Friday, June 21, 2019

Review: Kids Cooking by George Ancona


Roll up your sleeves, wash your hands, and join four different groups of kids as they prepare recipes from all over the world, step by step. George Ancona’s photographs record every crumb of effort as the children make their way around the kitchen, chopping, measuring, rolling, mixing, and learning about the food they’re eager to eat. The end result? Roasted vegetables from Morocco, fried rice from China, minestrone from Italy, and salsa from Mexico, filling the kids’ bowls and plates and tantalizing readers who may be inspired to cook up something savory of their own.

Why do I keep reading things that make me hungry? 

This book has so many elements that make me happy: learning about other cultures, trying new things, letting kids manipulate tools of all kinds, hands-on cooperative learning, plenty of colorful photographs...and, of course, food! The one thing it doesn't include are recipes for each of the dishes described, which was a little disappointing. Still, a fun book to read to kids before the start of a similar unit.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Review: White Rose by Kip Wilson


Disillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. The following year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated for information about their collaborators. This debut novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany.

Novels in verse are often hand-sold as 'quick reads', but this is not a novel to dash through. The pages deserve as much thought and consideration as the Scholls and their friends put into their words and actions. The entries vary in person between characters, including the Nazi officer determined to catch them, and in time - from the beginning of Hitler's rise of power to the Scholls' last moments - yet it is never confusing regarding who is speaking or when the entry is taking place. Yes, each is titled, but the voices are different enough as well. I was especially intrigued by some of the 'before' entries, in which Hans fiercely defends and supports the new government's policies...after all...the economy is better. I love that it illustrates that it is always possible to change your mind and be a hero!

Marketed as for ages 12 and up, which I would call accurate. Little violence, but much heavy thinking.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Review: The Woolly Monkey Mysteries by Sandra Markle

How much does one particular species really matter to an entire ecosystem?


In the cloud forests of the Amazon Basin, scientists are installing extraordinary numbers of camera traps in the hopes of learning more about an elusive species—woolly monkeys.

No one knows for sure how many woolly monkeys are left in the wild. But they play a key role in their ecosystem, and without them the rain forest is in trouble.

Join scientists on their quest to solve the mysteries surrounding the lives of woolly monkeys before it's too late.

The nice thing about reviewing a Sandra Markle book is that you can rest on her reputation and be relatively certain the science is well-researched and accurate!

So, why are the woolly monkeys so important? The answer lies in...poop! The monkeys eat a variety of fruits from different trees in the forest to keep up their energy as they jump from tree to tree. They also need to stay light, though, so they have to poop frequently. That waste not only contains the seeds of the fruit they have eaten, it provides a nice little pocket of fertilizer to get a new tree started! In this way, the variety of trees and plants that the rainforest needs to have in order to support the variety of wildlife is 'planted' throughout by the monkeys.

No monkeys = no monkey poop = no plants = no animals = no rainforest.

For this reason and more, scientists want to make sure they understand how the woolly monkeys live, so they can make sure they aren't even more endangered than believed. Are they all the same species? How often do they give birth? How far do they travel in a day? And...why do they sometimes eat dirt?? But, how do you study an animal that hides so well? (Hint: lots and lots and lots of cameras...and some expert tree climbers!)

Markle's writing style is conversational, imparting a boatload of facts with direct quotes form scientists in the field. A two-page spread describes the layers of the forest, and colorful sidebars describe the many close-up photographs. Readers can even scan QR codes to hear the monkeys or watch videos!

A fabulous addition to any elementary library, sure to be enjoyed from the eye-catching cutie on the front cover to the activity suggestion at the end.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Review: The Best Four Questions by Rachelle Burk and Melanie Florian


Marcy is finally old enough to ask The Four Questions at Seder!

"Marcy was sure she could do a great job with The Four Questions. After all, she knew a lot about questions. She asked them all the time. Why does that man have hair in his ears? Can I have a pet elephant? Are we there yet?"

Through her continuous questions, non-Jewish readers will learn some of the basic elements of a Seder meal, while those already familiar will simply enjoy (and perhaps recognize) Marcy's irrepressible nature and her determination to do it without anyone's help - or any practice.

As it turns out, however, there are SPECIFIC questions you are supposed to ask at Seder...not the four Marcy throws out. Did she ruin the evening, or did she just expand on it a bit?

Fortunately, we do eventually get to the traditional questions, to which Burk offers answers at the end, along with a simple explanation of Passover. Definitely one to add to your collection whether you are looking to expand your books about specific cultures or you just want a funny picture book that many kids can recognize themselves in.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Review: Undercover Ostrich by Joe Kulka

Okay, he's just plain cute:


Animals can be sneaky. But do you know who is especially sneaky? Undercover ostriches! They're everywhere, and they're masters at going undetected. You've probably seen one and just assumed it was another woodpecker or owl. The narrator of this book is on the case, following a single ostrich on his many adventures. Not until the final twist does author and illustrator Joe Kulka let the readers in on the narrator's true motivation: a peanut collection mission involving undercover elephants.

Despite Kulka's assertion that undercover ostriches are "experts at blending into their surroundings", our main character's presence is glaringly, hilariously obvious in each illustration. The trick here is to read aloud with a completely straight face and awestruck tone, while your young audience shrieks "HE'S RIGHT THERE!!!" Pair it with Mac Barnett's Guess Again for an absolutely hysterical (and more than likely raucous) story time!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Review: Midsummer's Mayhem by Rajani Larocca


Can Mimi undo the mayhem caused by her baking in this contemporary-fantasy retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Birthday alert! This book's official release date is TOMORROW! I picked up an ARC at KidLitCon back in March, where the author spoke about Diverse Fantasy in the Real World. 

There is so much in this one book that makes me want to organize a book club around it! First up is the fact that Mimi is the youngest in a large Indian-American family, with mention of favorite Indian cuisine sprinkled throughout (culture study). Everyone else in the family is wildly successful: Dad as a food critic, Mom as a business-woman, siblings in sports and arts (explore similar feelings of not measuring up). Mimi is a wonderful baker, but puttering in the kitchen doesn't seem as flashy or impressive as being in the limelight at a performance or game (does something have to make you famous to be important or enjoyable?) Starting a summer without her best friend, who has moved to Australia, Mimi is at a bit of loose ends. (moving, making new friends, noticing new kids at your school)

Then a new bakery in town announces a contest for kids, with the winner meeting Mimi's culinary idol, Puffy Fay (what kind of contest would you have a good chance of winning?). She follows a strange-yet-familiar tune into the forest and discovers a new friend - along with plants and animals she could swear weren't there before (habitat diversity). Things start to look up...and quickly turn sour again.

Mimi's father seems to lose his ability to detect subtle flavors in foods - kind of important for a food critic! - while eating absolutely everything in sight. After eating cookies Mimi makes with ingredients from the forest (herb lore), two boys fall madly in love with one of her sisters, while her brother falls in love with...himself! Then in the first round of the baking contest, Mimi's offering is flatly rejected. Wait a minute - isn't the protagonist supposed to win???

Those who have read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream will quickly recognize elements of the story line, as well as characters such as (Ti)Tania and Peaseblossom. A brief synopsis offered by a character towards the beginning (as he just happens to be playing Puck in the school production) will give others a heads-up as to what is about to transpire. A book club could, of course, read or watch the play alongside this title. For a short version, I highly recommend Bruce Coville's rewrite.

Either way, readers of any age will enjoy puzzling out mysteries and solutions with Mimi and her new friend Vik. Most of all, they will want to start baking! Mimi makes several tasty snacks throughout the story, musing about specific herbs and spices and how they might work together - blending savory and sweet. This is the reason I most want to have a book club centered on the title: how much fun would it be to experiment together in the same way?!** There are two recipes in the back along with directions for candied rose petals. I plan to try the Chocolate Chunk Thyme Cookies with Citrus Zest soon!

Since I have an ARC I will have to order a finished copy for the library, but as soon as it arrives I will be handing it off to a few young patrons I already have in mind. A solid, engaging middle grade novel with something to appeal to everyone.

**of course, it's also the reason I started experimenting myself this weekend, with results that would definitely NOT win any contests. But that's another post.