Hi everyone. Just a quick note to apologize, but I’m taking a brief hiatus to deal with a family emergency. I’m not blog fading, and will be back; I can’t promise that it will be soon, but I will. Love to you all.
New York State senator Julia Salazar first found herself on Brooklyn cartoonist Sofia Warren’s radar in 2018 when the then 27-year-old was a Democratic Socialist running for state senate. Her grassroots campaign inspired and motivated followers, including Sofia Warren. When Salazar won the election, Sofia Warren asked the newly minted state senator if she could chronicle the first year of her tenure; Salazar accepted, and Radical was born. Radical chronicles what happens after the balloons and confetti have been cleaned up and it’s time to get to work. Salazar, whose main focus was affordable housing, had a team of community organizers going up against wealthy landlords and entrenched ways of doing things: the twenty-something Socialist and her followers had their work cut out for them. Sofia Warren spent a year traveling with and speaking to Salazar and her team in order to create an honest portrait of a state senator’s first year in office: traveling to and from Albany; meetings, meetings, meetings; angry public meetings, staff disagreements, gaining and losing ground, all on the way to create legislation. The beginning of the story reads similar to an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez memoir; something the author is aware of, and Radical will appeal to AOC followers and anyone interested in the inner workings of grassroots politics. Excellent for high school and college courses.
Zahra is a young girl living in Kuwait, where “the desert reaches all the way to the sea and one hundred butterflies are always in the sky”. She is surrounded by love and by family; by her ancestors, who watch over her. When her father and mother tell her they are no longer welcome in the only home she has known, forcing the family to move far away to New Mexico, she feels unmoored: will her ancestors know where to find her? She misses her aunts, and misses being surrounded by people who speak her language. Slowly, though, Zahra and her family discover moments of familiarity: of music; of friendship; of belonging. Eventually, Zahra discovers that she can hold onto her home, where she has her aunts who love her and her ancestors who watch over them, and she can make this new “place of high desert” a home, with new friends and new traditions. Back matter includes the story of Zahra’s family and a word about the art. Zahra Marwan’s ink and watercolor artwork is dreamlike, to match her memories of her childhood. Colors are warm, influenced by her desert upbringing and move and her feelings of family. She tells her story in spare prose that creates images that will leave their mark on readers’ hearts. Endpapers with butterflies and balloons provide a link with the story. Invite readers to create butterflies or balloon crafts as an extension activity. Booktalk Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies by Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So and talk about the use of butterfly migration in stories about immigration. Visit Zahra Marwan’s website for more about her books and her illustration.
It’s time for a roundup! This time, we’ve got nature books to enjoy now that the Spring weather finally looks like it’s going to stick around. Get comfortable by your favorite tree, or sit in the warmth of the sun, and enjoy some of these Spring-y books.
Be Thankful for Trees : A tribute to the many & surprising ways trees relate to our lives, by Harriet Ziefert/Illustrated by Brian Fitzgerald, (March 2022, Red Comet Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781636550206
This is a fantastic way to introduce younger readers to all the great ways people and animals depend on trees! A rhyming tale expounds on the seven big things trees provide: food; comfort; music; art; recreation; home, and life. Colorful illustrations shows trees in nature, and how they’re used in day-to-day life, from providing a forest full of animals with food, to a kitchen table seating a family for dinner; from a child playing a piano, to a bird feeding her babies high up on a branch. Each area opens with a repetitive question and answer: “Would life be satisfying/good/possible without trees? It would not!” During a read-aloud, it’s the perfect opportunity for interaction; invite your littles to tell you what they think. The verse reminds also readers that trees are essential to life on earth, and the man-made disasters that threaten them, like deforestation and forest fire; Ziefert encourages readers to “explore a cool forest with its pine-scented breeze” and to “remember forever, BE THANKFUL FOR TREES!”. Playful, cheery color illustrations add to the fun verse, and golden leaves pop from the blue endpapers, really making this a wonderful book for early childhood natural science readalouds.
Author Harriet Ziefert has written hundreds of children’s books. You can see more of illustrator Brian Fitzgerald’s work at his website.
Visit Red Comet’s book detail page for a free, downloadable Teachers Guide. TeachersPayTeachers has a wealth of free learning activities about trees. I really like the idea of adopting a “class tree” and journaling observations over the course of a school year, as Robynn Drerup’s class has. Amanda Whitaker also has a fun tree journal for kids. Our Time to Learn’s Tree Animals Coloring sheet is great to hand out after a readaloud.
Every season comes with its own unique firsts and lasts. Leda Schubert and illustrator Clover Robin beautifully capture these moments in Firsts and Lasts: The Changing Season. Organized by season, the book offers gentle observation designed to provoke memories and warm feelings as we follow family through the year: Spring is the last time they (and we) wear snowsuits and build snow forts, but it’s the first time they see new grass, and wash the car; in the Fall, it’s the last time for things like going to the ice cream stand, but it’s the first time for seeing wooly caterpillars and jumping in leaves. Cut paper illustrations add a playful whimsy and the colors capture the feelings for each season; crisp winter skies and warm autumn leaves; bright spring flowers and lush summer landscapes. It’s a wonderful illustration of the transition nature – and people! – go through from season to season, and offers opportunities for kids to share their observations on seasonal change.
First and Lasts has a starred review from The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.
KB3Teach has a fun Seasons Cut and Paste activity on TeachersPayTeachers that nicely extends this book. Teresa Tretbar’s Amazing Literacy has seasonal coloring pages and posters for you to hand out, too.
Olaf Hajek has made beautiful art from vegetables and flowers; now, fruit gets the Hajek treatment in Olaf Hajek’s Fantastic Fruits. Annette Roeder returns to provide fun and interesting profiles on 25 fruits, like the pomegranate, also known as the “apple of discord” that was created, according to Greek myth, by an angry goddess of strife and discord; the banana, whose curve is slowly being bred out of the fruit in order to make for easier stacking; and the fig, whose juice can help against insect bites. Factual information on each fruit’s countries of origin, and other names and varieties of each fruit run across the bottom of each profile, and – as we’ve come to expect from Hajek – colorful, stunning portraits are the star of the show in this oversized volume. A fox and a woman collect orange juice from giant fruits hanging from a tree in one painting; another woman serves cherry cake to a young boy and a bird as cherries hang from a tree and provide a headdress; a porcupine carries a gigantic blackberry and raspberry on its back through a field. Hajek’s playfully surreal artwork is sure to catch eyes and make new fans as they pore through the pages of this gorgeous book. Great for art sections and 634 sections (fruits, naturally!).
Flowerville is a bustling, multicultural neighborhood where everyone loves to grow and share food! Beginning in April, the book takes readers through the year, month by month, with Flowerville citizens tending to their plants: in April, Maria chops down her asparagus spears; in July, Ramon tests the floating ability of a cucumber as his parent waters the plants. Each month features a new recipe, made with ingredients shown in the artwork. In July, we get creamy tzatziki sauce; in November, roasted beet dip. Warm and colorful artwork shows families and friends sharing food and friendship, and gardening tips and recipes make this a handy gardening guide for families and classes. Pair with Francine Sala’s What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street and Cynthia Cliff’s Pie for Breakfast for a worldwide trip for the palate.
Felicita Sala’s webpage has more of her illustration work, and a link to her food illustration is a must-see.
This oversized book is a “visual exploration of chemistry, atoms, elements, and the universe”, made accessible to middle grade and middle school students. Organized into five areas, The Stardust That Made Us looks at the history of chemistry in the natural world, the people who have dedicated their lives and careers to studying it, how we use chemistry in our everyday lives, and where the future of chemistry lies. Astronomy author and speaker Colin Stuart uses straightforward language to explain concepts in a way that respects and understands his readers. He uses enticing phrases like, “Nature has an unseen book full of recipes for making everything you’ve ever encountered” to draw readers in and pique their interest. He shares interesting bits of information within the scientific text, too, noting that the green dye that fascinated consumers in Victorian Britain was also slowly poisoning them: the green dye was produced by arsenic; mobile phones vibrate thanks to the chemical element dysprosium, that makes the motor responsible for the vibration, and ancient cave paintings in France were made using paint containing the element manganese. Ximo Abadía’s high contrast illustrations are stunning and colorful. A good addition to STEM collections.
Visit Colin Stuart’s webpage for more information about his books, to sign up for his newsletter (and get a free ebook!), and get information about appearances.
Red Comet Press debuted a new Easy Reader series that is great for preschoolers and kindergarteners and SEL collections. Really Bird is a round, blue bird that lives in a city park and spends time with friends Cat and Pup. Really Bird is REALLY enthusiastic about things: “They call me Really Bird because when I’m happy, or sad, or thirsty, or scared, I’m REALLY happy, or REALLY scared… or REALLY thirsty!” Sound familiar? If you’ve spent any time around young kids, it should! The first two books hit shelves in April; let’s take a peek inside.
Really Bird, Cat, and Pup are having a blueberry pie picnic, but each has different ideas on how big a slice they should get. Pup feels like slices should be in size order; Really Bird is starving, so he wants a really big piece, and Cat is frustrated that his piece is messy and missing crust. Can the friends figure out how to share the pie to make everyone happy? The story is laid out in similar fashion to popular Easy Readers like Elephant and Piggie, the Ballet Cat books by Bob Shea, and Cece Bell’s Chick and Brain books, with the narration taking place as dialogue between the characters. The friends state the problem – how to figure out sharing the blueberry pie – and offer different steps to solve the issue, with pluses and minuses (plus – dog gets the biggest piece; minus – Really Bird gets the smallest!); the characters work together to resolve the problem, and all is well at the end! Discussion questions and an activity help kids reflect on what they’ve read and apply it to their experiences. Cartoony characters with bold colors and outlines make this an eye-catching book that makes for a great read-aloud, read-along, or read together.
Really Bird and friends are together again! Really Bird is usually last when the friends walk together, but decides today’s the day he’s going to be first! Now that Really Bird is the leader, he takes his friends on a hike that isn’t really easy if you aren’t a bird! Cat and Pup help one another down from a tree, and Really Bird is so focused on being first, he’s ready to start an argument over it. Thankfully, cooler heads prevail and the day is saved. Really Bird is a recognizable voice for young children who are still working on social skills and taking turns, and the story illustrates equity and equality through taking turns and in going on an adventure that isn’t always fair to everyone – all three can climb the tree, but it’s certainly going to be easier for friends with wings! Discussion questions prompt conversation and insight. The story has the comforting familiarity of starting out in the same way: an introduction to Really Bird, the park where he lives, and the origin of his name, along with an introduction to the book’s topic: “Today I REALLY want to be First!” versus “Today I REALLY want a bigger piece!”
Red Comet also sent me an adorable Really Bird plush to accompany at me at storytime! According to Red Comet’s website, he should be available now. Take a look at this cutie!
Bree is starting her new middle school and can’t wait to select her electives. She’s got her eye on Math Club, but it’s closed out. In fact, everything is closed out of her time slot, except for Swim 101. Bree, afraid to swim, reluctantly takes the class, but tries to dodge it until she realizes that it will affect her grade point average. A mishap at her apartment complex leads her to Etta, an older woman who lives in the building, who also happens to be a former swim team captain from Bree’s school. As Etta trains Bree, she becomes a confident swimmer who gives the school team a chance at victory over rival Holyoke Prep. A strong subplot about Etta’s time in middle school delves into the history of segregation and public pools, and busts the “Black people don’t swim” myth wide open. Solidly constructed storytelling keeps readers invested and engaged; they’ll be white-knuckling the book and cheering Bree’s team, the Manatees, at every meet. A strong theme of social justice and change provides historical background and back matter includes resources for more reading. Talk this up with realistic fiction graphic novels like Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act; Alyssa Bermudez’s Big Apple Diaries, and Gillian Goerz’s Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer. Put this book on your shelves!
Swim Team has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and BookPage; it’s also been selected for the Kids’ Indie Next List.
Hope Larson’s third installment in Eagle Rock series keeps the momentum going. When we first met Hope’s main character, Bina, in 2018’s All Summer Long, she was a 13-year-old finding her way through music, and figuring out her evolving friendship with her bestie, Austin. Now, in All My Friends, Bina and her friends are in Fancy Pink, a band getting a lot of notice; she’s in a back-and-forth with her parents as she tries to take her band to the next level, and her parents worry about things moving too quickly, and she’s still figuring out relationships, whether it’s her strained relationship with Austin or how she feels about Cooper, the cute guy in a local band. The Eagle Rock books have captured big moments in a tween/teens’ life: relationships, dating, parents, and growing up. The characters have grown with each book, as Hope Larson’s audience is growing, keeping them invested in the stories of the Eagle Rock friends. Artwork in shades of pink, black, and white keep the focus on the story while using fonts to give the feeling of music moving through crowds. Whether she is weaving magical tales driven by a human story, or a character-driven story with a spark of magic (in this case, through music), Hope Larson always nails it. A great third act for a popular series.
Like I said, I read a HUGE backlog of graphic novels while I had my little break, so be prepared for some “If you didn’t read it, it’s new to you!” posts. This time, I’ve got Adora and the Distance, by television writer-producer and comic book author Marc Bernardin. Set in a high fantasy world, Adora is a young woman of color living in a world full of adventure: there are pirates, ghosts, a royal family, and a malevolent entity known as The Distance. The Distance devours and destroys, and Adora, connected to The Distance, must leave her home on a mission to stop it.
The artwork is stunning. The colors, the shading, the depth, bring this book to life in a reader’s hands. The story builds to an incredible conclusion that made the world come to a halt around me as I took it all in. Adora and the Distance is a father’s love letter to his daughter in the best way he could reach her; the best way to let her know he sees her. Adora and the Distance is a story of autism, you see; Marc Bernardin’s author’s note at the end of the book explains his impetus for creating this epic tale. Adora is smart, brave, and full of love. There’s humor, adventure, family, and forgiveness all here, bound into this story that connects a father to his daughter.
Put Adora and the Distance in your distributor cart, and get it on shelves for your readers. Give it to parents, educators, and caregivers.
Next up, we have Carcassone. My library system’s gaming committee sent our first bin of games over, so I have 10 copies each of Carcassone and 10 of 7 Wonders. I’m still trying to work out 7 Wonders, so we played Carcassone.
I initially brought the game home to playtest with my kids, so I’d be able to figure out modifications, if necessary, for my younger kids, but this was pretty straightforward out of the box, so let’s go.
Carcassone has been around for over 20 years; it’s won awards; it’s been translated into 22 languages; it’s got expansions. It’s considered, according to Wil Wheaton, to be “one of the four pillars of classic European-style board gaming”; Settlers of Catan, Alhambra, and Ticket to Ride forming the other 3 pillars. It’s a tile-laying game that’s surprisingly straightforward to play and teach.
The Plot: You and your fellow players are creating the French medieval city of Carcassone. To do this, you’ll turn over tiles to reveal different parts of the landscape, and you must create and claim your lands.
Medieval gerrymandering? No, it’s Carcassone! (my photo)
There are rules all players must adhere to: roads (those squiggly beige lines) must connect to other roads. Cities (the walled brown areas) must connect to other parts of the cities. Meeples (the cute little blue guys you see in the above photo) claim different areas as you build them. There are five groups of Meeples: green, red, blue, black, and yellow. Choose your color, and start building. As you play each tile, use your Meeples to claim area. Meeples placed on roads are highwaymen, for those folx who love a bad guy; claim the cities and be a knight; lay your Meeple down on the green areas to be a farmer; claim a monastery (the pointy buildings in the center of the photo) and be a monk. Each of these areas get scored differently:
- Putting your meeple on a road claims that road, but you do not score points until the road is complete. It has to lead from somewhere to somewhere. Each tile your road touches is worth one point; my road above leads from one monastery to another, and touches 5 tiles, so that’s 5 points.
- Putting your meeple on a city means you’re a knight protecting that city. You do not score points until the city has been completed. See my Meeple above, next to the monastery? That city touches 3 tiles; those tiles are worth 2 points each, so my Knight has 6 points. See that larger city toward the left hand side of the picture? That is a much bigger city, AND has several shields. Those shields are worth an additional 2 points per shield, so that city, which was still under construction when I took this picture, is worth 22 points: 16 points because it spreads across 8 tiles, plus 6 points for the 3 shields within.
- Monasteries get 1 point for every tile enclosing them in the area – basically, monasteries get 9 points; they’re surrounded by 8 tiles, and the monastery makes 9.\
- Farms are big points, because farmers are scored by the number of completed cities that touch their fields. Start Your Meeples has an excellent way to describe scoring farm points, and I highly recommend this article. Farmers get 3 points for each city.
As you complete your areas, you take your Meeples back, ready to guard (and rob) the next area of the burgeoning city. Use the scoreboard to keep track of your scores.
Okay, a couple of observations during gameplay. You will inadvertently help your opponents sometimes, depending on the tile you draw. My son and I, on our first couple of plays, initially thought we could undercut one another by placing tiles that didn’t connect to anything, to block progress. Don’t do that! After reading more blogs and watching several gameplay videos, we figured out that Carcassone is kind of cooperative, kind of not in that way. Think of it like you’re building a map. It needs to make sense at the end of the day.
Play the short game and the long game for best use of your Meeples! Can you build a 2-tile city? YES. Don’t get hung up on only building gigantic cities, because I promise you, it will bite you on the backside. Ditto for starting roads that have no end. If, toward the end of the game, you have no Meeples to place, you get no points for tiles laid! Make that 3-tile road; build that 2-tile city; get your Meeples and keep going.
Wil Wheaton calls the River Expansion a great way to get beginners used to the process of laying tiles, and he’s right. There are 12 river tiles that must be played first, and you can’t put Meeples on the river, so it’s just a nice, easy way to start the game; scoring goes as usual, and we got into the swing of things without stressing where to place Meeples by doing this. I didn’t play the Abbots part of the expansion yet, though, so if you have played it and want to share your thoughts, PLEASE do.
After a few plays at home, my son and I got into a good rhythm of gameplay, and I was easily able to show our library’s after-school coordinator and one of our children’s librarians how to play. I’m looking forward to reporting back on how the kids took to it this coming Tuesday!
All in All: A fun, creative game that guarantees you’ll never play the same game twice. Easy to explain to younger kids; I think our middle graders and middle schoolers are going to be a strong group for this game, and I feel like the few teens I get (hopefully more, by this summer!) will be into this. As popular as Carcassone is, I’ve yet to meet more than a handful of folx who’ve actually played it (kind of like me, with Settlers of Catan).
If you’d like to watch gameplay videos, I highly recommend Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop episode and Watch It Played’s Carcassone episode, both of which I’m embedding here. Both YouTube accounts are great for learning gameplay for a wealth of different games and are worth subscribing to the feeds.