October 9, 2019

Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez, illustrated by Jaime Kim

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 5:35 pm by suebe2

Where Are You From?
by Yamile Saied Mendez,
illustrated by Jaime Kim

This story is about a little girl who doesn’t look like everyone around her. Because of this, children and adults alike assume she is from somewhere else.

Where are you from? they ask.

Is your mom from here?

Is your dad from there? they ask.

This is a book that could quickly become a sermon, or a protest sign, but Mendez gives our young narrator a problem that resonates in today’s world and an abuelo. When he could lecture, abuelo spins a story about the many lands their ancestors called home.  He talks about guacho and the pampas, condors and mountains and far off lands.  But what he’s really telling her about is family.

Jaime Kim’s illustrations bring this story to life.  She creates a diverse variety of characters, children and adults, who pose these questions to the young narrator.  Then she creates a smiling abuelo who spins a story of exotic seeming locals that are in some ways very familiar – they are full of families. The story ends as abuelo and our character return home, to a place full of a wide variety of people.

Kim combines watercolors and digital techniques to create the illustrations for this book.  I think my favorite illustration is the one of the Andes and the condors or maybe it is when the pair are on horseback on the pampas.

If you haven’t read this picture book, I’d definitely recommend it for a great way to teach without preaching.  It is subtle, sweet and relatable.  Give it a place on the bookshelf in your classroom, office and home.  It will act as a great jumping off place for readers young and adult to discuss identity and their understanding of others as well as self-acceptance.



October 2, 2019

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 4:35 pm by suebe2

New Kid
by Jerry Craft
Harpercollins 2019

Jordan Banks is wild about his art.  He draws pictures of the world around him and longs to study art in school. But his parents send him to a posh private high school known for academics, not art.  From day one, Jordan feels like he doesn’t belong.

Sure, there are the normal new kid problems.  He has to navigate from one building to another.  He has to learn how each teacher works.

But there’s more.  He’s also one of the few students of color.

One teacher always calls him the wrong name.  He suspects he’s imagining it until he realizes she can’t keep the African-American students straight.  She even tosses in the names of students who are no longer there.  And really there aren’t so many that this should be difficult.

Then there is the fact that he’s a scholarship student.  Most people are okay with it but there is still that one teacher.  She means well but always says something racist while thinking she is being supportive and understanding.

Then she finds his art notebook.  He’s mad that she went through it and she’s “disappointed” because she thinks his comics show a bad attitude.  Never mind that it is a spot on middle school attitude and that these rich white people really are clueless, it isn’t what she wants to see from someone who should be grateful to be where he is.

Slowly but surely Jordan finds a place at his new school as he makes friends with Drew and Liam.  Liam may be white and rich like most of the students but he also feels isolated.  He doesn’t want his parents’ wealth to be an issue but he feels awkward that he is so much more than Jordan.

One of the funniest series of jokes in the book is between Jordan and Drew who is also African American. He too is often called by the wrong name.  The two confuse their fellow students and more than a few teachers by constantly calling each other made up names.  “Bye, D’aren!” “Bye, Jaylen!”

Craft’s book fills a need in children’s publishing for stories not only about African American students but about students who aren’t in gangs and come from loving, supportive families.  The stereotype that African American students are gang-banging thugs is also addressed in the book.

Sounds serious, doesn’t it?  And the issues are serious but Craft manages to address them with humor and it is the type of humor that will appeal to students who have dealt with the casual, clueless racism that is so prevalent in our society.

This book should definitely be in school libraries and on reading lists. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pop over to the library and see what else they have by Craft.


August 15, 2019

Seashells: More than a Home by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:54 pm by suebe2

More than a Home
by Melissa Stewart
illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

There are jars of seashells on the dresser in our family room.  One is full of shells from Myrtle Beach.  Another from Pensacola.  Sea shells have always fascinated me so I Stewart’s book was a must read.

Stewart explains that there are so many different looking shells because they do so many different jobs.  The nautilus can rise and dive like a submarine. The spirals on a turritella act like an anchor, holding the animal fast to the sea floor.  The chiton even has flexible plates so that the animal can roll up in a protective ball.

I think my favorite was when I learned something new about a shell I have seen.  Abalone shells have a row of holes. It is through these ports that the waste escapes.  I had always wondered why those holes were there.

Brannen’s watercolor illustrations bring these creatures to life.  In the back matter, she confesses that shells are tricky to draw but she’s done a top notch job.  She brings the varied colors and textures of these shells to life.  My favorite illustrations may be the inset drawings that help explain certain features.  These illustrated sidebars look like a spiral field notebook.

Don’t be afraid to pick this book up even if your child has read numerous books about sea animals. As much as I love scientific programming and reading, I still learned a lot. The endpapers, the pages inside the front and back cover, include maps that show young readers where in the world these various animals live.

This book is a must read for any young ocean enthusiast or animal lover.  Share it with your classroom for a jumping off point when discussing ecological diversity and ecosystems. For more information on this topic, flip to the back of the book where the author and illustrator both share books they used in their research.  There are also additional titles listed for young readers.

Science lovers and sea shell lovers alike will want to read this book.


August 8, 2019

There’s a Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher, illustrated by Greg Abbot

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:49 pm by suebe2

There’s a Dragon in Your Book
by Tom Fletcher
illustrated by Greg Abbot
Random House

“Oh, look!
There’s an egg in your book!
It looks ready to hatch.
Whatever you do, don’t turn the page….”

From this text on the first page, author Tom Fletcher invites young readers directly into this story of a hatching dragon egg and a little dragon who doesn’t quite have fire control down to an art.  From patting the book to flapping it like dragon wings, readers are directed to undertake certain action.

Greg Abbot’s illustrations bring this cute little dragon to life.  With rounded lines and big eyes, she is definitely cute and not scary.

Would this book make a good bedtime story?  I guess it depends just how hard you want to work to put an excited young reader to bed.  It is actually much more suitable as a read aloud but be prepared for roaring and flapping as your listeners join in the story.

This technique, with the narrator speaking directly to the reader, is called breaking the fourth wall.  The fourth wall is the invisible wall between the audience and the stage or the reader and the story inside the book.  Some young readers love these stories and because of this Abbot’s books are popular with active, wiggly kids who may have troubles sitting still during a story.

If this sounds familiar or you think you recognize the art work, you may have read There’s a Monster in Your Book. Fletcher is a song writer and popular You-Tuber with active kids of his own.   I suspect that my own son would have loved this as much as he loved No, David!  



August 6, 2019

Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry!) by Gary Golio, illustrated by Ed Young

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 4:07 pm by suebe2

How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry!) 
by Gary Golio
illustrated by Ed Young

How do you bring a silent movie star to life for young readers today?  Check out Smile and you will see!

Charlie Chaplin’s mother and father were both actors although his father had left.  Charlie lived with his mother and older brother Sydney.  But times were good because his mother was a talented actress and singer.  Charlie wore a velvet suit and his mother called him The King.

But when her singing voice gave out, she earned less and soon her money was gone.  Charlie picked up a few coins wherever he could, singing and dancing outside of pubs.

I don’t want to give a blow by blow recital of the book because you want to read it yourself.  Golio traces the development of Chaplin’s career and style.  He shows young readers without being preachy how laughter and tears are emotionally linked and how Chaplin adapted his character, the tramp, from a sad derilict of a man he had known growing up.  The emotions in this book will resonate with young readers.

Young’s mixed media collage compliments the story well and presents another duality.  He uses subdued tans and black in various textures, echoing the limited colorscape of Chaplin’s earliest films and the dull dreary world of poverty.  But throughout are clippings of color and pattern – a rich woman’s gown, a curtain at the theater, and brightly colored tumbling characters.  These characters echo the bright sparks of laughter that Chaplin’s clowning and pratfalls brought audiences.

Young artists will love reading about how Chaplin’s early life shapes and colors his performances and career.  Older fans of Chaplin’s work will be pulled into a book that shows them a different side of his character.  Check it out and share it with someone today!


August 2, 2019

A Penguin Named Patience: A Hurrican Katrina Rescue Story, by Suzanne Lewis, illustrated by Lisa Anchin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:00 am by suebe2

A Penguin Named Patience:
A Hurrican Katrina Rescue Story
by Suzanne Lewis,
illustrated by Lisa Anchin
Sleeping Bear Press

Patience was an African penguin so she was used to warmer weather than many of her penguin kin. But it was too hot and muggy at the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans.  That’s because the power was out because of Hurricane Katrina. The power was out and it was getting dangerously hot for the penguins.

Patience is having troubles being patient when their keeper, Tom, finally shows up.  He tells them that he is working on moving them but he doesn’t know where.  When the Monterey Bay Aquarium agrees to take them in, he loads all nineteen penguins into carriers and takes them to the airport.

Tom sees them to their temporary home where the penguins settle in and enjoy the cool water. It was nine months before the penguins could be returned to their New Orleans home.

This is a true story so it is shelved in nonfiction.  That said, the reader also sees things through Patience’s perspective and reads her thoughts.  Thus the penguins have been anthropomorphized although the story is real.

An author’s note at the back of the book expands on the story.  Here Lewis explains that, in spite of the dedicated efforts of the staff, not all of the animals that lived at the aquarium could be saved. This information might be too harsh for some younger readers but tucked back in the author’s note it isn’t part of the main story.

Lisa Anchin’s illustrations continue to anthropomorphize Patience and her fellow penguins, giving them facial expressions to help readers interpret their emotions.  The soft colors show the penguins and their world clearly while keeping the turmoil at a bit of a distance, essential for some sensitive young readers.  This story illustrates the great lengths that zoos and their staff go to for the animals in their care.


July 31, 2019

100 Bugs: A Counting Book by Kate Narita, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:06 pm by suebe2

100 Bugs:
A Counting Book
by Kate Narita
illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Farrar Straus and Giroux

When a boy and girl wake with the dawn, they head outside.  The artwork on their bedroom walls, drawings of all kinds of bugs, is a clue to upcoming activities – counting bugs.

I love it when I find a book that handles a concept in a new way. As the subtitle reveals, this is a counting book but it is counting in tens as the young explorers head into their yard.  The first bugs they find are walking sticks:

“1 by the old hose,
9 by the gold rose.”

Next they find ten dragon flies, 2 in one location and 8 in another.  Then ten leafhoppers make an appearance, as you’ve certainly guessed in groups of 3 and 7.  This pattern continues until night falls and they locate ten lightning bugs, ten in one location and 0 in another.

There are so many things to love about this book.  Not only does it explore numbers one through ten, it also takes young readers by tens up to 100.  It is just as serious about exploring the world of insects including both fairly common insects like ladybugs but also the more unique damselfly as well as the plants to be found nearby.  In fact, there are just as many plants features as there are insects.

Of course, as I say this, I have to recall that what is common to one environment is unique in another.  I discovered this when a friend thought she was having vision problems when the lightning bugs made their nightly appearance in our yard.  A native Australian, they were something she had only seen once before in her life.

Suzanne Kaufman’s brightly colored illustrations bring the plants and insects in this book to life for young readers.  I have to admit that my favorites are the tiger swallowtail butterflies, something we see only occasionally in my area.

The rhyming text makes it a fun read aloud.  It would also make a great stepping off point to learn more about counting and ecosystems.  Give this book a place on your classroom shelf.




July 26, 2019

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:17 pm by suebe2

The Circus Ship
by Chris Van Dusen

We’ve all heard of circus trains but this is the story of a circus ship steaming past the coast of Maine in a heavy fog.  For the safety of all, the captain wanted to drop anchor and wait for the weather to clear.  But Mr. Paine the circus boss had other ideas.  Stopping would mean being late to a performance in Boston and he just wouldn’t have it.

Not surprisingly, the ship ran into a rocky ledge, broke apart and went down.  The captain and crabby owner made it into the lifeboat.  The animals finally made it to shore.  The islanders were shocked to see such a wide variety of wildlife that hadn’t been there when they went to bed.  An alligator, a monkey and a zebra all make their presence known and the islanders are not happy.

But the tiger manages to make people see how valuable the animals can be to the community.  When the circus owner returns, the islanders decide that they are willing to go all out to keep their animal friends.

I could give way more detail about this rich story but I don’t want to spoil it.  You need to get ahold of the book and read it yourself.

The art will look familiar to anyone who is a fan of the Mercy Watson books.  Van Dusen is the illustrator of that series but both the author and illustrator of this book, based on real events.

In 1836, a circus ship went down off the coast of Maine.  Although there were rumors that the elephant survived, it is believed that most of the animals died.  Van Dusen found this story but re-imagined it.  What would happen if the animals survived? He tells his story in a fast-moving rhyming text.  My favorite illustrations involve the tiger but then I’m a cat lover.

Given the excitement of the ship wreck and the fire, I wouldn’t choose this book for bedtime but it would make an excellent read aloud.


July 16, 2019

And the Bullfrogs Sing by David L. Harrison, illustrated by Kate Cosgrove

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:18 am by suebe2

And the Bullfrogs Sing:
A Life Cycle Begins
by David L. Harrison
illustrated by Kate Cosgrove
Holiday House

“It is spring. Time to find a mate.
A male bullfrog sings loud and
deep, rumm rumm rumm.”

So begins And the Bullfrogs Sing. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Harrison’s work, he is a master at creating a seemingly simple text that packs in a wealth of information.  This text includes bullfrog calls, egg laying, the differences in male and female frogs, how long it takes a frog to mature sexually, life span and more.

My husband is a frog enthusiast so I was expecting an enjoyable book but wasn’t expecting to learn a lot.  I hadn’t known that frog eggs can taste bad to some fish — a brilliant adaption.  The fact that bull frogs hibernate twice before mating, ie they are about two years old?  I didn’t know that either.  I should have remembered just how much info Harrison packs into one of his books.

At first glance, I thought that Cosgrove’s illustrations looked like collage.  But her art work combines pencil with digital work to create a natural world largely composed of blues and greens.  The images aren’t realistic but they are welcoming.

This book would make a perfect jumping off point for discussions on growth, the life cycle, frogs, and the aquatic ecosystem in which bull frogs life.  The text is short enough not to overwhelm preschoolers and the call of the bullfrog, rumm rumm rumm, will create a chorus for young readers to sing.  Invite young readers to draw the stages of a frog’s life cycle or to create collages inspired by the book.

Compliment this picture book with other books featuring frogs.  Possibilities include The Frog Book by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page or, for readers who prefer fiction, I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty.


February 14, 2019

Snails Are Just My Speed by Kevin McCloskey

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 9:50 pm by suebe2

Snails Are Just My Speed

by Kevin McCloskey
Toon Books

Looking for simple books for your early reader?  I hope you’ve explored the Toon Books catalogue.  Snails Are Just My Speed is a level 1 reader, written for children in Kindergarten and first grade.  That means that they’ll find sight words and short sentences.  And don’t be put off, as an adult, by the cartoon illustrations.  Fun and engaging, these picture will help pull your young reader into the story where they will not only refine their reading skills but also learn all about snails.

Did you know that:

  • Because of the mucus is produces, a snail can crawl over the sharpened edge of a knife blade?
  • That a snail’s mucus trail acts as an actual pathway, guiding other snails to follow along?
  • A snail’s mucus can actually act like glue and hold a damaged shell together?

Types of snails.  Sizes of snails. Warnings about not to eat raw snails.  All of this and more is in McCloskey’s book. While adults may be less than thrilled about the gooey snotty snail facts, these gross tid bits will draw many young readers in and all the while they are learning both reading and science.

This book could easily be used to launch a discussion on invertebrates, wildlife, gardening, and even bodily fluids.  Want to discuss the different ways that animals eat?  This book can be used in that discussion as well.

Don’t let the speech bubbles turn you off.  Yes, even the snails talk which is going to feel odd for some adults.  Isn’t this a nonfiction title?  But young readers will appreciate the snarky, snotty comments that the snails make.  This is, after all, a book in Toon Books’ Giggle and Learn series.

Pick up a copy today and share it with your young readers at home or at school.  They might not realize until it’s too late that they’ve been learning from the book the whole time.


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