Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade

Skunk & Badger are an odd couple you’ll love

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger #1), by Amy Timberlake/Illustrated by Jon Klassen,, (Sept. 2020, Algonquin), $18.95, ISBN: 9781643750057

Ages 8-12

This is an utterly adorable, amusing story of two unlikely friends. Badger, a rock scientist, lives on his own in his aunt’s house, doing very important rock science; when Skunk shows up at his door, he’s a little taken aback – he clearly hasn’t been reading his aunt’s letters, telling him he’ll be getting a roommate! – and he reluctantly lets Skunk into his home, and, slowly but surely, his life. You see, Skunk is much more of a free spirit than Badger: he cooks delicious meals, zings potatoes across the room while he’s cooking, and makes friends with chickens! Badger, who lives a functional and regimented life, is not sure about this whole Skunk business. After a big sleep over with the chickens leads to an incident where Skunk accidentally sprays Badger, the two have a falling and Skunk leaves; as he’s sadly said before, “No one wants a skunk”. Skunk’s departure gets Badger thinking about what makes a good friend – and is determined to find Skunk and makes amends.

Newbery Honor author Amy Timberlake and Caldecott Medal Winner Jon Klassen create an enduring story of compassion, embracing differences, and friendship. Badger is a lovable curmudgeon, paired with idealist, extroverted Skunk – but Skunk knows all too well how he’s perceived by others. When Badger loses his temper and calls him “vermin”, Skunk draws the line between endearing grouchiness and unacceptable treatment. Jon Klassen’s artwork fits perfectly with this sedate, sweet story; he gives memorable scenes life and makes this a book about friendship that kids will turn to again and again. You know what I’m going to say: Frog and Toad fans, this is the book for you. I can’t wait to see what Skunk and Badger get up to next.

Skunk and Badger has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books about Working Animals!

Stanley’s Fire Engine, by William Bee, (Aug. 2020, Peachtree Publishers), $14.99, ISBN: 9781682632147

Ages 3-7

The hardest-working hamster in children’s books is back, and now he’s a firefighter! The day starts off with Stanley and Peggy work on keeping the fire engine in tip-top condition, because Stanley needs to use that fire engine for a bunch of things; whether he’s getting things stuck in trees, like kites or Little Woo; putting out the annual fire at Charlie’s barbecue, or filing up a pool so the littles can cool off on a hot day, Stanley and his fire engine are there. The fun begins when he loads his friends up in the fire engine and take off to watch the firework display! After the fireworks, it’s time for Stanley to go home, where he has his evening routine of dinner, bath and bed. Thanks for a fun day, Stanley!

The latest Stanley book shows the lighter side of being a firefighter, but the main idea is there: firefighters help in all sorts of ways, and it’s a really good idea to have a fire engine at the ready if you’re shooting off fireworks. The endpapers showcase some of the equipment kids can expect to find at the firehouse, including the big ladder, a hose, the fire bell, and a fire extinguisher. Bright colors, boldly outlined, and short sentences perfect for sight word readers make this a hit. If you’re doing a virtual storytime, many firefighting companies offer free links to coloring books. Check out Liberty Mutual’s coloring book, this one from Indian Mills Fire Company in New Jersey, and New York’s Official FDNY Fire Safety Activity Coloring Book.

Snakes On the Job, by Kathryn Dennis, (Jan. 2020, Feiwel & Friends),  $17.99, ISBN: 9781250214003

Ages 2-5

The companion to 2019’s Snakes on a Train is the adorable story of a group of snakes, working in construction, to build a playground. The story plays with sound, offering occasional rhyme, and plenty of sssssslithery, hissssshhing sounds to make a readaloud fun! Brightly colored snakes don yellow construction helmets and get behind the wheels of different trucks – backhoes, dump trucks, diggers, and more – to clear the way and prepare the ground for building. They work together, even eat together – I loved the food truck offering Ant Tacos – and get back to work to stay on schedule. Once the park opens, they welcome visitors.

Bright colors, adorable digital illustrations, and short sentences that are loaded with action make this a fun choice for a construction storytime.

 

Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog, by Lisa Papp, (Sept. 2020, Peachtree Publishers), $17.99, ISBN: 9781682631492

Ages 4-8

In this third Madeline Finn book, Madeline and her dog Star are training for Star to become a therapy dog. The two visit Walker Oaks, a retirement community, where Star will be evaluated three different times. Star seems to be a hit, and is so well-behaved, but Madeline is drawn to one gentleman, a wheelchair-bound man named Mr. Humphrey, who sits off by himself and doesn’t want to engage with Madeline or Star. While Madeline’s mother reminds her that people work at their own pace, Madeline thinks of ways she and Star can cheer up Mr. Humphrey.

This is such a great series, and this latest installment shows the value of therapy dogs and how they touch people’s lives. It’s a story with empathy and compassion, and inspires younger readers to make a difference in their communities. The pencil and watercolor artwork are realistic, with muted colors for this quietly moving story. A must-have. Publisher Peachtree has an activity kit covering all three Madeline Finn books available for free download.

Madeline Finn and the Therapy Dog has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Room On Our Rock shows two sides to the story

Room On Our Rock, by Kate & Jol Temple/Illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton, (July 2019, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 9781610679022

Ages 4-8

Two seals bask on a rock when a mother seal and her calf show up, in need of a new home. In a heart-rending turn of events, the mother and calf are berated, told there’s no room on the rock, despite there being a wealth of space. Told to go back their own rock, we see tumultuous, dangerous waters await the two… but is this the real story? The book invites readers to back to front for a different point of view, and a very different story emerges. The mother and calf flee their home, in search of a new place to live, where they are warmly welcomed by seals who wouldn’t dream of turning them away.

Room On Our Rock is a touching, clever look at empathy, compassion, and perspective, presenting two points of view to topical events: refugees and immigration. Fleeing catastrophe, a mother and child hope to find safe harbor elsewhere. Will they be welcomed and sheltered, or turned away? Where will this family find compassion?The story takes a human dilemma and uses animal migration to illustrate the two divided schools of thought. The sparse text brings readers into the issues at the heart of the refugee crisis, showing either – depending on which side of the story you’re reading – an astonishing lack of compassion or empathy, or a heart-stirring wealth of benevolence and welcome. The illustrations add to the well of emotion created by the text, giving life to the words by giving us churning waters and the expressive faces of a desperate mother and child. There is a motion to the artwork that creates an urgency in the reader: those seals have to get out of there!

I loved Room on Our Rock and plan to read this at my next storytime. My son loves the concept of the two-sided story, and has gone back to this book several times. This is a good book about an important topic that seems to be its own endangered species: empathy.

Originally published in Australia in 2018, Room on Our Rock has been shortlisted for the Australian Book Design Awards in the Picture Book category, and for the New Zealand Post Book Awards in the Best Picture Book category. You can find downloadable discussion questions and activities.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Noah Builds an Ark brings shelter from the storm

Noah Builds an Ark, by Kate Banks/Illustrated by John Rocco, (March 2019, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763674847

Ages 3-8

A boy named Noah knows there’s a storm coming. As his parents get ready to ride out the storm and keep their family safe, so does Noah. He re-purposes his red wagon into an ark to hold his animal friends, building a roof, gathering food, and furnishing the ark to keep his garden friends safe. When the storm arrives, Noah and his family are safe and warm, and so are the frogs, birds, snakes, mice, spiders, and beetles Noah has sheltered within the ark. When the storm passes, Noah is relieved to see the animals made it through, and the garden returns to life.

This is a lovely, non-theological retelling of the famed tale. Noah is an boy of color living in an urban setting who clearly enjoys nature, as evidenced by his compassion and empathy in creating a safe space for the wildlife in his backyard and by his animal companions present throughout the process: a bird sits on the fence with him as he sees the storm clouds rolling in; a butterfly sits on his foot as he lays in his yard; a grasshoper keeps him company as he assembles the ark. The narrative moves between Noah’s parents preparations, and Noah’s, with him echoing his parents’ sentiments such as, “We need to get ready”, “Better be prepared”, and, as the storm moves in, “Come”. It’s a wonderful example of modeling that parents and caregivers will recognize and that kids will relate to.

John Rocco’s pencil, watercolor, and digital artwork is realistic and subdued. The human faces are gentle and kind, the gestures warm and pleasant. Noah Builds an Ark is a story of compassion, nature, and life, and it’s a great storytime pick. Noah Builds an Ark has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Your heart cannot handle the adorableness of Tiny T. Rex!

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug, by Jonathan Stutzman/Illustrated by Jay Fleck, (March 2019, Chronicle Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9781452170336

Ages 3-7

Tiny T. Rex wants to hug his sad friend, Pointy the Stegosaurus, but there’s one problem: he has very tiny arms! He seeks advice from his parents, aunt, and siblings, and ultimately decides that practice makes perfect: but it’s sometimes precarious!

I have been squealing about this book since I first saw it at a Book Buzz a couple of months ago. A combination of smart writing and adorable cartoony artwork makes Tiny T. Rex one of the cutest, funniest books I’ve ever read. Tiny T. Rex is every kid, from preschool age on up, who has to contend with weird adult responses to big childhood dilemmas. When he asks his new age-y Aunt Junip for hugging advice, she recommends “balance and freshly squeezed cucumber juice”, to which T. Rex responds, “That is disgusting. I will ask my mother for help instead”. Mom’s advice isn’t much more helpful; she falls back on the traditional mom answer (which I’ve used quite a few times, myself): “It’s okay if you can’t hug. You are good at many other things… You are tiny, but your heart is big!” You can almost see his little eyes roll when he responds, “I cannot hug with my heart, mother”. When T. Rex decides to take his siblings’ advice and practice, he creates a hug strategy blackboard that kids will love: he’s considering being shot out of a cannonball, parachuting into the hug, and several other hilariously adorable ways to accomplish the hug. As he starts putting his ides into practice, he learns that trial and error can be a little painful, but ultimately, that the best hugs are the ones given with all the love you have to give. The artwork is heart-exploding levels of adorable. T. Rex and his fellow family and friends are bright and bold, with bright, cheerful foliage all around them.

It’s impossible not to squeal when you first lay eyes on this book: I have a dining room full of librarians and educators that backed me up, when Chronicle debuted this at the book buzz. With a sweet storyline about compassion and determination, eye-catching graphics that kids and adults alike will love, and text that was made for storytime reading, Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug is a home run. Now, we wait for another adventure…

Illustrator Jay Fleck has a video on drawing Tiny T. Rex – invite your storytime kiddos to give it their best!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Blog Tour and Giveaway: What If EVERYBODY Said That?

What If Everybody Said That?, by Ellen Javernick/Illustrated by Colleen Madden, (Aug. 2018, Two Lions), $14.99, ISBN: 9781503948952

Ages 4-7

A young girl learns that words can hurt in this companion book to author Ellen Javernick’s 2010 book, What If Everybody Did That?The girl tells boys they can’t play at the park with her; makes fun of her classmates’ artwork, and refuses to share her lunch with a hungry classmate, among other incidents, each prompting an adult to admonish, “What if EVERYBODY said that?” Reaction pages illustrate similar abrasive acts and the painful fallout, including hurt feelings and damaged self-esteem. After some introspection, the girl reaches out to a new neighbor, prompting the final sentence, with a different affect: “What if everybody said THAT?”

Ellen Javernick shows readers what would happen if everyone stopped being kind, resulting in hurt feelings and chaotic environments. She also creates a narrative that shows readers the power of words to hurt or to heal, and the difference just one voice can make. Each spread presents a different scenario, and allows readers to see both actions and consequences play out. The mixed media artwork provides a diverse group of children, and there are little hints within each spread to reinforce the bad feelings that stem from bad behavior: one girl sports a frowning flower on her sweater; broken hearts and astonished faces scrawled on a bench react to a hungry classmate.

What If Everybody Said That? is a great starting point for discussions on empathy, kindness, the power of words, and the consequences can that come from them. It’s a smart addition to your collections on feelings, emotions, and actions.

 

 

Ellen Javernick is the author of more than twenty books for children, including the Children’s Choice Book Award finalist The Birthday Pet, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, and the bestselling picture book What If Everybody Did That?, illustrated by Colleen Madden. She has been an elementary school teacher for more than twenty years and currently teaches second grade. She lives in Loveland, Colorado.

Colleen Madden is the illustrator of numerous children’s books, including the picture book adaptation of All I Want for Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey and the bestselling picture book What If Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick. She lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons. To see more of her work, visit: http://www.mbartists.com/cgi-bin/iowa/artists.html?artist=77

 

Enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win your own copy of WHAT IF EVERYBODY SAID THAT? (U.S. and Canada addresses only, please!)

 

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books for your Spring radar!

Spring always brings some good books to read. In April and May, there’s a little something for everyone – come and see!

April Books

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, by Sarah Hampson/Illustrated by Kass Reich,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383615
Recommended for readers 4-8
Dr. Archibald Coo is a sophisticated pigeon who’s tired of the way he and his fellow pigeons are treated by humans. They’re shooed at, swatted, and treated like a general menace. Dr. Coo remembers when pigeons enjoyed a higher profile in history: in ancient Greece, they delivered news about the Olympic Games; during World War I, they carried messages across battlefields. Now? pfft. So Dr. Coo and his pigeon friends organize and decide to strike: they disappear from every public space, leaving a confused public wondering what happened. Dr. Coo heads over to the mayor’s office a history of the pigeon and a note, asking for tolerance, opening the door to a new era of pigeon-human relations. It’s a cute urban story with a wink to New York and other urban spaces, and has a nice thread about inclusivity and diversity running through the book. Gouache paint and colored pencil art makes for a soft illustration, with attention to the different types of pigeons – there are! – in the cityscape. This would be cute to booktalk with James Sage’s Stop Feedin’ Da Boids!

My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button/Illustrated by Christine Battuz,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383561
Recommended for readers 4-6
Kitty gets to school and knows something’s up when her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, isn’t there to meet her. What’s going on? There’s another teacher there today! How does school even work when your teacher is absent? This sweet rhyming tale about a student’s first substitute teacher is great for younger kids who are just getting into the swing of school routines and provides some fun advice for coping with and adjusting to unexpected change. Kitty teaches readers some coping strategies, including helping out her friends and the teacher by contributing to class and modeling good behavior using cues she learned from her teacher, that the substitute may not be aware of. This is an animal story, so kids will enjoy seeing the “ginormously tall” teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Omar; pigs, elephants, bears, a whole menagerie of students. Hand-drawn artwork and digital collage come together to create colorful, textured, cartoony fun. This one’s a good addition to preschool and primary collections.

Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star, by Chris Tougas,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781771388399
Recommended for readers 1-3
One of my favorite books coming out this season is this adorable board book! Set to the tune of everybody’s favorite classic song, this sweet and funny version is all about where not to go: not in a plane, not on Grandpa’s knee, not at a puppet show. Luckily, the poor Little Star gets relief by the story’s end, and sits on a potty to… “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star”. It’s adorable with the cutest digital art. Little Star is beyond cute, and gender neutral! Sing along at storytime – I know I’ll be throwing plenty of voice inflection (“Did you just pee on this page?”) and leg-crossing as I read this one. Absolutely adorable, must-add, must-give for collections and toddlers everywhere.

May Books

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, by Alice Kuipers/Illustrated by Diana Toledano,
(May 2018, Chronicle), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452152325
Recommended for readers 7-9
Polly Diamond is an aspiring, biracial young writer who discovers a magic book on her doorstep one day. Not only does the book write back to her when she writes in it, Everything she writes in the book happens in real life! At first, Polly is psyched: who wouldn’t be, right? But you know how it goes… for every magic journal action, there’s a pretty wild reaction! Written in the first person, with excerpts from Polly’s book, including a pretty great intermediate-level book list for awesome display purposes (“Read Polly Diamond’s favorite books HERE!”). Chapter book readers who love books like Juana and Lucas (on Polly’s favorites list), Jasmine Toguchi, and Katie Woo will thoroughly enjoy Polly’s adventures. There are short, descriptive sentences and a nice amount of new words – Polly is an aspiring writer, after all! Lots of fun for chapter book readers; I’d have kids create their own aquariums as a related craft.

Old Misery, by James Sage/Illustrated by Russell Ayto,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781771388238
Recommended for readers 5-10
Readers with a darker sense of humor (and parents who are Gorey fans) will get a chuckle out of Old Misery, the story of a cranky old woman named – you got it – Old Misery, and her old cat, Rutterkin. She’s broke, and the apples keep disappearing from her apple tree! Lucky for Old Misery, she’s not completely heartless and feeds a wandering visitor, who grants her one wish: she wants all the apple thieves to be caught in the tree until she lets them go! Old Misery decides to play a little risky game when Death himself shows up at her door – and she sends him to the apple tree. Be careful what you wish for! The black and white, pen and ink artwork has a creepy, quirky feel to it, which will appeal to kids who like Lemony Snicket’s work, but may go over some kids’ heads. Old Misery narrates the story, offering an opportunity for a fun read-aloud.

Binky fans, Gordon’s got his own adventure! For readers who love Ashley Spires’ Binky the Space Cat graphic novels will love Gordon, fellow member of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) and Binky’s house-mate, as he finds himself traveling through time to stop an alien invasion. But Gordon travels back too far – before PURST even exists! He’s got to get back to his normal time and set things right! This is fun reading for graphic novel fans, and a nice addition to a popular series. There’s time-travel, problem-solving, aliens, and humor, along with fun art.

See How We Move!: A First Book of Health and Well-Being, by Scot Ritchie,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781771389679

Recommended for readers 5-8
Author Scot Ritchie’s multicultural group of friends are back together again. Last time we save them, they visited a farm to learn how to grow grains and vegetables in See How We Eat!; this time, Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Sally, and Martin are training as their swim team, The Flying Sharks, prepares to compete. They learn about using proper equipment for different activities, warming up before beginning your activity, teamwork and encouragement, goal-setting, nutrition, the mind-body connection, and more. There are suggestions for fun activities and words to know, all coming together to give kids a fun story about a group of friends staying strong and having fun together while encouraging kids to create lifelong habits of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. I like this See How! series; it offers a wealth of information on healthy living, made accessible to younger readers. I can easily read this in a storytime and get the kids talking about the different ways they play, how they eat, and good habits to get into.

The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Sandy Nichols,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN; 978-1-77138-574-9
Recommended for readers 4-8

Zaida, Eli’s grandfather, gets bagels from Merv’s Bakery every Sunday morning. One morning, when no bagels show up, Eli gets a phone call: Zaida’s fallen on his tuchus and can’t get the bagels! Eli and his family aren’t the only ones waiting on bagels, either – Eli visits Zaida, only to discover that Zaida’s friends are verklempt, too. No bagels! What a shanda, as my stepdad would say! Eli helps care for his zaida and keep him company, but he knows the best way to cheer Zaida up, and heads to the bagel store on his own the very next Sunday. This story is the most charming book about grandparents and grandchildren, loaded with compassion, a wink and nudge type of humor, and loads of fun, new Yiddish terminology. If you’re an urban dweller, like me, these words are kind of a second language: Zaida is grandfather, and tuchus is your bottom; there’s a little glossary of other Yiddish words that show up in the story, too. (Verklempt is overwhelmed with emotion, and shanda is a shame – you won’t find them in the story, but all I could hear was my stepdad when I read this, so there you go.) I loved the sweet storytelling, the compassion and the decision to act on Eli’s part, and Zaida and his group of friends were wonderful. It’s got an urban flavor that everyone will enjoy, and is good storytelling. Use this story as an opportunity to get your kids talking about relationships with their grandparents: what do you call your grandparents? Do they cook, bake, or shop for food? Do you go with them? (I’d love to get some bagels to hand out with my group… hmmm…) The acrylic artwork has a soft, almost retro feel, but really emphasizes the relationship story with colors, gentle expressions, and soft lines.

The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw,
(May 2018, Tundra/Penguin Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735264120

Recommended for readers 4-8
A fox who loves nature and botany goes on a quest for a rare plant to add to his collection. The Golden Glow is a plant from the Wellhidden family, and only grows high in the mountains. There’s not even a picture of it; it’s never been described. Fox packs his supplies and heads off to the mountains, meeting different animals and noting different plants and trees along the way. When Fox finally reaches the mountaintop, he waits… and discovers the Golden Glow! It’s stunning! It’s breathtaking! And Fox realizes that “the golden glow is more beautiful here on the mountaintop than it ever would be in a vase in his living room”. Part story and part nature journal, The Golden Glow is just gorgeous and teaches a respect for nature. The angular art draws the eye in; there’s so much to see on every page, every spread. Flouw creates detailed lists of Fox’s hiking pack, plus trees and flowers that he encounters on his way, and a map of different zones on the way up to the mountain, from the foothill to snow zones, all in beautiful detail for younger readers to enjoy. Fox’s decision to leave the flower where it is presents a love of and respect for nature that can lead to a great discussion on conservation. Bright red endpapers with angular design could be a topographic map of the area – talk about how different areas look from above! I know it’s way early, but I’ll quietly whisper this one now: Caldecott contender.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Series fiction gift ideas!

There are some nifty things about series fiction: there are usually a few published throughout a calendar year, and they’re usually reasonably inexpensive, so you can scoop up a few as a nice gift. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately.

Anna Hibiscus

Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-678-6
Go Well, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-679-3
Love From Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-680-9
You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Lauren Tobia, (Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-681-6
Good for readers 6-8

This series is wonderful. While it is a running series, you won’t be lost if you don’t read in numerical order. I came in on books 4-8 and have the first four on request from another library; I was captivated by this slice of life series about a young girl who lives with her paternal, extended family, in Africa. The book celebrates African culture and community, family, and empathy. In Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus, Anna has returned to beautiful Africa after vacationing with her maternal grandmother in Canada. She’s thrilled to be home, gains a new pet, and eases back into daily life. Go Well, Anna Hibiscus! sees Anna and her family returning to her grandparents’ village, where life is slower; there’s no running water or electricity, and kids don’t go to school. Anna learns how to make new friends and learns from them even as she teaches. In Love from Anna Hibiscus!, Anna’s grandfather discovers that an old friend of his has passed away, leaving a young grandson, Sunny Belafonte, on his own. The boy is starving and steals in order to eat; Grandfather and Anna know they must intervene. You’re Amazing, Anna Hibiscus! is the strongest book in this very strong series: Grandfather is becoming more and more tired. Anna is left to work through the grief that that comes with a death in the family. The books paint a beautiful picture of everyday family life and the compassion Anna and her family have for others. Anna and her family are African but for her mother, who is Anglo-Canadian; something that is communicated through illustration. The black and white illustrations throughout show a loving family and scenes of African life: Anna teaching village children to write the alphabet using sticks and the ground; Grandmother weaves a basket; the kids ride an uncomfortably crowded bus to Grandfather’s village. Originally published between 2012-2016 by Walker Books, the series is now available from American publisher Kane Miller. Give this set to kids and broaden their horizons.

 

Animal Planet Adventures

Dolphin Rescue, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-169-6
Farm Friends Escape!, by Catherine Nichols, (Feb. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-61893-416-1
Puppy Rescue Riddle, by Catherine Nichols, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-008-3
Zoo Camp Puzzle, by Gail Herman, (Sept. 2017, Liberty Street), $14.95, ISBN: 978-1-68330-009-0
Good for readers 6-10

Simultaneously available in hardcover or $5.99 paperback, this Animal Planet fiction series debuted earlier this year and blends fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed the first two books, Dolphin Rescue and Farm Friends Escape!, earlier this year; I just read the next two, Puppy Rescue Riddle and Zoo Camp Puzzle, and can honestly say I get a kick out of this series. It’s a true series in that each book is its own separate adventure; there’s no crossover with other characters or locations, so every book stands alone and makes it easy to dive in and enjoy whatever appeals to readers. Don’t like farm animals much? No worries, just read another book. There’s a major plot running through each book and a mystery subplot that the characters must work together to solve: with Puppy Rescue Riddle, a group of friends volunteer at an animal shelter and have to find a puppy who’s gotten lost in a house; Zoo Camp Puzzle stars twin siblings, temporarily living with and being homeschooled by their father at a zoo while he works on a book. The twins notice that animals are going into hiding, and work to get to the bottom of the mystery. Zoo Camp Puzzle has fun word searches and puzzles throughout (which will necessitate a “Do Not Write in This Book” label on my library copy). Each book also has a cute flip book feature – flip the pages, and see dolphins swim, ducks waddle, puppies run, and zoo animals shuffle along.  The illustrations are in color, and full-color nonfiction sections throughout each book provide information on veterinarians, how animals react to changes in weather patterns, and more. The set is available in both hardcover and paperback. Great set for young animal fans.

 

Ella and Owen

Ella and Owen: The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0368-6
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (March 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0369-3
Ella and Owen: Attack of the Knights vs. Dragons, by Jaden Kent/Illustrated by Iryna Bodnaruk, (May 2017, little bee books), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0372-3

Dragon siblings Ella and Owen are forever bickering. Owen is bookish and likes staying home, reading; Ella is adventurous and always ready to push the envelope. In The Cave of AAAAAH! Doom!, the two search for a cure for Owen’s cold, only to go up against an ogre and evil vegetable wizard. In Attack of the Stinky Fish Monster!, the siblings want to surprise their mom with a cake made of delicious stinky fish, so off they go. They end up turned into newts by a wizard named Ken, bargain with a pixie, and find a stinky fish monster: a very large, very grumpy, stinky fish monster. Knights vs. Dragons goes a little deeper as the dragons find a group of knights who hate dragons because they’ve followed a culture of hating dragons for years: fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers have always hated dragons; that’s just the way it is, right? When the knights encounter a group of trolls who hate knights for the same reason – and are a lot bigger, stronger, and scarier than the knights are – Ella and Owen have a chance to teach the knights a valuable lesson about acceptance. This is a fun series – there are four in print at the moment – that kids who love dragons and silly fantasy will enjoy. There are black and white illustrations throughout, but, sadly, no recipe for stinky fish cake.

Unicorn Princesses

Unicorn Princesses: Sunbeam’s Shine, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193267
Unicorn Princesses: Flash’s Dash, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Aug. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193304
Unicorn Princesses: Bloom’s Ball, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-1681193342
Unicorn Princesses: Prism’s Paint, by Emily Bliss/Illustrated by Sydney Hanson, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $5.99, ISBN: 978-168119338

This series is a no-brainer for fantasy fans who love their unicorns and My Little Pony books. A human girl named Cressida is convinced that unicorns are real, happens upon the Rainbow Realm where unicorns live, and befriends them, receiving a magical key to re-enter their realm whenever she wants to visit. She helps the unicorns out with each visit. In Sunbeam’s Shine, a wizard’s mistake costs Princess Sunbeam her magic yellow sapphire, which causes her to lose her powers. The key to regaining them is to enlist the help of a human who believes in unicorns! In Flash’s Dash, the big Thunder Dash race is coming up, and Princess Flash lets non-unicorns compete for the first time. Cressida’s invited to take part, but the bumbling wizard (who’s also a lizard) casts a spell that covers the track in sticky goo. Bloom’s Ball has Princess Bloom trusting the wizard-lizard with a spell to deliver her special birthday ball invitation by mail, but an errant word brings on an army of quails who wreck the party, leaving Cressida to help salvage the day. In Prism’s Paint, that wizard – seriously, why is he even allowed to practice magic at this point? – changes Princess Prism’s power from turning objects different colors to removing color altogether. Cressida’s got to help find the rainbow to restore Prism’s power. The series is adorable, wacky, and full of good-hearted dilemmas, with black and white illustrations throughout. Bloom’s Ball and Prism’s Paint are due out on 12/26, making them good Kwanzaa gifts, or hold onto them for Little Christmas in January. There are two more books forthcoming in 2018. Trust me, someone you know loves unicorns. I have one little girl at my library waiting desperately for these next two books to come out. Want to mix it up a little? Consider some My Little Pony books, or anything in the Rainbow Fairies series by Daisy Meadows.

Happy reading and happy holiday shopping!

 

 

 

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

Choose Empathy. Choose Compassion. Read Mustaches for Maddie.

Mustaches for Maddie, by Chad Morris & Shelly Brown, (Oct. 2017, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1629723303

Good for readers 9-12

Maddie’s a 12-year-old kid who loves to laugh and make people laugh, and there’s nothing better for that – at least according to Maddie – than a fake mustache. She carries them around with her, always ready to hand out and pop one on to make an uncomfortable situation better, to add some bravery when a situation calls for it, or just to make someone laugh. She’s also trying to secure her spot within the school queen bee’s clique; Cassie dictates who gets to hang out with her, and demands favors of her “friends” in order to stay in her favor. When she tells Maddie not to hang out with a perfectly nice classmate for no other reason than she said so, Maddie struggles with it, but ultimately – at first – sticks with Cassie. The thing is, Maddie’s noticing her body acting weird lately. Her arm isn’t acting right; it’s curling against her chest. She’s tripping over her own two feet quite often. But she tells her mom it’s just growing pains. It can’t be anything weird, right?

Wrong. When she finally goes to the doctor, she and her family learn that she has a brain tumor that will require surgery. And Maddie just landed the part of Juliet in the school production of Romeo and Juliet! Maddie learns to face her fears – including her fear of not being in Cassie’s orbit – and embraces real friendship with those around her. When Cassie turns into a bully, Maddie focuses on the bigger picture: surgery and recovery. Her friends and family rally around her, and there are plenty of mustache moments to look forward to.

This book is brilliant. Based on the true story of the authors’ daughter – who is okay now, thank goodness! – this story, told in the first person from Maddie’s POV, is engaging and heart-felt. Maddie has a great sense of humor and a big heart, and strives to see the good in everyone: even a bully. Despite wanting to be in Cassie’s orbit, she enjoys embracing her quirky sense of humor, making her a lovable heroine – even moreso, when you realize she’s an actual person. SLJ calls Mustaches for Maddie a good readalike for RJ Palacio’s Wonder and I have to agree. I’ve booktalked it exactly once, and that’s because the second I put it on the shelf and talked about the plot, it was gone and hasn’t stopped circulating yet. The book’s website offers a free, downloadable reading guide with Common Core Connections, activities for the classroom and beyond, and CIA (Compassion in Action) activities. There are also fantastic extras, including downloadable mustache posters and greeting cards. I’m considering a CIA program myself, where I provide the kids with mustache templates that they can decorate and we’ll display in the library, along with a list of CIA intentions. If I can get the kids to join in, I’ll make sure to blog it.

In the meantime, this is a great book for discussion, for gift-giving, for just about everything. It addresses the need for compassion that our society needs some help with these days, and take on a special importance during the holiday season and as we prepare for a new year.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Hanukkah picture books for holiday storytime!

I realized that my winter holiday reading has been somewhat narrow in scope, so I’m looking for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books to read deeper and stronger. Here are some adorable Hanukkah books I’ve just read; I hope you enjoy them, too!

Latke, the Lucky Dog, by Ellen Fischer/Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke,
(Aug. 2014, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 978-0761390398
Good for readers 4-8

Narrated by Latke, a shelter dog that’s rescued on the first night of Hanukkah, this is an adorable story about pet adoption and Hanukkah. As he gets used to his new home, Latke manages to get in trouble every single night of Hanukkah! He’s eating the sufganiyot, chewing up dreidels, and slobbering all over the gelt. Yikes! Luckily for Latke, his family is very forgiving, and gives him his very own present on the eighth night. As Latke repeats throughout the book, he is “one lucky dog”. Latke the Lucky Dog has soft illustrations and changes in font color to note when Latke is narrating (blue) versus when someone else speaks (black). Anyone who has lived with a puppy will recognize Latke doing what dogs do; the forgiving family makes this a story of compassion and empathy while also giving kids a look into what life with a pet can be like. The story touches on the foods and activities that are part of the Hanukkah celebration.

 

Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss/Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn,
(Oct. 1993, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 978-0929371467
Good for readers 4-7

Sammy Spider and his mom watch from their web as their family, the Shapiros, light their menorah on the first night of Hanukkah. Sammy is intrigued, and drops down a bit. He loves the way the menorah keeps his feet warm, and he enjoys hearing the story of Hanukkah, but what he really loves are the dreidels that Josh, the young boy, receives from his parents each night! He asks his mother if he can have a dreidel, but Mom tells him spiders spin webs, not dreidels… but on the last night of Hanukkah, Mom has a wonderful surprise for Sammy. I really enjoyed this book, because it provided a nice background on the holiday itself – the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil – and incorporated family traditions. It’s also a concept book, with illustrations reinforcing numbers and colors. The artwork is reminiscent of Eric Carle, with a collage feel. There is a whole library of Sammy the Spider books, where he learns about different aspects of Jewish life, from holidays, to traveling to Israel.

Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf, by Greg Wolfe/Illustrated by Howard McWilliam,
(Sept. 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619635210
Good for readers 4-8

This story is adorable, and handles that whole Elf on the Shelf business (Shmelf on the Shelf, maybe?) while we’re at it. Shmelf is a new elf, working on Santa’s List, checking it twice, when he notices something really distressing: there are a whole bunch of kids that aren’t on the naughty list, yet they’re not receiving presents! When he asks the head elf what the deal is, he finds out that the kids on the list are Jewish, and have their own holiday, where they receive gifts from their parents. This still doesn’t sit right with Shmelf, who goes investigating and sees a family celebrating Hanukkah: they’re spinning dreidels, they’re snacking on gelt, and yes, they’re getting presents! One for each night! He hears the story of Hanukkah and is so excited, he races back to the North Pole, where Santa gives him a special task: he’s going to travel the world, spreading Hanukkah magic! He gets a snazzy blue and white outfit, a sleigh and reindeer of his own, and heads out every year – sometimes November, sometimes December – to make sure your latkes are crispy and think, your menorahs burn bright, and your dreidels win. You want to thank Shmelf and his reindeer, Asher? No cookies – they like gelt and kosher dill! How can you not love this story? It’s a great way to explain Hanukkah – I love how Mom’s story takes shape in word bubbles  – and adds a fun spin to the holiday.

That was my first foray into Hanukkah reading, and now I plan to request more!