Thursday, December 1, 2011

Breaking the Reading Slump: Holiday Preview

Breaking from the reading slump isn't easy.  You get a little lazy and other hobbies take over and your books sit unread.  I am not sure if everyone has these slumps, but at my house they are often.  This time: visiting with family and friends, decorating for the holidays, crafting Christmas gifts, and being a mom all came before reading.  I did manage to finish several Christmas gift projects, start on my holiday shopping, and I even found some fun new winter recipes to cook for my family.   

I don’t want you to think I haven’t read at all!  I took out some holiday/winter books to share with Lil Guy including by Lois Ehlert’s Snowballs, a fun DK Christmas Touch and Feel book, and My First Chanukah by Tomie dePaola.  These three books are read several times a day with a few others (reviews soon, I promise!) and placed in a Christmas Basket near our fireplace. 

Personally I have always enjoyed reading holiday books.  I love holiday romances or children’s books with holiday settings.  There is something about holiday books that make you feel a special connection.  Knowing that others celebrate with their families,  hearing about a little Christmas magic, or connecting to the ancient stories that we still celebrate today, these stories just make me feel good.  This December, I hope to highlight some of my favorites and I can’t wait to read from others about their favorite holiday books and traditions. 

So, I am ready to break the reading slump with holiday reading and other books.  I welcome the snow, long winter’s nights, and books that inspire imagination and keep me feeling warm inside.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bigger Than a Breadbox Review

If you are like me, when you were a child, you understood that magic wasn’t real but part of you always wished and hoped that just a little bit of magic would happen for you.  Maybe it was reading books that had a little magic or maybe it was feeling like my life was a little too plain, but I always secretly hoped magic would touch my life.  When I was about ten years old I read a book about a girl who orders some magical concoction that allows her to sprout wings from her back.  Since then I secretly wanted wings.  I didn’t even want to fly necessarily, I just wanted the magical experience.  I imagined what I would do with wings.  Would I hide them?  Show them off?  Would it change me?  Could I still go to school?  These are such childlike thoughts and feelings.  These are just some of the thoughts that I was thinking and feeling as I read Laurel Snyder’s book, Bigger Than a Breadbox.

Rebecca has just seen her family tear apart and is stunned to find herself moving away from her father and the only home she knows.  She doesn’t want things to change, but when she is forced into this new place, she happens to find a little magic in the form of a breadbox.  The breadbox can make things appear.  All she has to do is wish and inside the breadbox she finds treats, an ipod, school supplies, gum, money, and more.  She uses this magic to make friends, please her mother, and quiet her younger brother.  Rebecca enjoys herself but, everything has consequences.  Now, she realizes that the magic may be affecting other people and it gets her into trouble too.  She tries to turn things around, but it may be too late to save her family.

Loved the concept of this book.  Loved reading it.  I have told a few people about it, and I loved that too.  This book was written for young girls like me who secretly wished and hoped for just a little magic.  I was thinking as I read it:  What would I wish for?  Who would I tell?  Would it change my life?  This book was full of thought and imagination. It was sweet and creative, exciting and touching, everything you hope for when you pick up a book.  I see it as an instant classic like Freckle Juice, The Chocolate Touch, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  I can’t wait to use this in my classroom and see how kids react to it.  Everything about the book would lend it to reading, learning, writing, and sharing.  I recommend this book without reservation to middle grades and up.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this book continue in popularity over the years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bun Bun Button Review

There is something magical in Patricia Polacco’s books.  She creates a special story that draws people into the words and pictures.  My very first years of teaching, I remember reading and falling in love with her work.  Always popular in classrooms, Polacco writes for children’s imaginations, but also connects with adult readers.  Her writing and messages are mature enough for middle grades, but innocent enough to make readers of all ages smile and imagine along with the characters.  This is what we love about Ms. Polacco and her books.

Bun Bun Button continues Polacco’s theme of childhood innocence with a story about Paige, a young girl who shares magical days with her grandmother.  The connection between the two is obvious as they share laughs, adventures, and a big comfy chair.  Grandmother adds a new friend to their special kinship when she introduces Bun Bun Button.  Bun Bun Button is the cutest little bunny with button eyes and a special ear that has the perfect place to put your finger as you nap or sleep. (What a great idea!) When Bun Bun Button goes on an adventure all on his own, Paige misses her little friend.  In the end Bun Bun Button has a fun adventure and returns home to her little girl, just a little worse for the ware. 

Beautiful as always, this book was lovely.  I did enjoy the story, the illustrations, and the author’s note about a little girl bringing Ms. Polacco a Bunny during a book signing.  I wonder how primary students feel about reading about about such a young girl, but the story will hopefully reach them, teach them, and spark imagination as always.  Perfect in the classroom or reading on a big comfy chair with your grandmother, this book is a classic Patricia Polacco for libraries and classrooms.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: Fake Me a Match

If you are in the mood for a sweet book with middle school kids who have middle school insecurities, mild drama, and charming characters, I have a suggestion for you.  Fake Me a Match is the perfect read for middle school girls who always wish they had a sister, best friend, boyfriend, or classmate who was a real and sincere friend.  Author Lauren Barnholdt really knew her audience for this book and catered the story to appeal to girls who might think a lot about friendships and boys.  There really isn’t anything wrong with that, in a book like this.  

Avery has friends at school, but things haven’t been the same since her former best friend dumped her and became part of the popular crowd.  Her situation at home might give her a solution when her mother is remarrying and Avery gains a step-sister, Blake.  Blake can be a little aloof, but also has her sweet moments too.  So, when Avery has the chance to fix Blake up with her crush, Avery can’t resist.  That’s when everything seems to go wrong: the crush has his eye on someone else, Avery is caught in the middle of a school scandal, and Blake becomes close with Avery’s ex-best friend. 

This book includes a little bit of something for everyone including a wedding, school projects, parties, pets, first kisses, and student council.  This is exactly the kind of book I might have been interested in as a sixth grader.  The cover, to me, could have been just a bit more appealing to girls: c’mon, weddings, new sisters, and cute dog-loving boys.  The best you came up with was a cartoonish girl on a computer?  I hope it still can find its way into the hands of the 10 to 13 yr old crowd.  Otherwise this book was a win for me.  It will also be popular with middle schoolers looking for a tame but updated book about light middle school drama.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Putting My Teacher Hat On.
Review: Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life

So, I read Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson.  I laughed.  I read and enjoyed the pictures.  I even felt for the young character in the book, Rafe, who seems to really have the worst middle school experience accompanied by the best imagination ever.  But.  (You knew there was a but!) But, I am a teacher.  I was groaning as Rafe was claiming to ‘not hurt anyone’ while simultaneously steal educational time from his classmates and torment his teachers.  I taught in several inner city schools.  I have had my share of students who didn’t feel like the rules applied to them.  I know it’s a sport to them sometimes.  Trying to get the teacher to raise her voice, attempting to get kicked out of class, breaking rules one by one: all for attention or a game.  That is why this book wasn’t my favorite.
All that being said, students will like this book.  It’s sophisticated enough to appeal to middle school boys who like trouble and share secret thoughts of breaking rules to break the monotony of middle school, yet will appeal to students who like funny gags, hilarious drawings, and a story with a semi-happy ending.  I would totally put this book into the hand of any student who fit that bill.  But, the book was not for me.  I am guessing the writer and publishing juggernaut, James Patterson will get over it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Crocodaddy

Crocodaddy by Kim Norman and illustrated by David Walker is one of those books that we fell in love with at my house.  A rhyming story about a young boy whose imagination makes him believe that his father is a crocodile, this story is charming and sweet.  The illustrations are beautifully done to show a father and son playing in the water, but cleverly showing a croc’s body (sometimes with dad’s swim trunks and shadow).  The rhymes are perfect with splashes and roars punctuating a rhythmic day at a good old swimming spot.

There is just a lot to love about this book.  It may not win awards or get on any best seller list, but it’s a treasure to read, especially if you are a father reading to your son.  My Lil Guy loves to laugh about this one with his dad.  There is something about the book that makes the reader feel like they are in on a secret, which is fun and gives a sense of confidence to the youngest “readers”. Maybe it’s also the beautiful pictures of a young boy spending quality time with his dad that also make this book appealing.  Either way, I recommend Crocodaddy to fathers and sons, families who value quality time, reading books, and sharing a laugh.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I was Wonderstruck, Were you?

Wonderstruck has been greeted with a great deal of excitement and anticipation.  The book, written by Brian Selznick, is full of both words and pictures, that is to say: beautiful and stunning pictures and words.  The pictures tell the story of a young girl, Rose, in the 1920’s while the words tell the story of a boy, Ben, in the 1970’s.  The stories are interesting and told with a sense of urgency.  I flew through this book even though it’s a very large book.  I hadn’t felt a book that was this heavy since I read some of those huge Jean Auel in college.  I felt so compelled to find how these 2 stories were connected; I couldn’t put the book down.  I was struck by how the pictures pulled me into the book.

Ben’s story begins in Minnesota in the 1970’s.  He is dealing with the recent death of his mother and his partial deafness.  His story is already full of sadness and pain when tragedy occurs and he loses his hearing completely.  The only hope Ben can see in his life is a few clues he has found to the whereabouts of his father whom he has never met.  Rose’s story, set in New York in the 1920’s,  is full of mystery and action as she runs away to the big city to find a famous screen star.  The stories share a connection when each child ends up at a New York museum.  Ben continues to look for his father while Rose connects with someone at the museum too.  Each story has twists, turns, excitement, and distress.   

I enjoyed this book so much!  I couldn’t put it down and finished it in one sitting.  Selznick is a master at his craft, creating a new genre of books that will spark imagination and take readers on a ride.  Both Rose and Ben are carefully created characters with childlike actions and feelings.  You may not predict their actions, but they feel very real and true anyway.  Ben is that sensitive kid with a passion for collecting, while Rose is an adventurous girl who likes to create.  Plus, the resolution was satisfying and heart-warming.  This book won’t disappoint young readers or adults.  This is the kind of book that inspires all who read it.  It’s also the kind of book that I can’t wait to share with my Lil Guy when he reaches the right age.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thanksgiving Tradtion
Review: Balloons over Broadway

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade is more art than book, but that’s not to make light of the beautiful words that accompany author Melissa Sweet’s masterpiece of a book.  The book is so detailed, so lovely, so charming that even if the content weren’t appealing, you might still like it, but Sweet has chosen an inspiring topic for her picture book.  This non-fiction book tells about the man who first planned out and created the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  If you are anything like me, Thanksgiving is all about family, turkey, football, and of course, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  As a lifelong viewer of the parade on our family room TV, I was surprised and had my heart warmed as I read this story.

Tony Sarg was the mastermind behind the large looming balloons that have become synonymous with the Thanksgiving holiday.  From when he was just a child he could imagine and build puppets that became lifelike.  When he was called upon to build a moving window display, Sarg created a beautiful scene, but Macy’s wanted more.  In one of the book’s most (to me) surprising pieces of information; Macy’s created the Thanksgiving Day Parade for its own immigrant workers who were missing their own holidays and traditions.  So, Sarg used his puppeteer skills to create the oversized balloons inspired by the street parades and carnivals of immigrant’s own memories of home.  The result became a national tradition that is part of many of our own Thanksgiving holidays.

I love this book.  I was stunned at the beautiful artwork.  Each page features mixed media that seems almost tactile on the pages.  Author Melissa Sweet hasn’t made a picture book to appeal to children, but to everyone’s visual sense using layers of paint, drawings, collage, and text.  I can’t tell you how impressive this book was to hold in my hands.  I wasn’t surprised to find that Sweet has already been honored for her previous work by a Caldecott Medal Honor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this non-fiction gem also garnered attention from Children’s Literature awards.  Like The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Balloons over Broadway should become part of Thanksgiving tradition.  It’s beautiful and worth all the praise I am sure it will soon be getting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Keep on Trucking
Review: The Trucker

Is your little one obsessed over just one toy or theme that drives you crazy?  In The Trucker, by Barbara Samuels, one mother endures reading after re-reading of her son’s favorite book plus trucks at every moment from finding truck in her oatmeal to being used as a human construction set covered with vehicles.  She knows that her son is a trucker at heart, but a mom can only take so much, right?  Finally mom decides to take her little boy for a walk in the neighborhood intent on finding new interests.  When Mom tries to show flowers, the boy spies a garbage truck.  When she thinks he might warm to a new cat, he still isn’t interested.  Even when the cat comes home, trucks are the star of playtime.  The fun, albeit predictable, twist comes when the cat joins the boy in playing and turns out to love trucks too.

The book is fun from start to finish.  It’s a delight to read with pictures of the exasperated mother sitting in an overstuffed chair reading about tropical vacations while her son obsesses over his trucks.  It’s so believable and funny.  Like most toddlers, my Lil Guy has his own obsessions that drive me a little crazy.  (I mean, how many time can you put together and take apart Mr. Potato Head?)  I think parents will giggle and laugh at the book right along with children.  Especially if your child likes trucks and anything on wheels, you will enjoy this book and so will your child.  Author/Ilustrator Barbara Samuels won me over with mom-approved illustrations and a story that charmed me and my Lil Guy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Want Something to Smile About?

You know when you read a good book and you just can’t wait to share it with someone?  How about when you read a book and something reminds you of a family member or friend?  Do you ever read a book and have to call a friend and demand that they read it too?  I love reading so much, I can’t wait to share it with other people.  Maybe that’s the reason that I love teaching reading so much.  I read a good book and I can’t wait to put it into the hands of others.  I also have this urge to put the perfect book into the hands of each student in my classroom.  If you like animals, video games, spooky mysteries, or even just love a story about falling in love, I like finding that book for you.  Sometimes though, a story just makes you smile.  If you are like me, you want other people to smile too … so you have to share that book that made you smile, pass it on, recommend it to a friend.  Write about it online. Share your smile with someone else!


Smile by Raina Telgemeier really did make me smile.  I had heard about the book but, I avoided it because I wasn’t really sure about graphic novels.  Finally, I took the plunge to read Smile.  The book had me smiling from the start because of the connection to Girl Scouts which is an organization that I have been involved with for over 30 years.  Seeing the characters in Girl Scout uniforms warmed my heart and I know that I was going to connect deeper with the novel as I continued to read.  The pain, agony, and difficult situations might not have mirrored those I had in junior high, but I remembered feeling awkward and out of place, just like Raina.

Main character, Raina, has major issues when she has a mishap involving her teeth.  It seems like trouble follows her, first forcing her into major orthodontia, then having to endure painful operations and teasing, all in her early teen years.  Despite all of her troubles, Raina manages to have a few smiles, learn a few tough lessons, and come out on the other side a stronger person.  Told in Graphic novel format, we are given a glimpse into many different parts of Raina life, meeting her family, friends, classmates, and dentists.  Everything from love and friendship, to schoolwork and family life are covered.

I enjoyed meeting Raina.  I enjoyed it so much; I made my husband read the book, then my mother.  I put the book and their hands and let the book draw them in, the way it drew me in.  That’s how a good book can make people feel.  I felt connected, I wanted others to connect, and they did!  I loved this book and am now willing to admit, I was surprised by how easy the graphic novel format was to read.  I might have had to look back at pictures to gain understanding of some of the storylines, but overall the story flowed effortlessly.  I can see why middle grade and YA readers like these books.  So, Smile made me smile.  I enjoyed the personal journey author Raina Telgemeier shared with readers, and I will happily read more of what she has to offer.  (And I might just make others read it too!)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Positively Recommend ...

Positively by Courtney Sheinmel is a beautiful and thought provoking novel about a teen girl that is HIV positive.  When we meet Emmy, she is 13 and her mother has just passed away from complications due to the AIDS virus.  She is scared and lonely and everything in her life has changed in this moment.  She will have to go live with her father and step-mother who is expecting a child soon.  The reality of living with HIV is tough for Emmy who can’t seem to fit in anywhere anymore.  Her friends at school don’t understand.  Her step-mother is too neat and overbearing.  Her father isn’t help either.  By the time Emmy’s emotions boil over, she has pushed away her best friend, disappointed her father, and scared her step-mother into suggesting that Emmy be sent away for the summer to a camp for others that are HIV positive.

Emmy resists joining the fun at camp.  She finally doesn’t feel different, but can’t seem to move forward.  Throughout the book, Emmy is insightful and sincere, sharing her story with deep emotion and feeling.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 13 year old narrator dealing with so much.  I was pleasantly surprised and moved by the story.  Emmy shows real anger, perspective, fear, and in the end makes positive changes in her life.  In simple narrative in the back of the book, Courtney Sheinmel tells her story of growing up being a volunteer of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, befriending Glaser and her family.  Sheinmel drew on her experience working with the foundation to write Positively.   While this book dealt with real-life difficulties, pain, and life and death I felt really good after reading the story.  It teaches important lessons about how to stay positive, that everyone makes mistakes, and walks young adult readers through a life with HIV.  I hope YA readers are able to gain empathy and perspective on children with health problems like this.  I would recommend this book to 6th graders and up.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Guest Blog: Ready Player One Review

My blog is new.  New to me, new to everyone.  I enjoy reading these books and really enjoy writing the reviews and making any connection I can with other bloggers, authors, teachers, readers, and mothers.  As I continue to read more and more, I noticed my blog is having an impact on others in my life including my husband who reads my blog daily and has picked up a few of the books I have reviewed or talked about.  Recently, he read a YA book that he thought deserved a little blog time, so I thought I would do a short interview about the book and write about it for the blog.  Here we go:

So, you read a YA book and want me to talk about it on my blog.  What’s the book and what made you want to read it?  The book is Ready Player One, the first novel by Ernest Cline.  He is the screen writer of one of my favorite movies, Fanboys.  I heard about it while listening to a podcast.  He was interviewed and the book sounds like a lot of fun.

Is this book outside your reading genre?  I usually read sci-fi novels, so this is close to what I usually read.  The book is science fiction.  It takes place about 30 years in the future in a dystopian society.  Most common and popular form of information is this thing called OASIS.  It’s like a on-line game/internet/virtual reality.

So, Dystopian society books are really popular with readers in YA.  Did you enjoy reading this type of book?  Would you read more books like that? Yes, but the real draw for me wasn’t the portrayal of the bleak future.  It was a book just packed full of 1980’s pop-culture references.  The plot of the book centers on finding a series of Easter eggs left by the creator of Oasis.  This guy was a big nerd growing up in the 80’s.  Whoever solves the puzzle gets a multi-billion dollar fortune.  All the clues to the puzzle are just these references to 80’s pop-culture.  The egg-hunters all study 1980’s pop-culture to educate themselves for the ‘game’.

So …. Were you a big nerd growing up in the 80’s? Yes.

It sounds like you really enjoyed reading this book.  Who else do you think would enjoy reading it?  Middle school and high school students who have a love of video games, as well as Fanboys in their 30’s and 40’s who fondly look back on growing up in the 80’s would really like this book.  

Anything else you want to share about reading this book?  The book did make me laugh and I really didn’t want to put it down once I started reading.  I don’t think I have been this pleasantly surprised about reading something that I didn’t know a lot about going into it since I read the first Harry Potter book.  I have a couple of friends I would really like to recommend read it.

Excellent, that is what a reading community is all about, sharing your reading, great reads, thoughts during reading, etc. with others.  Thanks for talking with me.  I am going to post this on the blog.  Do you have a next book that you are going to read now?  I think we are going to read Darth Paper Strikes Back together, right? Yep.  Love reading together.  :)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Books Worth a Second Look

Since my last edition of Books Worth a Second Look I did finish (and reviewed) The Duff, I also read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.  I continue to read (and enjoy) parts of Anna and the French Kiss. The real story here is that I got caught up in a book that wasn’t motivating me to read.  For whatever reason, I was stuck about half-way through Bumped.  The story was interesting and I think it would have appeal to teen girls.  I just couldn’t suspend belief enough to finish the book.  I hate putting books down, but after reading Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, I know I have permission to put books down and I am sending this one back to the library.  Now I am ready to choose a new book!  Here are a few books on my To Be Read pile these days:

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
I was already excited about this book after reading several reviews.  I saw the huge displays in the bookstores too.  By huge displays, I have to say that the book itself is HUGE!  I was a little overwhelmed at the idea of reading that huge of a YA book.  I finally set my sights on the book at our local store and decided to pick it up.  Opening up the book was like a treasure!  I quickly read through the first five or six chapter and realized the book was exciting and a new literary experience.  I am ready to read this book and get lost in the story!  I also wonder if we'll be seeing more books with this fascinating half pictures, half story format.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier
This quirky graphic novel has me thinking that maybe (maybe!) I would enjoy this book.  I am not only intimidated, but also unsure about graphic novels.  I don’t even know how to read them!  Do I scan the page and pictures first?  Do I read the dialogue boxes in a certain order?  I feel like a thirty something year old virgin when it comes to reading graphic novels!!!  So, I have heard good things about this book and I feel I am ready to take the plunge!  I may not have worn orthodontia, but I had many other awkward things in my middle school years!

Bigger than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder
Love, love, love the concept of this book.  I want it in my hands!  I have read enough reviews to be 100% intrigued by the plot.  Here is what I hear about the book: The new girl in town (love it) is dealing with difficult family situations when a little magic (love it) comes her way.   What’s not to love about this book?  This book screams to be used in the classroom, right?  I am excited to read this book and review it for others, so it’s a front-runner on my to-be-read list.   
The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson
Here is another admission from me:  I played with dolls until it was embarrassing.  I remember writing about making my own doll clothes in middle school which garnered laughter from my classmates.  I don’t keep dolls in my house now or have doll-like collectibles being a parent to a Lil Guy who likes balls and books more than anything.  (Yes, I tried gauging his interest in dolls, but he doesn’t really care for them.  Even at his grandmother’s house where the toy baskets have a bit of everything, he ignores the dollbabies.)  Anyway, I heard about this book which focuses on dolls sent as a symbol of friendship from pre-WWII Japan to girls in the United States.   I like the connections between the 2 countries, the time period, and the concept.  I hope I would enjoy the book as well.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Books or Treat
Review: Scaredy Cat, Splat

I admit, I am a sucker for holiday books.  Just like decorating the house, I love to get in the spirit by reading Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, Halloween, and everything in between.  I love spending my winter break wrapped in a warm blanket with a holiday novel.  That’s why Lil Guy’s book shelves have their fair share of Halloween and Autumn books.  I was pulling all of these books off the bookshelf to make sure they gain some heavy rotation before the holiday comes and goes when I found Scaredy Cat, Splat by Rob Scotton.  Opening up the front cover I saw an inscription to Lil Guy from his grandparent’s from last Halloween.  I am happy now we’ll get to read this book a couple of times this year (and for years to come).  I also want to just express how much I love books as gifts, especially with inscriptions!  It’s a joy to read a book and put Lil Guy’s hand over the inscriptions and remind him of his family and friends who share their love of books.  So, give a book … and don’t forget to write a short inscription to remind others that you want to share your love of books with others.

Scaredy Cat, Splat by Rob Scotton

Splat is a big and clumsy cat who is the star of Rob Scotton’s series, Splat.  These picture books are funny and short, offering a comical look at a young cat who always falls into trouble.  In this installment of the series, Scaredy Cat, Splat, it’s Halloween.  We find Splat at school with his classmates who are competing for the title of Scariest Cat.  While Splat is more scared then scary, he spooks his whole class and then sends them into a fit of laughter when his jack-o-lantern lands on his head.

Being a teacher, I always enjoy books that include a little part about school routines.  This book includes a teacher doing a spooky (but not too scary) read-aloud.  What could be better than a book that promotes reading aloud in the classroom????  I did read this book to my Lil Guy who was interested in the story, especially the spooky parts which were more cute than anything.  I am sure I will read this a few more times in the next week.  I could also see this book being read in a classroom to any K – 3rd grade classroom.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Non-Fiction Picture Book
Review: I Will Come Back for You

I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II by Marisabina Russo is a true story of how one woman survived Italy’s involvement in WWII.  Told from the point of view of a grandmother, Nonna, recounting the story to her granddaughter, this story tugs at your heart and reminds us of the strength and courage of a generation of people who are to quickly leaving us.  Although Russo has just slightly simplified the story for retelling’s sake, we are like eavesdroppers on a grandmother sharing a family memory.  This is what makes this story beautiful and sincere.

Young parents Jacob and Sabina had already fled from Germany as Jews as this story begins, but soon their country of Italy joins the war and Jews are now in danger in Italy too.  While Jacob is held detained away from his family, he must escape to join the resistance movement.  Even mother, Sabina, must escape with the help of locals who are fighting against the German invaders.  The story doesn’t hide real truths of the war, including one page entirely black that answers what happened to Jacob.  Included in the story are the connections to a charm bracelet worn by the grandmother with charms from each memory of the brave family and neighbors who worked to protect Nonna and her family.  In addition to a glossary of words and events, Russo shares photographs of her great grandmother before, during, and after WWII and a afterward that expands on her family's experience.

A true story that must have been difficult to retell because of the deep personal connections, Russo has found a perfect balance of being a storyteller and memory keeper for her family.  I enjoyed the charm bracelet connection as well as the clever ways that the characters kept safe.  Storied like this as best shared.  I strongly feel that if we don’t connect across generations, we all lose.  I would recommend this book to 3rd to 5th graders.  This book is a gentle reminder of the effects of war and how sharing stories with your family across generations can create connections.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Four Worded Wonder
Review: Orange Pear Apple Bear

Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear is an artistic new board book from author Emily Gravett.  The book is simple and sweet.  At first, I wasn’t sure how Lil Guy would take the text which consists only of the four words: apple, pear, orange, and bear.  Sometime the words are used as nouns while sometimes the words are adjectives (or words that describe).  One page shows an orange bear while another shows a pear (shaped) bear.  The combinations are clever and imaginative with sweet hand-drawn and water-colored illustrations.  The illustrations are all set on plain white backgrounds in muted colors which only add to the imaginative feeling of the book.

My Lil Guy enjoyed this book, being able to name the pictures, he felt like he was reading it himself.  I am sure the earliest of readers would be able to independently enjoy this book as well.  My Lil Guy, at age 2 liked the pictures and was satisfied with the ending as well.  (The bear makes a snack of the apple, the orange, and the pear.)  The book was well worth the look.  I have heard good things about the author and I think Iwill have to check for more books by Emily Gravett soon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Story-Time Scene

I am quite new to the StoryTime scene.  I have read stories in school to children for years, but now that my Lil Guy is ready to sit and listen to stories we have been going to bookstores and local libraries to for storytime.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, but was happy to hear the kids sing a few songs, stand up and do motions, and some other really cute little activities.  The past few weeks I have been trying a new storytime at a new library that really hits my fancy.  At this storytime not only do we get to sing songs and hear stories but we also get play things.  I admit, before these story times I didn’t really understand the merit of felt boards (gasp!) or props that help children interact.  Now though, I am won over to the interaction with books, stories, and music that can come together during toddler storytime.

My Lil Guy is 2 and ½.  He loves books but sometimes storytime can be overwhelming with unruly tots and long stories that take too long to tell to a group since everyone really wants to see the pictures.  He also loves to sing-along (my fault, since I constantly sing at him) and is an enthusiastic singer for favorite songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes or Row, Row, Row Your Boat.  All of this being said, he would still ask after each story, after each song or chant, “Are we finished yet?” Meaning he was just read to go home.  I was beginning to worry that storytime was more for me than him.

Well, a few props, felt board activities, and interactive songs later, and we both are enjoying storytime more.  Imagine a room of 10 to 15 toddlers sitting on a carpet in the library on a rainy day.  What do you think would be a great prop for them to play with?  How about umbrellas?  I wasn’t sure when they started passing out the umbrellas to the kiddos and expected them to all control themselves.  What I discovered was that every child wants to hold an umbrella, twirl it around, pop it up and down, and it is a perfect prop when tied to a song or story.  Another surprise was when our storytime leader turned off the lights and passed out flashlights to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  Lil Guy loved this!  Egg shaped shakers, sticks to hit together in rhythm, puppets and stuffed animals, feathers, and rubber duckies in the hands of toddlers all inspire imagination and play.  

So, maybe every storytime has these creative and fun interactions, or maybe I just lucked out and found a great storytime with nice kids, fun interaction, and good stories.  How about you?  What do you think of storytime?  What’s your best experience with your Lil One and storytime?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Non-Fiction Fix
Review: Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?  is Susan A. Shea’s first novel.  The book is illustrated by Tom Slaughter.  The book sets out to ask readers which items grow and is tailored for children who know they are growing bigger.  The book features items like bear cubs, baseball caps, stools, and fox kits.  The text on each page is structured as rhyming text.  Children will enjoy answering the questions such as:  Does a car grow to become a truck?  (Children really like answering questions like this.)  Each page also offers a lift the flap that show the item growing bigger.  

Much like other picture books that offer questions that readers can respond with yes or no,  My Lil Guy at age 2 loves to shout Yes or No to these predictable questions.  He enjoyed this book and he always enjoys opening lift the flap books.  At age 2, I prefer board books for lift the flap books for him.  We are pretty much past ripping of pages, but board books are just more durable!  The illustrations by Slaughter are bright and color, appealing to preschoolers and toddlers, but also to the art minded parent.  The bold shapes and intense colors kind of remind me or Henri Matisse’s paper cut outs.  (What do you think?)

Matisse's Jazz (1947)
This is a book that thinks outside the box.  It was unexpected to find a non-fiction book with such captivating illustrations that will also engage little ones.  I look forward to more books from this author and illustrator Slaughter.  I could see this book being used for an elementary science or art class.  I know Lil Guy will enjoy reading this one multiple times.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hey, Look!
Review: Duck! Rabbit!

Duck! Rabbit! is the kind of book that you just have to pick up and read.  I admit, I saw it on bookshelves in the library and at bookstores, but it wasn’t until I picked up the book that I got it.  So, here is the question:  What do you see what you look at the front cover of the book?  A rabbit?  A duck?  When I first looked at the book I only saw a duck.  I thought maybe if I physically turned the book and squinted, I might see a rabbit, but really, truthfully I only saw a duck.  Then, I read the book and held the book in my hands.

Duck!  Rabbit!  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld starts off by introducing 2 points of view.  Opinions are voiced from off the page and can’t seem to agree.  They try to convince each other that the animal on the page is either a duck or a rabbit.  I started off agreeing with the duck voice, but as the book went on:  I changed my mind and decided that it had to be a rabbit!  Now when I look at the book I can’t even remember that I once thought it was a duck!

My Lil Guy and I were giggling while reading this book.  I enjoyed the simple drawings and the short but persuasive text.  I would love to use this book in a classroom to explore perspective.  Perfect for pre-schoolers, young readers, and those who want a book that poses a question!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Easy Reader Reading
Review: Gus Gets Scared

Gus Gets Scared by Frank Remkiewicz is an easy reader book for the very young. With only 65 short words this sweet book is about a rhino boy who feels adventurous enough to spend the night in his brand new tent. Each page offers hand-drawn and charming illustrations by the author, Remkiewicz, whose illustration style you might recognize from his other popular works including the Horrible Harry and Froggy series. The book is labeled as Pre-1which is suggested for pre-school and kindergarten age students.

You might think a book with only 65 words would have a difficult time telling a complete story, but in Gus Gets Scared we get to meet not only Gus, but also his family. We learn much about him from the adorable illustrations and his short adventure. One page shows young Gus carrying a flashlight and sleeping bag into the tent; Gus has his head held high, but is obviously struggling with the task as his tongue is sticking out a little to the side in a face full of concentration. I have to admit this drawing tugs at my heart-strings since I see this look often on my Lil Guy’s own face as he attempts difficult tasks.

My Lil’ Guy likes this book a lot and at age 2 he even ‘reads’ some of the pages independently. Also as we read the book, he also can retell the story and can tell the points where Gus gets too scared. The book isn’t scary either. It’s only a cute little owl making sounds that makes Gus gets too nervous in his little tent in the backyard! One of the things that makes easy reader books like this so popular is that they are inexpensive, lightweight, and (as the name denotes) easy to read. I know that anyone looking for a simple easy reader will fall in love with Gus the way we have! Remkiewicz is publishing several other books about the little rhino, Gus, and I am going to be sure to pick those up too.

*I nominated this book in the Easy Reader Category @ Cybils.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cybils are Here

Even though I am new to the world of blogs,
I was proud to have recommended one book
in the YA category for Cybils.  For anyone
who doesn’t know about Cybils, it is
Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary
Awards, given to the best judged books in a
variety of categories.  The judging panels
vary for each category, but consist of a
who’s who among the best the
Kidlitosphere.  Nominations are still open,
so feel free to go and make a nomination.
(Be sure to read the rules!)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Theme: Down on the Farm
Review: Dairy Queen Series
Review: Wow, It's A Cow!
Review: Pig-a-Boo!

This week my Lil Guy has been talking a lot about the farm.  We went to a local children’s museum and he could have played for hours in the room set up to look like a farm.  He plucked apples that were stuck with velcro to the painted trees and ‘drove’ around in the mini tractor.  He wore a cow costume and pretended the chicken laid eggs.  This week he also got a new pair of overalls which he thinks makes him a farmer.  Put this together with the countless farms actually close by that he can see as we drive, and you have a Lil Guy who at age 2 and a half is convinced that farming is the career for him.  I guess I got caught up in it too, reading some books that were set on a farm and learning a little bit about farming too.  That is why this week’s Weekend Spotlight is: Down on the Farm.

Kids love farms because of all the animals and free space to run and play.  From a very young age animal sounds are favorites and are imitated by babies and toddlers very early.  My Lil Guy is no exception.  He loves wearing farm animal costumes and tells each of us in the family that we are different animals.  He pretends there is a donkey in the car as we are driving for example, braying and then asking if we heard anything.  It’s all big fun at our house.  It’s no surprise that farm books and farm animals books are favorites too.  I also got caught up in the farm craze this past week as I finished the Dairy Queen series by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  Here is some of the best of the farm books at our house this week.

Dairy Queen Series

Dairy Queen is a trilogy of YA books written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  The books are set in Wisconsin on a dairy farm.  The books are written from a teen age girl’s point of view;  D.J. is sharing her story with some perspective, sharing details about her life, and the consequences of her actions.  We meet her family, her friends, and even a few foes.  All of this means that the Dairy Queen books are sweet and fun, full of teenage angst, and very lovable.  In fact, I read the first 2 about a month ago but just couldn’t bring myself to read the last of the books and say goodbye to these characters that I really enjoyed.  While some YA fiction revels in wild teens who partake in wild activities, author Murdock instead portrays a teen who struggles to make choices, thinking about her family and the consequences.  Don’t get me wrong, our main character, D.J. has a good time and gets into trouble, but there isn’t too much shock factor with these books.  Since I grew up in a rural community myself, I found these books to be very reflective of my own teen years.

Note: The series has 2 different covers.  I really can't decide which one I like best, but I thought I would offer them both up here since (I admit): I do judge a book by its cover and maybe you do too.

In the first of the 3 novels, Dairy Queen, we meet D.J. and her family, plus a quarterback who plays for her high school rivals football team.  Brian has come to her farm to gain work ethic for the upcoming football season and help with farm chores.  D.J. sees Brian as a spoiled kid, but nonetheless, she takes advantage of help and forms a close bond with him.  As the summer continues D.J. starts to train Brian on football basics using her years of playing against her brothers as experience. 

In the second novel, Off Season, D.J. is still caught up in football drama, but manages to focus on her own sports career as well.  We see D.J. spending more and more time with Brian, but each are unsure the terms of the relationship.  Meanwhile D.J. is also dealing with friends, bullying, and family tragedy.  Once again D.J. is introspective, thoughtful, and mature as she navigates her life in front of us.

In the last book in the trilogy, Front and Center, D.J. is finally able to focus more on herself.  She is looking toward her future and trying to move on from some painful memories.  D.J.’s sports career finally hits a stride too.  She continues to be painfully shy though and finally starts to show emotion and stand up for herself.  The narration and conclusion are beautifully done in this book and will leave readers both satisfied and also also wanting more (if only author Murdock wanted to continue the series!).

I just adored these books.  I wish that these were the types of books I had read as a young teen.  Characters like D.J. are not common enough in YA fiction.  D.J. is so real!  She has doubtful moments, she never thinks of the right thing to say at the right time, and she loves her family even though she doesn’t always understand them or agree with them.  Author Murdock doesn’t come across preachy or goody-two shoes either.  Because the story is told from a teen’s point of view, the story comes across as very genuine and real instead of short and choppy .  Because of this, a reader really does connect with D.J. and all of her situations. 

It is without hesitation that I recommend these books to YA readers.  Perfect for even older middle school students, the books are short enough to keep hesitant readers interested and full of enough details and storyline to satisfy most readers.  I have also read Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, but these are even better.  I had read on Murdock’s website that she doesn’t intend to continue D.J.’s storyline, which to me is a loss.  Although the conclusion to D.J.’s story does satisfy, my mind keeps drifting back to where she might be a couple of years.  My only advice to readers is that if you decide to try the Dairy Queen trilogy, go ahead and get all 3 books because you won’t want to stop at 1, 2, or maybe even 3 like me.

Wow, It's A Cow!

Wow, It's A Cow! by Trudy and Jay Harris is a well-loved book at our house.  The farm theme is a favorite, but it’s the funny story and hilarious illustrations by Paige Keiser that keep us wanting to read this one again and again.  In this book you meet a farmer who is in search of his cow.  He meets several animals but each one is not the cow.  The illustrations show an ‘udderly’ fabulous cow acting like a different farm animal with each page have a flap to lift showing the real farm animal.  This results in really funny scenarios such as the cow doing the backstroke in the pond and sitting up in a tree near a tiny nest.  The last page is a small reward of opening 2 barn doors to reveal a farmer milking a cow.
As I was looking to review this book I saw that the book was dedicated to Harris’s own grandchildren, which I thought was sweet.  I also wasn’t surprised to find that Trudy Harris is a kindergarten teacher, which is perfect since I could see a class reading this at circle time.  I would recommend this book to parents who like to read aloud to toddlers, preschool teachers, and young children who feel that farming might be a career for them someday.  It’s cute and interactive.  It will also make you laugh. 


Pig-a-Boo!: A Farmyard Peekaboo Book by Dorothea DePrisco is a toddler book with a lot going for it.  Pig-a- Book is a peek-a-boo game with farm animals.  Each pages has a short riddle about a farmyard favorite.  The book has a hard cover like a board book but has stiff, glossy cardboard pages that open to reveal a hiding farm animal.  Each of the hidden animals also has a piece of texture to touch and feel.  The texture spots are a little 3 dimensional too, with the horse having yarn pieces that stick out from the book.  The text is cute and will definitely keep toddlers attention.  Lil Guy likes this one but isn’t simple enough for him to read yet and isn’t long enough for him to choose for us to read to him over and over again, so for now it’s not being read too often at our house, but may come into favor again on a whim.   I think most toddlers will enjoy this book, especially if they are into farm animals. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Good Readers Stink
Review: I Stink!

There are certain things that good readers do with a certain level of automaticity.  These are some of the first skill that teachers teach children as they are reading because it helps students bring meaning to the written word.  So, along with making predictions, visualizing, and asking questions, good readers are also supposed to make connections.  The easiest connection to make is connecting the text to yourself.  Well, as it just so happens my Lil Guy made a nice connection today during a diaper change.  I had to laugh out loud when he told me; “I stink just like the garbage truck in the book!”  He said it with pride and conviction because, well, because: yes he did in fact stink like a garbage truck.  
Of course, Lil Guy was talking about the book I Stink by Kate McMullan.  Right after the diaper change we had to go find the book and giggle as we read the text; “You think I stink?  Whoooo-Wheeee, do I ever! No skunk ever stunk this bad.”  It was a nice reward for offering up such a stinky gift for his mother, right?  The point here is that connections can be made every day, everywhere.  When we connect we bring meaning to the text and makes reading real.  While books alone are a reward, connecting an experience in a book to a real life task, game, or experience makes books relatable, especially to little ones who are constantly gaining experiences.

So, keep making connections and sharing them with young readers and soon they will be making connections too.  How about you?  Have your young readers been making any great (or stinky) connections? 

I Stink

I Stink! by Kate McMullan is a stink filled picture book about a garbage truck with an attitude.  The glossy paperback is dark and dingy with illustrations showing the dirty life of a garbage truck in the big city.   The truck itself has a certain smirk and bright eyes that are expressive and ready to tell a story.  I was really impressed with all of the illustrations.  The text is written as a narrative from the garbage truck’s point of view; at some points in the story he is bragging about his special garbage truck features and other parts he is rapping about his important job.  He has an attitude too, because he doesn’t care if he stinks.  He wants you to realize that without his important job you would be sitting in your own trash.  The book also has some excellent use of onomonopia,  or sound words, like creak, burp, and plop.  In fact, all of the text is fun to read, not set in rhyme but in an excellent rhythm that begs to be read aloud.  I encourage anyone who shares books with children (of any age) to read this one aloud (and of course, make the connection next time you are in a stinky situation).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are You a DUFF? I Am.
Review: The Duff

The Duff

The DUFF: (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) was one of my "To Be Reads" I wrote about this month, so when I finally started reading it, I didn’t waste any time.  In fact the book was read in one evening as I couldn’t put it down.  I see why YA readers, especially teens, are creating a buzz about this book and the author, Kody Keplinger.  The book is a impressive YA read that should be popular with readers who like a little sizzle, a lot of drama, and a fun school based story.

Bianca’s emotional rollercoaster starts when a rude guy from her high school, Wesley, calls her the Duff.  That’s right, the D.esignated U.gly F.riend.  Ouch.  Bianca instantly hates the guy.  Things at home aren’t going well either, with her MIA mother and her father’s issues of his own.  How does Bianca react?   Well … a wild fling might take her mind off of things.  Unfortunately, it also takes her away from her friends, her family, and hides her true feelings.

This book is a good read.  I really did enjoy it and I look forward to reading the next of Kody Keplinger’s books.  I have read some of the other reviews about this book and some of the criticism reflects upon Keplinger’s obviously immaturity.  While I agree that some of the book lacks refinement, I liked Keplinger’s writing.  I thought the story was well developed and the characters were fun and likable too.  Bianca could be any one of us, in each of us is a Duff.  Teen readers will love this book and probably will feel a connection with not only the characters, but also the young author herself. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Zoozical


ZooZical is a new picture book written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Marc Brown.  This is the type of book that screams to be picked up and shared with children.  Those of you who love Marc Brown will really enjoy the illustrations too.  This hardcover is big and bright, so are the characters.

It all starts when the zoo animals get into a funk.  They don’t have any visitors and are in a bad mood.  When one little hippo and one little roo start jumping around, the other animals catch the excitement.  Soon there is singing, dancing, and a full-on musical.  The visitors start showing up and before you know it the animal funk is gone!  It’s a great voyage to go on with this zoo full of animals. The music is adorable too.  My favorites were: “Oh My Darling Porquipine”, “For He’s a Jolly Gorilla”, and of course “The Seals on the Bus”.  I admit I laughed out loud as I read this to my Lil Guy and he enjoyed the book too.  He was interested in the illustrations too.

This book is going to be an instant classic on my shelf.  I enjoyed it for the first read and I know that I will enjoy reading it again and again.  I think the book has wide appeal for all who love picture books.  I love, love, love the illustrations and think others will like it too.  I want a big groups of children sitting on a rug in front of me next time I read this one; it’s that kind of book.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A 16th Century Heroine
Review: Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman is a middle grade fiction book set in Elizabethan London.  Much like Cushman’s Newberry Honor winning  book, Catherine, Called Birdy, this book features old world musings, setting, and characters.  What is very different about this book was the main character who has a disability and a cast of other characters who are some likable and some loathsome.   The book tells the short adventure of a young girl, Meggy Swann.

Meggy Swan makes her way through life using rudimentary crutches that leave her winded and sore.  She has a sharp wit and good humor, which she needs to make her way in the dirty and crude world of London in the 16th century.  Meggy has come to London to be with her father, an alchemist, who she hasn’t met until now.  Not only are the London streets cruel, her father is quite unkind as are many neighbors and strangers who fear the young disabled girl, fearing that she is a wicked girl scarred with her disabled legs.  Meggy finally does find a few friends including her father’s former apprentice, Roger.  The adventure in London is full of twists and turns, good times, but mostly bad times, plus humor and quick witted remarks.

I am not sure what I expected when I began this book, but it was a short read full of humor and period details.  Much of the story was told in dialogue, so at time it was somewhat slow.  It was great to see a character with a major disability played as a strong and beautiful young girl like Meggy.  I found myself, often needing to look up words from the book and trying to picture the scenes in my head.  I don’t know a lot about the time period so it was more interesting to me than distracting.  While I enjoyed the book, I found it not as wonderful as Cushman’s original favorite, Catherine Called Birdy.  That being said, if you liked Catherine, you will find this a good read.  I do have to say the cover isn’t too inspiring, or maybe just not my style. If you do enjoy period reads, strong female characters, and books by Newberry honor winners, this is a book you should check out.