Friday, May 29, 2015

Cats & Dogs in Space

Two new books from Boyds Mills Press celebrate imagination with tales of cats and dogs in space. Not real space, and not real rockets - but the kind that kids can relate to.

themes: space, imagination, pets

Space Boy and his Sister Dog
by Dian Curtis Regan; illus by Robert Neubecker
32 pages; ages 3-7

"Niko lives on Planet Home with his dog, Tag, and his copilot, Radar."

He has his very own spaceship, a delightful construction of boxes, old tires, and a flower pot and every day he heads out on missions. One day he finds a flyer for a lost cat. Niko believes the cat is lost on the moon (did I say he is imaginative?) - and so they blast off.

But after landing, they discover a stowaway. His sister. She is NOT supposed to be there.

Does Niko find Mrs. Jarabaldi's cat? Does he really abandon his sister on the moon? And, more importantly, will they all make it back home in time for dinner?

Meanwhile, across town (or in some other state)...another pet of a different stripe gets into trouble her own adventure in....

No, No, Kitten
by Shelley Moore Thomas; illus by Lori Nichols
40 pages, ages 3-7

"Kitten wants a basket. Kitten wants a pillow. Kitten wants a blanket. Kitten wants..."

With a first page like that, you just know that whatever Kitten wants, it's going to end up being trouble. And when Kitten turns the fishbowl into a space helmet, you know you've got an out-of-this world adventure. But first, Kitten needs a spaceship. And a copilot (the puppy).

When they return from space, things settle down until Puppy wants.... a bowl, some kibble, a bone. Wait! What kind of bone is that! (oh no!) 

What I like about these books: They are fun to read. Niko doesn't really land on the moon, and Kitten doesn't really blast off in a shoebox spaceship. But they could - if you let your imagination run wild. And there's the fun. What could you do if you allow your imagination to run wild? And would it involve cats, dogs, siblings? 

Beyond the book: 

Build your own spaceship using things you find around the house. It could be small (like a shoebox or empty soda bottle) or large (like a refrigerator box or the space underneath the kitchen table). Don't forget a control panel. 

Dress like an astronaut. Make a helmet out of a plastic gallon milk jug, paper bag, or box covered with foil. Turn two large soda bottles into an oxygen tank and you're ready to blast off. 

Make some paper rockets that flutter in the wind. Instructions here. 

Make some glittery galaxy play dough. Instructions here. 

Build your own Space Mission with help from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab - choose the kind of mission you want to go on, create a rover, and blast off. Interactive game 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 BooksReview copies from the publisher.

Monday, May 25, 2015


by Jeffrey Ebbler
32 pages; ages 3-6
Holiday House, 2015

It's time to go to sleep. Yawn.

Click. With a pull of the chain, the lamp turns off and the room goes dark.

But wait! What's that? A noise? a drip, drop, dripping noise coming from somewhere down the hall. Maybe down the stairs.

It sure is hard to get to sleep with all that noise. Never fear because there's a hero on the loose. A hero who, with a tip, tap, click, click will find that leaky faucet and tighten it so the drip, drop, drip stops. Ah-h-h. Now we can roll over and...

But wait! What's that flap? Rustle? Creak? Never fear. Click is here.

What I love about this Nearly Wordless Book: Jeffrey's bold illustrations. And the bird-like lamp that goes wandering about the house, light shining from his belly to illuminate the way. This is just plain fun to read, and you'll never see your reading lamp in the same light again.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Clink ~ and illustrator interview

manufactured by Kelly Dipucchio and Matthew Myers
32 pages; ages 4-8
Balzer & Bray, 2011

theme: friendship, robots

opening:   As far as robots go, Clink has his fair share of problems. He was rusty (even his dust had rust). He was squeaky (even his creaks made squeaks). And a day didn't pass without something falling off.

Clink is an "old-school" robot. He doesn't make cookies, fix hair, or do the laundry. He burns toast... and nobody, it seems, wants a robot that burns toast. Except one boy for whom Clink is "just right".

What I like about this book: Clink is fun to read. He is a klutz and he needs more than cosmetic repair, but he's got a good robot heart. I love the kid who takes him home... we see him and Clink in the garage workshop, with notes tacked to the walls: "New Head Ideas for Clink" and "Radio stations Clink can play".

I also love the end pages; they are blueprints for a "Clink Domestic Automaton (patent no. 0169432-Z)". White drafting and notes on a blue background, with side views, front views, rear views.

I love the end pages so much that I just had to ask illustrator Matthew Myers about them. He was kind enough to answer Three Questions:

Sally: How did the blueprint-like end pages evolve?

Matthew: Since Clink was my first book, I had no idea what was possible. Donna Bray, our editor, asked if there was anything I wanted to do for end papers. "What are those?" I asked. Blueprints seemed like a natural choice, since I had illustrated the book by then and had supposed Clink was created in 1938 (see title page of the original packaging). The general notes are from the engineer - tips on how best to utilize the robot. I imagined a stoic engineer writing these notes in all earnestness.

Sally: What sort of research did you do for your illustrations?

Matthew: Robots are so much a part of my visual vocabulary that I didn't really need to do any research. I grew up in the 60s, and clunky robots were on TV all the time. I grew up with tools, so Milton's workshop is not a stretch for me. My dad was always building things, so of course I wanted to pound and saw and drill, too.

Sally: What sort of media did you use for your illustrations?

Matthew: I drew the blueprints with pen and then tidied up in Photoshop. All the others are oil paint on illustration board. I work larger than final illustration (about 120%) so when the art is reduced to fit the book it looks crisper. You can check out how I work over on my website,

Beyond the book: Check out the book trailer. Then have fun with these robot-related activities.

Draw a robot: If you love robots, draw a design for one. You could make a set of blueprints that show the systems and parts, or just draw (and paint) what your robot would look like. Make sure to include some user-tips from the engineer.

Make a Robot Suit: All you need is a large paper grocery bag, a box for a helmet, some buttons, bottle caps, and stuff to glue on, scissors, crayons and markers, duct tape (of course) and maybe some foil. Get ideas for a paper bag vest here, and robot helmet here.

Make a Balancing Robot out of cardstock. You can download a free printable design. Then color, cut out, and add some pennies for weights. Balance your robot on your finger, your nose, the tip of a pencil, a clothesline...

Make a Mini-Robot out of stuff from the junk drawer. This is for kids (and parents) who like to mess around with batteries, motors... directions and inspiration 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 BooksReview copy from the library.

Monday, May 18, 2015

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall
by Julie Dannenberg; illus. by Jamie Hogan
32 pages; ages 4-8
Charlesbridge, 2015

You don't go to Yosemite without hearing about John Muir. You can't grow up in the western US without hearing tales of this intrepid explorer and conservationist. And with 2016 being a celebratory year for National Parks, this is a fine time to explore some books about this early explorer.

From 1868 to 1871, Muir lived in Yosemite Valley where he ran a small lumber mill. What I like about this book is Julie Dannenberg's description of that waterfall:
       careening wildly over the side of the mountain."

The beauty of this waterfall lures Muir, and so one night in early April he decides to explore it. Here is the delicious description of his journey:
"He climbs up, over loose and slippery gravel beds.... He is so close to the waterfall that the mist brushes his face..."

But that is not close enough. No, Muir decides he must climb up a ledge and behind the falls. And now it is a foaming, thundering waterfall on one side, hard granite on the other: a John Muir sandwich that nearly ends in disaster. But it doesn't, and Muir writes about his adventure.

I love that there is back matter: a couple pages about John Muir and Yosemite, some resources and books for curious naturalists, and a few citations for those who want to know where the author pulled her Muir quotes.

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, May 8, 2015

Toad Weather

Toad Weather
by Sandra Markle; illus. by Thomas Gonzalez
32 pages; ages 4-8
Peachtree, 2015

OK, I'll admit it... I chose this book by the cover. I mean, how can anyone resist those boots? Or a toad?

theme: animals, nature
In the gloomy gray
of a March day
 the spring rain keeps falling.

Ally wants to go outside but it's wet out there. Umbrella and boot weather. But Mama has seen something important, so off they go, splish-splashing their way down the city sidewalks. There are reflections in the puddles, colors swirling on the water, and the sound of raindrops drumming on their slickers. And a surprise: a sign that says TOAD DETOUR.

What I like about this book:
Lots of sounds. Lots of rain. And TOADS! Everywhere! Hopping, plopping, trying to make their way to their pond. Which means crossing the road. Will people help them? 

Beyond the book:

What kind of toads (or frogs) live around you? I always find American Toads in my garden, hiding in the shade. Sometimes in the lawn. Take a field guide with you and see who's living in your neighborhood.

How far do toads travel in a single hop? Not far. If you have some toads hanging around your yard, you can measure how far they hop by placing stones or sticks on the ground. Then get a ruler to measure. Compare toad jumps to the jumps of frogs or grasshoppers or crickets - or even you. But to make it fair, compare jump distance to body size.

Is a toad a frog? And how can you tell? (some hints here)

Go on a night walk. Around here, spring peepers can get pretty noisy late in the day. Once the sun falls the night can be positively noisy with frog and toad songs. Here are some of the calls you might hear of you go for a night walk or leave your windows open at night.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining 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, May 4, 2015

Like a River ~ Civil War fiction

Like A River
by Kathy Cannon Wiechman
336 pages; ages 9 &up
Calkins Creek, 2015

Fifteen-year-old Leander Jordan's life is full of chores, with a bit of fishing when he can manage, and spending time with a girl he's sweet on. But when he decides to up and join the Union Army, his life changes. He lies about his age, but the guys in the unit can tell he's on the young side. They call him "mama's boy" and tease him about his youthful stature and looks. And when he's wounded in his first battle it isn't even a Rebel bullet what gets him.

Paul Settles heads to war for different reasons, crossing paths with Leander in the army hospital Leander. Paul writes letters home for wounded soldiers who can't write. Paul brings them water. But like Leander, Paul has a secret. And when Leander discovers it, Paul knows it's time to light out for a new unit.

And then there's Given McGlade, who meets up with Paul at the infamous Andersonville prison. These three characters have so much life in them that you forget they aren't real people. That's OK, though, because their experiences were real - to hundreds of people in the 1860s. The starvation and deprivations of Andersonville were real. The sutlers - peddlers that sold food and supplies - to the imprisoned troops were real. The southern mansions-turned-hospitals were real. Attempted escapes and forced marches were real.

Finally, when the POWs were released, many boarded the Sultana to ride the Mississippi north, to home. Wiechman includes that real maritime disaster as well. It's amazing that people made it home from that war. But they did and they had stories to tell - some with endearing endings, like this book.

You can find out more about author Kathy C. Wiechman at her website, and read Kirby Larson's interview with her here.

 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, May 1, 2015

Spectacular Spots ~ blog tour

Spectacular Spots
by Susan Stockdale
32 pages; ages 4-8
Peachtree Publisher, 2015

theme: nonfiction, animals

Spots on creatures all around,
way up high and on the ground.

In simple and engaging rhyming text, Susan Stockdale explores where - in the animal world - we can find spots.

What I like: the action words. There are gliding snails, swimming turtles, crawling crabs and charging cheetahs. This is a fun book to read just for the language. I also love the illustrations... my favorites are the sea slugs and the spotted owls that you see on the cover.

I also like the back matter. There are two pages filled with additional information about the animals she includes, plus a "Find the Spot" challenge.

Beyond the book: Check out these blog-tour stops. At the Peachtree blog, Susan talks about her illustration process. And over at the Uncommon Corps Susan talks more about the research she does for her illustrations, and gives more examples of her process.

See Spot. Go on a Spot hike. Look for animals (birds, insects, pets) with spots and dots.

See Spot run. Write a list of action words to describe how animals with spots move.

See Spot count. Do you have any spots (freckles)? How many? Do you have a pet with spots? Try to count them.

See Spot paint. Draw or paint a portrait of your favorite spotted animal. OR make a mask out of a paper grocery bag. OR paint your face with spots.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining 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.