Posted in Middle Grade, Tween Reads

STEAM project fun: Super Robot

Super Robot, by Arnaud Roi, (Oct. 2019, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764358302

Ages 6-12

This is one of those books that makes me think back to when I had punch-out paper doll books. They’re still around, albeit a little tougher to find, so I was really excited to get a copy of Super Robot in the mail from Schiffer Kids! Artist Arnaud Roi uses his love of the 1950s aesthetic to create a vintage-looking robot that kids can punch out and put together, creating a 2-foot-high paper structure.

Assembly instructions are detailed and take readers, step-by-step, through assembly; the assembly process is helpfully illustrated so you don’t get too turned around in the building process. The paper is sturdy and scored where necessary, to help with folding and assembling. The robot is a bright, bold combination of primary colors.

Younger scientists and paper artists will need a helping hand, but bigger creators should be able to work on this, no problem. It’s a fun idea for a Discovery Club activity, and small groups can work on one robot at a time, if your budget permits you to buy a few copies. Create a robot army, or an army of one – either way, Super Robot is a fun build that get kids working with their hands.

Pair with Adam Rubin’s Robo-Sauce, one of my favorite robot books: the book transforms into a Robo-Book. Have some Legos, and some robotics books around for your readers who are ready to explore more. I recommend NatGeo Kids’ Everything Robotics and National Geographics Readers: Robots.

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

The Bossy Pirate is facing a mutiny!

The Bossy Pirate, by John Steven Gurney, (Oct. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764356254

Ages 6-8

A little boy who goes by the pirate moniker “Salty Jack” plays pirate in his room, and invites – well, commands, really – his friends to come on board as his crew. As the title suggests, Salty Jack is not the greatest captain or playmate, continually reminding his friends that “I’m Captain! I give the orders!” and not letting anyone else have a say in their pirate game. When he tries to boss his sister, Millie the Mermaid, around, thought, she merely says, “Mermaids don’t take orders”, and leaves. Shortly after that, Jack’s other two friends have had it with his bossiness and leave, too. Jack broods, and blames his friends for ruining his fun; when Millie returns to ask him if his friends were having fun, too, he doesn’t answer. Jack discovers that being a solo pirate is no fun, and has a change of heart that brings all his mates back on board, where they hunt for lost treasure together.

A smart easy reader story about sharing and playing well together, The Bossy Pirate is a good read-aloud and a good independent book for newly confident readers. The sentences are slightly longer than beginning easy readers, and include imaginative words like scuttlebutt, barnacle, and nautical. Back matter includes a list of nautical terms that come up in the book, and a list of “nonsense words” that the pirate friends use. The artwork combines realistic and imaginative, with action going from Jack’s room to the high seas, where whales and dolphins glide and leap around a pirate ship. The group of friends is multicultural.

The Bossy Pirate is good fun with a smart message: it’s always better to play well together. Let the kids make their own newspaper pirate hats and have a pirate storytime.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

I Think I Can is a sight-word reader made for book buddies!

I Think I Can, by Karen S. Robbins/Illustrated by Rachael Brunson, (Jan. 2019, Schiffer Publishing), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764356919

Ages 5-7

How exciting! Karen Robbins, a Romper Room teacher in the 1960s, has realized a new career as a children’s book author. I loved her THINK board book series (2017) for its fun take on concept board books. Her latest book, I Think I Can, is great for emerging readers to practice together. Aardvark is convinced he can sing; his friend, Mouse, encourages him to sing a song, and acts as a supportive audience. Written in short, color-blocked sentences largely composed of sight words, kids can take turns being Aardvark (in blue font) and Mouse (in black font). A note in the beginning of the book explains how the book works, and the sentences model question-and-answer behavior, with Mouse repeating Aardvark’s statements as questions until it’s established that Aardvark will sing.

The artwork is spare and keeps the emphasis on the characters, each on their own page, set against a plain white background. Aardvark has large, expressive eyes and body language; Mouse relies more on body language and his big smile to communicate. The story itself reminds me of how a teacher would work with young children, explaining behavior as the story progresses. For instance, when Mouse is seated, waiting for Aardvark to sing, he says, “OK. I’m sitting in the chair. I’m looking at you. Let me hear you sing your song. Let me see the surprise.”

This works just as well as a storytime for preschoolers and pre-readers; there are actions that make the story interactive: Mouse hides his eyes in anticipation of a surprise; Aardvark’s song is sung to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat, allowing kids to clap along to the beat of the song, and Mouse applauds at the end, letting readers know they can jump in and clap, too.

This is a sweet story, great for pairing up your readers to practice. I hope Miss Karen has more stories like this to tell!

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

March Picture Books

Astro Pea, by Amalia Hoffman, (March 2019, Schiffer Publishing), $9.99, ISBN: 9780764356988

Ages 3-6

Pete the Pea pops out of his pod, finds a carrot rocket ship and blasts off into space! When his ship collides with a satellite, he’s rescued by a shuttle full of corn kernels, who also provide him with a ride back home to Earth. This adorable picture book stars a cast of vegetables posing as heavenly bodies. Pete zooms by cauliflower star clusters, asparagus satellites, corn shuttles, and mushroom parachutes. It’s a fun story about space and exploring, and a sweet story about making new friends.

The artwork is bright, with primary colors leaping off the jet black background of outer space. The anthropomorphic veggies have smiley little faces, and the simple artwork and text makes for an attention-grabbing storytime selection. Display, booktalk, and read Astro Pea with your healthy eating books, like Eating the Rainbow by Rena D. Grossman and Lois Ehlert’s classics, Growing Vegetable Soup or Eating the Alphabet.

The artwork also lends itself to an interactive storytime and craft. The artwork can be recreated with colorful chalk and black construction paper, letting the kids create their own outer space adventures. Make some felt veggies and let the kids identify each of them as they come up throughout the story. There so many ways to enjoy this adorable book – there’s even a free coloring page available through author Amalia Hoffman’s website. Astro Pea is a cute add to your picture book and storytime collections.

Bravo, Chico Canta, Bravo!, by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez/Illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling, Translated by Elena Iribarren, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $9.95, ISBN: 9781773062198

Ages 7-10

Originally released in hardcover in 2014, this mouse tale is all about the benefits of being bilingual. This release is the paperback version, written by superstar author Pat Mora and her daughter, Libby Martinez. Chico Canta is the youngest mouse in his family; they live in a theatre and love to watch the performances, and yelling “Bravo!” along with the audiences.The family loves the theatre so much, they decide to put on their own production, getting right to work. But Gato-Gato, the cat, is always sneaking around, and Chico saves the day when he uses his own knack for languages to alert everyone on opening night.

This is such an adorable story, embracing the gift of a multi-lingual household. Chico’s mom, Mrs. Canta, speaks many languages (English, Spanish, Italian, Cricket, Spider, and Moth) and encourages her children to develop their own skills. Chico saves the day when he uses his own developing language skill – a dog’s bark – to scare off the cat and save the day. The family works together on the production, everyone working on their own task. The artwork is full of rich color, with adorable animal faces. An author’s note from Pat Mora describes how she and her daughter were inspired to write the story after reading a book of Mexican-American folktales. An inspirational add to collections, especially in communities with multicultural families. I’m always telling parents at my library that the more languages kids know, the better!

Friends, by Geraldo Valério, (March 2019, Groundwood Books), $19.95, ISBN: 9781773061023

Ages 3-6

A girl and her frog go fishing, but are disappointed when the fish aren’t biting. She and the frog start making silly faces in the water, and their reflections come to life! The girl’s reflection transforms into a mermaid, and the two sets of friends enjoy a day of underwater adventure where the two girls discover glowing pearls, which they turn into matching necklaces. It’s a sweet, wordless story about friendship and imagination, with bright pastel, color pencil, and acrylic artwork. Pre-readers will love to look at the pictures and tell you what they see happening. Invite your readers to draw their own underwater adventure.

There’s wonderful detail in every spread, with little seahorses and jellyfish popping up. The frogs have their own little underwater romp, so encourage your readers to spot them! This one is a cute additional add to your wordless books.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Detectives Fox and Goat are on the case!

The Missing Bouncy Ball, by Misti Kenison, (Oct. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764356001

Ages 1-4

A little girl’s ball bounces out of her backpack! Luckily, Detectives Fox and Goat are on the case. They search through spreads, identifying different balls, and eliminating them from consideration by identifying properties that set them apart from the bouncy ball: color, size, shape, texture. When they reunite the bouncy ball with Emma, its owner, they congratulate one another and get ready for their next adventure.

I’ve been a fan of Misty Kenison’s Young Historians series, so when I saw her name on the Fox and Goat books, I knew I was in for something fun. I love the question and answer pattern her books take, letting readers learn to spot clues as they go. The end Bouncy Ball recaps the clues used to find the bouncy ball, reminding kids of the steps they took to arrive at the conclusion. Sharp-eyed readers will notice the bouncy ball’s location a few times through the book, too.

 

The Lost Race Car, by Misti Kenison, (Oct. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764355998

Ages 1-4

Detectives Fox and Goat return for their next great mystery: a little boy’s race car disappears! Using concept clues, the two sleuths sniff out the details to solve the case: colors, number of wheels, weight, length, and slightly more complex characteristics, like roads traveled. When they reunite Jayden with his car, they share a congratulatory fist bump and share their clues, at the end, to remind readers of the concepts used to solve the mystery.

These are such great books! The digital artwork is bright, bold, and eye-catching. The question and answer pattern to each spread invites kids to think, explore, and solve the mysteries as they go, and offers the chance to talk about other colors/textures/sizes/shapes on the pages. Once again, sharp-eyed readers will notice the race car lingering around as they get closer to solving the case.

I just read these in a Saturday storytime with a mixed group of kids: two toddlers, a first grader, and three middle graders, all of whom got a kick out of the story. The toddlers loved pointing to the cars and balls on each page; the first grader was my sharp-eyed reader who spotted the missing items as they popped up in spreads, and the first and middle graders all loved pointing out the characteristics that set them apart from the item in question. I’m looking forward to more Fox and Goat Mysteries for my toddlers and preschoolers, for sure. A nice add to concept and board book collections.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

A haunting across decades: A Promise Stitched in Time

A Promise Stitched in Time, by Colleen Rowan Kosinski, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0-7643-5554-7

Ages 10-13

Eighth grader Maggie McConnell is still grieving the loss of her father to cancer. The budding artist is agonizing over a project that will get her into the prestigious Peabody Academy; it was a promise she made to her father and herself. When she discovers a an old coat at her local thrift store, she’s drawn to it and buys it on the spot. Immediately, she begins having hallucinations about starving, burning chimneys, cruel voices and beatings, and terrifying dogs waiting to attack. She sees visions of a girl wearing the coat and reminding her of a promise made to a girl named Gittel. Turning to her friend Taj for help, the two try to unravel the source of the haunting. Meanwhile, Maggie is at odds with her popularity-obsessed sister, Patty, who doesn’t agree with Maggie’s choice in clothing or friends. As Maggie works toward the heart of the mystery, she discovers that Mrs. Berk, an elderly resident at a nursing home where Maggie teaches art, plays a key role.

A Promise Stitched in Time has an interesting main story that gets lost in its attempt to create a paranormal story. Having a coat haunted by a spirit of its former owner – a girl who died at Auschwitz – is an interesting concept on its own. Maggie’s father’s story seems to be more of a plot device that gets in the way, and the story’s resolution felt rushed, overcrowded in an already full narrative. It starts off strong, but ultimately left me wanting more.

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

Dinosaurs books for the arts and sciences!

The 50 State Fossils: A Guidebook for Aspiring Paleontologists, by Yinan Wang/Illustrations by Jane Levy, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $18.99, ISBN: 9780764355578

Ages 7-12

You know that states have their own flags. You probably even knew that states have their own trees, foods, and animals, but did you know that most states have their own fossils? It’s true! 50 State Fossils give readers a state-by-state look at each one. Maryland’s state fossil, for instance, is a Sea Snail, while Michigan’s is a Mastodon – a mammal similar to elephants and mammoths. Some state fossils are plants: Oregon’s is a Dawn Redwood, while North Dakota’s is Shipworm-Bored Petrified Wood. Each entry includes a photo and illustration of the fossil (or proposed fossil, for those states that don’t have a state fossil); a state map with a designated area where fossils can be found in that state; and a brief notation on the fossil: when the fossil dates from, when it was designated a state fossil, scientific names, and a paragraph or two about the fossil.

The State Fossils are the meat of the book, but this slim volume is packed with information for budding paleontologists: there are sections on how fossils form, how a state fossil is designated, dating fossils and the geologic time scale, and taxonomic rank.  There’s a glossary, a state-by-state breakdown of where to see fossils, and further reading. Endpapers are a colorful mix of various flora and fauna that can be found in the book.

50 State Fossils is one of those books a kid will carry to the museum to refer to while wandering through exhibits (I know I used to) and makes for a great book to give dino fans. It’s a nice add to nonfiction collections and a good gift idea.

 

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur, by Amy Newbold/Illustrated by Greg Newbold, (Oct. 2018, Tilbury House), $17.95, ISBN: 9780884486671

Ages 4-8

This follow up to 2017’s If Picasso Painted a Snowman is an enjoyable look at dinosaurs and art history. The hamster guide is back, escorting readers through an art gallery of different artists’ takes on dinosaurs, from a da Vinci-esque Virtruvian Dino, through Katusushika Hokusai’s giant wave (with dinosaurs wave surfing), and itty bitty dinosaurs hiding in Diego Rivera’s lilies. Who would da Vinci really paint, though, if he were painting dinosaurs? Why, Dino Lisa, of course! Readers are encouraged to copy a page sporting a blank easel and make their own dinosaur artwork, and featured artists get capsule biographies at the end, along with the dinosaur species designated to their paintings. A word from artist Greg Newbold encourages readers to draw, explore, and have fun on their own artist journeys. Endpapers inspired by Henri Matisse’s paper cutouts lead the reader in and usher them out, hopefully with a head full of ideas.

This book is just too much fun! It’s a great way to introduce art and science to kids, and begs for a program where kids can learn about artists and create their own dinosaurs. I’d have used this in my art storytime, for sure. (So maybe I need to dust that storytime off and revisit it.) Booktalk and feature in an art storytime with Lucy Volpin’s Crocdali; David Wiesner’s Art & Max; My Museum by Joanne Liu, and Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter. This one’s an absolute add to collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Even more ways to Change the World Before Bedtime!

Change the World Before Bedtime (2nd Edition), a collaboration by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good (October 2018, Schiffer Publishing). $16.99, ISBN: 9780764355813

Recommended for ages 4-8

An updated version of the 2014 book – one of my favorite go-tos for storytime and class visits – gives kids even more ways to be a positive force for change in the world. The rhyming story encourages self-care – eating healthy, dreaming your dreams, surrounding yourself with friends – to get the energy to spread happiness and goodwill by performing good deeds. The book encourages kids to make friends and include everyone; donate time and raise money to help those less fortunate, and take care of the earth by recycling and composting. Other new additions include added back matter, where kids can add their good deeds to-do list and their own “happy word” clouds; there are happy words from around the world, including Swahili, Hebrew, Haitian Creole, and Romanian. There’s a superhero cape activity that encourages kids to decorate a pillowcase cape, mapping to a spread in the book where kids wear their own superhero capes. There are suggestions for adult-kid collaboration, and updated endpapers encourage kids to make their own bookplate at the front of the book; a smiling earth says “Thank you” in a variety of different languages at the close.

The art is adorable, the message is upbeat and optimistic, and the message is clear: everyone has the ability to make positive changes in our world.

Change the World Before Bedtime is a good book to add to your activism/social justice collections. Display, booktalk, and read with The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson; Pass it On by Sophy Henn; 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World, by Melanie Walsh, and Maybe Something Beautiful by Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books

Can a good egg set a bad apple straight?

Good Egg and Bad Apple, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Luke Graber, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764356032

Ages 5-8

Bad Apple is a bully. He taunts all the other food, and his Second Banana – a literal banana – is right there, egging him on (no pun intended. Okay, maybe a little). Good Egg stands his ground and when the bullies start on him, Egg pulls the one weapon out of his arsenal that he thinks has a chance of working: he tells Apple a joke. Sure enough, the humor eases the tension, and Apple joins Egg’s group of friends.

Good Egg and Bad Apple is a fable of sorts, with food standing in to teach kids about bullying and why some bullies do it. In this case, the bully was bullied – sour grapes called Bad Apple names – and as the old saying goes, “hurt people hurt people”. Egg tried to reason with his bully, and it worked. It’s a perfect situation in a perfect world, but if it stops one kid from bullying another, I’ll take it.

The author also uses puns and idioms throughout the story. a glossary at the end explains both forms of speech and provides a list of wordplay used in the story, like “Let us help him”, a quote from Lettuce. The full-page artwork gives the food exaggerated expressions, with large, expressive eyes and wide open mouths (bad guys have a single tooth, to look like quintessential tough guys). Good Egg and Bad Apple works as an additional purchase for morality and bullying collections.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A Chesapeake Fable: Wind and Oyster Jack

Wind and Oyster Jack, by Marcia G. Moore/Illustrated by Heather Crow, (Nov. 2017, Schiffer Publishing), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764354229

Recommended for readers 6-10

Oyster Jack is a Chesapeake Bay waterman, out on his boat, Dinah, harvesting oysters. Their friend, Wind, helps them by lifting Dinah’s sails and allowing the boat to move. The weather is getting chilly, though, and Wind is cold. She asks Oyster Jack to share his coat and his blanket, but he can’t – he needs them for himself! – so Wind goes off to find a coat of frost, and a blanket of snow, that she hears about on Jack’s radio. They don’t fit Wind, and Oyster Jack and Dinah are stuck without Wind. Finally, Oyster Jack comes up with a solution that will make everyone happy.

This sweet story, set in the Chesapeake Bay area, is a nice way to introduce different areas of the States to readers, and a good way to talk about the different careers that flourish in different areas and environments. There’s an explanation of the skipjack – the type of boat watermen use when they go out harvesting – at the end, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a good section on the area’s geography and facts; the Maryland Sea Grant website has a section on the oyster trade and current restoration efforts. The narrative sounds much like a modern-day fable, with the Wind interacting as a living being with Oyster Jack; the resolution explains the windsock’s origin.

This is a text-heavy story, making it a good choice for older readers who can process deeper and longer text. The artwork appears to be watercolor and has an Impressionist feel. The wind has a visible face, and breathes in swirls that cascade through each spread. The light glimmers on the water, and the snow softly blankets the town. Most pages are full-bleed; a few exceptions for large blocks of text are plain, bright white. Bunches of oysters set the tone on the endpages.

If you want to introduce readers to the Chesapeake Bay area, this is a good place to start.