Saturday, July 13, 2024

Book Review: 'The Twelve Cats of Christmas' by Feather Flores

✰✰✰✰½ In the vein of The Twelve Days of Christmas, this picture book features twelve cats. Little ones can read with their favorite adult or follow along with the included player because this is a book that talks. Following the easy directions, just turn it on, press play, and read along as twelve cats get into some holiday mischief. From batting bows to shredding paper to helping Santa, these cats know how to have fun. Along the way, little ones will learn to count up to twelve and down again. 

The Bottom Line: Vox Books are great when your child wants to read a favorite book over and over again. The pace was just right for kids to follow along, and you can always pause it or go back a page or two. Colorful and festive illustrations in mixed media added humor to the story. My favorite part was the last four pages where readers have the opportunity to meet the twelve cats and read about their likes and dislikes. This fun holiday treat is recommended for kids just learning to read. 

Details: The Twelve Cats of Christmas (Vox Books Books that Talk!) written by Feather Flores & illustrated by Carrie Liao. Hardcover picture book published by Chronicle Books in 2022. 48 p. ISBN: 978-1-4521-8461-6 

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Book Review: 'Elf in the House' by Ammi-Joan Paquette

✰✰✰ When a little girl discovers that there’s only crumbs left for Santa, she decides to investigate. Along the way, others join her until a special visitor arrives. Then it’s time to party because Christmas really is the best time of the year.

The Bottom Line: Both the story and the illustrations seemed very basic and left me looking for something more. The digitally created illustrations lacked detail and the color seemed a bit off; however, the spare style and large print might appeal to little ones ages 2 - 5. 

Details: Elf in the House written by Ammi-Joan Paquette & illustrated by Adam Record. Picture book published by Candlewick Press in 2017. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-8132-6

Monday, July 1, 2024

Book Review: 'Milo's Christmas Parade' by Jennie Palmer

✰✰✰✰ Milo comes from a big family of opossums. They all love the big Christmas parade, but for different reasons. His passel loves it for the buffet of treats people leave behind. Milo loves it for the floats. In fact, his dream is to build his own float and be in the parade.

One year Milo finally decides to take the plunge and build a float. His family doesn’t really understand why Milo is so driven, but they help anyway. When the big day finally arrives, disaster strikes. Although it looks hopeless, a little help from his family and a surprise helper just might save the day.

The Bottom Line: This is a sweet holiday tale of living your dream, believing in yourself, and teamwork. Sometimes we don’t always understand what a loved one is so enthusiastic about, but helping out is what families and friends do. The charming illustrations were rendered in a combination of pencil, ink, watercolor, and digital tools. Fun holiday reading for kids ages 4 - 7.

Details: Milo’s Christmas Parade written & illustrated by Jennie Palmer. Picture book published by Abrams Books for Young Readers in 2020. 40 p. ISBN: 978-1-4197-4499-0

'Christmas in July' Book Reviews 2024

It's been an especially hot, humid and noisy summer so far, and I find myself thinking of cooler weather, hot chocolate, and the holidays. For this July, I'll be reviewing a few sweet Christmas picture books to take my mind of the heat, rain, and cicadas (They're everywhere!). Join me as I dedicate this month to frosty reviews featuring a cute opossum, an elf, cats, Chicago, and more...

Happy Holiday Reading in July! Stay Cool!

P.S. I found this free holiday clip art at CarlsWebGraphics. Thank you, Carl! 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Book Review: 'Shine' by Bruno Valasse

✰✰✰½ A beautiful little moth and his family are afraid of the dark! It prefers to stay inside where it's cozy, light, and safe. However, the little moth secretly loves watching the stars. Oh how nice it would be to see the stars up close, but in order to do that it must brave the darkness. The little moth learns to blend in and make new bug friends. As they explore the night, an unpleasant surprise awaits them. The little moth spreads his wings to try to save his new friends, and in the process he learns something quite remarkable about himself. 

The Bottom Line: Told from the little moth's point of view, this story celebrates being different, making friends, and overcoming a fear. The mixed media artwork features a limited color palette features a neon orange that practically jumps off the page; little ones will appreciate it. This feel-good picture book will help little ones understand that one can be different and overcome a fear. Recommended for little ones in Preschool - Pre-K.

Details: Shine written & illustrated by Bruno Valasse. Picture book published by Tundra Books in 2024. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-77488-428-7 [NOTE: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.] 

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Book Review: 'Heaven is for Real' by Todd Burpo

✰✰✰✰ After a series of family challenges and financial woes, the Burpo family sets off on a well-earned trip to explore a butterfly pavilion. Afterwards, the youngest son, Colton, experiences vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. Thinking it was just the stomach flu, the Burpos care for him themselves. However, when it becomes apparent that Colton has been suffering from a ruptured appendix for days, things take a turn for the worse. As Colton underwent emergency surgery something unexplainable happened. Colton woke up with knowledge of events and people he couldn’t have known. Little by little Colton shares the story of his trip to Heaven and back. As the Burpos struggle to piece it all together, it becomes apparent that they were part of something much bigger than they thought. This book will challenge you to think about the afterlife, faith, and the words of a four-year-old little boy.

The Bottom Line: This slim book is like two stories in one. On the one hand we learn about the Burpo family and on the other we learn about Colton’s trip to Heaven and back. Whether you are a Christian or not, this book invites you to consider the possibility of Heaven and faith. Recommended for anyone interested in the afterlife, religion, and happy endings.

Book Club Notes: Our summer meeting was small, but the discussion was engaging and fascinating. Overall, we agreed that this was an easy read, but the focus of the book was really Todd Burpo, not Colton. Being only 4 years old at the time, Todd became the narrator of his son’s experience. Those of us who watched the movie and read the book, preferred the book. The movie had added drama, but the book provided more descriptions. On a scale of 1 - 5, the book received an average rating of 4, while the movie rated lower at 3.5. The movie was received less positively due to it being very short and not following the book very well. As far as Colton’s trip to Heaven, several in our group wondered if this was really fiction or was it a dream? Coming from different backgrounds and faiths, we all brought different perspectives to this discussion; I think that’s part of what made our chat so interesting. Enthusiastically recommended for those curious about Heaven and for church book clubs.

This was one of those discussions that flowed by itself. I must confess that I almost didn’t need my prepared questions. However, you can find discussion questions at: LitLovers, Book Expectations, and Affirm Films.

And even though I did not need to rely on my own questions, I’m including them here supplement your discussion: 


Before reading this book/watching the movie had any of you heard about this story?

What were your thoughts about Heaven or the afterlife prior to reading this? 

Do you have a theory of belief of what happens after death? Does it match with what Colton described? 

Had you read or heard about any other accounts of Heaven/the afterlife? How does Colton’s experience compare to those? Were those accounts by people who were older? Does age matter? 

Burpo family:

What roles did Todd have? [Pastor, Business owner, Volunteer firefighter, Wrestling coach, Husband, Dad] What roles did Sonja have?

Discuss the challenges the Burpo family faced before Colton got sick. [Shattered leg, surgeries, cancer scare, financial difficulty]

How is laughter helpful during tough times? 

Pastors & their families tend to be in the role of helper; it’s more comfortable for them. How did they react to being the role of helpee? 


Discuss the trip to Colorado. Why were they going?

Discuss holding the spider. What did it mean to the kids? Why didn’t Colton hold the spider on this trip? What did it mean for him to finally hold the spider? 

What did they decide to do when Colton got sick on the trip? And why did they delay getting treatment? 

How did their jobs as pastor and teacher inform their decisions? They wanted to trust the doctors & tests, but at what point do you act on your instinct? They kept waiting and waiting, hoping the next time would bring a change. 

In hindsight, maybe they should have done something differently. What would you have done? Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you weren’t doing anything? 

Discuss Todd & Sonja’s different approaches to crisis.


Colton reveals his story over a couple of years, bit by bit, instead of all at the same time. Why did it take so long? Does that make his story more or less believable? 

Burpo asks: Could this be real? [Do you think Colton really experienced this? Was it a dream? If so, how did he know what his parents were doing while he was under anesthesia?] p. Xxi

The Burpos decided to stick with open-ended questions as the situation presented itself & try not to fill in the blanks.  Was this helpful in making the story more believable?

Then Todd had a realization, Colton didn’t die. How could he have gone to heaven if he didn’t die? What was going on here? The Bible does talk in several places about people who had seen Heaven without dying. Colton said Jesus sent him back because he was answering Todd’s prayer. Does Jesus answer prayers personally? Todd asks: “Why would God even answer a prayer like that? And how did I deserve his mercy?” Remember, Todd had been raging at God. 

Colton mentioned seeing lots of kids. Maybe Heaven doesn’t track with Earth time. Todd always thought God operated outside of our understanding of time. Maybe time is different in Heaven? Or maybe our understanding of time is different? 

Did Colton really see/visit Heaven? Or was he just retelling stories he had heard?

How do you explain things like Colton knowing he had another sister that had died before he was born? Or meeting his great grandfather who died 30 years before he was born? 

Discuss time in Heaven compared to Earth time? What is it? Can it be different?

Would you expect different people to have different experiences in Heaven? Or would there be similarities? 

Some common descriptions of dying include moving along long tunnels with a bright light at the end and meeting departed loved ones there or an out-of-body experience where one hovers over their body as doctors and nurses try to save them. Why is Colton’s experience/description different? Which do you think is more authentic? 


The things Colton talked about were not preschool material. Colton talked about Jesus having “markers.” Catholic kids grow up with images of Jesus on the cross, but not Protestant kids.  Colton spoke with the conviction of an eyewitness, not the carefulness of someone remembering. How do you explain this? Is there some other way Colton could have this information?” 

How did visiting nursing homes at an early age influence Colton’s awareness of death and dying? 

What do people do when they have no extended family or church? 

What does it mean to have “faith like a child?” “Whoever humbles himself like this child…” (Lack of agenda, lack of guile, a time before we care what other people think…) And how is it different from grown-up faith?


Colton was at the age when kids just say what they are thinking. How did that make him a more reliable narrator? Or not? 

How did Colton’s age at the time (almost 4) influence his experience and how he described his visit? Do preschoolers have an awareness of Heaven? How would his experience have been different at 10, 20 or 40?

How could Colton have known some of this stuff? Is there any other possible explanation?

Why didn’t Colton fear death? 

Was it possible for Colton to be a regular kid? Why or why not?


Why did they wait so long to share Colton’s story? 

Todd talks about the “doubting Thomas,” someone who refuses to believe something without physical evidence or direct personal experience…a person without faith. Is anyone here a “doubting Thomas?”

This book was a bestseller when it came out in 2010. What made it so popular? What are people looking for in books like this?

Was this a publicity stunt? A way to get more people to join the church?

How did they handle the publicity? How did this affect Colton as a kid?


As the book progresses, Colton’s narrative changes from descriptive to prophetic. Did this surprise you? 

How did Colton’s experience change the family? 

Do you think Todd included too much story about the family, their challenges, and Colton’s illness?

How is the family bolder about talking about/sharing their faith? 

What did you like most about Colton’s experience? What bothered you? 

If you believe this story, why did God choose Colton, the Burpos? 

How is a child’s perspective different from an adult’s? 

Has Colton’s experience changed the way you view life? Death? And Heaven or the afterlife?

Why didn’t the Burpos write down all the names of the people Colton met?

Discuss Colton’s descriptions of Jesus and his horse. He described Jesus as having blue eyes. Do you think this is logical? 

Would Jesus appear the same to everyone or different to people of different cultures? 

Todd writes about a young self-taught artist, Akiane Kramarik. Her mother is an atheist. Akiane’s portrait of Jesus matches what Colton saw. To Todd, Akiane’s story showed that God can reach anyone. She also claimed to have visited Heaven. Discuss the similarities and differences between Akiane and Colton.

Have your thoughts about Heaven/the afterlife changed after reading this book?

Ratings 1 - 5

NOTE: This list of questions was created by Nana Herron for MiniBookBytes Book Review and is available for personal use only. As a courtesy, please credit this site. Thank you!

Details: Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. Paperback published by W Publishing Group in 2010. 163 p. ISBN: 978-0-8499-4615-8 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Book Review: 'The Stroke Recovery Activity Workbook' by Activated Minds Press

✰✰✰½ Recovering from a stroke can be challenging physically, emotionally, and intellectually. With over 100 activities, this workbook aims to help those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury and want to regain their intellectual powers through brain games. Starting with easy activities and puzzles, the workbook progresses to medium and then challenging levels. Filled with activities including word searches, mazes, Sudoku, coloring, tracing, fill-ins, crosswords, matching, and more, these activities will keep one busy over time, while empowering the survivor to complete these games at their own pace.

The Bottom Line: Recommended for survivors of stroke, aphasia, and other traumatic brain injuries. This activity workbook starts out easy, so readers will not be overwhelmed. However, the more challenging activities might not be suitable for survivors of more severe brain injury. Thus, some readers may complete the entire book, while others may only want to challenge themselves to easier activities and games. The Large Type format is definitely helpful too. 

Details: The Stroke Recovery Activity Workbook: Aphasia & Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Exercises, Games & Puzzles to Help Regain Cognitive Abilities, Speech and Fine Motor Skills (Large Print) by Activated Minds Press. Paperback published by Activated Minds Press in 2023. 144 p. ISBN: 9781962176002 [NOTE: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]