Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: Don't Go There by Jeanne Willis and Hrefna Bragadottir


They must not have toilets in outer space, because this baby Martian keeps going in the wrong place: a bird bath, a bin, an up-turned hat. Perhaps if he masters "The Toilet Song," he might learn where to go.

No surprise to parents or librarians, toilet training books are verrrry popular! This rhyming picture book is a fun one to read with kids, giggling over the silly mistakes the Martian makes. Little ones love feeling like they know more than someone else, and even toddlers know you don't poop in the goldfish bowl! Of course, if your kids are little smart-alecks like mine, this could backfire a bit, but most kids will get the general idea. The potty song in familiar, but I couldn't tell you what the tune to it is, and none is offered. I tried googling it and came up with a million other songs, becoming completely distracted by these on Fatherly. Do NOT listen to them at your desk at work. Or, do - some of your coworkers may need the hand washing reminder!

Back to the book...super cute illustrations of our confused little Martian, ending with toilet paper flying everywhere as he tries to teach his friends back home. The rhythm is a little bit off in places, so you might practice it before reading it out loud with your little one, but that's just in a couple places. This one already has a place on our parenting books shelf!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Review: Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown


Just as Lesser Spotted Animals showed you some of the wonderfully WOW wildlife we never get to see, the next book of the lesser known animal kingdom reveals the stories of even more of the world's unseen and unsung creatures. No king-of-the-jungle, fancy-pants, hair necked lions here -- we've got the magnificent maned wolf instead. No blue whales either, we've got beaked whales -- and lorises and dingisos and dibatags and many, many more.

I ordered this book for the library before I received the review copy, and it was checked out pretty quickly. Animals in general are normally a big hit, and kids like the hint of the unusual and unfamiliar. They also like feeling like they know something their friends (or their grown-ups) don't! There is benefit for the animals, featured as well: as the introduction asks, "How can we help something survive if we don't even know it exists?"

Each animal gets its own two-page spread: one side with text, the other with an (often humorous) illustration. Side commentary by the animals and quick facts in conversational terms make this a highly readable - and entertaining - book. Descriptions of size, for example, might go from "guinea pig big" to "long-legged, medium-sized dog - like a chunky whippet."

And, in the words of another famous author, "Chunky Whippets" would be a great name for a band.

This is a must-have for any school library, as it is sure to be a kid pleaser! Of course, you'll also want the original title:


Now, if you will excuse me, I need to put "pet dingiso" on my Christmas list.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Review: Crayola Crafts Series from Lerner



Explore science, the outdoors, and more with these Crayola crafts! Easy-to-follow instructions and photos guide readers. QR codes for each project link to a digital landing page showing more detailed steps and photos.

I looked at these over Labor Day weekend, when the three oldest had gone off to a friend's house and the younger two were tired of playing with each other. The art projects included mostly require a parent to at least get things started, but they vary in involvement: from simple tracing objects around the house to creating entire costumes, in "Boredom-Busting Crafts". Shane and Grace tried the tracing activity, turning plastic silverware into silly families.

Shane branched out to tracing other shapes, while Grace stuck with drawing.

I think they both turned out pretty well!

A few of the projects required Crayola products, notably Model Magic clay (even more so in the second title). Not too surprising considering the publisher, but something to be aware of. Each project included a QR code to see more steps or ideas, but there was no way given to access those without a cell phone, which was disappointing.

The projects in "Fun Science Crafts" were a little less "doable" from the standpoint of things found around the house. They were more art-about-science than art-teaching-science, as well. I found the first title something parents or teachers might find easily accessible and actually do projects from, the second not so much (unless you had a lot of clay n hand you were dying to use up!)

Other titles in this series that I did not view: 
Crayola Outside Crafts
Crayola Super Easy Crafts

Monday, September 23, 2019

Review: Be a Maker by Katey Howes and Elizabet Vukovic


How many things can you make in a day? A tower, a friend, a change? Rhyme, repetition, and a few seemingly straightforward questions engage young readers in a discussion about the many things we make—and the ways we can make a difference in the world. 

How many ways can you use the word "make"? Make a tower...make a plan...make a choice...make a change! A little girl goes from making a tower into her room to making a friend and becoming engaged in her community in large and small ways. As the book's final pages ask, "Ask yourself this question as the sun begins to fade: in a day of making choices, are you proud of what you made?"

I think if I was teaching again, I might read this book at the beginning of the year and then frequently throughout. Inspiring rather than pedantic, it includes great reminders for all ages about the choices we make and what can happen when we act rather than sitting by passively. My kids really enjoyed it, and I am definitely keeping this one for home! Illustrations are lively and imaginative - and made me now want an apple cheese boat! Another must-have for the classroom or library!

Friday, September 20, 2019

Review: Babymoon by Hayley Barrett and Juana Martinez-Neal


The house is hushed. The lights are low.
We’re basking in a newborn glow.

Inside the cozy house, a baby has arrived! The world is eager to meet the newcomer, but there will be time enough for that later. Right now, the family is on its babymoon: cocooning, connecting, learning, and muddling through each new concern. While the term “babymoon” is often used to refer to a parents’ getaway before the birth of a child, it was originally coined by midwives to describe days like these: at home with a newborn, with the world held at bay and the wonder of a new family constellation unfolding.

Okay, first things first: Is this not the most adorable little family ever?? I want them to come to library programs so they can be my friends! I immediately had to look up other books illustrated by Martinez-Neal. Have that one. Reading that one for story time next summer. Ooh! I will need to order this one when it comes out next month!

There's a tiny question in my head of who this book might be for. With no older sibling included I am not sure small children will identify, although it could certainly be read with them to explain why we are not having friends over for a little bit. It would make a great baby shower gift, maybe one of the first books for the new family to read with baby.

The rest of my head doesn't really care who the intended audience is: it's just too sweet not to be enjoyed! Read it to remind yourself of those first days, or to look forward to them as the case may be. Or just read it to enjoy the exquisite illustrations - I defy you to look the baby yawning and not yawn yourself! Extra kudos for the lovely illustration of the mother breastfeeding the baby. That's one for a nursery wall! And of course the family pup and cat are seen throughout, checking on this new pack member.

Now, for the bigger question: do I donate this copy to the library as I usually do, or keep it for myself?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review: Nic Bishop - Big Cats by Nic Bishop


With grace, guile, and unstoppable power, big cats are admired for their speed and strength. Although they are related to house cats, these magnificent creatures are nothing like our pets! 

In addition to increasing a reader's knowledge of big cats and their behavior, I see a great opportunity for vocabulary building. On just one page you find words like "twilight", "dusk", "patrolling", "range", "prowl", and "stealthiest". Often nonfiction series seem to stick to plain vocabulary, but Bishop's text is richer, yet easy to understand in context.

The text is also broken up into larger and smaller fonts, with a 3-4 sentence caption accompanying the large photographs, making the book highly readable and visually appealing. I was happy to see the text imparts sensational facts without sensationalizing - another important distinction many other series don't seem to get! There is plenty here to attract readers of various ages, without the worry that it will share incorrect information or ideas.

Of equal (or even more) interest are the stories shared by the author at the end of his book, of encounters with big cats while photographing these and other animals. Bishop has several other titles in this series, including:

Nic Bishop: Spiders
Nic Bishop: Frogs
Nic Bishop: Butterflies and Moths
Nic Bishop: Marsupials
Nic Bishop: Lizards
Nic Bishop: Snakes

Nic Bishop: Big Cats will be available in stores or online beginning October 1, 2019.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Review: A New Home by Tania de Regil


But I’m not sure I want to leave my home.
I’m going to miss so much.

Moving to a new city can be exciting. But what if your new home isn’t anything like your old home? Will you make friends? What will you eat? Where will you play? In a cleverly combined voice — accompanied by wonderfully detailed illustrations depicting parallel urban scenes — a young boy conveys his fears about moving from New York City to Mexico City while, at the same time, a young girl expresses trepidation about leaving Mexico City to move to New York City.

As both a military town and an almost-border town, the topic of moving to a new home - often a new country - is HUGE here. I know we are not alone in that, though, and I am sure this book will have universal appeal.

I love the way it is set up: On the very first pages the characters each speak of where they are moving, then the rest is, as the description says, a combined voice: both children could be saying the exact same things about where they live now and what their worries are. Side by side illustrations offer enough similarities and differences to have children poring over them for hours.

A must-have for any children's library, and definitely a must-read for any family planning a move. I will be adding it to my 'recommended reading' list for moving, and will be sure to point it out during PCS season!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Review: Smile - How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry) by Gary Golio and Ed Young


Once there was a little slip of a boy who roamed the streets of London, hungry for life (and maybe a bit of bread). His dad long gone and his actress mother ailing, five-year-old Charlie found himself onstage one day taking his mum’s place, singing and drawing laughs amid a shower of coins. There were times in the poorhouse and times spent sitting in the window at home with Mum, making up funny stories about passersby. And when Charlie described a wobbly old man he saw in baggy clothes, with turned-out feet and a crooked cane, his mother found it sad, but Charlie knew that funny and sad go hand in hand. With a lyrical text and exquisite collage imagery, Gary Golio and Ed Young interpret Charlie Chaplin’s path from his childhood through his beginnings in silent film and the creation of his iconic Little Tramp. Keen-eyed readers will notice a silhouette of the Little Tramp throughout the book that becomes animated with a flip of the pages. An afterword fills in facts about the beloved performer who became one of the most famous entertainers of all time.

It's interesting how historical characters sometimes seem to see a surge of popularity in children's books. I don't know that I remember seeing any about Chaplin in the last 15 years, but we currently have three on our "new books" shelf! 

I also discovered recently that most, if not all, of Chaplin's films are in the public domain - this means you can have a movie fest without having to pay for a performance license! We are actually planning one in our little community next month.

Golio's and Young's work is a very readable biography starting in Chaplin's childhood and ending with the beginning of his career in the United States. It does not shy away from his difficult beginnings - extreme poverty, largely due to his mother's poor health, and landing them at one point in the poorhouse. Now there's a topic that will take some class discussion time! The sad parts are balanced with happy moments, however: as Golio writes, "And Charlie began to understand/How Funny and Sad went hand in hand."  Always along the way we can see what Chaplin earned from each situation, and how he was able to use it later.

The afterward mentions a bit more about Chaplin's film and composing career, but does not mention his politics. Older children may find parts of that interesting - and perhaps be a bit outraged by the backlash that resulted in his cutting ties with the United States for many years!

If you can't guess from the cover art, the illustrations are eye-catching throughout. A mix of collage, muted ink, and paper cutting. People are shown with few to no facial features, and often simply in silhouette, yet the illustrations as a whole convey deep feeling.

Overall an engaging and attractive addition to your picture book biographies!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Review: Two Tough Trucks by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Rebecca J. Gomez and Hilary Leung


Two trucks off to school for their first day of class.
One riding the brakes. One hitting the gas.
Mack and Rig couldn't be more different.
One loves the fast lane. The other, the off-ramp.

But when they're forced to pair up on their first day of school, can Mack and Rig figure out a way to get along and learn what it really means to be a tough truck?

Our little country school only has two classrooms - one for Kinder through 2nd grade, and one for 3rd through 5th. With tiny classes, kids kind of have to learn to get along with each other despite differences (one of the things we love about it!)

Trucks are a universal way to get kids' attention, and this simple story of individual strengths and working together gets the message across. Mack and Rig may remind children of Lightning and Mater in the movie "Cars", or they may think about "Little Blue Truck," if they have read that. An easy rhyme pattern and lots of action make it a read-aloud that is sure to hold children's attention. Mack and Rig are the clear focus of each illustration, often taking up the whole page - easily visible from the back of the room!

Guest reviews:

Logan (8): "It was bad that they at first sort of didn't like each other. The blue truck thought the red truck was bragging. It was good that they started helping each other."

Sheridan (9): "What was BAD was that the blue truck didn't want to go to school, and that is bad because school is COOL and AWESOME! What was good is that he started to like school because he felt better at school and he did the track thing and he could go backwards."

**Publication date September 17, 2019, so order it now!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review: The Day the Universe Exploded My Head by Allan Wolf and Anna Raff


The universe poured into me. 
My brain was overloaded. 
It smoked and glowed red-hot. 
And then 
it actually exploded. 

Ever wonder what the sun has to say about being the closest star to Earth? Or what Pluto has gotten up to since being demoted to a dwarf planet? Or where rocket ships go when they retire? Listen closely, because maybe, just maybe, your head will explode, too. With poetry that is equal parts accurate and entertaining — and illustrations that are positively out of this world — this book will enthrall amateur stargazers and budding astrophysicists as it reveals many of the wonders our universe holds. Space travelers in search of more information will find notes about the poems, a glossary, and a list of resources at the end.

While the facts contained are interesting, it would have done better as prose - or, at least, as non-rhyming poetry. Wolf frequently makes use of questionable grammar to make things 'fit' "I'll tell you what the real facts is", and it doesn't really work - the rhythm is 'off' too often to make it a manageable read-aloud ("Mercury" was a notable exception.)

If you can find a way to read them without getting tripped up, though, some like "A Moon Buffet" might be useful for learning the names of other moons, while several poems-in-parts, beginning with "Shooting Stars," could be used as an introduction to reader's theatre or performance poetry.

"Black Hole" gives an example of concrete poetry. Each planet has its own poem, with equal parts facts and personification. These could be used to teach fact vs. opinion, something I noticed my son's third grade class is working on right now.

In short, I see this being quite useful in a classroom setting, although not as a read-aloud, and I am not sure if individual readers would be thrown off by the changes in rhythm. My own kids were a bit noncommittal about it. (Sheridan (9) in particular was intrigued by the multi-part poems, but I saw her skipping through the others.) If you are planning a unit on space, I would pick it up, but I wouldn't call it a must-have otherwise.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Review: Future Astronaut by Lori Alexander and Allison Black


Ground control to Major Baby:
Could you be an astronaut?

So, recite with me boys and girls: what are Miss Ami's pet peeves about board books?
- too much text
-busy pictures
- concepts not developmentally appropriate

Future Astronaut does a pretty good job of missing my pet peeves - I would give it a 4 out of 5 in that regard! The main text is brief and relateable. The tasks of an astronaut are compared with baby's developing skills and interests. Astronauts work in tight spaces? Babies LOVE small spaces - the accompanying illustration shows two cuties in cardboard boxes.

All of the illustrations are bright, and while there can be a bit going on it isn't overpowering. The main focus is the person or people in each picture, and their overlarge eyes immediately draw the focus. 

A "fun fact" section at the back gives some interesting information (no crackers allowed in space!), but I don't know that it would mean much to the intended age group.

Overall very cute, age appropriate, and fun for parents who are wondering what this little person they created will grow up to be! This is the first in a series, with "Future Engineer" coming out next week, "Future President" in January, and "Future CEO" in May. I can easily see these being given as gifts to new babies, or at first birthdays!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Review: Angry Cookie by Laura Dockrill and Maria Karipidou


Oooohhh . . . not you again!
AGGGHH It’s so bright! . . . Close this book this very second, you nosy noodle! 

Cookie has woken up on the wrong side of the bed and is very angry. You want to know why? Well, you’d have to keep reading to find out, but now Cookie’s calling you annoying and telling you to mind your own business. If by chance you do stick around, you might hear about a certain roommate’s terrible musical skills, why you should never let your barber try out a “new look,” how it’s impossible to find a hat that fits a cookie, and why an ice-cream parlor that’s out of your favorite treat can be a source of desolation. Then there’s the matter of a hungry bird who tries to snack on you. . . . Propelled by quirky humor and woes that every young child can relate to, Angry Cookie suggests that sometimes the best way to cheer up a grumpy lump is simply by being there — and lending your ears.

We've all been there, right? The bad haircut? The annoying song? The bird trying to eat you? Well okay maybe not that part. My kids were right with him on the spicy toothpaste, though! They also enjoyed the subtle humor in the illustrations - for example, when Cookie complains that they don't make hats for cookies...while walking past a carrot, sugar cube, candy cane, and several berries, all wearing...hats.

A light-hearted take on handling bad feelings, on being a good listener, and on letting someone else in on what's bothering you. Keep a copy in your elementary classroom, and bring it out often for a read-aloud!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Review: Hair! Animal Fur, Wool and More by Marilyn Singer and Julie Colombet


Why are humans and other mammals covered in hair, and why are there so many different types of it? Vivid photographs paired with a duo of quirky, illustrated hair guides serve to illuminate fascinating facts about mammal hair: why it exists, what it’s good for, and more. Readers will learn about different types of animal coats, such as fur and down, and explore the many different forms guard hairs take, such as the quills on a porcupine.

Did you know that you had a mustache before you were born? That the zebra's stripes help protect it from biting flies? And, what's a pelage?

This book will teach you everything you never knew you wanted to know about hair! Types of hair, patterns, uses, hairless animals, keeping hair clean, whiskers (humans have those, too! sort of), and more. The conversational text comes in small chunks, set among bright photographs, many offering close-ups. A bird and a dog (I think) offer commentary and definitions of terms throughout. Books and web sites for further reading are offered at the end. A fun addition to any elementary library.