Monday, November 12, 2018

Mini Review: Stop That Yawn! by Caron Levis, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

It's bedtime and Gabby Wild's Granny has come to tuck her in, but tonight Gabby wants something else. She wants to stay up all night long. And so, they pack their toothbrushes and off they go to Never Sleeping City where no one ever sleeps, where beds are only for jumping on, and it's never too late at night for ice cream.

But at the top of the ferris wheel at the Never Sleeping City Carnival, it's cozy, quiet and peaceful, and soon Granny's mouth opens wide and, you guessed it, a great big yawn escapes. Gabby instantly realizes that if she is to avoid going to sleep, she will have to stop her Granny's yawn from spreading throughout Never Sleeping City.

Well, we all know how contagious a yawn is, so Gabby rushes from place to place, person to person, trying to stop Granny's yawn before it puts everyone to sleep. Can she do it?

Stop That Yawn! is an bedtime story turned on its head. The text is pretty simple with the repeating phrase "Grit your teeth, seal your lips, we have to stop that - YAWN." No doubt your young readers, like mine, will pick that up and repeat it in just the right places. The illustrations are fun and very different from the text, making Never Sleeping City and its inhabitants somewhat frenetic, which I suspect reflects how the world can feel to a child fighting sleep sometimes.

My young readers loved reading this book and exploring the illustrations - over and over again. And it sparked lots of talk about how they try to stay awake as long as possible. And yet, the story also elicited more than a few young yawns.

On a personal note: the first time I read this book, I laughed out loud remembering all the nights my Kiddo begged to stay up late. Finally, one New Year's Eve, I told her she could stay up to see the new year in. She was pretty excited, until that first yawn. And no, she didn't make it to midnight that year.

If you are looking for a different kind of bedtime story, if you kids are starting to want to stay up later and later, or if you and your young readers just want a good laugh, Stop That Yawn! is a book you will all surely enjoy.

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos

Eleven year old Ana María lives in a two bedroom apartment in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan with her parents, older sister Gracie, 13, and younger sisters Rosie, 6, and Connie, 3. Ana's parents are from the Dominican Republic, and although their children have never been there, they are proud of their heritage. Her father, a graduate of Columbia Law School, is a public assistance lawyer, so the Reyes family needs to watch their money carefully.

Ana is very smart and talented and it is assumed by her family that she will be accepted into and attend Bronx High School of Science, one of NYC's elite public schools. But on the day her sixth grade counselor gives her an application packet to apply for a full scholarship to the Eleanor School, the prestigious private school that Ana's best friend attends, Ana's parents announce that they are expecting another baby. And unlike the rest of her family, Ana is not happy about it.

Ana is also an accomplished pianist and when she shows up for her next lesson with her teacher, Doña Dulce, she finds three people from the Piano Teachers' Association already there. They have invited Doña Dulce to bring two students to their Winter Showcase to be held at Lincoln Center. Ana hopes to be one of the two, thinking it would definitely help with her Eleanor School application.

Into this mix, comes Tia Nona on the arm of fiancé Juan Miguel, announcing her upcoming wedding in the Dominican Republic and she wants the whole Reyes family to be there, and Ana, with whom she has a close relationship, to play the piano. And Tia Nona is willing to pay everyone's airfare to make sure they are there when she gets married.

The Reyes sisters are thrilled to meet their relatives in the DR and it proves to be a real eye-opening trip for Ana. Tia Nona, who is a doctor, is quite well off, living in a large home with servants, including a young girl Ana's age, and whose family lives in poverty. But when she sees her aunt mistreating the girl, Ana begins to look at the world a little differently.

Ana María slowly learns that her choices and her actions all have consequences - some good, others not so good. How all of this plays out over the course of approximately 6 to 7 months will keep young readers turning pages.

This is a lively book with a lot going on. And while I really enjoyed reading it, I didn't much like Ana María at first. She was a little selfish and self-centered, but as I read, I noticed how she was changing and becoming more aware of the world around her, realizing that some people's circumstances were much worse than hers - she was surrounded by a loving, supportive family and although they couldn't afford much, they did what they could and it was usually done with love. Not everyone has that, Ana discovers.

Burgos has peopled Ana María's world with characters who are realistically and vividly drawn, bringing out their different personalities (no easy task when you are writing about four sisters, each with their own, very individual personality) and their Dominican culture to life. I've lived in NYC my whole life, I love its diversity, and I thought Burgos captured the Reyes' Washington Heights neighbors to a T.

Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle is an engaging novel that tackles a variety of themes, such as the importance of education, family, living in a bi-cultural world, community, alcoholism, and abuse. But there is a lot of love and neighborliness to balance it all out and prevent the story from overwhelming the reader. 

There is a very detailed, very useful Teacher's Guide provided by the publisher, Lee & Low, that can be downloaded HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend

Sunday, November 4, 2018

🗽Books for Kids About Civics and Citizenship

Without a doubt, this has been one of the most active midterm campaign years I've ever seen. So it only stands to reason that many of our young readers have probably noticed what is going on and may even be wondering what its all about - especially now that they don't teach civics in school anymore. In fact, we live in an age when 2/3 of the people in the United States cannot name the three branches of our federal government, let alone what they do. Luckily, there are some kid-friendly books that can help fill the civics gap. These are the ones I used this year, beginning with

When You Grow Up To Vote: How Our Government Works For Your 
by Eleanor Roosevelt with Michelle Markel, illustrated by Grace Lin
Roaring Brook Press, 2018, 96 pages
Originally written in 1932, this book has been updated for today's world. Using simple, objective language, Mrs. Roosevelt deconstructs the different levels of government that exist in a democracy and how they operate, beginning at the local (town, city) level, then on to the state government, and finally the federal government. Each level covers the different jobs to which people are elected, the services they are expected to perform, and the importance of their jobs in the lives of their constituency.  The importance of voting and what happens when a person goes to the polls is very nicely explained (and without any partisanship). In the end, young readers will understand just how elections impacts their lives, the life of their community, and of democracy as a whole. Admittedly, civics isn't always the most exciting subject for kids, but if you plan on teaching it, this is by far one of the best books on the rights and duties of citizenship I've ever used to teach kids. Grace Lin's colorful illustrations are simple, informative and reflect the diverse nation we are. My personal feeling is that to be a responsible voter, you need to be a responsible citizen and part of that is knowing and understanding how the government works and why your vote matters. As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in 1932: " are going to vote. You will help choose men and women to govern the country. But to vote well you will need to know about a great many things, interesting things."

What's the Big Deal About Elections by Ruby Shamir, 
illustrated by Matt Faulkner
Philomel Books, 2018, 32 pages
Once your kiddos have mastered the basics of democracy, elections and voting, they might get a kick out of this book, and you might find it helpful for broadening your civics discussions. This is a book that is filled with information - some trivial, some important, all interesting - about the history of elections and voting. It asks a series of questions like What are elections? Who Votes? Why does government matter? These questions and more are all answered on double page spreads, with wonderfully detailed, often amusing illustrations, plus small text boxes with lots of trivia on each topic. Anecdotes about some often (questionable) historical political figures add to the fun, while helping young readers understand how they can make a difference. I found the section on How do we elect these leaders? especially helpful for understanding why we have a popular vote and an electoral college, and why each vote matters. This has always been the most difficult part of explaining government to kids, but it is nicely explained here and Faulkner's illustration really brought it all together. My kids were very interested in the answers to the "But I'm a Kid, I Can't Vote. Why Does Any of This Matter for Me? Not only did they learn some history, but they also learned that they can still make change through their actions. While Shamir included the children's protests during the Civil Rights Movement, we talked about the brave kids who survived the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and became gun sense activists. Shamir includes a Timeline of voting in this country and an helpful Author's Note. This is a definite must for anyone interested in studying democracy.

Vote! written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow
Clarion Books, 2003, 48 pages 
This has been a favorite book to use when teaching young kids about how an election works since it first came out. What makes it so wonderful is that it takes an election campaign at the local level for mayor and follows one candidate, Chris Smith, from the beginning and right through to the winner's swearing in. This primer on what voting is and how it works is told from the point of view of two dogs, with the older dog schooling the younger puppy, both owned by candidate Smith. Christelow covers everything from voter registrations, to who gets to vote, the use of polls, the use of opponent's misleading ads, why people don't vote, and what happens when the losing candidate demands a recount. Much of what is included is covered in most books, but there is some very useful new information here and it is told in a linear manner as the mayoral campaign progresses. What makes this such a useful book is that it can easily be applied to other kinds of races - senate, house, even presidential races - since the process is essentially the same. The illustrations are lively as is most of the text, thanks to the use of the dogs, who really add some humor to an otherwise not terribly exciting subject. There is lots of back matter, including a glossary, and you can find a very helpful readers's guide courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (publisher of the paperback copy of Vote!) HERE

What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
Chronicle Books, 2018, 40 pages
Now that your kiddos know all about democracy, voting, government, and that they can also be active in making the world a better place, this is the book to show them how they can do that and empower themselves. Told in a simple rhyme that, I'm sorry to say, doesn't always hold up, readers are introduced to a diverse group of children who are ready to show them just how they too can become activists. The children slowly transform an island with just a tree into a  wonderful tree house that is open and welcoming to all people. Even the new kid in town is invited to join the other tree house occupants and to make his own contribution to the group. With supporting paper cut illustrations, the text describes all the ways a person can be a good citizen and why: "We're part of a society/One full of joy and pain/A land of latticed people/None of us the same/And if we help just one/hep one lonely soul/We open doors, we bring in light/We bind us all and make us whole."

If you are looking to build a library of books about citizenship, whether in a classroom or at home, these are four books you might want to include. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Begone the Raggedy Witches (The Wild Magic Trilogy #1) by Celine Kiernan

Aunty Boo had always been the one who protected Mup and her family from the evil raggedy witches by by trying to keep them safe in the mundane world. But no sooner does Aunty pass away, and a bunch of raggedy witches arrive at their home, with the intention of kidnapping Mup's Mam, Stella, and bringing her back across the border to her birthplace in the Witches Borough in the Glittering Land where Mup's tyrannical grandmother rules as Queen. With Aunty gone, the Queen is afraid that Mam will want to claim her right to the throne as the heir.

When Mam couldn't be forced to return with the raggedy witches, they kidnap Mup's father instead, who is on his way home from the oil rig he works on in the North Sea. Luckily, Aunty's spirit is still around when Mam, Mup, baby brother Tipper, and Badger, the old faithful family dog, set out to rescue Dad, held prisoner in the Witches Borough.

Once across the border, Mup and her mother are amazed at the powerful magic Mam suddenly seems to acquire. First, she transforms Tipper into a playful, talking puppy, then kidnaps a raven to prevent him from telling anyone about her crossing the border. The crow, nicknamed Crow by Mup, has been order to speak only in rhymes. But when Mup frees Crow, and he's captured by the raggedy witches, she learns he is really just a boy around her age. Soon, however, Mup is also quickly made aware of the dangers her family faces in the Witches Borough.

There's a lot going on here. The raggedy witches want to bring Mam back to their Queen, Mam's mother, to eliminate her as a rival the throne. The rebels living in the Witches Borough want Mam to stay and be their new queen. Crow wants to find his father and have a family just like Mup has. And Mup and Mam, well, now that their world has been turned upside down, they have to rethink who they are and what they want. All this makes for an exciting, action-packed novel that I personally couldn't put down.

The Witches Borough is a place where magic is no longer permitted by the Queen, where all rebels are required to speak in rhyme, and where men can only transform into ravens, and women into cats. But those who remember what it was like before the tyrannical Queen took over want to return to the time when magic was allowed and people could transform into whatever they wanted.

Mup, whose real name is Pearl, is Irish and Nigerian, a fact which (at least so far) has nothing to do with the story other than that is who she is. The story is told from her point of view, and readers will quickly find themselves enchanted by her. She is a kind, caring, rather quirky character, whose family is very important. I loved the anything-but-mundane outfit Mup chose for her excursion across the border from the mundane world to the glittering world - a pink tutu covered in spangles over a red wool dress, and her green frog wellies.

Begone the Raggedy Witches is the first book in The Wild Magic Trilogy by Irish author Celine Kiernan, but she is certainly no stranger to writing great fantasy. And while this may be fantasy, Kiernan address familiar and important themes of family, friendship, and be able to live an authentic life. If you love middle grade fantasy, this is a book for you.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World's Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

When Ken Nedimeyer was a boy, his father's job at NASA meant living in Florida, and, for Ken, that meant exploring the ocean.

Influenced by underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, Ken learned how to scuba dive and as he swam around the ocean, observing the world of fish and sea stars, he also began noticing the beautiful coral reefs in the Florida Keys.

Made up of countless tiny sea creatures, Ken found them to be just beautiful, and wanted to know everything about them - how the reefs grew so large, why they were different colors and shapes.

But, one hot summer, Ken noticed that the reefs were beginning to lose their color, and the sea urchins, who made sure algae did overtake the coral reefs, were beginning to die, and consequently, so were the massive coral reefs. But Ken just didn't know what to do for the dying reefs.
'The reefs of the Florida Keys teemed with life."
As an adult, Ken operated a rock farm in the Florida Keys, growing rocks full of sea life to help keep the ocean water safe and healthy for the other forms of sea life. One day, a coral colony spawned and attached itself to one of Ken's rock on his farm. And it grew! So Ken and his daughter began attaching corals onto other rocks and they also grew.

If you could grow corals on rocks, Ken wondered, could you transplant them onto a dying reef? Ken decided to test out this theory. Ken founded a group called the Coral Restoration Foundation, staffed by volunteers. As the corals grew, the volunteers transplanted these coral colonies, attaching them (with glue) in places on the reefs where they hoped the corals would take hold and flourish.

Did the transplanted corals survive? Yes, they did and now Ken's group travels around the world, teaching others how to grow and transplant healthy corals in order to save their dying corals.

Messner begins and ends the The Brilliant Deep with one tiny coral spawn and how it can grow into a new colony. And what feels to be a simple story in between is in actuality a wonderful lesson about ocean life. Readers learns how coral reefs are formed, why they are important to the not just the ocean's environment, but also to ours, and that sometimes, it takes just one person with an idea to make a difference.

The Brilliant Deep has been a favorite of my young readers right from the beginning. Not only is it interesting and informative, it is also quite beautifully illustrated. Forsythe's colorful, batik-style, gouache and watercolor washed illustrations are done in a watery pastel palette of mainly blues, greens. and sunny yellows give the perfect effect needed for a book about the ocean and its colorful reefs.
"It starts with one."
Messner cleverly brings the story of coral reefs and the story of Ken Nedimeyer full circle with to a satisfying ending that connects them back to the beginning of the book - spawns to coral reefs, a young boy to the man he became. She also includes more information about coral reefs in the back matter, including ways kids can help, online ways to explore attempts to save the coral reefs, and vocabulary words used through the book.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Chronicle Books
Imagination Designs