Monday, December 23, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dear Santasaurus...

Dear Santasaurus
by Stacy McAnulty; illus by Jef Kaminsky
32 pages; ages 5 - 8
Boyds Mills Press

Is January 1 too early to start writing to Santasaurus? Not if you're Ernest B. Spinosaurus. Especially if you're Ernest B. Spinosaurus. Because - as much as he tries to be good - naughty just comes easier to Ernest. Like the time he gave his mom a box of chocolates... did she forgive him for the spider that was inside? And then there was that other incident... the one with the remote-control flying pterodactyl.

So, to make sure that Santasaurus knows he's trying to be nice, Ernest writes letters. Every month. He assures Santasaurus that he's being good. Those other things that happen? They weren't intentional. Really. Honest mistakes (in judgement). Forget about that glitter flue incident, says Ernest. And focus on the important thing: the Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. To prove that his nice behavior outweighs his naughty, Ernest includes a bar graph (something I never thought to include in my Santasaurus letters).

This is one fun book to read. Check out the book trailer below - it will have you laughing ho-ho-ho all the way to the kitchen, where those cookies for Santasaurus are waiting to be frosted.
Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, December 16, 2013


by Uri Shulevitz
32 pages; ages 3 - 8
Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 2013

One December day a boy and his grandfather go for a walk. "Winter," writes Uri Shulevitz. "Days are short. Nights are long."

The sun begins to set and grandfather says, "Dusk." It's time to head back home, so they walk back to the city. Along the way they meet a man looking for toys for his children. They meet a woman looking for tomatoes, potatoes, and food for her cat. They meet an alien who speaks in a language no one can understand: "...bedy funnye ikla zdat." (he's from the planet Zataplat)

As they walk into the night, lights come on one by one. It's only then that you realize: this is not just a quiet winter's eve tale. It's a holiday book! There are store windows to gaze into, children's parades, and street scenes galore that show a busy city getting ready to celebrate. Perfect for this time of year.
Review copy from publisher.

Friday, December 13, 2013

How to Eat Like a Bear

Eat Like a Bear
by April Pulley Sayre; illus. by Steve Jenkins
32 Pages; ages 4 - 8
Henry Holt & Co, 2013

The bears in our neck of the woods love to eat sunflower seeds and suet. They'll rip the covers off the honeybee hives, swipe the can of birdseed right off the porch, and have no qualms about riffling through the garbage cans for left over lo mein.

But that's not the way they eat in the natural world. April Pulley Sayre shows a year of seasonal bear meals, beginning in April when bears wake up hungry. What's for breakfast?
"Bushes? Bare. No berries there." So where will bear find food? Green stems growing above the snow; the carcass of a bison or deer that died in winter. In May it's dandelions, sedges, slugs and ants. In June it's trout... and July maybe some roots.

The brown bear wanders through the months, digging in, digging down with paw and claw. By fall it's time to fatten up and find a den before the snows come.

The illustrations - torn and cut paper - add texture... you can almost feel the shaggy fur of the brown bear. The back pages are filled with additional information about bears, the food they eat, hibernation, and scientists who study bears.

Today is STEM Friday - head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other people are talking about in science. But watch out for hungry bears! Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything
by J.J. Johnson
320 pages; ages 12 - 16
Peachtree Publishers, 2012

Oy! I have been carrying this book around in my bookbag far too long. Because I love it. Because it's a book that is honest. Because ... how can you resist a book with a pie chart on the back cover that claims "this book contains 20% snark, 9% bizarre coincidences, 3% random musings and 7% manual labor at a Christmas tree farm". I think that's the thing that got me to open the covers - the working at a Christmas tree farm. Because my kids have planted them, and trimmed them, and watched them grow (or, in other years, be eaten by deer).

This is a story of Sarah who lost her best friend, Jamie, in a freak accident. But that was a year ago and now it's time to get back to normal, right? After all, grieving is a process and there's seven steps and by the time a year's passed, one should be finished.

But not Sarah. Her grades are plummeting; her relationships have gone sour; her voice has been replaced by a "snark box". Until ... she reaches out to Jamie's twin brother who just might be the only person to really understand what she's lost. Sarah also finds answers while working on a Christmas tree farm... because sometimes, the best way to find your way back to yourself is through sweat and blisters.

The story itself is good enough reason to crack open this book. But what makes it fun are the Venn diagrams and line graphs and flow charts and bar graphs and timelines - they open up a different window through which to view relationships. Not to mention it gives you some ideas for the next time your math teacher tells you to graph something.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Waiting for Winter with Big Snow

Big Snow
by Jonathan Bean
32 pages; ages 3-6
Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 2013

If your kid can't wait to skate/ski/slide down the hill in the neighborhood park, you will appreciate Big Snow. Also if you live any place where schools have "snow days"...

Themes: seasons, family

The book opens with a wordless spread: a boy all dressed up in his parka and cap, pulling a plastic toboggan across the dried grass of his front lawn.
"Mom," said David, "when will it snow?" "I think soon," said Mom. "Why don't you help me make cookies while you wait."
David helps Mom make cookies... but the fine, white flour makes him think of snow. So he races outside to check the weather. Only a few flakes falling. He bugs Mom again: "Will it snow taller than the grass?" In response, Mom asks him to help clean the bathroom. But the bubbles and foam from the cleaner spray (he gets a little exuberant) make David think of snow, so he races outside to check the weather.

What I like about this book: the creative imagination of a child. Making a bed? White sheets over pillows make great ski slopes for your action figures... 

Beyond the Book: Why wait for snow when you can make your own snowflakes? All you need is white paper and scissors and a bit of imagination. Remember that snowflakes have six sides. Paper-folding directions and design ideas here.

Make an indoor igloo by draping a white sheet over a table or a couple of chairs. If it's still not snowing, make some snowmen out of marshmallows. You need large marshmallows, some frosting to "glue" them together, chow mein noodles for stick arms, and candy for decorating: tic-tacs, m&m's, cinnamon dots, chocolate chips, raisins...

You can make your own snow globe. You need: a small glass jar with a good lid that's leak-proof (baby food jars work well); glitter; small plastic items or figures to put in the jar; water; glycerin or mineral oil; and a hot glue gun. Glue the figures for the scene onto the lid of the jar & let it set. Then fill the jar 3/4 full with water (add a bit of glycerin if you want) and add a pinch or two of glitter. Screw on the lid and watch the snow fall. Hint: if your lid isn't leak-proof, use some pipe thread tape to line it.  Check out Archimedes Notebook for ideas on how to turn your snow globe into a science experiment.

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 provided by publisher.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hanukkah in Alaska

Hanukkah in Alaska
by Barbara Brown; illustrated by Stacey Schuett
32 pages; ages 4-8
Henry Holt & Co, 2013

Hanukkah in Alaska can sure be different. For one thing, you've got to watch out for moose - and the girl narrating this story tells us what to do when you live where moose live. You drive slowly, because they can really put a dent in your car. And if one comes by the playground when you're playing - hug a tree! A moose can't step on you if you're hugging a tree.

Now it's the last night of Hanukkah. Dad says, "Let's go outside." But that darn moose has been hanging around all week long, eating the tree. Still, dad says it's OK and they'll stay fa-a-ar away from the moose.

The girl pulls on her thermies and flannel shirt and sweater and snowpants and... finally they head outside. And there, up in the sky, a rainbow of light ribbons shimmering in the air. The northern lights - a Hanukkah Festival of Lights as only the far northern sky can provide. And when the moose interferes, the girl comes up with a special Hanukkah solution. This is a fun read-aloud that will make you want to bundle up and head outside to see what's in your Hanukkah night sky.

Advanced reader's copy provided by publisher.