Monday, March 18, 2019

Review: A Hoopoe Says Oop! by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh and Ivana Kuman


Ibexes on crater ledges

Call out, "Maa!" and walk the edges.

A rhyming introduction to some of Israel's unique animals like the hoopoe (the national bird of Israel), hyrax, and sand cats.

A who says what?? Children who have mastered the sounds of barnyard animals (and parents who are sick of hearing them) will be intrigued by these unfamiliar critters and the noises they make. (What DOES a camel say, anyway?) Aspects of the Israeli landscape appear in text and illustrations, sneaking in a little geographical learning as well. The rhyme and rhythm are easy, and even help you make sure you are pronouncing "hyrax" correctly!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Toddler STEAM: Rainbows (again)

Rainbows are one theme we seem to keep repeating - because there are so many fun things to do with color!

They are also easy to make messes with.

This smelled SO GOOD, both while i was making it and while we were playing with it. One little one just couldn't stop scooping the red into her mouth - can't say I blame her! That's one reason I usually toss food items and get new ones out for the next day, even if they aren't MEANT to be eaten. 

I realized I had a ton of Ivory soap in the cabinet, and once it gets old it doesn't puff up any more (at which point it becomes a carving medium for the tweens and teens).

Add some liquid watercolors and tweezers, and our fine motor skills get a workout, too!

This was our first time using these, and they were SO MUCH FUN! Kind of went everywhere, and they are really hard to pick up in our grown-up fat fingers!

I quickly dumped them out of the tub and into the pool, because they were getting stepped on otherwise.

Fun to feel for any age!

An old classic:

This is the least-blurry picture I could get of this little cutie:

He wanted to make sure Mom and Dad had plenty!

Lots of pre-writing skills here.

Don't let the pictures fool you, the adults liked this one too. I may put a bowl on my desk to play with when I am feeling stressed.

Shane started sorting these, then got to a two-colored pom-pom, squawked indignantly, and just dumped them, I didn't get a picture.

Forgot pictures here too, but I just had a basic rainbow outline to glue them to. Again, we put out different cereal each day, because of course it was going to go in our mouths!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Review: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

I know it's only March, but I'm going to call it. If you only read one middle grade novel this year, this needs to be it:


Five years.
That's how long Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have lived on the road in an old school bus, criss-crossing the nation.
It's also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash.
Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished—the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box—she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days...without him realizing it.
Along the way, they'll pick up a strange crew of misfit travelers. Lester has a lady love to meet. Salvador and his mom are looking to start over. Val needs a safe place to be herself. And then there's Gladys...
Over the course of thousands of miles, Coyote will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all...but that with friends by her side, she just might be able to turn her “once upon a time” into a “happily ever after.”

By page 10 I had a couple lines I wanted to quote.
By page 26 I was laughing (and so were the techs at the orthodontist, where I was reading it out loud to my kids).
By page 29 I was crying.

By the end of the book I was flat-out ugly crying, and felt like I had been through the wringer.

Whew! To say this book has everything would be an understatement. Okay, if you are looking for sparkly vampires and fallen fairies it doesn't have that. But most other things. The imagery! Every section I thought to pull up as an example gave something away in the story, so you will just have to trust me on that. From a person's hands to the way someone was feeling, Gemeinhart makes every detail feel as clear as the real world.

Characters are all very different and all very real; especially, of course, Coyote. She will make you smile, make you cry, and make you think. The stories she and her father tell each other - their "once upon a time"s - are worth reading and discussing all on their own. The ways parent-child relationships can be both complicated and wonderful. What it means to really love someone. Facing challenges and making hard decisions. And in a world where we seem to be becoming more and more afraid of each other, the openness to new people and becoming part of their stories was just fabulous.

Buy it. Read it. And have tissues handy.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Review: Dinosaurs Rule Series from Lerner



Take a peek beneath the canopy of prehistoric forests to discover the world of dinosaurs. Spread-by-spread battles pit species against one another in scientifically accurate battles, while fact files give report writers the info they need at a glance.

Dinosaur books are abundant and popular, so it can take some doing to set your series apart. Mason does this effectively by putting together accurate pairings of dinosaurs - those who actually lived in the same area and time period - in a dinnertime battle, each followed up with two pages of easy to read facts and pictures giving a quick rundown of each prehistoric animal. I especially liked the scale outlines showing how each would compare to an average human being.

End pages include a section called "Believe It or Not" (Allosaurus may have eaten its prey live!) and a couple pages on subjects such as the death of the dinosaurs or dinosaur mysteries (sorry, I still say the Loch Ness monster is real). This series balances the line carefully of drawing in readers looking for excitement without sensationalizing to the point of losing accuracy. A nice addition to your elementary or middle school library.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Review: Last of the Name by Rosanne Parry


Twelve-year-old Danny O'Carolan and his sister, Kathleen, arrive in New York City in 1863. Kathleen refuses to be parted from her only remaining relative, so she finds a job in domestic service for herself and her younger...sister. Danny reluctantly pretends to be a girl to avoid being sent to the children's workhouse or recruited as a drummer boy for the Union army. When he occasionally sneaks off to spend a few hours as a boy and share his rich talent for Irish dancing, he discovers the vast variety of New York's neighborhoods. But the Civil War draft is stoking tensions between the Irish and free black populations. With dangers escalating, how can Danny find a safe place to call home?

While Civil War novels abound, this is not a perspective often seen: that of Irish immigrants, who escaped terrible persecution and danger in one country, only to find it again here. We learn about the sources of tensions gradually through Danny and Kathleen's eyes, as they learn to navigate their new home. A variety of characters, many as interesting as the main characters, help readers understand that there are usually multiple sides to any conflict - and that violent, emotional responses have unintended consequences. There is even a bit about gender, race, and class privilege. While some may tend to put all early immigrants into the same frame of mind, details help readers understand how very different each group could be - in history, in faith, in prejudice, and in While the final solution stretches plausibility, it is rewarding to see things come together for many of the characters.

This book will be available in April, and may help fill in a gap in your historical fiction that you didn't know you had!

Monday, February 11, 2019

Toddler STEAM - Be My Valentine!

Our first Toddler STEAM of the year was all about the pink and red!

Fizzing Hearts

Miss Cheryl cut out 80 million white paper hearts for us. Kids were instructed to sprinkle some baking soda on the with the spoon, then add a drop of colored vinegar with a pipette. What kid doesn't enjoy that combination?! 

What happens if you add another color and let it mix? I had another newspaper-covered table available for drying, so kids could take their creations home.

Sweet Sorting

In which Miss Ami gets to show off her chopsticks skills! 

I really need to start video taping. Right after I snapped this, she got it! She picked one up with the chopsticks and dropped it in the right bowl!

We do this program twice in a week, so I used a different bag for each day. Kids will inevitable eat a few, and this way I knew they had at least not been handled prior to that session. In a couple weeks they will be used by the teens and tweens for a craft project, so no waste!

Patterns in Pink

And purple, red, and white. 

Heart Homes

Engineering, talking about what types of homes animals need, and of course fine motor skills. 

The kangaroo looks confused.

Crowns are cool, too!

I like how we are all pretending we don't see that lion staring at us.

Again, a new bag of marshmallows for each session.

Cup Stacking

I love these tiny cups I grabbed at Walmart - perfect for portioning out craft materials as well as STEAM projects!

The grown-ups liked this one, too!


This was a last-minute addition, after I found the sets of cookie cutters for just 98 cents at Walmart. At first I thought about clay, but this was much faster to throw together. Centered on a couple big rugs to hopefully eliminate slippery floors. You can use the straws to blow bubbles inside the hearts, or pick the hearts up and blow bubbles through them (why doesn't the bubble come out in a heart shape? Hmm...)

Pink Pool

Sliced up pool noodles to string or stack

or sit in!

Red, White and Pink Rice Bin

In the pool to keep it from scattering (who am I kidding?!). We were using it for a craft project last week, and all my buddy Ian wanted to do was sift through it, so I promised him we would play with it this week! Somehow I did not get any pictures of kids playing with this center, but believe me, everyone hit it at least once. Of course some scattered, but a quick pass with the vacuum got it up.

Thanks for coming and playing with us, everyone!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Review: Voice of Power by Melanie Cellier


In Elena's world words have power over life and death--but none more so than hers.

As the daughter of shopkeepers, Elena has always known that the mysteries of reading and writing were closed to her. Only the mageborn can risk harnessing the power unleashed from putting pen to paper. Until Elena discovers an impossible new ability and joins the elite ranks of the mages.

But with the kingdom at war, the authorities can't agree if Elena is an asset, or a threat they need to eliminate. Thrust into the unknown world of the Royal Academy without friends or experience, Elena will need all of her wits, strength, and new power to carve a place for herself.

Except as the attacks become more personal, wits and strength won't be enough. Elena will have to turn to new friends and an enigmatic prince to unlock the mysterious potential of her words and survive her first year as a trainee mage.

Melanie Cellier first came onto my radar with her Four Kingdoms and then her Beyond the Four Kingdoms series. I can't for the life of me remember how I first spotted them, because they aren't quite in the mainstream markets here. They need to be! My coworker and I devoured them, as did every teen or preteen I handed them off to, until I literally could not keep them on the shelves. Wonderfully entwined fairy tales, satisfying (but very 'clean') romances, character development, fairy godmothers, action, strong female characters - the perfect escape novels!

So of course I was excited to see Cellier had started a new series, but I have to say this first title blew me away. I'm not sure that I would have immediately recognized it as her work, and I mean that in all the good ways.

Cellier's writing has definitely grown and tightened up with practice (not that it was shabby to begin with!) This series, while there is still a teasing of romance to come, is much more firmly focused on character and world building, and is not as predictable as the earlier series. It reminded me for all the world of Sharon Shinn's books at times, and if you know anything of my tastes, you know that is a high compliment!

I read Voice of Power in stolen moments before I even got it cataloged (and it is already on hold for another Cellier fan). As I neared the end I simultaneously thought, "Oh good, I am almost finished," and "Oh no, I'm almost finished!" I was sucked into Elena's worries and triumphs, and was not at all willing to leave that world so soon. Unfortunately, while the second book is out, it is only on Kindle so far - which means I have to decide between my huge distaste for reading on a device, and the torture of having to wait for Voice of Command to come out in print!