Book Review: Danny's Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment

Author/Illustrator: David A. Adler
Publisher: Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky (September 3, 2013)
Source: Copy for Review
Audience: Second to Fourth Graders
Fiction * Friendship * Eccentricity

Description from GoodReads:
Danny Cohen's new friend is 100% weird.

New to Danny's fourth grade class, Calvin Waffle has a knack for following his classmates around to collect data for his science experiments. He carries jelly beans everywhere, and claims his father is a spy. Danny isn't quite sure just what to make of this quirky newcomer until Calvin reluctantly agrees to help the baseball team. His ability to correctly predict each pitch before it's thrown leads his team to victory and makes him a hero to his new friends.

David Adler, author of the popular Cam Jansen mystery series, creates another memorable character for his readers to befriend. Sure to be a publishing event.

My thoughts on this book:
Calvin Waffle is a bit strange.  He is interested in experiments, such as the one where he watches Danny Cohen for a week and writes down his observations.  Yet, that is only his baseline data.  Calvin must watch Danny for another week but this time he gives Danny jellybeans to put in his pockets. And though Calvin has some odd habits, Danny seems to accept them.  When Danny is paired up with Annie for a school report, that leaves Douglas to have to partner with Calvin. Will Calvin's strange ways hinder Douglas from getting a good grade? Does Calvin really have a father who is a spy or is that just a cover-up for his father leaving Calvin and his mother?

In some ways, this book is just as odd as Calvin.  I don't remember the last time where I read a story and the main characters actually brought homework to a party?!  However, Adler makes it work. He has created characters that readers will like.  There is humor but not so over the top that it becomes too much. And rather than teasing or bullying because someone is different, Danny's Doodles celebrates Calvin, who despite his strange behaviors and comments, actually has something very valuable to add.  I also loved that Danny's mother is an engineer and Calvin's mother has a similar eccentric streak as her son.

Danny's Doodles is a story that second and third graders will enjoy and look forward to reading.  Look for a copy in your local public library or independent bookstore.

For more about author/illustrator, David A. Adler, check out his website. To download an educator's guide for Danny's Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment, click here.

Home Sweet Rome Blog Tour - Author Interview - Marissa Moss & Giveaway

As part of the Home Sweet Rome Blog Tour, author Marissa Moss graciously offered to answer some questions for readers.  In addition, the good folks over at Sourcebook offered a copy of Moss's newest book Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome for giveaway to one lucky reader.

What was your inspiration for writing Mira’s Diary?

I love both history and the diary format, a combination I've played with before. This time I wanted to add the element of time travel to make the historical aspects more vivid, more engaging for readers.

You have an amazing list of books that you have written, both picture books and novels? Do you enjoy writing one type of book over another? Is it harder to write a picture book than a novel or the other way around?

You'd think a picture book would be easier because it's shorter, but that's what makes it harder. Every word counts and you don't have any room to make mistakes. Still, I love the way picture books tell the story equally through words and images. With novels, I love the chance to go deeper into a subject. I even have one case where I wrote about the same historical subject (a true story about a woman who dressed as a man and fought in the Civil War) first as a picture book -- Nurse, Soldier, Spy -- and then as a YA novel, A Soldier's Secret. I loved doing both!

When did you decide you wanted to write books? Do you write a lot of stories as a child?

I've always told stories and drawn pictures to go with them, ever since I could hold a crayon. I sent my first picture book to publishers when I was nine, but it was pretty terrible and they didn't publish it. I didn't try again until I was a grown-up and then it took me five years of sending out stories, getting them rejected, revising them, and sending them back again and again and again until I got my first book.

What book would you identify as being the book that turned you into a reader or inspired you to become a writer?

I was a voracious reader from early on, starting with Dr. Seuss. I loved how he played with words and drew these amazing creatures.

One thing I am always curious about is the writing habits and writing space of authors? Some work in their home or a writing space, and others in coffee shops. Some like music playing in the background and others have special snacks or beverages. Tell us a little bit about your writing space and habits.

I'm pretty boring and basic. I write in my studio -- no music (too distracting), no snacks (ditto). When I'm drawing, I listen to music, but not while writing. Early in my career, I wrote on the dining room table, in parks while watching my kids, even in pediatricians' waiting rooms, whenever I could squeeze in time. Now I have the luxury of a room of my own where I can make a mess and close the door.

If you could spend the day with your favorite character (from any book – doesn’t have to be one of your own characters), who would it be and what would you do for the day?

It's not so much the characters I'd want to spend time with, but the places. I'd love to explore Narnia, the Hundred-Acre-Wood, Hogwarts, the Shire.

What is the question that you most frequently get asked by children who write to you?

The most common question is whether Amelia (from the Amelia's Notebook series) is based on a real person. The answer is she is -- me!

If we were to get a peek at your “To-be-read” pile, what titles would be see in the stack of books?

It's a huge stack of books for the research I'm doing on WWI and Women's suffrage in England (for Mira #3). For pleasure, I'm sneaking in novels when I can. I just finished Karen Cushman's latest book and I loved it!

Is there any question that I didn’t ask that you wished I had asked?

Why history? What's the draw there? What makes specific periods in history interesting to you, worth writing about?

For more information on Marissa Moss: website | facebook | twitter 

Thank you to Sourcebook for offering up a copy of Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome for a giveaway.  Please complete the form below to enter to win a copy.   a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review - Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome

Author: Marissa Moss
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (March 1, 2013)
Source: Copy for Review/Netgalley ARC
Audience: Ages 10 to 13
Fiction * Time Travel * 16th Century Rome

Description from GoodReads:
As if traveling to a new country in search of her missing mother weren't difficult enough, Mira has to do it dressed as a boy. In a different century.

A new postcard from her time-traveling mother points Mira to the 16th century Rome. But before she can rescue her mom, she must follow the clues left around the city to find Giordano Bruno, a famous thinker and mathematician, who discovered something so shocking that important Italian officials don't want it revealed. All the while avoiding the Watchers--time-traveling police who want Mira back in her own time.

It's another whirlwind adventure for Mira, and this time she is determined to bring her mother out of the past.

My thoughts on the book:
Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome is a follow-up to Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris.  In book 1, Mira has learned that her mother can time travel and has disappeared into the past.  It turns out that Mira seems to also have the same gift.  In this adventure, Mira's mother has sent her a message that will bring her into 16th Century Rome and an encounter with some very forward thinkers.  

Mira's Diary is certainly a book for Middle Grade readers who are fascinated with history and time-travel. The story is heavily seeped with historical figures and events that actually did occur, though the premise of the book and many of the character are fictional.  Readers are introduced to a number of important individuals from late 1500's to the early 1600's as Mira is brought back and forth between present day Rome to past Rome.  With only a few messages from her mother, Mira has to put the pieces together for herself as to what her purpose is in the past.  

As I read Mira's Diary, I realized that this is one of those times that as an adult reader, I might have more difficulty with the book than the average reader within the targeted audience.  When I considered the book from the perspective of my 12 year old self, I realized that some of the technical questions I had about time-travel (not so much the issue of could you time-travel - I could accept this as part of the story - but more so the rules of time-travel and how it is explained here) as an adult would not have even come up as a child.  Once I could settle that piece in my mind, then the ability to just go with the flow of the story worked.  

The other element that I questioned in the story was related to how Mira's mother seems to be stuck in the past but Mira herself came back and forth between the past and the present at least 3 times in the book.  Again, children may question, but it wouldn't detract from the story.  I won't give anything about the ending away other than to say that Moss has left readers with an anticipation of another book/adventure to come.   

Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome is a book that I would select with specific students in mind, particularly those children who enjoy history mixed with a sense of adventure.  For these students with a fascination of past people and events, Moss provides readers with wonderful details and an amazing author note at the end with even more facts and background information.    
Check back in on Monday for an interview with author Marissa Moss and a chance to win a copy of Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome