Party Time series from Lerner

Okay, look, we can’t all be the queen of Pinterest. Most of us aren’t ridiculously rich, either. Our kids’ birthday parties can’t all involve pony rides and bouncy houses and rock bands. Fortunately, my kids and their friends all being mountain kids means I can put out a cake, fill a trash can outside with water, and say, “Have a ball. Don’t bite the mountain lion.”
As kids get older, though, they start to want something a bit different. Fortunately, at that stage they can start doing some of the planning themselves! This series from Lerner, aimed at teens/preteens, gives some great ideas to start the brainstorming and get the creative juices flowing.
Plan a Birthday Party
In “Plan a Birthday Party”, Stephanie Watson gives suggestions for locations (from mundane to unusual), cake alternatives (sundae bar!), and entertainment (henna!). A simple checklist helps really put the responsibility on the party planner. A few etiquette tips are mentioned gently, but can’t go amiss.
Plan an Outdoor Party
I was hoping this one would have ideas for all seasons, but it focuses on summer time. Again, there are suggestions for food (to BBQ or not to BBQ?), creating a guest list without drama, and the helpful checklist. Pest control (including pets and siblings) is addressed, as well as house rules, and not overscheduling – things that might not be first on a teen’s mind, but which can help things run SO much more smoothly!
Other titles in the series include Holiday and Sleepover parties, and we will be purchasing those as well. My only concern is that I may have to hand sell them at first, simply because it’s not a section teens think to look at. A good collection for a special display!

Gift accompaniment? A party, of course! If you have a birthday coming up, you are all set (Shane’s and Sheridan’s are both around Christmas, but so far they are in the earlier, easy to please category!). Or, plan a party together for Christmas break – something to beat the post-holiday, miss-my-friends doldrums. And make sure to invite me!


Review: Who Was Here? by Mia Posada, with gifting suggestions

Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks
A simple introduction to the tracks and daily habits of animals from all over the world. Each begins with a riddle in rhyme (sometimes a bit awkward, so practice before reading aloud), and the reader is invited to guess “who was here?”. The next two pages hold an illustration of the animal, with a paragraph of basic information.
The riddles make it pretty easy to guess what the animal is, giving a boost to children who have not ever looked at different animal prints before. The illustrations are very clear, which is helpful for instruction, but if you decide to take your reader out looking for tracks, you will want to explain that they don’t usually appear so sharply in the ground! You could even have them run across the mud or snow, then come back to look at how their footprints blurred in places.
A promise to go looking for tracks would be a perfect gift accompaniment to this book. Some other ideas:
a backpack to use on hiking trips, or similar equipment.
A handheld microscope, or some good binoculars.
Maybe some quick-setting plaster to make casts of prints you find.
No chance to go outdoors? These rubbing plates have been almost ridiculously popular at the library art table!
If you do get to go on a ‘track hunt’, let me know what you find!

Our Solar System by Seymour Simon (with gifting suggestions)

Our Solar System
Born almost 5 billion years ago at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, our Solar System is a place filled with mystery and wonder. In the last fifty years, we have learned more than ever about the farthest reaches of our world. With dramatic full-color photographs and spacecraft images, Our Solar System takes young readers on a fascinating tour of the sun, the eight planets and their moons, plus asteroids and comets. Award-winning science writer Seymour Simon presents this new, updated edition of his much-admired book about the vast and mystifying part of the universe that we live in.
A perfect book for an elementary age child just starting to show an interest in space. Simon’s name is a staple in library nonfiction collections, for good reason. His topics are well-researched, and accompanied by striking photographs and illustrations. Each planet gets individual coverage (including Earth – so many similar books don’t treat earth as an individual planet!), as do the sun, Pluto (I don’t care what the reason for its demotion is – and that reason is explained clearly – it will always be a planet!), asteroids, and comets. Not enough information for a report on any one of those, but a great jumping-off point.
Gift suggestions for this one are almost too numerous to sift through. My kiddos will be getting a copy along with a gift certificate for one visit to the nearby New Mexico Museum of Space History. They can’t get enough of the place! If you are not lucky enough to have something like that nearby, you could add a movie to watch together:
Product DetailsOctober Sky (Special Edition)   Magic School Bus: Space Adventures
Don’t forget the popcorn!
Decorate the room with a 3D Glow-in-the-Dark Solar System.
Make your own models from this wood kit, or from this styrofoam one.
Or, go big and add this rug to your stargazer’s bedroom!
Pluto included! So there!

The Dolphins of Shark Bay, by Pamela Turner

Last week we commented on the popularity of dinosaur books. Dolphins aren’t quite at that level, but there is no denying the interest humans have in these smiling, playful creatures. Most people know dolphins are considered highly intelligent – but, why? What about a dolphin’s life in the wild requires more brain power than many other animals?

The Dolphins of Shark Bay
Head over to to find out more about this thoroughly enjoyable book!

Dinosaur Look-Alikes by Buffy Silverman

Can You Tell a Velociraptor from a Deinonychus?

Can You Tell a Brachiosaurus from an Apatosaurus?
I don’t have to tell anyone that dinosaur books are popular, right? When I run a weeding list, and there is anything at 567.9 that has not checked out in the last 6 months, I automatically know it’s lost. We are continually buying dinosaur books to replace those that wear out, and while I know kids will pick up virtually anything on the subject, it’s nice to find something with a little bit ‘more’.
Read the review at to see if these fit the bill!

Pope Francis: First Pope from the Americas

A little behind schedule here – darn that squishable new baby! Here is part of yesterday’s Nonfiction Monday post from A Mom’s Spare Time:

Pope Francis: First Pope from the Americas


I remember when I first realized that TV networks often have ‘specials’ worked up about famous people to be aired in the event of their death, long before that actually happens. While it makes good business sense, I felt gypped somehow.
Somewhat similarly, when there is a new face in the news, you see a scramble to be the first book publisher to come out with a biography. Sometimes astute publishers and authors have had an inkling that an individual’s time was coming – at other times, you can see it came down to grabbing any accessible information and putting it into print in time to beat a deadline.
*To find out what I thought of this one, head over to


Lily Learns About Wants and Needs, by Lisa Bullard

Lily Learns about Wants and Needs

Lily Learns About Wants and Needs is part of the “Money Basics” series from Cloverleaf Books. Other titles in the series cover borrowing, saving, and keeping track of your money. As the series title suggests, each topic is covered in simple terms, appropriate for the 1st-3rd grade range (although we can probably all think of a few adults who could do with refreshers!)
Lily wants a lot of things – a bike, ice cream, a trip to the bowling alley. She tried to convince her father that these are things she NEEDS  (after all, she needs to exercise, right?) but her father good-humoredly explains the difference between those and real needs (for example, there are ways to exercise for free). He even differentiates between general needs (like a new coat) and specific needs (NOT the most expensive coat on the rack!)
This title includes a poster activity, glossary, and web sites to go for more information.
While this book is written in a story form, I would pair it with one that is a little more fictional and fun – Betty Bunny Wants Everything
Betty Bunny Wants Everything
Betty Bunny is a huge favorite at our house. Come to think of it, Betty Bunny lives at our house. At any rate, what better topic to look at just a couple weeks before you-know-what? These two books together would pair well with the start of some sort of allowance/chore chart, or a child’s very first savings account.
Thank-you to Cloverleaf (a division of Lerner) for the review copy of Lily!

Wild Animal Neighbors

Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World

It is no secret that, as man takes over more and more land, wildlife is running out of places to go. Living on the edge of National Forest land, we see more than our share – the mountain lion that occasionally streaks across the road in front of our car, the bear that tried really hard to squeeze through the pantry window, the raccoons that got into the dog food bin, the elk and deer that drive the chocolate lab crazy (to be fair, she also barks at leaves), the chipmunk that lives under the boys’ room and stuffs itself from the compost heap. For the most part, we live harmoniously, with minor adjustments like moving the dog food to the pantry, and securing that window.
One of Daddy’s many jobs, however, is removing animals from places where there is a bit less harmony. Since the humans pay more than the critters, it is usually the latter who get relocated! Sometimes people contact him directly, sometimes through Game and Fish. In the cases of skunks or raccoons, he can usually trap the problem critters quickly, and give some tips to keep their relatives from returning. Sometimes, though, people aren’t happy with the answers they get. If a bear is getting into your trash can, Game and Fish personnel are not going to come out and trap the bear; they are going to tell you to move your trash can. (So will Daddy, so don’t ask).
Wild Animal Neighbors gives readers an overview of the different types of wildlife that are increasingly making their homes in urban areas. Some are more successful than others at blending in and living harmoniously with humans. In some cases, this is due to the animals’ ingenuity or stubbornness, in others it is with the help of humans willing to find ways to coexist.
Each chapter looks at animals in a different part of the world, from crows in Japan to alligators in Texas. Side bars give information about each animal species, animal tracks wander across the pages, and photographs and additional information are peppered throughout. This can make the pages seem a bit busy, but for the most part the information is easily accessible and understandable.
Overall, a good introduction to the subject, and a possible jumping-off point for classroom projects. This would also be a good Christmas gift for a young nature lover, possibly paired with a stuffed animal, or a gift sponsorship of an endangered species, such as those available from the World Wildlife Fund, or your local zoo. Published just last month.
Thank-you to Lerner Books for the review copy!