Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review: A Boy Called BAT by Elana K. Arnold, Illustrated by Charles Santoso


For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.
But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

Oh my goodness I am so in love with this little boy!

I had only had time to read the first few chapters when Logan asked for a new chapter book to read. Yes, he is only six, but he refuses to read anything other than chapter books now. I made an educated guess that he might identify with this sweet, sensitive boy raising a baby skunk, and handed it over. Despite the fact that AR puts this at a 4th grade reading level, Logan devoured it in three days, telling me all about it as he read.

Of course, I had to finish it as soon as he was done, and I found myself smiling and tearing up a bit the whole way through. Bat is somewhere on the autism spectrum, although that is never mentioned in the story. Logan is not, but he shares Bat's sensitivity, attention to detail, and sweetness. And his love of math problems!

I absolutely love the way Bat is portrayed, both through his own thoughts and through the comments and reactions of the people around him (many of whom I now also adore).

"It was too much to think about all at once, and his skin began to feel prickly and too tight."

"Bat knew that sometimes Janie thought he was weird. But he still didn't like to hear her say it out loud."

I want every child and adult to have an introduction like this to people with a different way of thinking and feeling. It's not a right way or a wrong way, it is just simply the way that person is. And the way Bat "is", is quite simply wonderful.

I just saw that this is the first in an expected series about Bat, and I am so excited to see more of him! Bat and the Waiting Game is due out in March.
*Note: As someone who has also raised skunks from bottle babies - with a toddler Logan watching - I was very pleased to see accurate information and sensible cautions in that respect!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Toddler STEAM - all things pink and red!

Valentine's Day a-cometh, and just the color selection alone lent itself nicely to some STEAM activities! This week was a particularly messy one, so in addition to having big t-shirts available to put over clothing, I had some plastic food handling gloves. As parents know, it doesn't matter how washable something says it is, red NEVER comes out.

As always, I had the more baby-safe things on the floor:

Rice bins are always good for lots of time sifting and pouring. This was 20 lbs of rice colored with red food coloring.

A few exploration questions to get things going:

But they really didn't need it.

FYI, the rice is actually easier to vacuum off a rug than it is to sweep off the floor, because once it hits the tile it goes EVERYWHERE.

I sliced up a million pool noodles last year, and they all happened to be pink!

Stack them, string them, balance them on your head. You can even toss them at each other with no real repercussions.

The weekend before was Sheridan's Nutcracker birthday party, so I brought the leftover sugarplum play clay:

On top of a vinyl tablecloth and WELL away from the carpet. This was everyone's first stop!

Up on the tables it got messy fast!

fabric softener, dish soap, oil, corn syrup, water, and hair gel, to make your own

The food coloring wouldn't even mix into the oil, so there was our first science lesson! Vinyl tablecloth, plastic under the table, t-shirts and plastic gloves. I cut the bottoms off empty soda and juice bottles for the mixing. The dish soap was a bad choice on my part, as it cut through the oil and made everything mix nicely. They still had fun!

A little tamer:

I just rummaged through the storage room and prize box, and found plenty of pink and red in no time at all.

Back to the messy:

We need more measuring cups! For now I just marked styrofoam cups at approximately the half cup line. Bonus: I can just toss them when it's done.

It's funny how some don't like to get their fingers in it, and others go right to town.

Last but not least, good old coffee filter art - but cut into heart shapes first!

So pretty!

Between the dough and the love potion, the room smelled REALLY good by the time we were done! Happy Valentine's Day, and Happy Mess Making!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review: Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora


Oh my goodness. First on my list of possible Cybils nominees for next year. I think the author's note sums it up best:

"When I was little, I saw a movie that showed lemmings jumping off cliffs. Years later I learned that, except in very rare cases, lemmings DON'T jump off cliffs. My first thought was, 'OH NO! DID ANYONE TELL THE LEMMINGS?!' So, we made this book. You're welcome, lemmings."

In our cast of characters we have a comic trio of lemmings, a very deadpan, stoic ship captain (picture the dad in the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies), and a very patient fox. I giggled just reading it at my desk, and I know it is destined to send small children into gales of laughter. I am dying to read it out loud in story time, I just have to figure out the appropriate distinct small squeaky voices for the lemmings - because they MUST have their own voices, and they must be small and squeaky. Thinking a la Petrie and Ducky from Land Before Time.

And yes, my children have been watching too many movies lately. Bringing this book home should put a stop to that!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Book Review: Construction Zone Series by Beth Reinke



I don't have to tell you that anything to do with heavy machinery is going to be popular with small children, do I? The summer that the old grocery store across the street from us was bulldozed flat, and a new one was constructed in its place, I could not keep books like this on the shelves! 

Written around a first grade level, these include fun details that might not be readily apparent, like how the seat of the backhoe spins to face the bucket. Text bubbles ask children to imagine other things each vehicle could be used for, and the end pages include a picture glossary and web sites for further exploration. A solid choice for motivating young readers!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: Drop by Drop by Jacqueline Jules and Yevgenia Nayberg


Akiva is just a poor shepherd living an ordinary life, until he falls in love with Rachel. Rachel thinks her husband could become a great man of learning—but Akiva can't even read! Is he too old to be a scholar or can he follow the example of the water in the nearby brook? Water is soft, yet drop by drop, it can soften the hardest stone.

Based on the life of the very real Rabbi Akiva, this story holds universal appeal for anyone who has ever felt that a task was too difficult to even attempt. Themes of persistence and supporting someone you love are simply taught and enforced in this short text. Best line: "She knew that a man with such goodness in his heart, who understood so much about life, must be smart even if he did not know how to read or write."

A great addition to any home or classroom library!

***And it looks like others agree - the very day after this post, it won a silver medal in the Sydney Taylor Book Award for 2018!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Book Review: Way Too Many Latkes by Linda Glaser and Aleksandar Zolotic


Faigel makes the best Hanukkah latkes in Chelm, but somehow, this year she's forgotten how to make them! She sends her husband, Shmuel, to ask the rabbi for help. And in Chelm, the village of fools—oy vey!—this becomes a recipe for disaster!

Is it too late for Hanukkah stories? Nah! If kids can check out Christmas movies at the library in the middle of summer, we can read this one just a few weeks after the holiday. 

If you are not familiar with Jewish folk tales, the village of Chelm is known as being full of foolish people who are often the subject of humorous stories - but often with a good bit of wisdom to be found. This title is quickly going to the top of my list of Chelm stories! The banter is quick, Faigel's frenzy and frustration are contagious, and children will roar with laughter at the dialogue. 

Glaser is no stranger to our shelves (Mrs. Greenberg's Messy Hanukkah is another Hanukkah go-to), but I don't seem to have anything by Zolotic. His characters' huge eyes and expressive faces (loved Faigel chopping the onions) add perfectly to the energy and humor.

First it made me laugh out loud (in a crowded library, I should add). Then it made me really hungry. Latkes for supper tonight, kids! And with my crew, there really isn't such a thing as too many latkes!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Country Study: South Korea

We got out of the swing of country studies somewhere around Chad and the holidays. Santa had plans, though! We all enjoyed trying snacks from Australia so much, he got us a subscription to Snack Crate a few months ago - but he didn't tell the kids! As the box for each country arrived, I packaged it up with books, games, and crafts from that same country, along with recipes for a full meal.

We opened the three boxes so far (South Korea, Germany and the Philippines - Australia is on its way!) on Christmas day and peeked at the contents, but we saved them then for those days when we needed a little structure. South Korea began the Thursday after Christmas, supplemented with a trip to the library and the grocery store.

This book gave us a brief history of North and South Korea (our ancient globe only shows one Korea!) and how the government and culture of each has evolved differently in the past 60-70 years:

Available used through Amazon

It is a little old (2003), but served our history needs. We talked a little bit about current events, trying to balance the line between being aware of world tensions and not scaring everyone!

This title is more recent (2012), and more accessible to our age grouping:


If you are just looking at South Korea, this is perfect, but I did want to contrast it with North Korea and talk about how different factors can influence so many parts of our lives. 

Enough serious stuff! Let's fly kites!

Or, at least decorate some to fly when the weather changes:

You can find these from any number of online sources. We will try flying them around the Lunar New Year - but I don't think I will tell them about kite fighting!

We love cooking together, so the meals were a lot of fun. The first night, Sheridan helped me start the kimchi, then Logan helped me make mandu (pork dumplings, made here with won ton wrappers):

I have chopper that would have worked faster than scissors, but it kept him happily busy.

Just a start - we made a LOT more than this - but I was very pleased that, unlike my varenyiki, these didn't fall apart immediately!

I ended up folding the corners in like won tons, because I didn't trust them to stay together otherwise!

A little fried rice with egg strips,

and some ho bak jon (veggie pancake). I tried to make one big pancake that I could cut into wedges like my favorite restaurant, but I way overestimated both the evenness of my old pan and my flipping abilities. I'll just use a before shot as it started cooking.

Then we dug into the Snack Crate offerings. For tonight we tried the Kancho biscuits, which were little round cookies with fudgy middles. Yum! They had fun little pictures printed on the outside of each. 

We read descriptions of each, and decided to save the pushu pushu for big sister Mykela, because a) she likes raw Ramen, and b) they say they are spicy, and if even Koreans think they are spicy, we probably don't want to touch them.

I bought some plastic stones for a game called Gonggi. Think Jacks without the jacks. Or the ball. It can be played with any old stones, but after seeing how many times they bounced off of Sheridan's head, I am glad I sprang for the plastic!

It's harder than it looks! She was getting really frustrated at first - especially after I caught a couple - but so excited when she finally succeeded!

For a second meal we had tak nalgae t'wigim (a glazed chicken) over rice, and a very mild cabbage kimchi. The chicken was a hit, the kimchi: not so much.

It really wasn't THAT spicy.

Seriously, guys.

Gracie said she liked it, but Gracie likes anything she is allowed to eat.

Logan liked it!

Shane was very diplomatic (and blurry - dangit!). He pronounced it "good but spicy", and when asked if he wanted more, said "No, thank-you."

I like Korean food myself, so we are probably going to continue working in more foods even after we move on to the next country. In the meantime, friends and relatives who have spent time in Korea (and who are there now) are filling us in with all sorts of fun tidbits and photos!

Finally, a little more reading:


We are reading a story a day (except for Sheridan who is going ahead), looking at the artwork along with talking about what types of lessons Korean parents want to impart to their children.

Loads if fun, I think it will be a while before we move on to the next country!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review - Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton and Victo Ngai


During World War I, British and American ships were painted with bold colors and crazy patterns from bow to stern. Why would anyone put such eye-catching designs on ships?

Desperate to protect ships from German torpedo attacks, British lieutenant-commander Norman Wilkinson proposed what became known as dazzle. These stunning patterns and colors were meant to confuse the enemy about a ship's speed and direction. By the end of the war, more than four thousand ships had been painted with these mesmerizing designs.

Best line from the book: "Times change. Technology changes...But a willingness to tackle problems by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers will always be needed." 

This just screams for an extension. You could go simply with art and imagination, and give children ship outlines to 'dazzle', or you could go further into graphic design, patterns, and visual illusions. Ask children to come up with some problems and devise crazy solutions for them. Who knows what breakthroughs you may be inspiring?

Be sure to point out that, while Wilkinson and others came up with the general concept, it was a team of women who created the actual designs - not unusual now, but in the era of World War I? That can lead to a discussion of how times of war have actually furthered women's rights in some areas, out of simple necessity. 

Both a fun book and a teaching book, with unusual and vivid illustrations! I would not be surprised to see this appear on a few award lists.

Did I call it, or what? I wrote this post a couple weeks ago, and yesterday this title appeared on the Cybils short list!

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Cybils Finalists

Second only to Dave Barry's Annual Year in Review, we have the 2017 Cybils Award Finalists announced today! 

As a member of the Board Book/Fiction Picture Book panel, I can heartily attest to the statement that this was "a difficult year". In addition to the craziness mentioned in today's announcement post, I have to say this was the most diverse panel I have been on. Well that is definitely a good thing, as it means more readers are represented, it meant a LOT more discussion was needed in order to come up with a final seven. While conversations were at times emotional, they were always professional and respectful, which is something I think the world as a whole could use more of in 2018. 

Without further ado, here are the short-lists for each category - these are the books you MUST order, if you are a librarian. If you are like me you will be silently flogging yourself for each title you don't already have. That's one of the beauties of Cybils, though: since virtually anyone can nominate a title, we get to see a multitude of titles that may otherwise have escaped out notice. Below are titles and authors, head over to Cybils to read descriptions and rave reviews!

Easy Readers
Early Chapter Books
Barkusby Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Dragons and Marshmallows (Zoey and Sassafras)by Asia Citro, illustrated by  Marion Lindsay
Heartwood Hotel, Book 2 The Greatest Giftby Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
My Fantástica Family (Sofia Martinez)by Jacqueline Jules, ‎ illustrated by Kim Smith
Overboard! (Survivor Diaries)by Terry Lynn Johnson, illustrated by Jani Orban
Princess Cora and the Crocodileby Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca
The Princess in Black Takes a Vacationby Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Wedgie & Gizmoby Suzanne Selfors, illustrated by ‎ Barbara Fisinger 

Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survivalby Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch with Tuan Ho, illustrated by Brian Deines
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusionby Chris Barton, illustrated by Victo Ngai
Hatching Chicks in Room 6by Caroline Arnold
Once Upon a Jungleby Laura Knowles, illustrated by James Boast  
by Deborah Lee Rose and ‎ Jane Veltkamp
Fred Korematsu Speaks Up (Fighting for Justice)by Written by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi; Illustrated by Yutaka Houlette
Red Cloudby S.D. Nelson
Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!by Ammi-Joan Paquette and‎ Laurie Thompson,‎ illustrated by Lisa Weber 
Zoo Scientists to the Rescueby Patricia Newman

Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels

Pashminaby Nidhi Chanani
Real Friendsby Shannon Hale, ilustrated by LeUyen Pham
Suee and the Shadowby Written by Ginger Ly. Illustrated by Molly Park

The Big Bad Foxby Benjamin Renner
The Dam Keeperby Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi 
Where’s Halmoni?by Julie Kim

Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

A Face Like Glassby Frances Hardinge 
A Properly Unhaunted Placeby William Alexander
Spirit Huntersby Ellen Oh
The Countdown Conspiracyby Katie Slivensky

Fiction Picture Books

Baabwaa and Wooliamby David Elliott, illustrated by ‎ Melissa Sweet
Big Cat, Little Catby Elisha Cooper
Creepy Pair of Underwear!by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown  
Escargotby Dashka Slater, illustrated by Sydney Hanson 
Flowers for Sarajevoby John McCutcheon, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
The Book of Mistakesby Corinna Luyken

Board Books

Bears Are Bigby Douglas Florian,  illustrated by Barbara Bakos
Changing Faces: Meet Happy Bearby Nathan Thoms, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros
One Happy Tigerby Catherine Rayner
Peek-a Moo!by Nina Laden
When Your Lion Needs a Bathby Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman


Bullby David Elliott
Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Marketby Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington
Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodiesby J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Johanna Wright
Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixoteby Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poetsby Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley,‎ and Marjory Wentworth,‎ and ilustrated by Ekua Holmes

Middle Grade Fiction

Amina’s Voiceby Hena Khan
Armstrong and Charlieby Steven B. Frank
Caleb and Kitby Beth Vrabel
Refugeeby Alan Gratz
Restartby Gordon Korman

Junior/Senior High Nonfiction

Young Adult Graphic Novels

Buddha: An Enlightened Lifeby by Kieron Moore; Illustrated by Rajesh Nagulakonda
Soupy Leaves Homeby Cecil Castellucci, illustrated by Jose Pimienta
Spill Zoneby Scott Westerfeld, ‎ illustrated by Alex Puvilland
Spinningby Tillie Walden

Young Adult Fiction

Moxie: A Novelby Jennifer Mathieu
Piecing Me Togetherby Renée Watson
Saints and Misfits
by S. K. Ali
The Hate U Giveby Angie Thomas
The Inexplicable Logic of My Lifeby Benjamin Alire Saenz
The Lake Effectby Erin McCahan

Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Scythe (Arc of a Scythe)by Neal Shusterman
Song of the Currentby Sarah Tolcser
The Hearts We Soldby Emily Lloyd-Jones
They Both Die at the Endby Adam Silvera
Wonder Woman: Warbringerby Leigh Bardugo