Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Back to School stories: Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten!

Hi all! I’m getting caught up on the avalanche of books in my home, so bear with me if I’m a little behind on my Back to School posting. NYC public school kids are back to school today – GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE! – and I’ve been getting my kiddos ready to start their school years off right. (So. Many. Supplies.) Anyway, with that, let’s talk starting Kindergarten with Lisa Robinson and Eda Kaban!

Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten, by Lisa Robinson/Illustrated by Eda Kaban,
(Aug. 2019, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 9781542092753
Ages 4-6

Yeeeargh! It’s the first day of Kindergarten, but Pirate Emma has decided that she’s not leaving her preschool Captain, Cap’n Chu, and her crew! Cap’n Chu brings her over to the Kindergarten classroom – a spaceship! – but Pirate Emma isn’t having it. She runs back to Cap’n Chu’s room and refuses to leave, even going so far as to start a mutiny, and threatening Cap’n Chu with walking the plank! Thankfully, the Cap’n is a good and understanding Cap’n, who’s likely been through this before. She consoles Emma and convinces her that, while it’s time to join her new crew, she can always visit the pirate waters of preschool. From there, Emma’s ready: she joins the Kindergarten class as Space Pirate Emma.

This is a story that gets it. The transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten can be tough for kids, and Emma embodies those feelings of fear and defiance. She bellows things like, “Pirates don’t go to Kindergarten!”; “Pirates don’t take naps!”, and “Pirates don’t follow rules!” as she pushes back against having to join her new class, and it takes the combination of the very patient Ms. Hayes, the Kindergarten teacher, and the very understanding Ms. Chu, to help Emma work through her worries and resistance, leading her to make the decision to join her new Kindergarten crew.

Having been one of those moms, reading Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten was a relief: authors and illustrators who get it! They’re speaking to my now-second grader, who used to wake up morning after morning with one ailment or other that would render him unable to go to Kindergarten (and he, too, had a VERY understanding teacher, thank goodness). They’re speaking to me, letting me know that this is okay. I’m not the first parent, nor will I be the last, who will have a pirate that defies Kindergarten, or first grade, or maybe things on a smaller level, like going to the bathroom in school, or eating school lunch. This is all part of growing up, and growing up can be scary and hard. Having books like this can make it easier on all of us: kids, parents, caregivers, and educators alike.

The digital illustrations are colorful and lend themselves to exciting classrooms, where teachers create atmospheres for their students: Cap’n Chu created a pirate setting for her Pre-K class; Ms. Hayes has a spaceship-themed classroom for her Kindergarteners. (Psst… these teachers exist, I know a bunch of them!) The illustrations are enticing, giving kids (and worried caregivers) a glimpse into how fun a classroom can be. There are also tons of craft project ideas here: pirate hats and paper swords, anyone? Space helmets and stars?

Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten is aces for me. I’ll be reading this to my son’s former Kindergarten teacher’s class, to let those kids know that pirates certainly DO go to Kindergarten, and it’s pretty darned cool.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

It’s Spring… time to raise the butterflies!

Butterflies in Room 6, by Caroline Arnold, (March 2019, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580898942

Ages 3-7

Spring is getting closer and closer, and that means that science classrooms all over the place are going to introduce their little ones to the life cycle of a caterpillar/butterfly. We’ve done it in my home, and each of my kids has done it in school, and it’s exciting every time. Butterflies in Room 6 revisits the Kindergarten students of Room 6 – a new group, since Hatching Chicks in Room 6 was published in 2017 – as they raise butterflies, starting from teeny, tiny caterpillar eggs.

Full-color photographs and informative text take this STEM/STEAM story through the step-by-step process by which the class observed and cared for their caterpillars; feeding them, observing the stages of life, moving the chrysalises to a larger, netted environment, the exciting emergence of the painted lady butterflies from their cocoons, and their release into the world! Leaf-shaped callouts throughout the book provide additional caterpillar and butterfly facts, and back matter provides butterfly questions, vocabulary, and a nice list of online and print resources for further reading.

Butterflies in Room 6 brings a real-world look into a primary classroom – it’ll get kids excited about science, especially if this is one of your classroom projects. Pair this with The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the classic that my kids all read in their kindergarten classes, Deborah Heiligman’s From Caterpillar to Butterfly.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Climbing Shadows: Poems inspired by children, for children

Climbing Shadows: Poems for Children, by Shannon Bramer/Illustrated by Cindy Derby, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781773060958

Ages 4-7

A small, sweet collection of poems inspired by kindergartners, Climbing Shadows offers a child’s-eye view of moments like a bad day at school (“I’m going to go home and tell my dad/today was hard it was so hard/I don’t want to go anymore/I want/to be a puddle”) or a child’s explanation of imagination (“I see things in my head come loose on the paper and there are my eyes here, and my names and my trees and faces and crazy squiggles and also this is a drawing of my family because I usually draw what I miss or what I love”). There are 20 poems in this collection, created by poet Shannon Bramer during the time she worked as a lunchtime supervisor for a kindergarten class. She eventually began reading poetry to them and explained that she was also a poet; the kids’ fascination grew as they learned that anyone could be a poet – “a poet could be a mom” – and a poem could be about anything. Shannon Bramer wrote these poems for her “kindies”.

The poems are sweet, short, and are a nice introduction to poetry for children; they show that a poem doesn’t have to rhyme, and can ramble, freely, like a thought or a stream. Cindy Derby’s watercolor, India ink, and digital collage illustrations are often dreamlike, with muted colors that set the stage for Ms. Bramer’s words to transport readers. It’s a great way to get kids writing about what’s on their minds at the moment. An author’s note explains how the author was inspired by the kids and is just as lovely to read as the poems are, with each child’s name illustrated around the page.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Books for your Spring radar!

Spring always brings some good books to read. In April and May, there’s a little something for everyone – come and see!

April Books

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest, by Sarah Hampson/Illustrated by Kass Reich,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383615
Recommended for readers 4-8
Dr. Archibald Coo is a sophisticated pigeon who’s tired of the way he and his fellow pigeons are treated by humans. They’re shooed at, swatted, and treated like a general menace. Dr. Coo remembers when pigeons enjoyed a higher profile in history: in ancient Greece, they delivered news about the Olympic Games; during World War I, they carried messages across battlefields. Now? pfft. So Dr. Coo and his pigeon friends organize and decide to strike: they disappear from every public space, leaving a confused public wondering what happened. Dr. Coo heads over to the mayor’s office a history of the pigeon and a note, asking for tolerance, opening the door to a new era of pigeon-human relations. It’s a cute urban story with a wink to New York and other urban spaces, and has a nice thread about inclusivity and diversity running through the book. Gouache paint and colored pencil art makes for a soft illustration, with attention to the different types of pigeons – there are! – in the cityscape. This would be cute to booktalk with James Sage’s Stop Feedin’ Da Boids!

My Teacher’s Not Here!, by Lana Button/Illustrated by Christine Battuz,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781771383561
Recommended for readers 4-6
Kitty gets to school and knows something’s up when her teacher, Miss Seabrooke, isn’t there to meet her. What’s going on? There’s another teacher there today! How does school even work when your teacher is absent? This sweet rhyming tale about a student’s first substitute teacher is great for younger kids who are just getting into the swing of school routines and provides some fun advice for coping with and adjusting to unexpected change. Kitty teaches readers some coping strategies, including helping out her friends and the teacher by contributing to class and modeling good behavior using cues she learned from her teacher, that the substitute may not be aware of. This is an animal story, so kids will enjoy seeing the “ginormously tall” teacher, a giraffe named Mr. Omar; pigs, elephants, bears, a whole menagerie of students. Hand-drawn artwork and digital collage come together to create colorful, textured, cartoony fun. This one’s a good addition to preschool and primary collections.

Tinkle, Tinkle Little Star, by Chris Tougas,
(Apr. 2018, Kids Can Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781771388399
Recommended for readers 1-3
One of my favorite books coming out this season is this adorable board book! Set to the tune of everybody’s favorite classic song, this sweet and funny version is all about where not to go: not in a plane, not on Grandpa’s knee, not at a puppet show. Luckily, the poor Little Star gets relief by the story’s end, and sits on a potty to… “Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star”. It’s adorable with the cutest digital art. Little Star is beyond cute, and gender neutral! Sing along at storytime – I know I’ll be throwing plenty of voice inflection (“Did you just pee on this page?”) and leg-crossing as I read this one. Absolutely adorable, must-add, must-give for collections and toddlers everywhere.

May Books

Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, by Alice Kuipers/Illustrated by Diana Toledano,
(May 2018, Chronicle), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452152325
Recommended for readers 7-9
Polly Diamond is an aspiring, biracial young writer who discovers a magic book on her doorstep one day. Not only does the book write back to her when she writes in it, Everything she writes in the book happens in real life! At first, Polly is psyched: who wouldn’t be, right? But you know how it goes… for every magic journal action, there’s a pretty wild reaction! Written in the first person, with excerpts from Polly’s book, including a pretty great intermediate-level book list for awesome display purposes (“Read Polly Diamond’s favorite books HERE!”). Chapter book readers who love books like Juana and Lucas (on Polly’s favorites list), Jasmine Toguchi, and Katie Woo will thoroughly enjoy Polly’s adventures. There are short, descriptive sentences and a nice amount of new words – Polly is an aspiring writer, after all! Lots of fun for chapter book readers; I’d have kids create their own aquariums as a related craft.

Old Misery, by James Sage/Illustrated by Russell Ayto,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781771388238
Recommended for readers 5-10
Readers with a darker sense of humor (and parents who are Gorey fans) will get a chuckle out of Old Misery, the story of a cranky old woman named – you got it – Old Misery, and her old cat, Rutterkin. She’s broke, and the apples keep disappearing from her apple tree! Lucky for Old Misery, she’s not completely heartless and feeds a wandering visitor, who grants her one wish: she wants all the apple thieves to be caught in the tree until she lets them go! Old Misery decides to play a little risky game when Death himself shows up at her door – and she sends him to the apple tree. Be careful what you wish for! The black and white, pen and ink artwork has a creepy, quirky feel to it, which will appeal to kids who like Lemony Snicket’s work, but may go over some kids’ heads. Old Misery narrates the story, offering an opportunity for a fun read-aloud.

Binky fans, Gordon’s got his own adventure! For readers who love Ashley Spires’ Binky the Space Cat graphic novels will love Gordon, fellow member of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel) and Binky’s house-mate, as he finds himself traveling through time to stop an alien invasion. But Gordon travels back too far – before PURST even exists! He’s got to get back to his normal time and set things right! This is fun reading for graphic novel fans, and a nice addition to a popular series. There’s time-travel, problem-solving, aliens, and humor, along with fun art.

See How We Move!: A First Book of Health and Well-Being, by Scot Ritchie,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781771389679

Recommended for readers 5-8
Author Scot Ritchie’s multicultural group of friends are back together again. Last time we save them, they visited a farm to learn how to grow grains and vegetables in See How We Eat!; this time, Pedro, Yulee, Nick, Sally, and Martin are training as their swim team, The Flying Sharks, prepares to compete. They learn about using proper equipment for different activities, warming up before beginning your activity, teamwork and encouragement, goal-setting, nutrition, the mind-body connection, and more. There are suggestions for fun activities and words to know, all coming together to give kids a fun story about a group of friends staying strong and having fun together while encouraging kids to create lifelong habits of health, nutrition, and physical fitness. I like this See How! series; it offers a wealth of information on healthy living, made accessible to younger readers. I can easily read this in a storytime and get the kids talking about the different ways they play, how they eat, and good habits to get into.

The Bagel King, by Andrew Larsen/Illustrated by Sandy Nichols,
(May 2018, Kids Can Press), $16.99, ISBN; 978-1-77138-574-9
Recommended for readers 4-8

Zaida, Eli’s grandfather, gets bagels from Merv’s Bakery every Sunday morning. One morning, when no bagels show up, Eli gets a phone call: Zaida’s fallen on his tuchus and can’t get the bagels! Eli and his family aren’t the only ones waiting on bagels, either – Eli visits Zaida, only to discover that Zaida’s friends are verklempt, too. No bagels! What a shanda, as my stepdad would say! Eli helps care for his zaida and keep him company, but he knows the best way to cheer Zaida up, and heads to the bagel store on his own the very next Sunday. This story is the most charming book about grandparents and grandchildren, loaded with compassion, a wink and nudge type of humor, and loads of fun, new Yiddish terminology. If you’re an urban dweller, like me, these words are kind of a second language: Zaida is grandfather, and tuchus is your bottom; there’s a little glossary of other Yiddish words that show up in the story, too. (Verklempt is overwhelmed with emotion, and shanda is a shame – you won’t find them in the story, but all I could hear was my stepdad when I read this, so there you go.) I loved the sweet storytelling, the compassion and the decision to act on Eli’s part, and Zaida and his group of friends were wonderful. It’s got an urban flavor that everyone will enjoy, and is good storytelling. Use this story as an opportunity to get your kids talking about relationships with their grandparents: what do you call your grandparents? Do they cook, bake, or shop for food? Do you go with them? (I’d love to get some bagels to hand out with my group… hmmm…) The acrylic artwork has a soft, almost retro feel, but really emphasizes the relationship story with colors, gentle expressions, and soft lines.

The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw,
(May 2018, Tundra/Penguin Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780735264120

Recommended for readers 4-8
A fox who loves nature and botany goes on a quest for a rare plant to add to his collection. The Golden Glow is a plant from the Wellhidden family, and only grows high in the mountains. There’s not even a picture of it; it’s never been described. Fox packs his supplies and heads off to the mountains, meeting different animals and noting different plants and trees along the way. When Fox finally reaches the mountaintop, he waits… and discovers the Golden Glow! It’s stunning! It’s breathtaking! And Fox realizes that “the golden glow is more beautiful here on the mountaintop than it ever would be in a vase in his living room”. Part story and part nature journal, The Golden Glow is just gorgeous and teaches a respect for nature. The angular art draws the eye in; there’s so much to see on every page, every spread. Flouw creates detailed lists of Fox’s hiking pack, plus trees and flowers that he encounters on his way, and a map of different zones on the way up to the mountain, from the foothill to snow zones, all in beautiful detail for younger readers to enjoy. Fox’s decision to leave the flower where it is presents a love of and respect for nature that can lead to a great discussion on conservation. Bright red endpapers with angular design could be a topographic map of the area – talk about how different areas look from above! I know it’s way early, but I’ll quietly whisper this one now: Caldecott contender.
Posted in Preschool Reads

Kisses for Kindergarten starts them off right

Kisses for Kindergarten, by Livingstone Crouse/Illustrated by  Macky Pamintuan, (June 2017, Silver Dolphin Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-62686-703-1

Recommended for readers 4-6

Stella Isabella Harden declares that she doesn’t have to go to kindergarten: her puppy told her so! A girl and her pup spend the days together, reimagining kindergarten by chasing squirrels, having fun on the swings, having tea parties, making pillow forts, and having pillow fights. Things change at storytime, though, when Stella realizes that she can’t read a storybook to her dog. Looks like it’s time for kindergarten after all!

With protagonists inspired by the artist’s daughter and golden retriever, Kisses for Kindergarten is a fun way to ease kids into a new school year. Kids will love Stella Isabella Harden’s assertion that she can learn far more from her puppy than she can from school, and the dynamic duo’s exciting day at the park. Caregivers can explain that she can learn so much from her dog, sure, but when it comes to reading, even her wise pup understands that she’s got to go to school. It’s a gentle easing of fears, and having her dog begin and end the day with her gives her something to look forward to. Ask kids what they want to come home to: a favorite toy? Storytime with family? Stella’s day ends with a family storytime and kisses: it’s a pretty good rule of thumb. Endpapers illustrate Stella and pup’s day together.