November 12, 2017

A Single Pearl by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Jim LaMarche

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:00 am by suebe2

A Single PearlA Single Pearl
by Donna Jo Napoli
illustrated by Jim LaMarche

How often do you get to read a story told from the point of view of a grain of sand?

A grain of sand falls into the ocean. There was so much sand that the single grain felt incredibly unimportant and wondered how it would ever have an impact.

As a hungry oyster drew water through its gills, it pulled in the grain of sand. The sand lodged between the oyster’s mantle and shell.  It could not get free.  Slowly the oyster covered the sand with a beautiful shiny layer.

One day, I diver dug the oyster up and found the pearl inside. The diver sold it to a prince.  The prince gave it to his wife and she gave it to their daughter.

The princess loved this gift and it the sand knew it had served a great purpose.

The story is loosely based on a medieval Persian poem and is complimented by the subtle tones of the acrylics and colored pencils.  The color shifts are subtle and warm like the beauty of a pearl and the rhythms and deeper meanings found in poetry.

I have to admit that I was less than enthusiastic when I realized I had picked up a book about . . . a grain of sand?  Seriously?  But November is Picture Book Month and I had scooped up a huge arm load of books at the library.

I’m truly glad that I didn’t put it down because the warmth and beauty of this story is something worth experiencing.  It is a gentle loving story, perfect for sharing with a special young reader at bed time or just during cuddling-and-reading time.

It would make a strong introduction to discussions about things that matter and have lasting value.  Add it to your shelf or bring it home from the library.  Celebrate Picture Book Month!



November 4, 2017

City and Country by Jody Jensen Shaffer

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:45 pm by suebe2

City and Country
by Jody Jensen Shaffer
National Geographic Kids

Kids in the country get green space and nature.  Right?

Kids in the city get to do exciting things with their friends.  Right?

We all have preconceived ideas about what it is like to live in the city and what it is like to live in the country.  This co-reader from National Geographic kids sets the record straight. It talks about everything from where people live to what they do for fun, green spaces and learning.

You may not be familiar with the term co-reader.  I wasn’t when the author told me about her book so I asked her to explain it to me. A co-reader is meant for the child who has just reached the point of reading independently.  The left hand page of each spread is for the adult to read.  It tells something about city or country life.  The right hand page is for the young reader.  Obviously, it is a bit easier to read but it also shared information.  The grown up doesn’t get all the fun facts!

Early readers are tricky.  You want them to be engaging but it is hard to introduce information when a reader is still developing their skills.  Fortunately there are lots of photos to help decipher the text.

And the photos added a lot to the book.  What I liked most about them was that they weren’t all from the US or Europe. But it was done in a way that felt natural not in a way that felt like diversity was added because “we have to do it.”  Honestly, I spent a lot of time flipping between the images and the photo credits just because I’m a fact hound.

Each section ends with a thought exercise.  One asks young readers to look at each photo and tell if it is city or country and how they know this.  Another asks the young reader to consider the sights and smells in the world around them.

Look for these books in your library.  Add them to your classroom shelf.  They provide not only help in developing food for thought but also encouragement to exercise those brains.


October 28, 2017

The Spiderwick Chronicles: Book 1: The Field Guide by Tony DeTerlizzi and Holly Black

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 9:12 pm by suebe2

The Spiderwick Chronicles:
Book 1: The Field Guide
by Tony DeTerlizzi and Holly Black
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

“Go away.
Close the book.
But it down.
Do not look.”

This is the warning on the back of the Field Guide. Yes, yes, you can disregard it.  After all, it is printed on a leaf and left lying on the book, but really?  If someone has gone through that much trouble, do you want to ignore it?

Jared and his twin brother Simon and older sister Mallory are forced to move into their great aunt’s house after their father leaves the family. Mom is especially worried about Jared.  After all, Simon has his books and his animals.  Mallory has her fencing.  Jared?  He got into a fight at school but that doesn’t seem to count for anything good.

Unfortunately this isn’t a cool old house.  Unless of course you think it is cool to live in a house with rotten floor boards, rooms that aren’t safe to enter and something scuttling around in the walls.  They are trying to find the source of the scuttling when Jared finds a hidden library.  Inside he finds a riddle written on a piece of paper.

Plot Spoiler.  No, really, this is going to mess up the plot.  But you were warned.

When Jared solves the riddle, he finds the Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.  Reading it, he start to develop a theory about what is in the walls, who pinched Mallory and Simon at night and got Jared in trouble, and how Simon’s poor tadpoles ended up in the freezer.

Mom doesn’t buy into the theory.  She’s sure that Jared is behind it all.  But he manages to convince his siblings that one of the creatures from the field guide is supposed to be watching the house.  Unfortunately, something has gone wrong.

This series isn’t new but my library just bought a new set of the books.  What is more inviting than a row of new books!?

I have to admit that one thing really bothered me.  I didn’t like that Mom was so ready to blame Jared.  Now, if I was 10 and had recently been blamed for something I didn’t do, as happened often when I was 10, I might feel differently.  But, as a mom, that bothered me.

My favorite part was the old house.  Like the characters in the book, I would want to explore and discover what is what.

With three young characters – one who is sporty, one who is bookish, and one who is having troubles finding himself – young readers will almost certainly identify with one of them.  If you have an older elementary student who is reading well on their own but isn’t ready for full length teen novels, try these books out.  They are fantasy and only about 100 pages long.  Each book has pen and ink illustrations that help bring the story to life.


October 21, 2017

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:49 pm by suebe2

Her Right Foot
by Dave Eggers
illustrated by Shawn Harris
Chronicle Books

Take a look at a few photos of the Statue of Liberty.  Not paintings.  Photographs.  Seriously.  Do it now.  Pay special attention to the base of the statue.  Have you ever noticed that she is walking?  This woman is on the move.

Eggers has covered so much in this one book.  When I requested it from the library, I thought it was your standard picture book.  Then it came in and I panicked.  “This isn’t 32 pages.  It is so long!”  And it is long for a picture book at 104 pages.  I wouldn’t try to read it to a preschooler but an attentive 6 or 8 year old?  You bet. This book tells a story that we all need to be thinking about.

Eggers brings the reader into the story early.  He takes us right to the moment where two men in France, Eduard de Laboulaye and Frederic August Bartholdi came up with an idea to celebrate the 100th birthday of the US.  They would give the US a statue.

Eggers writes about the models.  He writes about the construction.  He writes about taking it all apart again and shipping it, on a ship yet, to the US.  He writes about putting it back together again.

If you think you know all there is to know about this statue, think again.  He wrote about it’s changing color.  He wrote about Edison’s plans for the statue and, most importantly of all at least where this book is concerned, he wrote about her feet.  Around her feet lay broken chains.  This is something that a lot of people have noted.  But he back foot, her right foot, is captured in the act of coming off the ground to stride forward.  What could this possibly mean?

Eggers has some ideas.  The Statue of Liberty is a celebration of freedom.  It is a celebration of welcoming the immigrant and the refugee.  How can Lady Liberty stand still when there are people who need her?  “She is not content to wait. She must meet them…”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Eggers’ style, it’s a bit cheeky.  I have to admit that I found it a little off-putting at first. This is such a serious topic!  But as I got into the book, I realized that that is precisely why he style was perfect.  We need a bit of cheek to keep it from becoming preachy and dark.  Eggers’ tone emphasizes some very important points, especially in light of recent debates regarding immigration, but he does it without making the book grim.

I love the collage illustrations that Harris created to accompany the text.  My favorites?  Lady Liberty going for a stroll.

Share this with your class studying history, government or immigration.  Read it as a family.  And then be prepared to sit down and discuss how things are vs how they should be.

I don’t know about you, but now I’ll be looking for quirky details in every monument I see.



October 14, 2017

Madam President by Lane Smith

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:20 pm by suebe2

Madam President
by Lane Smith
Hyperion Books for Children

A confident girl takes the reader through a “typical” day for Madam President.  It starts at home as she makes an executive order for waffles.  It continues through the school day as she vetoes tuna casserole.  Honestly, I would vote for this kid.


She leads by example as she picks up her room but also knows when to delegate, letting someone else take over a task when she is just too tired to do it well.  And her cabinet?  Oh, just too funny. Her piggy bank is Secretary of the Treasury and Mr. Potato Head is Secretary of Agriculture.  Smith’s trademark humor comes into play because there is also a Secretary of Fantasy and a Secretary of Pizza.  Makes sense!


As is so often the case with Lane’s books, the text is spare and the punch is in the illustrations.  The look on the Boy Scouts faces when she pops in for a photo-op is priceless!

Unlike many picture books, this one is story light.  But that’s okay because Lane makes it work.  Young readers will come away from this with a much better understanding of everything that a president does.

Somehow I managed to assume that this was a very recent book, but it is 2008.  In spite of this, the book is both timely and timeless.  Madam President must attend to disasters and make sure that things get cleaned up – a task that she takes on herself instead of passing it on to an underling.  Of course, her desire to negotiate a treaty when no one asked her to butt in is a bit too American as well but that’s the beauty of Smith’s work.  He is willing to point out all manner of things, some that you appreciate and some that you might rather forget.

Definitely a good book to spark discussions as to what a president does, how they should behave and more.  Share this one with the young reader in your life today and sit down for a long chat!


September 29, 2017

The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Peter Willis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:10 pm by suebe2

The Nantucket Sea Monster:
A Fake News Story
by Darcy Pattison
illustrated by Peter Willis

In August 1937, a Nantucket newspaper, The Inquirer and Mirror, reported that a local man had seen something strange.  Bill Manville, a local fisherman, was out in his boat.  He hadn’t caught any fish and was looking around when he saw the head of an immense animal rise above the waves.  He had spotted a sea monster!

At the end of the story, the reporter asked anyone else who had seen something to come forward.  Several other people wrote in giving details about seeing the monster.  People were scared even before the giant footprints were found on the beach.  The monster had bene out of the sea walking around!

The story was reported all over the country. Things quieted down for a bit but then it happened.  In mid-August a local man captured the monster.  People flocked down to the beach.  Would it be a fisherman with sharks?  Wreckage from a downed ship?

No one expected what they saw.  It was a giant balloon.

It had all been a publicity stunt – the man who caught the balloon monster had made it.  He also made balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In fact the whole thing had been planned out ahead of time with full knowledge of the newspaper editors.  That’s why it wasn’t a hoax. They hadn’t been tricked into believing something.

They had willingly reported something that they knew was not true.  This was really and truly fake news.

Fake news is a tough concept to explain to young readers.  It isn’t an opinion that someone can choose to believe or not to believe. It isn’t a hoax where someone is tricked into believing something.  It is something that the publisher knows is false and they publish it anyway.

This is the perfect story to illustrate the concept. In part, this is because it doesn’t have any political overtones. Using a historic story also helps young readers understand that this is not a new situation. Fake news has been around for a long time and will be around for years to come.

Pattison has taken a complex topic (fake news) and brought it to life in a way that can be discussed by supporters of any candidate. This is a book for discussion over the dinner table and in the classroom and we all seek to help young learners understand how to evaluate the things they read.



September 22, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:15 pm by suebe2

flame in the mistFlame in the Mist
by Renee Ahdieh
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

From her youngest years, Mariko was always the curious one.  She wanted to know how and why.  She looked for better ways to do things.  Her brother on the other hand always knew his duty.

As a result of her curiosity, Mariko had a reputation for being odd.  Fortunately, she is the daughter of a high-ranking samurai so she has tutors and leisure time. At least until her father finds a suitable suitor.

And he isn’t just any young man.  He is the crown prince.  He will be the next emperor.

Mariko doesn’t know what to expect when she reaches the palace but she knows better than to ask.  No one cares what a worthless girl thinks.

But then her party enters the forest and is attacked.  Mariko is the only survivor but her survival is anything but guaranteed.  She can feel the eyes of the forest watching her.  She is told that the attack on her group was the work of the Black Clan, a band of bandits and murderers.  Mariko decides to find out why they wanted to kill her by infiltrating the clan.

As is often the case with fantasy, this is a hard book to describe without simply retyping the entire book.  Ahdieh has created a tale peopled with colorful 3 dimensional characters, powerful magic, and treachery.

Not only does Mariko have to find her way out of the forest, she also has to decide who to trust, who to believe, and who she truly is – passive daughter of a samurai or Mariko, inventor, planner and fighter.

This is the first of a two book series set in feudal Japan. The setting definitely comes to life, going so far as to reach out and threaten the unwary.  There is action, there is romance, and there is mystery.  Readers will definitely want to know what happens next.

And I have to admit that was my only problem with the book.  There is enough left hanging that you will want to immediately pick up the next book but that doesn’t come out until May 2018.

That said, this is definitely an excellent book for fantasy fans especially the patient ones who don’t mind waiting until May.


September 15, 2017

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:20 pm by suebe2

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet
by Carmen Agra Deedy
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Scholastic Press

“Once there was a village where the streets rang with song from morning until night.”  The problem was that it wasn’t one person singing or even two.  Everyone sang.  Even the fountains crooned.  It got to the point that it was even hard to sleep.  So it wasn’t a surprise when they fired the mayor.

The new mayor promised that La Paz would be one thing — quiet.  He won by a landslide.  (Isn’t that gloriously ironic?)

He didn’t wait to start passing laws.  First you couldn’t sing loudly in public.  Then you couldn’t do it at home.  Before long, you just had to be quiet.  Shhh.

That’s when a little rooster, el gallito, came to town.  He heralded in the dawn with his song.  Kee-kee-ree-KEE!

The mayor wasn’t going to put up with such a noisy bird.  First he chopped down el gallito’s favorite mango tree.  The rooster still found a reason to sing. Then the mayor took away his family.  Kee-kee-ree-KEE!  One thing after another is taken away from the rooster but the mayor simply cannot take away his song.

The people of the town were drawn to the rooster. Something was waking up in their hearts.

Finally the mayor threatens the rooster’s life.  And then….

Ha!  I’m not going to spoil the ending.  You will definitely need to read the book.  It is such an encouraging, uplifting story.  Really, go get a copy.

Yelchin’s art work with its bright colors brings this story to life.  No one who sees this cocky rooster is surprised when he keeps singing.  He’s just to full of spark to silence.

Share this story with your class or with your own children.  Use it as a jumping off point for discussions on bullying and freedom of speech.  Although it will make a marvelously fun story time book – be prepared.  Your young learners will definitely want to  Kee-kee-ree-KEE along with el gallito.  I know I do!

This is a must have for the classroom and home.  Just remember to expect a little song.



September 12, 2017

Prudence the Part-Time Cow by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 7:09 pm by suebe2

Prudence the Part-Time Cow
by Jody Jensen Shaffer
illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Henry Holt and Company

Prudence may look like the other cows in the herd but there’s a big difference between her and Bessie and Patty.  They are full-time cows.  Prudence is only part-time because even when she tries to fit in she just can’t shut off her mind.  Prudence is into science and she’s always making observations, calculations and ways to improve all their lives.

The tough part is that Prudence knows she isn’t like the others.  Their side stares and snide comments hurt. Still Prudence tries one last time to win them all over.

This book definitely belongs in both the home and school library.  It is a great jumping off point for discussions on bullying (how do we treat those who don’t belong), being true to yourself (what do you do when you don’t fit in) and STEM (try, try again!).

It also has something many teachers and librarians are looking for in a STEM book – a female character who is fascinated by science. One of the best things about Prudence’s passion for science is that it isn’t just passion for one field in science.  She’s an engineer, an architect and an inventor.

Stephanie Laberis has created digital illustrations that are silly and fun – that’s important in a book that could quickly be weighed down when the character feels picked on.  But the cartoony feel of these pictures, helped along by a wealth of bright color, are fun even when things are tense.  The characters, but Prudence especially, are very expressive which could also help lead a discussion on emotion and how to tell what people are feeling  and when we need to back off.

When you read this to your class, be prepared for a conversation that is sure to touch on a variety of topics and strong opinions!



September 6, 2017

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:43 pm by suebe2

rump the true story of rumplestiltskinRump:
The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff
Knopf Books for Young Readers

When your name sets up your destiny, you want a good name, a great name, a name that makes people take notice.  In a good way.

Unfortunately, Rump’s mother was very sick when he was born.  She whispered his name to the newborn child but Rump was all anyone heard.  So Rump he became.

Do I really need to explain why this is a bad name to have?  No, I didn’t think so.

But life was okay.  Rump’s grandmother loved him dearly.  And he had one friend – a girl named Red, a name as fiery as his temper and only a little better than his own.  But food is scarce and if you don’t find gold in the mines your family will go hungry.

Rump has to feed his grandmother.  She’s simply too weak to survive the winter.  So in spite of her warning he gets out his mother’s spinning wheel.  He doesn’t know how.  He doesn’t know why, but he can spin straw into gold.  With gold, he can keep the only family he knows alive.

But with each whir of the wheel, Rump spins himself deeper into the curse.

A have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this one.  But once I did?  I was captured in a rumple, a tangle of threads, that wouldn’t let me go.

Spinning straw into gold may seem like a blessing but it is truly a curse and Rump knows that he needs help to break it.  He leaves behind his village and sets off in search of the town where his mother grew up.  Surely someone who knew her will be able to help him out.

Shurtliff has spun a story that is part fairy tale and fantasy and part mystery and tale of discovery.  With each fact Rump finds about his mother, he learns something about himself.  With each person he meets, he learns about the world he lives in. He learns about the difference between fact and fear.  He learns about friendship and trust.

Although this story involves a character who traipse across the country side, it is comfortably middle grade.  Young readers who enjoy fractured fairy tales but are ready for something beyond the realm of the picture book, this book is a must.


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