Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

New school, new country, new beginnings: The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, by Christina Matula, (April 2022, Inkyard Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781335424884

Ages 8-12

Holly-Mei Jones is a middle schooler who jumps at the chance for a new beginning when her mom announces that an exciting promotion comes with a major move: from their home in Canada to Hong Kong! But, as her ah-ma (grandmother) says, the bitter comes first, and then the sweet. Holly discovers that her new life in Hong Kong is not without its pressures: her mother’s new position comes with expectations and rules, and the most popular girl in her class is bossy and can be nice one minute, horribly mean the next. Determined to to get to the sweet part of her new life, Holly-Mei discovers that she has a lot to learn.

Holly-Mei has a big heart and a strong sense of justice which gets her into trouble and makes her such a lovable character. Kids will read all about her new life in Hong Kong with excitement and wonder – it’s like Crazy Rich Asians for kids! – and realize that in life, you have to weather the storms, no matter where you are, as they see Holly-Mei buckle under her mother’s shift into a more appearance and behavior-driven mindset. Supporting characters are there to move Holly’s story along, but have their own definitive personalities. Gemma, popular girl and Holly-Mei’s frenemy, has an interesting backstory that gives texture to her actions.

A compulsively readable book about middle school, rich with Chinese culture and likable characters, humor, and genuine feeling. Put this on your Newbery watch lists.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

The Faith of Elijah Cummings pays tribute to a giant

The Faith of Eljah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice, by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Laura Freeman, (Jan. 2022, Random House Studio), $17.99, ISBN: 9780593306505

Ages 6-10

Congressman and civil rights advocate Elijah Cummings left an extraordinary legacy when he passed in 2019. Carole Boston Weatherford, whose numerous awards include a Newbery Medal and two NAACP Image Awards, along with NAACP Image Award winning illustrator Laura Freeman, to create a picture book biography that makes this giant of a man accessible to all ages. Beginning with the Congressman’s impoverished childhood and moving through his civil rights journey, focus on inner-city youth, and government work, we also see how Elijah Cummings’s faith and family was his anchor. Photorealistic illustrations are bold and eye-catching, and quotes from Elijah Cummings inspire readers as Carole Boston Weatherford’s narration concentrates on his humanity, choosing moments in his life like being tutored by librarians when his teachers said he would never be able to read or write well; his mother’s preaching, which inspired him to care for others in need, and the civil rights lawyer from his youth that inspired him to defend kids who needed defending. As a “Washington power broker”, he continued living in his Baltimore inner-city neighborhood and hung a campaign sign in his window so others could find him. Back matter includes an excerpt from the statement from the Congressional Black Caucus made upon the Congressman’s passing; a timeline of Elijah Cummings’s life; a bibliography, and the quote sources. Endpapers show Elijah Cummings, in profile, set against the American flag.

An incredible book for an incredible figure, and a must-add to your picture book biographies. The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s author webpage is a treasure trove of information, with resources and links to media related to her books. See more of Laura Freeman’s illustration work at her website. Find a biography, bibliography, and committee assignments for Elijah Cummings at the House of Representative’s website; visit Congress’s website to learn more about the legislation sponsored or co-sponsored by him, along with his remarks in the Congressional Record.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Welcome to MY World: Weird But True! New York City

Weird But True! New York City, by National Geographic Kids, (Sept. 2021, National Geographic Kids), $8.99, ISBN: 9781426372322

Ages 8-10

Finally! NatGeo Kids has put together a Weird But True! collection of facts and photos of my backyard. Welcome to New York City, all! You know the Weird But True/Weird Facts drill, so let’s get to it. I love all the New York history the editors at NatGeo Kids have put in there, including hilarious poop facts for all (when there were horse and buggies were the main mode of transportation, street cleaners cleaned about 500 tons of manure off the streets every day. Enjoy that). I LOVE all the love for my home borough, Queens! Our Queens Museum is home of the New York Panorama and we’ve got the Unisphere in Corona Flushing Meadow Park! There are a wealth of library facts in here, which makes me happy (but hey… there are more library systems than just NYPL, which, admittedly, does have the original Winnie the Pooh toys and a giant reading room). And you know what else New York has? DINOSAURS. Our American Museum of Natural History is where the first installment of the Night at the Museum movies takes place (which figures into one of the facts in Weird But True NY).

Full of fun facts and gorgeous photos, fully indexed, and just a fun read, Weird But True! New York City is the next book you want to have in your NatGeo Kids collection (and New York librarians: this BEGS for a New York Bingo kind of program, which you can totally do virtually).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pull some cool Queens Public Library facts together to send to the good folks at Nat Geo Kids for their updated edition…

Posted in picture books

Snow Angel, Sand Angel welcomes you to Hawai’i

Snow Angel, Sand Angel, by Lois-Ann Yamanaka/Illustrated by Ashley Kukashevsky, (Jan. 2022, Make Me a World), $17.99, ISBN: 9780593127377

Ages 4-8

Explore Hawai’i, where you can find sand and snow, depending on where you are! Claire is a girl living in Hawai’i, surrounded by Hapuna Beach and the mountains of the Big Island. When she has to do a school project on winter, she’s stumped: she’s never seen snow! Dad decides to take the family to Mauna Kea, where they can enjoy snow, but it’s not the trip Claire’s dreamed of: what she pictures in her head doesn’t quite match the movies, and having to drive through black lava fields to play in “old snow” that isn’t freshly fallen is a disappointment; so is using beach towels for scarves and old socks for mittens. When she and her family go to the beach right before the New Year, though, she discovers she can make her own winter wonderland in the middle of the sand: there are sand balls, sandmen who look great sporting beach towel scarves and straw hats, and sand angels to make! As she watches the sun set, Claire realizes that she lives in a beautiful land that has many, many faces: “… lava fields, sandy beaches, rain forests, fiery volcanoes, sacred mountains, and, yes, even snow”. Digital illustrations bring the magic of Hawai’i’s sunsets, oceans, and snowy mountains to life. An author’s note mentions the diversity found in Hawai’i, where you can find ten of the world’s fourteen climate zones and countless endangered plants and animals. There’s a glossary and a note from Christopher Myers, creative director for the Make Me a World imprint, on how Snow Angel, Sand Angel takes us to a different world.

Lois-Ann Yamanaka is an award-winning author from Hawai’i. Ashley Lukashevsky is the illustrator of Antiracist Baby by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Visit Ashley Lukashevsky’s website for more of her artwork. Visit Twinkl.com for a free Hawai’i coloring sheet; there are also many activity and coloring sheets to discover on Education.com.

Snow Angel, Sand Angel has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Two Books to Read This Shabbat

Kalaniot Books has been putting out some great books representing Jewish culture. I’ve been reading them, enjoying them, and sharing them with my library kids. Here are two to take home to read this Shabbat.

The Candy Man Mystery, by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky/Illustrated by Christina Mattison Ebert, (Sept. 2021, Kalaniot Books), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-7350875-2-8

Ages 4-8

Josh and Becky enjoy going to synagogue, and Mr. Sharansky – The Candy Man – makes it even more special, handing out candy after services every week! When Mr. Sharansky isn’t at Temple Shalom this week, Josh and Becky are worried and determined to get to the bottom of this mystery. When they find Mr. Sharansky, it’s a sweet reunion in every way. A touching story of faith and multigenerational friendship, The Candy Man Mystery is a great readaloud on empathy and sharing. Josh and Becky connect with members of their synagogue community, and we learn something about everyone they come into contact with, including a child learning a prayer in American Sign Language (ASL), so he can say them with his mother, who is deaf. The congregation is invested in one another, and the Rabbi is a warm figure who respects children and adults alike. Back matter includes a word on the Shema, a glossary, and how to use ASL to sign the Shema. A lovely addition to Jewish culture and empathy-focused collections.

Visit Kalaniot’s webpage to download a free educator’s guide for The Candy Man Mystery.

 

The Rabbi and the Painter, by Shoshana Weiss/Illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham, (Sept. 2021, Kalaniot Books), $19.99, ISBN: 978-0-9988527-8-2

Ages 5-8

Based on the true story of the relationship between 16th-Century Venetian painter Tintoretto (also known as “Il Furioso”) and Rabbi Leon Modena (also known as Yahuda Araya), formed when the Rabbi was a boy who found a clay doll the painter used as a model. The Rabbi became fluent in both Italian and Hebrew, helping the Venetian government draft contracts in Hebrew as needed and eventually helping Tintoretto with one of his famous pieces, The Last Supper. The story explores the friendship between the two men while focusing on their individual talents, resulting in a story about how blending cultures can lead to great things. Back matter includes historical notes and further resources. Illustrations are engaging and focus on collaboration and creativity. A smart addition to historical picture books.

Download a free educator guide at Kalaniot’s website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Discover Israel with this rhyming tour

My Israel and Me, by Alice Blumenthal McGinty/Illustrated by Rotem Teplow, (Sept. 2021, Kalaniot Books), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-7350875-3-5

Ages 3-8

Told in verse through the eyes of the diverse groups of people living in and visiting Israel, My Israel is a celebration of both the ancient and modern-day country.  Verse shares space with factual information about areas like The Dead Sea, the modern city and Israel’s status as a “Start-Up Nation”, kibbutzes, Biblical history, and more. Alice Blumenthal McGinty celebrates Jewish and Muslim culture and family life, and Rotem Teplow’s colorful artwork takes readers on a journey across the small country with a big history. Endpapers show a plethora of objects to take readers on a visual journey, like camels, kites, olive leaves, and cats, all of whom are waiting to be discovered in the pages.

To extend a lesson on Israel, visit TeachersPayTeachers, where you can find a map of ancient Israel from Taylor Beck; an Israel Activities Pack from Marshal Jewish Learning Center, and more! Download a free educator kit from Kalaniot’s website.

Author Alice Blumenthal McGinty is an award-winning author. You can find educator guides on her website, along with more information on her books, and information about school visits. Visit illustrator Rotem Teplow’s website for more of her artwork.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A Snake, a Flood, a Hidden Baby: Bible Stories for Children

A Snake, a Flood, a Hidden Baby: Bible Stories for Children, by Meir Shalev/Illustrated by Emanuele Luzzati, Translation by Ilana Kurshan, (Sept. 2021, Kalaniot Books), $21.99, ISBN: 978-0-9988527-9-9

Ages 3-8

Originally published in Hebrew in 1994, this English translation of six Bible stories from the Hebrew Bible are delightfully translated into English for younger listeners and readers. Featuring the stories of The Tree of Knowledge, Noah’s Ark, The Tower of Babel, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and His Brothers, and Moses in the River, the stories are told with a sense of humor and personality. Colorful illustrations bring the stories to life with vibrant spreads, one-page illustrations, and pop-ups throughout the text. Key phrases an quotes throughout each story are emphasized in size and colorful font, making this an accessible, wonderful book of stories to share.

Visit Kalaniot’s book detail page for A Snake, a Flood, a Hidden Baby to download a free educator’s guide.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books

Don’t Miss: Little John Crow

Little John Crow, by Ziggy and Orly Marley/Illustrated by Gordon Rowe, (Nov. 2021, Akashic Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781617759802

Ages 5-8

Young vulture Little John Crow happily lives with his parents in Bull Bay, on the edge of Blue Mountains in Jamaica. Initially, he has no idea what his parents do for a living, but discovers – along with his friends – that his parents are vultures. Scavengers. This makes him an outcast among his friends, and a tragedy sends John off on his own, where he meets other vultures who welcome him into their kettle (a group of vultures!). With John and his parents no longer part of the Bay, the ecosystem is disrupted and the remaining animals realize that they were too quick and too harsh to judge their friend. They set out to find him and hope that he’ll be able to restore things to normal.

Vibrant artwork and emotional storytelling come together to create a readable, unputdownable story about prejudice, acceptance, and family – the families we’re born into and found families, with a subplot about disrupting ecosystems. A good addition to collections where animal stories are popular.

Ziggy Marley is a musician, philanthropist, and children’s book author, and the eldest of reggae artist Bob Marley’s children. Visit his website for more about his career. Orly Marley is Ziggy Marley’s wife, is also an entrepreneur and music industry manager. Gordon Rowe is a hip-hop influenced illustrator and designer. You can find his Instagram here.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A new age-old question: How Did Humans Go Extinct?

How Did Humans Go Extinct?, by Johnny Marciano/Illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Oct. 2021, Black Sheep), $16.95, ISBN: 9781617759277

Ages 3-7

Ten million years, the Earth looks a little different. It looks really futuristic, and the inhabitants? Well, they look a little amphibious. They’re Nøørfbløøks, and according to the science museum, the theory is that they’ve evolved from frogs. But our story revolves around young Plib, a Nøørfbløøk who loves humans, as is obvious from his favorite human stuffie, Frank, and his books and movies (Human Park, How Do Humans Say Good Night, Planet of the Humans). He wants to know how humans went extinct, but his mother is reticent to tell him: it’s really not a story for kids, after all. But when Plib presses, she relents and tells him some pretty uncomfortably plausible theories: pollution, war, and worst of all, they just stopped caring about one another. Plib is crushed at these heartbreaking theories, but Mom shushes his fears away by offering her own theory, which is more comforting. But it’s food for thought, isn’t it? Comic book style artwork has great little details on what archaeologists may find in about 10 million years, and the reasons for our extinction are food for thought and discussion. A smart call to action from a different point of view.

Johnny Marciano is a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, and the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, author and illustrator of the Madeline books. Marciano has continued the series with Madeline and the Old House in Paris, Madeline at the White House, and Madeline and the Cats of Rome. Paul Hoppe is an award-winning illustrator whose artwork regularly appears in the New York Times. See more of Paul Hoppe’s illustration work at his website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

’80s storytime: Good Times Roll

Good Times Roll, by Ric Ocasek/Illustrated by Rob Sayegh Jr., (Oct. 2021, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781617758485

I’m a 70s and 80s kid, and Akashic’s LyricPop books give me such joy. This latest one is based on The Cars’s 1978 hit, “(Let the) Good Times Roll”. Rob Sayegh Jr. brings a playful spin to this song with two cats, a ball of yarn, and a lot of imagination. The two cats play together as they create waves, rainbows, and zooming planets and stars with the yarn, frolicking through lyrics like, “Let them leave you up in the air. / Let them brush your rock and roll hair. / Let the good times roll”. It’s playful, it’s bright, it’s just fun: just what your ’80s storytime needs.