Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Reading for Indigenous People’s Day? Add these to your list.

October 10th is designated as Indigenous People’s Day, when we honor Native American history and culture. It is a holiday that has been a long time coming; consider spending the day learning from the best resources.

Dr. Debbie Reese’s American Indians in Children’s Literature website is an excellent resource, with analyses on books and resources on indigenous people in literature: Dr. Reese provides insight on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

If you are interested in research the indigenous land you occupy, and you are in the United States, you can text your zip code or your city and state to a number that will respond with the names of the Native lands that correspond to your region. I live and work on land taken from the Canarsie, Munsee Lenape, and Matinecock nations. Thanks to Code for Anchorage and Native Land for this service.

Support Indigenous presses. Highwater Press was kind enough to send me two beautiful picture books from their Sk’ad’a Stories Series, which I’ll be talking about below. Highwater is an imprint of Portage & Main Press and they publish stories by Indigenous writers and illustrators.
Returning to the Yakoun River, by Sara Florence Davidson & Robert Davidson/Illustrated by Janine Gibbons, (Sept. 2022, Highwater Press), $21.95, ISBN: 9781774920213

Ages 6-8

Returning to the Yakoun River is based on author Sara Florence Davidson’s childhood memories of a Haida fish camp. Seen through the eyes of a young girl, a family travels to the Yakoun River to fish for salmon and spend time with their Tsinii (grandfather). The artwork unfolds like a dream; the art appears to be oil painting; Haida artist Janine Gibbons draws from nature for her palette, with early morning blues and grays moving into cool weather steel blues and and greens; food and cheerful faces warm up the spreads. Endpapers show a calm river scene in the early morning. Sara Florence Davidson, a Haida/Settler Assistant Professor in Indigenous Education, draws heavily on themes of family and connection to the ancestors in her work. Her father, co-author Robert Davidson, is of Haida descent and is one of the most respected and important contemporary artists in Canada. The story is a peaceful meditation on intergenerational relationships and family and on recognizing the importance of ritual and connection. A gorgeous book for collections and an excellent purchase.

 

 

Dancing With Our Ancestors, by Sara Florence Davidson & Robert Davidson/Illustrated by Janine Gibbons, (Sept. 2022, Highwater Press), $21.95, ISBN: 9781774920244

Ages 6-8

A potlatch is an important ceremony to First Nations in the Northwest and parts of Canada. In Dancing With Our Ancestors, Sara Florence Davidson remembers the last time she danced with her late brother, all the while bringing the importance, excitement, and joy of a potlatch to younger readers. What most stands out in the narrative is the determination to continue tradition in the face of adversity: “Unlike our father, we were born after the laws that outlawed our culture practices were changed. The potlatch ban did not exist during our time, so we grew up dancing and singing side by side”; “They wanted us to stop being Haida”; “Today we dance with our children so our culture cannot be stolen again”. Joy and pain live side by side in the storytelling. Davidson beautifully describes the excitement and anticipation, with attendees arriving by boat, plane, and cars and RVs; the community makes “mountains of food” and set up the gym where the event is being held. Janine Gibbons’s illustrations show a crowd that spans generations, with bold, vibrant regalia and a sense of wonder that comes through. Endpapers show bold, colorful crests and masks, proudly displayed during the potlatch. An author’s note provides context to the story and a note on Ben Davidson, the author’s brother, is a lovely tribute. An absolutely essential purchase.

 

For the complete Sk’ad’a Stories Series list, visit Highwater’s page. Highwater also sells a Teacher’s Guide available for working with the Sk’ad’a Stories on their website.

Posted in Uncategorized

Celebrate Rosh Hashanah with Uncle Max!

Rosh Hashanah with Uncle Max, by Varda Livney, (Aug. 2021, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 9781728429069

Ages 0-4

The New Year is coming, and Uncle Max is going to spend it with his very excited family! Uncle Max is clearly the life of the party, with his colorful floral shirt and backwards baseball cap. Together, the family watches the sun set, lights the candles and enjoys a meal, and celebrates at the Synagogue. This adorable board book celebrates the Jewish New Year, with colorful illustrations, a cheerful family story, new Hebrew vocabulary words (and puppy translation),  and touchstones of the Jewish holiday, including dipping apples and challah in honey for a sweet new year, and blessing the wine and grape juice. The family largely presents as white, with some brown-skinned members. A joyful story to celebrate a joyful holiday, this is a great choice for holiday collections.

PJ Library has a downloadable reading guide to accompany the book, including a hands-on activity and thought-provoking questions that family can discuss.

For fun and educational Rosh Hashanah activities, see this fun paper mâché shofar on Education.com; you can also find recipes on the site, including a honey cake and noodle kugel. Visit TeachersPayTeachers for coloring sheets, including this one by CreateDecorateEducation and a greeting card from Yom Tov.

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

Pippa Park is back!

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight, by Erin Yun, (Sept. 2022, Fabled Films Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781944020804

Ages 9-12

In 2019, Pippa Park Raises Her Game hit middle grade shelves and made a splash: a modern-day take on Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, with a Korean-American lead character and a group of mean girls who broke all the stereotypes. I devoured the book and have booktalked this to dozens of my library kids. I’m so happy that we’ve got a follow-up to love now, too: Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight picks up shortly after Pippa Park Raises Her Game. Pippa’s getting into the swing of life at her school, she’s kinda sorta a Royal, even though Caroline seems to be trying her best to get Pippa to throw in the towel, and her best friend, Buddy, is now dating Helen. There’s a new crush on the scene, too: Marvel, an old friend, shows up on the scene when Pippa agrees to help volunteer with a local pastor’s drama club and sends Pippa into a tailspin: sure, Eliot is blonde and handsome, but Marvel is fun, makes her laugh, and likes the same things that she does! The fun begins when Pippa rashly agrees to host the Royals’ Christmas party at her sister’s apartment, just as Pippa’s sister takes in a very talkative neighbor, Ms. Lee, who’s recovering from an injury. Pippa hasn’t learned all of her lessons from the last time: she’s still trying to do it all, and putting off disaster for another day.

Pippa Park is such a great character: she’s got great depth, able to move from being bubbly and fun to stressed the heck out, to conflicted, all at once. She’s the very definition of tween! (Okay, and maybe 50, because honestly, I feel like this at least twice a day every day.) Erin Yun includes cultural references, particularly amazing food, and has a brilliant grasp of complex middle school relationships. Her characters are kids that readers know; that may be the kid reading this book. Kids separated from their parents and being raised by other family members; kids stressed about looking good in their friends’ eyes; kids trying to navigate friendship, growing up, and social status. It’s all real, and it’s all here. Here’s hoping we get more Pippa adventures.

Visit the Pippa Park webpage for downloadable resources, including an AAPI Guide and book club kit.

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight is another slam dunk for Erin Yun. A great add to your shelves.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Age-Old Question: What is Love?

What is Love?, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Carson Ellis, (Dec. 2021, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452176406

Ages 3-6

A young boy asks his grandmother that question we all hear at some point: “What is love?” Grandmother can’t answer that, so the boy goes out into the world and asks everyone he comes into contact with, receiving hundreds of different answers: it’s a fish; it’s a horse; it’s the night; it’s a blade, it’s any number of things, but one thing we know for sure, there’s no one answer. The boy returns, years later, to his grandmother, and as he cuddles her, he realizes that he has his answer. A gentle story about the subjectivity of love and the journey to learn what defines it, only to discover that it’s in one’s heart all along, What is Love? is uncomplicated and profound all at once; it’s the easiest thing in the world to some, yet to explain or define it can confound others. Playful, colorful gouache artwork and the repetition of the question, “What is love?” and the oft-repeated response, “You do not understand”, makes for moments of introspection as readers consider what each of these things mean to others: the blade to a soldier; applause to an actor. Ask little ones what love feels like to them, and give them some paper and crayons.

Marc Barnett is an award-winning author, including two Caldecott Honor books. Find more about his books at his website, where you can sign up for his newsletter. Carson Ellis is an award-winning illustrator with a Caldecott Honor book to her credit. See more about of her illustration at her website.

What is Love? has starred reviews from BookPage and School Library Journal.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Welcome to Lucia’s Casa!

Mi Casa is My Home, by Laurenne Sala/Illustrated by Zara González-Hoang, (Aug. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536209433

Ages 3-7

Lucia welcomes readers to her casa, where she lives with her “big, loud, beautiful familia”! Readers walk with Lucia through her home and neighborhood, where she shows readers the puerta (door) where she waits for packages from family in Puerto Rico and Spain; the cocina, la sala, where she builds the best pillow and blanket forts and snuggles up to watch las películas with her family, la cocina, where her Abuelo makes his holiday masterpieces, and more. This warm, welcoming story is like taking a trip through a friend’s home, filled with family, laughter, and activity. Family pictures adorn the walls, shoes and toys are strewn about, and the brightly colored interiors make this an inviting story that readers will enjoy spending time with, and the mix of English and Spanish vocabulary into a gentle Spanglish feels like you’ve just gotten settled on the comfy couch in your family’s sala. The only thing that, for me, was missing was a glossary of terms for readers who may not be as versed in Spanish, so I’ve created a quick reference here. Mi Casa is My Home is a celebration of family, of culture, and of being together. I love it and my bilingual Latinx library kids will cheer for it. An author note provides context.

Mi Casa is My Home has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Kicking into Holiday Mode with Robin, Robin!

Hi all. This is probably the most up-and-down year for me, blog-wise. I’ve tried to keep my ups and downs off my blog and my blogging schedule, but I guess, like just about everyone else, the chaos of the last almost two years (jeez!) has had its way with me. All I can do is thank you all for continuing to read, and promise that I’ll keep working on doing better. That said, let’s get right into the holiday reads with Robin, Robin!

Robin Robin, by Dan Ojari & Mikey Please/Illustrated by Briony May Smith, (Nov. 2021, Red Comet Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781636550091

Ages 4-8

What a feather in Red Comet Press’s cap: an adorable book with a companion Netflix release! Robin is a sweet young bird that’s been raised by mice, and wants so much to be a mouse, she fluffs up her feathers to create fuzzy little ears on top of her head. The Mouse family dreams of delicious crumbs that can be found at the Who-man’s home, but they have to be so quiet and careful, to avoid the Cat that guards their home. On one crumb expedition, Robin meets a Magpie, who tells her that the Who-mans have so much because of the Chrim-Cross Star that they put on top of a spikey tree every year; they wish on that star and get ANYTHING they want. Robin’s wish is to become a mouse, but this heartwarming story is all about families, loving who we are, and – hey, it’s the holidays! – enjoying good food together! Briony May Smith’s artwork is warm, with delightful animals, homey interiors, all set against a holiday backdrop with snow, trees, and homemade Chrim-Cross trimmings. There are such incredible details to discover, like Magpie’s home, with shiny keys, rings, and found objects forming decorative garlands; a wonderful use of shadows to convey Cat’s menace as she sneaks up on an unsuspecting Robin; the proud stance Magpie adopts as he marvels at his own Chrim-Cross Tree. The storytelling comes together with the artwork to create a new Christmas classic. Don’t miss this one.

Twinkl, an online educator/caregiver resource, has free Robin, Robin downloadables, from coloring sheets to math challenge cards. Create a free account to get access. If you get a chance, check out the Netflix trailer below: Aardman Animations, the studio that gave viewers Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, does the animation and it is just adorable.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

A Dreidel in Time lets readers live the Hanukkah story

A Dreidel in Time: A New Spin on an Old Tale, by Marcia Berneger/Illustrated by Bernice Castro, (Sept. 2019, Kar-Ben Publishing), $8.99, ISBN: 9781541552654

Ages 8-12

This is a Hanukkah short story that puts readers right into the heart of the Hanukkah story. Devorah and Benjamin are siblings who can’t wait to open their Hanukkah presents, but are a little disappointed when they open their grandparents’ gift to both of them: an old dreidel. Their parents and grandparents have a secret, though, and encourage them to give it a spin – and when they do, they discover they’ve been transported to ancient Israel, and are in the middle of the Hanukkah story as is develops! They meet siblings Simon and Shoshana, whose parents have been arrested by the king Antiochus’s soldiers, and key figures from history, including Mattisyahu (also known as Mattathias) and his sons, Judah and Jonathan. The power of the dreidel shifts the two siblings through different moments in the Hanukkah story, from the opening flight from Antiochus to the battle of the Maccabees, destruction of the Temple, and the rejoicing when they discover that the menorah is still burning after eight days. Every spin of the dreidel not only shifts the action, but the mood: when the dreidel lands on “shin”, a “bad spin”, the siblings find themselves in the past. Landing on “nun” may mean that nothing happens, but there’s a shift in time.

Fast-paced with dialogue that educates and engages, A Dreidel in Time is perfect to give your Magic Tree House and I Survived readers. Black and white illustrations by Beatriz Castro run throughout the story.

Visit author Marcia Berneger’s website for more about her books, a Q&A, and some fun activities for kids.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: PAWCASSO by Remy Lai!

If you haven’t yet read and enjoyed Remy Lai’s books, you really must. She has a wonderful way of looking at life, whether it’s finding a way through grief by making cakes (Pie in the Sky), or striking out on one’s own to prove their independence (Fly on the Wall). Her newest book, Pawcasso, is about a lonely girl and a neighborhood dog with a shopping basket who quickly garners a fan club.

Pawcasso, by Remy Lai, (May 2021, Henry Holt BFYR),
$21.99, ISBN: 9781250774484
Ages 8-12

Jo is an 11-year-old girl who has trouble connecting with new friends. As she stares out her window, she’s drawn to a neighborhood dog who trots around, shopping basket in his mouth, stopping at stores and picking up groceries. Everyone seems to know the pup, and, intrigued, Jo follows him, to try and figure out where he lives. People from the neighborhood see Jo following “Pawcasso”, as he’s become known, and assume she’s his owner: chaos ensues as Jo just kind of allows everyone to believe Pawcasso is her dog, including the neighborhood dog catcher, who’s on Pawcasso’s trail after receiving complaints about an unleashed dog in the neighborhood. Jo finds herself in an uncomfortable middle as she’s caught in her own lie, and may have to come clean and risk the new friendships she’s formed, in order to keep Pawcasso from going to the pound.

Remy Lai’s artwork is here in full color, and she brings Pawcasso, Jo, and their little neighborhood to life with friendly, colorful panels. The story will appeal to a wide range of readers, from dog- and pet-lovers, to graphic novel and realistic fiction fans, to readers looking for a good story about friendship, family, and fun.

Pawcasso has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness. Visit Remy Lai’s author webpage for more about her books and to sign up for her newsletter!

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 Uncategorized

Another post about Bears…

(It’s a joke, based on one of the book’s titles. Keep reading.)

Who loves bears? We love bears! Teddy bears, polar bears, brown bears brown bears, bears are children’s book gold. I’ve got three books about bears to crow about today, so let’s start with the inspiration for this post’s title.

Another book about bears., by Laura & Philip Bunting, (Jan. 2020, Kane Miller), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-084-3

Ages 3-7

I love a story that breaks the fourth wall! Have you ever thought about how many books there are about bears? Did you ever consider that every time a bear stars in a story, that bear may have been in the middle of something “really good – like sleeping, or snoozing, or napping”? Well, the bears have had it and are going on strike! This hilarious book is all about one bear’s fight for justice. The omniscient narrator tries their best to nudge the bear into compliance in a silly series of moments like dressing it up in a tutu or suggesting the bear kiss a frog, but Bear stands firm, even calling up other animals to serve as a proper stand in. Kids will laugh out loud at the deadpan humor, and the ultimate solution that works for everyone is priceless. Originally published in Australia in 2018, Another book about bears is storytime hilarity just waiting to be revealed.

Visit Philip Bunting’s webpage for free, fun downloadables for kids, too!

 

A Polar Bear in the Snow, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Shawn Harris, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536203967

Ages 3-6

Gorgeous cut paper and ink artwork presents a polar bear’s meandering through a brilliant white world and a deep blue sea. A polar bear wakes up in the snow and begins walking… but where is he going? What does he want? Award-winning author and illustrator Mac Barnett builds curiosity and excitement as readers follow the bear past seals, through a storm, and as he rebuffs a human in a very polar bearlike fashion, to end up at his destination. Shawn Harris’s illustrations give such texture and motion, layering shades of white upon white and blue upon blue, giving us a feeling of purpose and joy. Simple sentences and facts about polar bears (he clearly eats seals, but he’s not hungry right now; his coat protects him from the snowstorm; he likes to swim) are a wonderful introduction to young readers about the natural science of bears and the Arctic. A final question leaves much open to discussion. There’s so much presented in this book, so beautifully, and respects its youngest readers in its presentation. Teacher Tips are downloadable from Candlewick’s website.

A Polar Bear in the Snow has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly.

 

Can Bears Ski?, by Raymond Antrobus/Illustrated by Polly Dunbar, (Nov. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212662

Ages 3-7

Little Bear can feel the world around him – all its rumbles and shakes, trembles and wobbles – but hearing his world is a little more difficult. He doesn’t hear things clearly, and thinks he hears everyone asking him, “Do bears ski?” Dad takes him to an audiologist one day, and is fitted for hearing aids that make his world way too LOUD. He resists them at first, hiding them around the house, but with his dad’s love and support, he understands that it’s just something new to get used to – and he also learns that everyone has been asking him not whether or not bears can ski, but “Can you hear me?” A touching story about self-discovery, Can Bears Ski? is essential for bookshelves and can start many conversations with children. Author Raymond Antrobus is a Ted Hughes award-winning deaf poet and teacher who wrote Can Bears Ski because “It’s the book I could see myself reaching for as a child, and I can’t wait to have it exist in the world.” Colorful ink and paint artwork made this a gentle, comforting story about a big topic. The CDC’s Kids Quest webpage has helpful facts for kids on hearing loss.