Saturday, May 23, 2015

Stick and Stone

Stick and Stone
written by Beth Ferry; illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
2015 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Stick, Stone. A friendship has grown. 

Stick and Stone each needed a friend. One felt like a zero and the other only one. Then they found each other. Their friendship was cemented by Stick standing up to Pinecone who was making fun of Stone. The two new friends enjoyed each other's company through several adventures. When a hurricane struck, the two were separated. Stone looked tirelessly for his friend. Finally, he found his friend in over his head, but he was able to rescue Stick and renew their friendship.

The. biggest. hit. in my kindergarten friends' classroom. If they gave an Oscar for best book, those 5 and 6-year-old students would give it to this one. What's not to love? A sparse yet very sweet text that combines a good story with clever wordplay can't help but be loved. Tom Lichtenheld's illustrations are always appealing with great facial features on his characters. The man made a stick and a stone lovable!

I can't imagine your preschool - 2nd grade students will not like this book. Feel free to let me know if this occurs, but I don't think I'll be hearing from you.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Tales from Shakespeare: Henry V

Tales from Shakespeare: Henry V
written by Timothy Knapman; illustrated by Yaniv Shimony
2015 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Therefore take heed... How you awake our sleeping sword of war.

Prince Hal certainly didn't act the part. He was in line for the English throne and spent his days being a party boy. Funny thing happened on the way to the crown. When he took his late father's place, he reverted to being king-like with wisdom and bravery and left his previous ways almost immediately. It was time to reign and France was a jewel for England to take. Henry V consulted his circle of advisers about his claim to the French throne and they felt the time was right. Henry was not so sure. When the Dauphin, the son of the King of France, mocked him with a gift of a chest of tennis balls, it was game on. Henry and his army landed near the port of Harfleur and won a tough battle that significantly weakened their troops. Now the French were extremely confident that they would easily handle the English at Agincourt. Nonetheless, Henry inspired his troops with a speech that sent them into battle with a fierce mindset. The French were overcome and England triumphed despite being underdogs. Not only did Henry conquer northern France, he won the hand of the French king's daughter Katherine in the peace settlement. Unfortunately, he didn't live much longer afterwards as he was trying to conquer the rest of France.

At some point high school students are going to encounter Shakespeare's works. This retelling of Henry V in modern English is a great way to introduce the play and entice reluctant readers who might need a gateway into Shakespeare. There are several quotations from the original play and illustrations that will help readers understand the characters and the mood. I enjoyed reading this adaptation and now will seek out the play and the 1989 Kenneth Branagh film.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees
written by Franck Prevot; illustrated by Aurelia Fronty
2015 (Charlesbridge Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It may be because wa-ngari means "she who belongs to the leopard" that Wangari feels as though she is part of the entire forest.

Young Wangari felt like she was part of the forest that surrounded her childhood Kenyan home. She would collect water at the foot of a fig tree each day. Her mother taught her that a tree "was worth more than its wood." At an early age she was troubled by the cutting of trees, but what could she do about it? Thanks to her brother and mother, Wangari was able to start by getting an education which was unusual for a woman at that time. After spending five years studying in America, she returned to Kenya to find an independent country but also a place where the land was still being plundered of its natural wealth. Wangari started the Green Belt Movement in 1977 so she could go about reversing the trend of forest destruction. She encouraged other women to plant trees and confront government officials who wanted to continue as usual. Even bolder was standing up to Kenya's president by thwarting efforts to build a skyscraper and a project that threatened several species. For this she suffered physical and mental humiliation through imprisonment. Wangari was fighting for more than the trees. She was pushing for democracy to take root in Kenya.

The illustrations for this book are so striking. There is a spread on pages 36-37 that should be framed and hung in a museum. Wangari Maathai is set against a red background with Mount Kenya in the back. Two doves fly overhead as she is surrounded by different plants. It's one of the best illustrations I have ever seen in a picture book.

Wangari Maathai's life included a Nobel Peace Prize and other accolades. She is definitely a person to be studied during biography projects, plant units and/or Earth Day celebrations. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

With a Friend by Your Side

With a Friend by Your Side
written by Barbara Kerley
2015 (National Geographic Children's Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

So, step right up. Don't be shy.
Imagine what can happen with a friend by your side.

"How do you become friends with someone?" That's the first question addressed by the photo essay With a Friend by Your Side. You do so by knowing that there is someone out there for you. All it takes is a willingness to be a friend. The second question is "Why have a friend?" As humans, it's nice to have someone to share a laugh with. Literally as I type this, I can hear my two daughters belly laughing in the back bedroom. They are friends for life. You also want someone to share with. It's good to talk to someone you trust who won't tell your thoughts. Friends also are great for support. Whether it's a hug, a "You can do it!", or a holding of the hand, friends can provide the support we need to keep going in this big ol' world.

With a Friend by Your Side would be an excellent way to start a lesson on friendship and/or kindness. It will set the tone for the values you want your students to consider. If you want to promote global awareness (Seriously, who doesn't?), then find a copy of this book. Sarsy, Russia doesn't look so far away when you see three kids reading a book together. "Hey, I do that too!" you say to yourself. When you see two kids from the Congo putting their arms around each other's shoulders, that seems quite familiar too. Finding out what we have in common makes this sphere a little less big. In the back matter, you will find a thumbnail print of each photograph and a map showing their location. There's also a brief essay by the author and quotes about friendship.

Combining simple but profound text by the terrific (look it up if you don't believe me) Barbara Kerley with the usual spectacular photos by National Geographic will give you a winner every time and you cannot have enough good books about friendship in your classroom.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Inventions That Could Have Changed the World ...But Didn't!

Inventions That Could Have Changed the World...But Didn't!
written by Joe Rhatigan; illustrated by Anthony Owsley
2015 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless - Thomas Edison

"Failure is not an option." I have heard this phrase many times in staff development sessions. I want to speak up and say "Trite and tired phrases are not an option either!" In this really cool new book, failure is celebrated. These are inventions that just didn't click for one reason or another, but as author Joe Rhatigan states on the inside flap, there is still plenty to learn from these efforts. I so want an amphicar. It was a car and a boat. There were about 4000 produced in the early 1960s but it wasn't much of a car or a boat. Apparently Lyndon Johnson enjoyed his as he tricked friends by feigning that the brakes had slipped as he headed for a lake. Another of my favorites is the alarm bed. The bed wound up like a clock and dumped you out when the alarm went off. I would get to school faster if I had one of these! As the owner of two cats, I'm not as enthusiastic about the cat potty training device. Some things are just not meant to be. In addition to the highly entertaining inventions, there is an informative introduction to the origin of patents and why we need them.

Failure can teach you a lot. You don't want to fail all the time, but an occasional humbling can be good for the soul. I lost a lot of games in my youth, but I learned how to handle disappointment. In addition, the losers usually have better stories to tell. This book may prove my point. There's also a lot of interesting science in these attempts as well as the occasional "What were they thinking?". As I was reading Inventions, I kept turning to my wife and daughter and telling them about different inventions and they wanted to hear more. That ladies and gentlemen is the sign of a winning book about failing.

Monday, April 27, 2015


written and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
2015 (Albert Whitman)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

She sings aloud on the bus, talks to her imaginary friend, and remembers things- lots of things.

Janine is a unique kid. She listens to the beat of her own quirky drummer, but like most kids she wants to be included too. When she overhears of a party planned by one of the popular kids in her class, Janine asks if she can come. When the snooty reply from the hostess is "It's only for cool kids!", Janine explains how she is cool. She has her own fashion flair, hangs out with the kids that may not be popular and even has her own cheer. The hostess is so incensed by Janine's cheerfulness that she yells at her and tells her that she must change if she wants to be part of her crowd. Janine decides that she is pretty cool as is and will have her own party and invite everyone. What follows is a positive turn of events for our heroine.

Janine is a book that will encourage kids to have their own style. She has a fierceness in her independence that is quite admirable. The plot is pretty straightforward, but frankly kids in k-2 aren't screaming for nuance. They will like that the antagonist gets a comeuppance and is taught a lesson in humility. The book could lead to discussions about how everyone in a classroom should be friends regardless of popularity or abilities in certain areas and how we all need to be aware of bullying. Janine is a plucky young lady who will engage primary age readers.

Check out Janine's Party on Blogspot.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In The New World: A Family in Two Centuries

In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries
written by Gerda Raidt; illustrated by Christa Holtei
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The Peters family lives on a German farm in 1869. They plant flax and weave it into a thread that can be sold for use in clothing and bedding. Unfortunately, times are tough so that they are not making enough money to stay in their current position. Robert, the father, is reading in the newspaper about the availability of land in America. It's not an easy decision. Leaving Germany means leaving behind their family forever, but the opportunity proves too great to pass up. The Peters save enough money to book passage on a steamship headed for America. The trip is not always comfortable but the family lands safely in New Orleans. From there they take a steamship to St. Louis where members of the German society guide them toward the new railway that will take them to Nebraska. Finally, a ten day wagon trip will take them from Omaha to their plot of over 150 acres in New Steinberg, a community founded by German families. There they cut sod blocks to build a starter home until they can afford to build a wooden home. The Peters settle in and begin working the land. Spin forward to present day New Steinberg where Tom Peters owns his own farm and keeps a picture of his ancestors above the mantle. His daughter Olivia sparks an investigation into their ancestry that leads to a trip back to Germany to find the original Peters home.

If you teach about immigration, this book will be a terrific resource. It's a straight forward account that will teach readers about the pros (acquisition of land) and cons (leaving behind family forever) of immigrating in the 19th century. I really like the focus on transportation as the Peters family encounters several modes as they move from Germany to Nebraska. In the New World will also allow students to contrast the past with the present. This will lead to rich discussions about the hardships families faced in the 19th century.

In the New World connects the past and present in a way that will intrigue readers of today.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dirty Rats?

Dirty Rats?
written by Darrin Lunde; illustrated by Adam Gustavson
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Rats are hated, hunted, trapped, and feared. They struggle each day just to survive.

If you are a rat, you get stereotyped fairly quickly. Filthy. Plague bringer. Disease spreader. They're trapped, screamed at and generally despised. Good for nothing. Well, not exactly. I guess you could say you can't judge a rat by its name. Marmoset rats have nothing to do with eating garbage. Their choice on nature's menu is bamboo. I see a joke beginning here: A panda and a marmoset rat meet at a bamboo plant. Then there's the South American fish-eating rat. No, it doesn't eat fish. It mostly eats insects. There are many rats around the world that can't be typecast. Another point of this book is that rats probably don't get their due when it comes to helping society. Where would medicine be without lab rats? They have been helpful in use by researchers trying to find solutions to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Rats also are great seed spreaders and a food source for many predators.

Dirty Rats? would be a good mentor text for teaching opinion and point of view with nonfiction. Students could take opposite sides of the rat debate. I like the idea of looking at what seems to be truth and turning it on its head. That's a profitable exercise for students. I'm not wanting to "rat it out", but Dirty Rats? is a pretty good book.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Edmund Unravels

Edmund Unravels
written and illustrated by Andrew Kolb
2015 (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Source: Durham County Public Library

It's funny - when talking about a ball of yarn, the end is actually the beginning.

Edmund Loom is a ball of energy. He wants to see everything and live life to the fullest. Edmund's adventures, whether around a corner or in a tree, finish with his parents having to reel him back in. He tries to keep it together, but he is a restless ball of yarn. As Edmund ages, he goes further and further away from his family. His parents have a harder time pulling him back to them. Edmund sees all that life has to offer. Wonderful sights and sounds intrigue him and even the scary parts, like kittens chasing him, are "part of the adventure." He enjoys meeting different figures, such as a pin cushion, a button, a glue stick, and sipping a cup of tea with a vial of glitter. Wouldn't his parents be amazed to see him on the back of a kite above the world! But sometimes we can get a little far away from base and have to decide what is truly important to us. Edmund faces this decision.

Edmund Unravels is a sweet metaphor for growing up and being independent. Adult readers will relate to his adventures and recall their own youth. I think this would actually be a nice graduation gift book if you don't want to go the Dr. Seuss route. Young readers will enjoy the bright illustrations and different creatures that he meets. I would follow up a reading with questions about why family is important and what is interesting to students outside their town or city. Edmund Unravels also made me think about the challenge of dealing with restless children in the classroom.

If you are interested in a creative take on life, check out Edmund Unravels. Not that I want to string you along.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Boy and the Book

The Boy and the Book: A Wordless Story
story by David Michael Slater; illustrated by Bob Kolar
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

A young boy comes rumbling into a public library like a sci-fi monster into a crowded city. As all of the books in the children's section cower or run in fear, he grabs a blue one. The boy drags the book across the floor. He plops down on the floor and tears a page while tossing it in the air. Mom comes to take him home so he tosses the battered and bruised book aside. Some books come to comfort him while others bring glue and tape. When the boy comes back on a different day, the blue book goes on the run only to be snatched through a shelf opening. After seeing their friend being boy-handled once again, the book's pals quickly hatch a plan to save their tormented blue buddy. Using a banner, one book swings in a swashbuckling style to grab the blue book out of the clutches of the boy. End of the story? Villain vanquished? Not so fast! A great unexpected turn takes place and your appreciation of this book goes to a whole other level.

Love this book. Love, love, love. The twist in the plot is genius. I laughed out loud at the expression of the books as this tiny tormentor wreaked havoc. I can't wait to share it with my kindergarten friends.

This is a terrific book to share at the beginning of the year as you introduce your classroom library. It's a humorous way to encourage good book behaviors. You can also teach inference to a kindergarten class with this wordless wonder. Add this book to your wordless collection now!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sparky and Tidbit

Sparky and Tidbit
written by Kathryn O. Galbraith; illustrated by Gerald Kelley
2015 (Simon Spotlight)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Sparky the dog wants to be a hero. His Uncle Spot sends him a new K-9 collar, hat, and badge so he looks the part. Now he needs something to happen so he can be a hero. Unfortunately, it's fairly quiet around the neighborhood. About to lose hope, Sparky hears "Yip, Yip, Yip". Could someone be having trouble with raccoons? Ducks? It turns out to be a pup named Tidbit. Seems he is having trouble reading a book. Tidbit gets so frustrated that he bites the book. Sparky tells him, "No biting" and encourages him to slow down. This isn't the hero work that Sparky wants, but he manages to keep a straight muzzle as Tidbit reads a whole page. Tidbit is so excited that he asks Sparky to listen to him the next day. Sparky hems and haws but agrees to continue. By the end of the week, Tidbit is much more confident. His teacher, Ms. Beagle, notices the improvement. She's so impressed that she writes Sparky a letter asking him to become the official listener for her class. Soon a class of pups is reading to and being encouraged by Sparky.

Sparky and Tidbit is the kind of book that you need in a first or second grade class. It's inexpensive in paperback, has an appealing story line, and will pass through several hands. Readers in the H-J range will most appreciate it. I like that the book focuses on reading volunteers. There are usually several in a school so students will be able to easily make connections. It's also nice that kids who struggle with reading get to be heroes in a book. Your young pups will enjoy this story!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Baby Animals Spots & Stripes

Baby Animals Spots & Stripes
illustrated by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I don't review board books very often, but I couldn't pass up this one. Look at that cover and tell me that a toddler wouldn't love it. You will get tired of looking at this book because your kid will want it over and over again.

On the first spread, you have a white bunny with spots on a black background on the left. The right side of the spread features a raccoon with a striped tail on a white background. These illustrations are detailed and stimulating. Young (and old like me!) eyes will be all over this stuff. The striped snake on a black background is especially cool. You will be able to talk to your child about animals and all the details that they see. Think of the vocabulary you can impart. Look at these two cuties below:

The final spread is adorable and smart. Two toddlers, one with polka dot shorts and the other with a striped shirt in a color illustration, are playing with a box of toys that resemble the animals that have been featured. If you want to make your kid think (and who doesn't?), guide them to connect to the animals on the previous page. Of course your child is above average and will do this on their own. 

Baby Animals Spots and Stripes is a very sharp nonfiction board book. This would be a terrific and unique baby shower gift. Throw in a couple of onesies and you will be a hit at that party.