Posted in picture books

Seasons Readings: The Robin & The Fir Tree

The Robin & The Fir Tree, by Hans Christian Andersen/retold & illustrated by Jason Jameson, (Nov. 2021, Templar), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536220025

Ages 4-8

Jason Jameson retells the classic Hans Christian Andersen story of The Fir Tree, spinning into a bittersweet tale of friendship, loss, and rebirth. A robin befriends a fir tree in a forest, but the fir tree has dreams of being freed from his roots and traveling, discovering a larger purpose in the world. When the tree is chosen to be the centerpiece in a town square’s Christmas festival, he is delighted, but Robin is scared: where will they take her friend? Jason Jameson deepens the friendship aspect of Andersen’s story by making the relationship between Robin and Fir Tree the heart of the story. He adds lyrical beauty to the story with phrases like, “He (the fir tree) yawned, stretched, and shook off his cobweb-lace pajamas”; and describes how the robin and fireflies decorate the tree with golden ribbon from the town fair; he touches on the disposability of the holiday season as he describes the rough treatment the tree receives when the town’s children mob for their gifts, and how callously he’s bound and tossed into a shed for disposal. The story reminds us that a tree is a living thing; a part of nature that houses forest creatures. The Robin & The Fir Tree is exquisitely illustrated with graphite pencil and digital illustration, with deep red, greens, golds, and browns and European-inspired folk art. A lovely retelling.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads, Uncategorized

Guess the birdie! Who is Singing?

Who is Singing?, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by Chrissy Chabot, (July 2021, Pen It! Publications), $20.99, ISBN: 978-1954868373

Ages 2-6

Take a walk and listen on any given day, and you’ll hear a cacophony of birds: tweets, chirps, screeches, and coos abound; even city kids can hear a dove coo, a pigeon scold, and a blue jay (like the one who likes to argue with the squirrels, right outside my window). Who is Singing? is author Janet Halfmann’s tribute to some colorful, musical birds, all identifiable by their songs. Using each bird’s defining song, repetitive verse, and a noticeable characteristic for each bird, Janet Halfmann introduces readers to the gentle art of bird-watching and bird-listening, giving readers 11 fairly familiar birds to start out with. You’ll recognize pigeons, “begging for treats along a city sidewalk”; “bully loud and bold” blue jays screaming; cheery chick-a-dees, “dressed up for dinner in a black cap and bib”, and more. Ms. Halfmann encourages the birds to “take a bow”, making for a fun readaloud where you can invite your littles to take a bow – or let a bird puppet or flannel take their own bows when you announce them, too.

Chrissy Chabot’s illustrations are bright and lovely, photorealistic birds that will help readers more easily spot and identify them the next time they’re out and about. A lovely little story to read out loud, and works well with a lapsit. Print out some coloring pages and let the kiddos envision their own colorful birds and make some music of their own!

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

Two blog tours in one day, you ask? YES! That’s whatcha get when a cranky summer storm wrecks your Internet for a day. But look – a new Kathi Appelt book is always cause for celebration, especially one as good as…

Once Upon a Camel, by Kathi Appelt/Illustrated by Eric Rohmann,
(September 2021, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534406438
Ages 8-12

Newbery Honoree and National Book Award Finalist Kathi Appelt delivers an heir apparent to Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (2015) and Sara Pennypacker’s Pax (2016). Set in Texas 1910 Texas, an aging camel named Zada has a life lived: she’s won camel races in Turkey for a high-ranking Turkish officer; she’s felt like she was flying across the fields and led army missions with her best friend, Asiye; she’s outsmarted lions and befriended birds. Now, protecting two baby kestrel chicks during a sandstorm, she keeps them entertained in an escarpment as she reflects on her life and hopes that she’ll find the chicks’ parents when the storm breaks… and before the lion returns. It’s an adventure with a heart as big as the desert, and with moments that will have readers enchanted and white-knuckled. Caldecott Medalist Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous oil painting, rendered here in blacks, greys, and whites, show sweeping sea voyages and cuddly camels and chicks; thrilling escapes and affectionate moments that give texture and life to Kathi Appelt’s sweet, funny, and bittersweet words. Once Upon a Camel is a gentle story of found family and survival, separation, and reunion. Animal fiction fans and fans of Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate will love this story.
If you don’t trust me, trust Richard the Camel, seen here with author Kathi Appelt during what appears to be an impromptu storytime. Look at Richard’s smile! He’s a member of the Texas Camel Corps – maybe a descendant of Zada’s?
Photo was taken at Texas Camel Corps. Photo credit: Doug Baum

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award Finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist for The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swap. Some of her award-winning books include Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and Max Attacks, to name just a few. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, visit her website at Kathi Appelt.com.

Find Kathi on Facebook and Pinterest!

 

Posted in picture books

Spring and Summer stories to make you smile

With Spring and Summer come a lighter type of picture book: open spaces, verdant greens, cheery yellows, happy colors and stories about enjoying the outdoors. I’ve got a few picture books here that are perfect for those longer, warmer days.

Free, by Sam Usher, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536217049

Ages 4-7

The boy and his grandfather from Sam Usher’s Seasons With Grandad series are back! In Free, the boy and Grandad care for a sick bird who returns to them every day. Grandad looks up new ways to get the bird to reunite with other birds, but it looks like their new feathered friend needs a bit of help, so they gather their equipment and strike out to find a tree for their new friend. Sam Usher brings his touch of magical realism to this story of a boy, his grandfather, and a little bird that needs their help, elevating it from sweet to simply extraordinary. Ink and watercolor illustrations are expressive and provide a soothing, intimate feel to the storytelling and the relationship between Grandad, Boy, and Bird. Riots of color in strategic moments make for a delightful surprise. I love Sam Usher’s books, so this one is a definite buy for me.

Free has a starred review from Kirkus.

(UK edition image taken from Amazon.com: the US edition notes that one of the birds “was sick”.)

 

Sweet Pea Summer, by Hazel Mitchell, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536210347

Ages 4-8

A girl’s her father brings her to spend the summer with her grandparents when her mother has to go into the hospital. To keep her occupied, her grandfather invites her to help in his garden, asking her to look after his snow peas. She learns to care for them and nurture them, taking great pride in the growing pods, and her grandfather suggests she may even get to enter them in the flower show when the season ends. So what happens that causes the flowers to start dying? Stumped, the girl tries multiple fixes until she discovers the reason. A gently told story of love, nurturing, perseverance and determination, this is a beautifully illustrated story, with colorful spreads of the English countryside and cheery gardens. There are so many details to discover in the sprawling townscape and countryside, from bustling businesses and commuters to the playful garden animals hopping and frolicking around the greenery. A book that encourages readers to endure hard times and embrace the support around them, Sweet Pea Summer is a good warm-weather read. Have some sweet pea coloring pages handy for an accompanying storytime activity. Pair with Zee Grows a Tree for a storytime about the love between nature and kids.

Visit Hazel Mitchell’s author webpage for more information about her books, her artwork, and a host of printable activities about her book, Toby.

 

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, retold by Georghia Ellinas/Illustrated by Jane Ray, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217735

Ages 4-8

The companion to last year’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a dreamlike, picture book interpretation of the famous Shakespeare comedy, great for new audiences. The Fairy Kingdom is up in arms as King Oberon is in a disagreement with his wife, Queen Titania; a group of young nobles arrive in the magical forest from Athens, all in love with the wrong person; and Puck, a mischievous servant of King Oberon’s decides to stir up some trouble just for the fun of it. Retold from Puck’s perspective, this is a very readable, enjoyable breakdown of the hilarious story of mistaken identity, love, and mischievous fairies. Shakespeare’s famous ending, “If we shadows have offended…” closes the story. The artwork is a tapestry of beautiful color, artwork that captures the playful spirit of the play and the otherworldly characters in the story. Moonlight figures heavily in the artwork, a glowing sheen adding illumination and bringing out the details in each character. A great read-aloud idea for older classes (1-3 grades, for instance), consider an Introduction to Shakespeare display for your Children’s Room with books like Anna Claybourne and Tilly’s Where’s Will?, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review series by Ian Lendler and illustrated by Zack Giallongo, and Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, by Henry, Joshua, & Harrison Herz. Visit ilustrator Jane Ray’s website for free printable coloring pages.

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Tales from the TBR: Otto P. Nudd

Otto P. Nudd, by Emily Butler, (Dec. 2020, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781524717759

Ages 8-12

My latest TBR pick is the animal adventure Otto P. Nudd by Emily Butler. Otto P. Nudd is a raven, a bird for the ages: just ask him; he’ll tell you. He’s simply brilliant, has a wife, Lucille, and an egg on the way, and he spends his mornings with Bartleby Doyle, an old inventor who’s been taking care of Otto since he found him on the forest floor, having fallen from his nest as a baby. He’s friends with Pippa, a girl who’s just lost her father, and Bartleby’s neighbor. It’s all lovely and cozy until one morning, when Bartleby injures himself while testing out one of his experiments before Otto arrived to assist him. Now, Otto is locked out of the workshop, Pippa’s in school, and Otto’s puffed-up ego has alienated him from all of the animals he knows! He’s going to have to reconsider the way he approaches others and ask for help if he’s going to be able to help poor Bartleby. A funny, quirky story about friendship, being kind, and making amends, I loved spending time with Otto and his friends. There’s a tough squirrel named Marla, and a group of dumpster-diving birds that kids will love, especially when they interact with Otto; a side plot explores a developing crush between Pippa and a school friend, and the heart of the story is Otto’s deep love for his human friend and the roots of that relationship. It’s a great choice for a middle grade book group, and there are passages that make for good readalouds. Black and white artwork throughout the book introduces readers to the adorable characters, and a few cut-away chapters provide readers with deeper dives into STEM and friendship, courtesy of Wilma the Mouse and her friend Raúl the Guinea Pig. Hand this to Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate fans; display with classic animal adventures like E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet of the Swan.

Posted in Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Outdoor School is in session!

I’m excited to be a super influencer in Macmillan and Odd Dot’s Outdoor School campaign! Outdoor School is a series of books that’s going to help kids (and us grownups!) “re-wild” our lives, by helping reacquaint us with the outdoors and the world around us. Launching at the end of April, Outdoor School will have three definitive, interactive nature guides: Animal Watching; Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting, and Hiking and Camping. There are also two smaller, pocket Essentials Guides on Animal Tracks and Survival Skills; made with durable Tyvek material, these little guides are waterproof and tear-proof. Finally, there are Spot and Sticker books on Animals, Plants, and Birds, each with over 400 illustrated stickers for kids to use as decoration; plus, the book folds out into a checklist poster where kids can keep track of animals they discover along the way.

It’s been a heck of a year, and one thing we have started doing more is embracing the outdoors. I know, during the initial lockdown, we started walking around more because it was somewhere to go, somewhere to be able to see our friends and let my Kiddo run around and have while being able to keep a safe distance. Being able to take this a step further, with these guide books and sticker books, will make the spring and summer even more fun for my Kiddo and for my library kiddos: think of your local green spaces, like public parks. Think of local wildlife – we found raccoon footprints the cement over by a house near Kiddos’s school, which made us laugh, thinking about a raccoon leaving his little mark on wet cement in the middle of an urban borough. These books are beautifully constructed, with colorful pages and artwork, and it fosters a real respect for and love of the outside.

This is just the beginning of the promotion, so keep an eye out for lots more content and challenges until the books publish at the end of April. Watch this space for more.

Posted in picture books

A diamond in the night: The Bird Who Swallowed a Star

The Bird Who Swallowed a Star, by Laurie Cohen/Illustrated by Toni Demuro, (March 2021, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764361074

Ages 5-8

One night, a bird swallows a star, making brighter than a diamond. But because he “glowed like a thousand fires”, none of the other animals want him around them; he makes them vulnerable to predators. Alone and sad, the bird cries glittering tears that sprout into golden flowers, and a wandering traveler discovers him. Enchanted by the bird, the traveler takes him on as a companion. A beautifully illustrated story of how friendship sees into everyone’s inner light, The Bird Who Swallowed a Star is a story of imagination and inner strength. The textured cover glows in the dark and will delight younger readers. The illustrations play beautifully with light and shadow with elegance. The storytelling is repetitive, encouraging readers’ confidence as the story continues. The ending allows for imagination: encourage littles to interpret the wordless final spreads to finish their story. A solid choice for social-emotional collections. Originally published in French in 2015, it’s wonderful to welcome The Bird Who Swallowed a Star to U.S. bookshelves. Visit illustrator Toni DeMuro’s webpage for more of his illustration work.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

I Am a Bird introduces kindred spirits

I Am a Bird, by Hope Lim/Illustrated by Hyewon Yum, (Feb. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536208917

Ages 3-7

Every day, a little girl rides to school on the back of her father’s bike, pretending she is a bird. Arms outstretched, she “caws” to the birds, who sing back to her as people wave. But one woman in a blue coat does not wave or smile, and the girl wonders why; one day, she and her father discover where this mysterious woman, with her mysterious bag, heads off to every day, and she is delighted! I Am a Bird is a gentle story with a sense of freedom and abandon. Spare text allows the pencil and gouache illustrations to breathe and wander; the little girl rides securely at her father’s back, arms thrown out wide and head thrown wide as she greets the day with joy. Endpapers are blue and white, with flocks of birds flying across the spreads. A lovely story for storytimes.

I Am a Bird has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

So You Want to Be an Owl? Here’s a crash course!

So You Want to Be an Owl?: Everything There is to Know About Owls!, by Jane Porter/Illustrated by Maddie Frost, (Jan. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536215212

Ages 5-9

Picture book nonfiction at its most fun! Professor Olaf Owl is here to show you, new Owl recruit, how to be an owl, as concerned as he is about your lack of feathers, inability to fly, and lack of more than one set off eyelids. Can you cut it as a member of Team Owl? So You Want to Be an Owl? is loaded with facts about owls, with bold, mixed media artwork that readers will love. Organized into nine lessons, readers will learn about an owl’s feathers (not waterproof!), how they camouflage, hunt and eat, and the different sounds they make: it’s not just “Hoot”! Professor Owl is a fun, slightly snarky, guide through the book, adding amusing commentary and despairing over whether a human student could possibly match up to the superior owl. It’s fun, it’s funny, and the artwork is bright and cheery. Absolutely fun, and begging to be matched up with one of my favorite owl crafts from my Harry Potter program; this owl treat bag craft is adorable, too! Pair with some of my favorite owl stories, like This is Owl by Libby Walden and Divya Srinivasan’s Owl books, for a fun owl storytime.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Soar lets readers spread their wings and face fear

Soar, by Hillary Daecher/Illustrated by Angie Hohenadel, (Aug. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7643-5987-3

Ages 4-7

Ramone is a ruby-throated hummingbird who’s about to leave his nest for the first time. But he’s shy and he’s scared: what if something goes wrong? What if his wings don’t work? Luckily, Mom is there with comforting hugs and words. As he watches the other hummingbirds take to the sky, he screws up his courage and manages to get airborne! A rhyming story of facing one’s fears, Soar is beautifully illustrated with bright, vivid color. The rhyming meter makes for a good read-aloud, and you know what I’m going to say about flannels, right? Colorful birds are PERFECT flannel storytime accompaniment if you’ve got them! Back matter includes hummingbird facts, discussion questions, and a bibliography.

 

Ramone, a shy, ruby-throated hummingbird, is about to leave the nest for the first time. But his anxiety and fear keep him from taking off as he contemplates all that could go wrong. Full of kind words and encouragement, Ramone’s mother gives him room to work through his emotions, building his confidence and letting him set his own pace. Ramone watches as his friends soar through the sky, realizing all he might miss out on if he doesn’t conquer his fear. Ramone’s adventure showcases the emotions, both positive and negative, children experience as they approach new challenges. Accompanied by strikingly beautiful illustrations, this tale guides readers through Ramone’s emotional journey, showing kids that fear must be overcome in order to grow.