Thursday, October 19

Series Highlight: The BabyLit Primer Board Books

I'm so excited to highlight some favorite board books in our house. I'll admit straight up though...it's more my favorite than my daughter's. But I'm also a firm believer that adults should enjoy reading to their kids with books they themselves love. Right? Right. Which is where the BabyLit books come in.

BabyLit books are retellings of classic literature in a way that not only pays homage to the original storyline, but also educates the reader on a certain specific subject. For instance, Les Miserables is a French Language Primer, Sense & Sensibility is an Opposites Primer, and The Secret Garden is a Flowers Primer. Really, the whole series is a pretty simple concept beautifully executed.

The three newest BabyLit classic novel retellings include some of my favorite favorite and are perfect for sharing with my own little girl. I mean, just check these out...

A Little Princess: A Friendship Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1423645955
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of publication: March 21, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: friendship, courage

In this BabyLit book, each page introduces Sara’s friends with text from the original novel, A Little Princess. The Friendship Primer shows the reader that the best of friends can be found in some surprising places. Turns out that this little board book is pretty true to the original story with little snippets about each of Sara's beloved friends--Emily, Ermengarde, Ram Dass, and more. It's even true to the original order of characters as they're introduced. And Oliver's illustrations are as adorable as ever. With the original classic being a personal favorite of mine, I love sharing this little book with my own daughter.


Find it at your library or on Amazon

Anne of Green Gables: A Places Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1423647829
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of publication: August 22, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: places, nature, Prince Edward Island

In this introduction to beloved redheaded orphan Anne Shirley, readers explore Prince Edward Island and the places that Anne loves. With words and bright illustrations, discover Anne’s home and her favorite pond, wood, field, garden, and the avenue to Avonlea. Again, Oliver's illustrations are sweet and colorful. The text chosen from the original novel adds the perfect amount of whimsy to this nature-filled book. It's less concerned with the storyline, but Anne's flowery language quoted here is a sure introduction to a beloved classic character.


Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Nutcracker: A Dancing Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1423647485
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of Publication: September 12, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: dancing, ballet, toys, Christmas

This colorfully illustrated board book version of the classic Christmas-time ballet is sure to be a new holiday favorite. With soldiers marching, mice prancing, snowflakes swirling, dolls bending, and buffoons skipping, readers will be introduced basic movement terms and a classic story. For turning a ballet into a book, this is simply and wonderfully done. Oliver's illustrations are full of movement and emotion--perfect for this tale. Adams manages to tell the (very basic) tale on ornaments displayed on every other page. Overall, one that we'll be having fun with this Christmas as my little girl leaps, twirls, and shows off her favorite dancing moves.


Find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, October 14

Top Picture Books in October

There were a lot of picture books that I enjoyed this month. Interestingly, there was definitely a self-improvement theme going through most of them. So if you're looking to help your kids be better people, check out some of these titles. And then, of course, I tacked on some creepy underwear because Halloween obviously. And my fascination with underwear books. That too.

I Am Not a Chair
Written and illustrated by Ross Burach

My rating: ★½

ISBN: 978-0062360168
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of publication: February 14, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Format: library book

Themes: giraffes, identity, jungle animals, courage, humor

Could there be anything worse for Giraffe? Maybe being sat on by a skunk or smooshed by two hapless hippos, or worst of all—cornered by a hungry lion? No one seems to notice that Giraffe is not standing around just to be sat upon. Will he be able to find his voice and make his friends realize who he really is?

I really don't think this book is getting enough credit. Sure, it's pretty silly and the whole concept is a tad absurd, but that all just emphasizes the point of the book even further: to be true to yourself and those around you. Standing up to peer pressure and all that. So a good lesson and it's totally hilarious? Yeah, I'd say that's a winner! I laughed more with this book than I have in a while. The ending, especially, was a perfect touch. The illustrations are, of course, what make this book (because, really, a giraffe would not look like a chair otherwise). Overall, I really enjoyed it and am eager to share it with some kids.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, October 9

Top Graphic Novels in October

You know what? I really enjoy graphic novels. And lots of kids do, too. And yet, I still seem to forget to set aside more time to read them. So here's a few that I enjoyed this month and hopefully, more will be on the horizon. (And yes, I realize two of them are from Victoria Jamieson...but I really like her work, so no regrets there)

The Great Pet Escape
(Pets on the Loose! #1)
Victoria Jamieson

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1627791052
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Date of publication: February 16, 2016
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Graphic Novel
Format: library book

Themes: classroom pets, rodents, escapes & adventures, engineering

"The class pets at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School want OUT . . . and GW (short for George Washington), the deceptively cute hamster in the second-grade classroom, is just the guy to lead the way. But when he finally escapes and goes to find his former partners in crime, Barry and Biter, he finds that they actually LIKE being class pets. Impossible!

"But just as GW gets Barry and Biter to agree to leave with him, a mouse named Harriet and her many mouse minions get in their way. How will GW's gang break out now? And just what will the students think when they come back to a rather messy cafeteria?"

I did chuckle a few times, it's true. The characters are funny and wonderfully developed, each with their own unique personality. In fact, quite a bit of the story was spent getting to know our hilarious heroes (Biter, especially, is a character that drives a lot of the humor in this story). The plot itself, however, was quick. Yes, I realize that it's a shorter graphic novel, as it should be for its target audience, but it did feel a bit rushed and underdeveloped. As the first in a series, though (the second was just released this summer), I'm sure these pets' adventures will continue to get better and better. This will be a hit with the kids.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

CatStronauts: Mission Moon
(CatStronauts #1)
Drew Brockington

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0316307451
Publisher: Little, Brown
Date of publication: April 18, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Genre: Graphic Novel, Science Fiction
Format: library book

Themes: cats, space travel & exploration, engineering, the moon

"When the world is thrust into darkness due to a global energy shortage, the World's Best Scientist comes up with a bold plan to set up a solar power plant on the moon. But someone has to go up there to set it up, and that adventure falls to the CatStronauts, the best space cats on the planet! Meet the fearless commander Major Meowser, brave-but-hungry pilot Waffles, genius technician and inventor Blanket, and quick thinking science officer Pom Pom on their most important mission yet!"

What an unexpected pleasure! Who knew I could derive such joy from cats who are astronauts? Brockington delivers a hilarious story in a world populated with cats. Yes, cats. As in, there's lots of tuna, yarn, a dislike of getting wet and other such cat-isms. It's quite perfectly juxtaposed with a rather heroic sci-fi story, and is sure to keep readers thoroughly entertained. While I realized the science behind it is quite fictional (as in, no, not educational for the kids reading it--missed opportunity!), I'm sure it will still spark their interest in space exploration and also have them eagerly grabbing for the next book in the series.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

All's Faire in Middle School
Victoria Jamieson

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0525429999
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: September 5, 2017
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Graphic Novel
Format: library book

Themes: Renaissance Faire, middle school, homeschooling, friendship, identity, family

Another fantastically written story about the ills and thrills of middle school. Jamieson captures the inner struggles and turmoils of middle-schoolers without beating around the bush. Her main characters are relatable, even as they are unique. Imogene really develops as she tries to discover just who she is (is she the knight or the dragon?) as she moves from the Renaissance world she loves to the middle school world she certainly doesn't love.

Yes, I may have marked a star off. See, I loved Roller Girl (Jamieson's first) because that one really resonated personally with me and I felt the story was a bit more triumphant. In this book, however, there's more hardship and discouragement (bullies, mean teachers, disappointment galore), and a world that I've never experienced (I know, it's terrible, but I've never been to a Renaissance Faire). I'd still recommend it, especially to the middle school crowd.

(A small note to those parents who care: there is a minor reference to sex among Imogene's schoolmates and also a [attempted] sex talk from Imogene's mom [Imogene flees in embarassment]).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, October 6

Pug & Pig Trick or Treat (Review and Giveaway!)

Guys, I'm on a giveaway streak. So let's not end it quite yet, right? I mean, especially now that's it's the Halloween season and I have a really cute Halloween book to share today. So see below to enter the giveaway for Pug & Pig Trick or Treat!

Pug & Pig Trick or Treat
Written by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Joyce Wan

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1481449779
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Date of publication: July 25, 2017
Age: 2 - 7 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: Halloween, friendship, pugs, pigs, costumes

Halloween night has come to Pug and Pig’s house, and the darling duo is sporting matching costumes. The costumes are cozy. They glow in the dark. And they have masks! There’s only one problem—Pug hates wearing his. So he decides to rip it up and stay home. But Halloween just isn’t any fun for Pig without Pug! Can Pug find a way to be a good friend and get back into the Halloween spirit?

Tuesday, October 3

Top Middle-Grade Reads of the Month (Oct 2017)

My favorite middle-grade books from this month are definitely on the suspenseful side--spooks, high adventure, demons, mind games, betrayal, ghosts, and even evil robots. Maybe the Halloween spirit was hitting me a little early?

The Empty Grave
(Lockwood & Co. #5)
Jonathan Stroud

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484778722
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: September 12, 2017
Age: Grades 5 - 9
Genre: Horror
Format: personal purchase

Themes: ghosts, hauntings, experiments, business practices, friendship, London

"Five months after the events in THE CREEPING SHADOW, we join Lockwood, Lucy, George, Holly, and their associate Quill Kipps on a perilous night mission: they have broken into the booby-trapped Fittes Mausoleum, where the body of the legendary psychic heroine Marissa Fittes lies. Or does it? This is just one of the many questions to be answered. Will Lockwood ever reveal more about his family's past to Lucy? Will their trip to the Other Side leave Lucy and Lockwood forever changed? Will Penelope Fittes succeed in shutting down their agency forever? The young agents must survive attacks from foes both spectral and human before they can take on their greatest enemy in a climactic and chaotic battle. And to prevail they will have to rely on help from some surprising—and shadowy—allies."

Perfect. I'm serious. It was like...everything I ever wanted. And, really, I'm sorry if you're just now joining me (here, why don't you check out my reviews for book 1, 2, 3, and 4—yes, I've reviewed every one of them on here and I love 'em all). In this, the concluding book of the series, Lucy builds an even stronger bond to those around here (which, in turn, made me, as the reader, build my own stronger bond with these characters), the intrigue is in full force, key ghosts make their appearance, and the climax? Well, it was definitely the right way to end the series. Hugely recommended, especially before Halloween—read this series NOW.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Guardians of the Gryphon's Claw
(A Sam London Adventure)
Todd Calgi Gallicano

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1524713652
Publisher: Delacorte
Date of publication: August 29, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: mythological creatures, adventure, curses, national parks

"Haunted by a dream of a mythical gryphon, Sam London uncovers an ancient secret that will change the way he sees the world forever. Recruited by Dr. Vance Vantana, an eccentric zoologist and park ranger sent by the government, Sam is whisked away on an adventure that takes him to the farthest reaches of the globe. Along this journey, Sam learns an incredible truth: mythical creatures are real and living among us in our national parks. A special department in the U.S. government ensures that their existence remains hidden. But Sam’s dream is an omen that the secret may now be in danger. Someone seeks the power to expose these creatures and overthrow humankind—and that power can only be found in a magical talisman known as the gryphon’s claw."

A brilliantly done, epic fantasy adventure that brings the likes of Percy Jackson series to mind. Sam himself, though, is a character unlike most I've seen—his insecurities, home life, questions, doubts, struggles and joys really make him relatable and realistic (yes, even in a fantasy novel). I really enjoyed him, as well as Vance (who has great character history). I also really enjoyed the story and how it was presented (that the author is merely compiling the case files received from the U.S. Department of Mythical Wildlife with "dramatic interpretation") and its thorough details. The storyline, however, was what lost me just a bit, with a lot of hops, skips, and jumps (e.g. breaking the narrative to refer to a future plot point). My biggest complaint (which is still small in the whole scheme of things, mind you) is the presence of a double climax. It almost felt like the book could've ended in the middle and the sequel begun. Still, high excitement, frighteningly detailed creatures, and courageous characters makes for an easily recommendable fantasy adventure.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The World's Greatest Adventure Machine
Frank L. Cole

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0399552823
Publisher: Delacorte
Date of publication: August 8, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 8
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: eBook from publisher

Themes: special abilities, amusement park rides, friendship, virtual reality

"CastleCorp and the famous Castleton brothers are unveiling the World’s Greatest Adventure Machine! The roller coaster is an experience like no other, and four lucky kids have won the chance to be the first to ride it.There’s Trevor, whose latest stunt got him in trouble at school again. There’s Devin, whose father is pushing him to be the next Internet sensation. Nika’s wealthy grandfather isn’t too pleased about her participation. And Cameron, he’ll be the first to tell you, is a certified genius.

"The whole world is watching. But as the kids set off on their journey, they begin to realize that there is perhaps more to their fellow contest winners than meets the eye. And the Adventure Machine? It might just have a mind of its own. Join the contestants on their wild ride if you dare. Your adventure starts now!"

Oh man, what a ride (pun intended). This was one that I was sad to finish and still thinking about long after I'd read the last page. While it can be hard to balance a book between four main characters and their varying points of view, I would say that Cole managed it quite well. Each had their own secrets, histories, and abilities that shaped them in unique ways to drive the story forward. And then there's the story itself—wow! It's got some trippy mind benders that really get you wondering and puzzling. While the Jurassic Park and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and Mr. Lemoncello's Library, too, now that I think of it) plot points are there, the actual concept is fascinatingly unique and often had me guessing what, exactly, was reality (to the point where it might have been a bit tough for me to follow what was happening exactly). Overall, the Adventure Machine is one super creepy ride—kids will love it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, September 28

Hilde Cracks the Case: Hero Dog! (Review and Giveaway!)

Ooo have I got a good one to share with you today. I'm always excited about kid authors, and this next author just about blows my socks off--Hilde Lysiak is one awesome chica! I've been perusing her website and news stories for the last hour and am so impressed... But I'm getting ahead of myself! First, her book to be reviewed. And then, make sure to see below for a giveaway!

Hero Dog!
(Hilde Cracks the Case #1)
Written by Hilde Lysiak & Matthew Lysiak, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1338141559
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: September 12, 2017
Age: Grades 1-3
Genre: Mystery, Realistic Fiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: journalism, detective work, dogs, neighbor relationships

Nine-year-old crime reporter Hilde Lysiak is starring in her very own early chapter book series—inspired by news stories Hilde wrote in real life! In this first book, there's been a break-in on Orange Street! Cupcakes have been stolen, and soon a pie goes missing, too. Hilde and her sister/photographer, Izzy, must interview witnesses and follow the clues. Can Hilde crack the case in time to post her news story online?

What really makes this book for me is not so much the story, but the people and inspirations behind it. I mean—hello!—awesome child reporter writes her own book series about the crimes she solves?? That's just so legit. Too legit to quit. Hilde is sharing what she loves and doing it in a way that demands to be taken seriously. It's awesome for kids; it encourages them to pursue their dreams and work hard for what they love.

I will still comment on the story, of course. The journalistic aspects are well incorporated into a Nate-the-Great-style mystery, with some great characters (or perhaps I should say suspects) and dramatic build-up. The illustrations add some fun support to the story. My only small complaint would be a number of exclamation points. I felt like there was a lot of excited yelling in my head as I read it. I'm sure that won't bother the kids who read it—the book will, I'm sure, be much enjoyed. Definitely recommended!

Also recommended: doing a journalism classroom/library study—get started with the Scholastic curriculum guide, which has a LOT of useful material!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Hilde Kate Lysiak is the reporter and publisher of the Orange Street News. Since starting her paper at the age of seven Hilde has written and published hundreds of stories in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Hilde has been recognized for her work in the New York Times, NBC Today Show, GMA, The Washington Post, and thousands of other media across the world.

Giveaway!

I'm partnering with Scholastic to provide a giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a copy of Hilde's first book—book 1, THE HERO DOG! (U.S. addresses only) Enter using the widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 25

Top Nonfiction Books of the Month (Sept 2017)

Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing
Written by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Raúl Colón

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1626722507
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Date of publication: June 13, 2017
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Biography, Nonfiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: Pete Seeger, folk singers, activism, music

"Listen.
There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.
With his head thrown back
and his Adam’s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
new songs,
new words to old songs,
and songs he made up."

It's simply poetic. So beautifully written. Just by reading it, I felt like there was some banjo folk music playing in the background. Okay, I know that might sound cheesy, but really--the stanzas of writing, the story being told, and the illustrations all make for a sweet tribute. The illustrations, in particular, actually, are perfect for Schubert's style because of its soft lines and velvety texture. Do you see how this all works together to make its own music? Now, don't expect too much detail on Pete's life--the 40 pages of this text are more about his activism and good done in the world. The author is very much a fan, and this fact shines through in every line. If you enjoyed Seeger's music, you'll definitely love this book. If you don't know of Seeger, well...prepare yourself to become a fan.

Oh, also, check out Schubert's website for a curriculum guide and videos and more.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Chomp!: Fierce facts about the BITE FORCE, CRUSHING JAWS, and MIGHTY TEETH of Earth's champion chewers 
Brady Barr

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1426328398
Publisher: National Geographic
Date of publication: June 13, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: animal facts, teeth, biting, eating habits

"It turns out that there's a lot more to biting than meets the eye. Physical features and the how (and when and why) an animal bites reveals much about the animal itself. Chomp! highlights an array of awesome creatures with a diversity of chomp styles – from shredders and slicers to grippers and gulpers. Then it shows how tooth type, bite force, jaw shape, and food source all come to together to make each an incredible member of the animal bite force!"

Dude, Brady Barr has really put his life's work into this book. His expertise and experience shines through--I particularly enjoyed the little side stories he would tell about his work in the field (yes, he was once charged at by a rampaging hippopotamus). The writing often felt like I was listening to him in a one-on-one conversation--it's companionable and fun to read. His individual animal analyses provide some pretty awesome (and somewhat terrifying) insight into various eating habits. Combine that with the stunning photography and bright spreads that one can count on from National Geographic and you've got yourself a good read. Just be prepared for some pretty gruesome facts here and there.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

What Would Happen?: Serious Answers to Silly Questions 
Crispin Boyer

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1426327704
Publisher: National Geographic
Date of publication: July 11, 2017
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: questions and answers, random facts, curiosities

"Ever wondered what would happen if some cool or crazy things were possible? Like what would happen if: you got sucked into a black hole; dinosaurs still existed; humans could fly; you could communicate with dolphins; or you could dig a hole through to the center of the Earth? Get ready to explore all kinds of scenarios that would or could happen if the world was just a slightly different place. Each scenario is examined with real scientific, historical, and cultural facts in mind. This out-of-the-box book encourages readers to cultivate a better understanding of the world as it is – and as it could be!"

Totally random and yet...totally fascinating. So while I haven't actually wondered about some of the things in this book, all of the questions asked are really thought-provoking and thoroughly researched. Each question (e.g. "What if you grew up in outer space?") has exploratory information, side-angles to get the mind going, and the clincher--could it really happen? While I wish Boyer went a bit more into why he asked these particular questions (like I said, it felt really random), I did learn quite a bit (did you know there's a man in Iran that hasn't bathed in 60 years??) and think kids would really enjoy it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Secret Subway
Written by Shana Corey, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0375870712
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Date of publication: March 8, 2016
Age: 4 - 8 years
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: library book

Themes: Alfred E. Beach, technology, New York City, subways

"New York City in the 1860s was a mess: crowded, disgusting, filled with garbage. You see, way back in 1860, there were no subways, just cobblestone streets. That is, until Alfred Ely Beach had the idea for a fan-powered train that would travel underground. On February 26, 1870, after fifty-eight days of drilling and painting and plastering, Beach unveiled his masterpiece—and throngs of visitors took turns swooshing down the track."

Now I may be a bit behind the times with this one, but thanks to the Beehive Book Awards, I'm going through some pretty sweet published-last-year nominees-for-this-year so as to get my students excited. Anyway, this here was fascinating; I love a nonfiction book that tells a little-known story—and with such finesse! I particularly enjoyed the way Corey wrapped up the story at the end, with the echo of the past leaving its mark. Topping off this great story is some pretty unique illustrations—miniatures and models to create the scenes of the story. Overall, a really unique story that I'm eager to recommend.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, September 22

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk Blog Tour (and Giveaway!!)

Oh man, it is about time that I got to host a blog tour stop for one of Josh Funk's books—and have an interview with the man himself! I am such a fan. Allow me to introduce you to his newest book, report his comments on the matter, and then, (drumroll...) post the giveaway! Enter for the chance to win a copy of It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk below...

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk
Written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1542045650
Publisher: Two Lions
Date of publication: September 19, 2017
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: fractured fairytale, narrator & character relations, beans, giants, humor

"Jack is not fond of the bossy narrator of his fairy tale! When Jack is told to trade his beloved cow Bessie for some magic beans, throw the beans out the window, climb the ENORMOUS beanstalk that sprouts overnight, and steal from a GIANT, he decides this fairy tale is getting out of control. In fact, he doesn’t want to follow the story line at all. Who says Jack needs to enter a life of daring, thievery, and giant trickery? He takes his story into his own hands—and you’ll never guess what happens next!"

Monday, September 18

Top Early Readers/Chapter Books of the Month (Sept 2017)

This post seems to be a bit dominated by small rodents. But don't worry, I threw in a ghost story, just to keep you on your toes.

There's a Pest in the Garden
Written and illustrated by Jan Thomas

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0544941656
Publisher: HMH Books
Date of publication: June 6, 2017
Age: Grades K - 2
Format: library book

Themes: vegetables, gardening, animals, humor

There’s a pest in the garden and he’s eating all the vegetables! The beans, corn, and peas are rapidly disappearing! Good thing, then, that Duck has a plan to save the day (well, sort of).

I'm always a fan of Jan Thomas because I'm always a fan of funny books. And boy did this one fit the bill! I love it when a story takes unexpected, hilarious turns, which this book does beautifully. The illustrations feature her traditional characters and style, with bold colors and lines simply done. Really, the story is short, sweet, and great for beginning readers--and also totally hilarious. As a readaloud, this would be a lot of fun to encourage predictions and questions from your storytime crowd. Definitely recommended.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Fergus and Zeke
Written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Heather Ross

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0763678463
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: June 13, 2017
Age: Grades 1 - 3
Format: library book

Themes: field trips, mice, classroom pet, museums, friendship

Fergus loves being the class pet in Miss Maxwell’s classroom. He does everything the students do, until the teacher plans a field trip to the museum — without Fergus! He doesn’t want to miss the fun, so he stows away in a backpack and sets off for an adventure. When he arrives at the museum, Fergus finds it a little overwhelming — huge and full of exciting things to see. Luckily, he meets a new friend, Zeke, who knows the ropes, and together they explore everything from moon rocks to butterflies to a giant dinosaur skeleton ("A playground!" says Zeke). But when the time comes for the bus to leave, Fergus is worried that he’ll be left behind. Will he make it back to school to take his place as class pet once more?

A traditional story of friendship that has all of the classic elements. These two mice are hardly alike, but of course, opposites attract and they enjoy a simple adventure, much in the vein of Frog and Toad. I was not overly wowed because its traditional feel also means that it felt a tad unoriginal and predictable. However, it could make for a good pre-field-trip read or is a great recommendation if for a reader that's really into mice books (because, my goodness, there are a lot).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Ghost Attack
(Monster Itch #1)
David Lubar

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0545873482
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: June 27, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 4
Genre: Mystery, Horror
Format: library book

Themes: ghosts, allergies, cousins, mystery

When Alex and his cousin Sarah are visiting their grandparents, Alex gets terrible red, itchy hives. Yikes! He's allergic to a ghost! Even worse, the ghost won't leave him alone -- he wants Alex and Sarah's help. Can they solve the ghost's mystery and get rid of Alex's awful rash before it ruins everything?

A little creepy at the beginning, an intriguing mystery in the middle, and thoroughly satisfying by the end--a fun read to recommend! A touch of humor keeps things light as Alex and Sarah figure out the clues to helping a haunting ghost. It keeps readers engaged; it's easy to solve the mystery right along with the characters. While I do hope these two main characters gain a little more depth in the subsequent sequels (there's little hints about their strong loyalty to each other, even as the play jokes and have fun, which I think is brilliant and should be further developed), I admit that it's a great story and perfect for the upcoming Halloween season.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

A True Home
(Heartwood Hotel #1)
Written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1484731611
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: July 3, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Genre:
Format: library book

Themes: mice, hotels, forest animals, courage

When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they'll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffle and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

You know when you feel all warm and cozy with your hot chocolate by the fire and a blanket in your lap and loved ones all around? That's what this book does to you. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but this is definitely a heart-warmer. Mona is so sweet, brave, and kind (maybe too much so a time or two, even?), and her past so tragic, that you can't help but love her. The story itself is well developed, with Mona gaining more and more courage with each opportunistic event, culminating in a fantastic climax. Truly, this was a joy to read and I highly recommend it (it's especially perfect for fall).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, September 11

Top Picture Books of the Month (Sept 2017)

Edit: Originally published without my review stars--oops! Fixed on 9/13.

I feel like there's a bit of a back to school theme here. Or maybe it's just because all I've been thinking about is getting back in the swing of things now that I'm working at a school again. Summer gone? Yep. Lessons planned? Well...no. But books! So here's the books that topped my charts this month...

Small
Written and illustrated by Gina Perry

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1499804010
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: size, empowerment, city life, imagination

While spending the day with her mom and baby sibling, one little girl feels overwhelmed by the big world that surrounds her. Tall buildings, noisy cars, and hungry ducks who want to eat her lunch all make her feel like she is small. Until . . . she dreams big by being an artist, plays big and makes the winning shot, and swings big because she is brave. Soon she realizes she IS big, and nothing can stand in her way!

This one struck a chord with me. See, I feel small when I think of all the students coming through my library. I feel big when they look to me for a good book, though. It's all about perspective! This book is a great way to start off the school year—it's empowering, encouraging, and endearing all at once. The little illustrations are sweet, and fit the story well. This would make for a great readaloud; after reading, have your students write what makes them feel small vs. big (or talk to your kids about it). It's simple, cute, and to the point—check it out.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Duck and Hippo: Lost and Found
Written by Jonathan London, illustrated by Andrew Joyner

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1542045629
Publisher: Two Lions
Date of publication: August 15, 2017
Age: 4 - 7 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: friendship, searching, picnics

Duck and Hippo invite their friends, Turtle, Elephant, and Pig to a picnic at their favorite pond. Yippee! It’s time to dance and sing, swim and eat. Everyone brings goodies to share…except Hippo. He didn’t bring ANYTHING. So Hippo sets off into the forest to find some berries. But he is gone a long time, and Duck begins to worry that Hippo is lost. What should his friends do to find him? Join Duck and Hippo on another fun adventure!

It's an end-of-summer picnic, so it still fits my theme, see? Anyway, the first Duck and Hippo adventure now has a sequel—one that is much more of a story than a series of little adventures. Still, though, the pacing feels off at times. And there's a lot of exclamation points. It makes for a lot of shouting. In any case, it's a fun little story and I still love the illustrations—their cartoonish quality encourage the humor, action, and emotion of the story. If you liked the first, this is a fun followup.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Crocodali
Written and illustrated by Lucy Volpin

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1499806335
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Date of publication: August 29, 2017
Age: 3 - 7 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: art, painting, reader interaction, crocodiles,

In this interactive picture book, children can follow Crocodali the painter's instructions to help him create a masterpiece that will spark children's curiosity! Crocodali tells readers to tilt the book to straighten the canvas, shake the book to spread the paint, blow on the book (but not too hard!) to help the painting dry, and much more. As they help Crocodali paint his masterpiece, children will be able to express their creative sides and learn to appreciate art.

Brilliant! Much along the lines of Herve Tullet's books, this interactive story is a lot of fun. I appreciated it especially for having this adorable little crocodile guiding the read through the actions—it helps to have a character for young readers to focus on. Plus, it allows for discussion of the name Dali and famous artists. The illustrations are beautifully done, with the watercolor allowing for lots of fun actions. Overall, I did think it was a tad short, but the ending does encourage it to be read over and over. I'm sure that kids will have a lot of fun with this one; a favorite of mine, for sure.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

How to Get Your Teacher Ready
Written by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0553538250
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: July 4, 2017
Age: Grades K - 3
Format: library book

Themes: teaching, elementary school, first day of school, behavior

You're ready for the first day of school...but what about your teacher? It's up to you to make sure she feels welcome (give her an extra-big smile!) and prepared for the exciting year ahead. Within the pages of this book, you'll find expert advice on getting your teacher ready for picture day, the holiday concert, the 100th day of school, field day, and all the busy days in between. You and your teacher have lots to look forward to, and she'll be depending on you to help keep things running smoothly. So crack open this book! And enjoy a wonderful year together.

It's cute. Let's just say it now. This book is a great way to help kids feel empowered and responsible at school, and it cleverly encourages good behavior. The illustrations have a lot going on, which just adds to the entertainment value. My favorite part? It addresses that things don't always go well, and that in those scenarios, it's perfectly acceptable to turn to books. Read and know that things will get better. So read this book, and be a better you tomorrow!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Nothing Rhymes with Orange
Written and illustrated by Adam Rex

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1452154435
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Format: library book

Themes: fruit, loneliness & inclusion, friendship, rhymes

We all know nothing rhymes with orange. But how does that make Orange feel? Well, left out! When a parade of fruit gets together to sing a song about how wonderful they are—and the song happens to rhyme—Orange can't help but feel like it's impossible for him to ever fit in. But when one particularly intuitive Apple notices how Orange is feeling, the entire English language begins to become a bit more inclusive.

Ah, Mr. Rex. Your clever humor has swooped in once again, topped with a healthy dose of friendly encouragement about including others. See how this is a great start-of-school year read? Talk to your kids about times they've felt left out. Ask about times where they may have noticed others being left out. While Orange's experience is thoroughly unique, the overall message is the same: be a friend! The illustrations are also clever; they consist of actual photos of fruit, overlaid with brilliantly drawn facial expressions. The rhyming is quite impressive, sure to please kids and adults alike (I mean, when he brings in and rhymes "Friedrich Nietzsche"...). A crowd-pleaser, good lesson, and fun readaloud (once you've mastered saying "Friedrich Nietzche"), so check it out.

Find it at your library or on Amazon