Category Archives: Elementary fiction

Katie Woo – We Love You!

Thank you to Capstone Publishing for providing me with a review copy of this book and for being a Silver level sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day. All opinions are my own.

Having a 1st grader, I’m always on the look out for great books that are right in that sweet spot of great readers for K-2. So I jumped at the chance to read the newest Katie Woo book,  Katie Woo, We Love You! by Fran Manushkin, which is being publishing this February.  This is actually our first time reading Katie Woo, but E enjoyed the book we got so much that she read it repeatedly and quickly checked out another at the library.

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Katie Woo is a young girl, probably in 1st or 2nd grade. The book itself is made up of 4 stand-alone short stories with lots of full color illustrations. This particular book has The Best Club, Katie’s Spooky Sleepover, Katie Blows her Top, and Daddy Can’t Dance. As a whole, the books works nicely as a transitional chapter book helping younger readers gain confidence to move to the next level. Continue reading →

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Ellie, Engineer

Thank you to @NetGalley and @bloomsburypublishing for providing me with a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

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Description:
Ellie is an engineer. With a tool belt strapped over her favorite skirt (who says you can’t wear a dress and have two kinds of screwdrivers handy, just in case?), she invents and builds amazing creations in her backyard workshop. Together with her best friend Kit, Ellie can make anything. As Kit’s birthday nears, Ellie doesn’t know what gift to make until the girls overhear Kit’s mom talking about her present–the dog Kit always wanted! Ellie plans to make an amazing doghouse, but her plans grow so elaborate that she has to enlist help from the neighbor boys and crafty girls, even though the two groups don’t get along. Will Ellie be able to pull off her biggest project yet, all while keeping a secret from Kit?

Review:
What a fun book! Ellie is a riot and something of a hot mess. The book starts with a boys vs girls issue that Ellie solves by inventing a giant water balloon launcher and soaking the boys, but as the book progresses, Ellie learns that we can’t and shouldn’t always divide things by gender. One area where Ellie is sure that gender doesn’t matter is engineering and it is her biggest passion. Continue reading →

Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo

My 7 year old adores audio books. She falls asleep to them every night and sometimes does art projects while listening to them. My 10 year old has enjoyed them since she was about the same age, but she only listened to books she had already read whereas my younger child likes to listen first. We have quickly made our way through all 6 Land of Stories books, the Ramona books (Stockard Channing!!!), and quite a few others. But sometimes, finding a series that she likes can be a challenge. Enter Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo.

book 1This series, by Nancy Krulik, was published from 2002-2011, but we have never read it before. It just wasn’t on my older daughter’s radar, for whatever reason. E is adoring the series and I’m rather impressed myself. The concept of the series is that young Katie Carew makes a wish after an exceptionally bad day asking to be anyone but herself. Now when a special wind blows, she becomes someone else, even the class hamster! Within about 70 pages, she manages to learn something about others, or other situations, by walking in someone else’s shoes.

Katie Kazoo offers a great option for those ready to read longer chapter books, but not quite ready for the likes of Harry Potter. There are still illustrations that keep them engaged and while the stories are silly and fun, Katie learns that bad behavior doesn’t work – for example, in book 5 she thinks having no rules would make everything better, but realizes that we need some rules to avoid mass chaos. Continue reading →

Olive & Beatrix by Amy Marie Stadelmann

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Thank you so much to the author for providing #KidLitExchange with a finished copy of this book for review purposes! All opinions are my own (as always).

Back in April I discovered the Branches books published by Scholastic. These great books are a way to bridge the gap between leveled readers and chapter books. Or as my new 1st grader likes to say, these books are like picture books and chapter books smashed together! So when author Amy Marie Stadelmann sent copies of her series Olive & Beatrix to the KidLitExchange I jumped at the opportunity to check them out.

The Olive & Beatrix books focus on twin sisters Olive & Beatrix. Olive is “ordinary” and loves science, nature, and exploring. Her sister, Beatrix, is less than ordinary as she was born at midnight on a full moon and is therefore a witch. She has a brain full of tricks and uses her magical powers to play pranks on Olive and her best friend, Eddie.

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These books arrived at our house on Saturday and by Sunday evening, E had read them both at least 2 times. Olive & Beatrix is a really fun series. There is a touch of mischievousness, a dash of science, and a balance of true sisterhood battles and friendship. Beatrix tends to take the easy way out by using her magic, but in the end, it is usually a combination of magic and science needed to solve the problem at hand. Even though the sisters look at life differently, they have to work together to make things work.

thenotsoittybittyspidersBook #1 is “The Not-So Itty-Bitty Spiders” in which Olive and Eddie attempt to prank Beatrix with a bucket of spiders and it back-fires on them when the spiders get into her growing potion. When the spiders escape out of their house, the three friends have to figure out what to do. When their first plans don’t work, some scientific thinking helps solve the problem.

thesupersmellymoldyblobBook #2 is “The Super-Smelly Moldy Blob.” In this book, Olive is tired of Beatrix always managing to win the science fair due to an unfair use of magic. She and Eddie come up with great entries, but a battle between the twins over which table to set up on ends in both of their projects falling to the floor and turning into a super-smelly moldy blob that starts oozing through the school swallowing up everything in its path. Once again, the twins and Eddie use a combination of magic and scientific know-how to stop the blob and get everything back in order.

questionsThese books are perfect for emerging readers, specifically those in kindergarten through 2nd grade. By combining a slightly longer story with a load of really fun pictures, kids just want to read them. There is a real sense of accomplishment for struggling readers and a lot of color and action for reluctant readers. As with all Branches books, there is also a page in the back with comprehension questions to help they understand what they are reading and to start talking points for parents. Our school and public libraries need to have more of these books available for our emerging readers.

 

Blog Tour & Giveaway – One Good Thing About America

Welcome to Day #6 of the One Good Thing About America Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman (3/14/17), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Ruth and 10 chances to win a copy of One Good Thing About America, as well as a chance to win a Skype visit with Ruth in the Grand Prize Giveaway!

One Good Thing About America for Ruth
by Ruth Freeman

I happen to believe it’s really important to discover what makes us happy. I’ve learned to pay attention and look for those things that make me smile on the inside. More on them in a minute, but first: Anaïs.

In my book, One Good Thing About America, Anaïs is upset and homesick when her grandmother Oma (back home in Congo) asks her to find one good thing about her new home in America every day. “This is a very hard job,” writes Anaïs, “or maybe impossible!”

But, slowly, Anaïs does start to discover things in America that make her happy. Like her new black backpack, her beautiful cursive writing and her new friend Jenna. As she moves through her first year in America she finds more and more good things (snow! ice cream! the library!) until, at the end, her teachers and friends tell her SHE is One Good Thing About America!

I will admit that many of Anaïs’ One-Good-Things are things I love, too. I’m a sucker for ice cream, potato chips and jelly doughnuts because I don’t eat them very often.  Like her, I also love stars, libraries and the first snowflakes of the winter. I even love snowstorms because there is nothing better than a snow day!

Of course, there are my wonderful students who make me smile and laugh every single day.  And I can’t forget my two sons. And how about dogs? I grew up with a basset hound we named Miranda. What a face!

A few more things I thought of: the first time in the fall when I put flannel sheets on my bed is, mmm, pure delight. The sound of waves and the smell of the ocean. And I love trees, I don’t know why exactly, but especially in the winter when their branches are black and tangled against the sky. And there’s something beautiful about the sound of a car going by on a rainy night.

I’m sure I could think of more things, but this is a start. You may love some of these things, too, or you may absolutely hate them and think I’m crazy. But I hope you’ll think of your One-Good-Things. I’ve really enjoyed making this list. It makes me happy just to sit here and read it over. And there are plenty more wonderful things out there….like BOOKS!

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Stop by Chat with Vera tomorrow for the next stop on the tour!

Blog Tour Schedule:

April 10th – Geo Librarian
April 11thLate Bloomer’s Book Blog
April 12th Mrs. Mommy BookNerd
April 13thKristi’s Book Nook
April 14thLife Naturally

April 17th – Books My Kids Read
April 18th – Chat with Vera
April 19th Word Spelunking
April 20th – Middle Grade Mafioso
April 21st – The Hiding Spot

Follow Ruth: Website | FacebookPublisher: Holiday House

ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA is a sweet, often funny middle-grade novel that explores differences and common ground across cultures.

It’s hard to start at a new school . . . especially if you’re in a new country. Back home, Anaïs was the best English student in her class. Here in Crazy America she feels like she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense (chicken FINGERS?), and the kids at school have some very strange ideas about Africa. Anaïs misses her family . . . so she writes lots of letters to Oma, her grandmother. She tells her she misses her and hopes the war is over soon. She tells her about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese dinners, and princess sleepovers. She tells her about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and how she just might be turning into a Crazy American herself.


About the Author: Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English language learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She is the author of several acclaimed nonfiction picture books. One Good Thing About America is her first novel..



GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY
  • One (1) winner across the whole blog tour will receive a signed copy of One Good Thing About America for their personal collection, as well as a 30 minute Skype visit with Ruth Freeman to the school of their choice and a signed copy for the school’s library.
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I am also able to offer one reader of my blog a copy of the book.

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One Good Thing About America

This coming Monday I am part of a blog tour for the release of Ruth Freeman’s new book, One Good Thing About America. Blog tours are awesome because you get to learn a wide variety of information about the book straight from the author. In the case of this book, Ruth Freeman has written 10 outstanding posts about how she wrote the book and about immigrant life. Please come back on Monday to check out the blog tour and enter to win a chance to receive a free copy of the book!

One Good Thing About America is a wonderful book about Anaïs, a young girl who has just immigrated to the United States from the Congo. Her mother and younger brother are with her in Maine and trying to adjust to life in the United States. Unfortunately, her father is in hiding from the Congolese government and her brother has also stayed behind.

The book follows Anaïs as she navigates 4th grade in a new school where she struggles with the language, even though back home she had been top in English. The book is written as letters that Anaïs writes to her grandmother, Oma, back in the Congo. Her grandmother requires her to write her letters in English so that she can practice the language, and the fact that she has trouble with grammar and spelling make her situation more relatable and realistic. It also allows the reader to grow with her as she figures things out. Continue reading →

The Westing Game

There is something truly joyous when your children read and ENJOY books that were childhood favorites of yours. Not that we don’t adore new books (we are currently fighting over an Advance Review Copy to be shared soon), but there are times when you remember that classics are classics for a reason. The latest in a series of books J has enjoyed that I remember loving as a kid? The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin.

westingThe Westing Game is a mystery reminiscent of the board game Clue (another family favorite). In this book, 16 people find themselves at the reading of a man’s will which says that a) he was murdered, b) the murderer is in the room, and c) whoever figures out who did it will win a sizeable inheritance. The group is split up into 8 pairs and they are set off on their journey to figure out who did it.  At the same time, each of these characters holds a secret or two.

Turtle Wexler might be one of my all time favorite characters created and feels like the star of this particular book. Given that this was written in 1978 when you didn’t have a lot of spunky, unusual female characters, she was special. She is exceptionally bright and not as “pretty” as her older sister, Angela, but she has a very caring heart. She is a character that feels very true to life and that doesn’t seem to change with a different generation reading the book.

Another interesting thing about this book is that while there is an external focus on solving the mystery of who killed Sam Westing, there is a deeper, more internal mystery unfolding throughout the book – figuring out just who the characters are, their secrets, and how they are all related (literally and figuratively).

J, at 10 and in 4th grade, adored the book. She couldn’t put it down, kept asking me questions that I couldn’t remember the answers to, and repeatedly said “this book is awesome!” That’s pretty high praise from an avid reader. Ellen Raskin received a Newbery Medal for The Westing Game in 1979 and the award hasn’t lost its shine.

Emma is On the Air – Introducing a Spunky New Character

cohostEvery January I look forward to participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day. This year, I’m even more excited to be a co-host, so be prepared for a slew of posts featuring great books as we get closer to the January 27th link-up event.

This year Multicultural Children’s Book Day is super excited to welcome Scholastic books as a Platinum Sponsor. I have watched Scholastic really make an effort to not only publish more diverse books in the past year or so, but to also promote them in the flyers that they send home (I’m such a sucker for those). One of the books that I received from Scholastic as part of this year’s event is Emma is on the Air: Big News!, the first book in a great new series aimed at 7-10 year olds. My 6 year old loved it so much that we’ve already placed an order for book two!

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Emma is on the Air is written by veteran journalist Ida Siegal. The characters and plot lines are inspired by all the children who approach her in the field, asking what it’s like to be a reporter. The characters are also inspired by her home life in which she was born and raised in New York City, but her husband is from the Dominican Republic, so her children speak both Spanish and English at home.

In the first installment, Emma is on the Air: Big News!, young Emma is trying to find a way to become famous. When watching the news with her father one evening, she sees a journalist who completely catches her eye and she decides that that’s the key to her fame. From there her father, a journalist himself, gives her lessons in what kind of stories need to be told and how to go about collecting information. When a boy in her school find a worm in his hamburger the next day, the stage is set for her big break.

The story allows Emma to give a nice lesson in basic journalism by having her interview key witnesses, gather clues and write up her reports while getting tips from her father. When she manages to solve the mystery of the wormburger, she even thinks that “maybe the helping part felt better than the famous part…Nah that is silly.”

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E and I read this story together and really enjoyed it. Young readers are grabbed by Emma’s excitement for life and for the gross factor in finding a worm in your hamburger. Emma is also all about style, something my 6 year old can’t get enough of. Even when she is writing her story, she uses a microphone with a big purple E on it, “a shiny purple feather pencil with extra-special sparkles and a special purple reporter’s pad to take notes.”emma-accessories

Emma is on the Air is a great series that just so happens to also feature a multicultural character. In my opinion, that’s exactly how it is supposed to be done. It is great to see an early chapter book that allows Latin American children see themselves in the pages and to bring the larger cultural world to all of our children. Well done!

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is in its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team is on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use their official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

In Search of Girly Early Readers

About a week ago I received an email from a reader looking for good chapter book series for her young daughters. First, let me say, I LOVE getting emails like this. I can’t always help when it comes to great books for young boys, but girls, I have that covered! That said, there might be more people looking for similar books, so I wanted to share some series that might be lesser known to people.

great-early-chapter-books-for-girls

billie-and-jackBillie B. Brown & Hey Jack – I’ve talked about these series before. Billie B. is a bold and brave young girl who is learning how to believe in herself. Her best friend is a boy named Jack who struggles with some of the same issues that she does. Together, they navigate the world around them and perhaps learn a lesson or two in the process. There are two separate series that each have about 15 books to them. They are ideal for early readers with no more than 50 words per page and with challenging words in bold.4001_preciousring_1

Lily the Elf – Lily the Elf lives with her dad in a tiny house in a busy city. Her granny lives in a cottage behind their house. In these charming books, join Lily as she finds lost treasures, makes wishes, meets new creatures, and masters new skills. As with the Billie B. Brown and Hey Jack books, Lily is aimed at newly emergent readers with only 50 words per page in a large font.

showtime-fairiesRainbow Magic Series – Some series never grow old and this popular one by Daisy Meadows is constantly attracting young readers. This series is actually multiple series all under one common theme – young friends, Rachel and Kristy, discover the fairies and find that they are able to help them defeat their arch nemesis, Jack Frost. Each time there are seven books with a common theme – rainbow fairies, sports fairies, ocean fairies, party fairies, the list goes on and on. Young readers easily get hooked on these books, even when parents get sick of them.

secret-mermaid-2The Secret Mermaid – This is a really fun series that appeals to fans of the Daisy Meadow’s Rainbow Magic series. The concept of this series, published by Usborne Books, is that a little girl’s grandmother gives her a magic necklace that allows her to join the mermaid world while she sleeps. It turns out that she is one of a long line of secret mermaids and now she is trying to save the mermaid world from an evil mermaid. A great early chapter book series that still incorporates images and doesn’t cram too much text into each page.

fairy-ponies-1Fairy Ponies – In this series, young Holly and her pony friend, Puck, have wonderful adventures including rescuing missing royalty and saving the day from wicked plots and dark storms. With this series, kids get a bit more adventure than their average fairy books. The Fairy Ponies appeals to kids who are 5-8 years old.fairy-ponies-inside

pony-crazed-pinkPony Crazed Princess –  Princess Ellie is crazy about her ponies! Any time she can, she trades in her royal crown and fancy dresses for her riding helmet and boots, and heads out to the Royal Stable. Along with her best friend, Kate, Ellie takes her ponies for rides and jumps all around the palace grounds. Together, they go on adventures, solve mysteries, and, of course, spend lots of time with Ellie’s adorable ponies. This is a great book as an early chapter book

princess-in-black-comparisonThe Princess in Black – Shannon Hale, the writer behind the Princess Academy series and Ever After High, hit the nail on the head with her series staring the Princess in Black. The Princess in Black is a humorous and action-packed chapter-book series for young readers who like their princesses not only prim and perfect, but also dressed in black. Princess Magnolia appears to be a normal, perfectly dressed princess, but when her monster alarm goes off, she runs to the broom closet, ditches her frilly clothes, and becomes the Princess in Black! This is a great book because it works well as a read-aloud to 4 and 5 year olds and has larger font and images so that a 6 or 7 year old can read it on their own. Super fun and featuring a girl who is unwilling to “just be a princess.”

ghost-tale-for-xmasThe Magic Tree House – This is not a series that falls under the overly girly category, but there are few young children who have not been sucked into this fabulous series about siblings Jack and Annie who discover a magic tree house that whisks them away to places and times near and far to solve problems for Morgan Le Fay. Kids are able to learn a great deal about history from these fabulous books without it feeling like they are learning anything. My 6 year old has even decided that she is naming her children after them!

There are tons of books out there for every child’s pleasure. If at first they don’t enjoy a given book, don’t despair, they just haven’t found the right book yet!

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A Culinary Adventure with All Four Stars

It is wonderful when a book can encourage a child to see outside of their personal bubble. In the charming series, All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman, J’s eyes were opened to a variety of foods and ingredients that she had never come across. At 9, she has started to be more willing to expand her culinary horizons and books like All Four Stars are a great way to entice her palate.

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I first read All Four Stars and thought that it was super fun. I had been enticed as a foodie and also because it was about a child who loved both food and writing. I inhaled the book and then encourage J to read it. It sat on her massive “to read” shelf for a little while, but once she finally cracked open the pages, she was caught under its spell as well. She enjoyed the first book so much that we immediately purchased book 2, The Stars of Summer, and now we are eagerly anticipating book 3 to arrive on our doorstep.

all-four-coverIn All Four Stars, eleven year old Gladys Gatsby loves all things food, but comically her parents are the ones who prefer take-out and are less likely to try new things. Because of this, all of her food explorations are done in secret. When she accidentally sets the kitchen curtains on fire making creme brulee, her cooking days are over, at least for the next six months. At school, her new teacher assigns the 6th graders a writing assignment for a contest held by the New York Standard newspaper in which they are supposed to write about their future. Gladys’s first go lacks passion and her teacher tells her so. Her newest friend, Sandy, would agree that her writing about wanting to be a vet seems far fetched when he thinks she has a future in food writing (having been the only person let in on her secret of the fact that she reviews all of the food she eats and has been for the past 4 years). But when her essay for the contest gets mistaken for an actual cover letter for a food writer, she and her new friends test how far she will go to get a real review.

As for exploring new foods, while Gladys’s parents are not adventurous, Gladys learns about food from her aunt who takes her on culinary tours of NYC. Gladys is also fortunate in that one of her few friends is Indian with parents who cook classic foods from their homeland. Gladys has also befriended the owner of a the local gourmet food shop and her friend Sandy’s mom likes to experiment with desserts. J is now all for making a traditional Indian dessert called Gajar ka halwa thanks to this book (recipe included in the book). It was also comical to read it with J because she would ask me what an ingredient was, I would explain it, and then the book would use similar terms to explain it in the very next sentence.

stars-of-summerThe second book, The Stars of Summer, has Gladys having successfully completed her first restaurant review for the newspaper. The paper still doesn’t know that she is only eleven and her parents have no idea that she is writing reviews. While Gladys was looking forward to a quiet summer, her friend Charissa has other plans and gives Gladys a free summer as the kitchen assistant at her family’s camp. Throughout the high-jinx that the camp backdrop provides, there is still food to be reviewed. This book starts at a tapas restaurant and then moves into a madcap attempt to find the best hot dog in NYC. A nice part of this book is that Gladys starts to share her love of food a little more with her parents, turning the tables and having them try some new foods.

This book took Gladys a bit further out of her comfort zone. Book one had her making new friends for the first time and letting people in on her secret love of cooking. Book two has her making a few more friends, try things that have always scared her (swimming anyone?), and improving her relationship with her parents. As for the culinary adventure, Gladys finds some of the most unique hot dogs possible – Chilean Hot Dogs with avocados, tomatoes and mayonnaise and South African Hot Dog Sandwich with french fries, lettuce and Indian curried pickle to name two.

stars-so-sweet-cover-1The final book in the series, Stars So Sweet, should be arriving at our house any day. That said, here is the summary available online:

As the summer winds down and Gladys Gatsby prepares to start middle school, she is nervous about juggling schoolwork and looming deadlines from her secret job as the New York Standard’s youngest restaurant critic. When her editor pushes for a face-to-face meeting to discuss more opportunities with the paper, Gladys knows she must finally come clean to her parents. But her perfectly planned reveal is put on hold when her parents arrive home with a surprise:  her Aunt Lydia, one of the only adults who knows her secret, fresh off the plane from Paris. Gladys and Aunt Lydia try one last ruse to fool her editor at the Standard, but even with her aunt’s help, Gladys just can’t manage the drama of middle school and a secret life. It’s time for Gladys to be true to herself and honest with her friends and family, regardless of what those around her think.

From other reviews that I have read, this final installment is less about food and more about finding yourself, but we are still looking forward to enjoying it. A very fun series!