Book Review: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani:  a book review by Roaming Rosie

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, is a fast-paced fairy tale {somewhat fractured} about two girls searching for their Happily Ever Afters.

But their Happily Ever Afters and their journeys to find themselves are not at all what either girl could ever have imagined.

And it’s fun to read.

It’s a middle-grade novel, written for ages 8 to 12, with the paperback at 544 pages long.

The story begins with two very different girls:  Sophie, a gorgeous wannabe princess who spends her days preening and dreaming of princes, and Agatha, a quiet loner who lives in a graveyard and has a cat named Reaper who leaves beheaded birds in her pockets.

Sophie and Agatha only entered a relationship because Sophie was trying to demonstrate how “Good” and charitable she was by befriending the homely outcast dubbed a witch by the townspeople.  This relationship, however, grew into a real {albeit somewhat unbalanced} friendship before the story even starts.

Their story starts for us as they are kidnapped by the elusive School Master and dropped into the School for Good and Evil.  Unexpectedly, however, Agatha is dropped into the School for Good and Sophie into the School for Evil. Both girls are certain a mistake has been made.

As the book progresses, we see Agatha continually and fiercely trying to protect and help her friend, as Sophie grows more and more selfish and angry.  And even though the characters keep showing us their true natures and showing the audience that maybe, just maybe, they’re in the correct schools after all, the book isn’t that cut and dry.

In between colorful school lessons of witches learning the correct way to cook children and princesses learning how to speak to squirrels, and in between competitions where princes try to discern which magical pumpkin is actually a princess, the children face some very dangerous and quite scary situations.  Which is – actually – very in keeping with the style of fairy tales.

But the point to all of these lessons and competitions and circuses and balls is that we learn that even the baddest of the Bad students have their good points, and even the Good students are perfectly capable of evil.

I rather enjoyed the book, and I was very happy with the way it ended.  Now, when I started reading it, I didn’t even know it was part of a series, but I was relieved to find that out, because when the book ended, I did want to know more of their story, even though it still would have functioned as a stand alone novel.

And it’s all done in a very entertaining way through a story that moves along at a good pace:  fast enough to keep kids and young adults entertained, but not so quickly that things get overwhelming or confused.  The language is intelligent, the imagery is vivid, and the story was creative.  I laughed … I cried … and I totally think everyone who is even remotely and mildly interested in fantasy and fairy tales should read it.  There isn’t anything in there that’s inappropriate for young kids, but I feel that adults will rather enjoy the tongue-in-cheek fairy tale references.  I absolutely plan to read the sequels.

You can see a preview of The School for Good and Evil on Amazon.

Happy Reading!

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Book Review: 50 Easter Things to Make and Do

50 Easter Things to Make and Do

This craft book, 50 Easter Things to Make and Do, is a really great thing to have on hand in springtime.

The title may say “Easter” and it’s certainly focused on Easter-type things, but it’s got a lot of wonderful craft ideas that are generally themed around the season of spring.

And while the crafts themselves are super cute, there are other things about the book that I also absolutely LOVE.

For example, it has the spiral binding, so it lays flat – which is handy when you’re looking from it to your project and back again.

Plus, the projects themselves have step-by-step instructions, which is great for showing children the progression of the craft from start to finish.

It’s also a great size to fit inside an Easter basket – which is how my daughter will be receiving it this year.  And since, like I mentioned, many of the projects are great to do all throughout spring and not just for Easter, we’ll be working on some of these adorable crafts all through the season.

You can get a better look at the book in my video review:

The book is out of print on my Usborne Books & More site, but you can still find used copies on Amazon.

Happy Crafting!

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Book Review: Easter Bunny Lift a Flap Book

Easter Bunny Lift-a-Flap Board Book

This adorable Easter Bunny Flap Book is not only fun for kids – it’s the perfect size to fit into an Easter basket, too!

I like to give my kids new books for every holiday, and this year, this flap book is going into my daughter’s basket.

It’s technically a baby book, but I’m giving it to my 2 (almost 3) year old, and I know my 4 (almost 5) year old will enjoy flipping through it, too, helping her sister find where the Easter bunny hid all the eggs!

Aside from the flaps that you have to lift to find the eggs, kids will also enjoy the peek-through holes in the pages that give you a hint at who we’re going to visit on the next page.

You can watch me demonstrate more about this charming book in my video review:

The Easter Bunny Lift-a-Flap Board Book isn’t available any more on my Usborne Books site, but you can still find some used copies on Amazon.

Happy Easter and Happy Reading!!

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Book Review: Flippy Floppy Lift a Flap Jungle Animals

Flippy Floppy Jungle Animal Board Book

This Flippy Floppy Jungle Book is one of my kid’s newest fascinations.  They’ve been having a lot of fun with it.

It’s a great lift-the-flap board book from Usborne/Kane Miller that offers a lot of interaction for kids.

The purpose of the book is to lift four flaps in order to slowly reveal a hidden animal.  As you go, the animal you’re looking for appears as bits and pieces of other animals.  For example, the tail of the tiger is also the beak of a toucan and the body of a snake.

There are cut-outs to look through and a little bird to find on all of the pages.  The last page challenges kids to find all the animals again, and it’s sturdy enough for little hands to get excited about with thick pages and rounded corners.

I go into some more detail in my video review, where you can also see how it works:

And, yes… I’m aware that I have a strange expression on my face in the video thumbnail.  TRUST me – it was the best one!

I’m also aware that I keep calling it “Flippity Floppity Jungle Animals” on the video.  I don’t know why, but “Flippy Floppy” seems to be difficult for me to say…

Anyway, to see the book, or add it to your online wishlist, click:

Flippy Floppy Lift-the-Flap Jungle Animal Book

And if you like this book, you’ll also love:

Flippy Floppy Lift-the-Flap Farm Animals

Flippy Floppy Lift-the-Flap Farm Animals

Flippy Floppy Lift-the-Flap Ocean Animals

Flippy Floppy Lift-the-Flap Ocean Animals

Happy Reading!

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Book Review: My First Keyboard Book

My First Keyboard Book Review by Roaming Rosie

Usborne’s My First Keyboard Book is a lot of fun to play with … and not just for the kiddos.

I enjoy it, too, and so do a lot of adults that come in contact with it.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is the wonderful feel of smooth keys and the beautiful tone of the notes, which isn’t overly electronic.  It sounds like you’re playing a piano or a high-quality keyboard.

The book itself teaches you recognizable songs {like Twinkle, Twinkle and Row, Row, Row your Boat} with color coordinated keys.  There are dots of color on each key that correspond with patterns of dots that produce the song if you play them in that order.

It’s easier to show you than to tell you, so here’s my video review:

It is an internet linked book, so you can see a video of someone playing one of the songs, read some more reviews, and see pictures of the inside of the book on the Usborne site.

Other things I like about this book are that all of the keys work – even the black flat/sharp keys, and I especially like that there’s an on/off switch on the back.  It’s nice to know I can shut it off when we’re not using it and it’s stored on the bookshelf.

It’s easy to play, too.  My girls are 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 years old, and while the 2yo isn’t really interested in following the colored patterns, she does enjoy making her own music.  The 4yo is able to play the songs by following the patterns, although her rhythm needs some work.

My point is, this book is great for younger kids as well as older ones.  Little Ones might need much more practice before getting the hang of it, but older kids will pick it up right away and, like I mentioned above when I pointed out that adults seems to love it, it’s somewhat addicting.

Plus, there are actually a bunch of interactive books that get kids involved with and learning about music, many of which are illustrated in this graphic:

 

Children Love Music with Usborne Books

Happy Reading!

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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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Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and The Books That Inspired Them

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

These yummy treats were one of our recent projects.

I’d been wanting to do something that incorporated polar bears, since it’s winter, and when I realized I could shape little minty patties to look like bear paw prints, I got pretty excited.

It’s kind of like a teddy bear paw… but a polar bear instead.

My girls and I had been rotating through a couple of books that featured polar bears, which is one of the main reasons they were on my mind.  The books include East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Hush Little Polar Bear, both of which I’ve reviewed below.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

The bear paws are easy to make.  The patty is just sugar, cream cheese, and peppermint extract.

Then, for decoration, I added Junior Mints and milk chocolate chips.

You could use semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips instead, but I liked the milk chocolate flavor with these.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

Here are the necessary ingredients.  I didn’t actually count out the candies ahead of time:  I just poured a bunch in a bowl for my girls to pick from.

My 4yo did a pretty good job, and my 2yo had a lot of fun shaping the dough… when she wasn’t busy eating the candy.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

To make the mint patties look like bear paws, add one Junior Mint and top with three chocolate chips.

You have to press them in right away, since the heat of your hand is what helps form the shape.  Once you’ve formed the disc and placed it on the counter, it will begin to harden.  So you’ll want to *gently* push in your candy right away.

Then store them in the fridge.

They look really cute on Christmas cookie platters, and would also be fun at winter birthday parties.  Or just, you know, to eat yourself.  :)

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

I love this book.  East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a retelling of a 19th century Norwegian fairytale.  It’s retold by Susanna Davidson and illustrated by Petra Brown.

It’s part of the Usborne Young Readers:  Series Two books.  It’s meant to be read by children who are 8+ years and are gaining confidence in reading on their own.  I bought it to read to my 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 year old girls.  It’s certainly much more appealing to the older child, who get’s very excited about it, but my youngest still enjoys the pictures and does listen to the story.  And older kids will definitely enjoy reading it for themselves.

I think it’s wonderful, especially because it’s a fairy tale written for a younger audience that isn’t one of the same old, worn stories that are told over and over and over in other books.  It’s a fresh tale.  There’s adventure and excitement, and it’s even a little scary – as all fairy tales are – but not too much.

It’s terribly romantic, too, but not in a mushy, flowery way.  This is a story about a brave girl who goes to the ends of the earth to save the man she loves.  She enlists the help of the Four Winds and outsmarts an evil Troll to break the spell that turns her beloved prince into a polar bear.

There’s even a little message hidden in the ending promoting the importance of love and family over money and riches.

The retelling is written to be easily understood by kids.  There are a limited number of words on every page, so as not to be overwhelming, and it’s 64 pages are separated into six chapters.  The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and many are displayed across a double page spread.

The physical book itself is also great.  It’s small, about 5.5 by 8 inches, with thick pages, and its sturdy hardcover is a silky, soft texture.  It feels nice to hold.

I completely and ardently recommend this book.  It is unfortunately no longer available from my Usborne site, but you can sometimes find used copies on Amazon.  You can also check out the other Young Readers:  Series Two books.

Hush Little Polar Bear by Jeff Mack

Hush Little Polar Bear, by Jeff Mack, is a charming picture book.  It’s available as a hardcover or a board book, and we have the hardcover version, since ours was a decommissioned purchase from our local library.

And I’m so glad I came across this gem while hunting for new books to read.  It’s colorful and adventurous, and a wonderful bedtime read.

It’s written in verse as a little girl talking to her stuffed toy polar bear and about what exciting dreams he may be having.  The bear sails the high seas on the back of a whale, swims through a waterfall, swings through the trees, forges through a desert, and floats through the sky … all the way home to her, where they curl up together to sleep.

The text has a good rhythm and the illustrations are a lot of fun.  The little girl appears somewhere on every page, watching the polar bear’s adventures from up close or afar, and my kids enjoy pointing her out.

Plus, I love reading stories at bedtime that end with the characters drifting off to sleep.  It helps set the mood.   :)

If you have Little Ones, you should really consider adding it to your collection.  It’s such a fun read!

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

And now, back to the recipe that was inspired by these fantastic books:

Peppermint Polar Bear Paws

Ingredients:

4 1/2 cups confectionery sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
20 Junior Mints candies
60 milk chocolate chips

In a large bowl, use a mixer to combine the softened cream cheese and confectionery sugar until smooth.

Add the peppermint extract and mix until fully blended.

Scoop large spoonfuls of peppermint mixture out and use your hands to shape it into a disc. It won’t “roll” in your hands very well, so you’ll need to form them mostly by pressing them into shape.

Immediately add a Junior Mint and 3 chocolate chips to the peppermint disc in a pattern that represents a bear paw while still malleable. The disc will begin to harden once you stop moving it around in your hands, so make one at a time.

Store covered in the refrigerator. Makes 20.

[Notes: place the chocolate chips in upside down, so that the flat sides are facing up. And when placing the Junior Mints on the disc, press very gently on the edges, instead of in the middle, to avoid cracking them.]

**********

Click here for the free printable PDF version:

Peppermint Polar Bear Paws

Enjoy!  And 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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The Library Gingerbread Man {Book Review}

The Library Gingerbread Man by Dotti Enderle {Book Review}

When my daughter came across The Library Gingerbread Man by Dotti Enderle, I suspected I would love it.

And I did.

I probably should have been a librarian.

Sigh… not the point.

Anyway, the book is really cute and clever, placing the familiar story of the Gingerbread Man into the setting of a library.

I like how the author incorporates the dewey decimal system into the story.  For example, some of the characters that try to catch the Gingerbread Man are a word wizard who pops out of a thesaurus in 423.1 and a robot with stilted commands who emerges from a science fiction book in 629.892.

He meets more and more characters until he finally runs into a hungry fox.  But he doesn’t get eaten, because the librarian saves the day.

My girls absolutely loved chanting, “Run, run, as fast as you can.  You can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man!”

My 4yo is still singing it.  (I guess we haven’t read a bunch of Gingerbread Man stories before now.)

The Library Gingerbread Man by Dotti Enderle {Book Review}

The only complaint I had was that the text got a little lengthy once the cookie started reciting who he was running away from (I ran away from the librarian and the word wizard and the robot…).

Once I skipped over most of those descriptions and stuck to the basic “you can’t catch me,” but then I decided to test their reactions to reading out each of the characters he was running from.  My girls seemed to like it when I read the full text.  Maybe because it made the story last longer.  I’m not sure, but I decided to go with it.  I use a fun voice, though, to keep it from getting tedious, if only for me.

Anyway, we enjoyed The Library Gingerbread Man, and I recommend it to anyone who loves books.

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