Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, picture books

Explore SIGHT!

Sight : Glimmer, Glow, SPARK, FLASH!, by Romana Romanyshyn & Andriy Lesiv, (July 2021, Chronicle Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781452179773
Ages 8-12
Art and science make a visually exciting combination in this book about sight, with a thoughtful narration linking scientific facts and infographics throughout. Kids are going to love the high-contrast artwork, with neon oranges, stark whites, and deep blues drawing them to pages on facial expression, deciphering symbols, and optical illusions. A philosophical narrative runs across the bottom of most pages, with thoughts like, “I see myself in the mirror. / I study my face carefully and know its tiniest details. / However, the reflection does not always how who I really am” and “I look at the world with wide-open eyes. / I yearn to discover the unknown, to see beyond the horizon, and to understand things that are not self-evident” encouraging introspection. Great for STEM collections. Display and booktalk with Professor Astro Cat books by Dr. Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman, and Flying Eye Books, which tend to have similar artwork and use infographics, like Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the South, and Owen Davies’ Crazy About Cats and Get Smart About Sharks.
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Small and Indie Spotlight!

As I continue catching up to my TBR, I’ve got more independently published books for you to enjoy. Take a look!

Tucker and the Garbage Truck, by Sarah Brown/Illustrated by Oscar Franco, (May 2020, Independently Published), $12.97, ISBN: 979-8648207370

Ages 3-6

Tucker is a little truck who discovers a big garbage truck winding its way through his neighborhood. Tucker approaches the garbage truck and asks him about his job, and the garbage truck invites Tucker along as he makes his stops, explaining why he enjoys his job. He’s too big to be one of those itty bitty trucks or cars, and he likes helping keep the town clean! At the end of the day, Tucker is happy to have made a new friend and has learned about a new job: Garbage Truck!

Digital illustrations are cute, and the text is easy to read. Kids who Disney’s Cars movies and shows, plus vehicle books like Kate and Jim McMullan’s I’m Fast! and I Stink! and Byron Barton’s board books (Train, Trucks, Planes) will enjoy this one.   Author Sarah Brown has a series of Tucker books available on her Amazon author page.

 

Carrie’s Flight (Grandma’s Closet #1), by Lois Wickstrom/Illustrated by Francie Mion, (March 2019, Independently Published), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1090828224

Ages 4-7

A little girl named Carrie discovers some of her grandmother’s boxes in a closet, and pulls them into her room, where she video chats her grandmother to ask what they are. When Grandma invites Carrie to open the boxes, she discovers feathers! And wings! Donning a pair of wings for herself, Carrie soon realizes she can fly like the starlings outside her window, and joins them in flight. She heads to her grandmother’s home for a visit, and when the birds beckon her home, she flies back. A gentle Icarus story for younger readers, this is a sweet story about a girl and her grandmother, with a fantasy spin. The artwork is dreamlike, with soft colors, and the text has emphasized fonts on certain words for added interest. If the text were laid out over and around the images, it would flow better, but the overall story is cute and will appeal to younger readers. A nice bedtime story to share. An author’s note on how starlings arrived in North America and their environmental impact adds an interesting nonfiction touch to the book.

 

How I Made a (Tiny Wacky) Friend (My Crazy Stories), by Daniel Georges, (Aug. 2019, Independently Published), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1088442432

Ages 5-8

This is my first dip into the My Crazy Stories series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. William is a kid who likes keeping to himself. He likes to spend time by himself, making spooky masks in his room, and enjoys being out and about when there’s no one else around: until “this kid” shows up: a new kid moves into the neighborhood, and William starts seeing him EVERYWHERE. It’s really cramping his style! When his parents invite the kid and his family over for dinner, William is ready to give the kid the scare of his life – but when he puts on one of his scariest masks, the boy is THRILLED. He loves scary stuff, too! The two new friends bond over their shared love of monsters, and Willy and Olly – that’s “this kid’s” name – become fast friends, spending their days at the playground and reading monster stories together. They even bestow secret code names upon each other, because “Good friends always have secret code names”. A spread at the end of the book invites kids to put pictures of themselves and their friends into the book, and give themselves secret code names.

The book is fun, narrated in the first person by William, and is so relatable to kids, especially kids with more introverted tendencies (or children dealing with a new sibling). The artwork is fun, colorful, boldly outlined. I was really happy with this book, and will keep an eye out for the other books in the series. A fun book to help kids break down complex emotions.

Dana Digs In, by Laura Pedersen, (Apr. 2020, Independently Published), $8.75, ISBN: 979-8638193270

Ages 4-7

Dana is a biracial girl who lives in an urban community and does not like the taste of the tomatoes in her salad. It’s not that she doesn’t like tomatoes, she doesn’t like the store-bought tomatoes her parents have bought! Her father explains that tomatoes are often picked before they’re ripe, and ripen on a truck, which gets Dana thinking about waste and pollution. She’s determined to find a better way to get good food, so she researches how and where to start a community garden – and discovers the perfect spot in a future building area that she can use for a few months. After getting the seeds started and learning to compost, she’s ready – and she gets help! The community pitches in and they have a healthy harvest, a portion of which Dana donates to the local food pantry. When it’s time to relocate the garden, Dana discovers that she’s got a couple of options – exciting! Dana Digs In shows how dedication, ingenuity, and research makes all things possible, no matter what age.  The artwork uses word balloons to illustrate dialog and nicely shows the steps involved in figuring out how to set up and run a community garden. Read during a Discovery Time/STEM program and encourage kids to start their own seeds – or do a food scrap program and show kids how to start their own crops from food scraps in their kitchens!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

February Picture Books: little elephants, fabulous females, and being your own self!

The Smallest Elephant in the World, by Alvin Tresselt/Illustrated by Milton Glaser, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781592702619

Ages 4-8

Originally published in 1959, The Smallest Elephant in the World is back in hardcover! A small elephant, no bigger than a housecat, leaves the jungle to get away from the bullies who make fun of him. He ends up in the care of a boy named Arnold, whose mother does NOT want an elephant for a house pet. Arnold tries some creative fudging to convince his mother otherwise, but Mom’s not fooled that easily. Where will the Smallest Elephant find a home?

This adorable story about friendship and finding one’s own place in the world is as relevant and sweet today as it was when it was released 60 years ago. Milton Glaser’s vintage illustration is bold, with bright oranges and greens standing out against the black and white page backgrounds. The elephant’s face is expressive; sweet and friendly, and he’s adorably tiny when shown in scale.

The Smallest Elephant in the World brings a nice touch of our childhoods back to our children’s collections. Gen X kids like me will fondly remember the art and silly-sweet storytelling, and pass that love onto a new generation. Let your kiddos draw their own tiny elephants, and give them things to measure against: a book, a shelf, a ruler, or your foot!

 

A is for Awesome! 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World, by Eva Chen/Illustrated by Derek Desierto, (Feb. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $9.99, ISBN: 9781250215994

Ages 2-5

An Instagram star and creator of Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes spotlights outstanding women in this abcedary. Juno Valentine is our guide, introducing readers to some of her favorite “sheroes”. There are standard favorites here: Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, and Malala are all here, side by side with feminist figures like megastar Beyonce, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dorothy Hodgkin, fashion icon Iris Apfel, and author Ursula K. LeGuin. There’s a mirror here for “X, Y, Z: the Extraordinary You, and the Zillions of brilliant, brave adventures you will have”, which makes for big fun during storytime. Collage artwork is bright and textured, with differing fabrics and hairstyles. The addition of Roman goddess Venus feels a little off, but every other featured female is flesh and blood real, and the grouping has a nice diversity. Each woman has a one-line description; some have quotes attributed to them.

I love a good board book, and this one makes my cut. Add this in time for National Women’s in March, and plan your storytimes now.

Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon, by JonArno Lawson/Illustrated by Nahid Kazemi, (Feb. 2019, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702626

Ages 4-8

A long-legged white bird doesn’t feel like he fits in with his flock, but feels a connection when making eye contact with a little girl. The bird ponders his existence and explores the human world, not noticing until the snow falls that his flock has migrated without him. He catches up with his flock and they sit together on a rooftop, “alone and together, over the rooftops, and under the moon”.

I’ll be honest, I had to read this one a few times to really get it. It’s very open to interpretation, and while the gist of the story is about a bird who isn’t sure about his relationship to himself and within his community, I’ve seen other picture books handle this in a more linear fashion. and I’m not sure that little ones will get it. Some of the text gets lost in the mixed media collage artwork, which could impede a readaloud. The collage artwork tells the story in surreal, dreamlike fashion, which may be the best way to get the message of this story across: the bird feels alone, connects with humans, explores, and ultimately, finds peace within himself and within his community. It’s a beautiful message to communicate to younger children who are starting to socialize in groups and may feel out of place; it’s also a strong message to older children, who can break down the introspective message here. I’d love to see this as a school-wide readalong in elementary schools that still have them, so kids from K-5 can each take a turn at deciphering its meaning to them as individuals.

It’s an interesting book that may take a few reads to unpack, but worth it for the discussions that can follow.

 

What If? What Makes You Different Makes You Amazing!, by Sandra Magsamen, (Feb. 2019, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492637103

Ages 0-4

“What if your hair was big and orange and really bright? What if one eye was green and the other eye was blue as night?” The rhyming text takes readers through all sorts of ways we can stand out from the crowd, with adorable illustrations – a purple lamb, a swaying monkey – and extols the virtues of individuality. The text assures readers that being different is special, and good for you: it can give your spirit a lift; it would be dull if everyone were the same. Sandra Magsamen embraces uniqueness, and makes sure her readers do, too, pointing out how being different can help in certain situations. After all, someone quiet can be a big help when putting a bandage on an injured crocodile. Pair this with Todd Parr’s books, especially It’s Okay to Be Different and Be Who You Are, for a feel-good readaloud. The artwork is colorful, never overpowering, with upbeat, yet calming colors and bold outlines.  What If? is a cute picture book for collections where Todd Parr does well.

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Kids can discover their Superpowers with this fun activity book

Superpowers! A Great Big Collection of Awesome Activities, Quirky Questions, and Wonderful Ways to See Just How Super You Really Are, by M.H. Clark, (Feb. 2018, Compendium), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-943200-75-7

Recommended for readers 7+

It’s no secret that I love my superhero programs. I’ve turned my libraries into Gotham City and put the kids on the hunt for Bat-signals, celebrated birthdays for the Bat and Captain America, and run the kids through a superhero camp over the summer. Compendium sent me a book that will make for some more introspective superhero programming, too.

Super Powers! is a workbook/journal where kids (and us grownups, too) get a chance to be our own superheroes. Led by thoughtful prompts, readers are invited to think about words that describe themselves, think about what they feel happy doing and what they  love, and what makes each reader fantastically, wonderfully, them. They’re invited to connect with the grownups that they can turn to – hey, every Batman has an Alfred, right? – and maybe even the famous people they would like to talk to (and that can totally include Iron Man, in my humble opinion). Finally, the proud moment arrives, and kids can fill out their own Official Announcement of Superpowers, choose their superhero name, fill up a superpower tool kit, and fill out their anti-superpowers – their Kryptonite, if you will – in the form of things they just don’t like. Finish up by creating your own origin story, and Superhero You #1 is ready!

This is a great way to get kids thinking – and creating! – about their strengths and what makes them special. Each spread is bright, with science fiction-like illustrations, and lots of journaling space for kids to create. It makes a great gift. It’s not a book I’d put into circulation – it’s just too tempting to write in, because it’s so cool! – but I plan to use this book in my summer reading programming (hello, Infinity War releases in May) to get the kids writing, drawing, and thinking about themselves as a little group of Avengers or Justice League of their own.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Just Like Me examines adoption’s internal narrative

just like meJust Like Me, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh (April 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492604273

Recommended for ages 9-14

Julia is on her way to summer camp with her friends, Avery and Becca. It’s a little more than a regular week away at camp with friends, though – Avery, Becca, and Julia are “Chinese sisters” – the three girls were adopted from the same Chinese orphanage as babies, and their parents have stayed in touch. While Avery and Becca eat Cheetos with chopsticks and don’t mind talking about their Chinese heritage, Julia has conficting feelings. Becca thinks that Julia hates being Chinese, but that’s not it at all – while the world sees Julia as Chinese, she sees herself as Irish and Italian, like the parents who are raising her and who love her. But she also wonders about the birth mother who gave her up.

Told in alternating journal entries and narratives, this is Julia’s story. It’s told in the first person from her point of view and her journal articles provoke her to think more deeply as the novel progresses. Through Julia’s eyes, we see the other girls develop as she gets to know them.

Just Like Me is a great summer camp story about a bunch of girls who have to learn to get along: Julia, Avery, and Becca end up in a cabin with three other girls who bring some tension of their own, and the group has to learn to get along or do a lot of clean-up duty! But digging deeper, Just Like Me is a story that peels away the faces we show to everyone, only to discover that no matter how different people may think they are, they’re more alike than anyone can imagine. Every family has rough spots – it’s how we as individuals cope with them that makes us different. The story is ultimately about a group of girls who learn to embrace who they are, individually, and embrace one another for their similarities and celebrate their differences.

It’s also a touching story about figuring out who you are when you feel like you have a giant blind spot in the middle of your life. Nancy Cavanaugh wrote this story, inspired by her own daughter’s adoption story; as an adoptee myself, I found myself particularly drawn into Julia’s journal articles. Julia’s thoughts could have come from me, had I kept a journal at that age:

“Most of the time, I don’t even think about being adopted. …even though my mom doesn’t always want to admit it, people do sometimes treat me differently. Like the time in third grade when my mom dropped me off at a classmate’s birthday party, and when my classmate’s cousin saw my mom, she asked me if I knew who my ‘real’ mom was. And then there was another time when I heard a lady at the grocery store ask Mom if she had any children of her ‘own.'”

Wow. Like Julia, I’m Italian and Irish, just like my parents. “On the inside”, I’m French-Canadian. I look pretty similar to my parents, but those scenarios are real, and they hit hard. I’m 45 and still get asked if I know who my “real” mom is. It took a long time for me to be able to respond, “Yeah, I do; she’s at work, probably wondering why I haven’t called to let her know I’m home from school yet.” And it still irritates me if someone deigns to ask me that.

“Did my birth mom love me?”

It’s the question you probably won’t get an answer to. I think about it on my birthday now, not as often as I used to. But I’d like to think that she did in her own way, because she took care of herself well enough to make sure I was born healthy, and made sure I was adopted by a family that would love me and take care of me.

What I’m trying to say here is, Just Like Me is required reading, because Nancy Cavanaugh – already a constant on my library shelves, thanks to books like Always, Abigail and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

Visit Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s author website and learn more about her books, download educator guides, and find out about author visits.