Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A Place Inside of Me is necessary reading

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart, by Zetta Elliott/Illustrated by Noa Denmon, (July 2020, Farrar Straus Giroux), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30741-7

Ages 4+

This has been an ugly year; there’s no better way to put it. Let this Black Lives Matter poem by award-winning author, poet, and playwright Zetta Elliott and illustrated by the fantastic Noa Denmon, be the must-read book that will start important conversations and inspire hope and joy. A young Black child works through his shifting emotions over the course of a year in A Place Inside of Me: summertime brings joy, and hoops with friends at the basketball court; the joy turns to sorrow as the news covers a story about a child being shot, and sorrow becomes fear, which festers into anger. Anger isn’t enough to satisfy the hunger for justice and freedom, and with the end of Fall and Winter, comes Spring, bringing pride, peace, compassion, hope, and love; a wish for brighter futures and better days, and a reminder that Black Lives Matter.

Zetta Elliott’s verse is powerful, loaded with emotion like pain, anger, and hope; Noa Denmon’s artwork is colorful and vibrant, with an expressive child who invites us to follow through their dialogue. Color sets the child apart in the foreground, as washed backgrounds show them skateboarding against a neighborhood, playing basketball against a mural-painted wall in the court, and the neighborhood barber shop, where a look at photos on the wall lets you rest your eyes on a rendering of a slave ship’s blueprints. It’s a reminder of a history where Black lives most certainly did not matter. There’s a poster of Malcolm X in the child’s room, and a collection of Black faces like Beyonce’s, Mae Jemison’s, Martin Luther King’s, and Jackie Robinson’s form a stunning display as the child raises his arms in a gesture of pride. See more of Noa Denmon’s artwork at her Instagram, @noadenmon.

If you can’t understand why Black Lives Matter, rather than “all lives mattering”, I beg you, please read this book.

Posted in picture books

Books that love beautiful weather

I’ve been going through my TBR as we sit in time out for a little while. Today’s picture book slam is all about books to read while enjoying the beautiful weather. Grab some books (they’re available via ebook – check your libraries or order from your indies; many have ebooks!), sit outside with your littles, and enjoy every moment.

The Bear’s Garden, by Marcie Colleeen/Illustrated by Alison Oliver, (March 2020, Imprint/Macmillan), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250314819

A young girl envisions a community garden from a spilled plant in this story, based on the actual Pacific Street Brooklyn Bear’s Community Garden in Brooklyn, New York. Living in the inner city, the girl sees potential in everything: a cardboard box, a tomato can, a seed. When her tomato can plant falls over, she sees “a baby garden”, and tends to the seedling where it landed. As her plant grows, people being slowing down, admiring her progress. But the girl has to leave, and she worries that without her love, her plants will suffer, so she makes the decision to leave her teddy bear behind. Under the bear’s loving eye, the neighborhood comes together to create a community garden filled with life, color, and love. Colorful and upbeat, The Bear’s Garden illustrates the beauty of imagination, creation, and community coming together. Endpapers are laid out like a map of the boroughs; the back endpapers focuses on Brooklyn, with a colorful burst of flowers noting where the Bear’s Garden can be found.

Consider a planting activity with your own kiddos – I love this Buzzfeed link that has different types of kitchen scraps that you can grow; Kids Gardening has a downloadable planting activity using kitchen scraps.

The Bear’s Garden has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Kaia and the Bees, by Maribeth Boelts/Illustrated by Angela Dominguez, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536201055

Ages 4-8

Kaia is a little girl who is pretty brave, but one thing scares her: Bees. She tries to keep it a secret from her friends, but when she’s spooked by a bee flying by her, she turns to her beekeper dad: she wants to go up on the roof with him, to his apiary. She’s doing great with the bees, until she slips her glove off and one stings her finger! Just when Kaia thinks she’s done with bees, she has a moment where she faces her fears and discovers that maybe bees aren’t so scary after all.

A story about bravery and empathy, with a smart message about our environment and urban apiaries, Kaia and the Bees warmly addresses relatable fears – in this case, bees – and how the smallest steps can lead to big progress. Kaia is relatable; she’s brave and smart, but hides her fear of bees until she’s called out on it. Her beekeeper father explains how bees are important to our world, and how his work – the family’s work – as beekeepers helps keep bees safe and healthy. Maribeth Boelts, herself a beekeeper, brings her love of bees and social mindfulness to Kaia’s voice, while Angela Dominguez’s cartoon-realist illustrations give readers an expressive, accessible heroine and a multicultural family living and thriving in an urban setting. Endpapers give readers a peek into a beehive, complete with nonthreatening, cute bees.

There are some interesting facts about honeybees available from NatGeo Kids. Hobby Farms has information on beekeping safety for kids who want to be like Kaia. The New York City Beekeepers Assocation has education on urban beekeeping. Introduce kids to urban beekeeping with Kaia and with Lela Nargi’s book, The Honeybee Man; The Honeybee Conservancy also offers a good list of bee books for children.

 

Hike, by Pete Oswald, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201574

Ages 4-8

A dad and child wake up and hit the trail for a day’s hike. As they walk a trail together, they notice the beauty of their surroundings: spy a family of deer; track a black bear’s footprints; indulge in a snowball fight, and contribute their own offering to the forest: they plant a sprig from a tree. A celebration of the parent-child bond and our world, Hike is largely wordless, relying on the illustrations to tell the story. The colors are warm, drawn from nature, and the father and child share a visibly warm, loving relationship that invites caregivers and their kids to put on their hiking boots – or sneakers! – and explore their world. Be it a backyard, an urban neighborhood, or a suburban landscape, there’s always something to discover together. A sepia set of endpapers present a map, with start and finish points noted.

I loved the idea of a DIY Nature Journal like this one from KC Edventures. Last year, when I was home with my little guy during Spring Break, we made a nature journal with brown paper lunch bags and went wandering around our neighborhood, collecting cool leaves, acorns, and pebbles we found and liked. Kiddo loved it, and I printed out photos I snapped during our walk to add to the pages. The Pragmatic Parent has a great, free Nature Scavenger Hunt PDF that kids will love, too.

Hike has five starred reviews.

 

Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World’s Biggest Solar Plant, by Allan Drummond, (March 2020, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), $18.99, ISBN: 9780374308995

Ages 5-10

This is nonfiction that appeals to multiple grades. The story of the Noor Solar Power Plant in Morocco’s Sahara Desert – the largest solar power plant in the world – wraps around a story about everyday life in a small village next to the plant. Jasmine and Nadia are two friends who go on a class trip to the plant; during that trip, the girls’ class and readers will learn about Morocco and how the power plant creates jobs and improves the quality of life by bringing turnkey skills, technology, and the magic word, sustainability.

By giving readers relatable guides in the forms of Jasmine and Nadia, readers get a glimpse of life in a small Moroccan village, where the villagers have farm animals and cook on open fires, and the huge sprawl of the power plant and the modernity it brings while honoring the culture of the people who inhabit the area. The teacher engages her students, and readers, by asking thoughtful questions; most notably, “what does sustainability mean?”, to get her students and our readers ready for the school trip that illustrates how the power plant creates sustainability.

Watercolor illustrations and word balloon dialogue make this an enjoyable read. Warm yellows wander through the story, and earth tones and blues bring the reader to the land and its people. The teacher and many female children wear hijab. Sidebars throughout provide more detailed information about Morocco, the power plant, and sustainability. An author’s note showcases photos of workers at the Noor plant and a bibliography provides an opportunity for more reading. Endpapers bookend the story by having Nadia and Jasmine meet before the trip, and head back to school after.

A good addition to STEM collections. Toms of Maine has some easy to do activities to teach kids about solar power. Time for Kids has a 2016 article about the Noor plant.

 

That’s it for this time, I want to get this posted! More books coming!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Storytime is book review time! Something For You, With All My Heart, C Jumped Over Three Pots and a Pan

I’m a #SaturdayLibrarian today, so I figured that best way to catch up on book reviews was to put them in front of my toughest audience: TODDLERS. See, on Saturdays, I do storytimes in my children’s room’s Family Place center, which, in Corona (my library), is a little area full of learning toys for the kids to explore. So this is an audience that’s not always going to be riveted to my every word, ya know? I have to be on top of my game for Saturday Storytime, and I need books that are going to keep the kids and parents entertained. These three fit the bill.

Something for You, by Charlie Mylie, (Nov. 2019, Farrar Straus Giroux), $17.99, ISBN: 9780374312350

Ages 2-6

A sweet book about friendship, Something for You is about a mouse who wants to cheer up a sick friend. He searches for something to make her smile, but things don’t always go as planned. Mouse learns that just being a friend is all we need. The watercolor artwork brings a delicacy to the story, and the characters are drawn with kind, expressive faces; their movements also delicate and nurturing. The mouse who searches for something for his friend gently wraps a scarf around a cold pigeon and shares a flower with a bee – even if he’s a little grumpy about it! The story incorporates panels into the storytelling, allowing for a nice sequential feel, while showing small moments coming together to create a story.

This was the first book up, and the kids were intrigued. The cover caught their eye, and I asked, “Isn’t it nice when someone does something for you? Don’t you feel good when you do something nice for Mommy or Daddy?” Moms and dads smiled, and toddlers looked at them skeptically, but seemed to go along with it. The framed window, giving readers a view into the mouse caring for his sick friend, also caught the kids’ eyes: we’re natural spectators, right?

Something for You is adorable, and perfect for stories about kindness and empathy. Toddlers and preschoolers are the spot-on audience for this one, but older kids – Kindergarten and first grade, especially – will enjoy this one, too. Reading this book can lead to some wonderful discussions about friendship.

 

With All My Heart, by Stephanie Stansbie & Richard Smythe, (Dec. 2019, Silver Dolphin), $15.99, ISBN: 9781684129102

Ages 2-6

This is the sweetest book about parent-child love. A big bear and little bear cuddle together, splash, explore, and enjoy making memories together in this ultimate cuddle-sit rhyming story with die-cuts throughout the book. The verse reads with a soothing cadence and is a love letter to caregiving, to parenthood, to loving a child: “I saw your sweet smile/and I knew from the start,/I’d love you forever/with all of my heart”; “Each day, more than ever,/I love your sweet smile,/And feeling you close/as we cuddle a while”. Die cuts on each spread spotlight words in hearts, leaves, and star shapes.

The parents loved this one, and snuggled their little ones (still clutching their toys) into the laps and pointed out the bears, the diecuts, and details like the warm sun, the soft and silvery moon, the little moments between parent and child. This is a nice storytime/lapsit-cuddlesit/bedtime book to have in your collection, and would pair nicely with Anna Pignataro’s Our Love Grows, Margaret Wise Brown’s A Long Time That I’ve Loved You, and the classic Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.

I’ll be reading this one again and again.

 

C Jumped Over Three Pots and a Pan and Landed SMACK in the Garbage Can!, by Pamela Jane/Illustrated by Hina Imtiaz, (Oct. 2019, Schiffer Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764357954

Ages 2-6

I had to end on a silly note! After a rousing rendition of the Alphabet Song, I launched into a spirited reading of this hilarious rhyming story. The alphabet letters are at camp, when C, trying to show off to A and B, decides to leap over  – you guessed it – three pots and a pan. C jumps a little farther than expected, though, and lands – SMACK! – in a garbage can, sending the rest of the alphabet into a tizzy as they search for the letter E, who has three arms and can help pull C out. But E’s gone missing, along with three other letters! We have an alphabet mystery with dramatic tension here, and the repeated phrase, “C jumped over three pots and a pan and landed smack in a garbage can” make this a laugh-out loud book to read aloud. This is made for silly, emphatic reading out loud: I smack my thigh to emphasize the word “smack”, which gave the kids an extra giggle. It’s a fun take on concepts, and is PERFECT for kids who love Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr.

The artwork is fun, adorable, and bold, with large letters that have arms, legs, and expressive faces. The primary colors are bright and playful, set against a camp setting complete with tents, boats and rivers, and grass.

Parents and kids alike enjoyed this one, and I’ll be coming back to this book again and again. If you do storytime crafts after your storytimes, there are loads of ideas to enhance your program. There are Do-a-Dot printables (perfect for little hands), letter crafts (my second grader did these in preschool, but the teachers used construction paper and cut out the shapes for the kids to decorate), and hundreds of alphabet coloring sheets. A quick Pinterest search or Internet search will lead you down the wonderful rabbit hole of alphabet coloring and crafts. Enjoy.

And that was my storytime today!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Two new Pout-Pout Fish adventures!

Pout-Pout Fish: Back to School, by Wes Adams/Illustrated by Isidre Monés, (May 2019, Farrar Straus Giroux), $5.99, ISBN: 9780374310479

Ages 3-6

The Pout-Pout Fish is off to school! This time, he’s a substitute teacher, subbing for his favorite teacher, Miss Hewitt, who’s down with a cold. On the way to school, he meets a nervous new student and helps him feel comfortable with his new school and new classmates. When Pout-Pout – Mr. Fish here – feels a little overwhelmed in front of his first class, the little fish is there to return the favor, giving Mr. Fish the confidence to carry the class. TAt the end of the day, Pout-Pout gets a sweet drawing from his new student and a warm reception from his new students. What a way to start a school year!

Pout-Pout Fish: Back to School is a Pout-Pout Fish story by Wes Adams and illustrator Isidre Monés. I admit I miss the rhyme scheme and repetition that Deborah Diesen traditionally uses, but the emphasis on kindness present in Pout-Pout Fish stories is here. Isidre Monés uses calming blues for Pout-Pout and bright primary colors for the classroom, all of which will appeal to readers. And there are stickers at the end of the book, making this a great back-to-school gift for kids (and if you’re putting this on your library shelves, hold onto those stickers, or your books won’t last the day – hand them out to your kiddos as welcome back gifts).

 

The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean, by Deborah Diesen/Illustrated by Dan Hanna, $17.99, ISBN: 9780374309343

Ages 3-6

Pout-Pout and friends are cleaning up the ocean! Mr. Fish and his friends love the ocean’s beauty, but when he looks around and sees a giant mess, he and his friends investigate and find out that THEY are the cause of the mess! That simply won’t do, so the group team up to clean up in this rhyming story by original writer and illustrator Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna.

Kids (and grownups) familiar with Pout-Pout stories will fall right into the rhyme and repetition of the story. There’s always a phrase or two that sets the plot moving; here, it’s “There’s a problem that needs solving/And we don’t know what to do/But we’re going to find some answers/Would you like to join us, too?” Old boxes of junk, food waste, plastic bags, all of it has to go, because it’s “a big… BIG.. MESS!” The friends come together to pitch in and clean up; even sorting their recyclables from their garbage. Once they’ve cleaned the ocean floor, they feel good about themselves, and extend the invitation to the reader to join them! An author and illustrator note encourages readers to clean up and protect the ocean, encouraging everyone to take action and learn more. It’s a great way to introduce conservation to kids.

The Pout-Pout website has lots of printable activities, and the website is way too much fun! (There are floating bubbles and fish!)

 

 

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Peep and Egg debate the pros and cons of bathing: I’m NOT Taking a Bath!

Peep and Egg: I’m Not Taking a Bath, by Laura Gehl/Illustrated by Joyce Wan, (Oct. 2017, Farrar Straus Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30327-3

Recommended for readers 3-7

I adore Peep and Egg. Yes, they’re illustrated by Joyce Wan; I should have heart-eyed emojis setting off her name every time I talk about one of her books, because I adore her art. In addition to the squeal-worthy art, though, they’re just fun. They’re Elephant and Piggie for the toddler set; one surly little bird and one level-headed friend who manages to steer the other in the right direction.

This time, it’s about bathing. The front endpapers show us a bunch of pigs, happily playing in the mud; the verso shows us a pair of muddy footprints tracking across the page, leading us to the title page, where we see a very dirty Egg, already stating, “I’m Not Taking a Bath”. We know what we’re getting into from the second we open the book, and I don’t know about you, but I’m already giggling. (Maybe it’s because I have three boys and am having deja vu.) Sure enough, there’s Peep, suggesting Egg take a bath. “Too wet!” Egg fires back. Peep suggests different enticing bath ideas: special shampoo, the hose, the dog’s water bowl; all met with reasons why Egg refuses to consider them, ending with the repeated phrase, “I’m NOT taking a bath!” Egg even refuses a bath in the river, to which Peep responds – like most parents I know – with the time-tested, “Okay… well, see ya!” As Egg notices all their friends run by – including the muddy pigs! – ready for a day of playing at the river, Egg changes tune pretty fast and heads to the river!

When Peep offers Egg a towel, Egg politely declines… “because I’m not getting out!” Sound familiar, folks? Peep and Egg works so well because – like Mo Willems’ Pigeon books – we have seen the characters, and they are US. Egg is the fussy toddler and preschooler, starting to make their own decisions; we’re the caregivers, trying to get them to make the decision WE want them to make. We cajole, we entice, we finally say, “Okay, well, I guess I’ll have to play with all of these cool bath toys all by myself“, and our kiddos change their tune. Only to assert themselves again when it’s time to come out of the tub, their fingers wrinkled, lips blue from sitting in the now-cold bathwater. Laura Gehl gets us: children and caregivers alike.

Laura Gehl has loads of great stuff, including curriculum guides and activity sheets, at her website. Joyce Wan has downloads and printables aplenty at her website, too!

Want a chance to win your own copy of Peep and Egg: I’m Not Taking a Bath? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Meet two new middle grade heroines with big imaginations

Ruby Starr, by Deborah Lytton, (Aug. 2017, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $7.99, ISBN: 9781492645771

Recommended for readers 8-12

Ruby Starr loves getting lost in a good book. She even has a lunchtime book group with her BFFs at school: The Unicorns! Things change when Charlotte, the new girl in school, shows up and starts making big changes: she scoffs at reading and wants to make The Unicorns a drama club, and she’s spending more and more time with Ruby’s best friend, Siri. Ruby needs to dig deep into her imagination to help bring things back to normal again.

Part Secret Life of Walter Mitty, part Dork Diaries, Ruby Starr is a lovable new protagonist for middle grade readers. She daydreams scenarios to help her cope with the everyday frustrations – or imagine exciting outcomes for upcoming events – and zones out while she’s doing it, making for some giggleworthy moments throughout the story. The imagination sequences are illustrated, letting readers in on the joke. The stress of friendship – and losing it – will resonate with middle graders, as will the fear of being the outsider in the group; Ruby handles these challenges with humor and style, even reaching out to her frenemy and offering a helping hand. I loved seeing a nice librarian-student relationship, too; maybe the author can give us a Ruby Starr/Unicorns reading list to promote to our kids!

Ruby Starr is a fun entry into the humorous journal fiction sub-genre. Give this to your Dork Diaries, My Dumb Diary, and Frazzled (by Booki Vivat) readers. Ask them to draw an imaginary scenario for themselves! There’s a reader’s guide on Deborah Lytton’s author webpage, along with an author Q&A and link to her blog.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen, by Catherine Lloyd Burns, (Aug. 2017, Farrar, Straus & Giroux), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374300418

Recommended for ages 8-12

Cricket Cohen has a big imagination. Sometimes, it gets away from her – especially when she wants to impress someone, or just make a boring autobiography school assignment a little more exciting. After all, it’s fun when she and her grandmother pretend, right? Well… wrong, at least according to her schoolmates, who are tired of her making up stories, and her teacher, who wants her to redo her autobiography assignment with the truth this time. When her parents leave her alone with her grandmother, Dodo, while they go summer house-hunting in the Hamptons, Dodo convinces Cricket that they’re going to run away and have an adventure; Cricket’s all too happy to go. But Dodo starts becoming confused, and Cricket finds herself having to bail herself AND Dodo out of hot water when she’s the only one who knows what’s fact and what’s fantasy.

The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen is much more than a novel about a kid who likes to embellish the truth. It’s a story about grandparents and grandchildren, and it’s a story about what happens when children find themselves with the responsibility of caring for an adult: something that today’s kids sometimes find themselves managing.

Cricket finds herself disappearing into her imagination to deal with her boring classmates who prefer talking about clothes, shoes, and crushes to geology and stuffed animal brain surgery, but you can also argue that it’s an attention-seeking response to her parents, who are consumed with their nonprofit fundraising for the city’s public schools. They live above their means, and her mother – a control freak and perfectionist – treats her own mother like an inconvenience. Artsy free spirit Dodo pushes back against her daughter’s rules and regulations, and Cricket embraces her kindred spirit; but Cricket, previously unaware of her grandmother’s health struggles, finds herself in the position of being responsible for herself and her grandmother when her grandmother’s failing memory causes a problem in a department store.

The New York setting is fun – it’s got a touch of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to it. The story handles big issues like family relationships, aging grandparents, and embellishing the truth with a shot of fun and adventure. At the same time, the Dodo is the one character that remains truly likable throughout the story. Cricket and her family may be living above their means, but they are still an upper middle class family, living on New York’s Upper West Side and renting summer homes in the Hamptons. Her parents border on neglectful, putting the welfare of New York City’s public school children ahead of their own daughter’s. Cricket’s actions are understandable in the bigger picture, and she becomes a more sympathetic character as the story progresses.

Have The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen available, along with Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart, and There Will Be Bears, by Ryan Gebhart, for readers who may be coping with an aging grandparent. Booktalk it with Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Kay Thompson’s Eloise, Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg, and Nadja Spiegelman’s Lost in NYC graphic novel for a fun New York reading theme.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate

Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power – what will she see next?

Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power, by Jennifer Hamburg/Illustrated by Jenn Harney, (Feb. 2017, Farrar Straus Giroux), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-374-30494-2

Recommended for readers 7-10

Third grader Hazel Bloom (call her Hazy, please) is having visions – peas flying in the air, eggs crashing to the ground – that come true in the craziest of ways, the day after she gets her visions. Her best friend calls it her “tomorrow power”. Hazy tries to head off any catastrophes at the pass, but she always manages to make the wrong move, causing chaos instead of preventing it. If she can find her focus, maybe she can use her “tomorrow power” to save the day when she’s needed most!

The Tomorrow Power is the first in a new intermediate chapter book series about a girl who finds herself with a touch of precognition, with humorous results. Most of the fun comes from Hazel trying to figure out where the vision will take place, and trying to prevent it, while trying to function like a normal kid. There are black and while illustrations throughout, outrageous situations, and a likable group of characters. Pair with the Heidi Heckelbeck series by Wanda Coven for some fun intermediate magical reading.