Posted in picture books

Catalina and the King’s Wall helps explain current events

Catalina and the King’s Wall, by Patty Costello/Illustrated by Diane Cojocaru, (May 2018, Eifrig Publishing LLC), $19.99, ISBN: 9781632331052

Recommended for readers 5-8

Who says cookies don’t solve problems? In a fairy tale that speaks to present-day events, a king decides he doesn’t like the people in a neighboring kingdom and plans to build a wall that will keep them out. Catalina, the king’s baker, has family in the neighboring kingdom and is upset by the news, but she’s got a plan. The king loves her delicious snacks, so she encourages him to build a wall using ingredients like icing, sprinkles, and cookie dough. The first two wash away, but that cookie dough holds fast – until the king finds it irresistible, and eats his way through the whole wall! Catalina cheerfully reunites with her family, and the king never bothers anyone ever again.

Catalina was fully funded through a Kickstarter earlier this year and published earlier this month, and it’s a smart, tongue-in-cheek fairy tale that makes explaining what kids are seeing on the news a little easier to understand. At once parody and social commentary, adults will get subtle winks at lines like, “The king’s face turned from orange to red” and at the king’s framed Time magazine photo in his royal chambers (hey… did he really make the cover of Time?). We’ve got a king obsessed with having his will carried out, and a bright heroine who figures out how to work around his myopia. The watercolor artwork is colorful and bright; the king is not orange-skinned, but does wear orange hose and has a suspiciously familiar curl to the back of his blonde hair; Catalina’s mother wears a hijab.

Pair this one with The Emperor’s New Clothes, get some pre-made cookie dough, and build your own edible wall for Summer Reading. Catalina and the King’s Wall is available online and via the author’s website, which also has an events calendar.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Feed your brain with picture book nonfiction!

There is so much good nonfiction out for younger readers this Fall!

Refugees & Migrants (Children in Our World), by Ceri Roberts/Illustrated by Hanane Kai
(August 2017, Barron’s Educational Series), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050201
Recommended for readers 6-10

A hot-button topic today, Refugees & Migrants answers the tough questions that children ask: “Why would people leave their homes?” “What is a migrant – or a refugee?” Illustrations and concise text offer explanations that seek to foster empathy and empower kids to make a difference in the world around them. Barron’s Children in Our World series addresses difficulties that too many children in our world face today, and sensitively explain these issues to readers while giving them the power to make changes. Additional titles look at Poverty & Hunger, Racism & Intolerance (2018), and Global Conflict (2018). These books are a strong addition to elementary nonfiction shelves and provide a great opportunity to talk to your kids about what they see on the news, how they feel about it, and what we can all do, together, to make the world a better place.

 

Where’s Your Hat, Abe Lincoln? (Young Historians), by Misti Kenison,
(Sept. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $9.99, ISBN: 9781492652502
Recommended for readers 2-5

Poor Abe Lincoln can’t find his hat, and he needs it in time to read the Gettysburg Address! Harriet Tubman is leading slaves to freedom, and Frederick Douglass is writing a book. Can any of his friends help him? This is the second in Misti Kenison’s Young Historians board book series (the first, being Cheer Up, Ben Franklin!). Each book features historical figures from periods in American History, with cartoony expressions and simple, one-sentence character actions that lay the groundwork for future learning. Everything ends on a happy note, and the end of the book includes historical figure profiles and a timeline. Fun for every historian’s library, no matter what your age.

 

Dangerous Jane, by Suzanne Slade/Illustrated by Alice Ratterree,
(Sept. 2017, Peachtree Publishers), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-56145-913-1
Recommended for readers 4-8

Jane Addams was an activist for the poor and for peace. She founded Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago, where she took care of her neighbors by providing food, childcare, English lessons – anything anyone needed to live their lives with dignity. When World War I broke out in Europe, Jane organized the Women’s Peace Party, and led the International Congress of Women, to talk about ways to bring the war and suffering to an end. She endured angry press from those who would call her a traitor; that she cared more for people overseas than in her own home – she was even named The Most Dangerous Woman in America by the FBI! Ultimately, Dangerous Jane was the first American woman to receive the Nobel peace prize. Through all the press, good and bad, Jane maintained her dignity and continued caring for others until the end of her life. Dangerous Jane is an inspiring story rendered in washed-out watercolors that communicate quiet strength, like the book’s subject. Jane stands out in her green dresses and skirts, against the bleak landscape of war and poverty. A biography, timeline, and selected bibliography completes this book.

 

Baby Animals Playing, by Suzi Eszterhas
(Oct. 2017, OwlKids Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9781771472975
Recommended for readers 0-6

Wildlife photographer and advocate Suzi Eszterhaus put together one of the cutest books ever. It’s all right in the title: Baby. Animals. Playing. Who wouldn’t squeal at just the expectation of what’s to come? Full-color photos of baby animals (and their parents) at play will make anyone fall in love, instantly. Brief nonfiction text gives some background information on how Momma bears teach their cubs to fish for salmon, or how jackal pups fight over who gets to play with a ball of elephant poop. Which will, doubtless, be most kids’ favorite part of this book (it was for my 5 year-old). Eszterhas invites readers to connect with animals and nature by looking at photos, reading books, and going outside and immersing themselves in nature, just like baby animals do; it’s a nice call to get the kids outside and away from TV and electronics.

 

Bugs From Head to Tail, by Stacey Roderick/Illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya,
(Oct. 2017, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771387293
Recommended for readers 3-7

The third book in the “From Head to Tail” series gives readers an up-close look at bugs. We get rhinoceros beetle horns and luna moth antennae; tarantula hair (eeeek) and millipede legs, and a trick question! There are more facts to discover (tarantulas flick hair from their bellies at attackers… I know it would make me run screaming), with cute, wide-eyed bugs to attract readers. Kwanchai Moriya’s paper collage art continues to be visually exciting, popping off the pages. Additional bugs profiled at the end, plus a note about arthropods – the bugs profiled in this book – make this a great addition to bug books in primary collections. And if you have a kid like this young lady, whose love of bugs got her published in a scientific journal at 8 years old, you definitely want this book around to foster them!

 

Animals at Night, by Anne Jankéliowitch/Illustrated by Delphine Chedru
(Oct. 2017,Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $19.99, ISBN: 9781492653196
Recommended for readers 6-10

This is a fun look at nocturnal animals in 12 different habitats, from the forest to more urban settings. You know when you see a museum display, with information about each animal in the display? That’s how nocturnals are presented here; each spread shows animals interacting in their environment, with a descriptive paragraph about each creature in the margins. Glow in the dark adds some more fun to the mix: a question is presented in each spread, answerable when readers turn off the lights to reveal the answers (answers are also at the back of the book, for any party poopers). With bright, bold animals that stand out against their night time backgrounds and glow in the dark challenges to find answers, it’s a fun addition to nonfiction collections for intermediate readers. Originally published in French in 2016. Pair this one with Tracey Hecht’s Nocturnals books for a nice fiction/nonfiction display.

 

 

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

NatGeo’s 2017 Almanac is jam-packed!

almanac_coverNational Geographic Kids Almanac 2017 (May 2016, National Geographic), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1426324178

Recommended for ages 8-13

NatGeo’s 2017 almanac is packed with content from their kids’ magazine, their collection of books, and their NatGeo Kids website. It’s chock full of articles, facts, games, and digital extras, including an invitation to the Newsmaker Challenge, where kids can submit their own time capsule artifact photos to be featured in next year’s almanac. Features on animals encourage kids to get involved in the Summer Mission Animal Rescue Challenge, increasing awareness about endangered species and how they can play a part in helping do their part toward conservation and protection.

Information is broken out into 10 sections, covering current events, animals, going green, world cultures, adventure, fun and games, science and nature, history, and geography. Each section is loaded with breathtaking photos, top 10 lists, homework help and research ideas, and a quiz.

These books are a great idea for kids who love trivia, and they’re great for introducing readers to the world outside their doors. Like I’ve said before, NatGeo books are a win with the kids in my library, my own kids, and the kids in my extended family. There’s so much to love!

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Crack Coach looks at the cult of personality and addiction

crack coachCrack Coach, by Steven Sandor (Sept. 2015, Lorimer), $14.95, ISBN: 9781459409804

Recommended for ages 12+

Bob Jones is a beloved high school football coach who just won the election for Toronto mayor. He seems to be one of those guys that can do no wrong – but some people would say otherwise. He’s always got an excuse for his bad behavior. When he refuses to meet with the GLBT alliance or address crucial issues facing the city, he claims it’s because his priority is to coach the high school football team. And the kids on his team, particularly Maurice and Vijay, see that the coach not plays favorites and makes some uncomfortably racist remarks while trying to be the “cool old white guy”. He punishes his team by putting them through abusive practices and says it’s for their own good. But when word starts to leak out about the mayor’s public drunkenness, added to suspicious video and pictures surfacing that highlight a possible drug abuse problem, Maurice and Vijay know that they have to mobilize the team and take control back from the coach.

Crack Coach is another hi-lo reader from Lorimer. I’ve become a big fan of this line; the authors are knowledgeable about their subjects (Crack Coach author Steven Sandor is a soccer broadcaster and sportswriter for an online Canadian soccer magazine) and the topics are timely and interesting. They never talk down to their audiences, relying on smart, direct writing and captivating subject matter to draw their readers in.

Crack Coach is a dramatic title, I’ll be the first to agree, but it pulls you in, doesn’t it? I loved the book and enjoyed the characters. They’re teens that other teens can relate to, with real-life issues that affect kids’ lives today. If you think the coach’s story sounds familiar, you’re not wrong – the book was influenced by a true story. Talking to teens about the story behind the story will bring a current events aspect to lessons; bring in some newspaper clippings or access them online to teach teens about primary sources and how writers use them as a tool.

Crack Coach is another great Lorimer book, perfect for reluctant and struggling readers and tweens who are ready for some grittier novels. A good add to libraries and classrooms with a struggling reader population.

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads, Women's History

For the Right to Learn tells Malala’s story for younger readers

malalaFor the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story, by Rebecca Langston-George/Illus. by Janna Bock (Sept. 2015, Capstone), $15.95, ISBN: 9781623704261

Recommended for ages 9-14

There are some great books available on Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager that defied the Taliban by demanding education for girls and young women, and was shot for her activism. I have most of them in my library – I buy every book I can on Malala, because I want boys and girls alike to know her story and understand that education is a right that not every child enjoys in this world, and the lengths that children will go to in order to have that right.

Rebecca Langston-George’s book For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story, illustrated by Janna Bock, is nonfiction that reads like fiction. We’ve seen Malala’s photos at the UN, of Malala in the hospital, Malala with her family, but illustrating a book on Malala allows us to see the events in her life that led to the present. Digitally created images, like Malala writing science formulas on her hands when other girls drew flowers are powerful and beautiful. The fear in her eyes and her friends’ eyes when a Taliban soldier boards her school bus, looking for her, grips readers who know what will happen – the drops of blood on a fallen book, set against a stark white background with the words, “Three shots shattered the silence”, is incredibly effective.

For visual middle grade learners, this is a great companion to any social studies/current events discussions. There is a glossary and an index in the back of the book, and there’s a great blog with Web resources that can round out any lesson plan on Malala.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction – A Few Reviews

Hey there!

I’m working hard, getting through my Cybils Middle Grade nominees – there’s so much good fiction out there! – so I thought I’d give a quick update on a few I’ve read so far.

red pencilThe Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, (Sept. 2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17, ISBN: 978-0316247801

Recommended for ages 8-14

Amira is a 12 year-old girl living in Darfur. She dreams of going to school, something her mother will not hear. She will marry a husband who can read for her, her mother tells her. That all changes when the Janjaweed come.

When her village is attacked by the Sudanese militia, her life is changed forever. She, and the survivors of her village, make their way to a refugee camp, where she grieves and learns how to start life anew.

Written in verse, The Red Pencil is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It’s about time we see fiction about this time and place in history hitting our bookshelves. Children need to read this book, and teachers need to discuss it with them. If you don’t have access to this book yet, PLEASE – find it, read it, and share it.

 

crossoverThe Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, (March 2014, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0544107717

Recommended for ages 8-14

Josh and his twin brother, Jordan, are lightning on the basketball court. The sons of a basketball player whose pro career was derailed by an injury and the assistant principal of their school, they have a strong family background that emphasizes teamwork and schoolwork.

Josh loves to rhyme, cranking out beats in his head as he plays. Jordan has other things in mind these days, though – namely, a girlfriend. Josh has a hard time with accepting this third party in his and Jordan’s relationship. Throw in their father’s health problems that he refuses to seek help for, and you’ve got a compelling read that will appeal to all readers, male and female, sports fans or not. There’s a flow and pacing to this novel, also written in verse, that just moves the pages on its own. Josh is a likable kid, and readers will see themselves in his shoes as he talks about his fears and frustrations.

The Crossover has been designated as a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2014, one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2014, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.