Friday, July 3, 2020

Time for Summer Reading...

Perhaps I got a bit carried away last month... when the libraries were closed and I worried I would run out of books.

Plus I still have a bunch of books in my "to be reviewed" basket. So .... 

Sally’s Bookshelf is taking a break from book reviews to indulge in summer reading.

While Sally's gone ...

  • Check out your library's summer reading program. 
  • Grab some books for the next road trip.  
  • Build a fort (and read in it).
  • Read a good bug book - and then go find some bugs.
  • Write haiku in sidewalk chalk.
  • Learn to identify trees - then tie a hammock between a couple of them and read.
See you in August. Happy Book Adventures!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Dogs at Work and Play

Sally’s Bookshelf is Going To the Dogs – all month long. Today I’m sharing two spring releases from National Geographic Children’s Books.

theme: dogs, nonfiction

Doggy Defenders: Cadi the Farm Dog 
by Lisa M. Gerry; photographs by Lori Epstein
48 pages; ages 4 - 8

Cadi is a border collie. She lives on a farm with her family, the Bakers.

Like everyone else on the farm, Cadi has a job to do. Her job: take care of the cows. When she’s not herding cows, Cadi checks up on the other farm animals – the goats, ducks, chickens – and helps keep an eye on the vegetable garden.

What I like about this book: Cadi is much like our neighbor’s farm dog, Spencer. He “helps” with so many things, but his big job is making sure the chickens are safe. So I totally love seeing a book about farm dogs. I also like the back matter. One spread features a Q&A with Jessie Baker, the farmer and another is “Cadi’s Animal Care Tips” to help young readers learn how to be better friends with animals. This book is part of the Doggy Defenders series featuring Dolley the Fire Dog, Stella the Search Dog, Tiger the Police Dog, and Willow the Therapy Dog. I’m looking forward to more books in the series.

Just Joking Dogs 
by National Geographic Kids
208 pages; ages 8 - 12

The title says it all: it is page after belly-laugh page of dog jokes. Here’s a couple:

What kind of dog works in a library?
A hush puppy!

Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Pup who?
Pup-eroni pizza.

And there’s even a joke for our neighbor’s farm dog:
Why did the dog cross the road?
He was following the chickens.

Beyond the Books:

Make up your own dog joke or two. If you need help, ask a dog! If you don’t have a dog, ask your friend’s dog. A stuffed dog will do in a pinch.

Next time you’re out and about, pay attention to the kinds of dogs you see. You might see dogs playing Frisbee in a park, or taking their humans for a walk. Or you might see dogs on the job, such as a farm dog or service animal.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by Media Masters Publicity.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Sit. Stay. Read.

Sally’s Bookshelf is Going To the Dogs – all month long. So today I’m pulling one of my favorites – a great summer read that was published last August.

by Bobbie Pyron
304 pages; ages 8 - 12
Katherine Tegen Books, 2019

I am a Bobbie Pyron fan. What can I say? I love her dog stories and can never resist just one more… and this one hit close to home. Because that’s what it’s about, at its core: finding home.

Piper, who’s not-quite-twelve, and her family arrive in a new city by bus. The buildings are tall, sunlight fills the sky, and mountains in the distance nearly poke through the blue and into heaven. A new start, but when her family arrives at the address for Hope House, they find a hotel-like emergency center – and daddy has to live apart from them, in the men’s residence.

Baby is luckier – he gets to live with his person, Jewel, in a park. Every day presents a new chance to explore the city. They have a corner where Jewel sits, and some people give her money or food, and others yell at her to get a job. But always, they have each other and the park. Life is good, but something is not right with Jewel.

Using alternate points of view, Piper and Baby, Pyron dives into a tale of what family means. What friendship means. And what kids can do to make the world a better place, even when they don’t have a home to call their own.

What I like about this book: I love the sense of place. Bobbie sets the story in a place so real that you can find it on a map. And even though it’s been years since I lived there (and downtown landmarks have changed) I could visualize the paths she walked through the park and the corners where Jewel and her comrades fly their signs.

I love how real each character is. And, as a once and future Girl Scout, I really love that Piper gets involved with the “Firefly Girls” - and that their service project embraces finding a way to reconnect Jewel with Baby while raising awareness about mental health issues and homelessness.

If I gave out stars, Stay would get an entire Kibble’s box worth.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy from my personal library.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Dog Finds the Gold!

This month Sally’s Bookshelf is Going To the Dogs! This week we’re going on an adventure – to the California Gold Rush.

Bo-Bo's Cave of Gold (At the Heels of History)
by Pam Berkman and Dorothy Hearst; illus. by Claire Powell
192 pages; ages 6 - 9
Margaret K. McElderry Books (S&S), 2020

It’s 1852 in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. Sage has been kicked out of the pack. “You’re weak,” snarls the pack leader. “We have no place for a dog who puts some scraggly two-legged creature ahead of her own pack.”

Now, a moon’s cycle later, she is accosted by a mouthy parrot. It nips her tail. It jabs her paw. It calls her names (silly, sad-faced, soggy dog!) – and eventually leads Sage to a stream where a boy is trying to move a big rock in a river. The boy, Sheng, is searching for gold, with his father and uncle. With his mind on finding gold, the boy gives the dog a new name: Bo-Bo, little treasure. But will Sage/Bo-Bo be strong enough to help?

A bear escapes, some bad guys want to jump Sheng’s family claim, and Sheng and Bo-Bo must find gold to pay back a debt. Of course there’s a cave, rattlesnakes (what would a western be without snakes?) and a treasure map.

What I like about this book: It is fun to read! And it’s an engaging story – especially if you love stories about heroic dogs. I also like that there is back matter. An author’s note spills the beans about the facts behind the story, and raises a few questions. For example: prospecting is hard work, and most folks who flocked to the gold rush never struck it rich. And yes, thousands of men traveled from China to the gold fields. They left China to escape war and famine, only to face racism in America. Not only did Chinese prospectors have to pay a “foreign miners” tax, white prospectors harassed them and sometimes stole their claims.

The authors also discuss the impact of the Gold Rush on Indigenous people and African Americans, as well as what a dog’s life would be like in California at that time.

Bo-Bo's Cave of Gold  is second in the series that began with Filigree's Midnight Ride (I reviewed that one in December). There will be more in the series - great stories for kids who love dogs and long for adventures that Might Really Have Taken Place....  Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Such a Good Boy!

This month Sally’s Bookshelf is Going To the Dogs! So of course I'm starting with one called Such a Good Boy! Because, really, how could I resist? Look for doggy books all month long.

theme: dogs

Such a Good Boy
by Marianna Coppo
48 pages; ages 5 - 8
Chronicle Books, 2020

This is Buzz. Come here, Buzz! Good Boy.

Buzz has a good life. He lives in a fancy house, eats nutritious food, and is pampered well cared for. He takes his people for walks every day, and on Sundays he gets to go to the dog park! As long as he stays on a leash… because those other dogs could be mean or scary. And then one day, Buzz finds the right door open and he’s free!

What I like about this book: I love that Marianna Coppo asks really important questions, like what does it mean to be a “good boy?” And what sorts of considerations go into life-altering decisions such as whether to return home or explore the outside world? And I like the end pages: the front endpapers are filled with trophies and doggy toys; the back papers are filled with sticks, puddles, and adventure.

Yoga Animals: A Wild Introduction to Kid-Friendly Poses 
by Paige Towler
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2020

While not a dog story, this book does introduce kids to the Downward Dog pose, along with several other “wild” yoga poses. Rhyming couplets, paired with photos of animals, will have kids bending and stretching, reaching and curling, and definitely moving. A great companion for quarantine, because yoga doesn’t take much room. Plus, it helps reduce stress – something we can all use. Kids will learn to bend like a gorilla, balance like a flamingo, slide like a cobra, and stretch like a puppy.

Beyond the Books:

What does it mean to be a “good” dog – or kid? What are the sorts of things that are considered “good” behavior in your home?

Design a park for dogs to play in. What sort of things would you want in a park if you were a dog? If you need some ideas, check out these dog parks.

Stretch like a puppy. If you have never done a downward dog pose, here’s how to do it. And sure, go ahead and bark! Such a gooood boy!

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Perfect bedtime stories

These two books from Chronicle are perfect bedtime reads. Quiet enough to relax, but with enough curiosity to make you think.

theme: family, friendship

Over the Moon
by James Proimos; illus. by Zoey Abbott
44 pages; ages 3 - 5
Chronicle Books, 2020

When a baby floats down a river, she doesn’t think about her place in the world.

And when two wolves sit on the river’s edge, it’s a pretty good bet that one of them is thinking about dinner. So what happens when a baby floats by? The wolves scoop her up and take her home and “teach her about good and evil, dark and light, right and wrong.” Even though one of the wolves is still thinking about dinner.

What I like about this book: This is such a sweet story, perfect for sharing before bedtime. I like how the girl learns to live as a wolf, and then one day discovers something new! Other children. She wants to join them, and when she leaves even the second wolf sheds a tear. But family is family, so she will return because she has learned about good and evil, light and dark…

Tiny T. Rex and the Very Dark Dark
by Jonathan Stutzman; illus. by Jay Fleck
48 pages; ages 3 - 5
Chronicle Books, 2020

It is our first campout in the backyard, and we are nervous.

Tiny (a T-rex) and his stegasaurus buddy, Pointy, are going to camp outside. But even mighty dinosaurs get scared if they can’t sleep with their “nighty-lights”. It is very dark outside, and hard to be brave when you are scared of Nom-bies and Crawly-creeps.

What I like about this book: Tiny and Pointy come up with a plan. It involves a hiding fort, Christmas tree lights, and plenty of snacks. It is a good plan until – something goes wrong and everything is very dark! But Tiny finds some night light …. in a place he hadn’t expected.

Beyond the Books:

Draw a plan for a hiding fort – and then build it. Think about materials you have at hand: blankets, pillows, tables and chairs…

Imagine what your life would be like if you were adopted by wolves - or some other wild creature. Draw a picture or write about your adopted family. What makes them "the best"?

If you’re going to sleep outside, you need to make s’mores. You need: marshmallows, chocolate candy bar, and graham crackers. If you have a campfire, toast marshmallows and put them on a slice of candy bar between two graham cracker halves. Otherwise, put a marshmallow on a graham cracker half and pop it into the microwave for 10 seconds or so. Then put on the chocolate and the other cracker half and yummmmm!

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publisher.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World 
by Karen Rivers 
304 pages; ages 8 - 12 years
Algonquin Young Readers, 2019

I love a good Karen Rivers middle-grade novel, so I read Naked Mole Rat Saves the World as soon as it came out last fall. And then put it on my desk to be reviewed. And stacked stuff on top.

This week, during an archaeological excavation of my office, guess what I unearthed? The cover is still bright blue, the lettering still shiny, bold yellow.

Twelve-year-old kit (yes, lower case k) was born small enough to fit in her mom’s hands - like a naked, wrinkled, hairless animal baby. Her life is full of normal twelve-year-old stuff: roller-skating, star-watching, volunteering at the animal shelter, and hanging out at the flea market with her best friend, Clem. kit lives with her mom, and her mom lives with a lot of fears: cancer, bad guys, crowds, traffic, spiders … the list is long and always growing.

kit's life is perfectly normal until one day ... it isn’t. The day Clem, part of an acrobatic family, falls during a TV performance. kit, watching her friend on TV, has a panic attack. Her eyesight gets blurry, her hand looks like a squashed grey leaf with wrinkly skin … she’s turned into a rodent. Maybe. Or maybe she imagined it. She even googles “hyperventilating and turning into a rodent” on her computer – is it some sort of superpower? (and if so, seriously? being a naked mole rat?)

In chapters that alternate between kit’s point of view and Clem’s, we are pulled into a story about growing and changing. kit is full of questions: why do people change? does everyone change? do we all turn into different animals, and is that a part of puberty?

But mostly, this is a story about friends who grow apart, then back together, and how hard it is to navigate through life.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Armchair Traveling with books

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was pretend I was exploring new places. These two books provide plenty of armchair traveling, from a small town to around the world.

Theme: geography, community, storytelling

All Around Bustletown: Spring
by Rotraut Susanne Berner 
14 pages; ages  2-5
Prestel, 2020

Usually I begin with the first lines of a picture book. But this book is a wordless board book filled with such detail that you’re sure to find a new story each time you open it up. Spring has come to Bustletown, and Grandma is off for a hike. George is cleaning the house, Clara is riding a scooter through town, and … what is the fox doing?

What I like about this book: From one spread to the next, you can follow the various characters around Bustletown – to the farmer’s market, the metro, the town square, the park. Along the way, you might notice that the new Kindergarten is finally under construction.

The cool thing: this book is part of a series showing the seasons of Bustletown. So if you have all four, you can see how the town is changing over time. In Winter, a steam shovel was breaking new ground for the Kindergarten, In Spring the bricklayers are putting up the walls. By Summer they’re putting solar panels on the roof and planting gardens, and Fall shows children getting ready for a parade. Each spread contains so many potential stories that kids will want to return to them again and again.

Little Kids First Big Book of Where
by Jill Esbaum
128 pages; ages 4-8
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2020

You know when you open a National Geographic book, you are heading off on an adventure. This one takes you all around the world in four chapters exploring natural wonders, animals, inventions, and cool places to visit. The pages are filled with colorful photos, pop-up facts, interactive questions, hands-on activities, and a map-themed activity at the end of each chapter.

What I like about this book: Each spread introduces a topic with a question:

  • Where is the Longest River? (Is it the Nile or the Amazon?)
  • Where does the loudest insect live? (with instructions for how to make your own loud insect noise)
  • Where was pizza invented? (with a list of interesting toppings from around the world)
  • Where are the twistiest roads?

And of course, there is Back Matter! Tips for parents to help their children travel, whether in real life or virtually. Activities range from geography to math to art to science.

Beyond the Books:

Explore your town – or your neighborhood. If you have a camera, take photos of certain places at different times of the year. Or draw a picture of what you see. Are new buildings going up? Are people planting gardens or selling tomatoes? How do things change from spring to summer and from summer to fall and winter?

Explore the world. Look at a globe or atlas and make a list of places to visit.

  • Make yourself a Passport. You’ll need a cover, and some interior pages. On one page you need your photo and address. The other pages are for collecting “stamps” from the countries you virtually visit.
  • Using books, old National Geographic magazines, or online resources, visit one of the countries on your list of places to see. See if you can find any virtual museums to visit. If you can find a map, trace your travels. When you’re finished visiting, have someone in your family draw a Visa stamp in your passport. Then head off to explore another place on your list.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Want a Pet? Invent one!

by Vicky Fang; illus. by Tidawan Thaipinnarong
32 pages; ages 3 - 7
Sterling Children's Books, 2020

Invent-a-Pet won’t be released until June, but I wanted to share it before it got buried in the book basket.

theme: problem-solving, STEAM, pets

Katie was an ordinary girl who longed for an extraordinary pet.

Goldfish are too common. Katie wants something unique. Spectacular! So when a machine shows up at her home, Katie tries it out. There are three openings for feeding things into the machine, conveniently labeled “input”. And there’s a lever to pull. So Katie puts in a soccer ball, a blade of grass, and a carrot just to try it out. Then she pulls the lever and out pops a green, round bunny. Aha! she thinks. Now she can make the perfect pet.

What I like about this book: I like that Katie tries to create the perfect pet. She puts in things that she thinks will create a dragon – but other creatures come out. “How does this thing even work?” she asks. I like how Katie uses deductive reasoning to figure out how each input controls a specific variable: size, color, animal. I like how she changes one variable at a time on the machine and keeps notes until she figures out how the machine works. And I like seeing her final “equation” (or set of inputs) for the perfect pet.

I managed to catch up with Vicky by email for One Question:

Sally: What ingredients would YOU put into the Invent-a-Pet machine - and what would your unique pet look like?

Vicky: Ah, I love this question! And surprised I hadn’t thought of an answer before!
A football. A striped grey sock. A ball of yarn.
PUFF! A small, striped, grey kitten!
(Really, I've never had a kitten and I'd like one. And I think they're perfectly extraordinary just the way they are.)

Beyond the Books:

What, for you, makes an animal the “perfect” pet? Draw a picture of your perfect animal companion.

Design a machine to create the perfect pet. Raid the recycling bin and try building a model of your machine. Then write down a list of potential features of pets (size, color, habitat, diet, kind of animal) and then determine what three variables (inputs) to add to your machine.

Vicky is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Like the Moon Loves the Sky

Like the Moon Loves the Sky
by Hena Khan; illus. by Saffa Khan
40 pages; ages 3 - 5 years
Chronicle Books, 2020

theme: family, love, multicultural

Inshallah you are all that is gentle and good.

From the first page to the last, this book shares and celebrates author Hena Khan’s daily for her children. It also shares the joy of a mother-child relationship. Each line is grounded in a verse from the Quran, while illustrations show a child growing up as we go page by page. It is a lovely bedtime story, and reading it is like curling up in a warm hug of unconditional love.

What I like about this book: I love that this book is straight from the heart. Inshallah – god willing – we would wish all of these things for our children: that they grow into strong and kind beings, travel to new places, know that they are loved. I think it is a perfect story for sharing Muslim family traditions, and for families looking for diverse picture books – even when it’s not Ramadan.

I love the author’s note that Henna includes at the beginning, in which she explains the phrase “inshallah” and how people of many faiths reflect on a greater force than themselves. She shares how, as a parent, her prayers and wishes for her children are often intertwined.

And did I mention the narrative of the illustrations, showing the child growing over time? Illustrator Saffa Khan, who is a print maker, uses digital art for the book – every bit as bold and colorful as her prints.

Beyond the Books:

Explore printmaking. Printmaking is a way of producing art by transferring an image from one surface to another. Think: woodcuts, engraving, linoleum blocks. Here are some fun ways to make prints using things you might find around the house.

Try your hand at writing a prayer or meditation or wishes for your family. Maybe you hope they stay as strong as trees, or are able to learn new things with the flexibility of a willow bending in the wind.

Learn about Ramadan with this video. And check out the kid-friendly crafts here.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Adventure! Danger! and totally true

Into The Clouds: The Race to Climb the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain
by Tod Olson
288 pages; ages 10-14
Scholastic Focus, 2020

All they needed were three good days. Three days without winds strong enough to blow them off the mountainside… Three days of weather clear enough to see the route between their lonely tents and the top of the second-highest mountain on Earth. 

But on the afternoon of August 6, 1953, Charlie Houston knew the odds of getting those three days were slim. This was not his first attempt to summit K2, the second highest peak in the world. It was a craggy peak located on the border of China and Pakistan, about 900 miles northwest of Everest. Formidable and unforgiving of mistakes.

The first time Charlie climbed K2 was in 1938. His mission: to discover a route that would allow climbers to make it to the summit the following year. The next year, Fritz Wiessner set off with an expedition to conquer the peak. But mistakes and ego resulted in tragedy.
credit: SY; CC BY-SA 4.0

And now, fifteen years after his first attempt, Charlie was once again trying to find a route to the top. But a vicious storm and sudden illness puts the expedition on the edge of disaster. What began as a quest reach the summit turned into a rescue mission.

Into the Clouds is a tale of adventure, for sure. You will find yourself pulling on a sweater or heating up a mug of tea to drink as you read – because it is cold on that mountain! But Tod Olson examines a philosophical divide in the climbing community. Is a climbing expedition the means to allow an individual to reach the top to mark a personal triumph? Or is climbing, as Charlie believed, a team effort? A “fellowship of the rope” that understands no single person can reach a summit without the team.

Olson tells the stories of three expeditions and climbing rivalry. Fortunately, you won’t need crampons or an ice ax to enjoy this adventure; Olson has done the hard work of pounding in the pitons and setting a guide rope. All you have to do is enjoy the story. Be forewarned: it is page-turning nonfiction and a story you will not want to put down, so make sure you have adequate provisions before setting off on this adventure.

If you like nail-biting nonfiction adventures, check out Olson’s LOST series. Last winter I posted a review of Lost in the Antarctic, a tale of Ernest Shackleton's 1914 expedition.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. ARC provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, April 17, 2020

My Brother the Duck

My Brother the Duck
by Pat Zietlow Miller; illus. by Daniel Wiseman
40 pages; ages 3 - 5
Chronicle Books, 2020

theme: siblings, STEAM, problem-solving

I’m Stella Wells, fledgling scientist.

Like scientists everywhere, Stella notices things. And the thing she notices is that her baby brother might be a duck! When mom came home from the hospital she held something wrapped in a blanket. It was yellow and its nose was flat and broad. But was her brother really a duck? Stella needs to do more research; collect more facts.

What I like about this book: I love how Stella conducts her research. She constructs a hypothesis, collects evidence (data), and even consults an expert. As she explains, “scientists can’t just wing it. They have to gather facts.”

I love the illustrations, with notes full of data tacked everywhere. Definitely a must-read for new big brothers and sisters.

I managed to catch up with Pat for One Question:

Sally: What ways do you use science in your life? Or do you just "wing it"?

Pat: Like Stella in My Brother The Duck, I always think research is required. I'm naturally curious, and I spend a lot of time looking into why things happen or the history behind them or how things work. I don't conduct science experiments very often, but I do a lot of reading and researching and learning. And that helps me tell better stories. For this book, I had a lot of fun watching science experiment videos on YouTube to see what experiments a kid could do at home. And, I learned a lot about ducks – including this cool fact that’s not in the book:  a group of ducks is called a raft, a team, or a paddling.

Beyond the Book:

Learn how to identify ducks living in your town. Here's a chart to help you out.

Use books or the internet to discover some fun duck facts. Here's one resource to check out.

Play a duck puzzle with this word ladder - click here for a free downloadable puzzle.

Sing along with a duck song! This is one I learned as a kid.

Pat is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, April 10, 2020

A Basketful of Board Books

For for some reason a whole bunch arrived in my mailbox this spring, so I declare today Board Book Day! But definitely a day to not be bored.
  themes: animals, creativity

Animals in the Sky by Sara Gillingham
Phaidon Press, 2020

Did you know there are animals in the sky? If you’re a star watcher, you do. After all, the Big Dipper is part of a huge, sky-inhabiting bear! But there are so many other animals up in the sky. This book introduces young children (and their parents) to a sky-dwelling rabbit, the lion, fish, dog, an eagle, and a wolf. Like other board books, the pages are thick and durable, with a clue on the left side of the spread and the constellation on the right. But, surprise! The page folds out to reveal how the star pattern fits into the imagined animal. Can there be back matter in a board book? Sure – the last page unfolds to show even more sky animals, including one of my favorites, the Scorpion.

Who Loves Books? by Lizi Boyd
Chronicle Books, 2020

If you like to read – and who doesn’t? – you won’t be surprised to learn that animals love to read, too. At least in this book. Squirrel delivers books to fox, butterfly, and others from the Book Boat. But what makes this book fun to play with is that some pages are divided so that you can flip the flaps and create new combinations of who’s reading and who’s waiting for a book delivery. Those flippy flaps make for a book that stretches nearly twice as tall as a normal board book – a small price to pay for interactive pages to engage fidgety readers.

 ABC Dance! An Animal Alphabet 
by Sabrina Moyle; illus. by Eunice Moyle
Workman Publishing, 2020

“Aardvarks arrive with a band of baboons…” and by the time you turn the page I guarantee your toes will be tapping. This is the perfect book to encourage youngsters (and us oldsters) to shake our boots with newts, rock out with rhinos, and slide with sloths. Dust off your dancing shoes and get ready to dance your way from A to Z. Bright, cartoony illustrations will encourage you to get your silly on.

Wild Animal Sounds
National Geographic Kids, 2019

Snort like an elephant, sing like a frog… each page introduces animal sounds. Filled with wonderful photos of animals and fun facts, this book will have you talking like the animals in no time at all. It’s a great way to spend a rainy spring day – and pairs well with dancing like animals, too! The back spread features a matching game.

Your Nose! by Sandra Boynton
Workman Publishing, 2020

Of course there’s a Sandra Boynton book in my basket! How could there not be? This is a wild little love song about all types of noses, but especially the noses you know best. And yes – it IS a song… you can listen to it here.

Beyond the books:

Find animals in the sky. If you don’t have a sky map available, check out this link.

Learn some wild animal sounds. Here’s a fun video of wild animals with the sounds they make.

Put on some music and dance like an animal. Make a list of some animals from A to Z and then try moving the way you imagine they’d dance. Who knows? You might come up with some excellent dance moves!

Make your own board book. Here’s an excellent tutorial, but don’t worry if you don’t have all the “right stuff”. Be creative and improvise! I plan to use up those cereal boxes that have been accumulating behind the recycling box – and some paper bag strips to connect the boards.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Python Catchers!

Python Catchers: Saving the Everglades 
by Marta Magellan; illus. by Mauro Magellan
32 pages; ages 8 - 12
Pineapple Press, 2020

theme: environment, snakes

Be careful in there! I know the Everglades is your home, but there is a reptile in there that eats rabbits.

When Burmese pythons invade the Everglades, they gobble up just about everyone: otters, bobcats, raccoons, and even alligators! Wood Stork is on a mission to show Marsh Rabbit why the Everglades aren’t safe anymore – and what scientists are doing in an effort to restore balance.

Told from the point-of-view of the wood stork, we learn how the pythons got to the everglades and the damage they are doing to the environment.

What I like about this book: The dialog between Wood Stork and Marsh Rabbit is fun, and the spreads feature a mix of photo and illustrations. I really like the back matter that lists what you can do to keep invasives out of the environment. Plus there’s a page that focuses on invasive species and the cascading effects they can have in a food web.

I caught up with Marta by email to ask her One Question ~

Sally: How did you come to write the book from the wood stork’s point of view?

Marta: I wanted to use two cartoon animals to tell the story so that it would be more attractive to children, rather than a textbook-style explanation of the invasion. I wanted two native animals who are vulnerable to the python invasion. At first I thought of a fox (one of the animals disappearing from the Everglades) because mammals always look cute in children's book illustrations. The stork, while really "cute," is the only stork that breeds in the United States. For a long time it was listed as an endangered species. In contrast to the stork’s informational approach, the marsh rabbit makes comments that children might be thinking. Sometimes it makes silly comments (like eating carrot pizza) to bring some lightness into what in essence is a pretty grim subject!

Beyond the Books:

Meet some of the Everglades residents. Head out on this video tour with National Geographic.

Take a 3-minute tour of Everglades National Park. Video here.

Read more about pythons in this Smithsonian article.

Make your own Burmese python. You can make one out of accordion folds, or make a paper chain snake, or you can cut a spiral from a paper plate to make a snake.

Marta is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Oddmire

The Oddmire, Book One: Changeling 
by William Ritter
272 pages; ages 8 - 12
Algonquin Young Readers, 2019

from the jacket: Magic is fading from the WildWood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind – a newborn changeling. 

But when the time comes, something goes wrong. Kull, the goblin charged with trading a human baby for a goblin, is distracted. And when he turns back to the two babies in the crib, he can’t tell which is which – human or goblin – so he leaves both babies and returns to the goblin world.

And leaves a young mother with unexpected twins. and whispers amongst townsfolk about it being goblins. Or maybe a witch. The two boys, Cole and Tinn, grow up hearing tales that one of them may actually be a goblin. But which one?

Then twelve years, eleven months and twenty-eight days later the boys discover a note in a tree in an orchard where they aren't supposed to be. The note tells them to meet the goblins at a certain place on a certain night. Tinn and Cole decide to go together into the WildWood in which:

  • they lose their marmalade tarts
  • are chased by a bear
  • meet a girl
  • are captured by a witch
  • and kidnapped 

Basically, if anything can go wrong it will

This is a great story about children stolen, lost, sold to fairies, and … found. At its heart, it’s a story of adventure and love.

What I like about this book: Besides the tale of adventure and mishap, I love the language. Here’s a description of the town the boys live in, Endsborough… “a quaint community teetering on the edge of what could be only generously termed civilization. A dense forest … curled around the town the way a Great Dane might curl around a terrier puppy.” It sits at the end of a windy road, beyond towns that have already adopted gas lighting, a quiet town that doesn’t go looking for trouble.

I’m looking forward to reading book 2, The Unready Queen, due to be released this June.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 20, 2020

If Sun Could Speak

If Sun Could Speak 
by Kourtney LaFavre; illus by Saki Tanaka
36 pages; ages 5 - 8
Spork, 2020

theme: sun, night & day

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m the sun – a glorious star.

Told in first person, this book introduces STEM concepts about day, night, planetary motion, and light. Kourtney LaFavre also introduces some world mythology about the sun and some scientific observations people have made from 99 BC to modern day.

What I like about this book: I like the timetable of discoveries about planets, stars, and the universe, from Lucretius and his On the Nature of Things to Stephen Hawking. So many important discoveries, such as light moves in a straight line, and Earth moves around the Sun, and how to tell what stars are made of. LaFavre includes the powerful message that readers can create their own experiments to answer questions they have about the natural world.

I caught up with Kourtney a couple weeks ago by email to ask her One Question ~

Sally: Kudos for scoring an interview with the sun. How did you decide to write using Sun's POV?

Kourtney: I think I was about five or six when I first discovered that the sun doesn’t actually rise and set. I had assumed that the sun was moving up and down in the sky, because the word RISE means to move upward. That was the definition that my five year old self understood, and five year old brains are very literal. It totally blew my mind that it was the earth’s movement that created sunrises and sunsets. And I felt mad that I was mislead to believe inaccurate information. I was frustrated whenever I heard people say anything about the sun RISING. That’s where the concept of a book told from the sun’s perspective began, to clear up any misunderstandings about the sun.

She explains more about her inspiration for the book in this blog post.

Beyond the Books:

Before clocks, people used the sun to tell the time. You can too – just build a sun dial.

Kourtney posted a bunch of activities on her blog. You can find them here.

Kourtney LaFavre is part of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her here.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Whoo-ku.... whoo, whoo, whoooooo.....

Whoo-Ku Haiku: A Great Horned Owl Story  
by Maria Gianferrari; illus. by Jonathan Voss
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2020

theme: owls, haiku, animal families

A great horned owl pair
Finds squirrel’s nest of oak leaves
Perched high in a pine.

Pairing haiku with stunning ink and watercolor illustrations, Whoo-ku shows the life of a great horned owl.

What I like about this book: Just as haiku is the postcard of poetry, every whoo-ku in this book is a snapshot of that particular bit of a great horned owl’s life. The hard part, which author Maria Gianferrari does well, is linking them together to create a larger picture of the owls.

And there is Back Matter! Want to know more about owl feathers? Eggs? Owl pellets? It’s in the back matter, along with recommended books and websites for curious naturalists.

Last week I caught up with Maria long enough to ask One Question ~

Sally: How did you come to write this book in haiku?

Maria: Unlike most of my other books, this book began with the title, Whoo-Ku, so it’s the only book where the title actually dictated the form. When my daughter was in elementary school, we used to “write”/recite haikus on long car rides. She cleverly came up with that title and gifted me with her own written and illustrated Whoo-Ku book as a birthday present, a story of owls written in haiku. It’s one of my most treasured gifts! We had been reading haiku books like Wonton, by Lee Wardlaw, and Dogku, by the late Andrew Clements. Many years later I decided to try my hand at my own version of a haiku story, starring a Great horned owl family. And that’s how it all started!

Beyond the Books:

Learn how to identify great horned owls with this Audubon field guide.

What do great horned owls sound like? You can listen to their hoots and calls here.

Write some haiku about one of your favorite animals - or plants.  Here's how. Grab some pencils or markers or paints and create some pictures. Whooo knows - maybe you'll end up with your own book!

Maria Gianferrari is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Queen Bee and Me

The Queen Bee and Me 
by Gillian McDunn
288 pages; ages 8 - 12
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020

If I’m honest, it was the title that made me pick up this book. Anything related to bees – no matter how remotely – and I’m going to read the first page or two. Or, as in this case, the entire book. Especially when they open with a line like this:

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who want to look inside to see how stuff works and those who couldn’t care less.

And Meg, the main character, definitely wants to see how stuff works. She’s the kid who tales apart toasters, clocks, blenders, radios, microwaves. Though, she admits, “putting them back together is harder.” Raise your hand if you have found that out the hard way.

While she’s great with science stuff, Meg isn’t so confident with people stuff. Her best friend forever, Beatrix, is changing, there’s a new student in town, Meg really wants to take the science elective, but Beatrix is sure Meg’s gonna fall in line and join the dance class. When Meg is paired with a new girl for a research project, friendship dynamics get complicated.

And then there are the bees: a hive of honey bees that Hazel, the new girl, wants to study for their project. Bees are cool, Hazel explains, and essential for pollination. Without them, we wouldn’t have some of our favorite foods. There’s only one problem… well, maybe two.
Meg is afraid of bees because they sting.
And someone is trying to scuttle Hazel’s plan to raise her bees in town.

What I like love about this book: I love how author Gillian McDunn weaves real science into her novel of middle-grade life. I love how every so often we get a page from Meg’s Animal Fieldwork Project report. And I really love how Meg, with a bit of help, finds her voice to save the bees and her friendships, both old and new.

I give this book one huge Huzzzzzzzzah!

Gillian McDunn is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. ARC provided by the publisher.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Let's Dance!

Let's Dance!
by Valerie Bolling; illus. by Maine Diaz
32 pages; ages 3 - 7
Boyds Mills Press, 2020

theme: dancing, rhyme, inclusion

Tappity-tap, fingers snap

Twist, twirl, slide, jeté! This verb-filled, rhyming book highlights dance moves from around the world. From ballet to disco, readers will feel their toes tapping to the rhythm of the words. Watch out! When you put the book down, you’ll want to leap, glide, and two-step across the floor.

What I like about this book: The action! With only four to six words per spread, author Valerie Bolling infuses the pages with movement. She captures the rhythm of dance in the rhythm of the language. Illustrator Maine Diaz captures the vibrancy of the diversity of dance from around the world, from Cuba’s cha-cha to the flowing long-sleeve dance from China.

I also like that there is just the right amount of back matter: a couple of sentences explaining each of the ten styles of dance.

A couple weeks ago, I caught up with Valerie by phone. We chatted about writing and kids – because that’s what happens when two teachers start talking – and dance. She graciously answered Three Questions:

Sally: Where did your inspiration come from?

Valerie: My inspiration for writing comes from my nieces. When they were young, they would spend a week with me a couple times a year. I began exploring the idea of writing children’s books. I also noticed that if you put music on, children dance!

Sally: I love that the pages are filled with action, with verbs. Can you talk about how that happened?

author Valerie Bolling
Valerie: I wanted to have fun with words in the same way that people have fun with dance. I’ve always loved to play with words and rhyme, though I confess to consulting an occasional online rhyming dictionary.

I had a couple of dances in mind as I began writing wiggle hips, dip, dip… Some of the phrases were inspired by dances I remembered from a wedding. And I remembered watching a young man in a wheelchair; he lifted up the front wheels and did a combination of zig-zag moves.

I give a lot of credit to my editor who saw the potential in expanding the concept to include dances from around the world. She knew I wanted to include diversity – of dance and children, and her vision helped bring it to kids on a global level. 

Sally: So, do you dance?

Valerie: Oh yes! Turn on the music and we’ll dance in the kitchen. I love to dance at weddings, on a cruise ship – wherever the music inspires me to tap my toes. The funny thing is, I never took a dance class until I went to college. Then I took an African dance class and learned the Kuku.

Beyond the Books:

Check out these videos of Kuku dance (Guinea) and Cha Cha ( Cuba)
Create your own dance. All you need is some music and enough space to move. Turn on the radio, spin the platter, or stream a tune and bust some moves.

Thanks to Valerie for joining us today. You can find out more about her at her website here. Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Flight for Freedom

Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family's Daring Escape from East Germany
by Kristen Fulton; Torben Kuhlmann
56 pages; ages 5-8
Chronicle Books, 2020

theme: bravery, family, biography

In the days when Germany was divided by a wall, life was very different.

On one side, children watch TV and eat pizza. On the other, children wear uniforms and – if they are lucky – get to eat a banana once a year. Peter lived on the wrong side. The side with scratchy uniforms, no cartoons, and no fruit. Then one night, he discovered a picture of a hot air balloon hidden beneath his parent’s mattress. His parents had a plan!

What I like about this book: Kristen shows us how Peter’s family scrimps and saves to buy materials to build a hot air balloon. She shows how they work secretly into the dark night. She shows the urgency –  they have one chance to try an escape – and the difficulty of both constructing the balloon and of choosing this path of resistance.

And there’s back matter galore! There’s an entire spread devoted to construction, materials, and engineering of the balloon. She’s included a page about escape attempts, and a note about how this story came about.

I met Kristen at a Highlights Foundation workshop about a year after she finished writing Flight for Freedom. I remember her dedication to finding the “golden nugget” of a story, and how she encouraged other writers to write the hard stuff and stick to the facts. I called her up last week and she graciously answered Three Questions:

Sally: What inspired this story?

Kristen: I was looking for my first nonfiction idea, you know, something to write about. I was perusing back issues of Time magazine and came upon a paragraph about a family escaping from East Germany in a hot air balloon. I immediately emailed Peter, using Google translator, and we corresponded. Eventually I traveled to Germany and talked to the family. I also visited the museum where the balloon is on display. Seeing the location and balloon really helped me feel the story in the way a character might feel it.

I also had an opportunity to see a section of the Berlin Wall on display at the Smithsonian. There were bits of graffiti on one side, and the other just had scratches and felt cold. That was the East German side. People couldn’t go near the wall because it was guarded by soldiers.

Sally: You finished Flight for Freedom back in 2012, and here we are, eight years later. Is that a long timeline for publishing?

Kristen: It is. The editor who initially acquired it ended up moving to another publisher. Fortunately, Ariel Richardson at Chronicle loved the original manuscript and that’s where the book found its home. The longest wait was for the illustrator; I really wanted Torben to do the artwork.

Sally: What advice do you have for writers?

Kristen: Do your research. When you think you have enough, keep on going. If you’re writing a picture book, do as much research as you think you’d need to write a chapter book – you want to have enough that you can choose what you put into the story.

Then focus. In this book I focused on just one family and the balloon. With picture books, less is more because the illustrator will fill in the other half of the story with their art.

And, very important, stay true to the facts. Don’t change anything and don’t make anything up. Even when the research isn’t going your way, don’t fudge the truth.

Beyond the Books:

You can see the escape balloon and flimsy basket in this video, taken at the museum in Germany.

Read the Time article that inspired Kristen’s story here, and then another over at the Washington Post here.

Thank you for joining us today, Kristen. You can find out more about her books at her website.
We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday in a couple weeks -  once the Valentine story contest ends. PPBF is a gathering of bloggers who share their reviews of picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Honey of a Dog Story...

Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln
by Shari Swanson; illus. by Chuck Groenink
40 pages; ages 4-8
Katherine Tegen Books [Harper Collins], 2020

theme: president, biography, dogs

Young Abraham Lincoln was kneeling deep in the woods when three shrill blasts of a whistle cut through the quiet. His corn was ready at the mill, and he was late.

He was late because he was busy rescuing a frog. From a snake’s mouth. Later, we see him rescuing a dog with a broken leg. A dog who became his best friend and – eventually – rescued Abe!

What I like about this book: I have a soft spot for dog stories. And I love stories that reveal who our presidents were as children. This tale, remembered and shared by one of Lincoln’s childhood friends, shows a kind boy who grew up to be a compassionate president.

I like adventure tales, and this story includes one – when Abe went off exploring a cave and got into trouble. Good thing Honey was there to help.

And I like back matter. Author Shari Swanson includes a timeline of  Abe and “his animal encounters” plus an author’s note that provides more context for this particular slice-of-life tale.

Beyond the Books:

Check out the curriculum resources for educators and activity packs for kids at Shari’s website.

Lincoln had many pets, from pigs to goats. He even pardoned a turkey meant for Thanksgiving dinner. Read more here.

Find a way to celebrate President’s Day. This holiday (celebrated the third Monday of February) celebrates the birthdays of two great American presidents: Abraham Lincoln (born Feb. 12) and George Washington (born Feb. 22).

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once the Valentine story contest ends. PPBF is a gathering of bloggers who share their reviews of picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Friday, February 7, 2020


by Kate Messner
240 pages; ages 10 - 14
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020

When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from a broken arm – the result of a gymnastics accident. She’s trying to forget an ugly part of her life. And she becomes involved in a mystery: who is sabotaging grandma’s cricket farm?

At first, the sabotage sounds like coincidence, and mom alludes to grandma’s stroke. Maybe grandma is not up to running a cricket farm? But Mia thinks there’s nothing wrong with grandma, and is determined to help her out – in between attending a “warrior sports camp” and a “launch camp” for young entrepreneurs. While feeding and cleaning crickets, Mia learns that grandma is in debt. What can a kid do?

Mia talks to her friends, and they create a publicity campaign for the cricket farm. Meanwhile, Mia becomes more certain that someone is sabotaging the cricket farm. On top of that, Mia’s young cousin wants to take gymnastics. Mia wants to warn someone about the coach … but when she tries to talk to mom, her throat closes up.

Can Mia find the courage to talk to her parents about what happened in gymnastics? Will she find a way to capture the cricket farm saboteur? Will she ever regain strength in her arm so she can climb the wall? Inquiring readers want to know.

What I like love about this book: The characters have depth, the pacing is perfect, and it’s clear that Kate Messner has done her entomophagy research! Grandma’s cricket farm is grounded in reality and, with a quick internet search, you could probably find recipes for her flavored cricket snacks. Or at least the cookies…

I like that, in addition to abuse issues with Mia’s gymnastic coach, Kate shines a light on how we perceive – and treat – seniors. Both are family issues as well as social issues, and Kate creates an opportunity for readers to ponder how we interact with those we trust and those we love. Kate broaches tough subjects in a way that empowers both her characters and the reader.

Kate is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.
Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. ARC provided by the publisher.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Of Owls and Mice

Today I’m sharing two books from Dawn Publications: one about an owl, one about a mouse. The themes: birds, invention, and imagination.

Silent Swoop: An Owl, an Egg, and a Warm Shirt Pocket
by Michelle Houts; illus by Deb Hoeffner
32 pages; ages 4-8
Dawn Publications, 2019

In the dark of night, no one saw the Great Horned Owl glide over the coal yard.

But the next morning the workers found her eggs, so they called Walter. He tucked the eggs in his shirt pocket and carried them to the bird sanctuary where he placed them in an incubator. Eventually one of the eggs hatched into a fluffy, downy owlet. Coal, the owl, became an ambassador for the bird sanctuary.

What I like about this book: This is a sweet story of love growing between a tiny owl hatchling and the man who saved her. And the kids and grandparents she met. I like the language. After Walter puts the eggs in the incubator he watches. He wonders. He waits. We get such a good feeling of time passing slo-o-owly. I like the “explore more” pages at the back. More information about Great Horned Owls. More about the man who saved the owl. More about nests and eggs, about writing and finding facts. And plenty of STEM activities and resources for curious kids.

Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist
by Mike Allegra; illus. by Elizabeth Zechel
32 pages; ages 3-8
Dawn Publications, 2019

The vegetable garden was the place to be. It was where every mouse in the valley went to chat and dance and laugh and play.

Until the owl arrived. The mice moved elsewhere – except for Scampers. She hid in the garden watching the owl. Why was the owl so still? Maybe it’s not even a real owl – but how could the mice find out?

What I like about this book: I like that Scampers is curious enough to ask important questions, such as: is the owl alive? She is inventive enough to come up with ways to test the garden owl. And, she realizes that her scientific knowledge is important to share with the community. And of course I like the “explore more” pages: ways of thinking like a scientist, more information about owls and mice, and a quartet of STEM activities.

Beyond the Books:

Do you have owls living in your neighborhood? How would you find out? You could listen for owls at night (here’s an article with owl calls), and you could read more about owls to learn where they like to live. Some even live in cities.

Learn how to think like a scientist. It means honing your skills of observation, asking questions, playing around with some experiments, and recording what you find out. Read more here.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publisher.