Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bug Detective: Amazing facts, myths, and quirks of nature by Maggie Li

One summer, my best friend and I went through a bug phase.  We were fascinated by all kinds of outdoor bugs.  We even did a science fair project on them once.  And while my interest in bugs isn't quite as strong as it once was, it is still not surprising that when I saw Bug Detective sitting on the library shelf, I knew I had to check it out.

Whether a young reader prefers butterflies, ants, spiders, beetles, or just likes them all, they are sure to learning about the 11 different kinds of flying and creeping crawlies found in Bug Detective fascinating.  

Each insect is presented in a two page spread that is packed with snippets of interesting information. This includes each bug's mission in life, as well as their life cycle, what they eat, where they live and who their natural enemy is.  And there is one other feature that is really helpful - the myth buster.  For example, on the page about stick insects, kids will learn that the preying mantis, which looks like it should be a stick insect, isn't.  It is a mantid and unlike the berry and leaf loving stick insect, the preying mantis likes to any and all insects, meaning the stick insects had better watch out.   

The way each page is laid out gives you the sensation of flying/crawling/creeping just as bugs, worms, and spiders do in real life.  And the little magnifying glass that comes with the book will has your young learners really going in for a closer look, and if they become real bug enthusiasts as my young neighbor has since reading this book, it won't be long before they will want a real magnifying glass and a trip to the nearest park.

At the end of the book, there are several Bug Detective Activities.  Kids can go on a bug hunt, make a bee hotel, make a caterpillar house and work on several other projects.  There is also a Bug Identification Guide for understanding what's what and who's who in the bug world.  And there is a nice Glossary on the last page for looking up unfamiliar terms.

Bug Detective is a picture book for older readers that is intended to introduce readers to the insect world and really provides just the basic facts, but it is enough to excite an interest in the world of nature and, hopefully, kids will want to go on to learn more.

Maggie Li does make it a point the remind readers just how important the insect world is for keeping nature in balance and how dangerous it can be if they begin to die off, as the bees have been doing.

I really liked this book once I got the hang of its particularly energetic layout and I think that kids will like it as well.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

This is book 7 of my 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy

Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading? #16

It's Monday! What are you reading? is the original weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Teach Mentor Texts.  The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week.

Last week, I was having a lot of work done in my apartment, and my refrigerator went kaputt on me, so I had a lot of waiting time to do nothing but read.  I read and reviewed the following books:

1- Ice Cream Summer by Peter Sís
    Scholastic Press, 2015, 40 pages (age 4+)

2- 101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up by Laura Dower
    Walter Foster, Jr., 2015, 144 pages (age 8+)

3- Pool by JiHyeon Lee
    Chronicle Books, 2015, 56 pages (age 4+)

4- Swimming, Swimming by Gary Clement
    Groundwood Books, 2015, 48 pages (age 5+)

I read but have not reviewed these books:

1- Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
2- Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
3- Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowy
4- The Safest Lie by Angela Cerrito

This week I have a lot of picture books to catch up on.  Some of them are

I think it's going to be a good reading week.

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Everybody into the pool! Two Picture Books about Swimming in Swimming Pools

 When we were kids and there was no parent available to take us to the beach, my older sister would take me and my best friend to Sunset Park Pool in Brooklyn.  It was an enormous and crowded pool, but I loved everything about it. Sadly, an allergy to chlorine ended my pool swimming days in my teens and, later, I always had to rely on friends to take my Kiddo to the pool.

This summer has brought us two wonderful picture books about swimming in a community pool, providing me with some vicarious pleasure of my early swimming days.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee
Chronicle Books, 2015, 56 pages

Pool is a wordless picture book that begins with a shy young boy in bathing suit, bathing cap and goggles making his way to the edge of a pool and ready to slide into the cool water.  Before that happens, though, a swarm of people rush past him and into the water with a variety of pool toys and suddenly the empty pool is now very crowded.

The boy manages to slide into the water, anyway and dives under the bodies.  As he swims around underwater, he meets a shy young girl similarly clad in bathing suit, cap and goggles.  The two swimmers begin to explore and play,  swimming among all kinds of imaginative schools of fish and other sea creatures.  They even play hide and seek among the underwater dwellings of polka dot eel-like sea animals, and diving even deeper into the water, their wordless, magical journey takes them to an enormous white whale.

The two finally surface just as everyone is leaving the pool.  As they remove their bathing caps and goggles, it is clear that these two kindred souls will be friends for life after their wonderfully delightful adventure.  But, wait, turn to the last page - is that another kindred soul?

Pool is JiHyeon Lee's debut picture book.  Originally published in Korea, it is a wordless story that has much to teach the reader about friendship and looking beyond the surface.  And yes, friendship can form without even saying a word.  The wordlessness also provides a nice compliment to the silence of being underwater (and a nice contrast to the noise you know so many people on the surface are making).

The illustrations are done in colored pencils and oil pastels, skillfully used to convey exactly what Lee wants the reader to know.  The first few pages are illustrated in shades of dull grey, except for the light blue of the pool water.  Once the two kids are underwater and begin their imaginative play, the images are done in bright lively colors.

Pool is a quiet, gentle story kids will surely want to read and talk about over and over.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Chronicle Books

Swimming, Swimming by Gary Clement
Groundwood Books, 2015, 48 pages

In this almost wordless picture book, the reader gets to spend a hot summer day at a community pool with a boy and his friends.  The day begins in the boy's bedroom as he wakes up, packs his bag for a day of swimming, and goes out to meet his friends - two other boys and a girl.  The four head off to the pool, practicing their strokes as they walk along.  At the pool, they change, shower, and jump into the water.

Suddenly, the four friends begin singing that old childhood favorite "Swimming, swimming, in the swimming pool" as they swim around.  Each line of the song is depicted on it's own double page spread as the kids act out the words.

At the end of the song, which is also the end of the day, the kids change in the locker room, buy some ice cream and walk home.  The main character eats his dinner, feeds his fish and goes to bed, under a poster of different swimming strokes, resting what I'm sure he is hoping for - another hot, sunny day at the pool.

Swimming, Swimming really brought home some happy pool days, not just mine, but my Kiddos, too.  Clements has depicted exactly what it is like to swim in a community pool with uncanny accuracy.  And these are kids who are serious about swimming - as indicated by the poster.

You would think a-day-in-the-life-of picture book wouldn't be very interesting, yet Swimming, Swimming proves that wrong.  In its everydayness, there is so much for young readers the see and talk about.  The main character is a little older than most picture book kids, probably around 11 or 12, but he has a message for young kids that swimming is fun, an activity that you can share with your friends and anyone can do it.

The illustrations, in pen, ink and watercolor, are done in a bright colorful palette dominated by shades of blue from aqua to blue to bright blue to light blue, all the different shades of blue depending on the sun's reflection.  All the illustrations are wonderful, but my favorite is the one showing all the diversity found in a community pool, and all the different people enjoying their own pool time activities:

Be sure to look at the endpapers to see an illustrated guide of the five most common swimming strokes. And if you have forgotten how the swimming song goes, you can see it done complete with hand gestures HERE

I think you will agree that there is nothing better on a hot summer day than spending time at the pool with your friends, as Gary Clement reminds us in this picture book.

This book is recommended for readers age 5+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up by Laura Dower

When my Kiddo was young, we always took our vacation in August, so right about now I would begin hear the words "I'm bored."  Those words are the reason I always kept a few activity books in my secret mom-stash.  Activity books always had something in them to catch her fancy on any given day.

My Kiddo may be older, but I still have plenty of young nieces and nephews who come to visit.  I love have them but I can't take them out every day to do things, so I still hear those whiny words "I'm bored."  Expecting that, I was naturally very happy to discover a new activity book for older readers (age 8+), which is perfect for my kids.

Done in an easy to use spiral notebook format, 101 Things to Do Before You Grow Up offers a wide variety of interesting activities covering activities kids can do alone or with each other.  The activities require few materials, mostly things that can be found around the house, so they are cost effective, and need little adult supervision.  There is nothing that will cause injury to a child, or blow up or burn down the house.

Some activities, like (#48) making a funny flip book, (#19) learning how to make shadow puppets or (#31) making three different secret codes, which pairs nicely with (#68) making and using invisible ink, are among some of the great indoor, rainy day projects, while making and using a compass, (#27) making and flying a decorated brown bag kite, (#76) inventing and going on a scavenger hunt with friends or (#14) learning some basic constellations and going stargazing, which pairs nicely with (#61) learning the phases of the moon, are nice outdoor things to try.

Each activity gets its own colorful page. sometimes two pages, with illustrations are clearly drawn thanks to Dan Bramall and Katie Knutton.  The instructions are written simply enough for even an 8 year old to follow, and at the bottom of each page, there is a box for kids to check off and record the date they did that particular activity.  Best of all, the activities will appeal to boys and girls equally.  

Most of the 101 Things listed aren't new, but really tried and true activities, sometimes with a new spin to them, however.  It's nice to have them collected in one book, so when kids need something to do, they can easily go through it and find something.  One of the things I really like about activity books is that they get kids away from their screen life for a while and back into real life.

101 Things To Do Before You Grow Up is a sure winner for those moments when your kids are looking for something to do.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

An activity book endorsement: When my Kiddo was about 10, and had just finished reading Harriet the Spy, she naturally wanted to spy the way Harriet did.  In an activity book she had then, there was the suggestion to take binoculars and see how many different kinds of birds you could spot in your neighborhood.  We made her a belt a la Harriet with all kinds of spy paraphernalia, like a flashlight, her Girl Scout compass, binoculars, pen, notebook.  We also borrowed a book about birds from the library and went to the park to "spy" on as many different kinds of birds that we could find.  She had fun "spying" and playing Harriet, got a lot of compass and writing practice in, and learned a great deal about birds, something she never would have done otherwise.

This is book 6 of my 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ice Cream Summer by Peter Sís

Today, June 19, 2015, is National Ice Cream Day and what better way to honor it than with a book about ice cream.  And leave it to Peter Sís to create just such a delectable summer treat.

A young boy named Joe has just received a letter from his grandpa, asking how his summer is going and hoping his grandson will tell him all about what he has learned over the summer.  Joe immediately writes back, telling his grandpa he is very busy.  At the bottom of the page, Joe writes in simple declarative sentences what he has been up to so far this summer: he reads, he writes, he's making his own book, he does math, including word problems, he's learned to make a map in camp, he goes on field trips, and he's even doing so world history.

But this is a Peter Sís book, and in true Peter Sís style, it is a multilayered picture book,  And so the reader's eyes must up from the words on the bottom of the page and look at the illustrations above the.  Yes, Joe is reading - the names of the  different flavors of hanging on the wall in the ice cream shop while he decides what flavor cone he wants. and yes, he is practicing math - 10 scoops of ice cream + 3 scoops = ?, and yes he has made a map, and the names of all the places on his map are ice cream flavors.  His research - the history of ice cream beginning 8,000 years ago in China and working his way through the to the Founding Father, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and including the invention of the cone and ice cream on a stick.

This is a fun book book for ice cream-loving kids, who will enjoy learning some history of this favorite treat.  The pastel palette used for the watercolor illustrations will remind you of those big tubs of different ice cream flavors found in shops. And kids will no doubt have some fun combing the illustrations to see how many ice cream related images there are in each illustration.  This is done so cleverly that it almost becomes a kind of Find-the-Hidden Object game.  And kids are certain to love how Joe tells his grandpa the absolute truth about his summer, but leaves out the ice cream details (and yet, given the ending, perhaps grandpa knows more than Joe thinks).

Because there are some interesting facts to learn in Ice Cream Summer, Sís has included an A Note from the Author along with a short list of book about the history of ice cream for anyone who wants to know more about this delicious sweet summer treat.

Whether you like one scoop or two, a hot fudge sundae or a banana split, this is a book that is sure to give young (and old) readers some ice cream fun.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

I scream
You scream
We all scream 
for ice cream!

I love ice cream and my very favorite ice cream comes from Springer's in Stone Harbor, NJ.  My favorite flavor is Springer Chip (coffee ice cream with chocolate chips).  

What's your favorite ice cream?

And to celebrate National Ice Cream day, you can get free ice cream at some pretty good places, click HERE to find out who is participating.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony Inspired by Historical Facts by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Michele Wood

Nikki Grimes has come up with a unique way to introduce young readers to two important women in American history in this historical fiction picture book for older readers.  She based her story in reality, at the 1904 Women's Suffrage Convention held in Rochester, NY (Grimes writes in the Author's Note that she could not discover when this convention was held and so she arbitrarily chose November).  Susan B Anthony was scheduled to speak and Harriet Tubman had planned on attending the convention, but ended up speaking about her life as a conductor on the Underground Railroad to the attendees after being introduced by Anthony.

Since there is no record of this meeting, Grimes has created an imagined meeting and conversation over tea at Anthony's home between the two women.  In alternating vignettes, each woman talks and reminisces about her life as am activists, recalling the dangers, the joys, the sorrows and the rewards.  Tubman tells Anthony about slavery and how she, once she freed herself, felt it was her duty to help others find freedom.

In between, Anthony tells Tubman about the family support she received that helped her learn to speak out for reform, especially for women, and about the dangers she also faced when speaking out or about unpopular topics.

Through their conversation, the reader begins to acquire a firm idea of what these two women accomplished, that will hopefully inspire young people to seek more in-depth information about them.  It is also interesting to hear them speaking about other well-known figures from their time, men like Frederick Douglas and John Brown.  There is just so much food for thought in this picture book, it will definitely take more than one reading to cull it all, but it is so worthwhile.

The acrylic and oil painted folk art style illustrations are so perfectly suited to the time period, done in a palette of rich colors from 19th century America and resembling a old handmade quilt.  Be sure to study each one closely.

The back matter shouldn't be ignored, either.  There are short biographies of each person mentioned in the book, additional notes, a useful biography and an Author's Note, all contributing additional information to the main part of the book.

I love that Grimes used an imaginary conversation to present so much information and to make the lives of these women stand out  in such an exciting way, making this a work that should not be missed.

And Grimes has also done an extensive Classroom Guide for teachers and homeschooling, which can be found HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Monday, July 13, 2015

Blog Tour: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

It's 1899 and Serfina and her pa have lived in the basement  boiler room of the sprawling Biltmore estate, home to the Vanderbilt family in Asheville, North Carolina, for 12 years.  Pa's job there is to maintain the Dynamo, a machine that keeps the electricity running throughout the building.  No one there knows about Serafina, and she has learned to make herself unnoticeable in the presence of other people.  She is also the CRC, Chief Rat Catcher, and it is a job she's very good at.

One night, after catching two rats, Serafina hears footsteps that don't belong in the basement, followed by the cries of a young girl for help.  She finds the girl just in time to see a ghoulish looking man wrap the folds of his cloak around her and then…she simply disappears.  But when the man comes after her, Serafina goes into fight mode and succeeds in getting away, but not before biting him.  He may look like a ghoul, but he was definitely human.

The next morning Serafina decides she must go upstairs and tell someone what she saw during the night.  As she listens to the Vanderbilts and their guests, she is startled when someone asks if she is lost.   Braeden, 12, is the Vanderbilt's orphan nephew, living with them since his family was killed in a fire.  A loner like Serafina, he is, as always, accompanied by his doberman pincher, Gidean.

It doesn't take long for the two, such opposites in the surface but so alike underneath, to become friends and decide to work together to solve the mystery of the children missing from the Vanderbilt estate.  It turns out that the girl Serafina saw disappear the night before isn't the first one, nor will she be the last.

To make matters worst, someone has attacked the Dynamo, plunging Biltmore into darkness every night while Pa works long hours trying to fix it.  

As their investigation goes along, and more children disappear, Serafina, who has never disobeyed her Pa, finds herself needing to know more about who she is, who her mother is, and why they must live in the basement.  Knowing she is different, and not just because she has golden eyes, 4 toes on each foot and the shoulder bones don't connect, both she and the reader are in for some real surprises that I certainly didn't see coming.

Serfina begins to have a sense of urgency as she and Braeden work on solving the mystery of the missing children. realizing that the cloaked man is now after her new friend.  But why?  What does the Man in the Black Cloak want from the children he kidnaps and seems to consume?  I suspect the answer will surprise you as much as it did me.

With Serafina and the Black Cloak, Robert Beatty has written a coming-of-age novel that will give you more than a few spine-tingling moments, more that a few shivers and that will keep you reading right up to the very satisfying ending.  But it is also a story about courage, friendship, self-acceptance and trust.  Both Serafina and Braeden are compelling, straightforward, well developed characters.  The setting, the beautiful, palatial Biltmore estate, is as much a main character as the two friends, and Beatty has described it so well, that the reader will feel like they are as familiar with the house's interior as Serafina is.  Of course, the surrounding forest, which Serafina has been warned to stay away from by her Pa and which she has always felt drawn to, adds another layer of mystery to this wonderfully gripping story.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys speculative fiction, but if you're still not sure, I think this beautiful book trailer  may change your mind:

Now, meet the talented author who penned Serafina and the Black Cloak:

Robert Beatty lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina with his wife and three daughters, who help create and refine his stories. He loves to explore the grand Biltmore Estate and the darkened forest trails where his novels take place. Robert’s Disney Hyperion novel Serafina and the Black Cloak will go on sale July 14, 2015. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives, Robert was one of the early pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the chairman/CTO of Narrative Magazine. In 2007, he was named an Entrepreneur of the Year. Answering a question about the inspiration for his book, Robert said, “Serafina’s journey grew out of my desire to write a story about an unusual and heroic young girl for my three daughters.”

Serfina and the Black Cloak will be available June 14, 2015.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to my by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion
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