Friday, September 24, 2021

Blink and Block are Friends

Friendbots: Blink and Block Bug Each Other (I Can Read Comics)
by Vicky Fang 
32 pages; ages 4-8
HarperAlley, 2021

theme: friendship, STEAM, robots

Hey, Block. Let’s play!

Blink and Block are friends. They are robots. That makes them FriendBots! Blink is round, and silly, and playful. Block is square, and serious, and logical. They may not be a perfect fit, but … eventually they figure out how to solve problems together. In book one, they were looking for treasure, and ended up finding friendship. In this book, Block is busy working and Blink wants to play. If you've ever had a friend who pesters  and bugs you, then you will identify with these two friendbots.

What I like about this book: Comics! Who doesn’t love comics? There are three or four panels per 2-page spread. The drawings are uncomplicated and, combined with simple text presented in speech bubbles (aka: word balloons), guides the beginning reader through the story.

Front matter in this book shows how to read a comic, and defines the different kinds of word balloons: dialogue, thought, whisper, excited exclamation! Back matter is a single page, and in this book focuses on buttons. Why? Because Blink pushes Block’s buttons. But also because a button – at least on a robot – is a type of sensor, just like the power button on your tv remote.

This book is part of a series. In the first book, Blink and Block use a scanner to locate treasure. Scanners are sensors, too. They allow robots to see and understand the environment around them.

Blink and Block are so likeable that I just had to ask Vicky One Question.

Me: Can you talk about how you came to illustrate these comics yourself? Is drawing a part of your tech career? 

Vicky: My expertise is in interaction design, not visual design. So, I’m familiar with digital art tools, but I never used them professionally for art! At one time I thought I would illustrate my own stories. But when I saw the amazing art and the arduous editing process of the kidlit world, I focused on writing. 

And yet, I always drew sketches to help me write my stories. They were messy, and hidden in my sketchbooks for me to reference as I wrote. Eventually I started adding a little concept sketch when my manuscripts went out on submission. My intention was to set the tone for the editor, not to pitch myself as the illustrator. Over time, the sketches turned into full dummies, and my agent began submitting me as illustrator-optional on some of my projects.

Andrew Arnold, my eventual editor for FRIENDBOTS, saw potential in the dummy I had sent and worked with me to polish my style. When he made me an offer for text and illustrations, I was slightly terrified. But I took the leap and I’m so glad that I did. It was so much fun, I learned a ton, and I feel like illustration is properly a new tool in my arsenal.

I also have to thank my kid for making me practice. He constantly asked me to draw him pictures, mostly stormtroopers. And he was an unforgiving critic with high standards! So I got a lot of practice drawing and my skills improved.

Now, I’m working on a lot of new projects including a new chapter book and a non-fiction book. And guess what? I’m illustrating all of them.

Beyond the Books:

Look for sensors in and around your house. You probably don’t have a robot, but you may have a remote control with on and off buttons. Other sensors might include a camera, and microphones. I use the mic in my smart phone to pick up bird calls so the Merlin App can identify the bird. 

Draw or build (using recycled materials) a simple robot with at least one sensor. Write about what the sensor does for the robot. What sort of information does it collect? Or does it have another job?

Back in June, I chatted with Vicky about how she integrates technology, engineering, and coding in her kid’s stories. You can find that at the GROG blog. Check out this review of her Layla and the Bots series for middle graders.

Vicky is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. 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, September 17, 2021

Sit. Stay. Read!

Secondhand Dogs 
by Carolyn Crimi 
256 pages; ages 8-12  
Balzer + Bray, 2021
By now you know I am a sucker for dog stories. And especially if they are about rescue dogs and the people who love them. And doubly especially if they are told from the dogs’ points of view.

Gus, Roo, Tank, and Moon Pie live with Miss Lottie and her cat, Ghost. Together with Quinn, the kid down the street who helps Miss Lottie, they make up a pack. At least that’s how Gus thinks of his adopted family. But when Miss Lottie brings a new member into the group, Gus – already insecure about being a “good enough” leader – is hard-pressed to keep his pack together.

Gus isn’t too sure about the new dog, Decker. The scent that wafts off him is “bright and cold, like the metal water bowl in Miss Lottie’s kitchen,” and he acts too … confident. But Miss Lottie falls in love with her new rescue, and soon Decker has moved into her room, onto her bed, and squeezed the other dogs out of her heart.

But when Decker convinces Moon Pie to take off on an impossible journey, Gus realizes he has to rally his pack and find the little dog they all love. After all, there are coyotes on the loose, and cars on the road.

Each chapter is told through a different point-of-view, with some providing insights into backstories and personal motives. Each in a unique voice. You can almost hear Moon Pie’s tail wagging as he tries to please Miss Lottie, Gus, Quinn, and bad-boy Decker. You can hear the nervousness in Roo’s hyperactive cadence, and Tank’s heft as he moves and settles and thinks over a response. Then there’s Ghost, the resident cat who rarely shows himself but when he does, it’s to deliver important information. And Quinn, who may or may not have been at fault when his own dog died, and finds acceptance in the pack at Miss Lottie’s house.

In this book you’ll find adventure. You’ll suffer through family/pack disputes and bullying. And at the end you will discover that there’s a “good boy” hidden inside everyone.

This is definitely a book you’ll want to Sit, Stay, and Read.

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, September 10, 2021

BLOG TOUR: Good Night, Oppy!

Good Night, Oppy! 
by James McGowan; illus. by Graham Carter 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Boyds Mills Press, 2021 

theme: Mars, exploration

Opportunity loved her job. 

Opportunity was one of two rovers sent to explore Mars. She and her sister, Spirit, landed on the planet in January, 2004. In his book, McGowan endows Oppy with the voice to describe the Mars mission in her own words. And he shows how hard she worked, navigating more than 28 miles over the uneven and rocky Martian surface. She sledded down hills into craters, discovered minerals, and searched for proof of ancient watery environments. Through the marvels of NASA technology, Oppy talked with her scientists and engineers. The original mission was for 90 days, but Oppy kept on going, and going, and going for fifteen years – until a huge dust storm prevented her from recharging her solar batteries. 

What I like about this book: The story is fun, and both author and illustrator give Oppy real personality. I like how Oppy is presented as an explorer, on the trail of discovery. Though a work of fiction, each page contains an additional layer of factual text filled with details to help answer questions young listeners are sure to come up with. 

Yes! There is Back Matter! In the author’s note, McGowan shares some of the history of the real Oppy and reminds readers that there are two more rovers actively exploring the planet. And there are photos ~ some of Oppy’s “postcards from Mars.”

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. You can find out more here, here, and here

Make your own rover out of cardboard. Here’s how.

Pretend you are a rover. Draw a picture of what you think you would see on Mars. Then check out some of these “postcards” of images from Opportunity.

Head over to Archimedes Notebook to discover more new books about Mars and space exploration. 

Make sure to visit the other stops on the Blog Tour

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, September 3, 2021

Avocado in Search of Self

Avocado Asks 
by Momoko Abe 
32 pages; ages 3-7
Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2021 

theme: imagination, identity

Avocado was feeling just fine in the fruit and vegetable aisle of the supermarket.

At least he was until a kid asked whether he was a fruit or a vegetable. Avocado didn’t know the answer! So Avocado did what any other item in the produce section would do: set off in search of his identity. 
Was Avocado a Vegetable?
No, said the veggies.
Was Avocado a fruit?
You’re not sweet like us, they answered.

What I like about this book: I love, love, love when Avocado’s “insides felt like they were turning to guacamole.” I love how Avocado searches for identity amongst the lentils and eggs, fish and cheeses. And I love the tomato skulking around in the background. But most of all I love the fun language Momoko Abe uses to show how Avocado feels.

Beyond the Books:

Take a trip to a grocery store. Notice how the produce is displayed. Where is Avocado?

Check out the book trailer here.

Did you know you can make brownies using avocados? Well, I didn’t either. But here are a whole bunch of ways to enjoy avocados. So ask Avocado over for lunch!

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 library copy.