The Garden of Empress Cassia {a book review}

The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang: a Book Review at RoamingRosie.com

As soon as I finished reading The Garden of Empress Cassia by Gabrielle Wang, I was seriously tempted to turn back to the first page and read it all over again.

I liked it that much.

But I had appointments to keep and a review to write, so my rereading will have to wait.

Before delving into the story, let’s get the basic description out of the way:  it’s a chapter book of 112 pages that’s suggested for elementary to middle school children between the ages of 8 and 12.  Of course, I’m in my thirties and really enjoyed it, so I’d say you could push that age limit out a bit, even if it is targeted to kids.

The story is about a Chinese-Australian named Mimi Lu.  Her parents own an herbal shop and insist that Mimi be proud of her Chinese heritage, but Mimi just wishes she could blend in with everyone else.  Wishes she could be “normal.”  To make matters worse, her father doesn’t want her to pursue her love of art, and she’s being bullied at school.

Another prominent character is Mimi’s art teacher, Miss O’Dell.  Miss O’Dell is an Irish-Australian that is a kind, calming, and somewhat enlightening presence throughout the story.  She’s also the one who gives Mimi the gift of the magical pastels.

These pastels allow Mimi to draw the ancient garden of Empress Cassia, and the magic in them transports people into her drawings, much like the chalk drawings in Mary Poppins.  The garden is a place of healing and inspiration, and it’s beautiful.

The reason we know the garden is so beautiful is because the imagery in the story is so vivid and alive.  It’s really one of my favorite things about the book.  The writing is so fluid and transportive that the scenes come to life in a natural way that leaves the reader feeling as though they’re experiencing what Mimi is experiencing.

But just in case you can’t quite imagine it for yourself without any help, there’s also a gorgeous illustration of a map of the garden in the back of the book.

My other favorite thing about this book is the strong moral story.  It’s not shoved at you or anything, but it’s potent.  First of all, Mimi is truly goodhearted.  Even when the bully steals Mimi’s cherished gift, Mimi truly worries for the other girl’s safety.  And when Mimi questions whether or not she’s actually a good person and deserving of the pastels, the wise old man in the tale helps her distinguish between someone who’s good but occasionally acts naughty and someone who is actually a bad person.

It even ends with showing that Mimi doesn’t really need the magic pastels to make magical pictures.  As an artist, she already has this vibrant magic in her heart.  And kind of like Dumbo learning he doesn’t need his feather to fly, it allows kids to see that maybe – just maybe – they already are special.

Overall, I feel Mimi is an excellent roll model, and I not only feel comfortable offering this book to my own children when they’re older (they’re in preschool now), I want to encourage it.

This tale is about following your dreams and passions, about being strong and confident in the face of meanness and adversity, and about embracing who you are.

The Garden of Empress Cassia is a story you shouldn’t miss.

Awards for The Garden of Empress Cassia

  •  CBCA Notable Children’s Book of the Year
  • Aurealis Award Winner
  • Shortlist, Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards
  • USBBY Outstanding International Booklist

Click here for a sneak peak of the first 2 chapters! 

Unfortunately, you can no longer purchase the U.S. edition from my Usborne Books & More website, but you can still (yay!) find copies of the book on Amazon.

Similar books, with recommended ages ranging from 8 to 12:

Andie's Moon by Linda Newbery Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan Noodle Pie by Ruth Starke

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool by Odo Hirsch I Lost My Mobile at the Mall by Wendy Harmer Butterflies by usanne Gervay

Happy Reading!

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Book Review: Wind Up Pirate Ship

Usborne Wind Up Pirate Ship Book Review by Roaming Rosie

The Wind Up Pirate Ship book is SO much fun!

There is so much interaction with this book that it’s nearly impossible not to entice kids to want to read it.  It’s a fun story about pirates looking for – you guessed it – treasure, but in between the pages of the story are 3 tracks that allow a wind-up toy shaped like the pirate ship in the book to zoom around the locations discussed in the story.

I mean, we love pirates in my home, so getting this book was a pretty much a given.  But I was still surprised by how much my girls enjoyed reading it and playing with it.  In fact, on Christmas day, my 4yo announced that this was the “greatest gift ever.”

Then the very next day, she announced {even tho she’d never seen it until the day before} that it was “the BEST gift that she’s ALWAYS wanted!”

Now, four-year-olds can be a little dramatic, but you gotta love that kind of enthusiasm about books.

I was pretty excited about it, too.  Which I hope shows in the video review I did for the book:

And like I mentioned in the video, there are a ton of wind-up and pull-back books in the same series as the Wind-Up Pirate Ship.  They include:

Wind-Up Tractor
Wind-Up Train
Wind-Up Plane
Wind-Up Race Cars
Wind-Up Bus (London)
Pull-Back Busy Bug
Pull-Back Busy Car
Pull-Back Busy Train
Pull-Back Busy Helicopter
Pull-Back Busy Santa

But did you arrive here because you were excited about the pirates?

Don’t worry:  we’ve got a ton of pirate books, too!

Usborne Pirate Books at BooksWithRosie.com

To get updates on new books and when books go on sale, please follow my Usborne page on Facebook!

Happy Reading!

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When I Love You At Christmas {a book review}

When I Love You At Christmas:  a book review at RoamingRosie.com

Really, to be perfectly honest, I could talk about books every day.  But today I wanted to share with you a Christmas book that we’ve been reading quite a bit, because, you know … it’s Christmas!  :)

The picture book When I Love You At Christmas, written by David Bedford and illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie, with its brief but charming text and adorable paintings is a delightful read for young children.

It’s a cute story narrated by a stuffed lamb telling us about how much he loves his little girl.  He goes through all of the activities that the little girl engages in around Christmastime, such as when she is wrapping presents, baking cookies, writing out Christmas cards, acting in a nativity play, and getting excited about Christmas day.

The double-page spreads are decorated with bright watercolor artwork and the text itself if very simple, but also very sweet.

One of the aspects I love about the story is how the girl gets so excited about Christmas, but she’s always thinking of others.  The book demonstrates things that are sharing activities, like wrapping presents, baking cookies, and sending out Christmas cards.  Things that emphasize a spirit of love and giving.

Even though the girl has trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve because she’s anticipating the big day, and even though she rushes quickly to find her own presents on Christmas morning, she takes the time to share a present with her stuffed lamb, too.

The lyrical text is short enough to hold the attention of toddlers and preschoolers, the illustrations are detailed enough to give their eyes plenty to explore, and the underlying message is subtle but lovely.

My girls, who are about 2-1/2 and 4-1/2-years-old, love it … but so do I!  This is definitely going to be a regular for us around Christmas, but is still worth a read throughout the rest of the year, too.

*Update:  I know the picture says you can get the book from my Usborne site, but it has been discontinued.  There are, however, sometimes copies available on Amazon.

Merry Christmas!!!

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New Books and Bookworms {with free printable}

Free Bookworm Sign Printable for Gummy Worms

So, I have been SUPER busy lately….. and totally neglecting this blog.  I’ve got over a dozen half-finished posts, but I just can’t seem to find the time to sit down and edit photos and finish the posts.

And I wish I could say it’s because NaNoWriMo has taken over my life and I’ve just completed the next great American novel………

But, alas, that isn’t the reason.  It is book related, though.  And also pretty awesome.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time absorbed in the world of Usborne.

Usborne Books & More is an amazing company that has been the leading publishers of children’s nonfiction for the last two years.  They make reading and learning FUN, the books are incredible, AND….. here’s the awesomest part:  you can sign up to be a consultant and make a living giving away free books and spreading literacy and the love of reading!

Really.  Not just a sales pitch.  This is really, truly, the best thing I have seen in a long time.  It’s like throwing Tubberware or Pampered Chef parties – but with BOOKS.  {my favorite thing in the world}

I’m really excited about it, and I’ll certainly be posting more about the books in the future.  And about other books, too:  I looked back over my blog and realized that I hadn’t posted many book reviews recently, and, because of a series of nasty, goopy, throat-clogging viruses, I’d also stopped making videos for Roaming Rosie Reads.

I plan to change that.  Spreading a love of reading is very important to me.  People tell me things like, “well, your kids love books….” but really, ALL kids love books – if they have the right books.  Everyone loves reading, if they’re reading the right books.

I want to help people find books they’ll love.

And, you know, I also joined with Usborne to get tons of free and super-discounted books for my family.  Can’t beat that.  :)

{You can see a pic of my kids attacking the new box of books on Instagram.}

I wanted to add a little something to this rambling, though, so I’m also including the printable sign I used to serve up some gummy worms at my last book party:

Printable Bookworms Sign

The banners are in two sizes because when I made it, I wasn’t sure what size bowl I was going to be using.

I just cut out the banner and used tape to attach it to the bowl.

Using gummy worms as “bookworms” is a totally cute idea for book parties, back to school parties, book club meetings, and more, so I wanted to share it to make it easy for people to have fun with the idea!

Make sure to check out my new book website:  BooksWithRosie or follow me on Facebook at RoamingRosieRemix {for blog stuff} and UsborneBooksWithRosie {for book stuff}!

Enjoy the sign!

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25 Books of Christmas

25 Books of Christmas

I’ve always been a big reader, and I love reading with my kids, but I just recently heard about a fabulous new way to celebrate Christmas:  an advent calendar of books!

A new book for every day in December?  Oh – I am SO loving this!

Part of the reason I was so inspired was because of these gorgeous photographs I found online!  They are {above, clockwise from left} from Enjoying Life with 4 Kids, Mer Mag, and Over the Big Moon.

I rushed over to my bookcase with excitement, ready to tackle this project……. only to discover that I didn’t quite have 25 books celebrating Christmas.

*gasp*

I … I didn’t have ENOUGH books???

Well.  That’s something we’re going to have to fix.  And soon.  But in the meantime we’ll just have to reread the ones we do have a few times, which is not a problem for me!

I love incorporating activity books into the kids’ day, too.  I’ll read to them all day long if that’s what they want, but my girls really enjoy books they can interact with as well, like coloring books or books that play music. Which is why I’ve listed so many Usborne books in this post – because they have SO many great interactive books for Christmas!

And the activity/sticker books are great to unwrap in the beginning of the month – especially something like the Advent Calendar to Color – to keep them busy all month long!

Now, part of the awesomeness of being an Usborne consultant is that even though I don’t own all of their Christmas books {yet}, I’ve seen most of them.  And they’re really nice, so I don’t hesitate to recommend them.

Below are links to over 3 dozen Christmas books from Usborne for ages infant through teen.

I’ll be posting reviews of other, non-Usborne books, too, during the holidays, but for this post, it was easier for me to stick with just one group of books.  Here are pics of just a few of the ones I’ve listed links for below:

Christmas Usborne Books

And to make things easier for you, I’ve grouped my recommendations by subject.

Enjoy the browsing!  :)

Touchy-Feely Baby Books

That’s Not My Reindeer
That’s Not My Angel
That’s Not My Snowman
That’s Not My Penguin
Nativity Touchy-Feely
Santa Claus Touchy-Feely

Books with Sound

Little Children’s Christmas Music Book
A Christmas Carol with Sounds
Nutcracker with Music
Jingle Bells
The Twelve Days of Christmas with Sounds
Twas the Night Before Christmas

Coloring Books

Advent Calendar to Color {Open this one on December 1st!!!}
Christmas Drawing Doodling and Coloring
Christmas Pocket Doodling & Coloring
Christmas Patterns Coloring Book
Santa Sticker & Coloring Book
Christmas Doodles

Sticker Books

1001 Things to Spot at Christmas Sticker Book
First Sticker Book Santa
Christmas Sticker Dolly Dressing Book
First Sticker Book Christmas Market
Christmas Carols Sticker Book
Santa’s Workshop Sticker Book
Winter Wonderland Sticker Book
Sticker Christmas Cards

Activity Books

Busy Santa Book with Pull Back Toy
Christmas Decorations to Cut, Fold & Stick
Christmas Things to Stitch and Sew
Big Book of Christmas Things to Make and Do
Christmas Activity Book
My First Christmas Activity Book
1001 Things To Spot At Christmas
Christmas Jigsaw Book
First Stencil Cards Christmas
My Christmas Tree

Picture Story Books

When I Love You At Christmas
Little Stories for Christmas {Board Book}
Nativity Flap Book {Board Book}
Twas the Night Before Christmas {Record Your Own Voice}
Christmas Carol, A (Picture Book)
A Christmas Carol – Illustrated Originals

And let’s just take one more look at how awesome it looks to dress up a big pile of books in Christmas wrapping paper……

25 Books of Christmas

I can’t wait to try this!!!

Please share with me your favorite Christmas stories – I’m always on the lookout for new books.  :)

Happy Reading!

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