Friday, January 24, 2020

Great books for Ocean-Dreaming

Since all the water around my house is frozen, I’m dreaming about oceans. Fortunately I found a couple of books in my basket that will feed my fantasy.

Theme for today: water, oceans, ocean animals


This Is a Sea Cow 
by Cassandra Federman
32 pages; ages 5-7
Albert Whitman & Company, 2019

This is a Sea Cow. “Hello! I prefer Manatee, please.”

Written in the style of a school report, this book attempts to lay out the facts about sea cows manatees. But the subject of the report Is. Not. Pleased. with the report, and refutes what she perceives as unflattering comments. For example, the kid writes that sea cows eat grass like cows do. “I’m not a lawnmower,” Manatee retorts, clarifying that she dines on seagrass.

What I like about this book: I love the sassy manatee who makes sure she corrects the record with respect to how cool manatees really are.


I like the facts that are thrown in, comparing manatees to sharks, and I like that the text is written in pencil-like font on wide-ruled paper. Illustrations are crayoned in. AND – there is Back Matter! Three pages of manatee facts including how you can adopt a manatee. I love that the story begins – and ends – on the endpapers.

Hey, Water! 
by Antoinette Portis
48 pages; ages 4-8
Neal Porter Books, 2019

Hey, water! I know you! You’re all around.

From faucet to sprinkler, rain to snow, a girl named Zoe explores water. Water can be a lake or steam, dew on a leaf or tears. And it’s all around us. Illustrations are done with brush and sumi ink, and then digitally colored.

What I like about this book: The text is simple and supported with the wonderfully textured illustrations. And there’s Back Matter! On one page, Portis shows the forms water takes: solid, liquid, and gas. On another, she provides an easy-to-follow map of the water cycle. There’s a section about things we can do to conserve water, and resources to explore.

And one more, for the littles to dive into:

National Geographic Kids Little Kids First Board Book Ocean
26 pages; ages 4 - up
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books (October 29, 2019)

Just a fun little book, filled with verbs for tots to learn: race, play, swirl, twist, and more. The last spread provides a “can you find?” challenge.


Beyond the Books:

You can learn more about manatees here, and find webcams to watch your favorite manatees here.

Become a Water Saver. Check out this list of things you can do, and choose one to do this week.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publisher.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Warrior Queens

Warrior Queens: True Stories of Six Ancient Rebels Who Slayed History 
by Vicky Alvear Shecter ; illus by Bill Mayer
160 pages; ages 9 - 12
Boyds Mills Press, 2019

The ancient queens Vicky Shecter writes about didn’t go looking for trouble. Trouble came looking for them – usually invaders who wanted their land and riches. But these ladies pushed back. Hard. “They fought in chariots, on ships, and even on elephants,” writes Shecter.

So who were these queens? One was Hatshepsut, a powerful female pharaoh who ruled Egypt about 3500 years ago. Married at 13, widowed by 16, she proved to be a plucky leader – and one who kept the economy strong by building roads and monuments. And, when required, went to war to strengthen the borders of her country.

About 1400 years later, Amanirenas ruled a powerful African kingdom in Nubia (what’s now Sudan), just south of Egypt. Queen Amanirenas ruled a rich land, where women were respected and had power. Then Roman emperor Caesar Augustus invaded Egypt. Seeking even more treasure, the Romans attacked five Nubian cities. Queen Amanirenas was not amused. She led her warriors on a counterattack, taking back her cities and destroying Roman military outposts as well.

Eighty years later, in ancient Britain, Queen Boudicca led a rebellion against the Roman army. Her Celt tribe had been living in uneasy peace with the Romans, but when Boudicca’s husband died, the Romans stomped into her village. They wanted everything – money, food, horses. When Boudicca challenged them, they dragged her into the village center and whipped her. As the Romans destroyed Celtic culture, Boudicca planned her attack. She and her blue-painted warriors swarmed the biggest Roman city. They freed the slaves, looted the city, and left nothing but smoldering rubble. She went on to destroy an entire Roman legion and burn Londinium to the ground.

Shecter includes plenty of sidebars on topics ranging from forensic anthropology to religion and ancient medicine. Each chapter includes chapter notes that fill in the details. Back matter includes endnotes, a bibliography, and index.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review ARC provided by the publisher.


Friday, January 10, 2020

A Stone Sat Still

A Stone Sat Still
by Brendan Wenzel
56 pages; ages 3-5
Chronicle Books, 2019

theme: nature, perception

A stone sat still / with water, grass, and dirt
and it was as it was / where it was in the world.

The stone was dark, light, smooth, rough, red, green, purple, blue – at least to the different animals that come upon the stone. Each perceives the stone based on how they interact with it.


What I like about this book: I love how Brendan Wenzel looks at a stone from so many points of view. For an ant following a pheromone trail, the stone is part of a map. For a tiny red mite surrounded by a slimy snail trail, the stone becomes a maze. I like how time passes, and the stone – once a landmark for migrating birds – is worn by age, surrounded by water, adopted by an ocean.

Beyond the Books:

Find a rock or stone on one of your travels. Maybe it is in a park, or your back yard. Sit with that stone and explore its texture, its size. If it is big, are there small creatures climbing on it? Are lichens or plants growing on it?

Get to know the rocks in your backyard. Here’s a good place to start.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Vivian Kirkfield Helps Make Voices Heard

My colleague and friend, Vivian Kirkfield, has a new book coming out next month. Making Their Voices Heard is an inspiring story about the friendship of two amazing women, jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and movie star Marilyn Monroe. I invited Vivian to share her thoughts about how they stepped outside the norms society had set for them. 

Take it away, Vivian!

Thank you so much, Sue, for inviting me over today. Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe made their voices heard onstage and in the fight for gender equality and against discrimination. I feel so honored to tell their story.

Back in the 1950s, most women didn’t have much control over their lives. It wasn’t until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 that a woman could get a credit card or a mortgage without having it co-signed by a male relative. Literally and figuratively, women were put in a box – a bit like Barbie dolls on department store shelves. They were expected to act and dress a certain way, and carry out certain roles like being a mother, secretary, nurse, or teacher. Even female entertainers had to stay within the confines of society’s strictures.

And then, along comes Ella Fitzgerald. Although she had a difficult childhood, once she won the Amateur Night at the Apollo Theatre, Ella believed in her talent – her gift for singing jazz. It gave her the strength to fight for what was right and remain true to herself. When she was bumped from a Pan Am flight on her way to Australia for a concert tour in 1954, she sued the airline for racial discrimination…and won! This was before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus. It was before Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Ella was breaking down the walls that society had erected around her.


Marilyn Monroe also had a sad and difficult childhood. Growing up in an orphanage, she’d stand on her bed and act out scenes from movies before bedtime. Many choices she made were because of the box society had put her in. She agreed to get married at age 16 to avoid being returned to an orphanage. And after signing with a movie studio, Marilyn was in more of a box than ever before. The studio told her what color lipstick to wear and what parties to go to.

But Marilyn had a mind of her own. She went overseas to entertain the troops in Korea.  She visited jazz clubs in New York City – at a time when jazz clubs were places most white women did not go to. And she loved Ella Fitzgerald. Marilyn listened to Ella’s records to prepare for a big singing role in the movie, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” When critics gave her rave reviews, and studio bosses agreed to give her more control over her script choices, Marilyn bought a ticket to Ella’s next show so she could thank her in person.

After the show, Marilyn and Ella shared their hopes and dreams and plans of what might be. Ella revealed that she’d been unable to get a booking at one of Hollywood’s top clubs. The owner didn’t want ‘jazz’ music at his nightclub, and he didn’t want a plain-faced, overweight black woman performing for his guests. But, after a phone call from the wildly popular Marilyn, and because Marilyn had agreed to sit in the front row every night, the club owner agreed to give Ella a week’s booking.

Many of us know of Ella Fitzgerald as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, female jazz singers. In the first year of the Grammys, 1959, Ella won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Improvised Jazz Solo…another example of how she broke down the barriers. And many remember Marilyn Monroe as the sexy blonde bombshell – but how many know that she was the first female movie star to start her own movie production company?

I hope my book will help children realize how important it is to stand up for what is right and to make your voice heard…to stand by your friends…and to be inclusive when choosing those friends. I’m honored that I got the opportunity to write this story and I’m thrilled that it has become a real book that will inspire parents and children alike.

Thank you so much, Sue, for giving me the opportunity to visit with your blog readers.


The next couple of months will be busy and exciting for Vivian. On Saturday, January 18 she has an 11am book launch at Barnes & Noble bookstore in Nashua, NH. On January 24 she’s participating in an Author Night at her granddaughter’s school in Chicago, and in March she’s heading to New York City for a book event Books of Wonder. You can keep up with her at her website and by following her  on Facebook , Twitter, and other social media.

Once the holidays are over, we'll be joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website

Monday, December 16, 2019

Yay for Holiday Story Finalists

Today is the day! Head on over to Susanna Hill's blog to read - and vote on - holiday stories.

There were TONS of stories submitted - and the poor judges had to winnow that down to eleven finalists. And those stories are fun, fun, fun!

While Moose's doggie treats didn't make it, plenty of other treats did: latkes with toppings, fudge, gingerbread, peach pie -

Go. Read. Have fun!

See you back here on Friday for a wonderful book talk with author Vivian Kirkfield.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Stories from Miss Bunsen's School for Brilliant Girls

Light as a Feather [series: Miss Bunsen's School for Brilliant Girls]
by Erica-Jane Waters
128 pages; ages 7 - 9 years
Albert Whitman & Company, 2019

Miss Bunsen’s School for Brilliant Girls is a new chapter book series that celebrates STEM STEAM. Pearl, Millie, and Halinka are a tight trio of friends who tackle all kinds of challenges throughout the series.

In Light as a Feather they are trying to design and build a flying machine for the Annual Girls of Science Games Day. A famous astronaut has issued a challenge: to build their flying craft from environmentally-friendly materials. The winning team gets to spend a week at her space center, plus a trip into space aboard a shuttle.

I like how the three friends work as a team, and their plan to use recycled metal from drink cans and re-purpose other materials. When a fire breaks out and destroys their machine, they rebuild, making do with old tomato cans, rubber hoses, wire whisks, and a few other intriguing “found” items. But will their craft remain airborne long enough? And can they pedal it fast enough to win?

This is the second book in the series about the trio of best friends who attend a funky old school. The school is old, underfunded, and perpetually plagued by squirrels.

The first book in the series, If the Hat Fits features an invention/engineering competition. If they win, the money could help keep the school open.

And there’s a third book coming out next spring: Penny for Your Thoughts. The blurb from the publisher says that Pearl, Millie, and Halinka put their problem-solving skills to the test in a maze competition. But… they find themselves trapped in a strange maze, and Miss Bunsen has to give up her book of secrets in order to set them free. They will need to keep their wits to solve their way out of the puzzle.


Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Holiday Story Contest Entry

 M-m-m. I love frosted cookies ~ and this plate of holiday treats can mean only one thing:

It's time for Susanna Hill's 
9TH ANNUAL HOLIDAY CONTEST

Every December, for the past eight years, Susannah Hill has encouraged writers to stretch their imaginations and write a holiday story. This year's theme: Holiday Treats.

The rules are simple: it has to be 250 words or less, and for kids aged 12 and under. Here's my entry. I hope you enjoy it.


Moose Bakes a Treat (245 words)

Moose trotted to the cafeteria. Today was the third meeting of the Amigos Club, and they were taking over the school kitchen. Their mission: making holiday treats for the local shelter residents.

Moose washed his hooves, rolled up his sleeves, and pulled on an apron. He puffed up his toque. “Let the baking begin!”

Miss Gilly printed the recipe on a white board. “First you need to grind up the peanuts.” Moose poured peanuts into the grinder and began turning the crank. Raccoon measured flour into a bowl and Otter used his favorite stone to crack eggs.

The Amigos blended and stirred and mixed. When the dough was ready, Beaver dragged in a fresh aspen limb to use as a rolling pin. “Not too thin,” Miss Gilly warbled. The Amigos chose their favorite cookie cutters and loaded the baking sheets with trees, boots, mittens, and squirrels.

“Use your oven mitts,” Miss Gilly chirped. While the cookies baked, Moose decorated paper bags for the cookies. Otter and Beaver whisked up a coconut-bacon glaze, and Raccoon dipped each cookie into the glaze.

Finally the treats were packed and the Amigos were ready to go. “Remember your books,” Miss Gilly sang.

Moose opened the shelter’s door to a chorus of joyful barks. The Amigos passed out cookie treats to everyone. “Story time,” Moose called. He settled in a cozy corner amongst pups and seniors, and began reading his favorite story: Holiday Heroes To the Rescue.

 ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Thanks for dropping by to share a story. For more stories, head over to Susannah's blog (here's the link).