Magnus at the Fire by Jennifer Armstrong, Illustrated by Owen Smith

magnus at the fire

Our Double Scoop for the month of October is Magnus at the Fire. Please note that the picture of the cover is not indicative of the high quality pictures in the book, we just couldn’t seem to find a very in-focus picture to post.

Cari: What did you like about this book?

Holly: The illustrations were my favorite part, they are so vivid and they have a classy, timeless look to them.

Cari: I liked the illustrations a lot too, if I collected story book art – I would want a print from this book. In addition to the illustrations, I liked the story.

Holly: Definitely. I liked the story because it’s not a common one to hear about. When you have a child who likes firetrucks you get stories about firetrucks and firemen and this story goes back before the days of the fire truck.

Cari: I love that this is based in historical fact, but it’s not a non-fiction picture book.

Holly: So does that make it a historical fiction picture book or something?

Cari: I think there is a term for it, but I’m not sure. Do you want to summarize the story a bit?

Holly: After working for several years, the fire station gets a new engine, a motorized version, and Magnus is thereby retired. They put the horses out to pasture with nothing to do. The pasture is next to the firehouse, and Magnus didn’t understand what was going on. The next time there is a fire Magnus jumps the fence and beats the motorized fire truck there and saves the day.

Cari: We should probably clarify that he is a firefighting horse meaning he pulls the steam engine that pumps the water to fight fires. I was trying to figure out what breed he was, because I don’t remember what kind he was.

Holly: I think he was a draft horse. The book says . . . “a mighty gray stallion” . . . at least in the pictures these guys are really big.

Cari: I think you’re right, they may be Percherons, a type of draft horse – they are beautiful animals. Fire fighting horses were trained so that when a fire bell rang, a harness would come down and their stall door would open and then they were ready to  pull the steam engine that would pump water to fight fires, which could weigh several thousand pounds. I guess Magnus had been trained really well because he didn’t bolt when he smelled the smoke.

Holly: What attracted us to the book in the first place was the picture of the stallion on the front. When we discovered it was about fire, I thought it would be a nice way to introduce the topic of fire safety without making it scary.

Cari: Makes sense. Isn’t October Fire Safety Month?

Holly: It sure is! We encourage all our readers to take some time to check their smoke detectors, talk to your children about fire safety and have a family evacuation plan. My 6 year old gives me a fire safety tip he’s learned at school almost every night as he heads to bed. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your kids what they learned in school about fire safety.

Now for Our Trip Down Memory Lane – Fire Drill

So a lot of our family vacations had a few common themes besides being crammed in a van for hours on end – our mom would usually have a stash of candy in her purse. The trick was to get front seat privileges (like volunteer to swap seats with Dad so he can take a nap or volunteer to take care of the baby to get free access). Of course this worked best while Mom was driving, but you did have to time it right to make sure your hand didn’t happen to be in there at the same time as hers.

We often spent time at our grandparent’s farm in Rupert, Idaho on the Snake River. At the time of this story Cari is 15 and Holly 14. Our dad happened to have taken the two oldest boys to Scout Camp. What does a mother, with 6 remaining kids and no husband do? She packs up the family van, along with the dog, invites the neighbor boy, because there just don’t seem to be enough people already, and we set out to spend a few days at a partially complete farm home in Rupert, Idaho. At this point, Cari would rather have spent time at home with friends, but being as they were busy on vacation she didn’t put up too much of a fuss.

Fire Safety Tip #1: The partially completed home was that way because it burned down in a fire a few years previously- due to a problem with the chimney, while there were renters living there. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but please consider this a reminder to get your chimneys cleaned out!!!

After a few days basically camping in a wood shell structure, we are about to head home.

Fire Safety Tip #2: The neighbor boy burned his foot by walking through hot coals without shoes on. Always wear your shoes around fires, and watch for hot coals. Don’t walk through extinguished fire pits, they might still be hot!

Cari: Ooh, I get to sit in the front of the van, I am the oldest (but my real reason is Mom has a stash of M&Ms in her purse and it’s not like she can supervise terribly well while driving if you know what I mean. . .)

Holly: I’ll sit next to the baby (and the M&Ms)!

Cari: I cannot wait to get home to take a real shower, Rupert is a lot better than it used to be at least we have flushable toilets, but seriously people stink!

15 minutes Later

Holly: A few M&Ms later. . . Mom what’s that white stuff coming out the back of the van?

Mom: Oh, um, I think we need to stop.

Cari: That looks like smoke, is that smoke?

Mom pulls to the side of the road, clouds of white stuff coming out from under the hood.

Holly: Is the van on fire?

Mom: I have no idea just get out of the van, EVERYBODY OUT!!!!

Cari: Everybody! Away! From! The! van!

(Imagine a circus act here, where people continually exit the vehicle and you can’t possibly figure out how they all fit in there in the first place)

Meanwhile a semi-truck driver pulls up behind us, a skinny guy with a mustache, hops down from his cab and hauls over to us as fast as his legs will carry him. Our rescuer has arrived wielding a bright red fire extinguisher.

Fire Safety Tip#3 It’s always a good idea to have a fire extinguisher in your home, boat and your car isn’t a bad place either, just make sure you know how to use it and maintain it.

Semi driver: Is it on fire? Is it on fire?

Everybody dazed and unsure- lots of shrugging shoulders.

Mom: We don’t know . . .

Cari:  Hey, does anyone hear sirens? Oh my goodness, look! There’s a red pick-up on the frontage road. Great this is so embarrassing not to mention we really stink.

Holly: I see a green fire engine!

Brother #3 – Wow that is so cool a fire truck, Mom is that a fire engine?

Semi-truck driver tries to lift up the hood, burns his hand, so grabs a rag and then opens the hood ready to take on any flames. . . There’s no fire! It’s only steam! You blew a hose lady!

Fire Safety Tip#4 Use something to protect your hands when touching hot surfaces, there’s a reason fire fighters wear gloves.

Everyone: Phew! We’re not about to be blown to kingdom come.

Farmer from the pick-up leans over the fence:  Are you guys alright? Is there a fire?

Mom: No, just a lot of steam, thank goodness!

Farmer: Good, I was working in my fields and I saw some smoke. I’m a volunteer fire-fighter so I radioed for the fire engine and thought I’d meet it here. Glad no one is hurt!

One of our brothers worked as volunteer firefighter in New York - Apparently this experience had a positive effect.

Woor wrooo – wroo – wrooo Arrives the fire truck

Cari: Great here come more people, are you kidding me? this will be a great story to NOT tell people.

Farmer: Well, I’ll call you a tow truck, you just be careful now.

Mom: Everybody back in the van, and be sure to put on your seat belts just in case someone hits us or something..

Meanwhile – sitting in the van for about an hour, in the heat of summer with our seat belts on- just in case. A few more M&Ms later . . .

Holly: The tow truck’s here! Finally!

Cari: Yes, we can’t seem to have a family vacation without one. (Some of our earliest memories on vacation happen to be in tow trucks, not sure exactly how many times).

Tow Truck Driver: Okay so let me get this straight: You have 7 kids and a dog? Hmmm, well it’s not exactly safe to have you travel in the van while I’m towing you, company regulations you know.

Mom: Well, we’ll manage somehow. I think we could all fit in the tow truck, except the dog.

(If you thought we looked like a clown circus act coming out of the van, you should have seen us load up in the tow truck)

Cari: Are you kidding me?

Holly: Well, we are related to Grandpa B- the ultimate in packing lots of things in small places.

Cari: (Rolling eyes) I guess since I am the shortest big person here you’re gonna make me sit next to the driver.

Mom: Yes! Now get in the truck. With all the gears you are the best person, you have the shortest legs you know, but you’ll only have to hold the youngest on your lap. Holly you get the neighbor boy and brother #3, I’ll take brothers 4&5.

Holly: (rolling eyes- there’s nothing comfortable about having your younger brother’s friend, who has a ‘secret’ crush on you, sit on your lap).  Fine, I’ll do anything to get out of this terrible heat.

Cari: Well, at least you don’t have to worry about being jammed by gears (and you’re closer to the M&Ms, darn it! I can’t reach those M&MS.)

We arrived at Twin Falls, Idaho and found out that our van would take a lot more work to repair then we had time for. We decided to rent a mini van to go home in. Only one problem. All the rental agencies were maxed out. Not even a car to rent. Why? Because of all the wild fires in Sun Valley, Idaho- Home of the rich and famous.

Fire Safety Tip #4: Don’t try to rent a car when there are wild fires where rich people live- you won’t have enough money, and the cars will be already taken anyway).

Twin Falls is the nearest airport to Sun Valley, so of course there was nothing available at any rental agency within any reasonable distance whatsoever. Luckily, the really nice tow truck guy convinced a dealership to let us rent a mini-van to go home in. After hauling around a circus in his tow truck, he was overcome with gratitude for the free entertainment. Right!?!

Note: We do not promote driving with kids on your lap as a safe alternative to a seat belts/car seats. We realize that any number of things could have happened to us resulting in injury and our grateful that none of us received any lasting affects beyond wanting to take candy and a cell phone on every road trip.

Jennifer Armstrong’s Website

What are some of you favorite road trip stories or books about fire?


On Ambulance Rides and Gratitude

I know Thanksgiving is just around the corner and people start thinking about gratitude, but I wanted to give people an update on what has been happening in my life. Last week my 5 year old daughter had a tonic clonic seizure or grand mal seizure in the parking lot of the school. Gratefully I was with her for the whole time and was able to call an ambulance. She went to the local children’s hospital and we were able to get into a specialist within a week, which if you know about getting into specialists it takes a while. We feel extremely grateful. Officially the diagnosis is Generalized Seizure Disorder, which means she has seizures, but the type that she has she will most like outgrow them. It can be managed by medication and will not damage her brain. She will be able to do whatever other children do swimming, biking, going to school and of course reading.

We are grateful for the wonderful docters and paramedics who helped us and for the our faith in God who helped us through this difficult time. I also wanted to raise awareness about epilepsy, which to get diagnosed with epilepsy you need to have 2 documented seizures, which she has. This last Sunday 60 minutes did a special on Epilepsy please take the time to watch the episode. From their website, “More Americans suffer from epilepsy than Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis combined.” My daughter’s situation is not in the same category as many of the people featured in the special, but this experience has certainly raised my awareness and made me want to tell people more about this disease that affects so many people.

Needless to say, with this adventure and my sister’s lack of internet (she just moved into a new home), we are behind on our Double Scoop for October. Hopefully, I will have it ready by the end of today.

Websites on epilepsy –, and The Epilepsy Foundation.

I am on the look out for children’s book about epilepsy and about going to the hospital, if you know of any please leave the titles in the comments.


Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

hattie big skyHattie Brooks is full of hard work and determination. Orphaned at a young age and forced to bounce among relatives, Hattie is surprised when an uncle’s will appears and offers her a new start- on her own in Vida, Montana. Hattie rolls up her sleeves and digs into the dirt to prove up her uncle’s claim. I always love a good pioneer story and this one did not disappoint. I was amazed by the fact that Hattie’s story is based on the author’s own step great grandmother. What an amazing woman!

Well researched and superbly written, Hattie Big Sky is a pleasure to read. What a disappointment to turn the last page and realize the story was over. I found myself wishing that there was a sequel! I’m pretty sure I will be reading this one at least one more time. I didn’t even know it was a Newberry Honor book until I was writing the review- it definitely deserves the recognition! This book would be a great family audio book for a trip, I think I just might get my second reading in that way. . . I’m off to put a hold on the audio. . . yeah!

Announcing the winner of I Need My Monster giveaway!

I Need My MonsterThank you to all who participated in our author interview and giveaway of I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll. We hope you all take the opportunity to read I Need My Monster soon if you haven’t already, it’s such a fun read!

After entering all the names in the giveaway, and randomly selecting our winner, we are pleased to announce that the winner is Wendy! Wendy, we hope you will enjoy your copy of I Need My Monster.

Our giveaway contest has now officially ended. The comments will remain open, so please feel free to continue commenting, but you won’t be able to enter the giveaway any longer.

Author Interview with Amanda Noll and Book Giveaway!

Author Photo compressed 2

I Need My Monster

Amanda, please tell us a little about yourself so our readers can get to know you?

I was born and raised in Australia. I immigrated (with my family) to the U.S. when I was a teenager. I met my husband while we were in university, but we were attending different schools.

I started writing when I was forced to sit at a desk all day long, whether there was work or not. I was so bored that I started writing stories to entertain myself.

I currently live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband and four young children.

Wow! A desk job where you have time to sit and make up stories and get paid for it? I bet there are a lot of authors out there who would love to have that job. Where did you get your inspiration for I Need My Monster?

It started one night when my 3 year old daughter was out of bed *again*. I was exhausted. Our youngest child wasn’t even 1 year old and all I wanted was an uninterrupted night of sleep. I wished that my daughter (who was afraid of everything) would be afraid of monsters, and then she would stay in bed. It wasn’t my finest parenting moment.

I’m with you on wishing for schemes to keep kids in bed at night. Thanks, by the way for taking some of the work out of that endeavor with your book, it sure has helped at our house! What is your favorite part of I Need My Monster and did you run into any difficulties in writing the story?

My favorite part is the page where Ethan imagines all the scary things that could happen. My biggest problem was finding a resolution that wasn’t too scary, but still authentic.

I think you succeeded! Speaking of success, who is your favorite author and why?

I read lots of authors, but I always come back to Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, and (most recently) Suzanne Collins.

I love reading about dragons and high adventure with girl heroes.

Oh, I love reading about dragons and high adventure too. What do you enjoy most about being a published author?

It is very gratifying to hold a finished book in your hands. Plus, students think I’m a rock star when I do school visits.

How fun! I love when kids have a real-life hero to look up to, and in my book, authors definitely rate higher than rock stars. What was the path to publication (and thereby rock-star-fame) like?

Like most people’s, it was long and bumpy. I wrote the story in 2005, started submitting it at the end of 2005 – mid 2006. Flashlight Press was one of the first houses I submitted to. They held it in consideration for a year before we started talking about contracts and revisions. There were *many* revisions. The book finally came to fruition in April of 2009.

So, four years of bumpy roads. . . sounds like a lot of fun, er. . . hard work. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Keep writing. Keep reading. Don’t make excuses about why you’re not writing, go write something. Get a good critique/support system to see you through.

What’s next for you? Do you have another book in the works?

Of course! Right now I’m working on a middle grade ghost story.

Spooky! Ghost stories are one of Cari’s specialties. She was really good at scaring us all with her ghost tales growing up, many of which she found in middle grade books. I, however, liked decorating cakes and noticed the Monster cakes and Monster toes featured on your and your publisher’s websites. They sound very intriguing, not to mention yummy. How did you come up with these creations, and will you share any secrets with us like, oh, possibly a monster recipe?

I wish I could take credit for the recipe, but I can’t. They’re adaptations of a Martha Stewart recipe for Cupcake Pops found here:

Of course I changed it to toes and added the pretzel stick and jellybean toe nail.

Thanks for the pointer in the right direction. And now, last but not least, at Bookscoops we like to talk about our childhood memories with the books we review, especially for our Double Scoop feature. So, in keeping with ‘tradition’, what is your favorite childhood memory involving reading?

My best memory is when I discovered the joy of reading. I was a proficient reader, but I had never been lost in a book. I was assigned to read Dragon Song by Anne McCaffrey for an English class. I had never read anything like it! I loved being able to lose myself in a totally different world. It wasn’t long before I began devouring anything I could get my hands on.

Thanks Amanda, for sharing with us! For more information about I Need My Monster check out the following websites:

Publisher website

Author Amanda Noll’s website

Illustrator Howard McWilliam

Book Giveaway details:

Amanda has provide one hardbound copy of I Need My Monster, which I will mail to the winner of our giveaway. The giveaway will end midnight MST,  Monday, October 19, 2009. You can enter by commenting on what you liked about the author interview or your favorite monster memory either on this post or on my review of I Need My Monster.  Please note: only one entry per person, and I will happily ship the book to any winner within the continental United States. Thanks and happy commenting!

I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll Illustrated by Howard McWilliam

I Need My MonsterWith Halloween fast approaching,  I wanted to find a good ‘spooky’ read that was kid friendly. I Need My Monster is an Indi Kid’s Next Pick (Summer 2009) and is also currently being featured in Spooky Books for Kids at Barnes & Noble and Borders during October. So, needless to say, I was very excited to get I Need My Monster and review it. The idea of any kid needing a monster was fascinating to me. Although this may not be your typical monster under the bed story, it’s very empowering to those children who just might be a little leery of monsters.

My boys were all excited to read the book until they read the title. I have three not-so-thrilled about monsters kids. They’ve seen Monsters, Inc. and the new Monsters vs Aliens, but when it comes to bed time . . . let me just say, those three can holler loud and make up innumerable reasons why they need Mom or Dad (usually Mom) to stay in the room. . . until they’re at least 18. I did preview the book before I shared it with my kids, and I was very curious to see their reactions. After approaching with some hesitation, they all sat very still for the whole story. I think I might have heard some nail chewing. You know that silence that comes when you are watching a scary movie through your fingers? Very applicable. My kids couldn’t turn away, and I didn’t want them to. Ethan’s monster experience is unique and the perfect thing to solve my- I mean our- monster issues.

Ethan is a very adorable boy who heads to bed only to find that his monster has checked out for a week. Gabe is the perfect monster and Ethan is practically heart broken. Unable to fall asleep, Ethan summons the courage to ask for a substitute monster. A parade of substitute monsters follow, with Ethan finding a reason to reject every single one of them. We had to agree with his summations, because they worked so ably with the adorable illustrations to get the reader laughing, rolling eyes, and nodding in agreement. Hands down, Gabe is the best monster ever!

My kids, initially hesitant, ended up loving this book. Their immediate responses were mixed and varied, but when I left the book sitting out, none of them could keep their hands off it. My 8 year old, said in a very puzzled voice, “I just don’t get it. Why would any kid actually want a monster?” I could see the wheels turning and some of the magic rubbing off. “Aha!” I thought, “I now have a new way to keep my kids in bed at night. . .”

I remember vividly the night my sister Cari and I went to bed only to notice (once the lights were out and the moonlight had illuminated our room) an object on the floor that neither of us had ever seen before. We were scared stiff because right in the middle of the floor, between the bed and the light switch (exit door), was a violin. No one in our house played violin, or even owned one. So, we were sure it was the work of some sneaky monsters. The problem was, what do you do about it? We debated and debated. Neither of us was willing to dangle our toes over the edge of the bed. We innately knew that toes were monster food, a fact which Amanda clarifies for us all in her book- just in case you forgot that well known child fact. The only solutions we could come up with was that we would have to stay in our bed awake all night and wait for the monster to come get us. Or one of us could sacrifice herself for the good of the group.

If you have read any of our Double Scoop reviews, I’m pretty sure you know what happened next. (Cari you can share your version in the comments if you dare). Cari convinced me that I needed to jump as far as I could to the door (luckily our room was small) and turn on the light as fast as possible before the monster could get me. Once the light was on we would be safe. I sat up in bed, gathering courage, for my death leap. I was sure I was headed to my doom. If a monster could put a violin in the middle of the room without us noticing, then surely, a monster could snatch me up before I carried out my mission. But, of course, I had a serious case of hero worship and knew without a doubt that Cari was worth protecting – worth my sacrifice. So, I teetered on the edge of the bed and leaped with all I was worth, flipped on the switch and was immediately flooded with relief. I was alive! All ten toes were still attached! And, right in the middle of the floor. . . drum roll please. . . was Cari’s blue and red purse, laid out in the perfect shape of a violin. It’s amazing what monsters can accomplish with what they have to work with!

I loved I Need My Monster and highly recommend it. Some parents may be nervous about introducing monsters to their children in the form of bed time stories. But, I  would have to argue that kids are born with the capability of inventing monsters- I’ve never met any child without the ability to conjure up crazy things to be scared about. So, if you want to get your kids relaxed and thinking that they are in control of their monsters- or that they can work with their fears to create a great bedtime routine, you’ll be ahead of the ball game.

I Need My Monster is the perfect balance of humor and entertainment and is a great year-round monster story that will definitely spice up your Fall reading list. Check back on Monday, October 12, 2009 for details on my author interview with Amanda Noll and our I Need My Monster giveaway!

Night Hoops by Carl Deuker


I really liked Night Hoops by Carl Deuker and I am not what you would call a big sports fan, but I do like a good story and Night Hoops is definitely a good story. Here is a basic summary of the book.

Nick has everything he needs to be a star basketball player. He lives, breathes and plays basketball. His dad even put a full size basketball court put in their yard. However, when trouble maker Trent Dawson, who also happens to be Nick’s neighbor, makes it on the varsity team, Nick is not sure how he can play on the same team. Not only does Trent add to Nick’s problems, but his parents are splitting up possibly over his father’s obsession with basketball. Also Trent finds himself in serious trouble – possibly on the wrong side of the law. How can Nick remain loyal to family, friends and the sport he loves?

One thing I did appreciate about the book was even though sports is a major part of the story  it doesn’t have to be the end all of life. Nick’s brother, a talented play decides to choose music over basketball because that is what he wants to do rather than sports (much to their father’s chagrin).

I highly recommend this book! I also read another one of Carl Deuker’s books entitled Gym Candy and I really liked it as well. Carl Deuker’s website.

As a middle school literacy specialist I am on the look out for some more great sport stories for teens, what are some of your favorites?