Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review: Who's Got the Etrog? by Jane Kohuth and Elissambura


Forget who has it, what IS it?

Auntie Sanyu builds a sukkah in her Ugandan garden. Curious wildlife—the Warthog, the Lion, the Giraffe, the Elephant, and other animals—come to celebrate the Sukkot holiday. They all want to shake the lulav and smell the etrog, but will selfish Warthog learn to share?

Aha! And what a fun way to learn some new words!

Of course, for anyone in the Jewish community, these aren't new words at all, but we do not have a large Jewish community here. I am always happy to introduce some diversity to both my shelves and my home, and I am especially fond of books that teach without coming across as pedantic.

The wordplay is vivid right from the start: "Auntie Sanyu's garden glowed beneath a milkbowl moon." Each day a different animal comes to visit and add another line to the growing refrain: "She sipped her soup precisely, while Parrot chattered brightly, Lion purred so nicely, and Warthog ate politely." Each time, however, Warthog refuses to let go of the etrog, which begins to wear on the other guests' nerves.

So, what IS an etrog? As the glossary at the end tells us, it is a citrus fruit much like a lemon. In addition to a nice clear glossary, we have a simple explanation of sukkot, and the history of Judaism in Uganda, which I found just as interesting as the book itself.

So, we have the Jewish holiday of sukkot, beautiful metaphors, manners at a meal, sharing, adverbs, rhyming, and the foods and animals of Uganda. I almost wish for a classroom again so that we could spend a week on story extensions! Definitely one to add to the shelves, and to break out for story time next fall.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review: Prince Harry and Meghan: Royals for a New Era by Jill Sherman


American actress Meghan Markle is not a typical royal. Upon hearing the news of her engagement to Prince Harry, royal watchers cheered the addition of a woman of color to the royal family. This profile chronicles how Prince Harry met the American actress, their relationship, and their journey toward becoming a new kind of royal family.

While I have never been a "royal watcher", it is not hard to understand the fascination with this love story. From picture books to YA to adult fiction, how many old (and new) fairy tales have told of the girl from a rather plain background marrying the prince? And here it is in real life! Today's children and teens are too young to remember anything of Princess Grace of Monaco, so this is entirely new to them.

I have to admit...I really like Prince Harry. Not because of the royalty, but because in spite of it he could be any one of my students from my years of teaching. Getting into a little bit of trouble as a teen, then straightening himself out and showing what an amazing, caring person he is. The candid moments captured on so many news clips can't be taught or faked. He's just a nice guy. All of these ups and downs are outlined in the first 20-30 pages, not shying away from early drug use and partying.

The next part of the book tells us a bit about Markle's life. I did not realize she had double majored in theatre and international relations. I am going to guess there weren't too many required classes that fell under both! She interned at the US Embassy in Argentina, and had plans to go into politics, until life took a turn and she ended up with a role on General Hospital. She took on extra jobs to help pay the bills - a position many Americans can find themselves familiar with!

Their unique backgrounds, and the priorities and lifestyle that don't fit the stereotypical image of a royal couple will no doubt keep them a topic of interest to the public for the rest of their lives. Even readers who have not followed them in the news will find their stories as told in this well-written title intriguing. A good addition to any elementary, middle, or high school library looking to update its current biographies.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Review: A Valentine for Frankenstein by Leslie Kimmelman and Timothy Banks

Valentine's Day always seems to sneak up on me. We go through a stretch of holidays falling at the end of the month, then February comes, and bam! You have two weeks to plan and prepare everything (which for moms is NEVER enough time.)

So, I'm here early to remind you to make sure you don't leave anyone out on your valentine list!


Frankenstein isn't your typical monster. For starters, he only has one head, just two eyes, and no tail. And worst of all, he's sort of nice! Frankenstein quickly realizes his friendly behavior is out of place at the Valentine's Day Bash.

I like Frank. Despite the other monsters' treatment of him, he keeps finding ways to encourage them. Even the most determinedly cheerful monster can start to feel down, though. Fortunately, just as his spirits start to dip, he finds a special valentine tucked into his pocket. Who could it be from? And will the other monsters start to look at him with new eyes (or eye), when they realize someone else sees value in him?

Great messages for any time, delivered in a super silly...gloppy...grossish way!
(Side humor: "and a real, live band. Well, kind of live.")

Friday, January 11, 2019

Series Review: Meet a Community Helper Series from Lerner


I know books about community helpers are popular, because when I tried to pull some on firefighters and police officers for a special story time in September, half of them were lost! (Side note: if you ever need a fabulous guest reader, our Chief of Police is your man. I'm still trying to convince someone we should be allowed to trade jobs for a day.)

As much as they are needed, I don't like putting out nonfiction with inaccuracies, regardless of the age level. Initial misinformation can take a long time to unlearn. Unfortunately, in the firefighter book alone, I found several issues.

Accuracies: Many firefighters perform tasks other than fighting fires, such as helping with accidents. Fires can happen in buildings or in forests. Firefighters use oxygen tanks to help them breathe in a fire.

Inaccuracies: The firefighters are shown wearing the exact same outfit (which they apparently bought at Walmart on Halloween) for every situation. On a structure fire. On a wildland fire. On a car accident. On an EMS run. IN THE WATER. And in each, they are wearing a cartoony helmet that DOES NOT COVER THEIR HEADS. Even where it says, and I quote, "Special pants and coats keep Jim safe in fires and protect him against burns." But, apparently, it's okay if Fireman Jim's hair goes up in flames, and the skin on his face melts off like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Don't use an ax to open a window, use your halligan. The fire hose does not carry water. Please don't store it with water in it. I could probably forgive the latter two, but the lack of proper uniform was pretty bad. There were several other kind-of-true-sometimes statements that weren't really WRONG, but needed more clarification.

The illustrations had a few oddities as well. Why were there two bricks on fire, but not the wood floor? Why were the children and teacher in the classroom reaching towards Firefighter Jim like zombies?

Overall, not a book I am going to put on the shelves, or give as a gift.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Review: Simchat Torah is Coming! by Tracy Newman and Viviana Garofoli


The eighth in the popular Jewish holiday board book series, a family and their adorable dog celebrate Simchat Torah! Simchat Torah celebrates the ending of one cycle of Torah reading and the beginning of another, and is accompanied by singing, dancing, and parading around the synagogue with the Torah. Join this family and their dog as they celebrate this joyful fall holiday.

I love how much I am learning from reading and reviewing Kar-Ben Publishing's books - and that everything is learned in such a fun way! I had never heard Of Simchat Torah before. I also love that there are good, quality books for children in Jewish households that don't treat them as 'other', and I hope to see more for other faiths as time goes by. (If you know of any, send them my way!)

The text has a bouncy rhythm that feels like a celebration itself, and the illustrations are bright and happy. Not too much for babies, but enjoyable for slightly older children as well.

We don't order too many board books - lack of space - but I will be getting the others in this series:
Shabbat is Coming!
Rosh Hashanah is Coming!
Sukkot is Coming!
Hanukkah is Coming!
Tu B'Shevat is Coming!
Purim is Coming!
Passover is Coming!

For further information about Shimini Atzaret and Simchat Torah, click here. You'll find a brief description, and then pages of links to stories, activities, and more! I am definitely bookmarking this site!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Review: Nutrition Matters series by Beth Bence Reinke

Did you eat yourself into a coma this past holiday season? This might be a good time to refresh your memory of what you learned about nutrition in your elementary school health classes...but let's have fun with it!


Hmm... I recognize the tortilla (or flat bread?) and rice there, and your little ones probably will as well, but what are those other things? 

Each two-page spread features a few lines of text about a (relatively) healthy food from another country, accompanied by a bright close-up photograph that makes even the simplest foods look inviting. (Except the Vegemite. Sorry, not making that mistake again.) Side questions draw in geography and science. A map shows where each of the countries is located. Unfortunately, nowhere did it tell us what the other dishes on the cover are, and while I can guess at some, I am not sure enough to answer curious kids with any authority.


Ever since my surgery was scheduled, we have been trying to lean towards a low-crab, low-sugar diet. Well, lower at any rate. Some people have to follow specific diets because of health issues, while others do so by choice. This title talks about vegetarianism, celiac disease, allergies, and diabetes. Side questions encourage readers to think about what ingredients are in different foods. 

Other titles in this series include:
Healthy Eating Habits
Why We Eat Dairy
Why We Eat Fruits
Why We Eat Grains
Why We Eat Protein
Why We Eat Vegetables

Friday, January 4, 2019

Review: Polar Animals series from Lerner


If you didn't know narwhals were the "in" animal this year, you had your head in the sand. Or, you weren't a librarian. As much fiction as there was this year featuring narwhals, it took the nonfiction sectors a little while to catch up. This title brings the basic information to the beginning reader crowd, with short 'chapters' consisting of 2-3 sentences per page. Side bubbles ask readers to use their critical thinking skills ("How might a narwhal's body shape help it swim?")

One of the narwhal's predators is...the Polar Bear!


Young patrons may enjoy tricking adults with the old, "what color is a polar bear's skin?" Or, maybe that's just mine. At any rate, the sparse, easy-to-read text still manages to impart plenty of information about how the bear's physical features help in its day-to-day life. So many fun science extensions with both of these! Winter STEAM program, anyone?

Beautiful, crisp, colorful photographs, and rudimentary index, glossary, and diagrams to get your young readers accustomed to nonfiction formats.

Other titles available include:

It's a Caribou!
It's a Penguin!
It's a Snowy Owl!
It's an Orca!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Review: An Unlikely Ballerina by Krystyna Poray Goddu and Cosei Kawa


Young Lily Marks loves to stand on her tiptoes. When her parents notice weakness in her legs, her doctor suggests dancing lessons to strengthen them. Lily falls in love with ballet—but can this fragile girl ever become a serious dancer? When the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova comes to town, Lily just has to meet her. Maybe Pavlova—small, delicate, and Jewish like Lily—hold the key to Lily's future.

I have been very pleased with the number of picture book biographies published over the past few years. Longer biographies just don't seem to circulate as much any more, unless students are required to write reports. With picture books, however, just enough of a person's story is told to make the reader acquainted with them, and in a story form that will hopefully engage the reader enough to inspire further reading.

Of course, with quantity comes a mix of quality. Some try to pack too much information in, and end up becoming wordy and dry. Others have too little and lack depth. An Unlikely Ballerina strikes just the right balance.

Beginning with a childhood of clunky shoes and the threat of metal leg braces, it tells the story of Lily Marks (later known as Alicia Markova). A doctor who was willing to think outside the box set this frail young lady on a path that earned her worldwide fame and success, although it was her own talent and determination, along with some words of encouragement from another famous dancer, that delivered her there.

An inspiring story that is never saccharine, illustrated beautifully in bright jewel-like colors, featuring early 20th century buildings and costume, and sprinkled with clouds of tiny pictures and symbols that add a touch of the ethereal. An attractive addition to your shelves.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cybils Short Lists - a.k.a. the Books You Must Buy Now!

Here they are! The best of the best in everything from board books to young adult. If you don't have any of them on your shelves, get to ordering right away! Just click here to access the lists!