Anything but Ordinary – The True Story of Adelaide Hermann


My children are not overly fascinated with magic, but they are moved by women who break the norm and especially by performers. When I found a copy of Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic, it struck me as a book that they would get a kick out of and I was spot on.


Adelaide Hermann, nee Adele Scarsez, was a girl who never wanted to be ordinary. She always wanted to “astonish, shock and dazzle.” Born in 1853, she lived in a time when girls had a very specific role they were supposed to play but that she didn’t seem to fit into.


As a young girl she answered an ad to become a dancer, but ballet wasn’t exciting enough and found other outlets for her charisma and creativity. She met Alexander Hermann, a famous magician, and the two hit it off immediately. Together, they astounded audiences around the world. When Alexander suddenly died, Addie wanted the show to go on and decided to be the star herself. While it wasn’t done at the time, she knew that she had the skills and pulled off one of the most difficult tricks known in the magical world.fullsizerender

What makes this book so fun is the fact that Addie truly believed in herself no matter what. When she saw something that she wanted, she went after it 110%. She proposed to her husband in a time that women proposing was completely unheard of. She tried tricks that she had never done before, just having faith in herself and her abilities. The one trick that frightened her wound up being the trick she did to convince the world that she had the ability to be the world’s first female magician.Her story is exciting and the book is chock full of amazing illustrations that bring it all to life. Thanks to Mara Rockliff who wrote this book and Margaret Steele who put researched Adelaide Hermann and wrote her own book in 2012 (Adelaide Hermann: Queen of Magic), this fascinating story is being told to a new generation of children.

nfpb16Thanks to Alyson Beecher of Kid Lit Frenzy for hosting the weekly link-up of amazing non-fiction picture books. I’m always amazed by the great books that I find from all of the other bloggers.

Let’s Talk About Banned Books

It is banned books week and that got me thinking about Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. This book has never been on the banned book list, but it is a great way to get kids to understand the concept and to start up a conversation about banned books.


J and I eagerly read Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics as soon as it came out. We actually had to buy 2 copies because she took it to school and someone snagged it from her! But the book was great, so I’m okay supporting the cause.

61nmnjejmjl-_sx336_bo1204203200_For those unaware of this series by Chris Grabenstein, the first book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, is about a group of kids who find themselves locked in a brand-new, state of the art library designed by a famous game maker. One of the main characters is a reluctant reader, but there is a little bit of something for everyone in this book. Those who remain locked in the library for the game must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. It is a great book about the library system and books in general.

lemoncello-olympics-200Book 2 found us returning to the library but with teams from all across America to compete in the first-ever Library Olympics. But something suspicious is going on . . . books are missing from Mr. Lemoncello’s library. Is someone trying to censor what the kids are reading?! Now it’s not just a game—can Mr. Lemoncello find the real defenders of books and champions of libraries? In between figuring out mind-boggling challenges, the kids will have to band together to get to the bottom of this mystery.

So what was the mystery? Banned books. J didn’t fully understand the concept of banned books, but this story really got us talking about it. What exactly are banned books? As per wikipedia, “Banned books are books or other printed works such as essays or plays which are prohibited by law or to which free access is not permitted by other means. The practice of banning books is a form of censorship, from political, legal, religious, moral, or (less often) commercial motives.”e5db5a80-f003-0132-f0cc-0ed54733f8f5

Mr. Lemoncello gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss banned books. Books are banned or challenged for a variety of reasons. Many times it is because they tackle topics that are uncomfortable for us to deal with or because people have differing opinions. But as I’ve mentioned before, we learn so many things about our society and ourselves from books, sometimes it is important to challenge traditional ways of thinking or doing things.bannedbooks I remember when we were reading Mr. Lemoncello’s Olympics we talked about the fact that the Harry Potter series is the most challenged book for the past decade. Given J’s love with all things HP she couldn’t comprehend that, but I tried to explain how the notion of magic and wizardry as taboo for some people and went against their religious values. Judy Blume, who J hasn’t read much of yet, is also one of the most challenged authors because of her frank take on puberty and sexuality.

There are times when I am just sad that books wind up on the challenged list. For example, there is a wonderful picture book called And Tango Makes Three. 81saez2go5lThis book is number 4 on the 100 most banned list. Why? Apparently people think that it is anti-family, promotes homosexuality, has a political viewpoint, has a religious viewpoint, and is generally unsuited for age group. Really? This is the product description on Amazon:

And Tango Makes Three is the bestselling, heartwarming true story of two penguins who create a nontraditional family. At the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, two penguins named Roy and Silo were a little bit different from the others. But their desire for a family was the same. And with the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo get the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own.

I get that if a book doesn’t make you comfortable and doesn’t suit your family’s core belief system, then you shouldn’t read it. But to ban a book from a library goes against other people’s rights to make their own decisions about what they want to read. So go out today and read a banned book!




Books that take on Bullies


Bullying has always been an issue that kids are confronted with. No matter how much we try to protect them, there are always going to be kids who feel the need to pick on other kids. There are many reasons that kids bully others, but the thing that parents try to do is to help children deal with tough situations and to stand up for themselves. One of the marvelous things about books is that they are a great way for children to see other kids going through situations that might be similar to something that they are facing. There are tons of great books on this subject, but here are a few that I found extra special.

miss-brookI have a soft place in my heart for Miss Brooks – a school librarian who knows that there is a book out there for everyone. In Miss Brooks’ Story Nook, a companion to Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t), young Missy is tormented by a neighborhood boy when she tries to get to school early for Story Nook. When the lights go out one day, rather than listening to stories, the children are encouraged to tell their own. Stuck with writer’s block, Missy is told to “think of a problem that needs solving.” Through an explanation of what makes a good story, Missy also discovers how to stand up to the bully and face her fears.

felix-coverIn Rosemary Wells’ Felix Stands Tall, young Felix doesn’t think twice when his friend Fiona says that they should be in the talent show together singing and dancing as pixies. The two win first prize, but then a group of bullies begin  to make fun of him and call him “Twinkle toes.” His mother tells him that he will have to stand tall, but he doesn’t know how to do that. Luckily, his friend Fiona does. She allows Felix to borrow one of her invisible magic protection suits and suddenly Felix is brave. A great way to show the importance of friendship and believing in yourself.

weird-coverI wasn’t sure what to think the first time I read Weird! by Erin Frankel, but this book really does a marvelous job of showing multiple sides of the bullying issue. In this story, Luisa changes everything about herself to avoid being called weird by fellow classmate, Sam. Luisa can’t understand why Sam says that everything she does is weird, but as she stops doing the things Sam considers weird, she also stops feeling like herself. She finally talks to her mom about the problem and one of her friends encourages her to go back to doing the things that make her special. weird-3As she started to truly believe in herself and to “act like I don’t care what she says, the more I really don’t care.” This shows a great way to take away a bully’s power by not allowing what they say and do to affect you. What is also special about this book is that at the end there are notes from Luisa, Sam, and Jayla (the girl who encouraged Luisa to be herself). This book is a great way to show all sides of bullying and has two companion books that focus on the other two girls – Dare and Tough.weird-4

stick-and-stoneWhen I wrote about books that teach kindness, I mentioned the book Stick and Stone. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but in this book they actually stand up for each other. When Pinecone tries to use words to hurt them, the two lonely figures learn that standing up for a friend is the best thing you can do to counter-balance a bully. It’s a comical take on the old rhyme that we all grew up hearing and perhaps better than ignoring the taunt, shows kids to stand up for others, even if they are not your friend to start with, you may make a friend in the end. As stick tells stone, “You rock.” And stone replies, “That’s just what stones do. Best friendship rocks too.”

billy-bullyYoung children don’t always understand that the things they are doing can be considered bullying and that repeated acts of selfishness can have a lasting impact. Being a bully isn’t just about calling people names and teasing them. In this reverse counting billy-interiorbook, Billy Bully arrives at the school playground and starts taking others toys, cutting in line, and chasing others off of the slide, his friends dwindle down to zero. With a little effort, Billy Bully realizes that a real friend doesn’t think only of himself. This is an important take on the bullying theme to show kids how others respond when they are selfish and can’t share properly. Billy Bully gets his act together and brings the whole group back together in the end.

molly-louStand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon, by Patty Lovell, is a book that focuses on believing in yourself as a way to stand up to bullies. Little Molly Lou Mellon is tiny, buck-toothed and clumsy but her grandmother has always taught her to believe in herself. When she moves to a new school the local bully taunts her in various ways but each time she just stands up for herself and turns whatever he has said to her around. If he makes fun of her buck teeth, she wows everyone by balancing pennies on them. She manages to put the bully in his place and gains many friends in the process. In the end, she calls her grandma to let her know that all of the thing she had taught her were true. Sometimes it is really hard to be different, but this book shows how believing in yourself allows your differences to shine.


Ada Twist, Scientist

When our copy of Ada Twist, Scientist arrived last week, we were all super excited having absolutely loved Rosie Revere, Engineer. Now, I’m honestly not sure which we love more!


Ada Marie Twist, named after Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, is a precocious little girl who doesn’t speak until she is 3 when she comes right out with full sentences. I actually grew up with a young boy like that, and it is amazing how some children just observe the world around them and hold off on speaking until they really have something to say. For Ada Marie, she had a scientific mind from an early age and when she started talking, it was to ask “Why” everything around her worked the way that it did.


With brilliant rhymes that keep the story flowing in a sing-song manner, Ada discovers the world around her. When she is confronted by a horrific smell one day, which happens to come from her brother’s sweaty socks, she feels a compelling need to understand what the source of the smell was and how our sense of smell even worked. “A mystery! A riddle! A puzzle! A quest! This was the moment that Ada loved best.” Whether working through the problem by experimenting on things around her or writing out questions that led to other questions and possibilities, Ada scientifically explores the things that intrigue her.adatwistscientist1-1024x726

This books is loved in our house by our soon to be 6 year old as well as our 9 year old. Heck, this 40-something momma loves it! This book champions girl power and exploration. It supports women in scientific roles. It supports the idea of never giving up and finding new ways to problem solve. Many also love the fact that Ada is a girl of color. Ada may never find the source of the stink, but her family supports her efforts and she continues to discover new things. Whatever your reasons for loving it, this is a book to be enjoyed over and over again!


Inspiring Young Paleontologists

It’s Wednesday and that means non-fiction picture book day. When I manage to get myself organized, I try to participate in this great link-up of resources organized by Alyson Beecher of Kid Lit Freenzy.nfpb16

This week, I’m sharing the book How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum. In this book, acclaimed author/illustrator Jessie Hartland presents the fascinating 145-million-year journey of a dinsoaur: a Diplodocus longus, from its discovery in 1923 in Utah to its arrival in the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.


Many of us have been to large science museums and seen dinosaur bones taking up large spaces. But how did they get there? That’s what this book aims to explain to children in a style that is similar to “this is the house that Jack built.” This allows Hartland to take a very complicated process and makes it simple for a child to understand.

Hartland starts the book out with a lot of factual information about the mighty Diplodocus who lived millions of years ago. The dinosaurs died during torrential flooding and their bones were buried deeper and deeper under layers of sand and silt. The world continues to move around them and 145 million years later, the diplodocus and the ancient river bed is finally exposed.


After the initial information dump, we then get into the story of how the dinosaur’s bones were found. First the Dinosaur Hunter got involved, then he called the Paleontologist, who brought in the Excavators and so on and so forth until the skeleton is put together back at the museum and put on display so that people can come and visit it and learn about animals that lived so many years ago.

I thought this was a great way to explain something to children that seems so complicated. Now, whenever we see a dinosaur skeleton at a museum, we will have a much better idea of all of the steps involved to bring it there and all of the people involved.


Like many  great non-fiction picture books, this book also features a great spread of dinosaur information at the back of the book for young minds who want to delve a little deeper.

Jessie Hartland has actually written 3 books in the series of how things got to the museum. She also illustrated a book on Ada Lovelace that is coming out in October that I can’t wait to check out.

Celebrating Roald Dahl

Today is Roald Dahl day. The comedic genius would have turned 100 today! We have had a long fascination with Dahl so I thought it was appropriate to share J’s summer reading project today since it focused on one of his books.


Roald Dahl wasn’t a big part of my childhood, but J has really taken a liking to his work. I personally  love his style and think that he has a marvelous way with kids. Especially in a world where we are focusing so much on science and teaching to tests rather than encouraging a child to explore their creativity, Dahl is an amazingly fresh voice. His stories speak to kids and grab them quickly. He makes the children the heroes and often turns the grown-ups into the villains.


charliechocfacThe first book that J ever read by Roald Dahl was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Reading it with her, I realized that it was one I had never read as a child, but the story was one that we both enjoyed together.

matildaWhen we started getting obsessed with Broadway I introduced J to “Matilda the Musical.” I had to explain the story to her, which then, of course, got her intrigued by the book. She loved it so much that we managed to convince our kids’ book club to read Matilda as well.

Over the summer, she decided to take Dahl’s The Witches with her to summer camp. She fully enjoyed the book and when she was faced with having to do a book report project upon returning to school, she chose The Witches as her book.

witches-imageThe Witches is pure Dahl. As the synopsis says, This is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. Real witches don’t ride around on broomsticks. They don’t even wear black cloaks and hats. They are vile, cunning, detestable creatures who disguise themselves as nice, ordinary ladies. So how can you tell when you’re face to face with one? Well, if you don’t know yet you’d better find out quickly-because there’s nothing a witch loathes quite as much as children and she’ll wield all kinds of terrifying powers to get rid of them. Ronald Dahl has done it again! Winner of the 1983 Whitbread Award, the judges’ decision was unanimous: “funny, wise, deliciously disgusting, a real book for children. From the first paragraph to the last, we felt we were in the hands of a master.”

J’s project for school was actually to write a picture book version of the novel. She’s never been a huge fan of drawing, but I think she is completely fascinated by Quentin Blake – she notices his work regardless of the author he is illustrating for.

In The Witches, Roald Dahl decided to really focus on the ugly side of witches. Witches have been portrayed in many ways by various authors, but Dahl had a lot of fun making them disgusting, nasty creatures. Who else would think to create witches with such grotesque features?The details of what the witches looked like made for my favorite page in her project.


This story is rather crazy. A young boy and his grandmother wind up in a hotel that happens to also be hosting a witches convention. He accidentally gets himself locked into the room with them and they turn him into a mouse. But it is more than that, they plan to turn ALL children into mice! The young boy and his grandmother turn the tables on them and instead set out to rid the world of witches.


Not everyone is a huge fan of Roald Dahl, but J has certainly gotten a kick out of his work. We love the strength of his young heroes even in the face of some very difficult odds. His work encourages children to think on their toes, to believe in themselves and their power, and to be kind even when those around them haven’t been kind to them. So happy birthday, Mr. Dahl!


It Ain’t so Awful, Falafel

Every once in a while a book completely surprises you. “It Ain’t so Awful, Falafel,” by Firoozeh Dumas, was one of those books. I had heard about it in an article in Time Magazine referencing the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement which I have followed for some time. The book sounded like a fun read and I was thrilled when I managed to get a library copy over the summer.

25897857The premise of this book is that Zomorod Yousefzadeh has just moved to Newport Beach and is trying more than anything to fit in. Zomorod is an 11 year old Iranian girl whose father works for the oil industry and their family has had to move many times in the US as well as in Iran. She goes so far as to go by the name Cindy, since her given name is difficult to pronounce as well as “different.”

As the book starts out, it is mainly about being how challenging it is for Cindy and her family to fit in with Newport Beach life in 1978. Cindy is an avid reader and constantly looking out for her mother, who seems to be very lonely living in the United States. She struggles with the fact that her name is hard for everyone to pronounce, her mother only speaks Persian, and the foods that her family eats are not like everyone else’s. The idea of being different is a common theme in children’s literature, although having the main character be Iranian definitely sets it apart.

What sets this book apart from other coming of age stories is when it started to bring in the Iranian Revolution. Most middle school kids know nothing about when the Iranian shah was overthrown and the events that unfolded after that. I will be the first to admit that I am not all that knowledgeable about that part of history, and this book was like a lesson in what happened in the late 1970s.

When the Iranian Revolution hits and the subsequent hostage crisis, Cindy’s family deals with the fallout of being Iranian in the United States. Her father loses his job due to the political unrest, her teachers want her to be able to answer questions about what is happening in her country that she doesn’t have answers to, and some people start to treat her poorly and play nasty pranks. This was true to what was happening in the late ’70s, but it also felt too close for comfort to things that are going on in this country right now.

The book continues to go between the political issues abroad and social issues for Cindy’s family in the United States. There are so many wonderful aspects of this book. Whether it be the free history lesson of a period that many adults don’t fully understand,  the true to life notions of trying to fit in when your customs and background are different from those around you, or wanting to be the hero of your own family when they start to face their own struggles, this book has a little bit of everything and it is handled with humor and heart-felt emotion.

Through it all, Cindy keeps in mind advice from her father: “Kindness is our religion and if we treat everybody the way we would like to be treated, the world would be a better place.”


Patricia Polacco takes on Bullying

Patricia Polacco has done it again. Book after book she manages to tackle tough topics in an approachable and honest manner. In “Bully,” she keeps up with the times and considers bullying in the modern age of email, texting, and Facebook. While this isn’t something that is impacting my nine year old yet, thank goodness, I know that there will come a day when it rings true.

bullyLyla is new to the area and going to a new school. Like all new kids, she is trying to figure things out in her new environment. She immediately befriends Jamie, who is also new. The two are both in 6th grade and notice how the lunchroom separates into cliques. Lyla also notices that everyone seems to have a cell phone. Jamie tells her that she needs a phone, a laptop, and to get set-up in Facebook.

A few weeks later, when Lyla starts to get good grades and becomes a cheerleader, one of the “celebrity girls,” starts to pay attention to her. By mid-year she is considered “good enough” to sit at the celebrity table. But before that could happen, Lyla also needed a makeover.

The next day when the celebrity girls realize that Lyla is friends with Jamie, they make fun of him and she feels that he has to be her friend outside of school only. One day at one of the girls’ houses, they take their name calling one step further by “scum dumping.” This is when they go onto Facebook and write vicious things on people’s pages, including Jamie’s. Lyla asks him why people do it and he remarkably answers that “some people aren’t happy unless they are putting someone else down.” From that moment on, Lyla spent less and less time with the mean girls.

But Lyla wasn’t going to get off so easily. “No one dumps us, Lyla, we do the dumping.” Gage and her friends set Lyla up to look like she has stolen the test and compromised it for everyone else. Jamie manages to come to her rescue, but the damage is already done.

Lyla had to face a major bully. Gage didn’t look like a mean kid from the outside, but she had a hateful streak. As Lyla’s father said, “in order for people like Gage’s candle to glow brighter, she has to blow out yours.”

Middle school is tough. Everyone is figuring out who they are as individuals and judgements are made for superficial reasons. Junior high school was hard enough some decades ago when I was in it, I can’t imagine it in the age of cyber-bullying. We try to teach kids early on about bullying and kindness, but it is still a hard concept to grasp and something that they will most likely have to deal with. Another blog post is in the works about books for younger kids, but this is a must read for the 4th grade and up.


Jumping on the Hamilton craze

We are a Broadway loving household. This year we taped the Tony’s and my girls watched them repeatedly. So there was no way of getting around the amazing momentum of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s outstanding, award-winning show, Hamilton. But while they understand the popularity of the show and that it is partly because of the way it turned what we expect of theater on its head, they definitely don’t understand the story. So when I heard about the book Aaron and Alexander, by Don Brown, I knew that I had to get a copy.

aaron and alexander cover

This outstanding non-fiction picture book shows the parallels between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton while highlighting the fact that they wound up being the worst of enemies. Their early lives were very different – a clear case of privilege versus poverty – but both boys were incredibly intelligent and when the American Revolution began, they both staked their lives on independence.

The book is set up in an intriguing way constantly showcasing where each man was at the same point in their life. From their formative years to the fact that both were orphaned, their roles in the Revolutionary War and the years following, and finally how they found themselves in opposing political camps fighting each other.


During the war, allegiances were started that would shape their political careers. Aaron led troops and was worn out by army life. Alexander, on the other hand, used his ambition to  become General Washington’s aide.

Years later, they both had political aspirations. Aaron was a people person going out and working the crowds while Alexander used written words to get his message out there and cut down his political opponents. The conflict escalated when Alexander Hamilton was the driving force behind making sure that Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1800 rather than Aaron Burr. Four years later, the final straw was reached and Aaron challenge Alexander to a dual (a common occurrence in that time.).


This is a marvelous look at an interesting part of American history and a great way to talk about the current Hamilton craze. It is hard to find history books that really engage a child who is old enough to understand the content, but this book does an outstanding job of it. Until recently, most people would recognize Alexander Hamilton’s name and know little to nothing about Aaron Burr. Don Brown did an excellent job of bringing this moment of history into full color for the younger generation.


I haven’t been great about participating in the non-fiction picture book challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher of Kid Lit Frenzy, but I do try. If you haven’t already checked out her site and the rest of the outstanding blogs that link up, I highly recommend it. Her post today has a number of new releases that I want to get my hands on. Happy reading!


Pondering Paintings and Painters with Pepette

I’ve written in the past about books that help children consider and discover the great artists of our past and present. Recently I came across the endearing book “Painting Pepette,” by Linda Ravin Lodding, and its manner of introducing artists made me smile.


In this book, beautifully illustrated by Claire Fletcher, young Josette Bobette and her favorite stuffed animal, Pepette the bunny, live in Paris. Josette loves sitting in the great room that happens to be filled with a wall of family portraits. Everyone in her family had a painting, even the family dog, but Pepette’s portrait was missing. So the two set off to Montmarte, the famous artists quarter in Paris, to find someone to truly capture Pepette and the love that Josette has for her.


As soon as they enter the quarter, a man stops them and wants to paint Pepette’s portrait because of her “majestic ears.” He then fills an easel with Pepette’s image, but instead of two ears she has three, instead of one nose, she has two. The painting looked vaguely familiar to a certain famous artist, and I suddenly realized why there were portraits of a few famous artists in the beginning of the book. Each page would focus on a famous artist’s style, this one being Picasso.


Josette and Pepette continue to wander through the artists and get stopped by various artists. In this way, they are introduced to Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse. Even though these amazing men had painted Pepette’s portrait, none of them captured her the way Josette had dreamed of. So she realized that she had to do the painting herself and it was perfect.

I loved the illustrations in this book and the whimsical way of showcasing famous artists. I will admit that some felt more true to the artists than others, but it is a great way to peak a child’s interest. Children also love the notion of a scavenger hunt, so they are able to find the artist’s portrait at the beginning of the book. A truly engaged child might also ask to see more work by each individual artist. Regardless, this was a very sweet book that not only showcased great art, but the love of a child and her stuffed animal.portraits



Mr. Colby Sharp

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