Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

That’s Good That’s Bad is a classic – glad it’s back!

That’s Good That’s Bad, by Joan M. Lexau/Illustrated by Aliki, (March 2020, Prestel Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9783791374192

Ages 3-8

This hilarious look at the upside and one boy’s exciting day in the jungle was originally published in 1963, brought back to a new generation of readers by Prestel Junior. A tiger happens upon a boy, sitting on a rock in the jungle, and tells him to run or be eaten. The boy tells the tiger he is too tired to run, and recounts his very busy day running from a rhino and a crocodile. The spreads alternate between the boy’s story, to which the tiger responds, “That’s good!” or “That’s bad!” as the boy recounts the ups and downs of his day. The final twist is laugh-out-loud funny, and Aliki’s vintage illustrations are just as lively and bright today as they were in 1963. Bright, bold colors come right off the stark white background and bring the jungle to life for younger readers.

I adore Aliki’s artwork, so I’d read My Five Senses and ask the kids to think about how they’d use their senses if they were in the boy’s situation.

That’s Good That’s Bad is a storytime book I’m happy to welcome back into print.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Peter and Ernesto’s next adventure: Sloths In the Night

Peter and Ernesto: Sloths In the Night, by Graham Annable, (April 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250211309

Ages 7-10

Peter and Ernesto are on their third adventure! This time, their friend Bernard goes missing, possibly in search of a rumored dragon that lives in a nearby temple; it’s getting dark, though, and the jungle is no place for a sloth to be at night, especially on his own. The friends head out on their own adventure to find Bernard, and possibly, the dragon, and meet a host of hilarious animals along the way.

The Peter and Ernesto books are adorable stories about friendship, embracing differences, and working together. They never disappoint, and are perfect for chapter book readers and middle graders who love a good animal or friendship story. Peter and Ernesto are like Bert and Ernie; Frog and Toad; George and Martha. They’re friends who love one another, differences and all; they push one another outside their comfort zones (with hilarious, sweet results); they embrace all of their friends, together, and they are always thrilled to make new friends. Graham Annable’s cheerful artwork is immediately recognizable: kids will know, as soon as this book shows up on shelves, that this is a new Peter and Ernesto story.

If you haven’t had the fun of experiencing a Peter and Ernesto story yet, treat yourself.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Operation Photobomb: Smile! (Plus, a giveaway!)

Operation: Photobomb, by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie/Illustrated by Matthew Rivera, (Sept. 2019, Albert Whitman & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807561300

Ages 4-7

Monkey and Chameleon love when jungle tours visit their jungle: they get toys! This time around, Monkey finds a camera and starts snapping away. Chameleon loves the spotlight a little too much, though, and when Monkey starts taking photos of their other jungle friends, Chameleon can’t resist a good photobomb. This gets on everyone’s nerves pretty quickly, so the animals plan a little comeuppance of their own.

This book is guaranteed to bring the snickers. Most people, certainly most kids, know what a photobomb is these days, and love doing it. They’ll love Chameleon’s spotlight-stealing presence, and they’ll get a kick out of the other animals’ retribution. There are a good discussion points to be found here, too, the biggest being to think about how one’s actions can affect others. Ruining other people’s pictures, other people’s fun? Not very nice. Talk about jealousy, and how that motivates Chameleon – what could he have done to let others know he was feeling left out? Light-hearted and fun, the story gets its point across without being preachy or melodramatic. The bright and bold illustrations feature striking colors and bold fonts, making this a storytime winner.

Speaking of storytime, Operation Photobomb went over well at storytime here, and a little too well at home: my little guy already appreciates a good photobomb; now I fear for his older brother even more. Stay tuned.


Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie are sisters and collaborators. Together they’ve written several picture books, including I Am Famous and I Used to Be Famous, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, and Shark Nate-O, illustrated by Daniel Duncan. Visit Becky and Tara online at

Matthew Rivera began drawing animals when he was old enough to hold a crayon. His parents still prize the toucan he drew when he was five. He earned his degree in Fine Arts from the University of Arizona. Visit him on Instagram @matthewdidit, or at his website,


Want a shot at winning your own copy of Operation Photobomb? (U.S. addresses only, please!) Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

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

Socially smart storytelling: Sara Varon’s New Shoes

New Shoes, by Sara Varon, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596439207

Recommended for readers 8-12

Francis the Donkey is the best shoemaker in his village, using the finest materials to handcraft beautiful shoes. One day, he gets the most exciting news: his favorite calypso singer, Miss Manatee, is coming to sing in his village, and she wants him to create a special pair of new shoes just for her! He’s so excited, but he’s out of the special tiger grass that’s integral to his shoe designs. He asks his friend and supplier, Nigel the Squirrel Monkey, to go into the jungle and get some more tiger grass, but when Monkey doesn’t come back as expected, Francis has to go find him… will he get back to his village AND be able to make Miss Manatee’s shoes on time?

I am a Sara Varon fan. I loved Sweater Weather, and my library kids adore Robot Dreams. I love her cartoony illustration, her bright colors, and in the case of New Shoes, the deeper messages found in her story. Francis is a genuinely kind character who is mortified when he discovers that his shoe materials have been acquired via shady means, and immediately sets to putting things right. When Francis realizes he has to make special accommodations for his newest client, he does the work, researching how to make the best footwear for Miss Manatee. Nigel is big enough to admit his mistakes, apologizes, and helps Francis grow his own materials responsibly.  There are strong messages about fair trade and honesty, good business practices, sustainability, and consideration of others’ differences to be found here, all told in a story that kids can understand without dumbing down the message. It’s smart storytelling with a social conscience that respects the reader. What more can you ask from your books?

I can’t wait to put New Shoes on my graphic novel shelves. It’s got a little nonfiction snuck in, as Francis travels, with his guide book, through the South American jungle and encounters such inhabitants as the capybara, jaguar, and three-toed sloth; it’s got a moral compass, a main character who loves calypso music, and it’s just fun reading.


Posted in Early Reader, Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads

Different? Same! looks at repeating patterns in nature

different-sameDifferent? Same!, by Heather Tekavec/Illustrated by Pippa Curnick, (May 2017, Kids Can Press), 416.95, ISBN: 9781771385657

Recommended for ages 3-6

Zebras gallop, bumblebees fly, lemurs leap, and a tiger prowls, but look closer: they all have STRIPES! Different? Same! celebrates the similarities among animals that would otherwise seem very different. Each spread features a group of animals that mentions a different trait, inviting readers to look closer to find the common characteristic. One animal from the previous spread shows up in each new spread – ask your eagle-eyed readers to spot them! A final spread puts all forty animals together and asks readers to search for animals with specific characteristics: who’s furry? Who would make good pets? Who would you NOT like to touch? Brief paragraphs at the end of the book explain why animals have the characteristics they do.

The digital art is very colorful and cute, creating happy, friendly animals that kids will love. The book is useful when introducing the concept of patterns to young learners and when discussing similarities and differences, which can lead to a talk on a greater scale about diversity; what makes us different, what makes us the same. This is a good additional purchase to concept collections.

Posted in Adventure, Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Teddycats: A coming of age animal adventure

teddycatsTeddycats, by Mike Storey (July 2016, Razorbill) $16.99, ISBN: 9781101998830

Recommended for ages 9-13

Bill Garra is a Teddycat – a unique jungle-dwelling mammal, living high up in the tallest trees; a community they call the Cloud Kingdom, far away from the other animals in the forest. The Teddycat elders want to keep Cloud Kingdom a secret; to remain separate, to keep outsiders out. Bill doesn’t always understand the rules the elders make; rules like keeping their extra sharp claws hidden unless they need to climb or get out of a life-or-death situation, and he definitely doesn’t understand why he has to keep his friend, Luke, an olingo, out of Cloud Kingdom. When he sneaks Luke into Cloud Kingdom for a look around, the problems seem to begin: predators, including humans, take notice and stalk the Teddycat community. When Bill’s best friend’s sister is trapped and taken by the humans, the Teddycat elders vote to go into hiding, but Bill sets out to rescue her, along with an old frenemy, Omar, a grizzled scout named Diego, a recuperating jaguar named Felix, and Luke. Bill and his group risk banishment from Cloud Kingdom as they face the dangers of the forest.

Wow. Look at this cover. I thought I was going to read a sweet animal adventure when I picked up Teddycats, but what I got was an emotional read about the dangers of deforestation and trophy hunting and a strong subplot about isolationism. Throughout the novel, Bill discovers the downside to the elders’ choice of isolation and the power of teamwork. The big danger here, though, does not come from other animals: it’s the humans, referred to as “Joe” by the Teddycats. They burn, kill, and leave devastation in their wake. They want to sell the Teddycat claws as trinkets, or figure out how to weaponize them, with no regard for the lives they impact. It’s a strong statement, and it may affect some more sensitive readers when animals die. It’s not over the top or gory, but the narrative is matter of fact in stating that these animals are at the mercy of humans and the havoc we wreak.

There are some strong characters in this book. Bill is the self-centered youth who comes of age on his journey; the elders are the frightened old men who are afraid of change; Felix is the wise old cat, and Diego is the grizzled voice of experience. There are more wonderful characters to meet here, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about animals in the forests of the Andes. Yup, I looked it up. I didn’t see “teddycats” specifically listed, but I did find Olingos versus Olinguitos, which were much more recently discovered. I’m making a wild guess here, but I’m relating Olinguitos to Teddycats (since that’s also what came up in an initial Google search on “Teddycat”).

olingo olinguito
Left: Olingo; Right: Olinguito (images via Google Images)

Grab an atlas to booktalk this story! Explain where the Andes are, talk about some of the residents of the forest that they’ll encounter in the book, and use this opportunity to talk up conservation and preservation of our rain forests, our environment, and the folks we share this world with. Heck, show them the scene from the Spongebob Squarepants movie, when they discover Shell City, and see all the dried starfish and sea life that gets sold as souvenirs!

Talk about movies like Finding Nemo and Happy Feet, that also deal with human impact on the environment, and then talk about all the ways they can help make a difference. Whether it’s writing a letter to a politician, cleaning up after themselves, or being aware of the world around them, they count.

This is a solid animal adventure story with a message; animal fiction fans and kids that are on the lookout for environmentally conscious stories will love it.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Book Review: Roar! A Noisy Counting Book, by Pamela Edwards Duncan/Illus. by Henry Cole (HarperCollins, 2000)

roarRecommended for ages 2-5

A little lion cub wants to play, but his roar scares other animals away, from one red monkey to eight brown gazelles – but then, he discovers nine other lion cubs.

This counting book has a story attached to it, and is good for older audiences who are about to enter Kindergarten and could use a brush-up on their counting and colors. A little lion cub wanders away from his pride, looking for some fun, and encounters different animals across the African savanna – from one red monkey to eight brown gazelles – who all run from his roar. He finally comes across a group of nine little yellow lion cubs, just like him, who aren’t afraid of him. The cartoon illustrations, done in acrylics and colored pencil, bring the savannah and the animals to life, from a group of lions lying lazily in the sun to a stampede of animals running from the group of little lions, to the little lion cub, curled up with his mother, asleep as the sun sets on the savanna. The animals’ facial expressions convey fear on the parts of the animals the lion confronts, confusion, frustration and despair, as the little lion searches for a new friend and finds none, and finally, happiness when he meets friends just like him. The book provides a fun lesson in numbers and colors in rhyme.

This would be a great opportunity to use a flannel board to depict the animals that the little yellow lion cub encounters on his trip across the savanna. Getting stuffed animals for each of the groups of animals depicted into the story area would allow for a fun playtime before or after the story. This could be part of a jungle animal read-aloud, with hand stamps of an animal for children to have as a memento of their storytime.

Roar! was a Buckaroo Book Award Nominee (Wyoming, 2003).