Children’s Book of the Week and other Book Reviews


Welcome to more of my children’s book reviews. I hope you enjoy my choice of books and the reviews of them. Please don’t forget to scroll down the page and read all of them!

Children’s Book of the Week – The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney
Available on Amazon as an eBook $4.66 | Paperback $5.39 | Hardcover $12.08 | Audio $17.99

When I first opened this book, I wasn’t expecting anything quite so good. What a wonderful surprise. It’s funny, sometimes moving, very entertaining and filled with the sort of wisdom both children and adults will surely benefit from. A great little book! Please read my full review below.

Thec World According to HumphreyMy Review

Written from Humphrey the hamster’s perspective, The World According to Humphrey tells the story of his ‘liberation’ from a pet store to his life in the classroom, where he resides as a classroom pet in Room 26 at Longfellow School. Humphrey is totally besotted with Ms. Mac, his kind-hearted rescuer, not knowing that her post at the school is only a temporary one. Inevitably the day arrives when she must leave and the dreaded and hostile Mrs Brisbane returns. Unfortunately for Humphrey, the stone-hearted Mrs Brisbane “can’t stand rodents”.

Following the departure of his beloved Ms. Mac, Humphrey is left to go home each weekend with a different child or member of staff, an arrangement which changes his and their lives. Each home he visits is not without its share of problems; a mother cannot speak English, the Head Teacher is unable to command the same respect from his own children as he enjoys at school, the TV in one household is never switched off, and another child’s mother is sick. Humphrey puts his thinking cap on and helps these families to resolve their various issues. Needless to say, he is much-loved by all who meet him and even the ones who don’t take to him straight away are eventually won over. While all this is taking place, Humphrey is slipping in and out of his cage, by opening the “lock-that-doesn’t-lock”, and at the same time managing to get an education.

I really did like this book. The humour is intelligent and innocent. I particularly like the way Humphrey has named the children – after the teacher’s commands – “Repeat-That-Please-Richie”, “Stop-Giggling-Gail” and “Pay-Attention-Art” are just some of them – very clever. This is fast-paced, witty and highly entertaining. Humphrey’s understanding of his human counterparts and their problems is refreshing and insightful, ranging from the emotions of falling in love to the despair of having a sick parent, and being reticent about speaking out in class because of a language barrier. In most cases, as in life, the children’s behaviour in school reflects their situation at home, which here is sensitively dealt with.

This is an extremely enjoyable, well-written book which is loaded with lessons, all subtly woven in. “After all, you can learn a lot about yourself by getting to know another species” being Humphrey’s favourite  dictum. There is also a great deal to be learnt about caring for hamsters. Humphrey himself is adorable, compassionate, perceptive and funny. A great book which I highly recommend. (5 stars)

The World According to Humphrey would be best suited to ages 7 to 9

Other Books I Have Reviewed

There Are No Such Things As Dragons – Or Are There? By V. J. Wells
Available on Amazon as an eBook $3.19 and in Paperback $3.55

Amy and Argyle – There Are No Such Things As Dragons – Or Are ThereAmy, the tale’s protagonist, is eight years old when she is taken by her father to spend the summer with Aunt Morag and Uncle Angus, who live in ‘a real castle’ in Scotland. After arriving at their destination and eating dinner together, Uncle Angus lets slip that there may be a ‘wee dragon’ somewhere in the castle.

This is a captivating story of friendship and trust. Amy learns she can ‘speak dragon’ and how easy it is to form lasting friendships. It carries just the right amount of suspense to keep children on the edge without scaring them too much. The illustrations are delightful, the book is well-written, the descriptions are well-thought out, and it is short enough to keep the interest of all, whether reading or listening.

I enjoyed the storyline and the setting (Scotland being the perfect location, of course, for dragons). The story is quite poignant, since it involves two lonely subjects, and the ending is endearing; as are the characters. I read this to the youngest member of the family who is already asking for more of the same (are there any children who are NOT intrigued by stories of dragons?), so hopefully there will be more of the adventures of Amy and Argyll soon. Highly recommended (5 stars)

There Are No Such Things As Dragons – Or Are There? would be best suited to ages 4 to 7

Magical Stories by Annemarie Nikolaus
Available on Amazon as an eBook $2.96 and in Paperback $4.74

Magical StoriesMagical Stories is a book consisting of four short stories involving magicians, ghosts, animals, doing what is right, Santa Claus and more. Although one or two minor bits suggest English is not the first language of the author, it adds to the charm and I would consider this book intelligently and thoughtfully written. The vocabulary is excellent, though not geared toward the very young child. These are proper ‘fablish’ bedtime stories, like the ones many of us read as children – and many of the ones I read had also been translated into English. The tales are endearing and absorbing, and do indeed feel magical. My favourite was The Christmas Story with its lesson on consumerism and how Christmas has lost its true meaning. Well done to author Annemaria Nikolaus for offering something so utterly enchanting and beguiling, and refreshingly different. (5 stars)

Magical Stories would be best suited to ages 9 years and upwards

The Adventures of Brackenbelly – All in a Day’s Work by Gareth Baker
Available on Amazon as an eBook $1.53 and in Paperback $5.53

The Adventures of Brackenbelly

The much put upon Isomee Hogg-Bottom lives with her despicable uncle at Hogg-Bottom farm. Here she is happily going about her chores one day when a stranger, a legendary uma, arrives on their doorstep in the hope of buying one the uncle’s, again legendary, flying chostri. However, the uma – Brackenbelly, finds the uncle is not willing to sell him a chostri unless he is willing to help him in return. At night things have been happening outside the barn, indicating someone or something may be trying to get to the chostri on the inside of the barn. Whatever is afoot sounds extremely frightening and dangerous and the lazy uncle is not willing to investigate the matter himself. From here the reader is taken into the even darker side of the uncle’s nature and the good and kind side of the uma, as the adventure begins.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a short chapter book. Each chapter ending is equipped with its own cliffhanger urging the reader to continue. As the story progresses we learn more about Isomee’s relationship with her uncle and just how loathsome he really is (nothing here unsuitable for children – he’s just as mean as they get). We also see how deeply intelligent and compassionate the uma is and watch as his friendship with Isomee develops.

This is very well-written with excellent character descriptions, including the one of the chostri. It’s exciting, original and imaginative. Since this is the only one I have read, I am assuming in the next one we will learn of Isomee’s fate. Highly recommended.(5 stars)

The Adventures of Brackenbelly – All in a Day’s Work would be best suited to ages 10 plus

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All my reviews can be found on Amazon and, where possible, Goodreads.

Book Covers with links can also be found on my Pinterest Board – ‘Books I Have Reviewed’

Please note: Authors frequently offer their books at lower prices, and often they are free.  These prices were correct at the time of publishing, but it is worth checking for price changes.

 

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Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 13: The Western Lowland Gorilla


Western lowland gorilla

Description
Every night, western lowland gorillas build a fresh, leafy nest in which they snuggle down and sleep for about 13 hours. When not sleeping, they are either seeking food or eating it. As gorillas go, they are smaller than their mountain cousins and have shorter hair and longer arms. Despite their huge canine teeth and notably powerful limbs, western lowlands are rarely aggressive. In fact, they are quite gentle. They live in groups led by a dominant ‘silverback’ male. Females give birth after an eight to nine month gestation period, their newborns being surprisingly tiny and weighing in at only about four pounds. The babies learn to crawl at two months and can walk before they are nine months. They ride on their mothers’ backs for the first two or three years of their lives. Gorillas, sadly, have a high infant mortality rate; only half the infants reach maturity. 
Habitat
Lowland tropical forests and swamp forests
Where
West and Central Africa
What they eat
Fruit, leaves, shoots, vines and other such vegetation, and bark; with the occasional termite thrown in for good measure
Threats
Major concerns are the Ebola virus, commercial hunting and hunting by locals for bushmeat.  Habitat destruction is becoming another large factor.
Status: Critically Endangered
Due to such a dramatic decline in numbers (60% over the last 20 to 25 years), attributed mainly to poaching and disease, scientists estimate it will take up to 75 years to fully re-establish the population.

“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of humanity.” George Bernard Shaw

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 12: Siau Island Tarsier


Siau Island tarsierDescription
Between becoming a fond favourite at the dinner table of the inhabitants of Siau Island, and sharing their home with a highly active volcano, these adorable little primates have been put on a very sticky wicket.
Bug-eyed, nocturnal, tiny and incredibly shy; they look like a cross between a chinchilla and Gollum – and, just look at those near human hands. The astonishing eyes are twice the weight of its brain and its long ankle bone is designed to allow it to jump distances more than 40 times its own length.
Tarsiers are believed to have been on the island for 40 million years.  40 MILLION YEARS – WOW!  Now the locals are eating them by the dozen and driving them to extinction – shocking!
Habitat
Forests, mangrove forests and scrubland.
Where
The tarsius tumpara is found only on Siau Island (Indonesia)
What do they eat?
Insects, small vertebrates, lizards and small birds. 
Threats
Degradation of habitat by the island peoples, hunting and consumption by the island peoples (5 – 10 in one sitting), volcanic eruptions, pesticides, exotic animal trade and various natural predators (dogs, cats, birds, snakes and sometimes civet). 
Status: Critically Endangered
No conservation programs exist on the island. Steps are being taken by local conservation NGOs, in conjunction with local government and International NGOs , to put this right.

“When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer have perished.” U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt

 

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 11: The Galápagos Penguin


Galapagos penguinDescription
No other penguins live on the equator; Galápagos penguins are the only ones to do so. They are the smallest known of the Spheniscus (wedge-shaped) genus and one of the world’s rarest penguins, with an estimated population of less than 1,000 breeding pairs. Prior to breeding, they moult – usually twice a year – at which time they tend to avoid the water. On land, two eggs are laid 4 days apart, incubation takes 38 – 40 days. Care and responsibility are shared by both parents. The chicks stay with the parents for 60 – 65 days. The adults hunt for food during the day and rely heavily on the nutrient-rich, cold undercurrents from Antarctica for their supply of food. When on land during the day, they protect their feet from burning by putting their little flippers over them.
Habitat
Rocky coastlines. They breed mainly in caves or crevices, and sometimes burrows.
Where
Galápagos islands, mostly (90%) on the eastern islands of Fernandina and Isabela.
What do they eat?
Mullet, sardines and other small fish, and some crustaceans
Threats
Destruction of habitat, due to El Niño cycles (believed to be caused by climate change), has, in the past, brought about severe food shortages resulting in tragic mortality rates. Human disturbance and by-catch are also huge problems, as are natural predators (on land; crabs, snakes, cats, dogs, rats, hawks and owls – at sea; sharks, fur seals and sea lions.).
Status: Endangered
Although threats from man and other predators are very real, scientists ultimately believe climate change will bring about the extinction of the Galápagos penguin. A particularly harsh El Niño could completely erase the species from the planet.

 

“The Animals of the planet are in desperate peril… Without free animal life I believe we will lose the spiritual equivalent of oxygen.” Alice Walker

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 10: The Vaquita


vaquitaDescription
These very pretty porpoises, conspicuous by the large black rings around their eyes and mouths, are rarely seen in the wild. A female will give birth to one calf every 2 years or so. Calves are between 28-31 inches long at birth, and weigh about 17 lbs. The species itself was only recognised in 1958 after the discovery of some skulls. In 1985, live animals were finally sighted and described. The vaquita, meaning ‘little cow’ in Spanish, is the smallest of all cetaceans, with a length of up to 5 feet. Females, as with all porpoises, are larger than males.
Habitat
Turbid water with a high nutrient content
Where
The upper Gulf of California, Mexico
What do they eat?
Mainly squid, croakers, fish and crabs.
Threats
Habitat loss, bycatch, pesticide pollution and reductions in waterflow into the Gulf from the Colorado River. Natural predators which include some species of shark.
Status: Critically Endangered
In 2006, when the baiji (lipotes vexillifer) was thought to have become extinct, the vaquita was declared the most endangered cetacean on the planet. It is estimated fewer than 250 individuals remain. On October 28, 2008, Canada, Mexico, and the United States launched the North American Conservation Action Plan (NACAP) to help the plight of the vaquita.

In conservation, the motto should always be ‘never say die’.” 
 Gerald Durrell

Fast Fact Attack – Endangered Species 9: The Leatherback Sea Turtle


Leatherback sea turtle 3

Credit: Brian J Hutchinson

Description
The gigantic Mesozoic leatherback is one of the world’s largest reptiles, weighing up to 2,000 lbs and attaining an average length of 6 – 8 feet. Unlike other turtles, all of which have typically hard shells, the leatherback’s flexible carapace verges on the rubbery side. Only the females ever leave the ocean. The eggs they lay take about eight weeks to hatch. The tiny hatchlings are only 2 to 3 inches long when they appear, and immediately they dig themselves out of the sand and scuttle to the water. When fully grown they will be capable of diving to depths of 3,000 feet – pretty amazing. They are also experts at long distance travel The transoceanic journeys they take, between breeding and feeding areas, average 7,500 kilometres each way.
Habitat
Open ocean
Where
Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean Sea.
What do they eat?
Jellyfish, sea squirts and other soft-bodied animals. 
Threats
Coastal development, industrial fishing practices, poaching, by-catch and plastic bags floating in the ocean 
(sadly, they mistake them for jellyfish).
Status: Critically Endangered
Marine turtles have existed on Earth and inhabited the oceans for the last 100 million years. They are a fundamental link in marine ecosystems. Scientists globally are observing Leatherbacks to ascertain how they can be saved for future generations.

 “I know up on the top you are seeing great sights, but down at the bottom we, too, should have rights” Dr Seuss