Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: An Ambush of Tigers, by Betsy R. Rosenthal and Jago

An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns

Have you ever heard of a prickle of porcupines? Or a tower of giraffes? What about a parcel of penguins? 

Oh, fun! I have seen several picture books on the subject of collective nouns, but they never seem terrible kid-friendly; the rhythm is off, or the text is just plain dull. Rosenthal's offering, by contrast, makes use of the double meaning many collective nouns have, illustrated quite handily by Jago. The entire book is a delightful mnemonic device: once you have seen the tower of giraffes watching the raft of otters (complete with swords and eye patches), I defy you to forget either noun.

Each two-page spread has one or two four-line rhymes, such as

Who cleans up
when a clutter of cats
gets fooled by the pranks
of a mischief of rats?

These are begging to be read aloud, and sure to be greeted by giggles. Some of the vocabulary might be beyond younger readers (what is a parcel? an intrusion?), which makes the handy-dandy glossary in the back just perfect. 

The definitions are accessible (intrusion means forcing your way into a place or situation where you are not wanted or invited), and if I was teaching a class of, say, second graders, I would probably start by reading the story out loud and having fun with it. Then I would ask if there were any words they weren't sure about, and write them on a chart. A second reading, asking students to motion whenever there was another word they weren't sure of. Bingo, there's our vocabulary list for the week! After having fun with those words for a while, we would look at other collective nouns - what are some used for people? - and maybe end with our own book, each person in the class illustrating a different term literally (what would a babble of barbers look like?)

This would work for a single home schooled child, or for a whole class. Remind me of this one when I win the lottery and can stay home all day! Of course, there's that annoying detail of having to buy a ticket first...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: The Moon Dragons, by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe

The Moon Dragons

When a king discovers that there are still singing moon dragons high up on the mountainside, he offers a room full of gold to anyone who can bring one to him. The beautiful dancing dragons only reveal themselves to Alina, a young peasant girl, but she preserves the secret of their whereabouts, knowing that there are some things far more precious than a room full of gold.

If you are going to have a picture book about dragons, you MUST have better-than-average illustrations. Blythe fits the bill quite nicely. Although only three pages actually have dragons on them, they are appropriately ethereal. The girl is lovely and innocent, the courtiers fleshy, and I like the angling of some of the scenes - particularly the pages where the angry king  is framed by the innocent lamb and the fleeing cat, but the huntsmen's feet are the only parts seen. Where he really shines, however, is in the scenery. The misty acrylics make it easy to believe that this is, indeed, a place where dragons might be found.

The telling of the story is a bit abbreviated, and more could have been done there, but the moral of relative value is sound - and, we can all do with the lesson that there are times it is best to walk away and hold our tongues, rather than correct someone else's perceptions of us. (That one smarted, didn't it?)

A pretty book with definite cover appeal!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: Nitty-Gritty Gardening Book by Kari Cornell

The Nitty-Gritty Gardening Book: Fun Projects for All Seasons

This time of year always has me absolutely chomping at the bit to go play in the dirt. The warm spells make you think it might be okay to get started planting, but you know you'll just wake up to a surprise snowstorm if you do! Since I don't have room to start things indoors, I have had to make do with tilling and weeding, and sowing a few cheap seeds.

Since the sub-heading of this book promises "Fun Projects for All Seasons", I was hoping I would find a few things to help tide me over - and I did! First, however, I was pleased with the introduction, titled "Why Garden?"

If you've ever eaten a just-picked cherry tomato, still warm from the sun, you know one of the answers to this question. Fresh fruits and vegetables taste amazing. Snap peas, carrots, and radishes are crunchy and crisp. Tomatoes and strawberries are loaded with sweet flavor. Lettuce is delicate and delicious.

Great imagery - and now I'm starving, even though I just finished eating lunch! Cornell goes on to mention the benefits of knowing how your food was grown, and the satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself. She talks about benefits to the ecosystem, and covers some basics such as space limitations, soil quality, and growing zones, to help readers plan. I've never seen a children's book about gadrening (or an adult one for that matter) suggest drawing a sun map, although it makes a lot of sense.

Once planning is out of the way, the book is divided into seasons. Spring has us starting seedlings in newspaper pots, and growing potatoes in sacks - great for homes with not a lot of space, or really poor soil. Summer has bird baths and hanging gardens, Autumn starts bringing things indoors and starting a compost bin, and Winter brings cute terrarium ideas. 

Each season has at least three project ideas, taking up a two-page spread. I found the introduction to be more comprehensive than the seasonal sections, but this is a good book for both getting started and getting motivated. Instructions are clear, and accompanying photographs or drawings are colorful as well as helpful.  Projects do not require a great deal of expertise or special equipment, and often make use of items from the trash bin. Many could easily be done in a classroom, making this a great book for school, library, or home. Gift it with a bag of soil and some packets of seeds!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a bag of potatoes to plant!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Picture Book reviews: All About the Bunnies!


I snorted. 

Declan is a sweet little toddler monster who cheerily greets every stick, rock, and tree he meets. His excitement cannot be contained, however, when he sees...bunnies!!! Bunnies!!! Bunnies!!! For some odd reason, however, much like the deer in my yard this morning, the bunnies are a bit unnerved by the shrieking toddler monster racing toward them at top speed. Poor, sad Declan!

There are very few words in the text, and the pictures are aDORable. I was recently treated to a video of one of my young patrons 'reading' the book Ball by Mary Sullivan, and I can see this one being 'read' the same way. So, E., if you are at story time tomorrow, I have a book for you to check out - after I read it, of course!

Cat & Bunny

Cat and Bunny.

Bunny and Cat.

It's always been just the two of them—daydreaming, having adventures, playing their special game.

Until the day someone else asks, "Can I play?"

I was reading somewhere recently that it is important for kids to have moments when they figure out a secret. Those moments help them feel empowered and grown-up, and encourage more critical thinking and analyzing. Toddlers will feel quite astute when they realize cat and bunny (and giraffe and quail and...) are actually children in costumes. When a real kitten shows up on page, you have the opportunity to discuss real vs. pretend (a conversation we are having at home a LOT lately!)

The story is a common one - two best friends, a third is introduced and someone feels left out. A common story in books, because it is a common story in real life, and the resolution is simple and cheery. Soft watercolor and pencil illustrations.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Review: Prairie Fire by E. K. Johnston

While some publishers randomly send bloggers books to review, others e-mail first and ask if we would like to see a particular title. Lerner, though, knows how to really make us salivate - they send us quarterly checklists of new titles, and ask, "Which ones would you like us to send?" Once we get past the knee-jerk "all of them please!" reaction, we get to spend an hour or so looking at descriptions and making our selections, trying not to seem too greedy. 

Of course, this means we are getting books we may already be inclined to like - who is going to ask for a book that doesn't even sound good? - but sometimes, there is a book we have been WAITING for, a sequel to a book we really enjoyed last year. When it arrives, one of two things is going to happen: we will either be so pleased to have it in our hands, we find it difficult to be completely objective; or, we don't like it as much as the first, and our disappointment is proportional to the excitement we felt when we first saw it offered.


Prairie Fire

Listen! For the song of Owen Thorskgard has a second verse. 
Every dragon slayer owes the Oil Watch a period of service, and young Owen was no exception. What made him different was that he did not enlist alone. His two closest friends stood with him shoulder to shoulder. Steeled by success and hope, the three were confident in their plan. And though Siobhan McQuaid was the first bard in a generation, she managed to forge a role for herself and herald Owen as a new kind of dragon slayer for a new kind of future. 
But the arc of history is long and hardened by dragon fire. Try as they might, Owen and his friends could not twist it to their will. Not all the way. Not all together. 
Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I know the cost of even a small bend in the course of history. Listen!
was it what I had hoped for, or was I disappointed?

Let's put it this way: you know those "things only a book nerd understands" posts that go around Facebook? They need to add, "Sitting in your car at the edge of the school parking lot while your children play on the swings blissfully unaware that you are sobbing because EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE and the author is PURE EVIL* FOR DOING WHAT SHE DID!" (* But, please keep writing, Ms. Johnston!)

So...I loved it. And I hated it. And I immediately messaged my 20yo that she has to read it. And she is going to hate me for it. And then she is going to tell all her friends to read it.

You, too. Go read The Story of Owen, then this one. And, if you never speak to me again...well, I will understand. But, it's totally worth it**.

**Need more than my purely emotional response to help you decide? Okay: Characters! Three-dimensional, believable human beings you begin to care very deeply about. Politics! I don't like politics, but the machinations of different governmental entities vs. internet-savvy publicists were actually exciting. Battles! You can't go wrong in battles with dragons, and not all of them can be defeated with a sword or fire this time. Cultures! From southwestern farmers to the Haida, I didn't see any stereotypes; each group had its own definite culture, but the characters were still individual people.

Now, get thee to a library and get started!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cowboy Days

The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum has several terrific events throughout the year, but the Cowboy Days is definitely our favorite. 

We started off watching a few gunfights.

They were kind of loud!

Then we moved down to the riding and shooting demonstration. Logan liked this lady - he kept saying "She is really pretty good!"

Here's a fun job!

Of course, being my kids, one of the highlights was running up and down the metal arena, which makes a ton of noise.

Even Shane was getting into it.

Lots of animals to check out, of course.

And we got to practice our walking.

Which we were quite proud of.

Really cool playground!

Because, you know, it's not as if we have slides anywhere near home.

Watch out, Sheridan, rustler coming up behind you!

You're never too big for some things!

Another favorite is the talking, bike riding skeleton who tells us how to keep our bones strong.

A recent addition, you can actually hook this cow up and milk her! can stare at the pretty girl next to you.

You can also see how it feels for the cow. Ticklish, apparently!

Time to eat! Several food vendors, and of course everyone wanted something different.

Mommy's BBQ burrito.

Giant corn dog.


More of Mommy's burrito.


Wait...has anyone seen my burrito?

Looking back over the things we have done so far.

Cool things to look at everywhere outside - old farm equipment, a working blacksmith shop, and this cool horno.

Or, you know, you could play with a stick and dirt.

There were two areas of craft vendors, a Sheriff's school and crafts for kids, several performers, pony rides, bronc riding, and of course the whole museum to explore. We didn't have time for all of it, and I didn't get pictures of half! 

The museum has added or spruced up a lot of areas, I was really impressed! Much more hands on and kid friendly. The kids spotted an indoor play area, and I grimaced at first, picturing the one at McDonalds. Not so! 

In the bottom you have several types of chickens in nesting boxes, with plastic eggs under them. You collect the eggs in baskets, and run them upstairs, where you dump them into a tube.

The eggs funnel down to the nesting boxes, and you can see which chicken laid the most...and do it all over again! The kids were having a blast running them up and down!

There was also a river, with irrigation ditches running through a field,

crops to harvest,

and tractors to haul them in.

Oh, and a horse to ride!

Which we weren't entirely sure about.

We followed up with a birthday party, so it was a fun, but long day. Only Logan was smart enough to sleep on the ride home, though.

Shane babbled and played with his feet to stay awake,

and Sheridan sang. All. the. way. home. You know how you are tuning out the 800th refrain of "Let it Go", and you suddenly realize that that is not quite what your child is singing? That, somehow, it became a song about, not snow, but...poop?

Think about it: "Let it go...let it go...can't hold it back any more..." Just got a completely different picture in your head, didn't you? Followed by, "I can't stand, and I can't stay, 'cause I have to pooooooooooooooop! I hope it doesn't explode all over the place."

Yep. I see quite a future, here.