Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Samson, the Piranha Who Went to Dinner, by Tadgh Bentley

I believe I can quite confidently say that this is the cutest little piranha I have ever seen.


Look at the bow tie!

Samson wasn’t like other piranhas.
While other piranhas stayed close to home
He wanted to explore the world.
And while they stuck to the same old routine, swimming and chomping and scaring,
Samson liked to try new things
Most of all, Samson dreamed of eating fine foods at fancy restaurants.

So when not one but THREE new restaurants come to his corner of the sea, Samson can’t wait to try them all. There’s only one problem: With their big teeth and scary smiles, piranhas aren’t really welcome anywhere, let alone in fancy restaurants. Can Samson make his dream come true—and still be himself?  

The description immediately brought to mind the book Peanut Butter and Brains, a favorite that I just realized I never reviewed! Hmm. Back to Samson, though: if you can get past the sharp teeth, you can see he's actually smiling - he just has a slight underbite! If that's not enough, in the opening pages his bow tie is joined by an old brown satchel and familiar-looking brown hat, while we spot a treasure chest amidst ruins in the background.

Bentley's illustrations are fun to look through all on their own, as poor Samson tries to get some good food to sink his teeth into. With some new friends, he finally discovers the old expression: if you can't join 'em, beat 'em! (Isn't that how it goes?)

Speaking of unique expressions, the frightened restaurant staff uses some great ones, such as "Salty mother of mackerel!" See if your kids can come up with their own colorful-yet-safe expressions to use when they are excited.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


We got our tax refund, and I was so excited. I bought almost everyone in the family new socks! Even me!! Seriously, I have been thinking about this, anticipating it, for over a week now. This morning, as soon as I saw the money was in fact deposited, I threw out all the old, dingy ones. My soul felt at peace. I could hardly wait for my lunch hour, so I could get to Walmart. And then the decisions...with so many similar sizes, we all have to have different styles, or laundry is just a nightmare. I got it all worked out, and practically skipped to the check-out*. Where the cashier told me she was doing essentially the same thing with her refund.

I think...yes, I think we are officially both grown-ups.

*I also bought cat food! And more coffee, even though the container we have is more than half full! I am a spending MACHINE today!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: Duck, Duck, Dinosaur and the Noise at Night, by Kallie George and Oriol Vidal


Feather, Flap, and Spike are spending their first night in their very own nest. They tell stories and snuggle up to get a good night’s sleep, until . . . GRRORE! What’s that scary-sounding noise?

Young readers will probably figure out the source of the scary noise pretty quickly, but that just makes the characters' reactions that much sillier. And the biggest scaredy cat is Spike!

We met this trio when they first hatched, about a year ago. 'One' is about the age most of my kids moved to their own room, so it makes perfect sense that these guys have, too! The illustrations stood out to me as much as the story this time, specifically the landscape (although Spike's gigantic feet are adorable). Vidal makes use of several geometric shapes, but softens the edges so they don't seem at all harsh. Point those shapes out to your readers, and see how many they can identify and perhaps replicate! Ask them also how many times they can spot the firefly throughout the pages.

If you have George and Vidal's first title, you will certainly want to pick this one up as well.

Friday, February 17, 2017

New Blog!

Because I do such a great job at keeping this blog updated (ha), I am adding a second blog.

is scheduled to go live February 28. I hope to have the first month's posts in place by then, which is the main reason for the wait. The goal of this new blog is to give home schoolers, teachers, or parents who just want to have a little extra fun at home, ideas for making each day both fun and educational. 

Did you know that there are a multitude of strange and unusual holidays for pretty much every day of the year? Onion Ring Day...It's My Party Day...Bubble Bath Day... The goal of Homeschooling by the Holidays will be to share cross-curricular lesson and activity ideas for each of those (how do you figure the diameter of said onion ring?) We all know we learn best when we are interested and engaged, right? And, did I mention onion rings? (There may or may not be a large number of food-related holidays.)

During this first year, I will just focus on one holiday (or birthday or historical event) for each day, and most activities will be geared towards younger children. I will also only be using holidays that are on a fixed date - in other words, nothing that falls on "the first Tuesday after the third Friday in the full moon after Valentine's Day".

In the second year, I plan to add ideas for older children, as well as monthly and weekly celebrations, and those with more fluid dates. Throughout, however, I will be happy to take suggestions - more songs? More art? More science? Let me know what you are looking for in your home, and I will try to assist! And as always, feel free to add your own suggestions for each holiday in the comments!

Ooh - I will also include lots of links to useful web pages: like 7 Sisters, where I found the above meme! In the meantime, click over to the new blog and bookmark it, then don't forget to check back February 28!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: The Princess and the Frogs by Veronica Bartles and Sara Palacios

Love me a well-done fractured fairy tale!


The cover grabbed me right away - now here is a princess we can all relate to! Her sense of style reminds me of a certain princess in my own household, too.

Princess Cassandra wants a pet to be her friend - one who will jump and play and swim with her, and preferably one who matches her favorite green dress. A frog, of course, is a perfect fit, and everything is going great - until she kisses him goodnight. Now he is a prince! And he wants to marry her, too - no thanks! She tries frog after frog, but each time she kisses them good night, the same thing happens. What's a princess to do?

Young readers will enjoy the silliness, and I commend Palacios for managing to make each frog (and each prince) look completely different. This one is sure to make it into my story time line-up - after I take it home for a while first!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: Not Quite Black and White, by Jonathan Ying and Victoria Ying


Silly animals star in this lively picture book that introduces colors in a unique and catchy way. Have you ever seen a zebra wearing pink polka dots? Or a penguin with bright-yellow boots?
Typically black and white animals (the tiger may give children pause) are featured in colorful accessories, beginning with basic hues and expanding into those like aqua or maroon. An underlying message of embracing differences, as well as not seeing people animals as simply black or white will be obvious to adults, but isn't heavy handed.

Illustrations are crisp and colorful, slightly cartoony. This is the first book from the brother and sister duo, with a second due out in June. Not the first book I would grab to teach about colors, but one that will do the job nicely and with a bit of fun. Worth a spot on the shelves!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Books I Couldn't Finish: Ronit and Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin


Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.
The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.
I really wanted to like this. In fact, I took it with me when I knew I was going to have to sit and wait somewhere for an hour or so. I ended up balancing my checkbook instead. In trying to push the similarities between the two main characters, any distinction between their voices was lost. They didn't alternate, which would have helped, but sometimes 'spoke' twice in a row, making me re-read each page once I realized it was the same person speaking again. It got irritating very quickly, and couldn't hold my attention - and it had my full attention at the start! Great concept, disappointing execution.