Dolphin Tale: The Junior Tale

May 30th, 2017 · Books


My 7-year-old daughter has recently decided she wants to be a marine biologist, which is how we ended up reading Dolphin Tale together.


Dolphin Tale, the junior novel, is based on the screenplay for the 2011 hit movie with the same name. Based on a true story, it tells of Winter the dolphin who was rescued by the Clearwater Marine Hospital after being stuck in a crab trap. Winter’s tail was so badly damaged in the accident that it had to be removed. This caused Winter to develop a new manner of swimming which was damaging to her spine. The marine hospital worked with scientists to develop a prosthetic tale to aid Winter in swimming.

The novel tells Winter’s story through the eyes of a fictional 11-year-old boy Sawyer and his friend Hazel. It introduces a lot of ideas regarding animal rescue in a kid-friendly way, such as rehab and release, the finances behind animal rescue, and the various types of scientists involved in animal rescues. There is an additional human element to the story that is a great conversation starter. Winter’s story develops alongside that of Sawyer’s cousin, Kyle, who lost a leg in Afghanistan and is also coming to terms with his prosthetic leg.

My daughter loves this novel. She wants to see the movie on our next movie night. She can’t wait to visit Winter at the Clearwater Marine Hospital the next time we are in Florida.

I highly recommend this book for the future marine biologist in your life. Amazon (affiliate link) recommends this book for ages 7-10. That seems about right.

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Real Friends

April 17th, 2017 · Books


The ups-and-downs of childhood friendships, the painful drama that ensues when treasured friendships change, and the various coping mechanisms children employ are on full display in Shannon Hale’s new graphic memoir Real Friends. Recommended for ages 8-12, the book will evoke discussion about friendship, kindness, being mean, and all the emotions wrapped up in those topics.


Real Friends is a memoir, and it reads as a personal and moving version of elementary school experiences. Despite its focus on the lower grades, the characters do not come across as very young, and older children will find that the conflicts relatable and universal. Each chapter focuses on the main character, Shannon, and her relationship with a particular friend, but there are recurring characters in each section that tie the various threads together.

Conflicts in the memoir include losing a best friend, feeling left out and different, having hurt feelings and hurting feelings, being lied about, possessiveness, rivalries, friends moving away, regrets, and feelings misunderstood. Basically, it runs through most friendship challenges in its 224 pages. In addition, sibling conflicts are a part of the mix, making sure that at times Shannon truly feels like she has nowhere to turn.

Real Friends is not only about elementary school difficulties. Balancing out the problems in friendship are joyful moments of connection and belonging. Scenes of a summer vacation, finding a BFF, being accepted by “cool kids” who accept you for who you are, and finding forgiveness all work to make this memoir very real, not just morbid.

The bright and delightfully expressive illustrations by LeUyen Pham are at once quirky and awkward and lovable, much like the main character. Pham is able to show the characters growing up, while remaining recognizable, throughout the six years of the story. There are also several fantastically illustrated sequences that depict an imaginary and child-like world.

A few scenes felt particularly confessional. Both at school and at home, Shannon hides in the bushes (sometimes finding a fellow victim of mean girls) to cry and be alone. There are also hints at issues with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder sprinkled throughout the book. The scenes in which Shannon’s sister Wendy physically and emotionally attack her are particularly painful. And a standout scene comes at the end of the book, when Shannon makes a conscious decision not to be “nice” to someone who has repeatedly tormented her.

This book, despite focusing on the friendship of girls, will appeal to all genders because of its clear and honest approach to the emotionally fraught friendship conflicts all children (and adults!) face at one time or another. Don’t miss the author’s opening “interview” with her own children about the book’s subject matter and the Author’s Note at the end of the book. Both are Must Reads.

Real Friends is out May 2nd, 2017. I received an Advance Reader’s Edition for review.

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The Muppet Movie (1979)

April 5th, 2017 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie reviewReview By JENNIFER KALI

I was so happy to hear that the American Film Institute movie theatre near my home was running a Muppet retrospective. The Muppets were a huge part of my childhood, but haven’t been much a part of my kids’ lives. But with this retrospective, I set out to fix that shortcoming.

The first movie we attended was the original, “The Muppet Movie,” which came out in 1979. I was wondering how well this movie, now 37 years old, would hold up in modern society. I was happy to find that it holds up quite well. When we first meet the Electric Mayhem band, they are in the midst of turning an old country church into an organic coffee shop/night club, a scene that feels plucked from a movie today. In a very modern twist, gender roles are subverted when Miss Piggy saves her and Kermit’s life with her famous “Hiya!” chops and kicks. When Miss Piggy starts fighting, my 7-year-old daughter exclaimed, “Wow, she’s strong!” Later she said this was her favorite scene in the movie.

What I had forgotten about this movie was its source of conflict. The movie follows Kermit and Fozzie on their way to Hollywood to try to become famous. Along the way they are discovered by Doc Hopper, the owner of restaurant famous for its deep fried frog legs. Doc Hopper spends the entire movie trying to convince Kermit to star in commercials for his restaurant, something that Kermit describes as morally repugnant. My daughter talked about this storyline for days. I don’t think she was previously aware that people eat frog legs.

Common Sense Media recommends this movie to ages 6+, but I think 3+ is more appropriate. Both of my kids loved this movie. My daughter loved Miss Piggy. My 3-year-old son loved “that singing frog.” There are many jokes that 3-year-olds will not understand, but they will love the crazy characters and the singing and dancing. Older kids will understand the plot more and get more of the jokes. There is really not a wrong age to watch the Muppets.

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Artemis, Wild Goddess of the Hunt

March 8th, 2017 · Books


The ninth in the hugely popular George O’Connor OLYMPIANS series is here, and it’s a must-have for those who love the Greek Gods, and especially for fans of Artemis, Wild Goddess of the Hunt. This volume focuses on several of the most notorious and bloody stories in the Artemis myth. The re-telling, as with the prior volumes, pulls no punches and holds true to the moral ambiguity of the Greek Gods.

9781626725225The narrator for much of the volume is Apollo, brother to Artemis. As narrator, he concentrates on three main tales: Niobe and her children, Actaeon and his temptation, and Orion and his friendship with Artemis. Despite the modern language and affect employed throughout, the stories are loyal to the classic myths, and the illustrations help tell the tales as well.

First time readers may be shocked at the violence in the stories about Artemis. One man is hunted by his own hounds, a mother loses her children to Artemis and Apollo’s arrows, and Artemis knowingly kills a potential love interest in her quest to stay unattached to a suitor. But these are classic myths retold, not embellished. And the illustrations support the story without dwelling on the gory details.

Animal loving readers will appreciate the attention to forest dwelling animals and the love Artemis has for them. However, the spotlight on hunting for sport and enjoyment, and the role animals play in the death in one of the stories can and should be discussed, especially with younger children. Again, for readers familiar with the Greek myths and the Olympians, this will be nothing new, but the smart and sharp treatment of the subject in this volume provides an opportunity for thoughtful notice.

As with the previous volumes, the focus is on one Olympian, but other characters appear and play variously significant roles. Children familiar with the past books will delight in seeing the developments with characters they already recognize and enjoy.

Artemis, Wild Goddess of the Hunt is an excellent addition to the Olympians series by George O’Connor.

Ages 8 to 12.

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