Friday, July 23, 2021

Two Books Explore Life Under Hitler

Two books about life under Hitler came out earlier this year. At the time, I was busy reading escapist stories of adventure, fantasy, and science fiction – you know, typical pandemic fare. But this spring I dug through my book basket and plucked these two out to read. 

Ensnared in the Wolf's Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge 
by Ann Bausum
‎144 pages; ages 10-14
National Geographic Kids, 2021

Anne Frank wasn’t the only one writing in her diary in 1944. Sometime during the summer of that year, “a 12-year-old German girl named Christa von Hofacker picked up her pen and began to write in her own diary.” Like Anne Frank, Christa wrote to try to make sense of her world. Her father was entangled in an assassination attempt against Hitler, deemed a traitor, and vanished into the Nazi criminal court system. Days later Gestapo agents took away her mother and older brother and sister. And then it was Christa’s turn to be uprooted – sent on a three-day, 500-mile journey to a youth retreat center. Now it was a detention center for children of German men and women who were resisting Hitler’s regime. The overseers took away family photos and were given new names. They weren’t allowed to enroll in local schools, attend church, or visit the nearby community. Instead they were hidden and denied outside contact.

In this book, Ann Bausum explores Hitler’s rise to power, the German resistance attempts to limit that power, and his demise. During the first part of the book, she shows how easy it was for Hitler to control the message and reality of what people heard and saw. His regime was built on lies and fears. But a few brave people, some in his government, worked to overthrow him. When that attempt failed, Hitler not only went after members of the resistance, but also their families and children. 

A great mix of history, adventure, and insight into how a charismatic fascist leader can create a world of alternate facts. “…he connected with people on an emotional level that made it easy for them to dismiss logical counterarguments … his message was simple and it was compelling: You’ve been wronged, and I can make things right.” Serious, but essential reading for this time.

I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 (graphic novel)
by Lauren Tarshis; illus. by Álvaro Sarraseca 
160 pages; ages 8-12
Graphix (Scholastic), 2021

It’s been two months since the Nazis have taken papa away, and now Max and his sister, Zena, are on their own. They live in a Jewish ghetto in Poland, and are hungry. When Max sneaks under the fence to gather berries, he’s spotted by a guard and marched back into camp. When his sister is threatened, Max makes a lunge, a gun goes off, and chaos ensues – but Max and Zena run for the forest. They meet Jewish resistance fighters who take them to a safe camp, but soon grenades are exploding, planes are flying overhead, and soldiers are marching through the woods.

The story is told through comic panels, with text and dialog. It gets information and emotion across with a minimum of words, leaving plenty of room for a reader to imagine.

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 copies provided by the publishers.

Friday, July 16, 2021

What if you Found a Thingity-Jig?

The Thingity-Jig 
by Kathleen Doherty; illus. by Kristyna Litten 
32 pages; ages 4-8
Peachtree, 2021   

theme: mystery, fun, invention

One night, under the light of a silvery moon, all of Bear’s friends were deep asleep.

But not Bear. He wandered about tapping, poking, and sniffing things until he found a Thingity-Jig! It was bouncy! So Bear decides to take it home – but he needs something to pull it or drag it or roll it home. So he builds that thing, and then realizes he needs help lifting the Thingity-Jig onto his contraption to carry it home. But no one will help, so Bear builds a lifter-upper.

What I like about this book: I love the language! Smack. Wallop. Whack. That’s the sound of Bear building something. He clinks and clanks, fiddles and whittles… until he’s built a rolly thing, a lifter-upper thing, and other things with fun-to-say names that describe their function.

I love that Bear invents Rube-Goldberg-type things to help get the job done. I love that he runs into problems trying to get the Thingity-Jig back to his home. I love that Kathleen Doherty puts the best, most fun words to say into her text. I love that I actually have a Thingity-Jig at my house, and my kids used it in much the same way Bear does. 

Beyond the Books:

Bear has to move a huge Thingity-Jig and has no one to help him. So he invents a way to move it. Design and – if you can – build your own thingity-jig mover. Raid the recycling bin for materials, put old wagons into use, think about pulleys and rope. But mostly, have fun!

Build a crazy contraption. Need ideas? Check out this video.

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Gardening is More Fun with Friends

Nina Soni, Master of the Garden
by Kashmira Sheth; illus. by Jenn Kocsmiersky 
192 pages; ages 7-10
‎Peachtree Publishing Company, 2021

It’s “take a daughter to work” day, and fourth-grader Nina is going to work with mom, who is a landscape architect. They are going to build a garden – raised beds. Little sister, Kavita has been working on a picture of a garden plan for a week. Nina, a list-maker, has yet to start.
One of the things I like in this book is that we see Nina’s lists – even when they’re in her head. Occasionally there are text-boxes, as though Nina is explaining something, such as what a word means, to her sister.

Before the first boards are nailed together, Nina is thinking how they can sell extra veggies to earn money. She’s even got a plan. It involves her friend, Jay and Kavita, but when is the right time to tell them?

The plants start growing and everything is going well until…
  • A rabbit eats Nina’s chard. All of it.
  • Slugs! Yuck.
  • Japanese beetles nibble plants.
  • And the birds are attacking the beans.
As a gardener currently engaged in hostilities with a woodchuck (he ate Every. Single. Sunflower!) I liked that author Kashmira Sheth does not spare her young gardeners from the realities of beasts and bugs. I love how she brings readers into Nina’s family life – I can almost smell the cheesy-methi parathas toasting in the kitchen. And I really like that Kashmira includes some Q&A at the back-of-the-book, where she talks about her inspiration and why it is important for readers to be exposed to diverse books written by people who share those diverse identities. Full disclosure: Kashmira was one of the instructors for the Highlights Foundation workshop on “writing chapter books” that I took last summer. Because of Covid-19 it was a remote class; I know we would have had many fun discussions about gardening around the lunch tables had it been in-person.

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, July 2, 2021

When it's Hot Enough to Fry an Egg on the Sidewalk...


This book was published three years ago, but because of the heat wave in the northeast, it seems like a perfect pick for today. It got so hot in Oregon that roads buckled and Portland shut off the streetcars because heat was melting the cables. Scorching temperatures soared to 116 F in some places – hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk!

Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet 
by Elizabeth Suneby; illus. by Rebecca Green 
32 pages; ages 5-10
‎Kids Can Press, 2018

theme: STEM, sustainability, problem-solving

Iqbal lives in Bangladesh and it’s the monsoon, when “gusts of rain whip across your face and make you squint your eyes.” At home, Iqbal’s mother cooks the meals over an indoor fire. The smoke irritates her lungs, causing her and the baby to cough.

Iqbal wants to win the prize at the science fair so he can use the prize money to buy his mother a gas cookstove. He’s got a month to come up for a project that fits with the theme of sustainability.

What I like about this book: This is a fun story to read, while broaching a serious topic at the same time. We see Iqbal trying to come up with ideas. He sketches gadgets with gears, he conceives of contraptions, he dreams of devices. Could he build a smokeless cooker? With help from his teacher, they get ideas from the internet, and Iqbal designs a solar cooker from things most people have in his village: broken umbrellas. He lines his umbrella with foil, borrows a soot-blackened cookpot, and is ready to test his stove. All he needs is a sunny day to test it.

Beyond the Books:

Can you really fry an egg on the sidewalk? Probably not. Eggs need to reach a temperature of 158 F to cook through – hard to do on a white surface. A better idea would be to fry an egg on the hood of a car sitting under the hot sun (remember: eggs will run, and car hoods are curved). One Arizona girl had a brilliant idea: put the greenhouse effect to use and fry an egg inside a car on a hot day. You can watch her video here. It’s also a good reminder of why you don’t leave pets – or people – inside cars.

Make your own solar cooker. Here’s how to turn a pizza box into a solar oven, and here’s how to turn any kind of box into a cooker.  You can also use an old umbrella and lots of shiny foil, like Iqbal. A good test is to use your oven to make s’mores.

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy found on the library shelves.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Layla and the Bots return ... to make CUPCAKES!

Cupcake Fix (Layla and the Bots #3) 
by Vicky Fang; illus. by Christine Nishiyama 
80 pages; ages 5-7
Scholastic (Branches), 2021

I love books that incorporate STEAM elements in an organic way. So, when Vicky told the STEAM Team group that she had a new Layla & the Bots coming out this summer, I could not wait to read it. Fortunately for me, Vicky sent me an arc to satisfy my STEM-y sweet tooth.

Layla is a rock star, performing in a band with her bots. She is also an inventor, and in each book in the series, she uses her engineering and technical know-how to solve a problem. In this book she’s invited to perform at the community center grand opening. But the people in charge of the event are worried they won’t get the crowd they’re hoping for.

Food always brings people together. But what kind of food? Layla decides she needs a survey. 

What I like about this: a survey is a great way to collect information (data). But it’s not useful unless you have a way to analyze that information. So we get to see Layla graph survey results. This is cool – and is something any kid old enough to read this book can do. Heck, my kids were collecting data and graphing M&M colors at this age. (“Mom… we need another bag of M&Ms!”)

Once they discover that folks like cupcakes, the obvious next-step is to design and build a machine that bakes cupcakes and frosts them. 

The machine works! But… the first person to test it asks it to do something unexpected. And that causes problems which must be fixed before the grand opening. The clock is ticking … can Layla and the Bots debug the code and fix the machine in time?

Another thing I like: The problem that’s posed is how to build a machine that allows for personal choice in the baking, frosting, and decorating of cupcakes. Maybe it will get some kids wondering how decisions are made.

And – at the back there’s a Build Your Own activity. Not a cupcake machine – that would be too hard! But a fun extendable grabber arm.

On Wednesday I chatted with Vicky about why she’s so keen on integrating technology, engineering, and coding in her kid’s stories. Check it out at the GROG blog.

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 ARC provided by the author.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Homer on the Case


Homer on the Case 
by Henry Cole 
144 pages; ages 8-12
Peachtree, 2021

After meeting Homer, you’ll never look at pigeons the same way again. Sure, he’s a homing pigeon – but he’s a homing pigeon who’s taught himself to read. What? You think pigeons can’t read? You’d be wrong… back in 2016 a scientist demonstrated that pigeons can recognize words. And they can do math, too.

Unlike lab pigeons, Homer taught himself to read by using the Dick Tracy comics and local news in the papers used to line his cage. So when people start losing jewelry in the park, Homer reflects on what Dick Tracy would do. He observes, watches, trains his mind to remember the traits of suspects.

The crime spree gets personal when Otto’s grandfather loses his gold pocket watch. Fortunately, Homer has friends who can help – an Amazon parrot named Lulu and a park pigeon named Carlos. With advice from Dick Tracy, Homer and Lulu crack the case. Now all they need to do is get their humans to climb down the storm drain into the underground tunnels. There’s just one small problem: Homer and Lulu need to figure out a way to communicate with their humans. 

What I like about this book: There are heroes and villains – but even the bad guys aren’t all bad. And the ways Homer tries to get messages to his human, Otto, are … creative. Just take a minute to think about how you might communicate something important to another species if you don’t speak the same language – and they think of you as a “cute pet.”

This is a great book for kids who like animal stories, for kids who like STEM, for bird-lovers of all feathers, and for kids who believe that comic book superheroes have wisdom to share.

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, June 11, 2021

Catching up on picture books


These picture books somehow managed to evade review over the past year, and I’m not sure how. After all, the book basket isn’t that big! Both were published by Chronicle in 2020.

theme: family, friendship, read-aloud

For the youngest listeners (from 3-5):
Mabel: A Mermaid Fable, by Rowboat Watkins 

What was weird about Mabel wasn’t her mustache.

Turns out her entire family had mustaches. Nope, having a mustache wasn’t the problem. NOT having one was! Poor Mabel. She tried to make a mustache out of everything she could think of – but no luck. And then she meets a friend – an octopus named Lucky who fit his name except for one thing… he didn’t have eight legs. That didn’t matter to Mabel. They had fun together, playing and exploring and doing the things friends do.

What I like about this book: The idea of mustaches on merfolk is funny, the problem with being the odd one out isn’t. I love Mabel’s attempts at creating a mustache, and her easy acceptance of Lucky. And I love the illustrations. But I mostly love the way she learns to accept herself. 

Oh, and I love the nudibranchs, too.

For the “older” crowd (5-8):
Everyone’s Awake, by Colin Meloy; illus, by Shawn Harris 

The crickets are all peeping.

It’s time for folks to be sleeping, but in this house, Everyone’s Awake! Dad is baking bread. The mice are playing cards. Mom’s tap-dancing and brother’s juggling kitchen plates.

What I like about this book: It’s fun to read aloud, with rhymes and humorous happenings. The pages are bright, with simple, bold illustrations. And as the night goes on, the attempts to stay awake get crazier and crazier.

Beyond the Books:

You may not find any mermaids in the ocean, but you will find nudibranchs, or sea slugs. Learn more about them here. The photos are stunning.

If you’re planning to stay awake all night, make sure you have some games to play. Here are six games and all you need is one deck of cards.

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, April 30, 2021

Taking a Break ~ Back in a Few...

 I'm trying to finish a book and have procrastinated about as much as I can. So, off to the word-mines. I'll be back with more reviews in a few weeks.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Off on Another Explorer Academy Adventure

Explorer Academy: The Tiger’s Nest (book 5)
by Trudi Trueit
216 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2021

Cruz joins his best friends in another race-around-the-globe adventure in search of the next clue to his mom’s secret formula. This time we go along with him beneath the sea in the submersible Ridley. So many wonderful fish to see: trumpet fish, Seychelles anemonefish, moray eels, Bengal snappers… it’s hard to catch pictures of them all.

There’s robot-building and other classwork, and then there’s the secret mission: figuring out what the inscription on the back of the Aztec crown charm means. Is it a secret code? There’s a lost professor, a first kiss, and a mystery buried somewhere beneath the Taj Mahal. But the treacherous defenses protecting the next clue nearly does Cruz in. 

This time Cruz ends up in a marvelous archive where his mother’s notebook is housed. But the message is confusing and scary. If he read it correctly, his mom had an accident in the lab – an accident that will alter his destiny.

Like the other books in the series, the back matter explains the truth behind the fiction. You’ll meet a sea turtle researcher, someone who helped design Ocean Space Habitat, and some ocean explorers studying pollution and coral reefs.

You can check out reviews of previous books in the series here  and here . 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 Media Masters Publicity.

I'll be back with more books in June!

Friday, April 16, 2021

Earth Day reading

Earth Day is next week, April 22. So today I’m sharing two books about the Earth, and how we can live more in tune with our planet.

Themes: Earth Day, environment, nature

My Friend Earth
by Patricia MacLachlan; illus by Francesca Sanna 
44 pages; ages 3-5
Chronicle Books, 2020

My friend Earth wakes from a winter nap.

And when she does, she has a lot to do. She’s got animals to attend to, large and small. She cares for the creatures of the tundra, the prairies, the ocean. She pours rain from the clouds and blows autumn leaves from trees. She sprinkles snow across the land before snuggling down for another long nap.

What I like about this book: The die-cut pages are fun to explore – though sometimes hard to turn – and I love the lyrical text. A sweet book to read for Earth Day.

My Green Day: 10 Green Things I Can Do Today 
by Melanie Walsh 
40 pages; ages 3-7
Candlewick, 2020

When I wake up I eat a free-range egg for breakfast.

Over the course of a day we follow the main character as she does simple things, from putting breakfast eggshells into the compost bin to helping hang the laundry. 

What I like about this book: I like how it shows concrete, simple things kids can do to help the Earth. From recycling scraps to make Earth Day cards to remembering the cloth bags for the trip to the grocery store, this book highlights 10 things any kid can do. I also like the bold illustrations.

Beyond the Books:

Do some Earth Day activities
~ here’s a list of 50 ideas from Tinker Lab.  

Make a list of some things you can do to help the Earth. Could you take smaller portions so you finish all the food on your plate? What about hanging laundry on a line or drying rack? Taking a short shower instead of a bath? Putting on a sweater instead of turning up the heat?

Visit a nearby state park and take a walk. If you can’t travel, try a virtual tour of one of our gorgeous national parks. Here’s a link to Yellowstone National Park and one to the Grand Canyon. Find more here.

Go outside and hug a tree. Ask someone to take a photo of you hugging your tree, then print it out so you can remember Earth Day 2021. Remember to visit your tree every now and then to see how it’s doing.

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 9, 2021

Math + Art > numbers

Here’s something you need to know about Sally (the inspiration for this blog): she was married to a math teacher and her three sons grew up to become math teachers. So I figure it’s only appropriate to include math stories every now and then. Here’s one that will hit the shelves in about 10 days (estimation is a useful math skill!).

Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers 
by Rajani LaRocca; illus. by Chaaya Prabhat 
32 pages; ages 3-6
Charlesbridge, 2021

theme: math, art, holidays

Bina had three big brothers: Vijay, Siddharth, and Arjun.

Like big brothers everywhere, they sometimes annoyed her – but Bina loves them anyway. So when the Hindu festival, Raksha Bandhan grows close, she decides to make her brothers some bracelets. They will be the perfect gift to celebrate the close relationship that ties them together as siblings. So Bina decides to buy beads to make the bracelets. Vijay loves blue but hates the color green. Siddharth loves green but can’t stand orange. And Arjun loves orange but is oh-so-tired of blue. 

What I like about this book: This story integrates math by using colors and patterns. With only enough money to buy the beads her brothers love, Bina has to figure out how to make bracelets that are fun and include more than one color. Rajani also includes Back Matter (yay!) with information about the festival and a math exploration activity.

I caught up with Rajani a couple weeks ago and asked her One Question:

me: What made you so passionate about math - and so passionate about sharing
it with young people through your books?

Rajani: I love that math truly is everywhere, that we use it all the time to solve everything from simple, everyday problems to incredibly complex ones. There is a beauty to math that fills me with wonder. I love writing books that, I hope, inspire young people to think about math with a sense of discovery and fun.

Beyond the Books:

Make some patterns using two colors of beads or blocks – or even splats of paint. Like Bina, you might do alternating colors (green-blue-green-blue). What other kinds of repeating patterns can you make using only two colors? Here’s one to get you started: green-blue-blue-green-blue-blue…

Instead of colors, what other ways can you create patterns? Use different senses. Create some patterns you can see (shape? French fries vertical or horizontal?). Create patterns you can hear (drum beats? notes?). Create patterns of texture (sandpaper-smooth? different textures of cloth?)

Rajani is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. In addition to practicing medicine, she writes award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for children. Some of her titles this year include: Red, White, and Whole, Much Ado About Baseball, and Where Three Oceans Meet – plus more on the way! Find out more about her and her books at her website,

We’ll be 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 19, 2021

Girls Can Too be knights!

I love sharing books written by friends. I met Terry around a decade ago at the Highlights children’s writers workshop in Chautauqua. We sat in on many of the same workshops, and talked STEM writing during lunches. So when she told me she was working on a chapter book series, I couldn’t wait to read it!

Definitely Dominguita: Knight of the Cape 
by Terry Catasus Jennings; illus. by Fatima Anaya
144 pages; ages 6-9
Aladdin, 2021

Dominguita Melendez is definitely a girl after my own heart. She loves to read, especially tales of adventure and chivalry in her grandmother’s books. So rather than playing, she spends her recess period reading Don Quijote.

So when the bully sneers that girls can’t be knights, Dominguita sets out to prove him wrong. After all, Joan of Arc was a knight. Right? 

With a helmet and cape and sense of justice, Dom sets off to seek adventure, even if that means helping people carry groceries along the way. She acquires a squire, aptly named Pancho Sanchez, and a trusty steed (of sorts), scrounges some armor and manages to convince a neighbor to knight her with his trusty sword.  Then she is definitely 100% ready for heroic adventures…

… which turn out a bit differently than expected. I don’t want to spoil the story, but let me just say lots of cookies are involved, Dom gains a crew of stout-hearted friends, and there is a real brave and true rescue.

This is a fun book that kicks off a new series about Dom and her friends. The stories are based on classic tales: Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers… I’m sure there will be more, as abuela had many tales to share.

Want a taste of the story? Visit Terry’s website and check out the trailer. She’s also got some book-related classroom activities. Then, head over to the GROG Blog for an interview with Terry.

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.

I'll be back with more books next month!

Friday, March 12, 2021

Sit. Read. Another Dog-gone Mystery

King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring 
by Dori Hillestad Butler; illus. by Nancy Meyers 
48 pages; ages 7-9
Peachtree Publishing, 2021

The first page of this book – like the first page of all the others in the series – makes me smile. How can you not, when it begins:
My name is King. I’m a dog. This is Kayla. She is my human.

It’s the sort of opening that makes you want to grab a mug of cocoa and snuggle into the couch pillows. 

The other thing that makes me smile? It’s how no matter what King and Kayla are doing, it’s the most fun thing in the world to do. And no matter what treats he’s offered, they are King’s favorites!

This book opens with a snowball fight, wet mittens, and snack time (marshmallows! King’s favorite!). Suddenly Asia realizes her gold ring is missing – a ring with a special link to her grandma. The game is afoot, and the friends retrace their steps. 

Kayla grabs a notebook and pencil. She jots down things they know. She scribbles a list of things they don’t know. While Kayla and her friends use detective logic, King has his own list of clues about where the shiny ring might have gone. (Crows like shiny things, he thinks.)

This is a fun book to read with a dog or by yourself. Check out my reviews of previous books in the series here and here. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Books for Newly Independent Readers

Today I’m sharing a couple early chapter books that managed to sneak to the bottom of my book basket and hide out for the past year.

Charlie & Mouse Even Better
by Laurel Snyder; illus. by Emily Hughes 
40 pages; ages 6-9
Chronicle Books, 2019

I introduced Charlie and Mouse back in September (when they were off on a camping trip). This time they are “helping” around the house. They help with breakfast by suggesting shapes for pancakes. They help shop for a birthday present. And they definitely help when dad burns the cake!

This is #3 in the series. Like the others, it’s got four chapters that, if read by themselves, could be independent stories. Together they create a perfect book for children who are ready to move from beginning readers to a book with chapters. Young kids will relate to the things that happen, because who hasn’t had to tag along on a shopping trip or wished for dragon pancakes? 

You can check out another book in the Charlie & Mouse series here

Fox & Chick: The Party: and Other Stories 
by Sergio Ruzzier 
56 pages; ages 5-8
Chronicle Books, 2018

Ah, this book is so cute and fun to read… and I can’t believe I haven’t shared it until now! Fox and Chick are friends, much in the way Frog and Toad are friends, or Elephant and Piggie, or… Well, you get the idea.

This book is a collection of three independent stories that are perfect for newly independent readers. They are filled with humor – such as when Chick knocks on Fox’s door and asks to use the bathroom. But Chick’s idea of what “borrowing a bathroom” entails is a bit different that what Fox thinks. Still, the two remain friends because, after all, there are two more stories. Even on the last page, Fox reminds Chick that it’s only The End for now, inviting kids to imagine more adventures … or dive into the next book in the series.

Review copies provided by the publishers.

Friday, February 19, 2021

STEM in the Garden

It’s never too early to think about planting a garden. My seeds are ordered and now I’m mapping out where I want to plant things – much like Maxine and Leo in this brand-new hot-off-the-press STEAM book.

Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever
by Ruth Spiro; illus by Holly Hatam 
40 pages; ages 4-8
Dial Books, 2021

 theme: friendship, STEAM, creativity

 Maxine and Milton made a perfect pair.

 They do everything together. And Maxine loves making things for Milton. “If I can dream it, I can build it,” she says. When their friend, Leo suggests they make a garden, Milton grins gill to gill because the new garden will have a pond. For him. (Milton is a goldfish)

What I like about this book: Maxine and Leo see the world differently from each other. When Leo plans his garden, it’s colorful drawings with notes. Maxine’s is a careful blueprint. But when veggie-munching marauders visit their garden at night, the duo work together to build a scarecrow. There’s only one problem: it doesn’t scare anyone. So they add lasers and gadgets and … that doesn’t work either. Just when their garden threatens their friendship, they figure out the perfect solution.


Beyond the Books:

What sort of animals and birds live in your neighborhood? Do any of them eat garden plants? If so, what do they like to eat?

Design a scarecrow – or other solution – that will keep those veggie-nibbling animals and birds out of your garden. Think about things you’ve got around the house or in the basement or garage. Draw a picture to show how it works.

Ruth is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. She’s the author of the Baby Loves Science series. You can find out more about her at her website.

We’ll be joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review pdf provided by the publisher.

Join me next month for a look at chapter books.

Friday, February 12, 2021

I’ve Got Birds on the Brain

This coming weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, so I’m thinking about birds. And I found these fun bird-related stories nesting in the bottom of my book basket.

theme: birds, feathers, imagination

Lali's Feather 
by Farhana Zia; illus. by Stephanie Fizer Coleman 
32 pages; ages 4-8
Peachtree Publishing, 2020 

Lali found a feather in the field.

But whose feather was it? Lali sets out to find feather’s home, asking various birds if the feather is theirs. One after another, Rooster, Peacock, and Blue Jay reject the feather. It is too little, too plain, too pokey – besides, what can a feather like that do?

What I like about this book: I like the creative way Lali puts the feather to use. And I like how, when she loses it, the birds try to help find it. And I especially love the ending – which is fun and surprising and I will not spoil!

Ivy Bird
By Tania McCartney; illus. by Jess Racklyeft
32 pages; ages 3-6
Blue Dot Kids, 2020

When the sun comes up, Ivy wakes to tweets and cheeps.

With a bit of seed, Ivy is up and moving. She pecks in the sunshine, warbles, sips nectar, fluffs feathers. But Ivy is not a bird. She is a girl with a huge imagination.

What I like about this book: Each spread introduces a different bird that Ivy meets during her day. Some are in the world around her, and some are in her imagination – but all are hidden somewhere in the pages of the story. Fortunately, there is Back Matter where we can learn more about these birds! (and you know I love back matter!)

Beyond the Books:

Get involved in bird Citizen Science
– Join the Bird Count this weekend. Simply watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days, February 12-15, 2021, and tell us what you see!

Birds have a lot of strategies for staying warm in the winter. Check them out here. My favorite is to get puffy! How do you stay warm in winter?

With no leaves, it’s easier to find bird nests tucked in shrubs and bushes. If you see one, take a good look but don’t disturb it – the bird might return in the spring. What is it made from? How big is it? How far is it from the ground? From the edge of the bush? Take a photo or draw a picture. 
Here's one I found a few weeks ago. 

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

Friday, February 5, 2021

Beatrix Potter Saves the Countryside

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit 
by Linda Marshall; illus. by Ilaria Urbinati 
40 pages; ages 4-8
little bee books, 2020

theme: biography, environment, illustrator

On the third floor of a London town house, a young girl sketched pictures of her pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer.

That’s not all she drew. The girl, Beatrix Potter also sketched frogs and mice, turtles and salamanders and, later, detailed drawings of mushrooms. Beatrix loved nature and art. She also wanted to “do something” with her life, in a time when most women were expected to focus on their family. Beatrix also loved writing stories and ended up penning some of my favorites: Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny… and about 20 more. She painted gentle scenes of her English countryside – and took steps to preserve it for the future.

What I like about this book: I love how Linda Marshall focuses on the broader environmental accomplishments of Beatrix Potter. And I love the illustrations by Ilaria Urbinati that are so reminiscent of Potter’s, drawing us into a time of teas and bunnies and cottages and sheep grazing in the meadow.

Beyond the Books:

Sketch an animal living in and around you
– it could be a pet, or the stray cat that hangs out by the garden, a bird or rascally squirrel raiding the feeder. After you’ve sketched it a few times, think about dressing it up in a jacket or vest. Beatrix Potter’s rabbit was her inspiration for Peter Rabbit.

Read a Beatrix Potter story and linger on the illustrations. What do you notice about her characters and her artwork?

Are there any land trusts or nature preserves in your area? If so, try to visit one. How does it contribute to your community?

If you have a backyard, ask for permission to let part of it “go wild” for the summer. Write notes and draw pictures about what you see there. 

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, January 29, 2021

Don't Hug Doug


Don't Hug Doug: (He Doesn't Like It) 
by Carrie Finison; illus. by Daniel Wiseman 
32 pages; ages 3-7
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2021

theme: hugs, individuality

You can hug a pug. You can hug a bug.
You could probably even hug a porcupine… ve-e-ery carefully. Just don’t hug Doug because he doesn’t like it! Even though Doug is a seriously no-hug type of guy, he likes you. Just not hugs.
What I like about this book: I love the illustration showing what Doug thinks about hugs: too squeezy and squashy. I love that Carrie Finison shows the great diversity of things that Doug likes. She then shows other ways that Doug lets his friends know that he likes you. Turns out Doug is a master of high fives. But here’s the point – and it’s important: everybody, including your cat, gets to decide for themselves whether they want a hug or not.

Beyond the Books:
Do you like to be hugged? Or would you rather not be hugged? Are there some people you let hug you and others you don’t?
Draw a picture of what you think about hugs. What are the things you like – or don’t like – about hugs?
How do you show your friends that you like them? Do you do high fives? Fist bumps? Jump-twirls? Elbow tags?
Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Reviewed from a copy provided by the publisher.