Friday, August 30, 2019

Review: Long Ago, On a Silent Night by Julie Berry and Annie Wong

Is it too early for Christmas books? Yes? No? I'm going with "no".


Long ago, in a dusty barn, 
a mother took a child in her arms, 
wrapped him snug, made his bed in the hay. 
He was her gift that Christmas Day. 

There's no sweeter gift than a life so new. 
My best gift, little one, is you.

With these opening lines, the gift of the infant Christ is compared to the gift that every new baby brings. Beautiful text and breathtaking illustrations express pure joy and love from beginning to end. This book would be a great gift for anyone with a new little one in the house, but don't limit it to that. I plan to make it part of our annual Christmas reading list, but it will hold just as much magic any other time of the year.

Publication date September 3, 2019 - order it now!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Review: 30-Minute Makers Series from Lerner

September means the start of science fair season - which means beleaguered parents with kids in tow, trying to find a project idea that doesn't break the bank, is easy for everyone to understand, and involves some actual science (not just blowing things up with no explanation - although that's sure fun!)

I am always looking for books to help them out, and Lerner sent me two from their new series:


Did you know that you can make plastic, snow, and even a lava lamp in less than 30 minutes? Clear, step-by-step instructions guide readers through the exciting science projects, and Science Takeaway sidebars explain the chemistry behind these cool creations.


Step-by-step instructions and photos guide readers through projects that introduce them to the science of food. While shaking up butter and cooking candy, readers will learn about molecules, matter, and taste with these fast and fun projects.

Other titles in the series include:

Outdoor Science Projects
Rainy Day Science Projects
Robotics Projects
Sustainable Science Projects

Each is also available in paperback.

Each of the experiments I looked at would be a kid-pleaser and provide plenty of visuals for a presentation. A "science take-away" after each one gave a simple explanation of the scientific process involved - not enough to write a report, but enough to head the young scientist in the right direction for her research. Many are even suitable for very young children - we have tried a variation of the "dancing candy hearts" in Toddler STEAM! Whether for school projects or just for fun at home, I predict these will get a lot of use. I can also see these being helpful for an elementary teacher who wants to squeeze in more science, but who isn't given that much room in her schedule. We will be purchasing the entire set for the library, so come check them out!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Review: Riding a Donkey Backwards by Sean Taylor, the Khayaal Theatre and Shirin Adl


Would you like to know how a thief can turn into a donkey? Whether a cow can climb a pole? Or why you should spoon yogurt into a lake? Mulla Nasruddin knows all the answers, and he might also tell you why he rides his donkey backwards. Whether in the guise of an imam in a mosque or a beggar in the street, this trickster is never at a loss for a rejoinder, though it may leave you scratching your head, rolling your eyes, or laughing out loud.

Oh my goodness. I literally laughed out loud several times while reading this. And I will be adding it to my collection at the library. But I refuse to take it home. My children are already way too quick with a come-back, thank-you, and they do not need any more ideas!

The many stories are short, just a page or even a couple paragraphs. One reminds me of a blonde joke I used to tell. Some are familiar (I do love trickster/fool tales), others were new to me, all will be enjoyed by children of all ages. If I were still teaching, I might keep this on hand for quick pick-ups when students seem to have the doldrums - get them laughing and move on to your next subject!

The illustrations are three-dimensional, mostly cut paper with other media mixed in. Students might have fun telling their own funny stories and illustrating them in the same way, which could make for a fabulous hall display!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Review: Hack Your Backyard by Niki Ahrens


The great outdoors is calling! Explore science in your own backyard through this wild collection of projects. Make your own compass, learn to tell the temperature from crickets, count the stars, and more! Simple instructions and clear photos ensure projects will be successful, and QR codes lead to supplemental content. This book was created in partnership with Science Buddies®, an organization focused on fostering STEM discovery through hands-on explorations.

Oh look, a book written for my children!

School is now under way here, but we have enjoyed a summer spent in the dirt and the forests. We even discovered a species of millipede none of us has ever seen, right in our own back yard! 

This title contains 8 simple outdoor experiments, some of which may be familiar from elementary school science fairs (watching how water travels through a flower's stem by adding food coloring). All are a great way for adults who feel uncomfortable with their science knowledge to begin exploring together with their children. A "science takeaway" for each experiment gives an easy-to-understand explanation of the science involved.

Most of these can be done any time of year, and in city or country locations. A few involve live animals (ants, pill bugs, worms), so make sure your kids are treating them gently and letting them go afterward. My kids aren't going to believe their ears when I tell them I actually WANT them to collect more roly-polies!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Review: My Grandma and Me, by Mina Javaherbin and Lindsey Yankey


In this big universe full of many moons, I have traveled and seen many wonders, but I have never loved anything or anyone the way I love my grandma.

While Mina is growing up in Iran, the center of her world is her grandmother. Whether visiting friends next door, going to the mosque for midnight prayers during Ramadan, or taking an imaginary trip around the planets, Mina and her grandma are never far apart.

Readers are introduced to parts of a culture and experiences that may not be their own - from rising at dawn for prayers to buying bread from a boy with a towering stack on his bicycle - while hopefully recognizing the love and patience they also have felt from a loved one. Mina's best friend is the granddaughter of her grandmother's best friend, despite differing religious beliefs that are alluded to matter-of-factly. The subtle examples of differences creating strong memories rather than separation, and of belief systems used for love and connection rather than as weapons, are certainly timely and welcome.

Yankey's illustrations have an old-fashioned feel that lends itself well to the theme of grandmothers and memory, while the bright colors and patterns will still draw children in. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Review: B is for Baby by Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank


B is for Baby. is for Brother. is for going to see Baba! 

One morning after breakfast, Baby’s big brother is getting ready to take the basket of bananas all the way to Baba’s bungalow in the next village. He’ll have to go along the bumpy road, past the baobab trees, birds, and butterflies, and all the way over the bridge. But what he doesn’t realize is that his very cute, very curious baby sibling has stowed away on his bicycle.

Fellow mischief-makers are always a good draw for young readers. Each page has the simple formula of "B is for ____". Some words, such as "bananas", will be easy for new readers to fill in using picture clues or phonetic skills. Others, such as "bougainvillea", might be a little more difficult! We also get some British English with "biscuit" for cookie, which is appropriate given the African setting, and offers a chance to talk about the different words people can use for things.

Brooksbank's illustrations give us plenty of side stories to look at, from sneaky baboons to ladies with baskets of colorful fruit on their heads stopping to chat. A fun flirt with alliteration.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Review: Lion of the Sky - Haiku for All Seasons by Laura Purdie Salas and Merce Lopez


you gasp as I roar,

my mane exploding, sizzling—

lion of the sky!

Haiku meet riddles in this wonderful collection from Laura Purdie Salas. The poems celebrate the seasons and describe everything from an earthworm to a baseball to an apple to snow angels, alongside full-color illustrations.

When it comes to poetry, my preference leans towards brief - Crane, not Wordsworth. Many children new to the genre feel the same way. Playing with numbers is fun, so haikus are a perfect introduction. Add in some riddles? Lively illustrations? We're good to go!

The riddles aren't difficult, especially paired with the beautiful illustrations, but they aren't meant to be. Use this book to fire your class's imaginations - or your own! A simple, conversational explanation of the form on the last pages is enough to get any reader started.

My favorite:

I'm afraid my photo doesn't do the vibrant colors justice, so be sure to check it out for yourself!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review: Duck! by Meg McKinlay and Nathaniel Eckstrom


When Duck runs around the farm shouting “DUCK!” to the other animals, they grow exasperated as they haughtily explain to Duck which animal is which. Unfortunately, something is falling from the sky. But perhaps “DUCK!” isn’t the best warning. Perhaps what Duck should have said is . . . “RUN!”

Now, what young child cannot identify with the frustration of having something important to say, but nobody will listen? A great counterpoint to the classic Chicken Little (definitely read them together!), this time our main character knows exactly what he is talking about. A great story time read, with the repeated shout of "Duck!" perfectly set up at the end of each page.

The cartoony illustrations are a hoot, particularly the animals' lofty expressions as they try to tell Duck just how wrong he is (I swear if that pig rolls his eyes one more time...). Children may wonder why Duck appears to have angel wings, but they will delight in spotting the danger he is trying to warn the other animals of.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Review: Looking for Yesterday by Alison Jay


If yesterday was the best day ever, wouldn’t it be great to find a way to repeat it? A whimsical tale about happiness with sure appeal for science-minded kids — and wise grandparents — everywhere.

What could beat yesterday’s perfect day at the fair? Maybe nothing, one boy thinks, and he wishes he could go back and do it again. So he puts all his scientific knowledge to work, from stars to time machines to wormholes (is it possible he could find one in his garden?). He thinks that maybe Grandad could help him. But Grandad, in sharing some memories from his own past, reminds him that every new day brings the chance of a new adventure.

This is almost two books in one. The first half focuses on the boy's attempts to repeat that perfect day, which led me towards wanting a solution in that respect. The second half is full of Grandad's special memories: less action and more thoughtfulness. I don't see it working well as a large group read-aloud, but it would be great for one-on-one lap time, with lots of discussion about our favorite days or ways we can hang on to those special memories. Grandad's scrapbook is the perfect segue between the two!

 The real star of the book is the illustrating. Soft oil paints create whimsical landscapes with enough detail to keep a child intrigued for hours. The blending of science and imagination is portrayed perfectly this way.

Not an instant crowd pleaser, but one you may find yourself going back to over and over.

Publication date: August 20.