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.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Night Lights

Welcome back to a new year filled with new books – and maybe a few old favorites. I will probably slack off a bit on reviews this spring. Not because my book basket’s empty – it’s not. But because I’m busy writing a book. With a friend. You know what they say: two heads are better than one!

Plus – I have a picture book coming out next month. It’s called 13 Ways to Eat a Fly, and I’ll be visiting some other blogs to talk about it.

But today I do have a book to share, and it’s perfect for winter. I remember seeing an aurora one night when I lived in Vermont - the sky shimmered with curtains of green... So grab a mug of cocoa and pull on a sweater because this review takes you outside into the frigid winter air.

Seeking an Aurora 
by Elizabeth Pulford; illus. by Anne Bannock 
32 pages; ages 3-7
Blue Dot Kids Press; 2021

theme: family, sky, winter

Late into the night Dad nudged me awake. “Come on,” he said.

Dad helps the child on with coat, hat, mittens – then they’re off to seek an aurora. They walk past cows in the pasture and up a hill and there above is the expanse of sky. Are the stars the aurora, the child asks. Wait, says dad. And then, silently, wings of color fly shimmer across the sky like a curtain of light.

What I like about this book: This is a nice, quiet book about a father sharing a special experience with his child. The child could be anyone – even the one reading the book – and the joy and wonder is universal. At some point in the book, dad tells the kid everything he knows about the aurora – but we never find out what he says until we flip to the back where there is a page titled, “Everything Dad Knew About the Aurora”

Pair it with Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen & illustrated by John Schoenherr.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about the aurora
. Here’s an article about what causes the Northern lights (aurora borealis) and another one. And here’s a video of northern lights from a few years ago.

If you can’t see an aurora, create your own. Make a tissue paper collage or use chalk to create an aurora light display on a piece of dark paper.

Go out on night walk when the sky is dark. What do you notice? When you get inside, write about what you saw and heard. You might write a poem or haiku or even a story.

The best way to discover an aurora display is to head outside at night when the sky is dark, and look toward the north (if you’re in the northern hemisphere and it’s winter). The lights depend on the level of geomagnetic activity: the more there is, the more chance of lights.

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.