Friday, November 8, 2019

☃️Picture Books to Curl Up With On Cold Winter Days☃️

The calendar may say winter doesn't officially begin until December 21st, but cold days and nights have certainly arrived. And what could be better that curling up with a blanket, a cup of hot cocoa, and a good book to share. Here is a roundup of kid-friendly, kid-tested books that can take the chill out of any day.

Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog 
written and illustrated by Lisa Papp
Peachtree Publishers, 2019, 32 pages
Papp's follow-up book to Madeline Finn and the Library Dog is just as pleasing and informative and my young readers loved it. Bonnie, the library dog that helped Madeline gain confidence as a reader, has given birth to the litter of puppies, and Madeline is told she may have one. Well, the time has come and the smallest puppy chooses Madeline as her perfect person. Madeline also learns about shelter dogs, and after visiting a shelter, she notices how unhappy the dogs, cats, bunnies, and birds look with no one to love them. Seeing how much her new puppy like to be read to, Madeline comes up with an idea for the people in her neighborhood to help the shelter animals feel cared about and maybe even find a forever home - just bring blankets and books. But will volunteer readers show up? This is a sweet, heartwarming story with wonderful mixed-media illustrations. A bonus - you can download a great activity kit full of things that kids can do courtesy of the publisher, Peachtree, HERE 

Penguin Flies Home, a Flight School Story
written and illustrated by Lita Judge
Atheneum BFYR, 2019, 40 pages
In this sequel to Flight School, Penguin still loves flying. After all, he has the soul of an eagle, and loves the feel of the wind beneath his wings as he soars high into the sky - of course, with a little technical help from his friends in Flight School. But when Penguin thinks of his friends back home in the South Pole, he wishes they too could soar like an eagle. Teacher thinks Penguin is home sick and arranges for a field trip to visit Penguin's friends and family. And as happy as the other penguins are to see him, and as hard as he tries to get them interested in flying, they still prefer soaring through the cold Antarctic waters to flying. Now, Penguin is convinced his friends and family think he's "ridiculous" and afraid they won't like him anymore, but he's in for quite a supportive surprise just before the field trip heads home. This book is packed with heart and carries a nice message about the importance of following one's own dream, no matter what, and the value of having a strong support system behind you. Judge did the pencil and watercolor illustrations in sky blues and icy whites and lots of whimsey. This book, like the first book, has been a big hit with my young readers who just love Penguin. And I hear there might be a third Penguin book in the works.

Bikes for Sale by Carter Higgins,
illustrated by Zachariah O'Hora
Chronicle Books, 2019, 40 pages
Maurice rides his bike all over town, selling lemonade from it, and he always has plenty of customers. Lotta collects sticks all over town on her bike, because everyone loves sticks and they are so versatile - they can become anything you can imagine while you play. But one day, Maurice and Lotta both have accidents that leaves their bikes broken. Abandoning them, the bike are found by Sid, who knows just what to do with the broken bikes in his repair shop. Maurice and Lotta each see the sign "Bikes for Sale" in Sid's window, and go in. Sure enough, there are their old bikes, fused together to form a tandem bike, which they buy. And wouldn't you know, it is the beginning of a new friendship. The first time we read this together, my young readers loved it because, even though they made predictions of what would happen next, it didn't end the way they had expected it to. And they continued to like it even after repeated readings. The illustrations are simple and expressive, done in acrylics, with very appealing anthropomorphized animal characters. There is a map of the routes Maurice and Lotta take on their bikes, and it led to a nice lesson on drawing a map of the park nearby, one they are all familiar with, and its playground, esplanade, lots of walking paths, and the river running by it.  

What Are You Doing, Benny? by Cary Fagan,
illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Tundra Books, 2019, 36 pages
Benny is a busy older brother. He builds forts, makes potions, folds paper airplanes, but each time his younger sibling asks if he can do these activities with Benny, even after he offers good suggestions for improving on Benny's activity, he's told no. Benny just doesn't want to play with his younger brother. The dejected little cub decides to play with some puppets, instead. But later, he begins to ask Benny if they could do other things together again. When Benny still says NO! over and over, the unnamed sibling returns to playing with the puppets, and begins to have some fun putting on a show with them. So when Benny asks if he can play puppets, too, carrying a sandwich as a peace offering, the young cub, knowing how hurtful no can be to be excluded, agrees to their playing puppets together. And what fun they have! It's clear all the way though this story that the younger sibling really looks up to Benny, even if Benny treats him like an annoyance. The story is a realistic depiction of not uncommon sibling behavior that comes to the same conclusion that most sibling relationships come to - discovering each other as friends and playmates. The soft gouache and watercolor illustrations done in a pastel palette really capture the younger cubs frustration whenever Benny rejects him. Most of my young readers have older siblings and really related to the young cub's relationship with Benny. I think it gave them some hope for their future with their siblings.    

Hibernate with Me by Benjamin Scheuer,
illustrated by Jemima Williams
Simon & Schuster, 2019, 40 pages
Told in rhyme and based on a song of the same name written by Benjamin Scheuer, Hibernate with Me makes a perfect bedtime story. Sometimes all kids feel small, shy, scared or lost and need reassurance and a reminder that they are loved and not alone. A mama bear sings to her cub words of reassurance: "Sometimes things can feel confusing/Sometimes things feel gray./But if you're ever feeling...lost,/I'll help you find your way," and ending most stanzas with a wonderful refrain "Darling you can hibernate with me." Mama bear's comforting words remind baby bear that there's a warm, cozy safe place for the cub to be. Jemima Williams' watercolor and digitally rendered illustrations are warm and friendly, and really capture the strong bond between the mother/child relationship and all its emotions. I've read this book a number of times to my young readers and they never get tired of hearing it and exploring the illustrations. The words and music for the song "Hibernate with Me" are included on the back endpapers and we did have a musician visit and teach us the song, which was a lot of fun.  

Love by Stacy McAnulty,
illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Running Press Kids, 2018, 32 pages
Stacy McAnulty has been one of my young readers' favorite authors and they were happy to see this book about love and add it to our ever growing picture book library. Each two page spread answers the question what is love. Kids quickly learn that love isn't just one thing, but can take many forms, and for each form, there are different ways of expressing love. For example: one page says "Love needs special presents" and the four spot illustrations show one young girl with cancer getting a flower wreath to wear on her head, a boy delivering a book to another boy, a girls bringing cookies to an older woman, and a boy giving his teacher a drawing he made. One of the really special aspects of the is book is the wonderfully diverse kids and adults that are found on page after page. One of the things we learned reading this book is how easy it is to show other love and kindness and that for most people, receiving something that is homemade is best because it comes right from the heart. I loved the whimsical illustrations that harmonize so perfectly with the words about love. My kids tried doing some of the things shown in the book and giving their creations to people they cared about and guess what? Their reactions bore out the message of this book. 

But the Bear Came Back by Tammi Sauer,
illustrated by Dan Taylor
Sterling Children's Books, 2018, 32 pages
A young boy sits in his house reading a book called 101 Activities to Do Alone when there's a knock on the door and a big, roly-poly bear is standing there. Go home, the boy tells the bear. But bear keeps coming back, until one day he doesn't and the boy begins to really miss him. After a few days, he begins to look for bear everywhere, even putting up signs. Well, the bear comes back and there's a new book "101 Activities to Do With Bears." When I read this book to my young readers, I thought about all the times, when I was growing up, I would push away the very thing that I wanted either because I was feeling frustrated, I was just in a contrary mood, or I was afraid to opening myself up too much to someone else. When I asked my kids if they ever acted like the boy or like I had as a girl, surprisingly, they actually said that they did and could remember behaving like that but did not know why. This generated conversation made this book well worth reading. And the playful, colorful illustrations helped to alleviate some of the seriousness that could easily overwhelm this book. I mean, seriously, a big round bear with a tiny suitcase knocking on the front door? See what I mean.

Door written and illustrated by JiHyeon Lee
Chronicle Books, 2018, 56 pages 
You never know what you are going to find behind a door. In this wordless picture book, a young boy walking through a gray land populated with gray, unhappy, angry people finds a key and is led to the door it fits by a small, vibrantly colored flying creature. Behind the door, the boy finds a colorful land and various welcoming beings. He is is invited to join what appears to be a family picnic, where he enjoys their company, eating and have fun with them. Later, the boy goes with them to a place of windows and doors and other beings, all happy, friendly and welcoming. The longer the boy stays in this magical land, the more he loses his grayness. Finally, he ends up at a wedding, followed by a joyful celebration. As he leaves this land, he looks at the key in his hand - and yes, it's the key to happiness and even as he returns to the gray world he lives in, readers know he will be using that key often. This is a wonderful allegory about enjoying life and celebrating our differences in a world that accepts you for who you are. I loved the minimalist illustrations that manage to say so much and the fact that even though the boy and the beings don't speak the same language, they understand each other perfectly. This book generated a lot of conversation among my young readers, and although I believe some of the story went over their heads, they did get the gist of it, and we will be revisiting this book again in the near future.
A New Home written and illustrated by
Tania de Regil
Candlewick Press, 2019, 32 pages
Moving can be traumatic when you are a child, but here is a book that might help ease some of the anxiety kids might feel about moving. A boy living in New York City and a girl living in Mexico City are about to move - he to Mexico City, she to NYC, but both have fear and trepidation. Neither wants to move because they are afraid they will miss a lot of things that they love about the city they already live in - things like going to a ball game, playing in the park, visiting a museum, or heading out the the beach in summer. But as young readers see as they turn the pages, NYC and Mexico City are more alike than different. Each two page spread show the boy doing the things he loves in NYC, and on the opposite page, the girl is doing a similar thing in Mexico City. But not knowing what to expect, each child hopes their life won't be so different in their new home. The mix-media illustrations depict well known places in each city, and there is additional information about them in the back matter. This is a pretty straight forward book and by the end, young readers are certain each child will soon learn to love their new home as much as their old one. A story that celebrates differences within similarities. 

A big thank you from me and my young readers to all the wonderful publishers who provided me with copies of these books.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

MMGM: More to the Story by Hena Khan

**May Contain Spoilers**
This re-imagining of Louisa May Alcott's 1868/69 novel Little Women has been wonderfully updated for today's readers. It is still the story of the four sisters and their parents, the Mirza family of Pakistani Americans Muslims, no longer living in 19th century New England, but in present day Atlanta, Georgia. And hurray, Laurie isn't gone either, he is now a British Pakistani boy named Ali, 14, sent to the US from London by his mother, who hopes to soon follow him to Atlanta with his sister. Ali is  living with the honorary Auntie and Uncle of the Mirza sisters.

The novel is narrated by Jameela, 13 and an aspiring writer and author of a family newsletter called Mirza Memos and hoping to be the new Editor of the school newspaper. The story begins on Eid, and Jam, sisters Aleeza, 10, Bisma, 11, and Maryam, 15, are upset at the news that their father won't be there for the first time. Baba had recently lost his contract job at the Center for Disease Control and was in Maryland for an interview.

The good news for the family is that Baba does get a job - the family really needs the income, but it's setting up a hospital in Abu Dhabi, meaning he will have to live there for the length of his contract. The not-so-good news for Jam is that she's named Features Editor of the school paper, and her nemesis Travis is named Editor. Jam has always wanted to be an awarding winning journalist like her dada was, hoping to make her own father as proud of her as he was of his father. Since Jam and Ali are in the same school, she decides to do a interview with him for the paper. It's a great piece, within from a particular point of view, but using some off-the-record comments Ali made to her in confidence. Jam has to rewrite the article, leaving out those comments, but when the first article is inadvertently published, she has some hard lessons to learn about journalism and ethics. And now, Ali won't return her apology text messages.

Meanwhile, Bisma, who shares a room with Jameela, begins complaining of a lump in her neck. When it's diagnosed as leukemia, the family really pulls together while she is undergoing treatment. Not knowing what to do about Bisma, Jam sets up a blog on the CaringBridge website, enabling her to "keep a [private] journal, get comments from people who follow you, organize help with meals and rides and more." (pg 191) Slowly, Jam realizes that perhaps winning awards isn't as important as recording her sister's "journey to life" (pg 238) and subsequently making a difference for kids with cancer.

Oh, I just loved reading More to the Story. I loved the parallels to Little Women, so much came back to me despite not having read it since about 4th grade. But more importantly, I loved the differences, beginning with the wonderful close-knit Mirza family and Jam as a deliciously flawed protagonist. Yet, despite the trouble it causes, her article,  for the school paper, especially, has something to teach us all about how important our words are: "...[kids']words can make as much of a difference as adults' do - if we can get an audience that's bigger than our teachers and parents." (pg. 89) Now, that audience would be the young readers discovering this wonderful novel.

So what was Jam's article about. Well, it was called "Pardon Me? What Did You Say?" and it was about microaggressions, and although that wasn't the main part of the novel, it was a very important part. First of all, how often do you see the word microaggression in a middle grade novel? Not often, perhaps not often enough. Jam's article does make a difference, even nemesis Travis admits he had never heard the word. But the most important take-away is this - microaggressions hurt, or to quote Jam's friend Thu: "People say things that I guess are microaggressions about being Asian that really hurt sometimes." (pg. 116) And as Jam learns, words can hurt as much as they can heal.

More to the Story is an excellent choice for readers who like diverse stories and family stories all rolled up in a well-crafted novel.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Salaam Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Sonny's Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Grove by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Sonny's Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins Finds His Grove
by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Keith Mallett
Charlesbridge, 2019, 40 pages
What better way is there to introduce young readers to some of the world's greatest artists than through a well-done picture book? And Sonny's Bridge is a perfect example of that.

Walter Theodore "Sonny" Rollins was born in 1930 when the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing - for musicians, that would be literally. Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Glenn Miller were some of the jazz greats during Sonny's childhood, popularizing a new swing sound. And Sonny already knew that being a jazz musician was in his future as he practiced his saxophone at home in the closet.

Later, during WWII, Sonny continued to practice, listening to a new generation of musicians, people like Charlie "Bird" Parker and John "Dizzy" Gillespie as they perfected a new sound called bebop. But even though he was too young to join the army, he also began to see the inequalities around him and to demonstrate for equal rights for all African Americans and to end Jim Crow laws.
Sonny and his saxophone Henrietta soon began to get some gigs, playing in "...fancy joints and two-bit joints./Two shows a night, two sets per show" and to gain so much recognition, he found himself playing in Carnegie Hall with other jazz legends.
But somehow, despite his success, at 29 years old, Sonny was dissatisfied and decided to leave the jazz world behind, believing that his name was bigger than his talent, that his fame had come too soon. His life, he decides, needed an intermission.
But as Sonny continued to play, he realized he also needed to finds a place to practice that wouldn't bother the neighbors, a place where he could play as much and as loudly as he needed to, a place that was right in from of his eyes - the Williamsburg Bridge, connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan. It was the perfect place to reconnect with himself: "seeking refuge and sol-i-tude. Finding inspiration, finding himself/in the echoes of the echoes of the echoes" on the walkway of the bridge.
Eventually, more confident in his sound and himself, Sonny goes back into the recording studio where his music, "enters a new dimension: his subconscious" and within two weeks, a new album with a new sound is produced and appropriately named "The Bridge." Sonny is back and better than ever!

Sonny's Bridge is such a perfectly wrought picture book for older readers. Wittenstein has written the text in a free verse style that resembles a jazzy bebob composition that Sonny might have played himself, capturing all the energy of bebop, and all the passion of this musical genius.

Mallett's digitally illustrations are bold and vibrantly colorful, carrying their own sense of rhythm that compliments both the free verse text and the excitement of the jazz scene to which Sonny belonged over the course of 40 years, from his years as a young listener and learner to his years as a self-assured musician and creator.

I also loved the design of this book as well as the content. Maybe it's because I'm old enough to remember buying record albums before cassettes, CDs, and now Vinyl. Albums always had a colorful cardboard jacket, and inside of it, the record was usually held in a brown paper sleeve with a hole in the center that showed the record label. And that is exactly the sense you get when you open Sonny's Bridge. And in keeping with musical traditon, Sonny's biography is set up like a gig itself - with a first set, and intermission, and a second set that harmonizes perfectly with Sonny's life.

There is plenty of back matter for further exploration into Sonny's life and music, and an excellent curriculum guide is available from the publisher, Charlesbridge, HERE 

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was sent to my by the published, Charlesbridge Publishing

Monday, October 21, 2019

A Halloween Picture Book Roundup

Halloween is right around the corner and my young readers and I have been reading and re-reading some new favorites that we would like to share with you. We hope you enjoy them as much as we are. 
Pumpkin Orange, Pumpkin Round by Rosanna Battigelli, 
illustrated by Tara Anderson
Pajama Press, 2019, 24 pages
Told in two word rhyming lines, each one beginning with the word pumpkin, cat parents and their four kittens are off to the pumpkin patch to find just the right pumpkins for making Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns: "Pumpkin orange,/pumpkin round,/pumpkin hiding.../pumpkin found!" Getting their pumpkins home, mom and dad carve the pumpkins while the kids watch. then it time for them to get dressed in their Halloween costumes and head out with the neighbors for some trick-or-treating. Finally, it's time to go home, eat dinner, and enjoy a nice pumpkin bedtime story. My kids really liked this story. The kitties are sweet and happy, it's a loving family celebrating Halloween together and sharing it with friends and neighbors. The gentle pencil and acrylic illustrations are all done in a palette of Halloween oranges, greens and purples. The rhyme is fun but one caveat is that without the pictures, it doesn't hold up on its own. But the rhyme and the illustrations harmonize nicely and result in a simply, but merry Halloween story.

Snowmen at Halloween by Caralyn Buehner, 
illustrated by Mark Buehner
Dial Books, 2019, 32 pages
Personally, I love all the Snowmen books, and so do my kids. In this latest adventure, an early snowfall means a snowy Halloween. But before all the treat-or-treating festivities, a sister and brother build a some snowman and of course, they dress them up for Halloween. Later that night, on their way home, one of the kids thinks he sees a snowman wink. That sets off his imagination, wondering what these scary looking snowman do for Halloween. In his imagination, the snowmen first set off on a Halloween parade, down to the village square, decorated with lights and lanterns. Then, there's pumpkin carving, games, face painting, apple-bobbing and gooey caramel treats, followed by fortune telling and a finding their way out of a maze, spooky stories and trick-or-treating before heading home. But, alas, the next morning the snow has melted and so have the snowmen. What they really do at night remains a secret, but they do leave behind a Happy Halloween message for the kids. Told in a rhyme, this is a fun book and one that will certainly set readers imaginations going. The richly oil and acrylic painted illustrations are a nice mixture of merry and sinister, and readers will like scouring each page to discover the hidden rabbit, cat or T-rex. The snowmen are always a hit and my young readers are delighted to have yet another one to add to the library.

Pick a Pumpkin by Patricia Toht, 
illustrated by Jarvis
Candlewick Press, 2019, 34 pages 
It seems kids can't wait for Halloween and have been known to start thinking about costumes as early as September. It's just one of those high-anticipation holidays that is seeped in tradition, and one of those is a family trip into the country to pick out the perfect pumpkins to transform into a Jack-o-Lantern. At home, a space is cleared in the garage for the actual carving, just the right tools are choses, and friends are invited to come and carve their pumpkins, too. Carving is followed by decorating the house inside and out, and finally, dressed in costumes, it's time to light the Jack-o-Lantern: "its red-hot eyes/ will gaze/ and flicker/ Its fiery grin/will blaze and snicker,/to guard your house/while you have fun." Just like its Christmas predecessor, Pick a Pine Tree, this is also told in a four stanza rhyme describing each step taken to end up with a wonderful Jack-o-Lantern, and ending with a two page spread of decorated houses and costumed children and adults trick-or-treating with plenty of brightly lit pumpkins all around and a witch on her broom in the moonlight. Jarvis' pencil, chalk, and paint illustrations are done in a warm autumnal palette of oranges, reds, and yellows, and include diverse character throughout. This is a nice companion to Pick a Pine Tree and I suspect both will become favorites especially given the pleasing rhyme.

I Spy Spooky Night: A book of Picture Riddles by Jean Marzollo, 
photographs by Walter Wick
Cartwheel Books, 2019, 40 pages 
This is an updated version of the original 1996 I Spy Spooky Night with new challenges for sharp readers. Set in a haunted house that is really a victorian dollhouse, each page challenged readers to find the hidden, creepy objects an unseen narrator has already spied. Objects can be found in the different rooms, the hallway, the stairs, the library, even a secret cupboard, the creepy graveyard and the ghoulish garden. How many of the listed objects can you find on each page? None? Some? All? The book photographs are cleverly done for dramatic effect, and it is all described in the back matter. Be careful, Riddlers, you might be fooled by a rebus or a palindrome where you least expect it. What are they? Find the answer to that in plain sight. This book was a little old for my young readers, who are 4-5 years-old, although they did give it a good shot and did pretty well all things considered, but some of what is included is a little too sophisticated for them. I would age this for 6+

5 Very Little Pumpkins by Holly Wearne, 
illustrated by Ivana Forgo
Flowerpot Press, 2019, 20 pages
Some of my four-year-old young readers still like a good board book, and this has become one of their favorites. Five young animals - a turtle, a kitten, a puppy, an elephant, and a goat - are all dressed up as pumpkins for Halloween. As they give trick-or-treating from house to house, the little pumpkins collect so much candy, they just want to keep going: "They are getting so EXCITED/that they never want to stop/'til their bags have SO MUCH CANDY/it is spilling out the top!" This story is definitely a kid's dream Halloween and a parent's nightmare. The illustrations are as sweet as the candy in each Halloween bag. It's actually a nice book for introducing skittish kids to what could feel like a very scary evening, even when accompanies by a parent. Actually, one of my young readers did point out that the little pumpkins were out in the evening with no parent around and that they would never be allowed to eat as much candy as they wanted. That took some explaining to convince her that it was okay, we just didn't see the parent and the kids probably got tired before they ate as much as she thought. Despite that, she still loved this book. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Poetry Friday: October Party by George Cooper

When I was still a classroom teacher, Friday afternoons were always reserved for a fun activity. In the fall, this was always one of my favorite poems for sharing with my students, and taking a page out of my own school days, the kids would collect different leaves throughout the week. Once there were plenty of leaves to share, they would make a leaf book, identifying each kind by name and description. I loved being able to combine a poetry lesson and a STEM activity on our more relaxed Friday afternoons. It also gave the kids a chance to unwind from the week and still have a sense of accomplishment, too. I hope you enjoy it as much as my kids always did.

A big Thanks to Jama of Jama's Alphabet Soup for hosting today's Poetry Friday roundup. Be sure to visit her to find more wonderful poems to enjoy.
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