Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: Lola Knows a Lot by Jenna McCarthy and Sara Palacios


Meet Lola! Lola knows a lot. She can cartwheel, she can tie her shoes...she can make her sister crazy. The only thing Lola DOESN’T if she’s really ready to go to school. 

I couldn't quite decide which of my kids Lola reminds me of, but she sure does seem familiar! I think she's an amalgam of the whole gang (and yes, I have been waiting to use that word since I first saw "Parenthood".)

Any time a picture book makes me laugh out loud, it is going on my story time list. This is perfect for kids getting ready to start school, or for any story time where your listeners have siblings! When Lola isn't quite sure she knows enough to start school (thanks to big sister making her nervous), Mom suggests she makes a list of things she does know. Some are practical (she knows how to make lists!) and some are hilarious ("I'm good at driving my sister crazy...I'm not saying you should try it. I'm just saying I happen to be especially good at it.")

In the end, Lola decides that while she doesn't know everything, she knows she is "ready to learn all the things I still don't know," which is an excellent attitude for all of us to have.

Illustrations by Palacios are bright and cheery, and it's worth checking out the kitten's antics and expressions in each scene. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Review: Girls and Goddesses by Lari Don

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from around the World

Don't you just love it when the very first paragraphs of a book have you chuckling out loud and thinking, "Oh, I am going to LIKE this one!" I picked this title up after a rather disappointingly trite YA, and it was the perfect antidote:

"Dragons can be awkward neighbors, so when the Emperor of China saw a dragon settle into the cave at the top of the mountain behind his palace, he wasn't pleased.
It was the biggest, scariest dragon he'd ever seen. It had seven heads, on seven snaky necks, attached to one thick, green, scaly body, and each individual head had ninety-nine sharp, curved yellow teeth. (I'm sure you can work out how many teeth the dragon had altogether, but the Emperor didn't bother doing the math. He just knew it was far too many teeth."

Of course, the dragon must be fed a steady diet of little girls (peasants' little girls, not the little girls of important people), until one clever little girl comes along to slay the dragon. And she makes the Emperor clean up the mess.

I had actually heard this story before, minus that last bit, and Don's version is infinitely more entertaining!

Each story is approximately 10 pages long, which would make these great for a daily read-aloud in any classroom. Some are familiar tales with a few changes (Red Riding Hood had to pee??). The women generally come out on top, although they aren't always made out to be perfect. Original tales range from Venezuela to Japan to Ancient Sumeria. Endings (and beginnings) are sometimes gruesome, so probably not something for your preschool story time: but definitely a fun diversion (or holiday gift) for upper elementary or older!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: Otter Goes to School, by Sam Garton


Oh, Otter (shaking head fondly). In true Otter style, Otter doesn't actually GO to school, he starts his OWN school. Because, as he says, "I knew a lot of people who weren't nearly as clever as they could be." Things are going swimmingly, with lots of gold stars for everyone, until Teacher Otter realizes Teddy is upset. He doesn't have ANY gold stars, because he isn't good at ANYTHING. 

Dramatic self doubt ensues. Parent Teacher conference is called. And all works out just fine in the end, because, of course, it's Otter.

Otter never fails to remind me of my own kiddos, and this one made me chuckle at the way he gets SO into his own imagination that he upsets himself. (Like a certain child who had a fit because someone dumped all her imaginary candy on the floor and refused to pick it up again.) Garton's pictures are both quirky and realistic - who knew you could make a stuffed bear with no eyes look so morose? A crowd pleaser for both kids and adults!

Giving as a gift? Pair it with a big stack of school supplies, of course! Head over to the dollar store and pick up some fun items from the teacher section - desk labels, wall maps and inspirational posters, reward stickers, workbooks, etc. Then be prepared to find yourself one of the students!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review: Bumba Books, I See Ocean Animals by Tessa Kenan



Bumba Books is a newer brand from Lerner, offering nonfiction titles for the younger (PreK-1st) set that goes a bit beyond what we have been seeing. I think my love for Lerner's overall quality has been well established, and that is still here - the binding that stands up to library usage, bright photos, accessible fonts. Even at this level, the books contain a table of contents and index. In fact, I used a stack of them recently to teach younger kids about parts of a nonfiction book, and they mostly weren't listening to me because they were so excited to look at the books and trade them back and forth 😊

In Bumba Books, the glossary is a photo glossary, well suited to the younger readership. Another addition I like is the age-appropriate question bubbles: "How could having a small size be helpful?", or "Why might hunting in a group be better than hunting alone?" For parents beginning to share books with their children and not sure how to go about it, these are a nice way to prompt discussion. 

And, of course, you can't go wrong with the subject matter! Clown fish photos still elicit shouts of "Nemo!!", and who doesn't love a smiling dolphin or a toothy shark? Other animals in this series include the aforementioned sharks, as well as rays, jellyfish and starfish. Additional series currently include Community Helpers, Holidays, Machines That Go, Sports, Seasons and Pets (look for reviews of some of those next month!) If you are looking to bulk up your beginning readers, or address STEM needs in your classroom library, these sets are a pretty safe bet!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Story Time - I Can Do It!

I originally planned this story time because I wanted to read this book:


Very sweet story with a million little lessons and great pictures. When the time came, however, I decided it was too long for the group I have had lately (not bad listeners, just skewing younger, with a lot of new faces). I switched to these titles instead:

(out of print)

This one proved to be a little too long as well, but the kids Monday did like Milli's creations, and they lent themselves well to the craft project. For Wednesday's story time, I switched it with:

Lola Knows a Lot

Review of this one coming up December 7! Even though it mentions going to school, it is great for getting kids talking about all the things they CAN do (which led to some funny conversation with Wednesday's group).

The Perfect Percival Priggs

Cute story about the pursuing your passions (and not giving up) rather than trying to be perfect at everything - and about parents' expectations.

Finally, a favorite of librarians and art teachers:

The Dot

We had already talked about saying you are not good at something yet. This book addresses finding out you may good at something after all - especially when you let go of assumptions about what that means.

For our art project, I gave each child one 'dot' (plain paper plate) to start off with, but encouraged them to use more. I set out watercolors, scrap paper and glue (no markers!) and invited them to use their imaginations to decorate their dots any way they chose. No wrong ways to do it! The little boy who just kept dumping more water on his? Why not!

Practicing your scissors skills on the finished project?

Good for you!
And here is the one she left intact, which I also thought was pretty cool:

I was very happy that they all did indeed do something different:

This one made me think of The Big Orange Splot, one of our favorite books at home:

(Thank-you, Ellie, for the pictures!)

Lots of fine motor skills and creative thinking going on, as well as Print Motivation. Looking for a fun and easy Christmas gift? Package up:

- a ream of copy paper
- a package of construction paper
- old magazines
- a box of brand new crayons (come on, spring for the big box with the sharpener!)
- glue (lots)
- tape (even more)
- scissors

and let them go to town, no instructions. You can even pack it all inside a small trash can, for all the snips and squiggles that end up on the floor! Add things like yarn or popsicle sticks if you want, but try to shy away from already-prepared crafts. Let their imaginations take the lead!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: Everyone is Yawning by Anita Bijsterbosch

Everyone Is Yawning

It’s time for bed! The kitten yawns. Look. I think it is tired. All the little animals yawn. And the little kid? Does the little kid yawn too? You’ll find out as you lift-the-flaps in this surprising book.

Normally I am not a big fan of lift-the-flap books, because a) they can be a bit gimmicky, and b) they last all of ten seconds in a public library. This, however, is a lot of fun! I am going to have to keep it and use it wherever I can - in story times, and at home when I need the kids to fall asleep.

The latter should be a good bet, because you can NOT read it without yawning yourself. That's part of the fun, though: the turtle yawns sloooooowly. The alligator shows all his teeth when he yawns. And the hippo yawns three times! My 2yo thought it was hilarious when I yawned along with each animal - although I had to stop a couple times to wipe my eyes.

The illustrations are bright and colorful, simple shapes, and the word count is just right for the age group. This would be fun gifted with a special bedtime pillow or blanket.

***This book has been nominated for the Cybils Awards, and I am a first-round panelist in this category. There are many other panelists, and many MANY other great nominees, so a good or bad review here does not necessarily predict placement on the shortlist. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan


Teddy is a gifted dog. Raised in a cabin by a poet named Sylvan, he grew up listening to sonnets read aloud and the comforting clicking of a keyboard. Although Teddy understands words, Sylvan always told him there are only two kinds of people in the world who can hear Teddy speak: poets and children.
Then one day Teddy learns that Sylvan was right. When Teddy finds Nickel and Flora trapped in a snowstorm, he tells them that he will bring them home—and they understand him. The children are afraid of the howling wind, but not of Teddy’s words. They follow him to a cabin in the woods, where the dog used to live with Sylvan . . . only now his owner is gone.
As they hole up in the cabin for shelter, Teddy is flooded with memories of Sylvan. What will Teddy do when his new friends go home? Can they help one another find what they have lost?
Why, yes, you will need tissues, why are you even asking? 

You could easily read this book in 15 minutes, but I encourage you to take much longer and savor the words. Jot down a line or two you like, such as

"Children tell tiny truths," Sylvan told me once. "Poets try to understand them."

If you have enjoyed anything at all by Patricia MacLachlan, you will like this one. Mature themes are dealt with in ways appropriate to a younger audience, and a happy ending that would normally seem trite, works here. (They don't ALL have to end like Stone Fox, okay?) Hand this one to your thoughtful young readers who are starting to really get into chapter books, but who haven't become too jaded to believe animals will talk to the right people.

Giving as a gift? Pair this with a beautiful blank journal, so your young reader can try his or her hand at creating poetry or prose.