Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

There’s no break being The Middle Kid…

The Middle Kid, by Steven Weinberg, (March 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452181806

Ages 6-9

It’s hard being the middle kid! The middle kid gets blamed when their little sister is crying, the one who gets picked on when the big brother is mad, and they’re just stuck in the middle; never the oldest, never the youngest. The middle kid telling the story takes readers through a day in the life of The Middle, starting with woken up by his siblings, through his brother’s “toughness training”, and getting a breather when his mom takes him to the library. During an exploring adventure with his siblings, he discovers that he can fit places his brother’s too big for and his sister’s too little for: he’s the perfect size. This realization helps him finish his day by inviting his siblings to create a blanket fort in the living room. Sometimes, being in the middle means you’re the perfect fit. A fun look at the life of a middle child that kids will recognize (my middle kid sure did) and laugh along with. I loved that Mom recognized the importance of taking a breather and giving Middle Kid his own space and time away from the chaos of siblings. Endpapers look like the scribbled insides of a marble notebook, as does the cover of the book when you slip off the jacket. Digital collage artwork is lively and expressive. Kids are going to love this one.

The Middle Kid has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate

Fox + Chick are sweet and funny buddies

Fox + Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories, by Sergio Ruzzier, (May 2021, Chronicle Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781797208848

Ages 5-8

Fox and Chick are friends who love each other. Fox loves Chick with all Chick’s little quirks, and Chick loves Fox, who seems a little more down to earth. This latest book is the second book of their adventures, and it’s already out in hardcover. Chronicle was kind enough to send me a softcover copy, which will be out in May. Consisting of three stories – The Quiet Boat Ride, Chocolate Cake, and The Sunrise – this graphic novel is perfect for emerging readers who are ready to stretch from picture books and easy readers, but either not quite ready for chapter books or just starting them. In “The Quiet Boat Ride”, Fox is all set to spend a quiet afternoon rowing his boat when Chick arrives and injects a wild series of scenarios into the day. In “Chocolate Cake”, Chick agonizes over the gift of a chocolate cake and whether or not to eat all of it and risk a sick belly. “The Sunrise” sees Fox trying to get Chick to hurry up and come downstairs so they can see the sunrise. Parents and caregivers will love the stories, too; Chick will remind every single adult reader of the Kiddos in their lives, from trying to get a meandering preschooler to get their shoes on so you can get out of the door on time, to explaining that having access to a box of cookies (or a chocolate cake) doesn’t mean one has to EAT all of the cookies (or cake) in one sitting. Soft colors, fun dialogue, and an overall feeling of friendship makes this an excellent choice to give to kids who’ve loved Elephant and Piggie, Frog and Toad, and who are heading toward Skunk and Badger.

Sergio Ruzzier is a Sendak Fellow who has written and illustrated many critically acclaimed children’s books. The Fox + Chick books have starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and Fox + Chick: The Party and Other Stories is included on many “Best Of” lists, including NPR Best Books of the Year, New York Times Notable Children’s Book,School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, and The Horn Book Magazine Fanfare Best Book of the Year. Visit Sergio Ruzzier’s author website for more information about his books.
Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Indie author/publisher spotlight!

I’m back with more independently published authors! You’ve seen them here before: both Lois Wickstrom and Riya Aarini have been kind enough to share their books with me in the past, and I’m happy to feature more of their books today. Let’s see what Carefree Ollie and Alex the Inventory are up to, and meet some new friends along the way.

How to Make a Flying Carpet, by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Janet King, (November 2020, Independently Published),  $24.99, ISBN: 978-0916176778

Ages 7-11

Alex is a girl who likes science and likes repurposing broken things, so when a frog magnet falls from her refrigerator and breaks, she sees opportunity. Taking the magnet, she discovers that she can rescue her father’s key from the heating vent where it fell, and she can make paper clips dance. She begins experimenting with the magnets to find out what else she can do, and when she discovers a cache of magnets in the garage, she gets an idea… can she use the repelling powers of magnets to make a real flying carpet? Filled with fun and easily creatable experiment with magnets, How to Make a Flying Carpet is a fun STEM/STEAM story that will work really well with a science club/Discovery Club. The illustrations help kids visualize how to work with magnets, especially in a household setting: super-helpful these days, when finding things around the house is the best way to keep kids busy during remote and blended learning days! Alex’s interest in learning and in expanding the scope of her experiments will motivate kids to dig deeper and embrace the fun in learning. If you’re interested in more magnet experiments, Babble Dabble Do has four easy magnet experiments that you can easily do with household items or with a quick trip to the 99-cent store.

Visit author Lois Wickstrom’s website, Look Under Rocks, for more information about her books, including What Do the Plants Say?, her first Alex the Inventor story.

 

Ollie’s Garden (Carefree Ollie #3), by Riya Aarini/Illustrated by Virvalle Caravallo, (Nov. 2020, Independently Published), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1735347325

Ages 6-10

Carefree Ollie has to negotiate between bickering groups of animals in his garden kingdom in his latest adventure. The orange ladybugs won’t let the red ladybugs near the daisies; frogs are chasing toads away from the water because they “ribbit” while toads “croak”; chipmunks and squirrels are quarreling over their tails. With Ollie’s garden kingdom in chaos, it’s up to him to stop the fighting and help bring peace, tolerance, and understanding to the kingdom once more.  A sweet parable on equity, diversity, and inclusion, Ollie’s Garden is a good way to approach embracing our differences and how those differences make us wonderful. Digital artwork is kid-friendly and colorful, and the storytelling is a good starting point for your own discussions about how diversity makes us stronger.

Education.com has some great activities on diversity, including a Kindergarten lesson plan on Appreciating Diversity, a second grade lesson plan on Appreciating Diversity and Differences, and a Welcome All activity for Kindergarten and first graders that helps develop an appreciation for differences and building social awareness.

 

Sam and Sophie, by Kerry Olitzky/Illustrated by Jen Hernandez, (March 2021, Higher Ground Books & Media), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1949798838

Ages 3-7

Sam has just become a big brother to baby sister Sophie, but he’s frustrated. There doesn’t seem to be much time or energy left over for him, and he’s not happy with all the attention baby Sophie is getting. But when Baby Sophie gets sick, Sam finds himself worrying and trying to make her happy and feel better. A moving story that grows from the Jewish tradition of planting a tree when a new child is born, Sam and Sophie includes back matter on the tradition and on trees, people, and their relationship to God. Mixed media artwork has a manga influence. Sam and Sophie is a good book to begin a talk on sibling jealousy and how to navigate complicated feelings that arise when a new baby arrives.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Award-winning and hilarious: See the Cat

See the Cat, by David LaRochelle/Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $8.99, ISBN: 9781536204278

Ages 4-7

The 2021 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award-winner, See the Cat, hilariously breaks the fourth wall, a la Elephant and Piggie, with three stories starring a dog who really just wants to take a nap. In the first story, an unseen narrator tells a story about a cat who rides a unicorn while wearing a green dress. It’s a study in concepts and colors and Max, a dog, insists on each spread that he is nothing of the sort, leading to a laugh-out-loud conclusion. The second and third stories see Max learn how to manipulate a story that’s not going his way; the first, when an angry snake shows up, and the final story, when the narrator keeps pushing Max to do something he just doesn’t want to do. Adorably funny back-and forth dialogue between the main character and the narrator, like Snappsy the Alligator or This is a Taco!, make this a great read-aloud between two readers; if you’re going it solo during storytime, let your dramatic flag fly and have fun with voices and facial expressions! Gouache illustrations are cheerful, and Max’s cartoony exasperation will have readers giggling wildly. A must-have.

See the Cat has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist.  Publisher Candlewick has free teacher tips (I love this offering) and a fun activity kit that I’ll be using as a grab-and-go book activity this week.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Spotlight on indie and small publishers!

I hope you like these as much as I do. As I’ve worked through my ginormous TBR this year, I’ve gotten to many of the books sent to me by independent and small authors and publishers; the best way to show them off is to give them their own little spotlight. There are some little gems to be found here.

 

Ollie’s Backpack (A Carefree Ollie Book), by Riya Aarini/Illustrated by Virvalle Caravallo, (July 2020, independently published), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1733166140

Ages 5-7

Ollie is a kid who loves to put stuff in his backpack. He knows there’s stuff that’s way too big, like a moose; way too heavy, like a watermelon, or way too cold, like an igloo. The thing is, he starts to collect little things that end up really weighing him down as he goes through his day: a crumpled homework assignment; a broken toy that a bully snatched from him; a granola bar that a classmate refused to share; even a trophy that he won! As Ollie takes a break from carrying all that heavy weight, he realizes that sometimes, you have to get rid of the weight you carry. He sheds the things that made him sad, and displays the trophy, which made him happy. Once he stops hiding everything away, he realizes that he’s not weighed down anymore!

Ollie’s Backpack is a good social-emotional learning story that reminds me of Brian Wray’s and Shiloh Penfield’s excellent Max’s Box. Kids will see themselves both in the packrat stuffing of everything and anything into a backpack, and will understand the meaning of holding onto memories – for better or for worse – and appreciate Ollie’s way of embracing the good and letting go of the bad. The digital artwork is bright and colorful. A nice choice for your SEL collections. Visit author Riya Aarini’s website for more books, including the next Ollie books.

 

Sam the Superhero and His Super Life, by Kathryn F. Pearson & James T Pearson/Illustrated by Lauren Jezierski, (July 2020, independently published), $9.25, ISBN: 979-8640502343

Ages 5-8

A young boy named Sam lives with his grandparents and loves his stuffed dog, Hercules. He’s very sensitive to sound, light, and touch, and he has what his grandfather calls “big feelings”: he feels everything intensely. His grandfather shows Sam photos of himself as a baby and explains that he was he was born very small and needed to stay in the hospital for a few weeks, and was very sensitive, even as a baby; he also tells Sam that he is a superhero, just like the guys in the comics, for overcoming so many obstacles.

The book looks at children born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS): children born substance-exposed and the challenges they overcome from birth. Developed by an 8-year old girl named Sophia, the story is brought to life through straightforward, simple prose and sketched, gently colorful artwork. Sam the Superhero and His Super Life raises NAS awareness and encourages adults and children alike to approach all kids with kindness and understanding. Visit https://2themoonandback.org/ for more info.

 

Chicken Little Investigates, by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Francie Mion, (Aug. 2019, Look Under Rocks), $12, ISBN: 978-0916176365

Ages 5-7

A fun spin on the classic Chicken Little tale, Chicken Little Investigates puts a STEM spin on the story. Chicken Little and Henny Penny are strolling along when an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head. Chicken Little and Henny Penny do some experimenting with gravity, and decide to go visit the king to find out what he would call their discovery. Along the way, they meet Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and Turkey Lurkey, all with different ideas on what to call their discovery, when they meet up with sly Foxy Woxy, who has his own ideas. But the gang is too smart for Foxy, and use their new discovery to escape to safety. A cute introduction to physics, with fun sounds like jangles, flops, and plops, this is a cute read-aloud that invites kids to chime in with their own sound effects. I’d use this in a Discovery Club readaloud and invite kids to drop their own pencils, pillows, and pom-pom balls to see what drops fast, what drops slow, and what sounds they make. Lois Wickstrom has been writing some fun STEM/STEAM stories; see more of her books at her website, Look Under Rocks.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Two more #Nocturnals easy readers bring laughs and love!

The Nocturnals: The Best Burp, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Josie Yee, (Apr. 2020, Fabled Films Press), $12.95, ISBN: 9781944020323

Ages 4-6

Another fun night out with the Nocturnals has Bismark (of course) competing in a burping contest with a new friend, Bink the Bat. As Bismark and Bink bicker (hee hee… alliteration is fun), Dawn emerges to suggest that maybe a burping contest isn’t the way to be their “best selves”. A cute story about recognizing that burps are natural, but sometimes, polite behavior calls for an “excuse me”, The Best Burp also has a cute side joke that involves my poor buddy, Tobin, as the butt (the burp?) of the joke when Bismark and Bink try to blame the other for the burping contest, which leaves them both pointing toward Tobin, who’s standing the in the middle. Adorably fun with a nice lesson about manners, to boot. Kids will love (and cafeteria aides will relate to) the characters and the tempting fun of the burping contest. Parents, educators, and caregivers will appreciate Dawn, ever the voice of reason, stepping in to negotiate more polite behavior.

 

The Nocturnals: The Weeping Wombat, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Josie Yee, (Aug. 2020, Fabled Films Press), $5.99, ISBN: 9781944020330

Ages 5-8

Can you believe this is the eighth Nocturnals adventure? This time, we’ve got a sensitive story about Walter, an emotional, highly sensitive wombat who’s made fun of because he has a tendency to cry easily. The Nocturnals friends rally around Walter, letting him know that they all cry sometimes – even Bismark, who gets emotional just thinking about his Grandpa Guffy. Walter feels so much better after Dawn wisely explains that weeping is “just another way to show how we feel”, and that it can even make us feel better. A very sweet story about sensitivity and emotions, The Weeping Wombat is a nice addition to social-emotional learning texts for storytime.

Each book has a Nocturnals Fun Facts section that introduces readers to the Nocturnals. Don’t forget to visit their Nocturnals website, which is updated often and has great resources for homeschooling and nature camp activities. You’ll find Nocturnals character masks, book club questions, sight words games, and Common Core, Science, and Social-Emotional Learning Guides, all free and available for downloading.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Graphic Novels, I Read Stuff/Kiddo

Introducing… The Kiddo!

Hi all! I’ve been radio silent for a while, because I’ve been home enjoying my midwinter break vacation with my kiddos. Imagine my delight (and abject terror) when he announced that he wants to be a YouTuber, and that he wanted his first video to be about books. I went back and forth on this for a while, but here I go… I’d like to introduce you all to my kiddo, Gabe.

It’s his first, and he’s 7, but I think – in my very biased opinion – he’s adorable. I hope you enjoy hearing about kids’ books from an actual kid.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a big ol’ TBR to start writing up!

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Media, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads, TV Shows

Nick Jr’s Rainbow Rangers come to bookshelves

Since my kids have gotten bigger, I find myself woefully out of the loop on what’s popular on Nick Jr. these days. Apparently, Wallykazam is not a thing anymore? Thank goodness for Paw Patrol, or I’d really feel out of touch. Anyway. I was invited to check out the new line of books from Nick Jr’s newest show, Rainbow Rangers, so I did my research and consulted my 4-year-old niece, who assured me that this was a good show, because they girls are all rainbow colors and there is a unicorn. This, if you don’t realize it, is pretty big praise, so I dove in.

The Rainbow Rangers are “Earth’s first responders”. Basically, they’re the Avengers meets Captain Planet, and wow, I’ve just aged myself in one sentence. They live in Kaleidoscopia, a magical land on the other side of the rainbow, and there are six of them, each representing a different color of the rainbow: Rosie Redd; Mandarin Orange; Anna Banana; Pepper Mintz; Bonnie Blueberry; Indy Allfruit, and Lavender LaViolette all have different superpowers that they use to work together and keep Earth’s natural resources safe. Their leader, Kalia, sends them out on missions, and their pet unicorn, Floof, is there to help out. ImprintReads, from publisher Macmillan, has a Rainbow Rangers book for every reader in their new line of releases.

Rainbow Rangers: Rockin’ Rainbow Colors, by Summer Greene,
(Sept. 2019, Imprint/Macmillan), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250190345
Ages 3-6

This tabbed, oversized board book introduces each Rainbow Ranger, their talent, and also works with color recognition. Each of the Rainbow Rangers is named for a color in the spectrum, after all. It’s chunky, will hold up to multiple reads and exploring little hands, and the artwork is full of bright colors and large-eyed, expressive superheroines. Way too cute, preschoolers and toddlers will love this book.

 

Rainbow Rangers: The Quest for the Confetti Crystal, by Summer Greene/Illustrated by Joshua Heinsz and Maxime Lebrun,
(Sept. 2019, Imprint/Macmillan), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250190338
Ages 3-6

This picture book is great for preschoolers and early elementary school readers, and it’s an original Rainbow Rangers story. The Rainbow Rangers have plans to celebrate Bonnie Blueberry’s 100th mission with a party, and unicorn Floof is put in charge of protecting their Confetti Crystal for the celebration, while the Rangers head off on their mission. Floof tries to contribute to the party planning using the crystal, but the crystal rolls away, and Floof is off on his own mission to retrieve it. The artwork is adorable; the characters from the show are instantly recognizable, and for those of us who aren’t quite familiar with the Rainbow Rangers, it’s a fun fantasy adventure starring a unicorn, magic, and adventure.

 

Rainbow Rangers: Meet the Team, by Summer Greene,
(Sept. 2019, Imprint/Macmillan), $4.99, ISBN: 9781250190314
Ages 3-7

The team’s origin story comes together in Easy Reader format in Meet the Team, which introduces the characters and their powers, using a little more vocabulary than the Rockin’ Rainbow Colors board book. The story also emphasizes the importance of teamwork and respecting one another, even if you don’t always agree. Sentences are longer, with a little more meat to the information; emerging readers will love sitting down with this one and digging right in.

 

Rainbow Rangers: To the Rescue!, by Summer Greene,
(Sept. 2019, Imprint/Macmillan), $4.99, ISBN: 9781250190253
Ages 3-7

To the Rescue! is the 8×8 media tie-in, recreating the first Rainbow Rangers adventure: rescuing a polar bear cub when a melting ice floe separates him from his mother. The girls fly into action, discovering how to work together and addressing climate change on an age-appropriate level: “When temperatures get hotter, ice shelves break apart”. There’s a punch-out, wearable Kaleidocom that kids can wear just like the character Rosie Redd (librarians: keep this one in your desk until you can make copies or hold a giveaway). Fonts are bright and bold, with some words getting rainbow bubble font treatment for extra emphasis.

There’s a little something for everyone here, and kids will gobble this series up. The Rainbow Rangers website also has video clips, profiles on each character, and free, downloadable activity and coloring sheets. Have them on hand!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Nocturnals Easy Readers are back with The Tasty Treat and The Kooky Kinkajou!

Regular readers know how much I love Tracey Hecht’s The Nocturnals series from Fabled Films Press. There are four great middle grade novels about the three adventuring animal friends, and there have been four easy readers so far, which has been fantastic for my second grader, who loves reading them. There are positive messages in each book, and the Fabled Films friends have really put the time in to create lesson plans and learning games that address kindness and compassion among kids, using the series’ characters to communicate the message. Here’s a look at the two latest books in the Nocturnals series.

The Nocturnals: The Kooky Kinkajou, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Josie Yee, (Sept. 2019, Fabled Films Press), $5.99, ISBN: 9781944020248

Ages 4-7

The Nocturnals Brigade meets a Karina, a careening kinkajou, while stargazing one night. Naturally, Bismark is his usual churlish self at first, but Karina leads the group through imaginative play through the forest, enchanting them with her exciting way of seeing things: a weeping willow tree becomes a rainfall; bent tree, a rainbow. Even Bismark can’t stay cranky with Karina’s contagious enthusiasm and creative way of looking at things. Nocturnals fun facts and new words make up the back matter. This makes a good readaloud for preschoolers, indulging and encouraging their imaginations and creative play, and is a Grow & Read Level 3, making it spot-on for newly independent readers.

There are great moments for discussion within the story. Bismark always makes for good “what not to do” moments; Tobin’s sweet innocence makes him the first to commit to Karina’s game, and makes him the perfect character to inspire readers to see shapes in the clouds, make up stories with the stars, and jump over rocks in an imaginary riverbed. Josie Yee’s art really captures the playful spirit of each character, making them soft, approachable, and cuddly for younger readers (especially my son, who made off with my plush Dawn months ago). Another win for my favorite group of nocturnal friends!

The Nocturnals: The Tasty Treat, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Josie Yee, (Oct. 2019, Fabled Films Press), $5.99, ISBN: 9781944020309

Ages 4-7

The friends share a tasty treat – a pomelo, a favorite that shows up in many Nocturnals books – in this Level 1 reader. Short, simple sentences make this a good choice for pre-readers and new readers to start with, giving them some new vocabulary words and introducing them to the Nocturnals. The story revolves around Dawn, the fox, as she seeks and finds her friends one evening. Bismark has a pomelo, which he graciously offers to share, and the friends sit down to a pomelo picnic. Nocturnals fun facts reinforce character traits and introduce new words. Josie Yee’s artwork always makes the Nocturnals feel like cozy friends that kids will love spending time with. Bismark’s wide-eyed, exaggerated facial expressions are perfect for his blustering character with a heart of gold; Dawn’s all-knowing fox always has a slight smile, like she knows something most don’t (especially Bismark), and Tobin is the picture of shy but sweet, with eyes that gaze upward and a shy smile on his face.

This is a good introduction to The Nocturnals for new readers, and a great way to illustrate sharing.

The Nocturnals webpage has educator resources and activity kits, with Common Core activities and discussion questions and science activities that meet Next Generation Science standards. Activity Kits include word games, printable masks, and face-painting kits.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Upside Down Sid teaches inclusivity and empathy

Upside-Down Sid, by Dylan Shearsby, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 9781610678896

Ages 4-7

Upside-Down Sid is upside-down and a right-side world. It’s been that way as long as he can remember, so he mostly keeps to himself and stays home. When some neighbors send a basketball flying through his window, Sid discovers a new group of friends. When he joins them at the amusement park and has them over for dinner, things are a little bit of a mess… but one day, while Sid goes out, his new friends fix up his house and give Sid’s home the makeover he deserves: everything is upside-down to fit Sid’s life!

Upside-Down Sid is a story about kindness, empathy, inclusivity, and accessibility. Sid has to adjust to the world around him, which makes him sad and withdrawn. His new friends help make changes that will make Sid’s world conform to his life, and they go happily along for the ride, finding ways to include Sid in their activities. The brief sentences and cartoon art make this a good choice when talking about kindness and working with other who may need environmental adjustments for accessibility. The egg-shaped characters have expressive eyes and facial expressions, and the art is boldly outlined with bright colors.

Originally published in Australia in 2018, Upside-Down Sid has free, downloadable teachers’ notes and discussion questions that will hopefully spark good discussion and a pay-it-forward feeling among readers.