this book. It was his work on Secret Service Saint that led me to feel he would be perfect to bring my book, Little Shepherd, to life. The illustrations for this book are mostly black and white, but some of the people and other special items are colored in with pencil to give an old world feel to the story. It works beautifully.

I’m glad I purchased a copy of this book from Guardian Angel Publishing earlier this year. You’ll love the message this book teaches and your kids will enjoy talking about Saint Nicholas in a new way.

Rating:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Publisher:Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.
  • ISBN-10:1935137980
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935137986
  • SRP:  $9.95

Limelight Larry by Leigh Hodgkinson

“Proud as a peacock” comes to mind when considering this charming and funny story of Limelight Larry.

This book is going to be amazing. You know why? Because it’s about Limelight Larry. He thinks he should be famous and there should be more books about him. But then a mouse shows up and there’s definitely no room for a mouse in a book all about Limelight Larry. Then there’s a bird, and he’s not too keen on the bird trying to steal his spotlight. Or the numerous other animals who show up trying to draw the attention away from him. But is showing off all by yourself really any fun?

Limelight Larry by Leigh Hodgkinson is a fabulous, silly book filled with tons of equally zany illustrations that shine the light on attention getting. Through this story, kids learn in an easy way how much better it is to share the limelight with others. Its unusual and varied text captures the attention of young readers, while the numerous creatures filling its pages will delight them.

This is definitely a book we’ll want to read together again!

Rating:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Publisher:Tiger Tales
  • ISBN-10:1589251024
  • ISBN-13: 978-1589251021
  • SRP:  $15.95 (hardcover)

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinions. I received no monetary compensation of any kind for this review.

1 2 3 Count with Me and A is for Apple Illustrated by Georgie Birkett

There are books to teach kids how to count and to help them learn their alphabet, but I’ve never seen anything like these two board books from Tiger Tales. Proving they really know kids and how they learn best, 1 2 3 Count with Me and A is for Apple both illustrated by Georgie Burkett, take the learning one step further than other books.

In addition to the delightful, eye-catching illustrations that are sure to make kids grin and giggle, each page in these books has grooved letters or numbers–as the case may be–so your child can trace the letter or number as you say it. Now, I’ve seen using shaving cream, salt or sand, to help kids learn in preschool and early elementary classes, so being able to trace here will help your child learn faster.

Also included are lift-up flaps to reinforce learning. Take Number 1. The text says “one ball” and when your little one lifts the flap, she finds an adorable kitty underneath and the words, “and one fat cat,” on the inside of the flap. The back covers of the books offer parents helpful hints on how to help children learn more from the books.

What I also like is the continuity between the two books. In 1 2 3 Count with Me we see the fat cat under the first flap. She also happens to be the fat cat that is on the cover of A is for Apple, just like the hen in A is for Apple is featured on the back cover of 1 2 3 Count with Me.  

Many early books on counting stop at 10, but this book goes all the way up to 20. In addition, at the end of the book, all the numbers are featured again, with the grooves, so your child can trace from 1 to 20. What I like best about this one is it goes one step further and begins to teach the child simple math. We see a combination of numbers and pictures, with a lift up flap that shows the sum, the picture, and then the addition in words. Example: “1 + 1” with a ball featured over each number, then =. The number 2 is printed in bold on the top of the flap, so it is visible to the reader. Open the flap and you see a picture of two balls. Then the inside text says, “1 and 1 makes 2.” Then the final page of 1 2 3 Count with Me follows the same method, but instead of having the number printed in bold on the top of the flap, it is the picture of the items. So, we have “3 + 3” with three crayons above each; then =, and the top of the flap has 6 crayons on it so the reader can solve the problem herself. When the reader lifts the flap, a bolded number tells her if she is right, and then the text “3 and 3 makes 6” appears on the inside flap like before.

I am so excited about these. I can see kids learning numbers and letters even earlier than before, giving them a head start in school. I highly recommend 1 2 3 Count with Me  and A is for Apple.

Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

123 Count with Me

  • Publisher:Tiger Tales
  • ISBN-10:1589258738
  • ISBN-13: 978-1589258730
  • SRP:  $7.95

A is for Apple

  • Publisher:Tiger Tales
  • ISBN-10:158925872X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1589258723
  • SRP:  $7.95

Truck Party by Tammi Salzano

Do you have a little one who likes trucks? Then you need to pick up this charming story of friendship and fun. The trucks are throwing a surprise party. Each truck has his job to do to get ready for the guest of honor.

Truck Party by Tammi Salzano is a fabulous way to help your truck-loving youngster celebrate the joys of friendship. As you  read of every truck doing his job, your child will understand how great it is when friends work together for something special. The bright illustrations in vibrant primary colors by Hannah Wood, make this story come alive. Giving the trucks eyes makes them seem more like people than machinery.

This book would make a wonderful gift for any child interested in trucks, but it’s also a fun book to read to any child. And at only $7.95, it’s a great value.

Rating:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Publisher:Tiger Tales
  • ISBN-10:1589258657
  • ISBN-13: 978-1589258655
  • SRP:  $7.95

Book Review: True Grime by Natasha Deen

I can’t believe I am going to say this, but a book filled with magic and fairies might just be my favorite read of 2011. True Grime by Natasha Deen finds teen fairy Pepper Powder sent undercover in the human world. And what might have happened to cause this? Well, she’s a good Grime cop, that’s for sure. She and her senior partner Harley Hands make a great team, which is another plus. But what really sets it all in motion is when terrorist leader Claude Von Beulow escapes and releases a necrophage bomb that not only decimates Grime headquarters, it leaves Pepper as the first fairy amputee. Pepper, Harley, and the Grime team race against the clock to prevent Von Beulow from unleashing a VIURS in one of the human world’s biggest shopping centers, West Edmonton Mall.

So, in case you missed it by my opening line, magic and fairies aren’t really my thing. I live in the real world and there is plenty of real world drama for us to create in our novels without making up worlds, creatures, and all sorts of crazy things I just don’t get. But I liked the synopsis of this book, so I figured I would give it a try. I’m so glad I did.

Deen’s strength definitely resides in her development of characters. We have the impulsive, sarcastic Pepper who can be a bit of a lone wolf, running off and doing what she shouldn’t if she thinks it will accomplish the job. She’s never been undercover in the human world. She sure didn’t know it would be filled with bullies and cliques. Then there’s Harley, much older, much wiser. He knows humans almost as well as he knows himself. He’s the one who keeps a cool head about him, and he’s fiercely protective of Pepper. Then there are the supplemental characters: Lou, the Grime Lieutenant, Loca the technology guru, and Dr. Bentley, who helps get Pepper back up and running again after her leg is amputated.

In addition to her fabulous characters, you have a unique plot that engages the reader right away. From the opening line, you’re drawn in: “In The City, crime never slept. It didn’t eat or exercise, either, but I wished it would shower.”  Pepper makes an excellent narrator for this story. She’s strong, funny, quick with the wit, and you can see she means well when she flubs.

What I feel Deen portrayed so well in True Grime is the commitment cops have to stomping out crime, and their devotion to their partners and fellow crime fighters.  There were moments when it became very intense and the stakes were as high as they could get, but none of these people ever gave up.

If you’re looking for a witty, engaging fairy story, you’ll find it in True Grime by Natasha Deen.

Rating:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Publisher:Blueberry Hill
  • ISBN-10:0986741914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0986741913
  • SRP: $12.99 (paperback)
  • Also available in a Kindle edition

Author’s bio:

When I was little, there was only one thing I wanted to be: a superhero. But there came a day when my dreams were broken, and that was the day I realized that being a klutz was not, in fact, a super power, and my super weakness for anything bright and shiny meant a magpie with self-control could easily defeat me in a battle of wills. I turned to writing as a way to sharpen my mental super-hero skills. I don’t get to orbit the earth in a space station (and thank God, because I get sick on merry go round), but I do get to say things like: “Stand aside! This is a job for Writing Girl!!”

Connect With Natasha:

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Follow the rest of Natasha’s tour:

November 27-Live To Read (Review)
November 29-Reviews By Molly (Review)
November 30-Celtic Lady’s Reviews (Review)

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinions. I was not monetarily compensated in any way to provide my review.

Interview with Beth Goobie, Author of Born Ugly

Beth Goobie graduated from the University of Winnipeg and the Mennonite Brethren Bible College. She is an award-winning writer of young adult fiction and is best known for her quirky and dark stories. Her novel Before Wings won the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award in 2000, and was chosen by young readers for the Best Books list of the American Library Association. Her novel, Born Ugly, was released in September.

Thank you for joining us today, Beth. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

I’d be glad to. I was born in 1959 and am currently 52 years old. I’ve been through a lot of changes in my life. I’ve lived in five different Canadian provinces, as well as a small Dutch village. At one point I was religious, and now I’m not. I’ve worked as everything from a weed-puller, janitor, piano teacher and nanny, to a group home staff. In addition, I’ve been through two major illnesses, one of which left me legally blind in my left eye at the age of twenty-four; both illnesses dramatically altered the direction of my life. All these experiences significantly changed the way I grew up thinking. I’m grateful for that.

When did you first get bit by the writing bug?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I started reading. I still have a story about a princess that I wrote at age six.

Why did you decide to write stories for the YA market?

With respect, I’ve never thought of what I do as writing for a market. I write primarily for myself – for the teenager who still lives inside me. If it works for the fifteen-year-old me, there is hope it will connect with other young people. But I never think of those young people as a “market.” That’s the publisher’s job.

What is your favorite part of writing for this group? What is the greatest challenge?

My favorite part of writing for teenagers is living the teenage characters that I’m currently writing about. I find young people to be vivid, smart, funny, and vulnerable. Trying to keep up with the characters in my novels keeps me on my toes, makes me feel more alive in my ancient, 52-year-old body – as if there are still more changes ahead of me, as if further growth is still possible.

The biggest challenge in writing for YA readers is the same as it is in writing for any genre or age group – to get up every day, ignore the “I can’t” voice in my head, and firmly, steadily write another paragraph, another page, another chapter. It’s the discipline of it all – the discipline of hope.

Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?

Born Ugly is about a decidedly non-photogenic sixteen-year-old girl named Shirley, and the way she is treated, which is despicably. Basically it’s about bullying based on appearance. Shirley also gets caught up – unwittingly – in the drug trade, but it’s primarily about how society treats those it deems physically unattractive.

What inspired you to write it?

My appearance comes in around average, but in junior high I looked odd. I come from a low-income family, and in junior high I was still wearing the cat-eye glasses I had initially received in grade three, as well as polyester pants I had started wearing in grade five. In addition, I had prominent buck teeth and braces. I was an obvious target for bullies, and they let me have it – remorselessly. And, like Shirley, I was also being abused at home, so I had nowhere to turn for comfort. As an adult, I felt a need to go back and give voice to those experiences – that part of me that so often had to endure being called “Dog Face.” Born Ugly is the result.

Where can readers purchase a copy?

As far as I know, your local bookstore. If there isn’t one on the shelf, you can ask the clerk to special-order one in – there should be no extra cost.

Do you have a website and/or blog where readers can find out more?

No. Since I’m legally blind in my left eye, the resulting double focus means a headache if I spend much time on a computer or watching TV. So I don’t.

What is up next for you?

Red Deer Press has accepted an “easy-read” juvenile novel called Jason’s Why for publication in 2012. It’s about a nine-year-old boy’s first few days in a group home. And I’m currently completing my 17th YA novel. After that, I’ve got the first thirty pages of another YA novel waiting.

Do you have anything else to add?

I would like to express my immense gratitude to the Canada Council for the creative writing grant that funded the writing of Born Ugly. And if anyone is looking for a respectful, scrupulous editing and publishing experience, I heartily recommend Peter Carver and Red Deer Press. Thanks also to The Children’s and Teens Book Connection for your interest.

Thank you for spending time with us today, Beth. We wish you much success.