Posted in geek, geek culture, Graphic Novels, Guide, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Find gift ideas here!

It’s another roundup: you’ll find a few more ideas here, I hope, if you’re in “just one more person… gift… book” mode, or, if you’re like me, you’re eyeballing your December book budgets and in “I’ve got a little bit more left, I can fit one more book in this cart” mode. Either way, I hope you enjoy.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore/Illustrated by PJ Lynch, (Nov. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781536222852

Ages 3+

The latest release of Clement C. Moore’s classic 1823 Christmas poem, PJ Lynch imagines a sweeping Christmas tale, with watercolor and gouache illustrations rendered in shades of greens and blues to set the sleepy, evening mood. Saint Nick arrives on the scene, bringing warm reds and oranges. Lifelike artwork brings the team of reindeer to life, with texture and movement as they dance across the sky, carrying Santa and his sleigh full of toys. This telling of Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas is set in what looks like pre-Victorian England, in the time the poem was written. The artwork beautifully captures the stillness of Christmas Eve and St. Nicholas’s Christmas magic.

Every Christmas Eve, I read two stories to my own kiddos (yes, one is 22 and one is 18, but they still humor me): Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express and Clement Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas. I’m looking forward to reading PJ Lynch’s version this year.

 

I Wish I Had a Wookiee And Other Poems for Our Galaxy, by Ian Doescher/Illustrated by Tim Budgen, (Sept. 2021, Quirk Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781594749629

Ages 6+

Ian Doescher – Star Wars fans will recognize the name as the scribe of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars saga – is here to delight readers with his Star Wars poems created especially for kids (of all ages). He celebrates fandom with over 100 poems, complete with illustrations by Tim Budgen, whose artwork will appeal immediately to readers familiar with Jeffrey Brown’s Jedi Academy graphic novel series. He covers each of the three trilogies and embraces all the characters – and fans – of the Star Wars Universe, with poems like “Resourceful Sith”, where a child gets hold of supplies to make themselves into Darth Maul; “Snow Day on Hoth”, where kids enjoy a snow day in the greatest of ways: “My sister was a rebel leader, / And I was Luke in my snowspeeder. / The neighbor twins were Empire troops, / Approaching us in AT-AT groups”. He remembers us parents with poems like “Dad’s Luke Skywalker Figurine”, “Mom, the Medic Droid”, and “Old Mr. Jones and His Star Wars Collection”. Illustrations in black, white, and color are on almost every page. Put this right next to your Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky books, and make sure to have some fun Star Wars coloring pages available. For all of us who imagined their rooms as the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit, this book’s for you.

 

 

Jop and Blip Wanna Know #1: Can You Hear a Penguin Fart on Mars?: And Other Excellent Questions, by Jim Benton, (June 2021, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062972927

Ages 6-10

Jop and Blip are two robots with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. They have the deep questions here in this first volume of Jop and Blip Wanna Know, a new series from graphic novelist Jim Benton. Here, they take the science apart to learn whether or not we could hear a penguin fart on Mars; if one could eat a dragon sandwich, and why we have two of sensory organs like nostrils, eyes, and ears. Panels are vibrant and the back-and-forth dialogue is fun to follow: kids who love the Elephant and Piggie books will jump right in here. The sillier side of science inspires these questions, sure, but the reasoning is solid and there’s so much to learn packed in here, including the origin of the sandwich, what dinosaurs really looked like, and yes – whether or not we can hear a penguin farting on Mars. This first book is organized into three chapters, each exploring a different question, with an activity at the end of each. Like Blip says, “…everything is worth knowing”! Think of this as a Science Comics series for your newly independent readers, and add it to your collections.

Fun learner-led program: If you have access to World Book Online through your library, check out the Webquests in the Educator Tools area. They’re printable activities on different topics that challenge readers to follow step-by-step directions to navigate the database and learn about the topic by watching videos, seeing images, and reading the text (which can also be read out loud via the database). While there are no “farting penguins” Webquests (yet), it’s a fun way to introduce research and navigating databases. This Dinosaurs Webquest is a good place to start.

Jop and Blip Wanna Know: Can You Hear a Penguin Fart on Mars? has a starred review from Kirkus.

Where’s Waldo? Santa Spotlight Search, by Martin Handford, (Sept. 2021, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536220131

Ages 5-9

The holiday season brings a new Waldo adventure. The Spotlight books are fun because they add a little more detective work into the mix; dark plastic “winter scenes” on each spread call for a special Spotlight Searcher to slip in and shed a white background against the searching area. There are 6 scenes (including the one on the opening spread) to search, and every challenge calls for readers to search the crowds for Santa, Waldo and friends, and a changing list of objects, from a hatless Santa Claus to solving a jumble by finding letters on building blocks. Visit a Santa Meet and Santa’s Workshop; go Christmas Shopping; enjoy some Festive Baking; join a Jolly Jamboree, and get ready for Christmas Eve. A great learner-directed book to have in a Waldo Corner in your children’s room, and a great way to keep kids busy during Christmas gatherings.

Brightly has Where’s Waldo? printables available, and Nerd Craft Librarian, whose blog I miss, had a great Where’s Waldo? Scavenger Hunt that you can still be inspired by here.

 

Do You Know? Space and Sky, by Virginie Loubier/Illustrated by Robert Barborini, Audrey Brien, Hélène Convert, Christian Guibbaud, & Cristian Turdera (Oct. 2021, Twirl Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9782408029166

Ages 5-8

I really enjoy this Do You Know? series for intermediate and middle grade readers, and Space and Sky – the latest – is another hit. Organized into four areas – The Sky, The Solar System, Studying the Universe, and Exploring Space – Space and Sky takes a lot of information and makes it readable and organized for younger learners. Space and Sky covers everything from Earth’s water cycle, weather, and seasons to the planets, space exploration, and how we use technology to study the earth. It’s a funnel type of learning, going from the small to the large, and it helps readers understand where we are in relation to our universe. Let’s Review pages at the end of every section provide learning activities, and colored boxes at the bottom of right hand pages direct readers to related topics in the book. Colorful artwork throughout provides fun images of people and nicely detailed maps and infographics. A full index helps readers locate what they’re looking for.

If you have a puzzle area in your children’s room, consider a Space Day and display Space and Sky along with books like Stacy McAnulty’s planets and space series, Nat Geo Kids’s Space Encyclopedia, and a fun puzzle, like the NASA puzzles (if you have the space) or Melissa & Doug’s Solar System puzzle (we use a lot of Melissa & Doug at my library – so sturdy!).

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

A gift for every learner!

It’s that time of year, expect the gift guides to be coming at you fast and furious. Let’s see what’s making my lists this year.

Mercury: 100 Piece Puzzle (Featuring Photography from the Archives at NASA), (Aug. 2021, Chronicle Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781797210346

Ages 6+

Puzzle fans, astronomy fans, science fans, everyone will love the next planetary puzzle from Chronicle Books. Mercury is the newest 100-piece puzzle using photography from the Archives at NASA, a follow-up to April’s Earth puzzle (which my kid and I still haven’t solved). It’s a beautiful photo of Mercury, and it is huge: 2 1/2 feet in diameter, so clear off a table for Thanksgiving/holiday gatherings and let the family and friends have at it. Puzzle pieces are sturdy, and they’re a good size, inviting little hands to help out, too. It’s a round puzzle, so you can somewhat figure out the outside of Mercury, but don’t forget: it’s a photo, so have fun trying to figure out which crater is goes where (G, my kiddo, and I are still arguing over them).

 

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright! An Animal Poem for Each Day of the Year, selected by Fiona Waters/Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, (Oct. 2021, Nosy Crow), $40.00, ISBN: 9781536217186

Ages 3-8

This is a beautiful collection of animal poems for readers, poetry fans, and animal lovers. There are 366 poems – one for every day, including Leap Year – organized by month. Each month begins with a table of contents that lays out each poem and author by day. The spreads are beautiful and the poems are related on each spread, giving a feeling of cohesion. January 1-3 have poems about polar bears; 4-5 about whales; the action moves through the days, with spreads turning to sheepdogs on guard, wolves, and more. Britta Teckentrup’s artwork is just beautiful, with cold, quiet winter spreads moving into warm, home interiors; crocodiles lurk on one spread, gazelles leap through grass in another. Colorful, not overwhelming, the artwork brings the ideas in each poem to life. Endpapers offer lush, green leaves, inviting us in, and closing their doors behind us. Read a few a time, or savor them day by day.

 

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame/Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith, (Nov. 2021, Templar Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781536219999

Ages 7-12

The classic children’s novel gets a gift hardcover release just in time for the holidays! If you’ve never read The Wind in the Willows, you’re missing out. The adventures of Mr. Toad, Mole, Ratty, and Badger have been delighting readers since its publication in 1908. This hardcover gift version has illustrations from Kate Greenway Medal winner Grahame Baker-Smith that give gorgeous life to the story; some are sepia-toned, some rendered in shades of blue, green, or brown, some in rich, warm, earth colors. The cloth cover looks like a copy of the book I found on my own public library’s shelves a lifetime ago; just running my hand over the cover brought back memories of sitting down with it and wandering into Mr. Toad’s magic world. Give this to a younger reader, give it to a grownup who needs to go back in time, even if just for a moment.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Break the monster codes with Sleuth & Solve: Spooky

Sleuth & Solve: Spooky: Decode Mind-Twisting Mysteries Inspired by Classic Creepy Characters, by Ana Gallo/Illustrated by Victor Escandell, (Aug. 2021, Chronicle Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781797205908

Ages 8-12

I do love a good code-breaking book, and this one is right in step with the season. Part of Chronicle’s Sleuth & Solve series, Sleuth & Solve: Spooky puts readers up against the creepiest characters to solve mysteries. Unlock a mummy’s hieroglyphics; discover the Frankenstein monster’s hideout; help a deceased aunt keep her promise to her niece. There are nine mysteries to solve, with a cryptograph available to help readers break the codes. Readers can use their problem-solving skills to unravel the mysteries, and it makes for a great addition to escape room challenges or spy school programs. The stories are told in entertaining comic book style, with characters wandering around the page offering prompts and thinking points. Each spooky creature gets a little factual bio at the beginning of the section, giving readers some context to the game as it unfolds. Great for cooperative gaming, the mysteries work best when teams can work together to solve the puzzles.

Display and booktalk with escape room books like the Escape Room Adventure series from Schiffer Books. Check out Sleuth & Solve and Sleuth & Solve: History for more code-breakers in the series.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

Intermediate Nonfiction to love!

I’ve got some great middle grade nonfiction here, if you’re shopping for your back-to-school carts. My library kids tend to be nonfiction readers, so I’m always looking for fun, interesting books for them, and I think these will fit the bill nicely. Take a look, see what appeals to you!

What a Wonderful Phrase: A collection of amazing idioms from around the world, by Nicola Edwards & Many Montoya, (Sept. 2021, Kane Miller), $14.99, ISBN: 9781684642991

Ages 7-10

This collection of phrases and idioms from all over the world is a great little resource. Kids will easily recognize some phrases, like “buttering a person up”, and “raining cats and dogs”, but will they know where “seeing a peacock dance in the jungle” comes from? How about “peeing in your shoes will only keep you warm for a little while”? The origins of these phrases are interesting and amusing, and this little collection contains explanations, a phrase in its native language and phonetic pronunciations, and colorful illustrations. There’s no cow on the ice here (Swedish for “no rush”), but consider this one for your quirky readers who enjoy playing with language. What a Wonderful Phrase is a companion to What a Wonderful Word (2018).

 

Is There Life on Your Nose? Meet the Microbes, by Christian Borstlap, (Sept. 2021, Prestel Junior), $17.95, ISBN: 9783791374970

Ages 6-10

This is going to be huge with my library kids. Microbes make up every part of our day-to-day life, and this book is all about those microbes and where they live: on your nose, in boiling water or the arid desert, even underground. Filled with fun facts and entertaining illustrations, Is There Life on Your Nose? is all about microbes: how they breed, how they contribute to our lives (we wouldn’t have pickles, cheese, or bread without them!), how they can generate clean energy, and even how they can make us sick, in the form of viruses. It’s a great introduction to a timely subject, explained with humor and smart facts that will help kids understand – especially now – those little, microscopic creatures we share our world with. Are you doing STEM activities again, either in-person or virtually? Pair a reading of this with some of these experiments from Go Science Girls – I’m thinking of the hand-washing one in particular for my kiddos!

 

The Weather Pop-Up Book, by Maike Biederstadt/Illustrated by Michael Prestel, (Sept. 2021, Prestel Junior), $25, ISBN: 9783791373935

Ages 7-10

Just because kids are getting older doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate a good pop-up book! This book on weather is a great way to communicate the power of weather and the devastating influence of climate change. Spreads on storms, rain, tornadoes, heat, and snow fold out into 3-D landscapes, with paragraphs on each weather phenomenon. The opening spread explains “why weather is the way it is”, and the final spread on climate change explains how it affects weather, and what we can expect as weather patterns are further affected. A good addition to your reference section – if you’re putting this into circulation, it may wear out pretty quickly, but it will be a popular choice.

 

Explore! America’s National Parks, by Krista Langlois/Illustrated by Hannah Bailey, (June 2021, Kane Miller), $18.99, ISBN: 9781684641932

Ages 7-12

Who’s up for a road trip? This voyage through America’s 61 National Parks will have readers ready to pack their backpacks and head out with this book as their guide. Beautifully illustrated, laid out by geographic region (West Coast, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Central, East, and Tropics), and with a strong message of environmental respect and care, this is a treasure trove. United States maps highlight each region and its parks; a descriptive paragraph on states covered and activities to discover entices readers to turn the pages and dive in. Fact files give the statistics for each park, including size, state, founding date, and one fun fact; ranger tips help readers plan for a safe and exciting visit. Want to help scientists estimate how many bears live in Denali? Want to learn where the best place is to listen for the Mexican spotted owl? You’ll find all the answers in here. Armchair explorers and travelers, natural world fans, anyone who loves NatGeo books. Need a program idea? Take virtual tours through each of the parks using this book as your guide.

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes, by Silke Vry/Illustrated by Finn Dean, (Sept. 2021, Prestel Junior), $19.95, ISBN: 9783791374741
Ages 7-10
Part activity book, part reference guide, this book on mazes and labyrinths will send puzzle fans over the moon. Organized into four sections: I Think I’m Going Crazy! explains the differences between a maze and a labyrinth, how detours can lead us to our goals, and mazes and labyrinths within our bodies and our lives; Winding Paths as Far as the Eye Can See spotlights famous labyrinths from history; To The Center, Please! looks at the journey to the center of a labyrinth – and how to get back out, and Strange Paths! leads readers to mazes all around the world. From Theseus and the Minotaur’s labyrinth of legend to the quiet contemplation of walking a labyrinth in n nature, beautifully illustrated spreads include mazes and activities for readers to complete and ideas to mull over. A guide to solving mazes will help readers before they wander into a maze (hey, Fall’s coming… corn mazes!). Back matter includes more information about famous labyrinths worldwide and a glossary. Great for reference collections. History fans and brain buster fans will devour this one.
Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

The Explorer’s Code is great for puzzle mystery readers

The Explorer’s Code, by Allison K. Hymas, (Sept. 2020, Imprint), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250258854

Ages 9-13

Idlewood Manor was a home with a storied history, but has been empty for decades, until recently. The current owner has opened the doors, and a group of guests is coming to stay for a weekend; among them, Charlie, a math whiz who won the trip for his family, and his sister, Anna, who is far less scholastic in her pursuits, but that’s because she’s got the entire world to explore, just like her idol, explorer Virginia Maines. Also visiting with her family is Emily, whose historian parents have their own reasons for wanting to visit Idlewood. The three kids separately discover mysterious clues to Idlewood’s history, and the history of those who lived there; they also notice that other guests seem to have a major interest in unlocking the Manor’s secrets. It’s a race to solve Idlewood’s mysteries, but can the three kids work together to solve them in time? Loaded with actual puzzles, ciphers, and riddles, The Explorer’s Code is full of mystery and scandal,with very likable, realistic characters at its core. A note about ciphers at the end invites readers to test their own coding mettle. The relationships are spot-on, with the ups and downs experienced by Anna and Charlie, who were close when they were younger, but have drifted apart in recent years, and Emily, desperate to make her parents proud of her. Anna and Emily rush into things for different reasons: Anna, because she’s caught up in the spirit of curiosity and adventure; Emily, because she feels like she’s racing against the clock. Charlie is slow and deliberate, thinking things through, which clashes with his sister’s impulsive wandering. Together, these qualities make them stronger – something they have to work on over the course of the story. Perfect for readers who enjoyed Ben Guterson’s Winterhouse, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman’s Book Scavenger series, and of course, Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade

Halloween seek and find with Waldo

Where’s Waldo? Spooky Spotlight Search, by Martin Handford, (July 2020, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536211580

Ages 5-9

Waldo’s getting into the Halloween spirit with his newest Spotlight Search book! Similar to the Spectacular Spotlight Search (2018), this book contains six seek and find challenges, all under cover of darkness – but fear not! You have a glow-in-the-dark spotlight searcher to help you shed some light on the details! Look for Waldo, Woof, Wenda, Wizard Whitebeard, and Odlaw in every scene, in addition to changing, challenging checklists on each spread. And don’t forget to find all the carved pumpkins! Inspect ghostly galleons and shipwrecks, stage a great escape from a hidden cave and watch dragons fly, and seek shelter at a gloomy castle, where you can join a creaky dance party! Sharpen your eyeballs and wield your spotlight wisely, and have fun!

My third grader thoroughly enjoys the Waldo books, and has been swooping his spotlight around since this book arrived at our house, courtesy of Candlewick. Need more temptation? Fine. Remember, the first Where’s Waldo was a banned book. Scandal!
These books are classic fun and belong with your I Spy books and your puzzle books. They keep readers sharpening their attention skills and they’re just fun to do. Enjoy.
Posted in geek culture

Help! What do I do with these kids on Thanksgiving?

Are you facing down a day with restless kids? Dreading hearing the inevitable…

I hear you. That’s why I’m loading up on goodies to keep around the house when my 6-year-old starts up. (I can put the older two to work; they’re in high school and college.)

 

First off, Pinterest is a lifesaver. I’ve linked to a “Thanksgiving Crafts for Kids” search, so you can see a smidgen of the ideas waiting for you, most of which can be accomplished with stuff around the house. Toilet paper rolls? GODSEND. They can be turkey bodies; they can be Batman gauntlets or Wonder Woman bracelets; they can be snowmen, they can be anything! Stock up, have construction paper, scissors, glue sticks, and watercolor paints on hand (and newspaper to protect your table). The kids will love the chance to create.

Print out a bunch of pictures for coloring, and leave ’em around with crayons and colored pencils. Crayola has a bunch of Thanksgiving pictures, Hanukkah pictures, and Kwanzaa pictures, plus printables that let kids cut out and create their own turkeys, and even Thanksgiving Bingo! for a family game. Sesame Street’s got fantastic printables, including activities and different holidays; so does Disney Family.

Of course I have books! This is a book blog!

Around the World in 80 Puzzles, by Aleksandra Artymowska, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $19.99, ISBN: 9781536203080

Ages 7-10

Puzzles!!! Who doesn’t have love puzzles? These aren’t your regular old crossword, word search, or Hidden Picture puzzles, though. These are puzzles made into an art form. Inspired by Jules Verne’s classic, Around the World in 80 Days, these puzzles feature steam trains, sailboats, parachutes, gliders, zeppelins, and more to take readers around the world. Each puzzle takes up a two-page spread and offers visual challenges to readers: find the safe path through a canyon that will avoid scorpions; discover lizards hiding in breathtaking Islamic architecture, or wander through jungle vines, in search of snakes and parrots. All mazes are in full-color and star a young boy who starts readers off on the adventure as he sits, reading, in his treehouse and grabs onto a balloon; the adventure ends when the balloon returns him to his little hideaway. The answers are at the back of the book, but that’s no fun! Get family members working together to solve the mysteries.

Santa Claus: The Book of Secrets Christmas Coloring Book, created by Russell Ince, (2013), $11.00, ISBN: 089945589887

My friend picked this coloring book up at BookExpo this year, and I’m so glad she did. There are some beautiful Christmas pictures to color in this book; from Nutcrackers to Santa; holly mandalas and knotwork ornaments; Christmas stockings and presents. My little guy and I broke this out the other night and just went at it. There really is something soothing about coloring, and these meditative Christmas designs bring back memories of old-fashioned Christmases. If you can grab a copy for yourself, leave this one out and let the grownups and kids pair up together for some impressive artwork.

Games are great to get everyone going after the turkey coma threatens to kick in. We’re big on tabletop gaming in my family, so I’ve got a bunch handy, across age groups.

Machi Koro is a Pandasaurus/IDW Game that’s a big favorite with my older kids and me. (Me, primarily, because I love watching the two of them trash talk one another as they try to outdo one another). Think Monopoly, but faster-paced and with 100% more opportunity for smack talk. You’re the mayor of Machi Koro, an up-and-coming city, and you’ve got your work cut out for you: develop the city into the largest city in the region. It’s card and dice-based, for 2-4 players. We have the Harbor Expansion, which adds some more cards to the game and provides a few new building opportunities.

King of Tokyo is a board and dice-based game for 2-6 players. Because who doesn’t want to be a giant monster that destroys Tokyo? My littlest guy gets in there with the rest of us, no problem; one of us helps read the cards with him, but really, this game is about the dice and the hit points your monster can take. Actually getting hold of Tokyo is only part of the battle: fighting to keep it is quite another story!

Monsters in the Elevator is one of our favorites. It’s a cooperative game that brings math to the table. You’ve got a bunch of monsters, each with a different weight. You’ve got an elevator that goes up 20 floors. Monsters get on, monsters get off; monsters pass gas and clear out, monsters rush in to get to their destinations. You need to get that elevator up to the 20th floor, safely, so you need to keep your math skills sharp and maintain that weight! You can easily accommodate between 2 and 10 players, but I’d say anywhere between 3-6 is the best number. Younger kids can easily play this with help.

I couldn’t talk tabletop games without mentioning my first grader’s favorite game, Nightmarium. This one is fantastic for pre-readers all the way up to teens and adults. It’s a card-based game, and each monster comes in three parts: you have feet cards, body cards, and head cards. Monsters need to be built from the feet up, and you need to build five to win. Once you complete a monster, they have certain abilities that activate for that turn, depending on the cards making them up. We play this one a lot. It’s hilarious, and can be quite cutthroat. Enjoy.

 

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

The Holiday Shopping has started… buy some books!

It’s that time of year again, where I dig deep to find all sorts of great books to add to your holiday shopping lists. This is the first round, so I’m thinking this post will suggest books and goodies to bring when you celebrate Thanksgiving, or the Fall Harvest, with your families and friends. These books will be fun for the kiddie table – before the food, naturally!

City, by Ingela P. Arrhenius, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick Press), $22, ISBN: 9781536202571

Ages 3-7

This book is just too much fun. First of all, it’s huge: over 40 inches high by over 17 inches wide, making it almost as big as some of the kids you’ll be seeing this holiday season! My niece giggle-shrieked when I stood the book up next to her, and that was that. She was hooked. It’s a gorgeous, funky concept book, introducing readers to different sights of city life: streetlamps, subways, coffee shops, fountains, zoos, even skateboarders are all here, with retro chic, bright art. The only words are the descriptive words for each picture; the endpapers are loaded with pictures of the smaller details of city life: a cat, a server, a scale, a shrub.

Put this in front of the kids, and let them have at it. My niece and my son loved talking about things they recognized: my niece remembers taking a train to work with her mom, and my son talked up the subway when I took him into the city on our winter break. And they both pretended that I was in the coffee shop and the bookstore, so it’s nice to know they think of me.

City is a gorgeous gift book that can be a coffee table art book for kids, or a prompt for creativity. Its only limit is the imagination.

The Smithsonian Exploration Station sets are fantastic gifts. Bring one or two of these with you, and set the kids up in their own personal science labs while the food cooks.

Smithsonian Exploration Station: The Human Body, (Nov. 2018, Silver Dolphin Books), $21.99, ISBN: 9781626867215

Ages 4-10

The Smithsonian sets are contained in a nice, sturdy box that holds a lot of stuff. The Human Body box includes a 56-page fact book, 30 stickers, a plastic model skeleton kids can put together, and 25 fact cards. It’s similar to the Adventures in Science kit Silver Dolphin put out earlier this year, and my son loved them both. Learn what makes your blood pump, your muscles stretch and how your different systems come together to make you walk, run, eat, sleep, and play. Older kids can help younger kids with some basic terms and reading, and the littlest ones can still enjoy putting the stickers on the skeleton body while bigger kids help put the skeleton together.

 

Smithsonian Exploration Station: World Atlas, (Nov. 2018, Silver Dolphin Books), $21.99, ISBN: 9781626867208

Ages 4-10

This set was hands-down my son’s favorite set. A blow-up globe, a world map and stickers of landmarks from all over the world, and cardstock puzzles of the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, and a Mayan Pyramid? Plus, a 56-page fact book that tells readers all about the cool landmarks as they decorate their maps? SOLD. We spent three days working on the map, at which time he told me that he wants to see every single one of these sights. We built the cardstock models, which called for much dexterity – so I called my eldest son in to help, because I tend to become a little exuberant, shall we say, with my papercrafting. My son also loves his inflatable globe, and asks me to point out cool places to him; some from the map, some, the countries that his friends at school hail from, some, names of places he hears about on TV. It’s a great set.

 

Smithsonian Exploration Station: Space!, (Nov. 2018, Silver Dolphin Books), $21.99, ISBN: 9781626867222

Ages 4-10

Kids love planets! The Space! Exploration Station includes a 56-page fact book, astronaut and rocket plastic figurines, stickers, and glow in the dark stars to make their own constellations. There are incredible, full-color photographs and text that explains the makeup of our solar system, galaxies, planets, and constellations. Let the kids decorate your dining room to and eat under the stars!

Every single one of these kits is such fun, and urges kids to be curious and explore the world inside them and around them. If you have the budget for it, throw these in your distributor cart and get a few sets for your STEM/STEAM programming, too. The Smithsonian has a good science education channel on YouTube, with kid-friendly videos that make for good viewing.

 

Where’s Waldo? The Spectacular Spotlight Search, by Martin Handford, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536201765

Ages 5-9

Waldo’s back with a new trick: this time, the spreads have all gone dark! Luckily, the Spectacular Spotlight Search comes with a cool spotlight viewer to help you find him, and the challenges he sets out for you. There are six puzzles and a magic slider that slides into the scene to “light up” small sections – like a spotlight. Find Waldo and other familiar characters, plus other hidden challenges and games on each spread.  My 6-year-old and my 3-year-old niece had a blast with this book, eventually recruiting me for my Waldo-finding skills (narrator: The children were better.)

If you have puzzle and game fans in your family, this is a great gift to bring along. If you’re looking at it for your library, I suggest keeping it in reference; that spotlight will go missing or get beaten up in no time. But it’s good Waldo fun.

I have so much more to come, but I think this is a good start. A little something for everyone and plenty of hands-on fun!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Discover the secrets of Winterhouse!

Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson/Illustrated by Chloe Bristol, (Jan. 2018, Henry Holt & Co), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250123886

Recommended for readers 8-12

Elizabeth Somers is an 11-year-old orphan, living with her awful aunt and uncle. She has vague memories of the accident that took her parents’ lives, and a pendant around her neck, given to her by her mother. But a mysterious benefactor has paid for Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle to go on vacation over winter break, and she’s sent off to the Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the odd but kind Norbridge Falls. There, Elizabeth makes her first real friend – an inventor named Freddy, whose family sends him off to Winterhouse every winter break – and discovers a strange book in the library. She learns that the Winterhouse has some very deep secrets, but she’s not the only one trying to discover them: there’s a very creepy married couple that seems to be trying to figure things out, too. And why are they inviting her to tea? Mysteries abound in the first story of a new trilogy.

Winterhouse is loaded with puzzles for readers to piece together as they go. You’ve got a bookish heroine, a kid inventor who loves word puzzles almost as much as our heroine does, and a mystery code that will make or break our characters. There’s an awesome librarian, if I may say so myself, and a quirky proprietor whose secrets run deep: in short, a wonderful and group of characters that readers will enjoy adventuring with and discovering more about. Angular black and white illustrations by Chloe Bristol add interest to the book’s surroundings, and the beginning of each chapter provides a word ladder to introduce readers to a fun pastime that comes up throughout the novel. Other word games include anagrams, ambigrams, and a Vigenere Square – a code that holds the mystery to the story. Author Ben Guterson explains the puzzles and codes on his webpage. There are some great book references in Winterhouse, too: some of Elizabeth’s favorites include good readalike suggestions, like The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein. (I’d also add Jennifer Chambliss’ Book Scavenger and Greenglass House by Kate Milford.)

 

A fun beginning to a new middle grade series. Give this one to your code breakers, for sure.