October 4, 2018

Judy Moody: Mood Martian by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter Reynolds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:12 pm by suebe2

Judy Moody: Mood Martian
by Megan McDonald
illustrated by Peter Reynolds

When was the last time I picked up a book with Judy Moody or her kid brother Stink?  Way too long.  So when I saw them on a list of Peter Reynolds books, I had to pop over to the library and check one out.

Sasquatch.  That’s what Judy Moody looks like in her school pictures.  Hairy.  Messy.  And really mad. And losing your temper has consequences in Mr. Todd’s class.  Judy has been sent to Antarctica to chill out three times in one week.  Three times!

Judy decides it is time to turn things around and she gets her start on opposites day.  Instead of wearing a ponytail on the front of her head or her shirt on backwards, Judy dresses up.  She wears a skirt.  Her clothes all match.  And her hair is pinned neatly in place.

No one can believe that this is Judy Moody. In fact, her friends decide she is really an alien.

Judy doesn’t let them get to her.  She’s going to stay in a good mood for an entire week.  Fortunately she has just the thing to calm her down.  Her grandmother taught her to finger knit.  By the end of the week, Judy’s finger knitting is taking over the house.  In fact it is so “everywhere” that when the two siblings are singing in her freshly painted room, Stink gets his foot tangled and trips.  The result is a butt print in the middle of Judy’s wall.

She doesn’t let it get to her.  But what will she do to keep her cool when her parents threaten to make her quit knitting if she can’t corral her craft?

How could I possibly have forgotten how much fun these books are?  McDonald works  positive behavior, neatness, finger knitting, math activities and colors all into one book that is both fun and funny.  As a mom, the best part is that although Judy isn’t perfect, her parents, teacher, and principal all adore her and her wacky ideas.

If your young reader has only recently started to read independently, check these books out.  This is #14.  The books are smallish.  Pair this with a large font and there isn’t an awful lot of text to conquer on each page.  They are also great books for reading aloud.  Reynolds pen and ink drawings add to the fun.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a Stink book this time around.



September 26, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 10:55 pm by suebe2

Raymie Nightingale
by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press

At first, the Rancheros seem like an unlikely trio of friends.  Raymie is learning to twirl a baton to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition because more than anything she needs to get her father’s attention.  Two days ago he ran off with a dental hygienist.

Louisiana Elephante, complete with her fainting spells and swampy lungs, needs to learn to twirl so that she can win.  She and her grandmother desperately need the prize money.

Then there’s Beverly Tapinski who already twirls like a pro.  Of course, she can also pick locks and doesn’t intend to win.  Her plan is sabotage.

From visiting the retirement home to perform good deeds to breaking into the animal shelter to rescue a cat that probably isn’t there anymore, the three are soon traipsing around town getting each other into and out of a wide variety of trouble.

Admittedly, I had some troubles getting into this.  I’ve never had much interest in twirling and the whole thing was far to reminiscent of my own dance classes.  How well did they go?  I am probably among the ten clumsiest people on Earth if that tells you anything.  I’m sure my former teachers would agree – it was torture.

So the book had that against it but its Kate DiCamillo so I kept reading.  Thank goodness.

As so often happens in her books, soon I was won over by her quirky cast of characters.  My absolute favorite was Louisiana although I think her grandmother was a close second.

I’ve seen other readers comment that the characters deal with things that simply are not age appropriate for the audience.  Although everything isn’t sunshine and lollipops, none of it is extreme either which some of the comments might lead you to believe.  These are girls dealing with life including a full cast of flawed adults.

This book would  make an excellent read aloud.  Don’t be surprised when the humor draws in some of the kids who consider themselves non-readers.


September 19, 2018

Rice from Heaven by Tina Cho, illustrated by Keum Jin Song

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:04 am by suebe2

Rice from Heaven
by Tina Cho
illustrated by Keum Jin Song
Little Bee Books

A little girl and her father travel to the South Korean countryside.  All around them are rice fields but they are here because across the border, in North Korea, children are going hungry. Because the North Korean government does nothing to help its own people, people in South Korea work to send rice across the border.

They do it by sending the rice up into the night sky on special hot air balloons.

As they are working, villagers come to watch.  Many are not happy that these people are helping the enemy.  One boy gets in the little girl’s face and yells at her.  She answers him that the has to help.  The children in the north are eating tree bark and grass.

This stops the boy.  How can he hate children who are starving? He wants to help.

Two hundred balloons are sent up into the night sky.  How many reach the North?  No one knows but they know that they have to try.

I have to admit – I wanted to know that they helped people.  I wanted a concrete ending.

But Tina Cho respected her readers and gave them the unvarnished facts.  She helped with this mission but cannot name anyone who helped.  She doesn’t want to risk retaliation from the North Korean government.  The author has also included back matter about the historical and political situation as well as the effort to float rice across the border.

Keum Jin Song’s art work is colorful and detailed, bringing the story to life.  That said, the scenes of the North are handled in such way to keep them from overpowering young readers.  Flat colorless landscapes take the place of specific details of deprivation.  It is clear by the art work that the North is empty and void, the South vibrant and full of life.

This isn’t an easy story but it is a story that needs to be told.  Written as a picture book, it is probably better suited to slightly older readers such as 2nd and 3rd graders who will still need to hear about efforts to help those who have little.



September 12, 2018

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:37 am by suebe2

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog
by Dev Petty
illustrated by Mike Boldt
Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Last week, I discovered Dev Petty’s Frog books.  Anyone who parents a preschooler is going to understand Frog for what he is – a strong-willed preschooler.

In the first book, Frog makes it clear to his father that he does not want to be a frog.  He’d much rather be a cat or a rabbit, or a pig or an owl. Animal by animal, Frog’s father explains why he cannot be . . . whatever.  Where they live is too wet for him to be a cat.  He may be able to hop, but he doesn’t have long ears.  Eating garbage may sound do-able but Frog hasn’t even tried it.  And the problems with trying to be an owl?  There are so many that Father Frog makes a chart.

Yet, it isn’t his father who convinces him that it is better to be a frog.  If you know me, you can probably predict that I am NOT telling you who does convince Frog. You’ll have to read the book to find out.  But Petty has created a marvelous twist.

The adventures continued with I Don’t Want to Be Big and There’s Nothing to Do. My library didn’t have the fourth Frog book but when it arrives I expect that Frog will continue in all his argumentative, pre-school glory.

Petty’s text is simple and straightforward with each story told entirely through dialogue. These books would be great fun to read aloud especially if you enjoy doing voices.

The characters in Mike Boldts’ illustrations are expressive, making it clear to young readers when Frog is curious, amused or frustrated. The animals are silly and cartoony which is important in the first book when you see who sells Frog on being a frog. Definitely a fun group of books to share with the young book lovers in your family, class or library group.


September 5, 2018

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:07 am by suebe2

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code:
A Navajo Code Talker’s Story
by Joseph Bruchac
pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes
Albert Whitman and Company

At 8 years-old, Betoli is sent to the Fort Defiance School.  It is a boarding school where Navajo children are taught to live in the white world.

Step 1. Give them white names.  Betoli is called Chester.

Step 2.  Forbid their language.  Navajo is bad.  Children who speak Navajo have their mouths washed out with harsh soap. Never mind that they don’t know English.

In the summer, Chester goes home where he can speak Navajo and practice his religion.  In the fall, he goes back to school.

He understands that he needs to learn to function in the white world.  But he also sees the beauty of the Right Way. He comforts the younger children who have nightmares.  He studies and learns English.  He learns about Catholicism.  But he is still Navajo.

When World War II arrives, the Marines realize that they need a solution for the code problem.  They have a machine, aptly named The Shackle.  It takes 4 hours to code, send a message, and decode it on the other end.

The Marines have heard of the Navajo language.  They go to the Reservation and explain that they need men who speak both English and Navajo. Of the many men who volunteer, Chester is one of 29 chosen to be in Platoon 382.  They create a code and use it to send, receive and decode a message in less than 3 minutes.  They are the solution to the Marine’s problem.

Chester and his fellow Navajo are sent to Guadalcanal and other places.  In the heart of battle, they see men die.  Many of them become sick.  But still they work on because they know they have an important job.  With their help, the US wins the war.

Back at home, they are not allowed to talk about their work because it is top secret.  The Marines may still need to use their code.  This secrecy isolates the men and they have nightmares.  Chester’s family saw he needed help and they bring in a singer to do a healing ceremony called The Enemy Way. Through the ceremony, Chester rediscovered the Trail of Beauty.

This amazing true story shows how Nez maintained his Navajo identity in the white world.  Joseph Bruchac is the author of well over 120 books and is known for his writing on native topics.  He ends the book with the Navajo code and a timeline of events.  Amini-Holmes is both a fine artist and an illustrator.  Her work brings the actions and emotions to life in a way that is accessible to young readers.

Written as a picture book, the topic is most appropriate for slightly older readers from second to fourth grade.  This is a vital story that should be in every school library.


August 29, 2018

Breakout by Kate Messner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:13 am by suebe2

by Kate Messner

“Welcome to the Adirondacks!”  The sign on the grocery store welcomes visitors and residents alike and it fits how Nora Tucker thinks of her home town, Wolf Creek.  It is a friendly, welcoming place except for when it isn’t.

School is almost out for the summer when Elidee Jones joins the class.  Everyone is working on their contributions for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule and prepping for the mile-long run that is part of track and field day at the school. Nora is ready to win that race and uphold family tradition.  But Elidee is fast, faster than Nora.

As if having Elidee threaten her plans wasn’t enough, two inmates break out of the prison where Nora’s father works as warden.  The escape brings in the media and everyone is questioning how things are run. How could this have happened? Whose to blame?

With two felons on the lose, the community is thrown into turmoil.  Kids aren’t allowed to play outside, Nora’s dad is never home because he’s always at the prison and Elidee and her mom can’t visit the prison where her brother Troy is an inmate.  Visits are suspended and the prisoners are being kept in their cells.

That’s it on the plot folks because you are going to want to explore this for yourself.  I don’t want to give away the plot!

Messner tells the story through letters, interviews and recorded conversations, all things that have been turned over for the time capsule.  Unfortunately, the prions break makes residents questions everything and everyone.  And that’s one of the things that I loved about this book.  It asks who society sees as “good” vs who is sees as “bad.”  It also questions why we are willing to let “good” people get by with abusing “bad” people.

Cleary, the book is also a call for social justice. It openly questions the racial make up of our prisons, both the guards and the prisoners.

But it would also be an excellent tool for bringing poetry into the classroom. Much of Elidee’s part of the story is told through poems as she emulates the styles of Nikki Grimes, Jacqueline Woodson and more.

This is simply a book that should be in every classroom, every school library and every home book shelf.  It is just that relevent.



August 25, 2018

Dude! by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Dan Santat

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 7:13 pm by suebe2

by Aaron Reynolds
illustrated by Dan Santat
A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press

When Beaver and Platypus meet on the beach, they are ready to catch some waves but surfing doesn’t go as smoothly as planned.  First a gull poops on Platypus and then Beaver spots danger.  A shark’s fin following behind them.

But as the two frantically paddle away, up pops Shark.

He’s teary eyed, devastated that, yet again, no one wants to be his friend.  Being the awesome dudes that they are, Beaver and Platypus work him into their day, teaching him to surf.  Will their day be ruined when they lose their surf boards on the rocks?  You’ll have to “read” the book to find out!

“Read”?  I put that in quotation marks because Dude! isn’t your typical book.  The text consists of one word, repeated.  Dude!  The clever reader is going to change the inflection and intonation throughout because sometimes it is awesome and sometimes it is devastating, the story is made clear in the pictures.

And the pictures do tell a large part of the story because Santat is a master at weaving important details into the background.  Whether or not the reader catches these bits and pieces, such as the ice cream stand and the warning sign, the first time they are depicted or only later on when their importance is made clear will depend on the reader.

As simple as it sounds, this a great book for discussing story and emotion.  Teaching children to have empathy with others is largely accomplished by teaching them to tell what someone else is feeling.  Given that the emotion expressed in this single word, Dude!, changes from illustration to illustration, a lot depends on the characters’ expressions and what is going on. How do we tell when they are happy or scared or even sad?  Fortunately Santat is a master of the subtle hints that allow even cartoonish animals to express themselves clearly.

A fun book for reading aloud, by ready to let your young readers tell their own one word stories afterwards.



August 3, 2018

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay A. Haring, illustrated by Robert Nuebecker

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:15 pm by suebe2

Keith Haring:
The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing
by Kay A. Haring
illustrated by Robert Nuebecker

Because people asked Kay A. Haring what her brother the artist was like as a child, she wrote The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing. The title kind of says it all.  Keith Haring drew.

He drew as a child. He drew as a teen.  He drew as an adult.  When he saw a flat empty space, he drew whether it was a piece of black paper on the wall of the subway or a blank brick wall in his neighborhood.  Painting that particular mural meant that he had to pay a fine because although his neighbors loved it, he hadn’t gotten permission or filled out the proper paperwork.

Not to worry.  He kept drawing.

When people started seeking out his work, a gallery put on a show. Everything sold!  Haring gave the money away because he had heard a news story about kids who didn’t have enough food.  They needed help and, really, he just wanted to make art.  Being rick wasn’t on his radar.  He kept drawing.

When the Statue of Liberty was 100 years old, Haring drew the statue’s outline on a huge piece of vinyl.  He invited 900 children to help him finish the drawing.  His instructions?  “Draw anything.  Whatever you want.  No one can say it’s bad or good. It’s yours.”  People questioned why someone as famous as he was wanted to work with a bunch of kids.  Haring didn’t answer.

He kept drawing.

Although I recognized some of his work, specifically the crawling baby and a row of dancing figures, I didn’t know anything about him. I’m not an enormous fan of modern art – I love glass and textiles from various cultures more than anything else – but I’ve requested library books about Haring.  He took such joy in creating his art and it was his.  He did it his way wherever he felt like doing it.

What a great message and the book gets it across without preaching.  Why?  Because his sister simply told his story.  And what an amazing story it is.  Definitely a book to have on your shelf at home and in the classroom. Get it out when young learners are discouraged and need a gentle nudge.


July 28, 2018

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 5:12 pm by suebe2

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
by Stacy McAnulty
Random House Books for Young Readers

Lucy Callahan doesn’t get why her grandmother is obsessed with the idea of sending her to middle school.  She’s been homeschooled for years and at 12 years-old has all the credits she needs to go to college. Still her grandmother is convinced that what Lucy needs is to spend some one-on-one time with her peers – not the math-geeks Lucy spends time with online but her fellow 12 year-olds.

Lucy is certain this is a bad idea.  And take it from a 12-year-old whose been hit by lightning, she knows a bad idea when she sees one.  She may not be good with people but she’s amazing with numbers and this adds up to one of the worst ideas Lucy has ever heard.

But her grandma stands firm.  Go to middle school for 1 year.  Make 1 friend.  Try 1 activity.

Reluctantly Lucy decides to give it a try.  And as long as she is reinventing herself where she can.  She can’t do anything about some of her quirks – having to sit-stand-sit-stand-sit and her need to wipe down shared desks and tables that certain people seem to think are OCD.  Lucy doesn’t think she’s OCD. It is simply her way to keep the numbers in her head at a manageable level.   It’s how her brain has worked since the lightning strike. Try to ignore her ticks and the digits of Pi take over.  If she wants to focus she has to follow these routines.

A school project throws her in with her would-be best friend and the boy who cheated off her in math, getting them both in trouble.  Lucy isn’t enthusiastic at the thought of working at an animal shelter.  Then she realizes that none of the shelters records have been computerized. How can they tell how likely a dog is to be adopted with such sloppy records?  Soon she is keying them in and developing a means of calculating how long before that big black, super friendly dog finds a home.

I’m not saying a whole lot about the plot because really your young reader will want to experience it for him or herself. This is a book about friendship, individuality and passion.  In it a young girl learns that everyone has struggles and if you put yourself out there you will find people who will help you along the way.  Funny and touching, this book is a great choice for class reading and discussion.




July 11, 2018

Life on Mars by Jon Agee

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:23 pm by suebe2

Life on Mars
by Jon Agee
Dial Books for Young Readers

When the young astronaut arrives on Mars, he carries a package across the landscape as he searches for life.  Others have told him there is no life on Mars but he is certain he will find it and walks along leaving a trail of foot prints.

As is always the case with Agee’s books, half the story takes place in the illustrations.  We learn what the main character hopes and believes in the text.  We see what takes place in the illustrations.

As the astronaut is followed through the landscape by “martian life,” he grows more and more discouraged because he still hasn’t found anything.  Eventually he even misplaces his spaceship.  Not to worry!  He spots a martian flower and, climbing up the hillside to pick it, sees his spaceship in the distance.

Young readers will love this book because Agee gives them a chance to know more than the astronaut.  Why?  Because he never spots the creature that is following him!  Never.

I’m not going to reveal the ending because I want you to experience that for yourself.  As is so often the case with one of Agee’s books, it will make you laugh out loud.  What a surprise!

But my favorite part is when the creature is following the astronaut.  Not only is it following, it is mirroring his expressions – worried and curious.  As always, Agee’s illustrations are both simple and expressive.  Heavy black lines give weight to drawings lightened with the subtle colors of the landscape.

As simple as this book appears, there is so much for young readers to love.  The setting is unusual.  No one tells the main character that, although a child, he cannot be an astronaut.  He proves that he is right, there is life on Mars.  But the book is also funny since he misses the biggest “life.”  And then there’s that surprise ending.

This is definitely a fun book that you will want to share with your young reader.


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