May 25, 2017

Lighter than Air by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Matt Tavares

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:39 pm by suebe2

Lighter than Air
by Matthew Clark Smith
illustrated by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press

Sophie Blanchard was the first woman to pilot her own balloon.  When she was a girl in late 18th century France, “balloonomania” gripped the nation.  In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers had ridden their balloon high into the sky and above the roofs of Paris.  People were so crazy for balloons that women wore balloon shaped hats and balloon shaped bustles.  The plates that people ate dinner on were decorated with pictures of balloons.

The most famous balloonist was Jean-Pierre Blanchard.  He was a daredevil who ballooned across the English Channel.  He and his partner finished the journey so low that they tossed everything they didn’t need overboard, including their trousers!

Sophie read everything she could on Blanchard.  All of the balloonists were men. People believed that women were too weak to brave the cold temperatures and thin air faced by balloonists.  When she attended one of Blanchard’s events, he asked her if she liked the balloon.  She confidently informed him that she belonged in a balloon.  That was just the beginning and before long they were married and he taught her all he knew.

By 1805, Sophie was going up alone.  But flying could be dangerous and Jean-Pierre fell from his balloon when he had a heart attack.  It took some time before Sophie was up in the air but she became the first woman pilot. She was daring and often went up in a “basket” that was hardly bigger than a chair. She soared over the Alps and once went up so high that she fainted from lack of oxygen. Sophie’s balloon soared high above the people who would put limits on women.

Matt Tavares colored his ink drawing with watercolors to create images that are light and dreamy as a balloon flight but also detailed enough to pull the reader into the story.  They compliment Smith’s text which covers much of what is known about Blanchard.  Although her career as a balloonist appeared in the newspapers, her early life and motivations did not.

This book is long for the preschool set but grade school aged readers who are interested in flight or history will be hooked.  Share this book with any young reader who is pushing boundaries.   Be ready to look up images of modern balloons to compare with Tavares detailed depictions of historic balloons – much has changed over the years both in the creation of balloons and in those who fly them.


May 23, 2017

Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:14 pm by suebe2

Rah, Rah, Radishes! A Vegetable Chant
by April Pulley Sayre
Beach Lane Books

“Rah, rah, radishes!
Red and white!”

“Carrots are calling.
Take a bite.”

From radishes and carrots to squash and asparagus, the produce aisle gets treated to a rollicking fast paced rhyme in this picture book by nonfiction author and poet April Pulley Sayre.

Although most of the text is devoted to the vegies in question, Sayre also covers the importance of bees and sun.  An author’s note at the back of the book also discusses the definition of a “vegetable” in dietary terms, the importance of color to nutrition and veggies that didn’t make their way into the book.

Whether the topic is poetry, diet or colors, this book is an excellent choice.  Short enough to read aloud it is sure to engage young readers in discussion whether or not they are trying to figure out what is a radish or if carrots can be a color other than orange.

Young learners would have fun listing the many vegetables in the book, grouping them by color or shape or even in alphabetical order and coming up with ways they can be eaten.  A simple vegetable soup or salad would be an excellent classroom project as would a graph of what vegies each student has eaten within the last 24 hours.

Invite young learners to create their own vegetable poems with that poem is a chant like the one written by Sayre, list poem, or an acronym.  Another possibility would be to create a vegetable still life and have the students draw, paint or create collages based on what they see.

This book presents an almost endless array of possible activities.  Share it with your young learners and let them get creative!



May 19, 2017

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 8:07 pm by suebe2

Shh! We Have a Plan
by Chris Haughton
Candlewick Press

A quartet of young explorers make their way through the wintry landscape in the dusky evening. What will they find?  When they see a bird, the smallest calls out.  “Hi, Birdie!”

“Shh! We have a plan,” his companions say.

Plan after plan fails as the bird flies away from their nets but the pattern is established.  Greet, shush, pounce again and again.

Finally, they come upon the smallest companion surrounded by birds because he is feeding them.  Unlike the quartet of explorers, depicted in blues with wide white eyes, the birds are a colorful crew, vibrant and lively in the dusky winter landscape. When the bigger kids try to net the birds, they get more than they bargained for and flee.

Then they see a squirrel.

Haughton uses digital illustrations that look a lot like collage to create the folky feel of that art style.  The illustrations are deceptively simple – looking blocky and basic but contributing to the sense of fun.  Paired with the simple text, it creates dreamy story that feels classic although it is new.

This would make an excellent read aloud with illustrations that are simple enough to be seen from the back row, while being expressive enough to help create the sense of fun calamity that befalls each attempt to capture the bird.  Furthermore, the repetition, “Shh! We have a plan,” forms a repeated refrain that is sure to pull  young book lovers into the story.

The same things that make it a strong story time book make it accessible to emergent readers who are still honing their skills.  The simple text is reinforced through both repetition and the illustrations.

Build on the text by providing the art supplies necessary for collage and let new stories grow.  Perhaps they will be stories of night-time adventures.  Perhaps woodland explorations.



May 17, 2017

Goldfish Ghost by Lemony Snickett, illustrated by Lisa Brown

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:25 pm by suebe2

Goldfish Ghost
by Lemony Snicket
illustrated by Lisa Brown
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press

I have to admit that I had no clue what to expect from this book. I loved Lemony Snicket’s snarky sense of humor in the A Series of Unfortunate Events Books.  And, yes, I knew that he had already published another picture book.  But a book about a ghostly goldfish?  How was that going to work?

Quite well as it turns out.

“Goldfish Ghost was born
on the surface of the water
in a bowl on the dresser in
a boy’s room.”

Goldfish hangs out for a while but the bedroom is a pretty boring place for a ghost.  Goldfish drifts out the window and into town looking for a friend.  From sea gulls to a variety of people, there is a lot going on but no one notices Goldfish. Down at the beach, he finds even more people as well as a variety of ghostly sea creatures ranging from jelly fish to fish of all kinds, including a shark.  Goldfish finds it all interesting but the ocean just doesn’t feel like home so he drifts on with the breeze.

At last he drifts towards the old light house. It hasn’t been used for many years but inside he finds what he seeks, another ghost in search of company.  There’s more to the story but I’m going to make you read it yourself for the slightly sweet ending. Yes – slightly sweet from Lemony Snicket. Who’d have believed it?

Every parent of a fish owning child knows the stomach-tightening sensation of finding a floating fish.  Fortunately Brown’s sweet cartoony illustrations make this a non-issue.  India ink line drawings with water color make for a soft, dreamy story scape.

No, this picture book wouldn’t be for every child but then again no book is.  Still this book isn’t gruesome or scary and could easily serve to make an unknown space, the loss of a pet, just a bit warmer and more comfortable.


May 11, 2017

Trout, Trout, Trout! (A Fish Chant) by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Trip Park

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:03 am by suebe2

Trout, Trout, Trout! (A Fish Chant)
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Trip Park

“Threespine Stickleback,
Freshwater Drum.
Lake Chub.
Creek Chub.

Page after page of this fishy chant are filled with the names of . . . can you guess it? . . . North American fish.

The chant itself is both rhythmic and rhyming and contains the names of a great many fish found throughout the United States and Canada. Most of the fish are native speicies.  A few were introduced, intentionally or otherwise, by man. Although the main text doesn’t give any additional information on the various fish, a bit on each fish listed can be found in the back matter.  Over forty fish are listed in the order in which they appear in the main text.

Trip Park’s digital illustrations are silly and fun but also give enough detail to tell one fish from another.  That said, these illustrations are far from scientific but definitely add to the fun with schooled fishing carrying backpacks, sunning fish in beach chairs and you definitely need to see how the Starhead Topminnow turn the tables on the Northern Pike.

This book would make a great addition to the classroom or home bookcase.  Read it as you discuss poetry and then challenge young readers to create their own chants using the names of family members, hobbies are favorite foods.  It would also make a top-notch Father’s Day or Mother’s Day gift for a parent or grandparent who enjoys fishing, especially if they share this hobby with a young reader.

The only things this book is lacking, in my own humble opinion, is a bit of information on writing a chant.  Still it is definitely a book that you should share with your poetry mad or fish crazy young reader.  Chum! Chum! Chum!


May 9, 2017

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:44 pm by suebe2

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

What does it take to create a classic book like Stuart Little or Charlotte’s Web?  First things first, it takes Some Writer.  In this case, the writer is Elwyn White or, as his family and friends called him, Andy.

Andy grew up in New York state, not far from New York City. He and his family spent large amounts of time each and every summer in Maine.  Because of this, Andy knew both worlds – the hustle and bustle of the city as well as the slower pace of country life, paddling across the lake.  When he has a family of his own, the wanted them to know both worlds too.  He and his wife, Katharine, bought a farm in Maine and it was this farm that became the setting for Charlotte’s Web.

But before Andy wrote Charlotte’s Web, he wrote for adults.  He wrote essays.  He wrote short humorous pieces.  He published in magazines like The New Yorker where he met his wife who was an editor.

Stuart Little became a book because people had been encouraging (bugging) Andy to write for children.  He used to tell his son bed time stories about Stuart Little and decided that maybe people were right.  He should write for children and surely they would love Stuart as much as his son did.

I don’t want to give everything away so I’m not going to tell much more about what happened.  That said, I wasn’t surprised that his young readers loved Stuart.  I was surprised by how badly many adults disliked the book.  It was banned!   And described as frightening.  I kid you not.

Some Writer is an interesting read for anyone who is a fan of White’s work.  It shows how elements of his life appeared in his stories but also how he shaped both his life and is work.  This would definitely be something to read for discussing right after reading Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little when young readers would have the stories fresh in their minds and be ready to discuss how readers would have reacted differently to some of the story possibilities that never came into being in these two books.


May 5, 2017

The Last Kids on Earth and the Zombie Parade by Max Brallier and Douglas Holgate

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 10:39 pm by suebe2

The Last Kids on Earth
and the Zombie Parade
by Max Brallier
illustrated by Douglas Holgate

Jack Sullivan may be only 13 but he’s a world-class monster slayer.

Okay, it probably helps that he and his friends seem to be the only people left in the town of Wakefield but a lot of people evacuated when the zombies showed up.  Jack is the clever strategist and chief monster slayer.  Quint is his geeky-but-brilliant best friend.  Dirk may look like a brute but he’s the group gardener and still great in a fight.  June may be the only girl but she can definitely hold her own.  They’re pretty sure there are other people out there but they’ve got to hold out until they can seek out other survivors.

Human survivors.  Monsters aren’t at all hard to come by although the zombies are fewer and farther between.  And then they hear a horrible screaming and realize it is luring the zombies in.  What is it and why does it want the zombies?

When a monster quest goes wrong, Jack realizes that his friends would have died if it wasn’t for a huge guy (monster) called Thrull.  With skull jewelry and his massive size he’d be pretty scary if he didn’t also smell like a Cinnabon. Soon he leads the kids to a pizza parlor that has turned into monster home base.  Thrull is sure the kids will be welcome but they get the sense that something is wrong.  Someone is definitely lying to them, but who?

If you have a monster crazy tween he is hungry for zombies but most of the zombie books are too gruesome for your young reader, pick up The Last Kids on Earth.  Yes, it is about zombie.  Yes, monsters are attacked and things get a bit gooey but never overly gross or gory.

Max Braillier definitely knows his audience and when the crew ventures to the mall they visit Gamestop and later mourn the loss of the comic book store. The characters are snarky and smart mouthed but they genuinely care for each other and are willing to risk it all for a friend in trouble.

Douglas Holgate’s pen and ink drawings help bring the characters to life.  It isn’t as heavily illustrated as a graphic novel but there are spot illustrations and even some that take up most of the page in every chapter.

This book may be silly and funny but it is also about friendship and loyalty and knowing who you can trust.  Definitely worth a read and a good choice for your reluctant reader.


May 3, 2017

Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro, illustrated by Marion Lindsay

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:46 pm by suebe2

Zoey and Sassafras:
Dragons and Marshmallows
by Asia Citro
illustrated by Marion Lindsay
The Innovation Press

When Zoey hustles into her mother’s office to share an amazing find, she sees photos spread out on the desk and one of them glows. Mom is shocked that Zoey can see the glow because she’s always believed she was the only one who could see magic.  When she realizes that Zoey shares this gift, Mom shares a secret.  Animals come to their backyard whenever they need help and these aren’t ordinary animals.  They are magical.

Shortly after her mother leaves on a business trip, Zoey hears the bell that signals an animal in distress.  Heading to the yard behind the barn, Zoey discovers a baby dragon. It doesn’t look like it is injured but it is slow and sluggish.  Zoey knows that sometimes an animal is the “runt of the litter,” smaller and weaker than its little mates.  Soon she is working to discover what she can feed the baby dragon to make it strong.

In this, the first of the Zoey and Sassafras books, Citro combines a fun fantasy story with a how-to tutorial on the scientific method.  Zoey makes observations and using this information draws on her knowledge of the natural world to answer a question.  Like any true scientist, Zoey must observe and make notes and doesn’t always get things right on the first try.  When she does make a mistake, she thinks some more, makes more observations and again applies what she knows to solve the problem.

Zoey is a great character for young readers who like science or fantasy.  Inquisitive and caring, she has a quick mind and a good heart.  That said, she is not “wise beyond her years” and thus gives readers a character they can understand and appreciate.

Like many chapter books, this one is illustrated and Marion Lindsay’s drawings help bring the story to life.  They are fun and a bit silly and just as good at depicting a girl and her cat as a baby dragon.

Although this book would be perfect for a newly confident reader it would also make a great read aloud for the classroom or bedtime reading. That said, be prepared for discussions on how we make discoveries, acquiring new knowledge and exploring the world.


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