Friday, December 16, 2016

Lost Socks, Tiny Toads, and Sleepy Bats

I want to share these before the holidays... because they're just plain fun to read.

Odd Socks
by Michelle Robinson; illus. by Rebecca Ashdown
32 pages; ages 3-6
Holiday House, 2016

If you've ever lost a favorite sock and spent hours or days searching for it, then this book is for you. Suki and Sosh are a sock couple - in human terms we'd call them a "pair". They have a good life playing in the park, on the beach, even drying on the clothesline.

"I love hanging out with you," says Sosh. At the end of the day they curl up together in the drawer. When Suki starts to unravel, her days are numbered - and one night she doesn't come back to the sock drawer. So Sosh sets out to find her.

Not only is this fun to read aloud - whoever thought a story could be told from a sock's point of view? - you might be inspired to gather unmatched socks and make some puppets.

Teeny Tiny Toady
by Jill Esbaum; illus. by Keika Yamaguchi
40 pages; ages 4-7
Sterling Children's Books, 2016

On a perfectly normal day, Teeny and her mom are minding their own business when, "Help!"
Mama is toad-napped and stuck inside a bucket. Teeny hops as fast as she can to get her brothers to help her. They are big and strong; surely they can rescue mama.

They try one thing, they try another... and then those great big toady brothers end up in the bucket with mama. Now it's up to Teeny, the tiniest toad of all, to figure out how to get them all out of that bucket. Fortunately, she is inspired by leaves swirling on the wind, and comes up with a plan!

Good Night, Bat! Good Morning, Squirrel!
by Paul Meisel
40 pages; ages 4-8
Boyds Mills Press, 2016

Bat needed a new home. There's no room in the barn (too crowded!) or in a hollow log (bats are too stinky, says skunk). Finally he finds a cozy home up in a tree - a clump of leaves with a small opening. There were even twigs he could hang from.

But when Squirrel wakes up she is not happy to find Bat. "This is my home," she says. But Bat isn't listening because he's fast asleep. Z-z-z-z-z-z. So Squirrel leaves a note. Bat misinterprets the note - and over the next few days Squirrel and Bat leave notes for each other. "Leave my house," writes Squirrel. OK, Bat thinks, and collects leaves to add to the house. Then he writes, "I leaved your house." It escalates until Squirrel tells Bat to get lost. And they each go their own way ... until they realize that they liked having a friend. A warm, satisfying ending that will make you wish you'd fixed a cuppa cocoa before reading this to your kid.

Review copies from the publishers.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Picture books you can sing

 Marianne Berkes has two more fun sing-along-while-you-read books. One features mother and baby animals found on the African Savanna: zebras, giraffes, hippopotamuses, lions, chimps, apes... and my favorite, meerkats.

The other features familiar barnyard animals: goats, cats, cows, horses, ducks and even owls. As in her other books, the text introduces the less familiar baby names - "kid" for goat, "poult" for turkey - and is structured as a counting book. There's also lots of action as the mothers and their babies gallop, swing, strut, stalk, yip, neigh... all things that the kids listening to the book will want to act out on their own.

What I love about these books is that at the end there's the music so you can sing along with the story ... which, if you grew up singing "Over in the meadow" you might do automatically.

There's also lots of "beyond the book" activities at the back of the book, including more information about each featured animal. Back matter in Over in the Grasslands includes a map of Africa showing where the animals live, a key to "hidden" animals (they show up in the book but you really have to take a second or third look to find them!), and some awesome tips from the illustrator, Jill Dubin, that might inspire you to try your own cut-paper art. More activities here.

Activities in Over on the Farm focus on math, science, language arts, music, movement, and art. Did you know you can grow a plant from the top of a carrot? There's also a section about food "from farm to table" with activities for making butter and "honey corn". More activities here.

Review copies from the publisher.




Friday, December 2, 2016

Two books celebrating snow!

Waiting for Snow
by Marsha Diane Arnold; illus. by Renata Liwska
32 pages; ages 4-7
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

themes: winter, friendship, humor

Hedgehog found Badger staring at the sky.
"What are you doing, Badger?"
"Waiting for snow..."

It's winter and not one single snowflake has fallen. Badger gets tired of waiting. He decides to wake up the sky. He tries dancing. He tries other things...

What I Like LOVE about this book: the illustrations that show some of the things badger and his friends do while waiting for snow: origami, scrabble... there are more, but I don't want to spoil the fun you'll have when you read this book.

Pizza-Pie Snowman
by Valeri Gorbachev
32 pages; ages 4 - 7
Holiday House, 2016

Pinky had a job to do for Mommy - to get a pizza with all their favorite toppings. He made a poem so he wouldn't forget...

Off he goes, through the snowy landscape to the Pizza shop. He doesn't stop when his friends try to entice him into a snowball fight. He doesn't stop when he gets covered with snow - in fact, he doesn't even notice. Because Pinky is on a mission.

What I like about this book: the humor! Pinky is so focused on remembering the list of toppings that he doesn't stop to investigate when he hears people talking about a walking snowman. He doesn't stop to find out about the talking snowman. Until later, after he's delivered the pizza to Mommy - then he wants to go see this wonderful, unusual sight.

Beyond the Books:

If you were waiting for snow, what kind of things would you do to wake up the sky? Would you sing a special snow song? Make noise to loosen up the clouds? Dance? Come up with some ideas for making it snow. Here's a video of the Northern Utes doing a snow dance.

Make up a game that you could play while waiting for snow.

Create a rhyme for things you have to remember. Like pizza toppings, or ingredients for cookies, or things you need to take to school, or....

Build a pizza pie snowman - if you've got snow. If you don't, then draw a picture of one. Or make one out of pizzas.... be creative!

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 copies provided by publishers.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Girl on a Plane

Girl on a Plane 
by Miriam Moss
288 pages, ages 12 & up
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

Fifteen-year old Anna is a "Forces" child. Her dad, in the army, has been stationed in Bahrain. Now, after spending summer vacation with her family, Anna is traveling back to her English boarding school.

The year is 1970 and hijackings have been in the news. Anna is worried that her plane might be hijacked, but her mom assures her that it hardly happens. At the gate, mom gives her one last hug, telling Anna to "stay safe". Anna walks across the tarmac to the waiting plane. It is 10:30 am and she's thinking of the seven-hour flight to London.

Anna's not the only kid on the plane; plenty of other military dependents are heading home to schools. The boy next to her is carrying his treasured terrapin in a tin. Another, older boy sits nearby. Mothers with children are heading home.

Then a man with a gun in his hand screams at everyone to sit down. The plane has hijacked by the Palestinian Liberation Front. They will land in Jordan, he says. On the "Revolutionary Airstrip" somewhere in the desert. They are hostages.

As noted on the cover, this book is based on the true story of a hijacking. Miriam Moss was a passenger on that plane, heading home to boarding school in the UK. But this is a work of fiction, she emphasizes in her notes at the back of the book. Yes! There is Back Matter! (you know I love back matter, especially in historical fiction novels). Moss writes about her search for the Revolutionary Airstrip and her journey back to Jordan to visit the site where she spent three hot days as a hostage. She also answers questions about which parts of the story are true, and which are fictional.

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter here. You can read more about the hijackings here and watch a video about the events here. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Flip the Bird & author interview

Flip the Bird
by Kym Brunner
368 pages; ages 12 & up
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

Mercer Buddie wants two things in life: a girlfriend, and the chance to show his father that he is serious about becoming an apprentice falconer. But on the day he and his master-falconer dad set out to capture a juvenile Red-tailed hawk, 14-year old Mercer screws up. He had one job to do: remember the mouse.

Time is ticking as they stop by a pet store to get a replacement mouse - bait for the trap that will humanely snare the hawk (and allow the mouse to be released into the woods). Will the hawk still be there when Mercer and his dad and brother arrive? And how long does it take to buy a mouse anyway? Turns out - when the girl of your dreams is in the pet store - it can take too long.

Mercer's dad is a demanding falcon master. He also runs a wildlife rehabilitation center, and is constantly impressing upon Mercer the need to do things correctly, so he doesn't lose his license (and livelihood). Mercer's older brother is working his way toward master-level. And the girl of his dreams? She's a member of HALT - a fanatical animal rights group that opposes mistreatment of animals including keeping hawks in cages. Shades of Romeo and Juliet...

Mercer tries to keep his hawk (named Flip) and his dad's rehabilitation center secret, but eventually the two worlds collide. When HALT members vandalize the center and release the birds, Mercer realizes he needs to take responsibility and do what's right.

I love the tidbits of falconry history and lore scattered throughout the book - like that people have been hunting with falcons since 2,000 BC! I loved the description of the mews, and crafting the hoods and leashes, and the training that Mercer and Flip shared.
So I just had to ask author, Kym Brunner Three Questions:

Sally: What inspired this story?

Kym: I went to a dinner show at Medieval Times, and near the end they had a falconry demonstration. I remember thinking, Wow! I never knew you could train a hawk to fly around and come back to you on command! I came up with the idea of a time-travel story of a modern kid going back into medieval times - and then found out I'd have to do a ton of research for medieval times AND for falconry. Eeek! So.... I decided to write a contemporary story about falconry.

Sally: You have so much authenticity in the story. What kind of research did you do?

Kym: I knew I wanted a story that revolved around falconry, but wasn't sure what the plot would be. So I took falconry lessons - six or more seven-hour apprentice lessons at SOAR (Save Our American Raptors). The master falconer told us a story about how they were once scheduled to do a demonstration at a forest preserve and animals rights demonstrators showed up. They made so much noise that the falconers had to cancel the event. When I asked about going on a hunt with a group of falconers, the SOAR leaders (George and Bernadette Richter) connected me to Troy, a falconer who lived in my neighborhood. Troy was extraordinarily helpful. He let me study his mews, and go on a couple hunts. Later, he read my manuscript to check for accuracy.

If I had one wish it would be that I could convey how dedicated falconers are to these majestic birds, and how fragile the relationship is between bird and prey. There are no guarantees; may the best bird - or prey - win.

Sally: I love the "Romeo/Juliet" aspect of the story. How did that evolve over the writing?

Kym: At first I thought about having a random group of protesters mess mess things up for Mercer and his family. But then a wonderful "what if..." question popped into my mind. What if, instead of being a random protester, the ones responsible for causing grief to Mercer's family business ended up being the parents of the girl he was hot for? The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a quandary that would be. I once dated a guy in high school who had a motorcycle - something my parents had forbidden me to ride. But this guy was cute and mysterious... so we met at the end of the block so my parents wouldn't know that he had a bike. I think being in love can override a lot of rational thought... and that's exactly the turmoil I hoped to portray in Flip the Bird.

If you'd like to learn more about falconry, here are two sites you might find interesting:

NY state regulations and a falconry exam study guide - check your own state for licensing regulations and examination requirements
the North American Falconers Association


Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Books for Goodnight Reading

I'm always on the lookout for some goodnight stories, and these new books are a perfect fit.
themes: bed time books, counting, families

A Number Slumber
by Suzanne Bloom
40 pages; ages 2-5
Boyds Mills Press, 2016

The soft textures of the illustrations in this reverse counting book feel so cozy - they just want to make you curl up with a cup of cocoa and pull on a fluffy quilt.

First lines: What do you do to get ready for bed?
Do you brush your teeth? Have a story read?

What I like about this book: Suzanne Bloom gives us the inside scoop on things other sleepyheads do before bed. In alliteration...."Ten terribly tired tigers tiptoe to their beds" ... and rhyme. "Nine normally nimble newts rest their sleepy heads."

What fun! I promise you will be yaw-aw-awning by the end of the book.

It is Not Time for Sleeping
by Lisa Graff; illus. by Lauren Castillo
40 pages; ages 4-7
Clarion Books, 2016

First lines: When I've munched and crunched my last three carrots (except for one I fed to Jasper), Mom takes my plate. "It's been a good day," she says.

What I like about this book: The kid is NOT ready to go to bed. First, dishes have to be washed. It is not time for sleeping.

Then it's time for a bath. Then pj's.... in a cumulative fashion the kid enumerates the things that must happen before it is time for sleeping.

Beyond the book:

Create some alliterative lines about sleepy-head animals that are ready to go to bed. Maybe cats, or teddy bears, or dogs, or sheep.... or unusual animals that live in your back yard or in the garden. Alliteration is when the words begin with the same sound.

What are the "things that have to happen" before you are ready for sleeping?

Read a goodnight story to your dog or cat, or maybe a grandparent.

Find some goodnight poems to say before bedtime. One favorite is Star light, star bright / First star I see tonight / I wish I may, I wish I might / Have the wish I wish tonight.

Today we're joining PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copies from publishers.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Littlest Bigfoot

The Littlest Bigfoot
by Jennifer Weiner
304 pages, ages 8-12
Aladdin, 2016

Twelve-year-old Alice doesn't fit it . She's big, ungainly, and her hair is wild and sproingy - no matter how many clips or scrunchies she uses to tame it.

Now she's been shipped her off to her eighth boarding school in as many years. This one's an experimental school in Upstate New York, a converted campground where hippies-turned-teachers refer to students as "learners" and school lunches are full of whole grains and kale. It is a place where everyone is accepted and their differences celebrated. At least that's what it says on the brochure.

Millie Maximus doesn't fit in. She is too small and her hair is too white and fine. Sometimes she wonders if she really is a Bigfoot - or Yare, as the clan call themselves. Millie loves to sing and her secret wish is that she will be discovered and sing on TV. She's insatiably curious about the "no furs" and wonders what her life would be like if she weren't so furry. Her curiosity drives her to steal a canoe and paddle across the lake, and her actions put her entire clan at risk.

Jeremy Bigelow doesn't fit it. A seventh-grader at Standish Middle School, he  is a nerd with single-minded passion: to find a Bigfoot. There are local legends about Bigfoot in the area, and years ago one was captured and put in a circus. When he is invited to join an underground group of Bigfoot hunters, his dreams come true: he discovers evidence that there are Bigfoot in the area. Now all he has to do is prove it!

This is a wonderful adventure about friendship and finding your place in the world. Check out a video and read an excerpt from Littlest Bigfoot here. 

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 the publisher.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Soldier Sister, Fly Home

Soldier Sister, Fly Home
by Nancy Bo Flood; illus. by Shonto Begay
144 pages; ages 10 & up
Charlesbridge, 2016

Tess and her sister, Gaby are close. So when Tess moves from the reservation school to Flagstaff to finish junior high, she looks forward to spending time with her sister who is enrolled in the local college. Tess is hoping that a track scholarship will help her get to college.

But things change. Gaby enlists and Tess misses her companionship. Gaby's best friend is killed in action right before Gaby is deployed to Iraq. Tess is trying to figure out how to live in two worlds: that of the mostly white school she attends, and back home with her Diné family. She is also left with Gaby's horse, Blue, who she promises to care for but is afraid of.

What I love about this book is the authentic writing. Nancy Bo Flood captures the sounds and smells of the desert: ravens whooshing overhead or "hunkered on limbs of a gnarly pinion tree like old men arguing politics." You can taste the air, feel the red sand in your shoes, and the heat of the desert sun beating down on your head.

I love how Nancy brings us into the Navajo culture, sharing traditions and language. How Tess and her Grandfather collect a lamb for Gaby's Protection Ceremony meal, and soothe it, singing, so the lamb is calm and peaceful when Grandfather picks up his knife.

I love how Nancy captures Tess, caught in two worlds. At school she is the "girl from the Rez" and accused of using "Navajo magic" to win at track. At home she is called an apple - red on the outside, white on the inside. An incident at the trading post makes Tess think more deeply about what it means to be a "real Indian", and where home is when you are half white, half Navajo.

I love that Nancy includes back matter: information about the Navajo language and a glossary of words used in the book, as well as an acknowledgement of Lori Piestewa , a member of Hopi who is remembered as the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat on foreign soil while serving in the military.

Beyond the book: 

Check out this lovely tribute to Lori Piestewa (and pay attention to the song that is being sung).

Writing about a culture other than your own isn't easy. Some people think that you shouldn't. Nancy shares her thoughts on writing about another culture on her blog.

You can learn more about culture, traditions, and beliefs of the Diné here. You'll also find links to Code talkers (like Tess's grandfather). For a lesson in how to say the colors in Navajo language, check out this video

 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 the publisher.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Scar, a Revolutionary War tale

Scar: a Revolutionary War Tale
by J. Albert Mann
144 pages; ages 9-12
Calkins Creek

It's a hot July day in upstate New York in 1779. Noah is alone in the woods, except for a young Mohawk. They both lie wounded, after a bloody battle.

At the age of 16, and despite his lame foot, Noah has taken on the work that would normally have fallen to his father. His father is gone - not to fight the British, but felled by disease. Then a Mohawk band storms their farm, burning everything. Noah and his family hide in the woods. When the villagers gather, they decide to track the Mohawks and fight, against the advice to wait for help to arrive from Washington's army.

Noah volunteers and is paired with a doctor. The march is hard; the battle worse and their unit wiped out. Wounded, Noah tries to find help. That's when he discovers the wounded Mohawk warrior, whom he names "Scar". Noah bandages him and provides water and comfort through the night.

Told in first person, the chapters alternate between July 22, the day of the Battle of Minisink, and earlier events leading to the battle. We discover that Noah has dreams of building a farm, and a girl to share those dreams with. This story brings to life a part of the Revolutionary War we don't hear much about and raises questions regarding what a hero is.

Back matter includes information about the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant and the battle, along with biographical sketches of main characters who are real people. A bibliography provides additional reading for curious young historians.

You can find more information about the battle at the Minisink Valley Historical Society.
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 the publisher.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs!

I love books about dinosaurs! The more the better - so I was ecstatic when two show up in my review basket.
themes: dinosaurs, imagination, adventure

Never Follow a Dinosaur
by Alex Latimer
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
Peachtree Publishers, 2016

One afternoon, Joe and his sister Sally spotted a strange set of footprints.

When Sally asks who made them, Joe is certain they are dinosaur footprints. The intrepid duo set out to follow them. They pass by the empty pet food dish. "It must be a very hungry dinosaur," said Sally.

What I like about this book: you can almost hear the scary music building in the background as Sally and Joe follow footprints that indicate a hungry, heavy dinosaur. They follow clues that lead them to think the dino has been dancing, swimming... and then they decide to build a trap. Then they learn that hungry dinosaurs should be left alone.

Author/illustrator Alex Latimer takes on dinosaurs in a fun way. You can see some of his artwork at his website, and read reviews of his previous books, Pig and Small and Lion vs Rabbit.

Dinosaurs in Disguise
by Stephen Krensky; illus. by Lynn Munsinger
32 pages; ages 4-7
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016 (out Nov. 1)

Most people believe that dinosaurs are long gone.
But not me.

The young narrator of this tale is certain that the dinosaurs that ruled the earth for millions of years could have survived the impact of an asteroid. They're not extinct, just smart enough to stay hidden - especially once humans emerged on the planet.

What I like about this book: the imaginative ways that dinosaurs could blend in to our modern world. "You can find them if you look hard enough," says the narrator - and he sees them everywhere, from traffic light supports to department store Santas. As he imagines dinos in the present era, he realizes that humans might have to clean up the place a bit before the dinos come out of hiding.

Beyond the books:

Cut out some dinosaur footprints and create a trail for a friend to follow. Here's one way, and here's another. Check out these dinosaur footprints found in Australia just last month! You could also cut some dinosaur footprints into a potato and make potato-print trails ... perhaps a birthday card or a treasure map where footprints lead to the treasure.

Find places dinosaurs might hide if they were in disguise. Are there places in your neighborhood? Could they be disguised as workers? Lamp posts? Draw a picture showing how you would hide if you were a dinosaur.

Make a picnic and invite a dinosaur along. If you are wondering what dinosaurs eat, check out Archimedes Notebook for ideas. 

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 copies provided by publishers.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Election Season "Must Read": Clayton Stone Facing Off

Clayton Stone, Facing Off
by Ena Jones
224 pages; ages 8 - 12
Holiday House, 2016

Just in time for this year's elections: a book of political intrigue, dirty tricks, and lacrosse. Thirteen-year-old Clayton Stone is busy prepping for the lacrosse play-offs. His school, Master's Academy, stands a chance - if they can beat Sydney Brown.

Then he's recruited to go undercover to protect the President's son. At Sydney Brown school. That means working his way onto the team so he can stay close to POTUS JR. And that means playing against his own team on the play-offs.

No sooner does he show up at Sydney Brown, than the school is put on lock down. It's a regular drill, but how's the new kid to know? Now he's on the "watch out for" list... and the President's son makes a point to avoid him.

Not only that, it's election season, and the students are voting for next year's student leaders. The school presidential debate is coming up (yes!) and someone is stealing voters. A plucky school reporter is hot on the story and wrangles Clayton into helping. The plot thickens when a senator's son (who is an overbearing bully) engages in dirty tricks and Clayton suspects the dastardly deeds at school extend all the way to Capital Hill.

As Clayton prepares for the lacrosse play-offs he tries to determine the end-game. A fun read - perfect for this season of debates. Check out this awesome interview with Ena Jones over at the Mixed Up Files.   

 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 the publisher.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Biographies of Strong Girls

I love stories about strong girls. Here are two that are true ~ one about a pilot, one about a baseball legend.

 theme: biography, nonfiction 

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and her flying machine
by Heather Lang; illus. by Raul Colon
40 pages; ages 5-8
Calkins Creek, 2016

Who can resist a story that begins, "The loop ... the spiral dive ... the dip of death!" coupled with the drawings of biplanes careening through the air.

 What I like about the book: Ruth is an independent woman with a dream: to fly her plane across the country. The year is 1916 and people say it can't be done by a woman. But if anyone can do it, Ruth can. She added gas tanks, installed metal guards to protect her legs from the frigid wind, and gathered her maps. Then one dark November morning she took off.

I like the occasional quotes from Ruth: "When your engine suddenly stops while you're 2,000 feet in the air, it's some comfort to know that if anything can be done, you can do it." I like that there's back matter: more about Ruth, a bibliography, resources, and source notes for the quotes.

Explore beyond the book with this video of Ruth Law in her flimsy flying machine.
Check out Ruth's "pilot story" from the Smithsonian's Postal Museum collection.


The Kid from Diamond Street: the extraordinary story of baseball legend Edith Houghton
by Audrey Vernick; illus. by Steven Salerno
40 pages; ages 4-7
Clarion Books, 2016

Edith Houghton used to say, "I guess I was born with a baseball in my hand," and if you'd seen little Edith playing in the 1920's, you'd probably have believed it. 

It didn't matter that there was no such thing as Little League - if there was a sandlot game going on anywhere near her house, she'd be in the middle of it. Edith was so good that she was playing professional baseball at the age of ten!

What I like about the book: It's a fun read of American history and a tale of women's professional baseball. Edith had to roll up the waistband of her Philadelphia Bobbies pants to make 'em fit, but she was passionate about the game. The book takes us on their trip to Japan (the principal agreed that Edith would get more out of this "field trip" than staying in her classes).

Go beyond the book and listen to an interview with Edith Houghton here.
And check out a wonderful photo and story about Edith in the Philadelphia Inquirer  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 copies provided by publishers.

Friday, September 23, 2016

In the Shadow of Liberty

In the Shadow of Liberty
by Kenneth C. Davis
304 pages; ages 10 - 14
Henry Holt, 2016

"Most of us learn something about the US presidents," writes Kenneth Davis. "But this book is about some people who are not so famous."

Davis introduces us to five enslaved people who lived with and worked for four famous founding fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson. These enslaved people were bought and paid for by the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the very same men who declared that all men are created equal and fought for their own freedom from another master, the king.

William "Billy" Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson witnessed extraordinary events in America's history. Because they were "owned" by men we consider great presidents, we know their names and part of their stories, says Davis. Because of their connections to these presidents, there are records about who they were and how they lived - records that help us understand what being enslaved meant in early America.

It is fitting that this book hits the shelves this week, as September 22, 1862 is the day that President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Under the War Powers act, Lincoln warned that he would order the freedom of all slaves in any state that did not end its rebellion against the Union by January first 1863.

Davis begins his history with a look at how slavery began, and the importation of slaves to the colonies. By 1700, he notes that enslaved people are being imported into Virginia at the rate of 1,000 per year. Each subsequent chapter focuses on the story of one enslaved person and his (or her) connection with a president.

Billy Lee was George Washington's valet, a personal manservant who attended Washington at home and on the battlefield. He was entrusted to deliver notes and letters, he rode in hunts, he accompanied Washington when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Davis points out that Washington, having seen black soldiers fight against the British, began to question slavery. "The contradiction between the ideals he had fought for and the enslavement of people like Billy Lee was now obvious," writes Davis. And yet, when Ona Judge escaped to find her freedom, Washington posted a reward for her return.

At the end of each chapter is a timeline of slavery in America. These points in history - British banning the slave trade (1804), Thomas Jefferson signing a ban on importing slaves (1807) put the personal stories into a national and international context. Historic photos, cartoons and illustrations from the archives add to our understanding of the history. I appreciate the chapter notes, bibliography, and index.

"The history we learn is often about dates, battles, famous speeches, and court decisions," writes Davis. "But in the end, history is not just about wars and constitutional amendments, facts we memorize. It is about people. This book tells the real story of real people—all of them born in slavery’s shackles—who were considered the property of some American heroes." You can read an excerpt from the book here.

On Monday  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, September 16, 2016

Seen from a Distance


Seen from a Distance, the Art of Monet
by Seon-hye Jang; illus. by Jae-seon Ahn
36 pages; ages 7-10
Big & Small (Lerner), 2016

theme: art, biography, creativity

opening: It would be hard to draw a magnificent garden like this in a small sketchbook, wouldn't it? That's why Monet often painted on a very large canvas.

Sometimes Monet painted on canvases bigger than himself. Claude Monet loved to paint nature - the shapes and colors and shadows. He tried to show the effects of sunlight in his paintings, a hallmark of the artists we call "Impressionists".

This book is a field trip into Monet's paintings. You see a small detail and try to guess what it is: a cloud? smoke? No, it's part of a dress, of reflection in a pond. It's illustrated with Monet's art, as well as some line drawings of the children trying to guess what they're looking at.

What I like about this book: It presents Monet's work in a different light - and it is fun to guess what that detail is. I like the back matter that explains Impressionists and the changing colors of light. There's a cool comparison of two paintings of water lilies. It's a fun way to learn about an artist and his art.

Beyond the book: Go on a Monet field trip to an art museum or to this online gallery of Claude Monet's works. Look at the details and the light.

Become a light detective. Find a landscape or scene that you enjoy looking at. It could be a pond with lily pads, a footbridge over a stream, a garden of sunflowers, or even a grouping of trees and rocks. One day when you have a few hours, go early in the morning and watch how the light changes from sunrise to noon. Or visit the place at different times of the day. Write down your observations about light and shadow. If you have a camera, take photos.

Choose a favorite Monet painting. Find crayons or colored pencils of the colors in the painting. Now go create your own piece of art with Monet's colors.

This book is one in the Stories of Art series. Check out the others at the Lerner website.

 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. This is National Arts in Education week. Check out the previous posts this week for arts activities and book reviews.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Playing around with Paper

What do tissue paper, old maps, and newspapers have in common? You can make art out of them.

Tissue paper is fun because you can layer one color on top of another, creating new shades. Remember to create background, and play around with various sizes and shapes of the tissue paper. Try cutting and tearing - what works best for you? And don't be timid about decorating your tissue paper. Check out how this artist decorates hers with markers before creating her collage.


Maps, newspapers, pages torn from old books and ancient encyclopedias create interesting backgrounds. Puzzle pieces and stamps add interest. Here's how one artist makes maps into art.

The cool thing about collage art is that materials are all around. Save tissue paper from gifts, and stamps from letters and post cards. You can pick up old encyclopedias and dictionaries - even music books - at library book sales and garage sales. For glue - just water down school glue a bit.

 This is National Arts in Education week. Check Sally's posts every day this week for arts activities and book reviews.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rain Fish


 Rain Fish
by Lois Ehlert
40 pages; ages 4-8
Beach Lane Books, 2016

When blue sky turns gray and it rains all day, sometimes rain fish come out and play.
They swim among discards and debris. Do you see them, too? Or is it just me?


I love the lyrical text that flows through the pages - and the wonderful fish recycled from things one might find on the ground: a ticket stub, bit of cardboard, twig, fallen leaf. A lost sock. A feather. A mix of natural and man-made things lost, then found. I also love the fun fish, the unexpected texture of orange peel and paper; the bright colors.


Earth Day craft
Now it's your turn. Collect things from your walks... and turn them into art. They don't have to be fish... you can make "found item" collages of flowers, trees, animals, bugs.


 This is National Arts in Education week. Check Sally's posts every day this week for arts activities and book reviews. Review F&G provided by publisher.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Experiment with Watercolors

Grab some watercolor paints, a couple of brushes, some watercolor paper, and play around with art.

Add Salt: When the paint is still wet (but not puddles), sprinkle salt on the area. It's easiest to do this one section at a time, while the paint is still wet. When the painting is completely dry, gently rub the salt from the surface of the painting. It adds texture to skies, water... wherever you want some texture.

How does it work? The salt prevents the paper from absorbing the pigment, so depending on how big the crystals are, or how much you use, you can get different textures. Here's a fun video showing the process.

Add Plastic: Wet your paper with a brush (or clean sponge). Using a wet brush and some of your favorite colors (three is a good number) paint colors onto the area. Colors will spread, and where edges meet they'll mix. While the paper is still wet, place some plastic wrap over the painting. Make sure it has full contact with the paper. Wrinkles are good. If you don't have plastic wrap, use bubble wrap or waxed paper.

Let them dry overnight, and then peel off the plastic. (You can save the plastic for another painting) Here's a video showing the process (with acrylics) and a longer one showing a variety of plastic techniques.

 This is National Arts in Education week. Visit us tomorrow and every day this week for arts activities and book reviews.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Painting Pepette

Painting Pepette
by Linda R. Lodding; illus. by Claire Fletcher
40 pages; ages 4-8
Little Bee Books, 2016

Josette takes her rabbit, Pepette  everywhere. So it makes sense that, when Josette realizes that there is no formal portrait of Pepette in the parlor, they need to set off to Montmartre.

That is where the best artists set up their easels.

And that's where Josette meets Dali, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall - though they aren't named in the story (an astute observer will see them on the front end papers). There are great scenes where the artists paint the Pepette they see - with three ears, flying through the air, pink ( “through art we can see the world any way we want," says Matisse). But none of them capture the Pepette that Josette knows. So when they get home, Josette pulls out her own collection of art supplies and gets to work.

The watercolor illustrations are subdued, and have the feel of a book from an earlier time, like "Madeline" books. Together, text and illustrations offer a sweet story, and maybe some inspiration for a youngster to paint a portrait of his own favorite bunny. Or dragon.

Beyond the book: Look at images of paintings by Dali, Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall - you can find galleries of their works online, and in library books.

Paint a portrait of your favorite stuffed animal or pet.

This is National Arts in Education week. Visit us tomorrow and every day this week for arts activities and book reviews. Review copy provided by publisher.







Friday, September 9, 2016

Dorothea's Eyes

Dorothea's Eyes
by Barb Rosenstock; illus. by Gerard DuBois
40 pages; ages 8-12
Calkins Creek (Boyd's Mills), 2016

theme: imagination, nonfiction, history

Dorothea opens her grey-green eyes.
   They are special eyes.
       They see what others miss...

So begins a biography of one of my favorite photographers, Dorothea Lange. Before she ever owned a camera she knew she wanted to be a photographer - even though girls weren't supposed to be photographers. Even though it was hard for her to walk. She skips school to wander around the city, peering into crowded tenements, seeing with her eyes and her heart how people live - "happy and sad mixed together".

What I like about this book: It is about Dorothea! I like how Barb Rosenstock shows Dorothea growing into a photographer. And how her childhood - and her heart - drew her to take photographs of poor people, immigrants, migrant farmers... the invisible people in our society. I like that Dorothea's story can inspire young people to follow their dreams. Most of all, I like that "Dorothea's eyes help us see with our hearts."

Beyond the book: Check out the book trailer at Barb Rosenstock's website. You can also download an Educator's Guide.

Tour this gallery of Dorothea's photographs.

Take a camera on a field trip. Look at the everyday people in your town like Dorothea would - try to see with your heart. What photos do you come home with? 

Next week is National Arts in Education week. Every day next week I'll have art activities or a book review for you. Drop by and join us.
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. On Monday  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, September 2, 2016

Ada Twist, Scientist

Ada Twist, Scientist
by Andrea Beaty; illus. by David Roberts
32 pages; ages 5-7
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016


themes: imagination, curiosity

 opening lines:

ADA MARIE! ADA MARIE!
Said not a word till the day she turned three. 
She bounced in her crib and looked all around,
observing the world but not making a sound.

Ada Marie is curious about everything, and explores ways to answer her questions - which is exactly what scientists do. She does some research, comes up with a hypothesis, then conducts tests. Some are successful. Some land her in the "thinking chair". How do you know that you can't get an odor off the cat by drying it until you've tested it in the dryer?

What I like about this book: I love her name, inspired by two great women in science: Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie. I love that her first word was "why?" and that she tries things and fails - the sure mark of a curious scientist. And I really love the questions she comes up with. When she smells a horrible stench she asks, "How does a nose know there's something to smell?" I love that her parents support her quest of sorting fiction from fact, and their solution to writing on the walls.

The illustrations are fun, from the cover art to the end pages (graph paper, of course) to the fails and flops and explosions Ada Marie generates.

Beyond the Book: For a quick introduction, check out the book trailer.

Experiment like Ada Twist. In the book, Ada uses soda, mint Mentos, and food coloring to see what happens. A suggestion (having done this myself) - make a paper tube to hold the mentos and a cardboard slider that you can move so they all go in at once. Then move back cuz it will get messy!
It's fun to make the geysers, but turn it into a real experiment by testing how variables affect the geysers. Try different sodas (diet v. non diet, cola v. ginger ale), soda temperature (warm, cold), "freshness" (new bottle v. one opened hours ago). Here's a video that explains the mento reaction with diet soda.

Do some of the activity sheets over at Abrams books.There's also a teaching guide available for download.

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. And although this isn't your typical "science book, Sally's sharing it with the folks over at the STEM Friday roundupReview copy provided by the publisher. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Little Cat's Luck

Little Cat's Luck
by Marion Dane Bauer; illus. by Jennifer A. Bell
224 pages; ages 8-12
S&S Books for Young Readers, 2016

Patches is an indoor cat, but when a golden leaf flutters and flitters and catches her attention, Patches must follow. She pushes her way through a window screen and out into the big, wide world. Not only is she curious about the leaf, but she is on a mission. Patches us looking for a special place.
She doesn't know what it will look like, but she'll know it when she sees it.

This story is told in verse, using visual placement of words to "show" the story. For example, when a leaf disappears
                of
         peak   a
     the           red
Over                  roof

And then there's this, the beginning of chapter 7:
The problem with searching
for a special place
without knowing
where such a place might be --
or even what
it might look like
should you find it --
is that the search
can take a great deal
of time... 

Readers discover why Patches need a special place all of a sudden - and how she tamed the meanest dog in town - in this sweet, fun-to-read book.

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, August 19, 2016

Space Boy and the Space Pirate

Space Boy and the Space Pirate
by Dian Curtis Regan; illus by Robert Neubecker
40 pages; ages 5-10
Boyds Mills, 2016

Last year we met Space Boy when he blasted off to rescue a cat. Now he's off on another adventure - to rescue his cousin, Sasha, who's been kidnapped by a space pirate.

"Wake up!" he yells to his trusty crew, and they blast off, headed to Planet Zorg. Where they find the evil space pirate who is forcing Sasha to ... play dolls? Space Boy tries to negotiate a hostage release but the pirate steals his space ship, leaving him stranded. Will he ever get back to earth? Will he be able to rescue his cousin? Will he be late for dinner?

This adventure story, accompanied by comic book-style artwork, celebrates the power of pretend play. You may want to have some extra boxes hanging around in case your young space cadet decides to build a ship of her own.

Check out the space-related activities here. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Nadia ~ The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still

 This is a perfect book for the season, especially if you have a gymnastics-crazy kid who cartwheels down the hall.

Nadia ~ The girl who couldn't sit still
by Karlin Gray; illus. by Christine Davenier
40 pages; ages 6-9
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Nadia Comaneci loved soccer, swimming, and climbing trees in the forests beyond her village of Onesti, Romania. "She didn't just climb the trees," writes Karlin Gray, "she swung from branch to branch until her family would call her home."

To find an outlet for all that energy, Nadia's mom signed her up for gymnastics classes. It would be great to just say ..."and the rest is history..." but that would ignore the years of hard work and learning that Nadia put into developing her skills on the bars and beam. It would ignore the falls and failures.

When she fell, Nadia picked herself up and brushed herself off and practiced some more until she perfected each move. Until she got first place in national competitions. Until she reached the Olympics in Montreal (1976). She whipped around the bars, balanced, flipped, and won the highest score ever - a perfect 10.

At the end of the competitions, Nadia took home five medals (three gold). Back home she did just what you'd expect a girl who couldn't sit still to do: keep on practicing.

On Monday  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, August 5, 2016

23 Minutes

23 Minutes
by Vivian Vande Velde
176 pages; ages 12 - 16
Boyds Mills, 2016

Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret power: she can travel back in time to relive events she wants to change. There are only a couple caveats: she can only travel back in time 23 minutes, and whenever she changes things it never ends well. Plus people think she's crazy.

So when she steps into a bank to get out of the rain - and finds herself in the middle of a robbery gone wrong - Zoe tries to help. By going back in time.

There are two things that I really like about this book: the consistency of this magical power; and that small changes have unexpected results. While Zoe has this talent/superpower, she's not sure what all the rules are. So when someone dies in the bank robbery, she thinks that maybe she can go back in time to save a life. On round two, she calls the police - only this time it ends up worse.

She tries again. And again. And each time some little thing results in a horrible ending. And then there's that third caveat: she has a limited number of attempts to try to get things right.

What I like about Zoe is her grit. She could give up - this is too much for a 15-year-old kid. Especially one as messed up as she is. She might be unlucky, but she's no coward.

Review copy provided by publisher.




Friday, July 29, 2016

Poems from the Farmer's Market

Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmer's Market
by Irene Latham; illus. by Mique Moriuchi
32 pages; ages 4-8
WordSong, 2016

What's round and smooth and red and "ripe like a summer moon"? If you guessed tomato, then you're right. And if you're eating juicy red tomatoes straight out of the garden - or fresh from the farmer's market - then you know there is nothing that says "summer" like tomato juice dripping down your chin.

Unless it's watermelon. Or peaches. Or blueberries or strawberries... or any of the fruits and vegetables featured in this book of fresh, right-off-the-vine poems.

The language is not only lyrical, it's mouthwatering. Take this ending of a bit about lettuce:
"Sometimes / I crunch / into a leaf
the very / same flavor / as rain."

Or the image of okra pods as "mouse-sized swords". Or the poem about shooting watermelon seeds... makes you want to grab some fresh watermelon and have a seed-spitting contest right now!

At the end are recipes from the farmer's market: salsa, fruit kebabs, fritata, pizza, ice cream. YUM!

The combination of yummy poems and bright, bold illustrations will tempt you to head out on an expedition to your local farmer's market. Make sure you take a notebook and some colored pencils along with your shopping bag, because you might want to jot down your own delicious poems and draw some pictures of the fruits and veggies you meet.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer I-Like-To-Reads

Got some just-getting-to-read-on-their-own kids looking for some summer reading? Here's two new books from Holiday House. These easy to read stories are are written in simple language that will appeal to newly independent readers.

 Drew the Screw
by Mattia Cerato
24 pages; ages 4-7

Drew's a simple guy. He lives in the workshop and hangs out with his friends: cross-cut saw, hammer, pliers. Each of them has a job. Pencil draws, tape measures. But what do you do? they all ask Drew.

Throughout the book, the boy is building something. We never see it until - finally! The boy gives Drew a job!

A Hole in the Wall
by Hans Wilhelm
32 pages; age 4-7

"A dog saw a hole in the wall. What was in it? Another dog!"

Dog can't wait to tell warthog and lion and all his other friends. They can't believe it. A hole in the wall with a dog? Of course, each animal has to go see for itself. But when warthog comes back, he reports that dog is wrong. There was no dog in the hole - it was a warthog!

If this tale sounds familiar, it is. Hans Wilhelm was inspired by "A Fable" written by Mark Twain. Wilhelm includes Twain's tale and adds his own moral about expectations, mirrors, and stories.

Review copies provided by publisher.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Garden of My Imaan

The Garden of my Imaan
by Farhana Zia
230 pages; ages 9-12
Peachtree publishers, 2016 (paper)

Aliya already struggles with trying to fit in. She wants to talk to the cute boy; she wants to stand up to the bully. That she's Muslim is just another part of her life - homework for Sunday school, deciding whether (or not) to fast during Ramadan.

And then a new girl moves into town. Marwa won't eat the chicken nuggets in the cafeteria because they're not halal. She fasts during Ramadan. She wears a hijab. And now Aliya has questions about herself. Like every coming-of-age story, Aliya wonders who she is, what she believes, and how she fits in.

Hijab: should she wear one? Her friends who do say that it's just part of who they are - like a zebra wearing stripes. But Aliya hears stories about name-calling and people ripping hijab off girls at a school and in the mall. Even without a head scarf strangers have yelled things at her: "go back to the desert"; "drive a camel".

What I like about this book: it has a great inter-generational scenes, especially when a grand-aunt visits. She is quite demanding and Aliya must give up her room so Aunt can sleep well. I also like that the story challenges assumptions about Muslims. And that Aliya finds a way to cultivate her growing faith (Imaan) through writing (a diary filled with letters to Allah). I also like the story about the Mango tree... which reminds us that if we want to see fruit we have to do more than toss a seed onto the ground. We have to cultivate the garden.

Review copy provided by publisher.



Friday, July 8, 2016

Rainy Day Reading

Rainstorms are part of summer. Sometimes they are gentle, pattering drops on the leaves and roof. Other times thunder crashes, lightning flashes, hail bounces. Here are a couple of books to read on a stormy day - one new, one old.
Safe in a Storm
by Steve Swinburne; illus. by Jennifer A. Bell
32 pages; ages 3-5
Cartwheel Books (Scholastic), 2016

This is a fun and imaginative good night story that is perfect for a rainy night. It features animal characters that comfort their young ones during a storm.

When the storm rumbles loudly and the sky turns to ink,
Snuggle close, my little mole. Touch noses, warm and pink.

Each spread features a different animal - duck, wolf, sloth - and each illustrated in their natural habitat. The other cool thing is that the storm becomes more intense as you move through the book, then fades as you reach the end. The last spread features a collie comforting her pup. Review copy provided by publisher.

When the Rain Falls
by Melissa Stewart; illus by Constance R. Bergum
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
Peachtree Publishers, 2008

Inside clouds, water droplets budge and bump, crash and clump. The drops grow larger and larger, heavier and heavier until they fall to the earth.

When it rains, most people run inside and wait for the storm to end. But where do the animals go? Melissa Stewart shows how birds stay dry, where mama fox and her kits take cover, and what bumblebees do when they're caught in a shower. She reveals the rainy day secrets of animals that live in forest and field, in luscious and lyrical language. From my bookshelf.