Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Book Tree: Books as resistance!

The Book Tree, by Paul Czajak/Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, (Sept. 2018, Barefoot Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781782854050

Ages 4-8

A boy named Arlo gets so wrapped up in his book that he doesn’t catch it in time when it slips, falls, and thumps the mayor on the head, prompting the official to tear up all the books, telling the people that “I will tell you what you need to know”. Luckily, a single page manages to float away and plant itself in the earth, where it will eventually grow; in the meantime, though, life is pretty awful without books: schools have nothing to teach; actors have nothing to act; and story time becomes nap time, because there’s nothing to read. Arlo begins making up his own stories, which feed the fledgling book plant, so Arlo writes and reads to the plant until it grows into a fantastic book tree, yielding ripe new stories, which Arlo harvests and shares with the town, which blossoms, once again, thanks to the fresh infusion of knowledge. Even the mayor ultimately discovers the joy to be found in a book.

Talk about a timely story. With an autocrat who’s afraid of books (“Books are dangerous! I don’t trust them. They act like seeds, which grow into ideas, and ideas turn into questions.”) and tries to control the flow of knowledge, reading becomes the ultimate act of resistance. The Book Tree also illustrates a very gloomy life without stories: no storytimes; no theatres; no new learning. Taking away the written word takes away a culture, a history, a civilization – why else are libraries and archives deliberately targeted during times of war?

Paul Czajak also shows how quickly people can lose interest in reading if it isn’t nurtured: Arlo reads his original stories out loud to an ignorant populace. Thanks to Arlo’s determination, the buried page hears him and thrives; he nurtures the love of reading, the new ideas feeding the plant, until it blossoms – and finally, boredom brings readers back to the tree, where Arlo hands out more books, sparking the public’s interest again. The Book Tree eloquently captures society today, making it a cautionary tale as much as it’s an inspirational one. Rashin Kheiriyeh’s oil paint and collage artwork gives a lovely crispness to the work, and brings the books to life by making them stand out against the page. Arlo, with his little beret and blue hair, is a little counterculture activist for a new group of readers. Her collage and drawn artwork present a fantastic contrast, really letting the stories yet to be told flow from books and Arlo’s imagination. I particularly love the dragon emerging from a book in her tree, seeming to joyfully respond to Arlo’s narrative.


Paul Czajak’s Monster books have been a favorite on my library shelves for a couple of years; I’m looking forward to seeing the kids enjoy The Book Tree. Add this one to your activist collections, and make sure to stick this one on your Banned Books Week storytime for next year.


Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Monster Needs to Go to School!

monster needs to go to schoolMonster Needs to Go to School, by Paul Czajak/Illustrated by Wendy Grieb (May 2016, Mighty Media Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-938063-74-9

Recommended for ages 3-6

Our big, blue Monster and his best buddy, Boy, are back – and this time, they’re taking on going to school! Monster needs to go to school, but he’s really nervous. He didn’t really have anything to worry about, though – he has a great first day and makes lots of new friends – and even stops bullying when he sees it on the playground.

This latest entry into the Monster & Me series takes a fun look at starting school, giving little ones who may be getting ready for Pre-K or Kindergarten an idea of what to expect (and reinforcing these ideas for kids already in daycare and pre-k programs): learning the ABCs, raising your hand when you want to speak, and inviting others to play at recess. Monster also has an important lesson: when he sees bullying on the playground, he stops it right in its tracks. The fact that the would-be bullies are Monster’s friends drives home an even more important point about standing up for others, even if you have to call your friends out on their behavior. It’s not an easy lesson to teach, but Czajak and Monster do it in the best way; having Monster say, “I know we’re friends, but teasing’s wrong. It’s something I despise. No one should be ridiculed. There is no compromise.”

Wendy Grieb’s artwork is inclusive, featuring multiethnic classmates and teachers. Monster is big, blue, and lovable, with a toothy smile and a bushy tail. If this is a child’s first introduction to Monster and friends, they’ll jump right in and enjoy the bright colors, lovable monster, and the rhyming text that invites kids to sit back and enjoy a story about how exciting school is.

This is a great addition to collections, especially for little ones getting ready to move up to Pre-K and Kindergarten. My little guy is starting Pre-K in the Fall (how did that happen so fast?), so I’ll be reading this to him all summer to get him ready for the new routine he’ll discover. Schools and libraries should add this to collections to ease new students into the coming school year. I’ll be booktalking this to my parents at storytimes all summer, myself.

The Monster & Me series includes Monster Needs His Sleep, Monster Needs a Costume, Monster Needs a Christmas Tree, Monster Needs a Party, and Monster Needs Your Vote. Each book has new ideas to teach Monster and the readers who come along for the ride. The series is a 2015 Silver Moonbeam Children’s Book Award winner for Best Picture Book series. Mighty Media has a Monster & Me webpage where you can learn more about the books and download event kits loaded with resources for parents and educators!



Posted in Preschool Reads, Uncategorized

Hit the Election Trail with Monster Needs Your Vote!





Monster Needs Your Vote, by Paul Czajak/Illus. by Wendy Grieb (Aug. 2015, Mighty Media Kids), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-938063-63-3

Recommended for ages 4-8

It’s election season, and Monster wants to get involved! He’s got a bunch of different platforms he supports – longer summers, dessert for dinner – but he quickly discovers a more important cause to stand for, and shows kids that no matter what your age, you can make a difference!


This latest book in author Paul Czajak’s Monster & Me series gives kids a glimpse into the election process – choosing a platform, the power of a grassroots movement, and the campaign trail, in particular. Monster’s focus on education and literacy makes this a great classroom and library read-aloud – never talking down to the youngest of readers, Czajak Grieb use rhyme and adorable, kid-friendly illustration in eye-catching, bright colors to talk to kids. A free, downloadable Campaign Kit from the publisher is loaded with great add-ons, including facts about Presidents and First Ladies, a political vocabulary sheet, Monster coloring sheets, and more.

The coming Presidential election is already heating up, with a huge primary on the horizon and a lot of passionate issues on the table. Monster Needs Your Vote is a valuable addition to educators and parents who want to get kids involved. I can’t wait to see what my preschoolers think of it (although I expect that dessert for dinner will be a key concern)! Monster gets my vote – I hope he gets yours!

Have a sneak peek at Monster Needs Your Vote right here, then hit that campaign trail!