Monday, October 28, 2013

Monstrous Reading for Halloween

Looking for some monster stories for Halloween? Nothing too scary - just something in keeping with the season? How about this pair of books written by Danny Schnitzlein?

The Monster Who Did my Math begins with a young boy who has "...some kind of allergic reaction to multiplication... addition... subtraction." Also long division (the bane of my elementary school career) - and when he wishes for his homework to be done, voila! A monster appears who promises to do his homework for him. All is well and good until the teacher, impressed by his A+ answers, asks him to go up to the board and show how to work out a problem. He can't. When he gets home, he yells at the monster who points to the little print in the contract where, in paragraph seven of clause 93 it says: If you don't learn anything, do not blame me!

Schnitzlein's earlier book, The Monster Who Ate My Peas features a similar deal with a monster: you do the work, I pay a price. In that book the kid won't eat his peas. A monster appears who will eat the peas for a price: the kid's soccer ball.

This veggie-eating monster has hair that looks like spinach, a broccoli-green body, eyeballs that look like brussels sprouts, a squash nose, liver-like lips.... all the things kids everywhere don't like to see on their dinner plate. No matter, this monster eats it all. For a price.

If you need another monster book, grab a copy of  Tara Lazar's The Monstore - where one can buy a monster to deal with problems such as pesky sisters. But there's a catch - isn't there always when dealing with monsters? You can read a full review and interview with Tara here.

Happy Halloween Reading!

The Monster Who Did my Math and The Monster Who ate my Peas are both published by Peachtree Publisher. The Monstore is published by Aladdin. Review copies from the publishers.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Library Mouse builds a Home

Library Mouse, Home Sweet Home
by Daniel Kirk
40 pages; ages 5-9
Abrams, 2013

Sam and Sarah live in the library, where Sam writes and Sarah explores. They've got it made: a cozy home, books galore ... but then Sam finds blueprints spread out on the librarians desk. The library is undergoing renovation, and the two friends need to find a safe place to live while the saws whirr and the dust flies.

The attic is far above the din and clutter of carpenters and electricians, but it's too big. So they decide to build a home using materials they find. But what kind of home?

Fortunately, they're in a library - and the Architecture books are stacked on top of one of the boxes. They see photos of yurts and igloos, castles and cottages, and even a geodesic dome. Finally (!!!) the renovations are completed and the mice can move back home.

For kids (and older people) who are interested in architecture, there are three pages at the back chock-full of photos and descriptions of different types of homes found around the world.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library

What if you had so many books you had to build a library to hold them? That's what Thomas Jefferson did... the Library of Congress.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library
by Barb Rosenstock; illus. by John O'Brien
32 pages; ages 8 & up
Calkins Creek, 2013

From the title page illustration (TJ constructing a library using books) to the end notes, this book is chock-full of fun information. There are quotes from Thomas Jefferson: "I cannot live without books" (1815), and cool facts. Did you know that in Jefferson's time, books were commonly sold unbound? People took the pages to a bookbinder who covered the book and stitched it all together.

Barb Rosenstock pulls us into the story from the get-go. Thomas Jefferson learned to read early, and never stopped. He "gobbled books the way a starving man eats," writes Rosenstock. By the age of six he'd read every book in his father's library. So when he started collecting things... it seems only natural he'd collect books.

When he was elected president, Jefferson supported the Library of Congress - in fact, he tripled the number of books in its library. Later, during the War of 1812, British soldiers set fire to the Capitol and burned the Library of Congress. What did Tom do? He sorted and labeled and boxed up more than 6500 of his own books and sent them off to Washington, DC to start the new Library of Congress. Since then, the Library of Congress has grown. It now owns more than 155 million items that take up 800 miles of shelf space. And one of those items is .... this book.

How appropriate, then, for this week's Nonfiction Monday to be hosted by Abby the Librarian. Bloggers who love children's nonfiction will share the cool books they are reading over at her site. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, October 18, 2013


About Penguins (revised)
by Cathryn Sill; illus by John Sill
48 pages, ages 3-7
Peachtree Publishers, 2013

Whenever I go to a zoo, I always look for the penguin house. Who can resist watching the antics of these tuxedo-clad seabirds? They may not fly, but they move with such grace and precision beneath the water.

About Penguins is a new, revised version with updated material and an overview of seventeen species of these amazing birds. Each double-page spread features simple text and an illustration featuring one of the species. Cathryn gives us the science while John manages to capture great expressions on the birds' faces. Take the Royal Penguin (South Pacific) - in addition to the crown of yellow feathers, he manages to catch their most regal expression.

Readers learn the basic facts: penguins have special waterproof feathers; they can change direction quickly to avoid predators (at least while swimming underwater); and some eat squid. They don't all nest on ice - some build their nests in forests, in caves, or in burrows. And they don't all live in cold places - the Galapagos penguin lives in the tropics!

As with other books in the series, there is excellent material at the back: six pages of detailed notes that expand on each illustrated spread, plus a glossary and suggested books and websites.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday round-up. Check out the other science books and resources reviewed this week. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Catty Jane Who Loved to Dance

Catty Jane Who Loved to Dance
by Valeri Gorbachev
32 pages; ages 3-8
Boyds Mills Press, 2013

Catty Jane jetes through her day. She pirouettes into bed. Catty Jane, who takes classes at Mrs. Herron's Dance Academy, wants to be a ballerina. so when Mrs. Herron says "practice", that's what Catty Jane does. Even when Froggy wants to play soccer.

Froggy has a dance too, and he shows Catty Jane. But Catty doesn't think it's a very good dance; it's got vaulting and leaping and somersaulting in it. "Your dance doesn't look like ballet at all," she says.

"I'm not your friend anymore!" yells Froggy... and the two friends former friends plop down on opposite sides of a bench - which is where Piggy and Goose find them. When Piggy and Goose suggest a dance party, Catty Jane is too busy. She has to practice. But she's lonely, and feels bad about being mean to Froggy. But in the end, Catty Jane figures out how to follow her passion for dancing and nurture her friendships.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Carmine, A Little More Red

Today’s color: Red. As in Carmine: A Little More Red, by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

Theme: being aware of your environment

This is a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” with a fun twist: it’s an alphabet book that introduces luscious language into the vocabulary of young children. Also, the wolf doesn’t eat Grandma, and the woodcutter is nowhere near. Set in contemporary time – Carmine (Red) rides a bike and keeps in touch with Grandma by phone.

Opening: “Carmine had a beloved granny who taught her how to read by making Alphabet soup.” The story follows 26 words in alphabetical order. Next comes beware – as in: come visit me, but be careful and no stopping on the way. Unfortunately, Carmine does indeed dilly-dally, because the light was exquisite, and she wanted to paint a picture for granny.

Why I like this Book: I love the twists and turns in the story. While Carmine paints her picture, a wolf interrogates her dog about the path to Grandma’s house, because she needs food for her pups. In this tale, the woodcutter does not hear Granny’s calls for help, because he’s off with three pigs discussing floor plans for wolf-proof houses. And at the very end, when Carmine rescues Granny from the closet, Granny reminds her that she’s been told a zillion times not to dawdle – and then hangs her painting on the wall. Seriously – what kid can resist all those fun words?

Plus – there’s a recipe for Granny’s alphabet soup at the back.

Beyond the Book:
Go on a color hike and see how many different shades of your favorite fall color you can find. If your color is green, look at different kinds of leaves, grass, moss, lichens. If it’s yellow, check out the leaves, flowers, and insects you see. Collect a sample of each color and create a color palette when you get home – or use paint to create the different colors you see.

Go on a field trip to a paint store and look at the paint cards with all the different shades of your color. Who knew that there are 30 kinds of almost-white?

For more ideas, check out the teacher guide that Melissa Sweet created. It is chock-full of activities across the curriculum. 

Today's review is part of 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 obtained from a library.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Blue Chicken

The leaves are turning, so this week I’m celebrating art and color. Today’s color: blue. As in … Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman (Viking, 2011)

There is so much to love about this book – from the visual jokes (a red wheelbarrow, white chickens) to the minimalist text to the “oops!” of things-gone-wrong-while-trying-to-help. Imagine: a nearly finished drawing left on the artist’s table. It’s a pastoral scene – a barn with a cow and cat, a coop with chickens resting inside and, resting in front, the infamous wheelbarrow.
Also on the table:  two pots of paint, one red, one blue, and a jar with water and two brushes.

The book begins, “ “At Last! This picture is almost finished. The chickens are white, their coop is brown… and this day is perfect for painting the barn.” And who should want to help, but one of the chickens. She tips over the blue paint pot and turns everything blue – except those odd green patches on the ducklings (yellow + blue).

Chicken tries to undo the blue by adding water, but the entire jar spills and everything is a wash. Everything gets cleaned up except for the sky which, the animals agree, should stay blue. So there we are, a beautiful blue sky day “that is perfect for painting the barn.” 

But where is that white chicken? She's not back in the coop. No, she's lurking behind the pot of red paint with one of the ducklings. Nothing to see here.... just turn the page. When you do, you find some very wet & tired red ducklings – and one red chicken – looking out the window at a newly painted barn. Red, of course.

This is a fun fantasy about characters that won’t stay on their page, and colors that won't stay inside the lines. But watch out! Reading this book might result in kids grabbing paints and brushes, and then who knows what chaos will ensue..

Review copy from library.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fox Forgets

Fox Forgets
by Suzanne Bloom
32 pages; ages 2 - 6
Boyds Mills Press, 2013

I love Goose and Bear, and now there's a brand new book about these "splendid friends" and their friend Fox. Goose has to go off somewhere, but will be right back. "Be sure to tell Bear," she says as she waves goodbye to Fox. When Fox finds Bear, she's forgotten all about Goose. All Fox wants to do is play, play, play. All Bear wants to do is look for his good friend, Goose.

Let's play Looking for Goose, says Fox. But no Goose. Fox suggests checkers, but Bear is distracted. Fox know she has to tell Bear something Very Important - but can't remember what.

This is plain fun for kids because, who hasn't forgotten to pass on an Important Message? It's also fun for adults to read because, who hasn't forgotten where he's put the car keys, or put a box of crackers in the refrigerator and the cream cheese in the cracker tin by mistake?

And like the other Splendid Friends books, Suzanne fills Fox Forgets with luscious illustrations, full of rich color and fun details - but at the same time spare enough to invite a child's imagination to roam free.

Review copy provided by publisher.