Posted in picture books

Mop Rides the Waves of Life: A mindfulness story for kids

Mop Rides the Waves of Life: A Story of Mindfulness and Surfing, by Jaimal Yogis/Illustrated by Matt Allen (June 2020, Plum Blossom), $16.95, ISBN: 9781946764607

Ages 5-8

A friend of mine passed this book on to me, and I knew I had to write about it, because who couldn’t use a little more mindfulness these days? Mop is a kid with a wild mop of hair. He loves to surf, and he has a bit of a temper and a tendency to act out when he’s angry. His mom takes him to the beach and explains that he has to learn to surf life, too: “Breathing mindfully helps you notice the emotional waves inside”. She explains that he has to learn to surf those waves of fear and anger, because they will pass; when the good feelings come, to enjoy them, and when they start to ebb, keep paddling, because there are always good waves coming. Armed with this new information and linking it to his love of surfing, Mop is able to get through school interactions and enjoy his friends while being present and mindful. It’s a simply stated premise that makes for a good readaloud, and lets readers practice breathing and visualizing waves to surf during the storytime. Illustrations are soft, gently colored beach scenes and classroom scenes, a mixture of peaceful mindfulness with surfing movement. Waves take on the aggressive emotions of fear, anger, and sadness both in the water and atop Mop’s head when he’s learning to control his emotions, and he visualizes those waves turning to love, joy, and gratitude. A good book to add to your mindfulness readalouds and collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

After Squidnight… things get interesting!

After Squidnight, by Jonathan E. Fenske, (Aug. 2020, Penguin Workshop), $12.99, ISBN: 9781524793081

Ages 4-8

Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor-winning author and illustrator Jonathan Fenske creates a funny rhyming story about a group of squids indulging their inner artists. When the clock strikes midnight, a squad of squids is feeling like a change of scenery, so they head over to someone’s house – is it yours? – to exercise their creativity. They draw all over the kitchen and the halls, inking sharks in your bathroom and drawing all over the toys they find in the way. They even draw on YOU: good thing you’re a solid sleeper! But the sun comes up, and the squad goes back to the ocean, leaving you to answer for the mess. After all, are they really going to believe you if you tell them it was a Squid Squad? Maybe, just maybe, though, you’ll leave one little memento, one little bit of artwork, just to enjoy for yourself…

After Squidnight is a story in that great tradition of things that go on while we’re sleeping. It’s rhyming fun, with blue-washed artwork that kids will love, starring a group of squids that just want some harmless, if a bit mischievous, fun (at least their ink washes away easily enough!). Fun for bathtime, bedtime, or storytime. Print out some squid coloring sheets and let the kids color away – and add some to your flannel or laminated storytime repertoire, while you’re at it.

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

#SummersCool: Concepts, Political Science, and MAD LIBS!

Summer marches on, and we still don’t know what Fall is going to look like. So let’s keep pulling together all the learning material we can get our hands on, because whether or not we realize it, we’re all learning alongside our kids these days. Let’s make it fun!

This or That? What Will You Choose at the British Museum?, by Pippa Goodhart, (March 2020, Nosy Crow), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212235

Ages 3-7

First up, I’ve got a great concept book: This or That? is part of the Early Learning at the Museum series from Candlewick’s Nosy Crow imprint. Author Pippa Goodhart and the Trustees of the British Museum have curated 12 spreads of artifacts from the British Museum’s collection, each with a different theme in mind: would you rather wear a skirt or a shirt? Live in a tent or a tree house? Soar above the ground in a balloon or skim the water in a boat? There are hundreds of jumping off points for more questions, some posed in the text (“Do you see any vehicles pulled by animals?” “Do you see any buildings with a ladder?”), and endless questions you can come up with as you look through the pictures with your kiddos. This is serious I Spy territory for colors, shapes, and counting here. The index has numbered spreads that provide more information about each featured piece. This is just a gorgeous, fun book that always offers something new to discover.


Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy!, by Ruth Spiro/Illustrated by Greg Paprocki, (April 2020, Charlesbridge), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-62354-227-6

Ages 0-5

And now, for political science! The Baby Loves… series of board books have been a hit at my library (Baby Loves Science titles include Baby Loves Quarks! and Baby Loves Aerodynamics!), so I’m especially interested in this latest offshoot of the series. The first book, Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy! introduces the democratic process to little ones with easy-to-understand explanations of choosing leaders and defining terms like “candidate”, “rally”, and “polling place”. Bright, colorful and cartoony illustrations appeal to the littlest listeners, inviting them to look at the action in the books and get used to hearing these new vocabulary words; the text is wonderful for explaining the political process to pre-K readers and Kindergarteners. Ruth Spiro and Greg Paprocki let kids know that there’s enough room for everyone to get involved and have a voice, including cheering parents on when they’re voting, stamping postcards, and coloring signs for rallies. Involve children early on so they’ll grow up knowing they have a voice! Charlesbridge has a free, downloadable activity kit with coloring sheets and more.


Baby Loves Political Science: Justice!, by Ruth Spiro/Illustrated by Greg Poprocki, (Sept. 2020, Charlesbridge), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-62354-228-3

Ages 0-5

Coming in September, we have a new Baby Loves Political Science book, Justice! Here, a little boy learns that breaking rules come with consequences, when he breaks something at home; it’s a jumping off point to explain how laws are rules that keep our communities safe and fair, and touches on an explanation of the Constitution, three branches of government, and how lawyers and courts help interpret the law to keep things as safe and fair as possible for all of us.

Greg Poprocki’s artwork is adorably bright and sweet, creating expressive cartoon characters who lead readers through classrooms, public spaces, and the halls of the court and government. Ruth Spiro explains huge concept in an easy-to-understand way that kids (and, like me, some adults) will easily understand and appreciate.  I’m a fan of this new offshoot of Baby Loves Science and look forward to seeing what else is on the horizon. (Psst… Baby Loves Civil Disobedience? Anyone?)


Mad Libs Workbook: Grade 2 Reading, by Mad Libs, (Apr. 2020, Penguin Young Readers), $8.99, ISBN: 978-0-593-09616-1

Ages 7-9

WOW, I never thought I’d see the day when Mad Libs was recognized as an actual ELA aid! Mad Libs kept me sane during many a summer road trip as a kid, and seeing these new workbooks now just make my ’80s kid heart happy. Remember Mad Libs? You created crazy stories by inserting random adjectives, verbs, names of animals, numbers, planets, you name it, into the dialogue, and then read it back? Hilarious! Well, now, my generation must be in the driver’s seat, because there’s a line of Mad Libs Reading Workbooks for Grades 1-4. I checked out a copy of Grade 2’s reading workbook, because I have a second grader (well, he’s a rising third grader now) at home, so why not?

WOW. So spiffy.  Now aligned with State and National Common Core Standards, Mad Libs workbooks have phonics work, grammar and spelling explanations, comprehension exercises, and vocabulary words. There are rebuses throughout the stories, helping readers use pictures to look at columns and identify the types of words that get dropped in the slots. Rather than just note, “adjective”, for instance, there will be a picture that leads the child to a column full of descriptive words. There are phonics exercises, with work on prefixes and suffixes, plurals, digraphs, and more. This is a phonics workout wrapped in absolute fun, and my kiddo and I are having a ball with it. Mad Libs, I’m so glad you’re still with me. Parents and educators, use some of these for summer reading challenges – or rewards!


That’s all for this #SummersCool. More to come! Stay cool and safe!


Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Graphic Novels, I Read Stuff/Kiddo

Introducing… The Kiddo!

Hi all! I’ve been radio silent for a while, because I’ve been home enjoying my midwinter break vacation with my kiddos. Imagine my delight (and abject terror) when he announced that he wants to be a YouTuber, and that he wanted his first video to be about books. I went back and forth on this for a while, but here I go… I’d like to introduce you all to my kiddo, Gabe.

It’s his first, and he’s 7, but I think – in my very biased opinion – he’s adorable. I hope you enjoy hearing about kids’ books from an actual kid.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a big ol’ TBR to start writing up!

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Happy Pride! Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag, by Rob Sanders/Illustrated by Steven Salerno, (Apr. 2018, Random House), $17.99, ISBN: 9780399555312

Recommended for readers 5-8

The story of Harvey Milk, gay rights activist and the man behind the rainbow flag, gets to shine in this picture book biography. Written in short, readable sentences with quotes from Harvey Milk throughout, this is an inspirational story about a movement propelled by love. That’s it. Love, and the right to love, is at the heart of the gay rights movement, and while Harvey Milk dreamed of a world where we could all love whoever we choose, he also put that dream into action by speaking out, becoming involved in politics to help change laws, and finally, to rally the world behind a flag that is beautiful and bright and sends a message that reverberates to this day.

Pride is about the creation of the rainbow flag, and how the movement is still strong, even after Harvey Milk’s assassination. He shared his pride with the world, and gave us an icon.  In 2015, the day that the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marraige, the White House was awash in the colors of the flag, and you can find that flag in cities and countries all over the world: New York; Chicago; London; Singapore; Turkey; Russia. Biographical notes on Harvey Milk and Gilbert Baker, who actually designed the flag, timelines for both Harvey Milk’s life and the rainbow flag, and further research resources are available at the end of the book, as are photos of Harvey Milk, the Rainbow White House, and gay pride parades.

This is a strong picture book biography that speaks respectfully to readers and provides solid information on the gay rights movement, Harvey Milk’s role in it, and the origin of the iconic rainbow flag. It’s a must-have for picture book biography collections. Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag has a starred review from Shelf Awareness and rave reviews from School Library Journal,, Kirkus, and Gay Times magazine, among others.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Art inspires storytelling in Anna and Johanna

Anna and Johanna, by Géraldine Elschner/Illustrated by Florence Koenig, (Apr. 2018, Prestel-Penguin/Random House), $14.95, ISBN: 9783791373454

Recommended for readers 5-10

Inspired by two of Dutch artist Jan Vermeer’s paintings, this story of two friends who discover a secret on their shared birthday spins a creative imagining and appreciation of art. Anna and Johanna are two girls, living in the 17th century, and celebrating their shared 12th birthday. Anna, the daughter of the master of the house, makes a lace collar for Johanna, the daughter of the housemaid. Johanna is making a lovely breakfast for Anna, complete with handmade chocolate. As the two prepare to spend their birthday together, Anna spies a note from her father, unveiling a secret about the two girls that brings them even closer together.

Vermeer’s paintings, “The Milkmaid” and “The Lacemaker“, inspired this story, as explained in the back matter, along with a discussion about Vermeer. The artwork is Vermeer-inspired, with beautiful blues, yellows throughout the story; the art looks hand-painted, with visible brushstrokes. I love how the text and artwork take Vermeer’s artwork and weave a story around it; while the story itself is inspired by “The Milkmaid” and “The Lacemaker”, guide readers to notice details from Vermeer’s Delft paintings, like “The Little Street” and “View of Delft“. The author and illustrator even draw an actual figure from Vermeer’s lifetime into the story, a painter named Carel Fabritius, and his work, “The Goldfinch“.

This isn’t a read-aloud book; there’s a nice amount of story to be told here. It is a wonderful addition to art history programs, where you can invite readers to create their own stories based on works of art. You can make it fun by bringing fandom into it! Show kids one of the many Star Wars mockups of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, for instance:

Source: MJTIllustrationLLC on Etsy

Or maybe a Sesame Street-style Great Wave Off Kanagawa is more your style:

 Source: Laughing Squid

The point is, art and imagination go hand-in-hand. Show kids that they can create a story from someone else’s story!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Pilfer Academy: A School So Bad, It’s Criminal

pilferacademyPilfer Academy, by Lauren Magaziner (Feb. 2016, Dial Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0803739192

Recommended for ages 9-12

Out of the 6 kids in his family, George is the naughty one. He sneaks around the house and liberally helps himself to his sibings’ possessions: money, diaries, you name it. What George doesn’t realize is that he’s gotten himself in the sights of Pilfer Academy, a school for criminals. Everything in the school is stolen: even the students! George is kidnapped by two laughably bad criminals who double as teachers at Pilfer Academy, and he finds himself missing home as he tries to fit in among the newest class of thieves, all competing to be the best at being the worst.

After making a friend in Tabitha – the school’s top student – George gradually begins absorbing himself in his schoolwork and excelling in his classes, which include safe-cracking, disguise, and Thieving Theory. But when George takes his midterm on breaking and entering, he realizes that being a thief isn’t as glamorous as he thought it would be. But he can’t back out, lest he face the Dean’s dreaded punishment. Will George have to surrender himself to becoming the thief he doesn’t want to be, or can he and Tabitha put their heads together and figure out a way to escape Pilfer Academy?

Pilfer Academy is a hilarious middle grade comedy with a strong moral message. It’s a big joke when the kids are learning how to be cunning, top criminals, but when faced with the moral consequences of his actions, George realizes a great deal about himself and the people around him. I love the characters in this story. George is an obnoxious middle child that needs a bit of a wake-up call; Tabitha is a girl who wants to excel at any challenge she’s given – and when she doesn’t feel like she’s learning anything new, she’s done. It’s not that she wanted to be a career criminal, she was put into the situation and wasn’t backing down from a challenge.

The teachers are kind of like Hogwarts faculty gone hilariously wrong. They’re a ragtag bunch of supposedly successful criminals that can’t seem to get it together enough to tie their shoes, but there they are, teaching classes and getting students to listen to them. Mostly.

Fans of Spy School and the N.E.R.D.S. series will get a kick out of Pilfer Academy, and it’s a good addition to your middle grade fiction collection for kids who need a quick read that will keep them interested. So yes, give this to your reluctant readers, and give it to your book groups – there’s a lot of fun you can have with this book during a book talk, and there are enough spy crafts on the web to make a fun program out of this book.

Lauren Magaziner’s author website offers links to her social media, an event schedule, and information on her books.