The List of Things that Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

I absolutely loved this story about young Bea and her changing family situation. Bea is in fifth grade and her parents have divorced (which she is still fully adjusting to) and her father is going to remarry. This is a huge shift for her. She will now have two dads, and a new step sister (she always wanted a sister) who lives in CA. That’s a lot of change and Bea, with her anxiety and her eczema, is keeping her list to give her some sense of steadiness. Add in some issues at school and you’ve got a touching and realistic novel.

I adore Rececca Stead’s writing and often recommend it for my students. She treated the topics in this book so sensitively yet honestly that I can imagine that many readers will be touched by Bea’s story, like I was.

Thank you, Net Galley and Wendy Lamb Books, for my copy!


EIGHT STARRED REVIEWS! The reassuring book kids and families need right now.

“An absolute original . . . a story that kids will love.” –R. J. Palacio, bestselling author of Wonder

At a time when everything is changing for Bea and her family, the important things will always stay the same. A soon-to-be classic by the Newbery Award-winning author of When You Reach Me.

After her parents’ divorce, Bea’s life became different in many ways. But she can always look back at the list she keeps in her green notebook to remember the things that will stay the same. The first and most important: Mom and Dad will always love Bea, and each other.

When Dad tells Bea that he and his boyfriend, Jesse, are getting married, Bea is thrilled. Bea loves Jesse, and when he and Dad get married, she’ll finally (finally!) have what she’s always wanted–a sister. Even though she’s never met Jesse’s daughter, Sonia, Bea is sure that they’ll be “just like sisters anywhere.”

As the wedding day approaches, Bea will learn that making a new family brings questions, surprises, and joy, and readers will discover why the New York Times called Rebecca Stead a “writer of great feeling.”

Kids’ Review: MISTER MAX: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt

I’ve read a lot of Cynthia Voigt’s books, so I was excited to see she had a new novel out for kids. MISTER MAX is about a young boy living at the turn of the century. His parents have boarded a ship for India, but have disappeared, leaving Max to fend for himself with a little help from his grandmother. While Max is only about twelve, his parents are actors, and he uses their techniques and costumes to pass himself off as an adult and makes a business for himself as a detective. Max has several mysteries to solve, with the underlying one being: where are his parents??

There were some things I loved about this book. I almost always enjoy books set in the past. Max was definitely a spunky and resourceful young man. I kept reading to see how things would come out.

Other things I was not so keen about in this book were that it felt long (looks like 400 pages for paper copy), the mysteries were pretty straight-forward (though they are for kids), and there was no final resolution (apparently, this is the start of a series/trilogy). It’s hard for me to say what age to recommend this story for. Content-wise, I would say about ages 9-11, but reading stamina/level wise, I’d say more like 11-13.

Voigt is a wonderful writer and this shines throughout the story. I laughed out loud at some parts. I will most probably read the next installment because I’d like to see how Max’s story turns out.

I got mine via Net Galley for review.

A Guest Post by John Lanza — Author of the “Money Mammals” Series

As I am off in California this week, I am more than thrilled to post an essay from my guest, John Lanza. John is the author of the “Money Mammals” books, which I have reviewed. Thanks for contributing, John!

Of Marshmallows and Money

By now, we’ve all heard of the Marshmallow Study by Walter Mischel. You know, the one in which kids who could resist a marshmallow for a period of time would be rewarded with an additional marshmallow to eat. Mischel then followed up his work years later and found that those kids who developed strategies to delay their immediate gratification had been more successful. The studies suggest that learning strategies to delay gratification can help kids later in life. There are elements of the study and what it demonstrates that have been called into question, but both the original study and Mischel’s follow up study are intriguing.

I wanted to touch on this in the context of financial literacy. As the creator of The Money Mammals and a frequent contributor to blogs and debates on the subject of financial literacy, I find certain issues crop up consistently. One is that many parents equate delayed gratification to not spending money at all. I’ve spoken with many parents who suggest that saving for a “rainy day” in an account that can’t be touched is the way to go. It’s essential that we rethink this. Spending money is a part of life — kids need to be comfortable with handling and spending money. Although it’s important to protect ourselves from our own spending habits by keeping money at bay in a savings account that can’t be touched, socking too much or all the money kids are receiving in an account isn’t necessarily going to teach them anything. What will they do when they eventually get their hands on it and they’ve had no experience with spending money in the first place? In addition, younger kids are likely to find the idea of saving money for a rainy day too abstract.

I’ve found that having kids set spending goals can be a very effective way of teaching delayed gratification with a true, understandable end game — even for a five-year-old. My daughter was so proud when she saved eight weeks of allowance to buy a scooter. It was the first monetary savings goal she achieved! Although she had a credit union account with an awesome “starter” interest rate of 5% for the first 500 bucks, the 20 cents she would have earned from that money in the same period would have left her… Well, let’s just say she would have preferred two marshmallows.

I think all parents find themselves a little worried at the beginning of the financial literacy teaching process with the concept of giving our kids too much autonomy over their money. I know I was! This is understandable, because that’s what we do as parents — we worry. We’ll worry when our kids go on their first dates, drive their first car, head off to college and more. That doesn’t mean that we’ll keep them from doing these things, though I wish they’d delay that dating gratification as long as possible. Ultimately, though, we know we must raise kids to the best of our ability and trust them to make smart choices by giving them experience with those choices. We’ve all learned our own financial lessons by handling money. Advice is good, but real world experience is the best teacher.

April is Financial Literacy Month (or National Financial Capability Month, as President Obama has decreed). April 23rd is National Teach Your Child to Save Day. Let’s all use this opportunity to get our kids to learn about saving by having them set a goal to spend their money on something they might want. Here’s an additional idea… As a reward, get a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers and some chocolate. I wonder if those kids in Michel’s study could have delayed their gratification if they’d had s’mores in front of them.

Happy Financial Literacy Month!


John’s Bio:

John Lanza is the Chief Mammal of Snigglezoo Entertainment, creator of the award-winning Money Mammals DVD, author and co-illustrator of the Dr. Toy award-winning Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal illustrated picture book and creator of The Money Mammals Saving Money is Fun Kids Club. In creating and producing these Money Mammals elements, he leveraged his more than 14 years of management, marketing, and sales experience in entertainment and media, as well as his own parenting expertise. Lanza also produced the Emmy® Award-Winning hit children’s television show “Life With Louie,” the pilot for the Disney Channel hit TV show, “The Proud Family,” and the DVD Premiere Award-nominated animated feature, “The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina” for Miramax.

For more information, please visit

Find Joe the Monkey and the Money Mammals on Twitter, Facebook and The Money Mammals blog.

Author Blog Tour! I’m excited to host “Money Mammals” author JOHN LANZA on his blog tour!

I’m very excited to have been asked to host John Lanza during his blog tour as he promotes his “Money Mammals” series. I received a copy of the children’s book “Joe the Monkey Learns to Share” to review in advance of this tour. In this sweet story, which reminded me a bit of the “Berenstain’s Bears”, a young monkey learns to share and to be fiscally responsible by creating three jars of money: one to save, one to spend, and one to give to charity. Joe the Monkey seeks to find a charity to support, while his family and friends tell him that sometimes a charity will find him. By the end, he has found the perfect way to spend his money designated for charity.

I had some questions for Mr. Lanza for our part of his tour:

BBNB: How did you come up with the idea for your money mammals series?
When our first child was about six months old, we were discussing our vision for our little girl and what we thought would be really important for our her to know as she grew older. We were both in sync that raising a money smart, “money comfortable” kid was really important. When we looked into it, we realized there was virtually nothing out there aimed at making financial literacy learning fun for kids. We knew that if we could take a pretty dry subject and make it fun for kids, we would “prime the pump” and make the kids more receptive to financial literacy lessons. I had been tossing the main character, Joe the Monkey, around in my head for years. With The Money Mammals, he suddenly had a direction…and friends.
BBNB: Do you think kids today are less fiscally responsible than kids in the past? How do you think modern culture has changed children’s view of money?
People are certainly less fiscally responsible. And numerous studies point out that most kids learn their financial literacy behaviors from their parents so it’s not surprising that kids are not learning the best habits from their parents in a lot of cases. We put far too much value on stuff in our culture and you literally can’t get out of the way of marketing. It feels like every empty surface is being filled with messages to spend. This is particularly problematic for young people because kids under 8 have a very difficult time distinguishing between fact and fiction in marketing messages.
BBNB: Can you talk a little about the other books and items in the series?
Being a dad has been very informative in developing The Money Mammals. Both books and the DVD were inspired by my kids. In the first book, Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal, the intrepid leader of The Money Mammals learns to save for a goal with a little help from his friends. We had a lot of success in saving for goals in our family and I wanted to share that with other families through the book. In the second book, I tackle charitable giving. In Joe the Monkey Learns to Share, our fearless monkey learns that finding a meaningful charity is the key to making giving something really fulfilling. In my own life, we use a three jar system – Share, Save and Spend Smart. Kids pretty easily learn to save and spend their allowance money, but sharing takes a little more work. I wanted to come up with a story that would be meaningful to my own kids and children everywhere.
BBNB: What do you see coming up for the money mammals?
We’re always developing new content for all different areas. If there’s a way to get kids excited about making smart money choices, distinguishing between needs and wants and learning to delaying gratification, we’ll try it. We just launched a new website for our Saving Money Is Fun Kids Club program that is licensed by credit unions across the country. It has games and educational activities for kids that emphasize our “We’ll Share & Save & Spend Smart Too” mantra. We’re working on an iPad app based on the first book and I hope to have my third book (about Spending Smart) out before next year. We’re also going to continue doing live tours at schools with some of the partner credit unions with which we work. We never stop moving.
BBNB: I loved this book because of the focus on giving to charity. This is important in our house. Do you think most families today focus on charitable giving, or have charities taken a backseat to just getting by in today’s harsh economy?
My kids go to a charter school, which truly takes a village so I see a lot of people who give a lot of their own time for that cause and many others. My wife is incredible – she’s always donating her time and money to worthy causes. I also think the web has enabled people to find incredibly personal and important causes that are really meaningful to them. For example, at, you can give money to help teachers help their students in so many different ways. What a great way to make an impact. I sometimes feel like we’re in the golden age of charitable giving.
BBNB: Charitable giving goes hand in hand with volunteering and helping others. Do you think children should have more opportunities to do service through school? Or should they wait until high school?
I tend not to be an advocate of waiting to try and accomplish anything meaningful. Just as we promote the idea that kids should learn to make smart money choices early, I think the more opportunities to share that money or their time through service projects, the better. We have a program called Big Sunday where we live in Southern California. Thousands of people engage in a weekend of service projects to help their own communities and families can participate together.
BBNB: I’m a parent of two school age children. What do you think are the best things I can do to help my children learn to be fiscally responsible?
Start early. The goal is to help build good habits now so you’re not having to break bad habits later. Think of it like reading to your kids. You start teaching them way before they can read to build the foundation for later literacy. Then you want them to keep reading and building on that knowledge. Same with money. Keep it simple and focus on making smart money choices by giving them an allowance. Don’t tie allowance to chores either, particularly little chores you would require of them regardless of whether you paid them an allowance or not (like making the bed, clearing the table, etc.). Remember the purpose of an allowance – to teach kids to make good choices. You can teach them the connection between hard work and earning money by giving them bigger chores like mowing the lawn or raking the leaves. Keep an open dialogue about money and strive to raise “money comfortable” kids who understand the money is just a means, not and end.
Thanks for your time with us, Mr. Lanza!
You can read more about Mr. Lanza and his Money Mammals series at:

See John on You Tube:

Children’s Review: “The Great Big Scary Monster” by Saraya Evenson and Nicholas Adkins

A few weeks ago I received an email from Nicholas Adkins asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing a children’s book he had illustrated. Of course I said “sure!”, and Nicholas kindly sent me a copy of his book and some coloring pages for my children.

I sat down and read “The Great Big Scary Monster” with my kids (who are 7 and 8). They read along with me, taking turns on the pages. It is a cute story and quick to read. My kids loved it and loved the illustrations. I can see pre-readers wanting to hear it over and over so they can memorize it and read along. It’d be a great bedtime read, especially for the preschool set.

In the story, the “great big scary monster” is actually a little boy; and his mother loves him even when he’s “scary”. Sweet!

I loved the simple yet effective illustrations and I thank Nicholas for sending me a copy to review. I appreciate it!

Two Quick Reviews: The Mystery of the Blue Ring by P.R. Giff (Children’s) and 50 Underwear Questions by T. Kyi

I recently got two new items through Net Galley, which I shared with my children.

The first is Patricia Reilly Giff’s “The Mystery of the Blue Ring”. Written for children, this is book one in the “Polk Street Mysteries”. My second grader read this for her book report this month. She loves mysteries and loved this story (and loved reading it on my Kindle!). In it Dawn, your typical second grader, is accused of stealing another girl’s ring. Dawn becomes a sleuth to solve the mystery. Giff has countless books out for young readers and has perfected the knack of writing for the younger grade school audience.

Thanks, Net Galley and Open Road Media, for my copy!

I also downloaded into Adobe Digital the fun book: “50 Underwear Questions: A Bare-All History” part of the “50 Questions” series by Tanya LLoyd Kyi (and illustrated by Ross Kinnaird). My kids loved looking through this galley, laughed at the pictures, and enjoyed the inset “bare facts” of trivia. I have to say, though, I actually found the history of underwear much more interesting than I had anticipated! For instance, did you know they had undergarments in prehistoric times? (You might think “did you even care?” but it really was an interesting read!). The fun, comic-like illustrations really make this book!

Thanks, Net Galley and Annick Press, for my copy!

Quick Children’s Review: The Boxcar Children Graphic Novel #2 – Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler and Mike Dubisch

Through Net Galley, I received a free download of this novel to review from the publishers at Open Road. The Boxcar Children series has been around for a long time. In case you don’t know the premise, four orphaned siblings live in a boxcar and have adventures and solve mysteries. They reunite with their grandfather, but the adventures continue. The original series was created by Gertrude Chandler in the 1940’s. In this rendition, Mike Dubisch has put the story into a graphic “comic book” format. It reads easily and has colorful pictures. It was also quite short – just over 30 pages. I could see how reluctant readers or those seeking a quick read would like this series. To be honest, I found some of the language stilted – since it condensed quite a bit of text into a shorter, graphic format – but I still think that both boys and girls would enjoy this series. I plan to share mine with my favorite second grader.

Thanks, Open Road, for sending me a copy to review!