Review: Home Made Summer by Yvette van Boven

Home Made Summer Home Made Summer
by Yvette van Boven

ISBN-13: 9781617690150
Published: May 14, 2012 by Harry N. Abrams
Received at Book Expo America 2012

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In a small change of pace, I wanted to take a look at a cookbook today! Now, cookbooks are a funny thing for me because I don’t love to cook. In fact I often try to avoid it and always end up making the same kind of meals over and over again because they’re easy, quick and simple. But I love to bake and I love cookbooks. I always look through them and dream about all the meals I’ll make and then…never do. Home Made Summer has taken me 8 years to review for precisely that reason. I picked this gorgeous cookbook up at BEA 2012 because during an initial flip through the pictures were beautiful, the recipes well laid out and I saw some foods I thought I’d love to try. At home, the book ended up on a shelf and wasn’t touched. Why? Seafood. A lot of seafood. Many of the main course recipes call for some form of seafood and I don’t eat fish. Or shellfish. Nothing from the sea. I didn’t dive deeper into the book, until this year (thank you quarantine) when I was cleaning out my recipe books and decided to browse this one again before deciding if I should donate it. I’m so glad I did (and didn’t donate!).

Peach tartMany of the main course recipes still intimidate me, either because of their use of seafood or some more obscure ingredients that I feel must be more prevalent in European grocery stores than Canadian ones, but the desserts – oh the desserts! Remember how I just said I don’t like cooking, but I love to bake? Oh I love to bake, and this cookbook has some beautiful sweet recipes in it. First up was the peach tart. This is honestly the most simple pie I have ever made. No pie pan needed, no finicky crust or complicated filling. All you need is a food processor, peaches, sugar and a pan. The crust is made directly in the food processor and chilled for half an hour. The peaches are sliced, mixed with sugar and left to sit for half an hour. Then you roll out the dough, pour on the peaches, fold up the sides of the dough and bake. So simple! And amazingly delicious. I have a new pie crust recipe now! This one is perfect. I’ve included a picture of my second tart, with some sprinkled icing sugar on top (and served with vanilla ice cream). Just made my third peach tart tonight! As my fiance said after the first one: “We could have been having this the whole time we’ve lived together? What other cookbooks are you hiding?”

Strawberry ShortcakeThe second recipe I tried is one of my all time favourite desserts: strawberry shortcake. I love strawberry shortcake so much. I like it with biscuits, I like it with pound cake, I like it as a cake, I just like it all ways. So of course I had to try Yvette van Boven’s version. And it’s my new fav. The biscuits (scones) are slightly crunchy on the outside like a traditional tea biscuit but the inside is almost like a cake. They are delicious! Served with whipped cream and sugared strawberries this dessert is a must have for any BBQ, party, Friday afternoon – you know, whenever. I’ve made this twice so far this July. This recipe is simple as well; the dough uses a food processor and the strawberries are just sliced and mixed with sugar. I wish I had thought of using a food processor for simple doughs before this; it’s a time saver.

My fiance wants to try the beef stew recipe, and I’m excited to attempt the pumpkin fritters. So while I haven’t found a ton of recipes in this book to try, the breakfast and cake sections, as well as the drinks, have some winners and there are a couple mains that I think are worth an attempt.

As for the layout of the book itself, the pictures are beautiful and the anecdotes that accompany the recipes are fun. I did find the background colour of some of the handwritten recipes hard to see – for example the strawberry shortcake recipe is “handwritten” on a dark red background with black font. For someone with bad eyesight like myself, it’s a bad combination. I wrote it onto a recipe card so I wouldn’t strain my eyes each time I want to make it. Some of the recipes have very small, crowded font, like for the eclairs and macarons. Overall, this is a beautiful example of a cookbook, with a fair range of recipes. Especially if you enjoy seafood, vegetables and cake. And who doesn’t like cake?

Review: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

A Boy Called Bat A Boy Called Bat
by Elana K. Arnold

ISBN-13: 9780062445827
Published: March 14, 2017 by Walden Pond Press
Purchased by me from the Scholastic Book Order
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises — some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

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A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold is a sweet story about a boy and his skunk. Yup, his skunk. Bat’s mother is a vet, and brings home a baby skunk to look after. Bat is enthralled and sets out to convince his mom that they should keep the skunk instead of send it to a wild-animal shelter.

I loved this little family. Bat is a great narrator; as a person on the autism spectrum he has a unique way of interacting with the world and people around him (especially with his sister, and classmates) that shines through in his narration. Bat uses all of his incredible research ability and love of animals to learn about skunks, reach out to an expert, and convince his mom that a baby skunk can have a future as his pet.

My students and I had thoughtful conversations about wild versus domestic animals, skunks, research, and Bat himself. This was a perfect book to read as a lead in to our animal research projects – the duo who chose skunks was particularly invested in their project! A Boy Called Bat is a fun and interesting read aloud, and has two sequels that continue Bat’s story: Bat and the Waiting Game and Bat and the End of Everything.

Review: The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el

The Very Very Far North The Very, Very Far North
by Dan Bar-el

ISBN-13:9781534433410
Publication date: Sept 3, 2019 by Atheneum BYR
Purchased by me
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

An inquisitive polar bear named Duane befriends an array of animals as he discovers where he belongs in this charming classic-in-the making that’s reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh.

In the Very, Very Far North, past the Cold, Cold Ocean and just below the hill that looks like a baby whale, you’ll find Duane and his friends.

Duane is a sweet and curious young bear who makes friends with everyone he meets—whether they’re bossy, like Major Puff the puffin, or a bit vain, like Handsome the musk ox, or very, very shy, like Boo the caribou. For these arctic friends, every day is a new adventure!

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My students loved The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el. I picked this one up at Indigo Books one day when I was searching for a read aloud that wasn’t too short, or part of a large series. The cover immediately drew my attention, and then the synopsis hooked me in. When I read it, I knew my students would be hooked – and they were!

Duane is just a precious main character. He has a bit of innocence about him as he explores his home and makes new friends. He’s gentle, and friendly, and is a fantastic narrator for the story. Each chapter is like its own mini story, a new adventure in Duane’s life that all adds up to a year in the very, very far north. The new friends are all introduced one at a time, often in quite interesting situations. My students enjoyed Twitch and Boo the best (outside of Duane himself of course) and loved guessing what would happen in the next chapter based on chapter titles.

The Very, Very Far North is a great read aloud for conversations around friendship and acceptance, science and art, and in a more curriculum related note, predictions, inferences, character building (traits in particular. Each character has such a wonderful and unique personality) and vocabulary (Handsome has quite a well-rounded vocabulary and he provided great opportunity to introduce new words to my students). Though aimed at middle grades, I read this with my grade one/two class. This one has earned it’s place on my yearly read aloud list!

Review: Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

Winterwood Winterwood
by Shea Ernshaw

ISBN-13: 9781534439412
Publication date: November 5th, 2019 by Simon Pulse
Purchased through Owlcrate
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

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I very much enjoyed Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw. The story takes place over less then a week, in a snowed in cottage area in the mountains. There’s a spooky,aggressive forest, a bottomless lake and a camp for wayward boys. Add in our main character Nora, and we have the makings of a moody, tense, mystery with a smaaaaall love story. Just the way I like it!

If you like character driven plots with wonderfully detailed backstory teased throughout, mysteries and only the simplest of teenage romance than I think you’ll enjoy Winterwood. The writing is beautifully descriptive and I lost myself in Nora’s witchy world. Oh yes; did I mention the witches? 😉

Review: The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

The Wild Robot The Wild Robot
by Peter Brown

ISBN-13: 9780316381994
Publication: April 5, 2016 from Little, Brown BYR
Purchased by me
Buy The Book Now at The Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. Why is she there? Where did she come from? And, most important, how will she survive in her harsh surroundings? Roz’s only hope is to learn from the island’s hostile animal inhabitants. When she tries to care for an orphaned gosling, the other animals finally decide to help, and the island starts to feel like home. Until one day, the robot’s mysterious past comes back to haunt her…

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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is a class favourite. It has taken a number of years to find decently long chapter books that are suitable as read alouds for my grade one/two class – children aged 5-8 (it’s quite a range!) and The Wild Robot is a winner. It’s written in amazingly kid friendly language using a fantastic mix of “big” words and simple sentences in a vivid visual manner, and the narrator often speaks to the audience. The story doesn’t shy away from the often harsh aspects of life for wild animals (and wild robots) living on a wild island. It speaks of death plainly and matter-of-factly, but also the beautiful moments of living in and with nature.

I read The Wild Robot near the end of the school year, around March – my kiddos are more mature and I leave myself enough time to read the sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes if they ask for it. And they always do. Students become attached to Roz and Brightbill and the other animals of the island, and need to know what happens after the end.

I found this story perfect for helping students visualize, infer and predict. Chapter titles help students predict what will be happening next, and they use their knowledge of the characters and the island to read between the lines in many scenes. The illustrations are nice additions to their own visualizations.

The Wild Robot is a book that is here to stay in my classroom!