Friday, October 13, 2017

All the Way to Havana


All the Way to Havana
by Margarita Engle; illustrated by Mike Curato
40 pages; ages 4-8
Henry Holt Books for young readers, 2017

themes: family, cars, diversity

We have a gift, and we have a cake, and today we're going to drive all the way to the big city to see my new baby cousin.

This is the story about a boy and his family driving to Havana, Cuba in their old family car. When she rattles and shakes like a chicken, papa pops the hood and with a twist and a tinker and a bit of twine gets her back in shape. Then it's off to Havana - well, got to give the neighbors a ride. But then it's off to Havana!

What I like love about this book: The sounds! So many car sounds, from clunks and clucks to pio pio, taka taka, and a whole lot more zooms and growls. It makes you think, "Hey! that's what MY car sounds like!" I like the repetition of the phrase, "we have a gift, and we have a cake..." I like the way he boy and his father use tools at hand to repair car problems, even inventing their own solution. And I love that Margarita uses her author's note to tell more about why these old American cars are on the island. Plus, if you have a car-loving kid, the end pages are filled with antiques: 1950 Chevy 3100 pickup, 1959 Ford Thunderbird, and my favorite - 1953 Chevy 210 series (a lot like my family's first car).

Beyond the Book:

Make a list of the sounds cars and trucks make in your area. Not just on the road, but when they're starting up, and stopped at a light. Don't forget to include a car you ride in frequently. Need inspiration? Here's a library of sounds, and here's the "Car Noise Emporium" from Car Talk.

Go to an old car show. The guys with old cars around here have a meet-up every month down in town and anyone can walk by to look at the cars. They raise the hoods and vroom the engines. OR find some books or online sites that have photos of old cars from the 1940s and 1950s. 

Build a car out of cucumbers, candy bars, or other food you can easily obtain. Think about what makes a good axle and wheels. Test it going down an inclined plane. Then challenge your friends to a race. Here's a fun video of an edible car competition.

Check out this post by Margarita Engle on writing books that cross borders.

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy from publisher.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Two Cool Science Guys

It's not every day I get two well-known science guys to hang out on my blog. So today I'd like you to welcome Alexander Graham Bell and Sir Isaac Newton. Granted, they lived 200 years apart, but book magic brings them alive today.

Themes: nonfiction, science, invention

Alexander Graham Bell Answers the Call
by Mary Ann Fraser
32 pages; ages 6-9
Charlesbridge, 2017

From the beginning, the world all around spoke to Alexander Graham Bell. And he listened.

He listened to the hustle and bustle of traffic on the streets, and the sound of the wind blowing through wheat. And because his father was a speech therapist and worked at home, Alec listened to the sounds and chants of the students. Which may have influenced his work as a teacher for the deaf, and his desire to invent a way for people to communicate over long distances.

What I like about this book: I love that the end papers show the history of the telephone and the informative charts Mary Fraser drops into the text (one shows how the ear works). And I like how she shows him growing up within a family where hearing and deafness were part of their lives. Fraser shows Alec discovering vibrations and then putting his discovery to use to communicate with his mom. What I like most of all is that the invention of the telephone took time and met with failures along the way. But Alec didn't give up.

Newton's Rainbow
by Kathryn Lasky; illus. by Kevin Hawkes
48 pages; ages 4-8
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2017

On Christmas Day over three hundred years ago, in a village in England, a baby was born too early.

He was so tiny that no one expected him to live. But he did, and he was immensely curious. While a student, he boarded with the village apothecary. The shelves in the shop were crammed full of jars with fluids and powders, spiderwebs, and leeches. This is where he learned chemistry.

One day he was in a jumping competition. Being small, he waited for an extra-strong gust of wind to give him the boost he needed to get the longest jump. So he began his study of physics. He carved sundials, made models, and spent his days thinking - even when he was supposed to do farm work!

What I like about this book: It takes us right inside of Newton's life and times. Kathryn Lasky tells us straight out what's true and what's "story". There was an apple, she says, and it did indeed fall - but probably not on Newton's noggin. She helps us see his thought process as he experiments with light and gravity.

Beyond the books:
Make your own telephone. All you need are plastic cups, string, paperclips, and a sharp pencil. Here's how to do it.

Test sound waves with a spoon and some string (and maybe a ruler, too). Easy-to-follow instructions and even some ideas for further investigation here.

Create a water prism to break sunlight into the colors of the rainbow. All you need is a bowl of water, a small mirror, a sheet of paper, and a sunny window. Here's how to do it.

Check out more biographies of scientists over at Archimedes Notebook.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining others over at Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books Review copies from the publishers.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Books Celebrating Best Friends

Themes: friendship, imagination

Nerdy Birdy Tweets
by Aaron Reynolds; illus. by Matt Davies
40 pages; ages 4-8
Roaring Brook Press, 2017

This is Nerdy Birdy.
Nerdy Birdy loves playing video games. Vulture thinks video games are boring.

And that would be OK but.... they are Best Friends! They do some things together, like take goofy pictures of each other, and spend time hanging out. Until ... Nerdy Birdy discovers "Tweetster". Now he spends so much time with his beak in his phone that vulture feels left out.

What I like about this book: It's fun! Every now and then there's a page set up like a graphic novel, and sometimes the story is told through tweets. I like that it shows the problem with spending all your time building lists of online friends at the expense of your blood-and-feather friends. "I'm friends with a puffin!" shouts Nerdy Bird. "She lives in Iceland."
"You're friends with a vulture," says Vulture. "And she's dying of boredom."
I like that it portrays very real problems with forgetting that friends have feelings, and that posting things can hurt feelings. And it does all this without getting lecture-y and moralistic.

While NB and Vulture resolve their differences, Horace and Hattie have a completely different sort of problem.

Hedgehugs and the Hattiepillar
by Steve Wilson and Lucy Tapper
28 pages; 4-8 years old
Henry Holt & Co, 2016

Horace and Hattie are the very best of friends.

They go on walks together, play hide-and-seek, and even try to catch the moon. One day they discover something new and interesting - that hatches into a caterpillar, eats leaves, then turns into a chrysalis. When it emerges as something different, Hattie and Horace wonder if they can do the same thing.

What I like about this book: This is a fun-to-read, quiet book. It also entertains some scientific curiosity: if we do what a caterpillar does, can we turn into something different? And then the experimenting and results. I also like that they're hedgehogs because ... hedgehogs!

Beyond the books:

Compare Face Time to Face Book (or twitter). No matter what your age, try this experiment for a day, a week, a month... take a break from Face Book (or twitter) and talk to people face-to-face. With words. Maybe at a park, while swinging or hitting tennis balls or walking. Maybe eating lunch with someone you normally message but rarely sit with. Notice the differences between spending face time with people and electronic time with them.

What if you could go to sleep (like a cocoon) and emerge as something different? What would you be? draw a picture, or tell a story. You don't actually have to try it, like Hattie and Horace. 

Thoughtful reading on how smartphones affect children:  From the Atlantic ~ "Are Smartphones Harming Kids?" and from researchers in Toronto, how devices affect language development in toddlers.

Join in an anti-bullying activity. Cyber-bullying is a big issue. What can you do to stop it?

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review ARCs from publishers.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Enemy

The Enemy
by Sara Holbrook
224 pages; ages 10-14
Calkins Creek, 2017

It's 1954 and twelve-year-old Marjorie is hunkered down behind the walls of a snow fort with her friend, Bernadette. She's got a pile of snowballs to pelt the enemy - Bernadette's brother, Artie. But Artie doesn't want to be the "enemy" - a Nazi. He wants to be Al Capone instead.

"This is war," yells Bernadette. "We're the good guys. You're the bad guy. That makes you a Nazi."

Marjorie is coming of age during the cold war, when there are so many enemies: Nazis, communists, the new girl, Inga, and a strange man lurking around the neighborhood. Marjorie wants to know how to determine who are friends, who are enemies, and how to know the difference. Then there's the question of right and wrong, and whether she'll go to jail for hiding "dangerous books" under her bed. Books that may or may not have been stolen from the library and probably should be  burned for their radical ideas. Books like 1984 and The Grapes of Wrath.

And then there's the demand by Bernadette that she sign an oath of loyalty to her friends. Who demands loyalty oaths? While she writes of a bygone era, Sara could be writing a story about today's issues of immigration, intolerance, religious and racial divide.

Sara Holbrook, grew up in post-war Detroit, a city, she says, that was separated by race and ethnicity. She talks about growing up in that era, and about her family, displaced people, returning soldiers, and more in her author's note - and follows up with a great bibliography for curious readers who want to know more.

 On Monday we'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hello Goodbye Dog

Hello Goodbye Dog
by Maria Gianferrari; illus. by Patrice Barton
40 pages; ages 4-8
Roaring Brook Press, 2017

themes: family, inclusion, therapy animals

"Hello, Moose!" said Zara.
There was nothing Moose loved more than hello.

But what Moose doesn't like to hear is "goodbye," because goodbye means Zara is going away. So when Zara goes to school, Moose runs away from home to be with her. Again and again. And each time he is returned, until finally Zara figures a way that Moose will be allowed to stay at school with her.

What I like LOVE about this book: I like the diversity of the characters in the book. Maria doesn't say that Zara uses a wheelchair, but we can see that in the illustrations. Any child looking at the pictures will see himself/herself in the pages. There is such a feeling of inclusiveness in this story.

I also like the repetition of hello and goodbye. And the strong bond of love between Zara and Moose. Yes, he does not belong at school, but it's fun when he shows up. I also like the increasing number of people it takes to capture Moose and send him back home... it reminds me of the folk tale of people pulling a reluctant turnip out of the ground. Concurrently, there's an ever-escalating challenge to
keep Moose at home.

Most of all, I like that Zara comes up with a solution that is suitable for Moose, and promotes her love of reading.

Maria with Griffin and Allison
... So I just had to ask Maria Three Questions:

Sally: What inspired you to tell this story?

Maria: I love dogs, and I truly believe in the power of dog (and animal love) to promote healing and to bring us joy and happiness. Dogs live in the moment, and teach us to do so, too. This story, like all of my picture books so far, are about the human-animal bond, and I wanted to tell yet another story about a girl and her canine BFF.

 Sally: Was the mixed race family your idea, or the illustrator's?

Maria: I had always envisioned Zara to have a mixed racial background. As a character, Zara also evolved through revision to be a wheelchair user, though that isn't part of the story - it's a friendship story. 

Tybee and Brittany
Sally: Do you know any reading dogs?

Maria: Yes, I met many this summer while doing events for Hello Goodbye Dog! At my book launch, at Books of Wonder in New York City, I met great teams from New York Therapy Animals: Griffin and Allison, Wlly and Roz, and April and Beth. In August I was joined by reading dog, Tybee and his handler, Brittany of Heeling House in Sterling, VA for a reading at Scrawl Books in Reston, VA. They'll be helping me celebrate my book at the Fall Festival in Fairfax next month. And I can't leave out Leonburger Brig, a gentle giant, and his dog mom, Lynn from the Toadstool Bookshop in Keene NH, my hometown. I can't wait to meet more reading dogs! 

Beyond the Book:
Moose loves listening to people read. Do you have a pet that listens to you read? Or does your library have a "reading dog"? If so, find a favorite book and read to an animal. What is it about dogs that make them suited to this sort of activity?

Reading aloud to dogs (and other animals) helps children with their reading skills. Here's one article that tells more.

If you don't have a dog to read to, make one out of an old pillow case. Turn one end of the pillow case into the head (you can sew or staple ears on), then stuff and sew it closed. Add a tail, lean against it, and start reading.

You can find Marie Gianferrari's website here, and Patrice Barton's website here. 

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy from my personal library.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Confessions from the Principal's Kid

Confessions from the Principal's Kid
by Robin Mellom
272 pages; ages 10-12
HMH, 2017

Every school year starts a bit differently. This one...

"...starts with a Jupiter-size spitball stuck to the cafeteria floor, the one that was flung at the back of Graham Parker's head. He never saw it coming. But I did."

Allie West  is running the buffer across the cafeteria floor while the custodian takes a break. It's a Mastercraft 300, and Allie loves working it. There's only one reason she gets to do it; she's the PK. The Principal's Kid. Her life is different from the other kids: she doesn't get to ride home on the school bus; she has to stay after until it gets dark. And all the kids are afraid of her mom.

The only redeeming thing: the custodian lets her buff the cafeteria floor. That and the Afters - a club of kids whose parents work at the school. They meet in the band room to plan such after school activities as cleaning chalk boards or playing Evesdroppping Bingo".

All Allie wants is to be treated like any other kid - and to get a place on the math team. There's only one problem: the captain of the math team is her once-upon-a-time best friend Chloe who will never speak to her again. Ages ago she ratted Chloe out for something. Now Allie is trying to repair that friendship, if any tatters remain.

What I like about this book: It's fun to read. The characters in Allie's circle of friends seem like the kids you'd find at any school. Allie commits social faux pas and causes pain to the people she loves most. And the hardest lesson she learns is that it's not her mom who's ruining her life. It's her. And there is no easy way to repair damage when trust has been broken. If I gave out stars, this one would garner some of every color.

On Monday we'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Bug Girl

Bug Girl
by Benjamin Harper and Sarah Hines Stephens; illustrated by Anoosha Syed
304 pages; ages 8-12
Imprint, 2017

I've been posting reviews of "bug" books over at Archimedes Notebook for the past month: insect field guides, mantids - and more today. So when I learned that there was a superhero (or heroine) calling herself Bug Girl... you know I could not pass up a chance to check her out!

I fell in love with this book from page 0 whereupon was printed a dedication to dorks, geeks, science nerds and other "misfits" in the middle school world.

Then there's the adorably geeky Amanda Price, backpack covered by bug buttons slung across her shoulder, dragonfly lunchbox, and Trina, a Madagascar hissing cockroach. (Full disclosure: I had a Madagascar hissing cockroach for a pet, too.) She has penned such school reports as "Tree Lobsters: Where are they now?" Her classmates are not as enamored of arthropods as is Amanda. In fact, they are appalled/disgusted/offended when she brings her cockroaches to school.

What I like about this book: Of course there are villains, and the adult superheroines are taken captive. Who will save the town? Amanda decides she will, but to do so she needs the help of her ex-best friend. Plus there's the whole going through metamorphosis thing.... but now that she has antennae and special insect superpowers, saving the town shouldn't be too difficult. Except that it is.

I love the Fun Bug Facts scattered through the book, the scientific illustrations of Amanda and her friends (labeled, of course), rules of middle school, directions to make a paper hat, and comic book-style illustrations. I even learned the difference between farfalle and macaroni.

Bug Girl is fun to read, filled with imagination, and may cause readers to want to get to know more about insects. Will there be more? I'm sure of it! The world is filled with villains, and Amanda introduced us to just a few of the 2 million (or more) species of insects in this world.

Head over to Archimedes Notebook today to learn how to survive as a firefly (and more about bugs). And on Monday, we'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by publisher.