Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

So You Want to Be an Owl? Here’s a crash course!

So You Want to Be an Owl?: Everything There is to Know About Owls!, by Jane Porter/Illustrated by Maddie Frost, (Jan. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536215212

Ages 5-9

Picture book nonfiction at its most fun! Professor Olaf Owl is here to show you, new Owl recruit, how to be an owl, as concerned as he is about your lack of feathers, inability to fly, and lack of more than one set off eyelids. Can you cut it as a member of Team Owl? So You Want to Be an Owl? is loaded with facts about owls, with bold, mixed media artwork that readers will love. Organized into nine lessons, readers will learn about an owl’s feathers (not waterproof!), how they camouflage, hunt and eat, and the different sounds they make: it’s not just “Hoot”! Professor Owl is a fun, slightly snarky, guide through the book, adding amusing commentary and despairing over whether a human student could possibly match up to the superior owl. It’s fun, it’s funny, and the artwork is bright and cheery. Absolutely fun, and begging to be matched up with one of my favorite owl crafts from my Harry Potter program; this owl treat bag craft is adorable, too! Pair with some of my favorite owl stories, like This is Owl by Libby Walden and Divya Srinivasan’s Owl books, for a fun owl storytime.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

What’s That Noise? Could it be a rumbly tumbly?

What’s that Noise?, by Naomi Howarth, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536213522

Ages 3-7

Magnus the Arctic seal wakes up to a strange, rumbling sound one morning. He sets off to figure out what it could be and encounters a group of friends along the way: an Arctic hare and fox, a ringed seal and snow owl, and a polar bear all puzzle over what the sound could be, but Walrus knows. It’s Magnus’s hungry tummy! After a tasty shrimp dinner, the friends all pile up to go to sleep, but another rumbling sound keeps them up. What could it be? What’s that Noise? is an engaging story and introduction to Arctic animals for younger kids; they get a chance to participate in the story during a readaloud if you invite them to figure out/tell the other animals what the rumbling could be, and at the end, let them chime in! It’s also a great chance for you to play with voices and sound effects. If you have flannels or animal puppets, take them out! Soft watercolors bring gentle color to the Arctic landscape, and endpapers show an Arctic sunrise and offer informative notes on the animals in the story.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Gift ideas for Little Kiddos

They’re going to get tons of toys, why not be the cool gift-giver that gives books? Here are some recent faves:

My Favorite Color: I Can Only Pick One?, by Aaron Becker, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Studio), $15.99, ISBN: 9781536214741

Ages 0-3

Caldecott Honor-winner Aaron Becker’s board book follow up to 2019’s You Are Light is all about choosing one’s favorite color… wait, can you choose a favorite color? Is it yellow, like the sun? Or blue, like the sea? But then again… there’s green… or pink! Yikes, how can someone have just one favorite color when there’s beautiful colors in all of nature? Aaron Becker takes readers through colors in nature, with die-cuts and small, colorful squares laid out; some translucent and beautiful to look at in the light. It’s an art book and a lovely meditation on nature; at its simplest, it’s a relatable book for any kid who’s been asked a question for which there is no one clear answer. Read and display with Mary Murphy’s What I Like Most, and, of course, You Are Light.

My Favorite Color has starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. Publisher Candlewick has a free, downloadable teacher’s guide with helpful tips to start a conversation.
This is a Book of Shapes, by Kenneth Kraegel, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $8.99, ISBN: 9781536207019
Ages 0-3
A laugh-out-loud concept book of shapes with curveballs thrown in, This is a Book of Shapes starts off like most concept books: A circle on one page; a statement on the other: This is a circle. The pattern follows for a few pages, and then… “This is an emu pushing a pancake wagon down a hill”. Wait, what? Perfect for those “are you paying attention?” moments, the book alternates shape statements with surreal, wacky divergences that will delight kids and grownups alike. Read as deadpan as you can – you may need to practice a few times to get there, I keep giggling as soon as I turn the page to the emu – for extra loud laughs. You can’t NOT read this for storytime. Make sure to have copies of Candlewick’s activity page handy for afterward.
1, 2, 3 Do the Dinosaur, by Michelle Robinson & Rosalind Bearshaw, (Jan. 2020, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-044-7
Ages 2-5
Follow a little boy named Tom as he teaches all the dinos a new dance: The Dinosaur! Tom is a little boy dressed in dinosaur PJs, surrounded by all sorts of colorful dinosaurs as he leads them – and you! – through chomps, roars, tail swishes, and stomps. But what happens when the big T-Rex shows up? Why, you let him join in the fun, of course! The rhyming text is interactive and is perfect for storytime stomping and swishing. Colorful, friendly dinosaurs will appeal to all dino lovers. No scary ones here.  Think of Ed Emberley’s If You’re a Monster and You Know It, Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance, Kelly Starling Lyons’s One More Dino on the Floor, or Laurie Berkner’s We Are the Dinosaurs. It’s a dino dance party and your readers are invited, so let them color in some dinosaurs and take them along!
Catch that Chicken!, by Atinuke/Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212686
Ages 2-5
The latest outing from Anna Hibiscus author Atinuke and illustrator B is for Baby illustrator Angela Brooksbank is all about ingenuity. Lami is a little girl who’s the best chicken catcher in her village, but when she chases a chicken up a baobab tree and has a fall, her ankle is sprained and she needs a new way to think about catching the fiesty birds. Her Nana encourages her to think differently: “It’s not quick feet that catches chickens – it’s quick thinking”, and with a little thought, Lami has an idea: make the chickens come to her! A simple, smart way to get kids to consider alternatives, Catch That Chicken! has short sentences with lots of repetition; alliterative action words that will be fun in a story time (“Lami leans! Lami lungues! Lami leaps!”), and the colorful mixed media artwork is done in warm colors. Characters have friendly, welcoming faces and body language, and there’s a lot of movement in the pictures. A fun story for storytime and for little ones’ bookshelves.
Arlo the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep, by Catherine Rayner, (Oct. 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-222-2
Ages 2-6
Arlo is a lion who just can’t get comfortable and fall asleep. The grass is too prickly, his family wriggles too much, he just can’t make it work and he is EXHAUSTED. Luckily, Owl is nearby and teaches Arlo a sweet relaxation exercise that soothes him right to sleep. When Arlo finally has a refreshing night’s sleep, he’s so excited that he wakes Owl to tell her… and proceeds to help Owl soothe herself back to sleep. Together, the two friends teach the trick to Arlo’s family, and everyone is happily dozing in no time. Except for Owl, who’s nocturnal. Kate Greenway Medal winner Catherine Rayner creates a sensitive bedtime story that’s perfect for teaching kids to self-soothe using visualization and deep breathing. Mixed media artwork uses soft colors, with warm landscapes and a cuddly, sleepy lion; the meditative phrase repeats throughout the story, helping little ones listen to their reader lead them into a night of pleasant dreaming. Perfect for bedtime reading, read this one slowly and guide your littles through thoughts and breathing into naptime or bedtime.
Arlo the Lion Who Couldn’t Sleep has a starred review from Kirkus. Publisher Peachtree has an excerpt and Author Q&A available on their website.
Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

This is Owl flaps and taps its way into your heart

This is Owl, by Libby Walden/Illustrated by Jacqui Lee, (March 2019, Kane Miller), $14.99, ISBN: 9781610678964

Ages 3-7

I love a good interactive book that brings my kiddos into the storytime! Hervé Tullet got me started on the interactive book fun when I was starting out in my first preschool libraries, and it’s been something I gravitate to ever since. Here, we have Owl, asleep in a tree. Readers get to tickle Owl, play with the sun and moon, flap the pages to help Owl fly, and more. The Owl is adorable and expressive. The artwork is cartoony and bold, with bright colors leaping off a minimal background. Die cuts and half-pages make for fun reading and chances to let everyone at storytime have a turn.

There’s a mix of simple sentences and slightly more complex sentences; sight words make up a good portion of the words in the book, making this a nice read for emerging readers and a great readaloud choice for pre-readers and early readers.

This is Owl is in my storytime collection; consider it for yours. If you’re putting a copy in circulation, make sure you have a backup – this one will get passed around!

 

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Scampers teaches kids the scientific method!

Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist, by Mike Allegra/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel, (March 2019, Dawn Publications), $8.95, ISBN: 9781584696438

Ages 4-8

Scampers is a curious little mouse who wants to know what it will take to get a menacing-looking owl out of the vegetable garden, so he and the other mice can go back to getting food. With the help of Scampers’s friend, Nibbles, the two proceed to conduct a few experiments, including waving a rag doll and making noise that will startle the owl, and building an egg catapault to scare it off. No reaction. (Have you guessed yet?) When Scampers and Nibbles figure out the owl’s secret, they let their fellow mice know: the owl isn’t real! Will the mice believe their two scientists?

Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist is an adorable, abbreviated introduction to an scientific method. Scampers has a theory about the mouse, so she conducts some tests, considers her conclusion, and shares her results. The tests are amusing and let caregivers and educators work with readers to reason out the conclusion. It’s a cute way to introduce scientific thinking to younger readers, and publisher Dawn Publications has a free, downloadable companion activities for kids. Add this one to your science storytime.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Mother’s Day book ideas!

Mother’s Day isn’t that far away. Wouldn’t a sweet picture book or three make for a nice cuddle time?

Little Owl’s Egg, by Debi Gliori/Illustrated by Alison Brown, (Nov. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-68119-324-3

Recommended for readers 3-6

Mommy Owl has exciting news for Little Owl: she’s laid a beautiful egg with a new baby owl inside! Little Owl isn’t too thrilled with this turn of events, though: he’s the baby owl – she doesn’t need a new one! Because Moms are well-practiced in the art of deflection, Mommy Owl agrees. It’s so quiet, maybe it’s a baby worm inside the egg! Or is it a chocolate egg? Little Owl and Mommy Owl go back and forth, guessing who could be in the egg, with reactions going from “YUCK” (worms) to horror (dragons!), all adorably illustrated in acrylic paint and color pencil. Little Owl finally comes around to the idea of a new, little owl in the nest, and his role as a big brother owl… and Mommy has more than enough love for them both.

What a sweet way to introduce a sibling to a preschooler, especially one who may be a little resistant to the whole “new baby in the nest” idea. Little Owl takes his mother’s little guessing game and runs with it, coming up with outlandish ideas of his own. When he sees animal siblings play together, he finds himself warming to the idea of having a playmate, and Mommy Owl assures him that she will always love him. It’s a story that parents, caregivers, and kids can cuddle up and read together, talk about the new baby(ies), and how everyone feels about the baby. Let kids know it’s okay to be nervous about a new baby! This is a good gift for a sibling-to-be; pair with Émile Jadoul’s No Room for Baby! for more surly sibling fun.

 

What Mommies Like, by Judy Carey Nevin/Illustrated by Stephanie Six, (Apr. 2018, little bee books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781499805284

Recommended for readers 2-5

Mommies like a whole bunch of things, especially when they’re with their little ones! Mommy Bear and her cub spend a day together doing all sorts of things that mommies like, end up at the library for storytime, and continue on to sing, play kazoo, and share an “I love you” at bedtime. Each page has a short sentence stating what mommies like, with a soft illustration. It’s a loving story about the bond between mother and child and a fun story about daily routines. Mother and baby bear share loving glances as they go throughout their daily activities; they’re out and about, doing super-healthy things like yoga and cycling; she’s an active part of storytime, taking part in the stomping and general hullabaloo; she’s even in a blanket fort. Mommies are pretty darn fun, aren’t we? This is an absolutely adorable book for toddlers and preschoolers; I think I’ll be using this one in a Mother’s Day storytime. Pair this one with Our Love Grows by Anna Pignataro for an extra-cuddly storytime.

 

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Avenging the Owl takes on big tween themes

avenging-the-owlAvenging the Owl, by Melissa Hart, (Apr. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781634501477

Recommended for ages 9-13

Solo Hahn (his mom is a huge Star Wars fan) is a tween having a heck of a time. Not so long ago, in a galaxy not terribly far away – although it may seem that way – he had a great life: home in Redondo Beach, California; surfing with his buddies and loving his life; his mom loved her job as a professor, and his dad drew comics for a living. But things have changed; his dad has moved them to a trailer on a patch of land in Oregon, his mom has all gone vegetarian, crunchy granola on him, and his father is a shadow of the man he once was. The only thing Solo still had to hold onto was the kitten he found on the property as they were moving in; and then, an owl swooped in and took that away from him, too. Solo wanted revenge, but now he’s been labeled an “at-risk youth” and is doing community service at a raptor rescue center, where he’s taking care of the very types of birds that took his kitten from him.

Avenging the Owl is a great realistic fiction novel that tackles depression and suicide, and the toll it takes on a child when it happens to a parent. Even greater is the frustration of being a kid and having no control over anything in your life. Solo’s parents upend his life without any consideration as to its effect on him, and then voice frustration with him. It’s a valid, real portrait of adolescence, where kids’ independence are ultimately subject to their guardians’ plans.

There are good supporting characters in Avenging the Owl, including Solo’s group at the raptor rescue and Eric, Solo’s neighbor and friend. The story is a voyage of self-discovery for Solo, who emerges a different person than he was going into the story. He develops a relationship with Eric, a teen with Down Syndrome, initially at his mother’s behest but ultimately, develops genuine admiration and feeling for him. He learns to accept that Nature is not always fair. He learns to love his parents again, and just as important, they learn to see Solo for who he is. The thread running quietly through the novel about conservation and preservation is a great discussion theme for reading and discussion groups.

I enjoyed this book, and will add it to my realistic fiction collection. My middle graders enjoy animal fiction and often need to read realistic fiction for school, so this brings their two worlds together in a powerful way. Check out a great interview with author Melissa Hart on the From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog for some more insights.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Steampunk

Tailwands – Epic Animal Fantasy for your younger readers!

I don’t normally review standalone comic book issues here at MomReadIt – that’s the purview of my WhatchaReading writing, really – but I had to talk about Tailwands, which is putting out its second issue shortly. It’s great animal fiction, it’s an epic tale, and it’s perfect for young readers who are in the mood for fun, clean, epic fantasy storytelling.

tailwands_1       tailwands_2

I’ve written reviews for both issue 1 and issue 2 over at WhatchaReading. There is a subscriber exclusive, if your kids like the books, so you don’t have to chase them down. Hand these books to your younger readers, and tuck in with them – you’re in for a great adventure.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Tween Reads

Book Review: The Guardians of Ga’Hoole Book One: The Capture by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic, June 2003)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Newbery Award winning author Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole series has been hugely popular since the publication of the first book in the series, The Capture. In 2010, Warner Brothers released a movie based on the first three books in the series and its companion website offers quizzes, games and book facts. A Guardians of Ga’Hoole wiki offers exhaustive information about characters and storylines. The series has taken on a life of its own in many ways, similar to such literary touchstones as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.
The book begins with Soren, a young barn owl born into a loving family in the forest of Tyto. He has a cruel older brother, Kludd, a sweet younger sister, Eglantine, and a beloved snake nursemaid, Mrs. Plithiver. One day, Soren falls out of his nest and is kidnapped, taken to the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, where he meets Gylfie, a small Elf Owlet.

St. Aggie’s, as the Academy is referred to, is a thinly veiled deprogramming center/work camp for owls where they are subjected to sleep deprivation and corporal punishment in order to break them down and create a blank slate upon which the St. Aggie’s owls can build and create an army for owl domination. By sticking together and focusing on their families, each other, and the mythical stories of the Ga’Hoole, the guardians of owlkind, Soren and Gylfie defy the odds and retain their individuality. They ultimately escape St. Aggie’s with some help on the inside and head out in search of the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, where they hope to find help to save the owls from the St. Aggie’s army. They meet two other escapees, Digger and Twilight, who join them in their search.

I found myself having trouble enjoying The Capture. I vacillated between being taken aback at the brutality of a book written for a relatively young audience and just not connecting with the story. The book is graphic in its depiction of the punishment heaped on the younger owls and Lasky does not shy away from writing about murder and cruelty. The terror of losing one’s own identity, coupled with cold-blooded murder, make for a potentially terrifying read to some readers on the younger half of the age range, and I’d recommend parents reading the book with their children to address any fears that may come up. The book speaks to the fear of being taken, the terror of not knowing how to get back to one’s family, and the sense of hopelessness that can overpower someone in that situation.
Other times, I was frustrated with the use of owl jargon – the owls have their own phrases and terms, and it appeared haphazard in its usage – and bored with some of the more plodding scenes at St. Aggie’s. I wanted more from the book than it was ready to give me – perhaps reading further into the series will help me connect at a later point.

Kathryn Lasky has written over 100 books for children and has a great website that offers video messages for her fans, a section detailing her awards and information about her upcoming books. Naturally, there is a section devoted to the Guardians series, and she even features fan art dedicated to the series. I really liked that Lasky, who exhaustively researches both her fiction and nonfiction writing, shares her research and links for books she’s working on.