The Acadia Files, Book Four, Spring Science by Katie Coppens

Illustrated by Holly Hatam and Ana Ochoa

Tilbury House Publishers, Thomaston, Maine, 2020.

Acadia is a kid who loves science. She’s full of questions and eager to learn their answers. She seeks answers through conversations with her scientist parents and through her own research both in the field and online. Each chapter includes a section of Acadia’s science journal with her findings from her explorations, experiments, and research, vocabulary words that relate to the chapter, and further related questions Acadia has. These sections are packed with information, charmingly illustrated, and show great examples of lab reports following the scientific method, a field journal, and ways to organize information such as a point graph and a timeline.

It’s not always a good idea to start a book series with the last book in the series. It can be confusing and sometimes annoying when the author doesn’t do a good job of explaining references from previous books, so a reader takes a risk. But this book landed in my review pile this week. It was seasonally appropriate—I read it on Earth Day, and looked appealing, so I decided to give it a go. I wasn’t disappointed by starting last. The characters are quite straightforward, as it’s primarily a book about science concepts, so there’s little catching up to do there. The references to the other books provide enough information that you could understand it’s a reference to an earlier book, and many are interesting enough to encourage readers to seek out the story behind the information referenced. That’s great, because as these books have seasonal themes, kids will probably choose to read them season by season rather than in order.

Filled with great information about meteor showers; reawakening plants and animals; ticks, mosquitoes and parasites; Earth Day and pesticides; this book will capture the attention of eager science learners. The charming illustrations make the information very accessible to late elementary school and middle school kids. It’s also easy to see this book used in the classroom or a home school environment. Acadia’s science journal provides a great model for students to use when performing their own experiments, recording their observations in the field, researching, or collecting data.

I received an electronic copy of The Acadia Files, Book Four, Spring Science in exchange for an honest review.

Geometry Is as Easy as Pie by Katie Coppens

Tumblehome Books. 2019

Caution: This book will inspire you to play with geometric concepts…and your food!

Katie Coppens has written a delightful book for elementary and middle schoolers that covers an array of geometric concepts through pie. From concepts of symmetry to tessellations, polygons, angles, and measurements, Coppens links basic geometric concepts to pies of all sorts. The text is direct and straightforward and will leave readers itching to try the concepts, and the recipes, themselves.

This book looks appealing from page one. It features delicious looking pies, diagrams to clarify and explain geometric principals, and step-by-step recipes illustrated with photos of pies in progress.

This physical means of teaching geography is a brilliant approach, and what kid would complain with a delicious snack as the result?

Coppens is a teacher and she definitely knows how to interest kids and how to cover geography concepts clearly. Although the text is concise, the reading level is a bit high, in part because the book has a lot of domain-specific vocabulary. Although some gifted kids may take off and devour this book on their own, I think most kids will benefit by working through the book and the recipes with a parent or teacher. As I write this review, the country is locked down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It might just be the perfect time to work through this book as a family. When they return to school, the kids can wow their teachers with their geometry knowledge!

Teachers and homeschoolers should note that in addition to the recipes and hands-on practice such as decorating your pie with tessellations or parallel and perpendicular latticework, there are also thirty meaty geometry questions in the book and an answer key on the publisher’s website. In addition, there’s a great glossary and an eye-popping array of pie inspiration pictures.

I highly recommend this book. And after I finish making pie, I’m heading online to check out Geology is a Piece of Cake also by Katie Coppens.

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

cover166873-mediumSimon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019

In Maybe He Just Likes You Barbara Dee captures the feel of middle school perfectly. They’re on the line, Mira and her friends, sometimes leaning over into childhood and other times into adolescence. Mila’s body has moved into adolescence of its own accord, and even her green sweater doesn’t do enough to hide the changes she’s not ready for. Her friends, too, are dealing with the changes—or lack thereof–and it’s causing strain in the group. So, when a group of boys begins to give Mila a lot of unwanted attention, she doesn’t know what to make of it or where to turn.

It’s so easy to sympathize with Mira in this story. When everything is new: the shape of your body, the crushes your friends get, the social scene in middle school, it can be hard to determine what’s okay and what’s not. But Mira quickly comes to the conclusion that what’s happening is not okay. Yet, faced with an overwhelmed single mom, distracted teachers and male counselors, she cannot bear to explain. Finally, one night, Mira has the opportunity to retaliate against the leader of the group of boys, and that leads the way to help, learning, and restorative justice.

This book makes an excellent resource for middle school girls and dare I say male middle school teachers and administrators since the painful situations Mira is in are presented in such an unflinching and clear manner. In addition, Barbara Dee presents a realistic situation where the adults are clearly trying to do well by the students and yet Mira has good reasons to fear approaching them. I would hope that the resolution of the story would give any girl faced with this problem the courage to seek help.

I did have one big beef with the book, and it comes at the end, so if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now. At the same time that Mira is dealing with sexual harassment at school, there are hints that her mother is encountering the same at work. In addition, the small family has some serious financial problems caused by the fact that Mira’s father refuses to pay child support. In the end Mom’s male boss fires her. Although Mira saves the day by pushing her mother in the direction of a new job with a female boss, the conclusion of the sub plot made me want to spit. Mira’s mom gets a new job she loves in a woman-owned business…at an even lower wage.

Suffice it to say my reader’s high in Mira’s success was spoiled by the message that in adult life women are at the mercy of men—whether ex-husbands or bosses—and that in order to be happy they must also be poorly compensated.

My conclusion? This book has a great message as it relates to middle school, and that’s probably reason enough to buy it, because that part of the plot’s masterful. But if my daughter were in middle school, I’d hand it to her with the requirement that we talk through what happened with Mira’s mom after she was finished reading. Unfortunately, I’m guessing most middle school girls won’t share this book with their mom.

I received an advance reader copy of Maybe He Just Likes You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

20 Recipes Kids Should Know

Recipes and text by Esme Washburn

Photographs by Calista Washburn

Prestel Publishing, New York, 2019

We’re foodies in my family, so my kids were always interested in cooking. However, although they would ask for help when stuck, mostly they wanted to pursue their own cooking endeavors rather than learn from their parents. I wish this book had been around when they were young! Unfortunately, when my kids were ready to begin their cooking journey, the author of this book, Calista Washburn, hadn’t been born yet! She wrote this book when she was twelve.

I can’t say enough good about this book. The recipes are for healthy foods cooked from scratch. They range from the very simple grilled cheese and pancakes to the more complicated yeast bread and homemade pasta. The steps in each recipe are straightforward and clear, and the pasta recipe includes step-by-step pictures to go with the directions. Anyone who works their way through this cookbook will have a repertoire of recipes that will stand them in good stead to feed themselves and company as well.

The recipes feature common ingredients with substitutions noted for anything that’s a little more unusual. The bread recipe includes two alternatives, one for using a stand mixer and another for letting the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator, so that schedules and equipment won’t limit cooks in accomplishing their task. The introduction includes general information for the novice cook from measurement substitutions to a glossary of cooking techniques.

The pictures in this book are likely to make you hungry, they’re beautifully styled and put together in a way that gives you a great sense of the goal for each recipe. That’s quite an accomplishment for a teen photographer, Calista Washburn, Esme’s older sister.

All-in-all I would recommend this book as one of your first summer purchases. What a great way to learn to cook!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.