Monday, December 28, 2015

A Friend for Lakota

 A Friend for Lakota: The incredible true story of a wolf who braved bullying
by Jim & Jamie Dutcher
48 pages; ages 4-8
National Geographic Children's Books, 2015

"Spring blooms over the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. Wildflowers splash patches of bright colors across the meadows. And a young wolf pup, Lakota, rolls in the fresh green grass."

Lakota spends his days roaming the forest and meadows with his brother, Kamots. But where Kamots is fearless, Lakota is timid. A year later new wolves join the brothers, and they form a pack. As with all wolf packs, every member has a place. Some are leaders, some trouble-makers. Lakota's job is to help everyone play. But his low position in the pack makes him a target for aggression (bullying).

Fortunately, Lakota has a friend who won't let the others tease and bully. And that makes all the difference in how Lakota develops into the compassionate adult he is today.

Back matter includes a map and facts about gray wolves. The authors also write about their life living with the wolves, and include lots of resources for curious kids who want to learn more about wolves.

 Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Lucky Litter

The Lucky Litter: Wolf Pups Rescued from Wildfire
by Jenifer Keats Curtis; photos by John Gomes
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale, 2015

When a huge wildfire engulfed the Funny River in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, firefighters expected smoke and soot. The last thing they expected was to rescue a family of wolf pups. But sure enough, there they were - five fuzzy blue-eyed pups... and no tracks near the den. These pups were on their own.

The pups were covered in dirt, prickly with porcupine quills, and in desperate need of food and water. So medics used syringes to give each pup a drink, then flew them to the Alaska Zoo. This story follows the keepers who fed and cleaned the pups, played games with them, and helped each one find his or her place in the pack.

Back matter highlights the importance of wolves as a keystone species (animals that help hold an ecosystem in balance). There's also information on wildfires and some activities related to the book.

Come back next week for another book about wolves growing up.
Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Animal Groups

Animal Groups
by Jill Esbaum; photos by Frans Lanting
32 pages; ages 5-8
National Geographic Children's Books

If you're hanging out at the Arctic you might notice a colony of Atlantic Puffins, or perhaps a celebration of polar bears. If you're in Africa you might come across a cackle of hyenas or scare up a zeal of zebras.

No matter where you are, if you come across a group of animals there's likely a collective noun to describe them. Jill Esbaum describes ten animal groups, sharing secrets of their family life. Each page features gorgeous photos plus extra facts in "Did You Know" boxes. Did you know that zebras help to keep their friends looking sharp?

Back matter includes additional animal facts, a list of names of other animal groups, and a map showing where the photos were taken.

This year sure has been the year for books on collective nouns for animals. Check out these other books, here and here.

If YOU were in charge of making up names for groups of things, what would you call a group of puppies? A group of kittens? A group of flies? A group of kids at school? A group of books about animal groups?

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy from publisher.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation
by Peggy Thomas; illus by Stacy Innerst
48 pages; ages 9-12
Calkins Creek, 2015

"Thomas Jefferson loved to grow things," begins Peggy Thomas. He grew potatoes and peppers, pippins and peaches and peas. "Throughout his lifetime, he scattered seeds, like a brisk wind, around the world."

He even helped grow the nation, writing the Declaration of Independence. But there was one thing that bothered Jefferson: a French naturalist wrote that wildlife in the new country was small and weak.

So Jefferson set out to prove him wrong. He wanted to introduce Europeans to American wildlife and crops - and he got the chance to do that when Congress appointed him "minister plenipotentiary" to France. There, in his garden he planted corn and watermelons, and he passed out persimmon plants and sumac seeds to friends.

This is a delightful look at Jefferson's agricultural explorations and his attempts to "grow" a nation from the soil on up. Back matter includes discussion about the Founding Fathers' struggle over a vision for this new nation: one of agriculture and farmers? or one of merchants and industry?

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding & Author Interview

Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding 
by Linda Liukas
112 pages; ages 4-8
Feiwel & Friends, 2015

Imagine a picture book with chapters, combined with an activity book, all with the focus of inspiring young children to play around with tools of computer programming. At the core of this book is the philosophy that play is integral to learning, and that coding is a way to express yourself through play - like crayons or LEGO blocks.

This is no coding guide. Instead, Hello Ruby introduces fundamentals of the kind of thinking that kid coders need: how to break big problems into small problems; how to look for patterns; and how to write step-by-step directions (useful not only in sharing recipes but also in telling a computer what to do).

Ruby, the character in this book, is a small girl with a huge imagination and lots of cool friends. She builds things using her imagination, and that sometimes means making maps, gathering information, and testing out different solutions to problems.

The second half of the book is a collection of activities designed for parents and children to explore together. This is where the actual “coding” comes in. For example, how would you instruct Ruby in making her bed? You see, coding is how you tell a computer what things to do, and what order to do them in. This back section is where you play with logic, meet Booleans, and decode a secret language. Perfect for cold winter afternoons! 

Nothing helps you learn about coding faster than trying it yourself. Head on over to Ruby's website to play some games... some of them require nothing more than a pencil and your imagination. And when you've finished there, check out the resources over at Archimedes Notebook. 

I wanted to know more about how Hello Ruby came about. Author Linda Liukas graciously answered Three Questions. 

Sally: How did you get started in computer programming? And what did you love about it that made you want to do it? 

Linda: I was 13 and madly in love with Al Gore, the then vice-president of US. I had all this teenage girl passion and energy and wanted to make a website for him in Finnish. At the time there was no Tumblr or Facebook, so the only way for me to express all my feelings was by learning HTML and CSS. This has probably influenced my later programming career: for me, coding has always been about creativity, expression and practical application. 

Our kids should learn to bend, join, break and combine code in a way it wasn't designed to - just as they would with crayons and paper or wood and tools. I want to show how coding can be as creative a tool as music or drawing or words. You create something out of nothing, with pure words and thought structures. Learning programming teaches you to look at the world in a different way. 

Sally: Why did you want to write "Hello Ruby" as a picture book? 

Linda: Such a huge part of our daily lives is spent in front of a screen. I believe there's a lot of value in parents and children exploring and interacting offline. That's why Hello Ruby is aimed for 5-7 year olds to be read together at bedtime with the parent, kids who don't necessarily read or write yet on their own. And there's a wealth of knowledge about computers and computing concepts we can teach to the little ones before even opening the terminal. 

Sally: Are there some games parents can play with really young kids before they get on computers? I'm thinking things like putting blocks into patterns (color & shape), but can you think of others? 

Linda: I think computing principles are everywhere around us, and the book familiarizes kids with fundamentals of programming, computational thinking and the attitudes that are important for any future programmer. These include things like the ability to decompose a problem, spot patterns, think algorithmically, debug problems and work together. My hypothesis is that when a kid learns to spot computational thinking in everyday situations, they’ll also be able to learn abstract programming languages more easily. 

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, December 4, 2015

An Inuksuk Means Welcome

An Inuksuk Means Welcome
by Mary Wallace
32 pages; ages 3 - 7
Owlkids Books, 2015

theme: friendship, multicultural, Arctic living

opening: For thousands of years, people living in the Arctic have built stone towers called inuksuit to guide them across this land of snow and ice.

An inuksut can mark a good place to fish or hunt, or how to get home. It can be a way to say "welcome".

What I like love about this book is that it's an actrostic. But instead of an acrostic poem written down the page, this acrostic flows across the pages of this book, from beginning to end. 

It begins,  I is for inuksuk, the stone messenger that stands at the top of the world.  The next spread shows how to pronounce the word and the Inuktitut characters.

 By the end of the book readers will have learned seven words from the Inuktitut language - words that give a sense of the traditions and customs of Inuit life in the arctic. Some words may sound familiar, like nanuq, the polar bear. Others, like umimmat (musk ox) less so.

Beyond the book:  Cold winter days are perfect for learning more about life in the north. Head outside when the wind is blowing, and snow flying. Then come in to warm up with some hot tea and bannock, a type of skillet bread. You can follow the recipe here.

Build your own Inuksuk. Find 6 - 10 stones with flat sides, so you can stack them. For help, watch this video. If you can't find stones, build one out of blocks or make some "stones" out of salt dough that you can let dry.

Make a Bone and Stick game. All you need is a stick (a pencil will do), a cardboard tube, some string, a hole punch and a pair of scissors. Follow directions in this video.

Make art. Check out these coloring pages - or draw your own pictures of arctic animals and inuksuit.

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 BooksReview copy from the publisher. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Devil's Dreamcatcher

The Devil's Dreamcatcher
by Donna Hosie
272 pages; ages 15 & up
Holiday House, 2015

This is the sequel to The Devil's Intern - which you may remember involved a lot of paper shuffling and a time turner. And a guy named Mitchell Johnson.

This time we're following Medusa Pallister, currently a trainee patisserie chef with aspirations to become an intern in Hell's accounting office. Because it would get her out of the kitchen. And because it would mean reporting to Septimus, the Devil's right-hand man - a former Roman general and pretty hot guy. Getting the job would also mean working with the other intern, Mitchell Johnson, someone she thinks she remembers from 1967... an apparition she thought was an angel.

She actually saw two more apparitions - they turn out to be Elinor and Alfarin, members of Team DEVIL. When Medusa becomes part of the team she thinks she'll finally get some answers. Instead, she gets big problems: the Devil's dreamcatcher has been stolen and the team must find it before his most horrific thoughts are loosed upon the world.

To do the job, they need to coordinate with Team ANGEL, from Up There. And they are not to be trusted. There are files to read and memorize, strategies to iron out, and the mission which seems impossible. There are also banshees, skin walkers, and unspeakables - plus death-defying feats and lots of complications.

Perfect for people who like the TV series "Dead like Me", Gina Damico's trilogy about young reapers: Croak, Scorch, and Rogue, and spy thrillers. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Dojo Daycare

Dojo Daytrip
by Chris Tougas
32 pages; ages 3-7
Owlkids Books, 2015

theme: adventure, bravery

The ninjas are going on a field trip!
"With Master leading, arm in arm, they leave the bus to tour the farm."

Living near a farm that hosts school field trips, I know that this is an exciting experience for kids. They can check out pumpkins, feed the goats... but what do ninjas do when they visit a farm?

Let me just say that lots of the spreads feature YIKES! and YEE-OW! Things that shouldn't happen do happen, involving chickens, scarecrows, a bull, and some crazy ninja stuff... Until their master is in peril and they must remember their ninja creed (always help) and rush to save him with ninja speed.

What I like about this book: It reminds us to pay attention and not forget the lessons we've learned. At the same time,  you just know these guys are going to get into all kinds of trouble. All I can say is: if you're going to hang out near the goats, make sure your pockets are zipped. Especially if your homework is folded up in there.

Beyond the book. Ninja were professional spies during the age of the samurai. You can learn about ninja history here. And you can learn more about Japanese history here.

If you want to learn the way of the ninja, you need to master the skills of walking silently, and camouflaging yourself using nature. This takes practice!

You also need to be able to run really fast and know how to disappear in a flash. Running is easy - just tie your sneakers and head outside and run every day. Eventually you'll get faster. Disappearing - not so easy.

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 BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match

Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match
by Karen Rostoker-Gruber & Rabbi Ron Issacs; illus. by CB Decker
32 pages; ages 4-7
Apples & Honey Press, 2015

With less than two weeks to Hanukkah, it's time to polish the menorah, lay in a supply of candles, find that yummy sweet potato latke recipe you used last year, rescue the dreidel from the goat ... and squeeze in some time to read a new story.

I love the way this one begins: Donkey's legs shook so hard he could barely stand. Tonight, on the second night of Hanukkah, Farmer Kobi had invited Polly to his farm for a date.

Farmer Kobi's farm is part of a moshav, a cooperative farming community in Israel. On this, the second day of Hanukkah, he is a bit late finishing up his chores and the animals are worried because Polly could show up any minute. Things are under control, though, because the sheep have checked on the baa-baa-ghanoush and it's ready.

Things seem to go well until Farmer Kobi heads to the kitchen, leaving Polly in the sitting room with his animals. She thinks they should be outside, not hanging around the dining room table. Things come to a head when Polly storms out, snapping that if she wanted to be with animals she'd go to the zoo.

She was definitely not the perfect match, the animals decide. Before they can feel too sorry for Farmer Kobi there's a knock on the door... Has Polly returned? Will Farmer Kobi meet his match? Will they get to eat the falafel balls and latkes before all the food gets cold?

Karen Rostoker-Gruber is pretty busy getting ready for the holidays at her home, but was gracious enough to answer Three Questions when I dropped in via email.

Sally: Why did you want to write this book?

Karen: I had written a story earlier called "Farmer Ted's Dinner Date" to follow my first book, Rooster Can't Cock-a-Doodle-Doo. For a number of reasons, it ended up on the back burner until I talked with my Rabbi, Ron Isaacs. He told me that there were a lot of Jewish values in the story, so I did a lot of thinking.

A lot of my family members live in Israel and some live on the most famous moshav there--The Nahalal Moshav.  There are no children's books about life on a moshav, so I contacted my cousins in Israel and asked them to send me photographs of the tractors that they drive, the houses that they live in, the clothes that they wear, animals that they have, and things that they keep in their pantry. Then I rewrote the book. The editors loved the story, but they wanted the date to take place during Hanukkah.

Sally: You really play around with language. Talk about the word play.

Karen: When my daughter was about 3 or so, I began the quest for the purr-fect puns for my characters. If I was working on a cat book, I'd look through the whole dictionary and list words like purr-fect, purr-fectionist. If it was a book with a cow, I’d jot down  moo-vies or moo-ve over. In "Farmer Kobi's Hanukkah Match," I needed puns for geese, goats, and donkey.  First I write the dialog as if people were talking, making sure that it flows easily and is not labored, then I stick in animal puns where I can. 

Sally: Favorite Hanukkah food?

Karen: My mother’s latkes. We have them every Hanukkah.  I used to help her make them, now my daughter helps her. Here’s what you need:
pound bag of Yukon gold potatoes (wash--don't peel them)
1 1/2 onions
3 eggs
1/4 cup matzo meal
1 tsp baking soda

Shred the potatoes. Then take 1/3 of all of the potato shreds and turn them into mush (a food processor works well).
Mix together the 2/3 shredded potatoes and the 1/3 mush with 3 eggs, 1/4 cup matzo meal, pepper to taste, and 1 tsp baking soda.
Put the oil in a frying pan and get it hot. Then use a tablespoon to measure out each latke, and fry until it’s brown it on both sides. Put latkes on a paper towel to drain.

You can find out more about Karen and her books at her websiteReview copy from the publisher.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Oscar Lives Next Door

Oscar Lives Next Door ~ A story inspired by Oscar Peterson's Childhood
by Bonnie Farmer; illus. by Marie Lafrance
32 pages; ages 4-8
Owlkids Books, 2015

theme: friendship; history; music

Opening: Daddy is a Pullman porter on the railway. He is dog-tired by the time he gets off the train at Windsor Station. "It's good to be home," he says softly as he lays his head on his pillow. But he doesn't fall asleep, because Oscar lives next door.

Oscar root-a-toot toots on his trumpet and daddy says, "We're moving!" But Millie and her family never do - and it's a good thing, because Oscar is her best friend. They do everything together, until Oscar gets sick. So sick that when he finally recovers his lungs aren't strong enough to blow on his trumpet. But he finds another way to make music and becomes a jazz legend.

What I like about this book: The author makes it clear in her notes that this is a work of fiction inspired by the story of jazz great Oscar Peterson. Millie is fictitious, and so are some of the antics she and Oscar get into. But the story of Oscars battle with tuberculosis and his music are all based on fact. Not only that but she presents the flavor of the period - the early 1900s - and the neighborhood of Montreal so well that you feel like you're there.

I love the way she uses sounds: bing bang bops and pitter patters and rolling thunder and neighing like horses...  and I like the feel of the illustrations. They're warm, welcoming, filled with life.

Beyond the book: Oscar Peterson died in 2007, but his music lives on. You can head out for a virtual "night on the town" -  Here's a recording from a 1964 performance in Denmark . Want to hear more? then head over here.

Jam Session for little ones: Join an online "jam session" game where you can add instruments to the mix.

Make your own instruments. Line up some bottles with different amounts of water in them and blow across the top, turn a bucket upside down and start drumming, or make your own didgeridoo. Or slide some jingle bells onto a ribbon, tie it around your ankle, and make music while you dance.

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 BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, November 16, 2015


by Diane C. Mullen
288 pages; ages 12 - 16
Charlesbridge, 2015

"I'm getting my tag up. all over my Minneapolis hood." Everyone notices the St. B, Liam thinks ~ even the empty walls wait to see what he has to say.

Fourteen-year-old Liam is, as he puts it, a kid who lets his Sharpie do the talking: on concrete benches, on the sides of dumpsters, on the plexiglass cases in the rail station. Liam feels most comfortable when he's tagging. Graffiti art is how he expresses himself and he dreams of painting something big, that will take up an entire wall.

But it's been a rough year. He's been kicked out of the private school (where he had a scholarship) and was threatened with a gun for painting graffiti over another gang's sign. Worried that he might turn out like his older brother, Liam's mom sends him to a small town in Michigan to live with her friend who is an art teacher and sculptor.

Liam loves the opportunity to do art, but he is unimpressed by the quiet small-town life. When he sprays his tag around Lakeshore, people are upset and Liam needs to make amends. He wants to be remembered as an artist - not some punk picked up by the police.

What I like about this book are the short chapters, written mostly in dialogue. It's written in prose but has the feel of a novel in verse. I also like that Mullen explores graffiti as an artistic form, and includes asides about Picasso and Basquiat (who I'd never heard of before reading this novel).

This is a great book for any kid who loves art, and maybe for art teachers as well. Review copy from the publisher.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tortoise and Hare's Amazing Race

Tortoise and Hare's Amazing Race
by Marianne Berkes; illus. by Cathy Morrison
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale books, 2015

Henry Hare was always bragging. "I can run faster than anybody..." and he wonders how Tortoise can ever get anywhere because she moves so slowly.

Tortoise says she plans ahead and stays on track, but Henry challenges her to a race. The finish line: the top of the hill, 1760 yards away - a mile.

Starting at 6 am the race is on. From there on, the race is measured in fractions of total distance, and also in feet. So the language of math becomes part of the tale. I don't need to tell you the ending because you already know it: slow and steady wins the race.

At the back are four pages of activities for creative minds: things to measure, using different measurement tools, an introduction to "greater than" and "less than" and a letter scramble puzzle.

Review copy from the publisher.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sounds of the Savanna

Sounds of the Savanna
by Terry C. Jennings; illus. by Phyllis Saroff
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale, 2015

 "Dawn kisses the grasslands of the savanna, A lion roars." So begins a day on the savanna. His roar carries through the early morning air, to a lake miles away where a lioness hears him and roars her reply.

As the sun rises, we glimpse elephants at the watering hole, vervet monkeys skittering through the tall grass, and baboons coming down from the rocky cliffs.

Mid-afternoon sun beats down on the savanna, baking the land and the animals living there. Author Terry Jennings paints a complex web of interactions within the landscape: predators and their prey, youngsters learning to hunt, parent and young ... all within the context of a day on the savanna.

Animals make sounds for a lot of reasons. If they are in danger, they might give an alarm call to alert others to danger or to bring help. Males make sounds to warn others "this is my territory", and babies make sounds when they are hungry. Since this book is all about sounds, Jennings includes four pages at the back that are full of explorations for curious minds: experiments with sound and vibration, a predator/prey sorting game, and more details about sounds that animals make.

Listen to sounds of the savanna here. And if you're looking for educational materials, check out these teaching activities from Arbordale. Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 6, 2015

One Day ... The End

One Day, The End ~ Short, Very Short, Shorter-than-Ever Stories
by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; illus by Fred Koehler
32 pages; ages 4-8
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

theme: imagination, adventure

opening: For every story there is a beginning and an end, but what happens in between makes all the difference.

Remember when you were a kid and you told silly stories like: One day I went for a walk. The End? Here is a book full of such stories... but with a difference: the stuff that goes in between One Day and The End is shown in illustrations.

For example, the first story starts: "One day... I went to school. I came home. The end." Less than a dozen words (go ahead and count 'em; I'll wait.). The artwork tells a much fuller tale: following a cat, racing to get to class before the bell rings, a lab experiment gone awry, an ice cream truck....

What I like LOVE about this book: It leaves so much room for storytelling and imagination, but provides a visual framework for that imagination to run wild. I like that it has the main character in each story doing things, and that there are other "characters": dog, cat, teachers, other kids, parents. I especially like the last story: "One day... I wanted to WRITE a BOOK. So I did. The End."

Beyond the Book: Really? You have to ask?

Write your own story. Get a huge piece of paper. At the top (or at one end) write "One Day". At the bottom (or at the other end) write "The End". Now fill in the middle with words or pictures. It's your story - you can tell it any way you want to.

Draw your own illustrations for the stories. Starting with "One day I went to school. I came home" - what sort of things would you draw to show this story? And do you have to stick to the truth or can you imagine silly things like Dr. Seuss did in his classic, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street?

Tell silly short, shorter-than-ever stories around the dinner table. Or around a campfire, or sitting on the sofa or before bedtime. That's how the author, Rebecca Dotlich got started. She was babysitting her young grandson and after a long and busy day he asked her to tell him a story. She was tired, so she said, "One day, I lost my dog. I found him. The end." That made him laugh and laugh - and ask for more.

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 BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Cupcake Queens

Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Cupcake Queens
by Christine Pakkala; illus. by Paul Hoppe
168 pages; ages 7-10
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

OK - you caught me! I'm trying to squeeze one more Halloween book in before I start thinking about turkey and pies - but with that pumpkin on the cover, who can blame me! Pumpkin pie is my all-time fav - and the only kind I ever make.

We met Lola last year, around Earth Day. She still ends up at the back of the line and gets called on last... all because her last name starts with Z. But in this new installment, we discover there is no problem so small that Lola can't make it bigger with a fib, a whopper, a "ball-face lie".

It's nearing Halloween and she and her friends are trying to decide on costumes. Usually, Lola's mom sews her up something cool, but this year mom is too busy sewing dresses to sell for her blossoming home business. So when a friends mom scores three cupcake queen costumes, it's awesome. Except - there are four friends. And when Lola gets caught in a lie, her friends start wondering just who can trust whom. Add to that a school play with lots of lines Lola is sure to forget, and the difficulty of admitting you're wrong, and you've got a recipe for a delightful book.

Today is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and we're hanging out with other MMGM bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.  Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Problem with NOT Being Scared of Kids

The Problem with NOT Being Scared of Kids
by Dan Richards; Illus. by Robert Neubecker
32 pages; ages 4-8
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

themes: friendship, fitting in

The problem with NOT being scared of kids is ... they don't want to hang out with us.

And that's a problem, especially for a monster who is tired of being "it" all the time and wants to have a friend. And things get really personal around the holidays - especially Halloween!

What I like about this book: it really hits the heart of what it means to want a friend. I particularly love the spread showing a group of monster buddies holding a study session with their books on how to make friends. And it shows the unbridled joy of meeting that one person who doesn't care what color you are, that you have tentacles instead of hands, or that your hair is always in your eyes.

Beyond the Book: There are so many fun books about monsters, and this is the perfect time to read a bunch. Check out The Monster Who Did My Math, The Monstore, and The Problem with Not Being Scared of Monsters - plus any other cool books you find at the library, like Where the Wild Things Are.

Be a Friend to someone who is new to your school or neighborhood. What do you need to do to "be a friend"? What do you do when you want to be friends with someone?

Make a friendship bracelet. All you need is some embroidery floss or crochet thread or thin yarn, and then follow these directions. Have fun!

Do something fun with your friends. Maybe rake leaves into a pile and jump in them. Or bake some cookies.

Make some monster masks and have a wild rumpus!

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 BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Freedom's Price ~ Blog Tour

Freedom's Price (Hidden Histories)
by Michaela MacColl & Rosemary Nichols
288 pages; ages 9-12
Calkins Creek, 2015

Freedom's Price is the second book in the Hidden Histories series, and it's every bit as good as the first. In this one, authors Michaela MaColl and Rosemary Nichols dive into the history of the Dred Scott decision and pre-Civil War America. It's a coming-of-age story about a young girl, and maybe a young nation as well.

Eleven-year-old Eliza Scott hates doing laundry. She wants more out of her life than to lug smelly shirts to the river's edge and scrub them... day after day after day. She's tired of being in limbo - not a slave, but not quite free. And she's really tired of living in the town jail wile waiting for the court to decide her family's status.

Her father, Dred, has sued for freedom, and until the court decides their fate, he and his family live in a gray zone. As long as they remain on this side of the river, in this town - they are safe... unless they're kidnapped and sold into slavery. But there are unscrupulous people... and Eliza learns that "almost free" isn't "free", and freedom is no guarantee that one will be accorded respect and civility.

What I like about this book are the questions it raises about race, society, and whether our society has progressed from those pre-Civil War times. I like the way the authors worked in the cholera epidemic and the St. Louis Great Fire of 1849. I also love that there is back matter about the Dred Scott decision. While the book is fictional, the story is true: Dred Scott did sue for freedom and won. That decision was overturned by the US Supreme Court - a decision that not only lit the fuse for the Civil War, but provided the underpinnings of the 14th Amendment: that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens. You can read more about Dred Scott here and here.

This book - this series - is a great way to sneak in history for kids who love stories but "hate" history. It's also a great way to slake the thirst of kids who love history but think they don't like fiction. If I had stars to give out, I would.

Today is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and we're hanging out with other MMGM bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.  Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, October 23, 2015

This ORQ. (he say "ugh!")

This ORQ. (he say "ugh"!)
by David Elliott; illus by Lori Nichols
40 pages; ages 4-7
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

This Orq.
He cave boy. 

You met him earlier this year. He still live in cave. He still carry club, not wear shoes. But this time Orq have problem: bully.

Bully name DORQ. Dorq big and hairy. And mean. Mom say (of course) ignore him and he go away. But that not work.

So Orq come up with plan. He fight back. He lose. Fighting back not work with bully. Orq get very angry. Angry enough to bash rocks. And Orq come up with something better than fighting. But me not give away secret - except to say it have something to do with bison burgers. And cave moms everywhere telling kids to be careful with rocks.

This book go well with nonfiction books about woolly mammoths and other ice age beasts. Also survival guides that teach you how to make bow drills or use flint and steel. Review copy from publisher.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Tower Of Giraffes

A Tower of Giraffes: Animals in Groups
by Anna Wright
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2015

What do you call a bunch of geese hanging out at the park next to the river? A gaggle, says Anna Wright. Animals can live in large social groups or small families, but no matter how many are in a group, each species lives in a unique social order.

She writes about their social lives in this book of collective nouns. Squirrels hang out in "scurries", and when danger threatens, they whistle out a warning to their buddies. They scurry away, and you realize that's how they got their name.

Wright collects a bunch of the best collective nouns (question: what do you call a bunch of collective nouns, anyway?). For example: a flamboyance of flamingos, a romp of otters, a parcel of penguins. I've learned that I have a mischief of mice in my basement, and the correct name for my friend's collection of hedgehogs is prickle.

The names are fun, and the tidbits about their social lives are cool - but what really drew me to this book are the illustrations. They are mixed media with fabric, feathers, wallpaper.... they are fun, fun, fun! Especially the sheep, who look like they are made from bits of sweater, and the peacocks with real peacock feathers.

So, what do you call a book that combines great science and imaginative art? STEAM. So go ahead. Pull out some field guides and your basket of scraps, and have fun creating your own artsy animals. And if you're looking for more collective nouns for animal groups, check out this post on Archimedes Notebook.

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Oscar and the Very Hungry Dragon

Oscar and the Very Hungry Dragon
by Ute Krause
40 pages; ages 4-8
North-South, 2010 (English translation)

I love tales of dragons, so I just had to read this one. Even if it has been on shelves for a few years.

The story begins before the title page...
"Imagine a very dangerous dragon. Like this." Only... five times as dangerous and wa-a-ay bigger... and now, once you've imagined it, you can turn the page.

Traditionally, every year, the people feed the Very Hungry Dragon a princess. But this year the kingdom is all out of princesses. So the people do what people in all sorts of books do: they hold a lottery.

Oscar's name is chosen, and he heads up the tall, tall mountain to the dragon's lair. But Oscar has no intention of becoming a meal. First, he tells the dragon that he's too small to eat, and needs fattening up to make a real meal. When the dragon wants to see if Oscar's getting plump, the kid borrows a trick from "Hansel & Gretel". Of course, fattening up means that Oscar needs to cook, so he writes out shopping lists for the dragon. I don't want to spoil the ending except to say it is FUN! and it reminds me a lot of Patricia Wreade's "Dealing With Dragons".

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Wolf~Birds

The Wolf~Birds
by Willow Dawson
40 pages; ages 5-8
Owlkids Books, 2015

Deep in the wild winter wood, two hungry ravens huddle together, waiting for their next meal. Running through the snow below, a pack of wolves chases their next meal.

This is a story of survival in the winter woods. Hunting is hard work, and the hunters come up empty-handed, and even lose a member of the pack in the process. But when the ravens and the wolves team up, they both feast.

The book is based on scientific data and anecdotal reports from Aboriginal hunters, and explores an ecological relationship that could be thousands of years old. After all, ravens are called "wolf birds" for a reason. Lyrical, spare text is paired with acrylic paintings to tell the story. What I like is that there is enough room within this tale for readers (and listeners) to ask their own questions: what happens to a predator injured during the hunt? What happens if they return home with no food? Why do some animals help others of a different species?

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bear Can Dance!

Bear Can Dance!
by Suzanne Bloom
40 pages; ages 3-7
Boyds Mills Press

theme: friendship, talents

I love Bear and Goose - they are "splendid friends indeed"... and this book includes their best buddy, Fox. And they're bound to have fun, if only Bear can figure out what it is he can do.

I wish I could fly?
Why, Bear?
So I could swoop and glide and feel the wind in my fur.

Bear can't fly, but Fox is certain that he could - if only he had the right equipment. And if he does the right moves. And with the help of his friends.

It turns out that Bear can fly - just not the way Goose and Fox imagined!

What I like LOVE about this book: I love the way Suzanne Bloom can tell a story using a combination of dialog-only text and wondrous illustrations. I love the creative ways Fox and Goose try to get Bear to fly. I love that Bear finds a way to fly with feet on the ground. And I love the endpapers where Goose and Fox are dancing the (what else?) Foxtrot....

Beyond the Book:
If you were going to teach Bear how to fly, what would you do? What does it take to fly? Can you get that whooshy feeling doing other things? When you're swinging, or sledding down a hill, do you feel like you're flying?

What animals fly? Birds fly, but there are other animals that fly about, or glide. Think about mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles, and insects. How do they flit/ fly/soar/glide through the air?

What is that funny suitcase-looking thing that Bear is playing music on? If you have one, listen to a recording. If not, see where you can find one: a museum? A thrift shop? Take a close look. How do they work? If you're not sure, read this.

Dance to some music. Can you swoop and glide like Bear? Does it almost feel like flying - but with your feet on the ground?  

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 BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Exploring Nitty Gritty Planet Earth with the Dirtmeister

Dirtmeister's Nitty Gritty Planet Earth
by Steve Tomecek
128 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Kids, 2015

If you want to know all about rocks, minerals, fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes - and even dirt - then dig into this book. Chapters begin with some cartoonish introductions and then delve into the science of.... our planet.

Steve Tomecek, aka "the Dirtmeister", is a geologist who studies the blood and guts - er, the strata - of the Earth. He begins at the most logical place: wa-a-ay back when the earth was nothing more than spinning dust.

To get a feel for how geologists "tell time", he takes us on a field trip down the Grand Canyon, where we can see layers and layers of sedimentary rock laid down over the eons, and explains how scientists use radioactive decay to determine the age of rocks. In addition to learning about the innards of the Earth we also learn about the bling: the minerals and gems and shiny metals that can be found within the crust. Plus the volcanoes and erosion and plate techtonics.

Scattered throughout the pages are "Dirtmeister nuggets - bits of info that add to our understanding of geology - and short bios of scientists who've studied the earth. Like the guy who discovered that the continents are not staying put, but are drifting about.

For teachers & homeschoolers, there's a page at the back that lists STEM science standards, and for everyone there's a handy index. (I love indexes!)

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 2, 2015

999 Frogs... and a Little Brother

999 Frogs and a Little Brother
by Ken Kimura; illus. by Yasunari Murakami
40 pages; ages 4-8
North/South Books, 2015

theme: friendship

It was spring. At the edge of the big big pond, 999 tadpole brothers were playing together.
999 tadpoles were doing well.
998 tadpoles sprouted legs.

So... when the other tadpoles use their froggy legs to frog-kick across the pond, one little tadpole is left behind. And when they use their skinny froggy arms to swim, that last little tadpole is left behind. And when they lose their tails and JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! out of the pond, the last little tadpole watches them go.

And then he hears a tiny voice calling "Big Brother!" It is a young crayfish, and the two of them form a strong amphibian-crustacean brother bond. Which lasts as long as it takes for mama crayfish to find her lost baby.

What I like about this book: The wonderfully simple illustrations of frogs. And crayfish. And the big bad snake. (Did I neglect to mention the snake? ooooh.... he's hungry and loves to eat frogs.) I like stories about unlikely heroes, and people (or frogs) pulling together to help save someone from certain death and ingestion. And it reminds me a whole lot about the story of people trying to pull a humongous turnip out of the garden. Plus 999 is a really big number.

Beyond the book: It's the wrong season to find tadpoles, but you just might find some frogs making a last-minute dash to a wintering spot. Snakes and crayfish will be settling in for winter, too - at least here in the northern hemisphere.

What sort of frogs live near you - and where do they go in the winter? We have wood frogs around these parts. They hibernate in the winter. Draw a picture of a frog that lives in your area.

Why don't frogs freeze in the winter? They turn into "frogcicles". Learn more here and here. How cold does it get where you live? Maybe you can put up an outdoor thermometer on your porch and write down the temperatures every day.

Listen to some frog songs. When the frogs stop calling, you can click here to listen to an hour of frog choruses.

Play Leap Frog with some friends.

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 BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Trouble with Ants

The Trouble with Ants (The Nora Notebooks #1)
by Claudia Mills; illus. by Katie Kath
176 pages; ages 7-10
Knopf, 2015

I love ants - so I could not wait to get my hands on this first in a new series by Claudia Mills. Because who can resist a story about a fourth-grade myrmecologist which features loose ants, a skunked dog, and that dreaded assignment to write a persuasive essay.

The book begins: "Nora Alpers woke up early on New Year's morning and reached for the handsome, leather-bound notebook she had gotten for Christmas." She could use it for a diary, suggests mother. She could write stories in it, suggests her sister. She could write poetry in it, suggests her brother.

But no - Nora plans to scribble interesting facts about ants. Right now, in fact, she's investigating whether ants dig faster in wet sand or dry sand.

I love that chapters end with ant colony observations. I love that random animal behavior facts show up in unlikely places - like how fourth-graders sort themselves into various groups in the cafeteria. And I love the details about making your own ant farm using ants from the back yard (don't do this with fire ants!). Mostly I love that author Mills doesn't shy away from complex language. She calls ant scientists by their name and figures that kids will figure their way through all five syllables.

Oh yeah - and there's a real story going on, too, in spite of the ants. But....will Nora submit a paper about her ant research to Nature? Will she solve the mystery of disappearing ants? And will she be able to convince her friends that ants are cool? Find out the answers to these questions and more in your very own copy of the book, because I'll be re-reading mine.

IF you've got some ants living around your neighborhood, try out these experiments I wrote up in an article for Ranger Rick back in 1998 called "Invite Ants to Lunch".

 Today is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and we're hanging out with other MMGM bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading. Review from ARC provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Vincent Paints his House

Vincent Paints His House
by Tedd Arnold
32 pages, ages 4-99
Holiday House, 2015

Another book I would choose by its cover!

theme: art, imagination

When the book opens it's time to paint the house. Problem is, Vincent can't decide what color to paint it.

"Maybe I will just paint it white," said Vincent.

..."Stop!" said the spider. "This is my house and I like red."

Vincent agrees that red is nice, but then caterpillar butts in and says it's his house and he likes yellow. Yellow is nice too... but animal after animal insist that the house be painted a different color. What's a post-impressionist Dutch painter to do?

What I like LOVE about this book: It's fun. Entertaining. Educational. I love that when Vincent says he'll "just paint the house white", the colors on his pallet include snow, ivory, titanium, and cream. Yellows include amber and ochre, reds everything from peach to cadmium, and blues include my favorite: cyan.

I love that he visualizes his newly painted house as part of one of his paintings, and that as he paints he gets blobs and drops of color on his shirt, jeans, beard.... And I really love the last page: an homage to Starry Night - but featuring his humble abode instead of the town.

And did I say I love the cover?

Beyond the Book :

Go on a color field trip. Head to a store that sells paints and look for the displays with paint color samples. It's fun to see how many colors of white they offer, or yellow, blue, green. Collect a rainbow (if you can). White isn't called "white" - it's oatmeal or eggwhite or cream. What cool names are there for colors? Then go on a field trip outside and see how many different shades and hues of each color you can find. You might want to take a camera.

Mix up some colors and paint your own house - but on paper. Draw a picture of your house and paint it. What color - or colors - would you choose? If you can't find the right color, mix up one of your own. Check out some historically painted homes, or  these houses

Learn about Vincent Van Gogh. You have probably seen his paintings in books - or even a museum. Check out this gallery of his paintings. And if you have a chance to look at one of his works, take a close look at his brush strokes and a distant look at how the colors come together. 

 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 BooksReview copy from the publisher.