Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books

Fen’s Drop of Gray colors her whole world

Fen’s Drop of Gray, by Brian Wray/Illustrated Shiloh Penfield, (Nov. 2021, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764362194

Ages 5-8

A hedgehog named Fen loves to paint with bright colors, but one day, a drop of gray gets into her paints and colors her entire world: her paintings and everything around her lose their color, slowly turning gray and adding to her sadness. It’s not like Fen doesn’t want color in her world: she looks through her mother’s art books and tries to find rainbows in the rain, but the gray persists until her mother gives her new, colorful paints. With the color back in her life, Fen takes back her happiness and knows that when the gray tries to take her colors away again, she’ll be ready. A gentle story about how depression can sneak up on us, Fen’s Drop of Gray is Brian Wray and Shiloh Penfield’s latest intuitive story about managing emotions. Using the metaphor of a drop of gray finding its way into our colorful worlds is a great way of explaining those unexplainable “sads” that can show up unexpected, stripping the color in our lives. Try as she might, Fen can’t find her colors and she doesn’t know how to ask for help. Sometimes, all we need is someone – in Fen’s case, her mom – to reach through the gray. It’s not a cure-all, but knowing that someone is there to listen and help is the important message. It’s also important that Fen knows the gray may try to come back, and creates her own coping mechanisms for when that happens.

An important acknowledgement of childhood depression, Fen’s Drop of Gray is another must-have to put into your social-emotional collections and a good starting point for discussion.

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 Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

See the Dog follows See the Cat for wordplay hilarity

See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat, by David LaRochelle/Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $8.99, ISBN: 9781536216295

Ages 4-7

The hilarious follow-up to last year’s Geisel Award-winning See the Cat has Cat taking center stage while Dog is out sick. Cat’s not thrilled with the bossy book, though, and the results are laugh-out-loud funny. In the first story, “See the Dog”, we get the scoop on Cat, who’s filling in for Dog, but isn’t really up for that whole “Dogs dig holes” sort of business. “See the Lake”, story number two, has the book trying to get Cat to jump in a cold lake and swim, and “See the Sheep” is all about how brave Cat will save a sheep… until Cat discovers that there’s a wolf on the way. A surprise cameo caps off this side-splitting story. Gouache artwork makes for warm, cartoony expressions and the back-and-forth dialogue between “Book” and “Cat” makes for a hilarious readaloud. Download the activity kit from Candlewick!

See the Dog has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Bridge Easy Readers and Intermediate chapter books with Barkus and Charlie & Mouse

Transitioning from Easy Readers to chapter books is even more fun with these colorful chapter book series!

Barkus: The Most Fun, by Patricia MacLachlan/Illustrated by Marc Boutavant, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452173344

Ages 6-9

Newbery Medalist Patricia Machlachlan’s Barkus series is adorable and perfect for easy readers who are ready to take on some more complex reading. The third book, Barkus: The Most Fun, has Barkus, the family dog, and his family going on a series of outdoor adventures. Composed of four stories, Barkus, Baby the Kitten, and his human family go camping, visit grandmother and grandfather’s farm, visit a parade, and head to their winter cabin. Narrated by the young girl who happens to be Barkus’s favorite human, the stories are brief enough to read one at a time or all at once; sentences are simple and informative, and the colorful illustrations show a happy family doing things together. There are warm and funny moments in each story: Barkus and Baby end up making news in “The Most Fun!” and witness the birth of a calf in “The Crazy Cows of Spring”. The images are warm, comforting, and familiar: a family traveling in their car, a dog and cat curled up together in the back; a grandparent hugging his granddaughter and patting Barkus’s head as he leans into the loving touch; even a mildly put-upon dad, frowning as his daughter, her dog, and cat peek out from a pile of leaves that he was raking. Patricia MacLachlan and Marc Boutavant make magic and memories here.

Visit Scribd and download Barkus activity sheets!

 

Charlie & Mouse: Lost and Found, by Laurel Snyder/Illustrated by Emily Hughes, (Aug. 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452183404

Ages 6-9

Siblings Charlie and Mouse have new adventures in their fifth outing. Lost & Found has four short stories, taking the sibs on slightly smaller – but no less exciting – adventures, all taking place in the course of one day. In “Somewhere”, the two search high and low for Mouse’s blanket; in “Errands”, they join Mom on the dreaded series of errands – the bank, the post office – but make a BIG discovery! In “Silly”, Charlie and Mouse have a sad goodbye, but in “Boop”, another discovery warms their hearts. Chapters are short, with simple sentences; stories are kid-friendly and oh-so relatable (the very mention of the words “bank”, “grocery store”, or “post office” strikes fear into my 9-year-old’s heart), Illustrations are softly illustrated, with friendly, expressive characters. The body language between the siblings is comforting and playful. The siblings slump on each other in the car during the dreaded errands; Charlie comforts a distraught Mouse, who cannot locate Blanket. Parents show up for a few moments in the stories, but the focal point is the relationship between Charlie and Mouse, as it should be. The first book in the series, Charlie and Mouse, is a 2018 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner.

Get a free Teacher’s Guide to the series, and two activity sheets here.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

Indie author/publisher spotlight!

It’s time for another independent author/publisher spotlight!

Ms. Flygirl and Sky Daisy, by Miho Madarame, (Sept. 2020, Independently Published), $7.99, ISBN: 979-8684124501

Ages 6-8

The first in a series, Ms. Flygirl and Sky Daisy is a collection of six short stories about a widow named Ms. Flygirl who takes to the skies in her yellow helicopter, Sky Daisy, where she has all sorts of adventures. She saves a tree, eats a lot of sweets, does a fox’s laundry, and more. Each story begins with a colorful illustration, and the stories are told in short sentences. Kids will get a kick out of the situations Ms. Flygirl finds herself in. A cute first outing.

 

Adventures with Divot & Swish in Costa Rica: The Superpower of Courage, by Beth Brown, PhD/Illustrations by Charlotte Strickland, (Jan. 2021, Divot & Swish Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781735170008

Ages 5-7

This adorable outing is also the first in a proposed new series, starring Divot – a golf ball with a little tuft of grass around their middle – and Swish, a net with a basketball for a head. In this first book, the friends head to Costa Rica for surfing lessons with Sammy the Surfer, who teaches them the mechanics of surfing, and the courage to face their fears of not being perfect on their first outing. The rhyming story teaches readers about overcoming fears and embracing new challenges: “It’s important to know / That you can do it afraid / If you never had tried / On shore, you’d then stayed”. The Costa Rican countryside is host to this story, but really only serves as a backdrop. I’d love to see future Divot and Swish adventures have some fun facts about their locations pop up at the end of the story, giving kids a little more information about their literary friends’ globe-trotting.

Nat Geo Kids has some fun facts about Costa Rica, as does Kids World Travel Guide. Lonely Planet has some fun suggestions for traveling with kids in Costa Rica, which you can use as a jumping-off point for some armchair travel programs. Visit Divot & Swish’s website to sign up for updates!

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Everyone wants to read The Book No One Wants to Read!

The Book No One Wants to Read, by Beth Bacon, (June 2021, Harper Collins Children’s Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062962546

Ages 6-10

A colorful book like this is a perfect attention-grabber to kids who think reading is boring: the book even addresses it! In the vein of books like BJ Novak’s The Book With No Pictures (2014), this book is an hilarious discourse between book and reader. The book doesn’t want to be facing the wall, all alone, and the reader obviously has to look busy, so the book makes an offer it’s impossible to refuse: “You keep turning my pages, and I’ll make it fun!” It’s interactive, inviting readers to squint, sniff, and play rock, paper, scissors. At 180 pages, it may be a bit long for a storytime (but I’m still going to try it), but it’s a perfect book for early chapter book readers that want to enjoy a fun read. Display with its companion book, I Hate Reading, for more laughs. Think of it as more of an interactive game than a reading chore, reluctant readers! It’s bright, colorful, and so much fun.  Instabuy!

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

Bugs for Kids! Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite!

Burt the Beetle Doesn’t Bite!, by Ashley Spires, (June 2021, Kids Can Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781525301469
Ages 5-8
This adorably fun book by The Most Magnificent Thing and Binky the Space Cat author Ashley Spires is all about Burt, a ten-lined june beetle whose superhero power is hugging. He can’t defend himself with a stinky smell, he can’t lift 50 times his weight, and he certainly doesn’t bite: that’s not how you make friends! No, this friendly, lovable bug likes to chase porch lights and flail his legs in the air. But when his friends find themselves caught in a spider’s web, it’s Burt to the rescue in the best way possible! Ashley Spires makes bugs absolutely adorable and hilariously witty in this fun story that includes loads of bug facts and bold, cartoony illustration. Endpapers show a variety of bugs and their special traits; dialogue and narration in the book also focuses on positive, albeit, fictional character traits, which lends itself to a good discussion on embracing our differences and enjoying a wide group of friends. Hand this to your kiddos that may not be ready to tackle Science Comics yet, but who are ready to enjoy learning about the sweetest watermelon-looking huggable bug ever. Display and booktalk with Elise Gravel’s Disgusting Critters series for more laughs (and facts!). Visit Ashley Spires’s author website for information about her books and animation.
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.