Tuesday, March 31

Bedtime Math

ISBN: 978-1250035851
Pub Date: June 25, 2013
ISBN: 978-1250040961
Pub Date: March 11, 2014
ISBN: 978-1250047755
Pub Date: March 3, 2015

Bedtime Math
Laura Overdeck

My rating: ★★★★

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Age: Grades K - 4
Genre: Nonfiction

Themes: addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, division,

We all know it's wonderful to read bedtime stories to kids, but what about doing math? While many may be intimidated by the idea, Bedtime Math wants to encourage a love of simple math for both parent and child. The series is made up of fun, mischief-making math problems to tackle on topics from jalapeños and submarines to roller coasters and flamingos—something a bit more fun than your standard flash card. And with three different levels of challenge (wee ones, little kids, and big kids), there's something for everyone.

Overall, I'm just going to say this now: the idea behind these books is pure genius. Get your kids excited about math! Even if you don't like it! It will be an incredibly important asset for them for the rest of their life. And what's great is that these math problems really are far from miserable. They combine interesting facts and figures with some just plain silly ideas (e.g. "If you have 3 pairs of striped underwear with 5 pairs of purple elephant underwear..." or "There are about 200 bones in the human body, but when you're born you start with about 350..."). It really keeps kids engaged and helps them recognize why math would be used in day-to-day life.

For each topic (e.g. "Bones in the body" or "underwear") the author does provide three levels of questions, but does not outline the age range appropriate for each level. Basically, you can practice with whatever your child is comfortable with. The problems range from super easy to somewhat easy, so may not appeal as much to the older grades. Also, I did feel there were a couple times that the different levels were not, well, all that different. But that's just me; by all means, do all the challenges.

The different series address different topics, but it's the same idea in every book. The website also provides daily challenges, as well. Basically, you'll not run out of math problems any time soon. So give it a try! I wish I had kids to read this to at night. I'm definitely recommending it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, March 30

If You Plant a Seed

If You Plant a Seed
Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-0062298898
Publisher: Balzar + Bray
Date of publication: March 3, 2015
Age: 3 years and up

Themes: kindness, selfishness, hard work, gardening

Rabbit and mouse have been working hard in their garden, waiting for their vegetables to grow. But when harvest time comes, so do some bird friends, wanting to partake in the bounty. Will the two animals be able to share? Or will they keep their harvest to themselves?

This is a fantastic book. I love it. Love, love it. It's the epitome of what a picture book should be. See, first, it's got a simple text teaching a simple lesson: what happens when you're selfish and why you should instead choose kind. So it promotes good moral values. But second (and even more importantly), every page is a work of art. These illustrations are beautiful. And so packed with action, emotion, and story. Is it too early to be talking Caldecott? Because this will be one of my nominations, for sure. Really, you should go read/admire this book, whether or not you have children to share it with.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, March 27

National Women's History Month Library Display

Even though the month is nearly over, I thought I'd show you the quick and easy display I did for March, aka Women's History Month.

The ever classy and macho Rosie the Riveter was an easy choice. All I did was add an extra speech bubble!

Turns out, it was a perfect way to highlight the biographies of lots of amazing women.

I also included a small history of the National Women's History Project, from their website.

These books have been going fast! I think it was a very successful display for the month. It will soon be time to switch it out for April! (Poetry Month!)

Thursday, March 26

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree
Linda Mullaly Hunt

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0399162596
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Date of publication: February 5, 2015
Age: Grades 4 and up
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: dyslexia, teacher/student relationship, intelligence, learning differences

After a lot of moving around—and a lot of different schools—Ally has gotten really good at hiding her inability to read. Sure, it usually involves some disruption or misbehavior, but she can't ask for help. As far as she's concerned, how can you cure dumb? But her newest teacher, Mr. Daniels, recognizes not only that she has dyslexia, but also sees her as the bright, creative student she truly is. Soon, Ally discovers that there's a lot more to herself and those around her than just a label.

It's heartwarming. It's beautiful. It's everything you want to read in a book. Yes, it even made me cry (in a very good way). I really could just leave it at that. But I won't, of course.

First, the structure of the novel: it involves quick chapters—glimpses into different experiences that make up Ally and how she begins to change. It made for quick reading (I seriously would have read it in one sitting, it was so good, if I hadn't been interrupted) but still allowed for amazing insight into Ally's character. Other characters each got their own chances to shine in these chapters as Ally interacts with them. So, while the others may not be as in depth (and some may have been a tad predictable), they still contribute significantly to the story as a whole.

While there is the sad, somewhat unbelievable aspect to the story that no one previous to Mr. Daniels realized Ally's learning difference, the point of the story is the struggle of the student dealing with dyslexia. And it is magnificently written, giving readers of all ages great insight and understanding. I highly recommend to young and old alike, especially to those who work to educate children.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, March 24

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School
Written by Davide Cali, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1452131689
Publisher: Chronicle
Date of publication: March 3, 2015
Age: Grades K - 3

Themes: excuses, imagination, tardiness, determination

"First, some giant ants steal breakfast. Then there are the evil ninjas, massive ape, mysterious mole people, giant blob, and countless other daunting (and astonishing) detours along the way to school. Are these excuses really why this student is late? Or is there another explanation that is even more outrageous than the rest?" (from the cover).

Really, it's exactly what you think it is: a kid has quite the story to tell when his teacher asks him why he's late to class. I will say, though, that the author has quite the imagination; the list of excuses is quite extensive. And the ending is a great kicker. The illustrations are rather whimsical, and match the story well. Even the end pages are rather...hairy. I think grade-schoolers will appreciate this more than younger kids; it's a picture book, but the content is for older kids. Try it out.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, March 23

Nobody's Perfect

Nobody's Perfect
Written by David Elliott, illustrated by Sam Zuppardi

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0763666996
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: February 10, 2015
Age: 3 - 7 years
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: love, patience, understanding, relationships

A little boy, stuck in time out, realizes that it's true: nobody's perfect. The best friend is kind of a show-off. Baby sister is loud. And Mom can be pretty stubborn. But then again, neither is the little boy. But maybe with a little patience and love, they can all get pretty close.

It's sweet. Basically, if you want a cute, simple tale about the importance of loving someone (despite their flaws), this is a great book. Elliott's text is simple and goes right along with the childish-like drawings of Zuppardi. A lot of emotion gets conveyed with those illustrations, as well; I like them. Anyway, I hope this books helps kids appreciate what a little patience may reveal. Try it out!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, March 20

Facebook Friday

Hey guess what.

I finally got on to Facebook.

Yeah, it happened. Turns out 1.35 billion people use the site, which is, like, half of all internet users. And is roughly equivalent to the population of China. So.... yeah.

If you want to hop on over and like my page, you'll be in store for all sorts of random tidbits and links. For instance, today is all about Book Pal's Book Madness bracket. Which is now just my favorite thing ever. You should click on over and check it out.

So yeah. Look at me. I'm branching out. Maybe someday I'll even use Instagram.

Remind me, why there are so many social media sites again?

Thursday, March 19

Stella by Starlight

Stella by Starlight
Sharon M. Draper

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1442494978
Publisher: Atheneum
Date of publication: January 6, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 8
Genre: Historical Fiction

Themes: race, segregation, KKK, Great Depression, constitutional rights, storytelling

Stella and her brother—both up way later than they should be—have just seen something terrible: the KKK are back and burning a cross. Living in the segregated Bumblebee, North Carolina, both the black and white community see this event as the first flicker of change to come. Even as her world is being upended, Stella and her family choose bravery, fighting fire with fire.

Written in honor of her own family's history, Draper's novel reads more as a collection of stories or events. Stella experiences a lot besides the KKK: she deals with writing struggles in school, the joy of community gatherings, learning homemaking skills, friendship, family, and church. As such, I felt that there wasn't really a climax. I kept waiting for the KKK to do something else, something directly to Stella's family (since that was the repeated threat) but it never happened. Also, with so many characters in the community, it's a bit hard to keep track and many come off pretty flat.

Still, it's a valuable, fictional look into the historical time period and I appreciated the beautiful writing itself. Many of the events in the book are great feel-goods, too. And overall, Stella is a great character to read this story through. I'd recommend it, to the right person.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, March 17

Quinny & Hopper

Quinny & Hopper
Written by Adriana Brad Schanen, illustrations by Greg Swearingen

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1423178293
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: June 10, 2014
Age: Grades 3 - 5
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: friendship, peer pressure, bullies, individuality

Quinny is loud and outgoing. Hopper is quiet and cautious. Though they're totally different, these two become fast friends the summer Quinny moves to Whisper Valley, bonding over their goal to catch the neighborhood's crazy chicken. But as third grade approaches, Hopper is sure Quinny won't want to be his friend when she discovers that he's the loner at school. Plus, someone else seems determined to keep them apart. How will their friendship survive?

I actually, really, truly enjoyed this book. It's not just the quintessential odd couple; the two characters have real depth. Quinny is not just outgoing, but sad about moving away and scared about making friends and self-conscious in a new town. Hopper is not just shy, but enjoys science, swimming, and art—with serious talent in each. Thus, it's not totally crazy that they're friends; it has just the right amount of plausability that had me cheering for the both of them the whole time. The alternating POV between chapters also helps build both characters.

As for the story, I guess you could say kids will be kids, but some of it did come off a bit far-fetched. The older brothers are especially cruel, the popular girl at school is especially mean, and the little sisters are especially annoying. It makes for a dramatic story (as opposed to being completely realistic) but, technically, that's what kept me reading. I think kids will really enjoy this, especially as a transition between the easy chapter books to full on middle-grade fiction. Or a great read-aloud in 2nd/3rd grade classes.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, March 16

Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market Street
Written by Matt De La Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0399257742
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons
Date of publication: January 8, 2015
Age: 4 - 7 years
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: gratitude, beauty, poverty, family relationships

Every Sunday after church, CJ and his nana ride the bus across town. But today, CJ has questions. Why do they have to wait in the rain? Why they don't own a car like his friend Colby? Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Nana, however, has just the right answer to everyone question to help CJ see the beauty in what they have in the world around them.

The poetic writing paired with vivid illustrations in this book make for a in-depth experience; it appeals to the psyche on so many levels. De La Peña has a way with words that really captures the childhood experience ("why can't I have that?") and grandmotherly wisdom. But it really wouldn't be complete without the pictures, which give the story further depth. I appreciate this one, I hope kids will, too--it might be one of those adults-appreciate-it-more picture books.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, March 13

Vintage Reading Posters from the WPA

Hey it's been a while since I've done something for fun Friday!

Is it fair to say that "vintage" is in? I'm not sure, but I definitely enjoy looking at vintage items, especially graphic design. So imagine my pleasure in finding old library posters from the first half of the 20th century. The American Library Association has its own archive, but the source of my post today is the WPA archive at the Library of Congress. I searched for posters about "reading" and was not disappointed.

The WPA, or Works Progress Administration, was one of the most famous of President Roosevelt's New Deal programs. It employed millions of Americans to build roads, bridges, public parks, airports and more in the 1930s and 1940s. It also made fantastic propaganda posters.

1. Storytime is always an adventure, that's for sure!

Thursday, March 12

The Spookiest New Stories for Middle-Grade Readers

I really enjoy a good scary story, whether it's told in a movie, by the campfire, or in a book. Which brings me to this list, of course. There's been a lot of good, creepy middle-grade fiction the last couple years. Perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman or R. L. Stine, this list has some of my favorite favorites.

Tuesday, March 10

Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret

Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret
(Heidi Heckelbeck #1)
Written by Wanda Coven, illustrated by Priscilla Burris

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1442435650
Publisher: Little Simon
Date of publication: January 3, 2012
Age: Grades K - 3
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Fantasy

Themes: home schooling/public school, trying something new, secrecy, bullying

Today is Heidi Heckelbeck's first day of school—she's been home schooled previously, and is now joining the second grade class at Brewster Elementary. She's already dreading the change, but the meanie Melanie Maplethorpe sure doesn't make it any easier! Heidi just wants to stay home and be her "real" self. Heidi, you see, has a secret.

This was a great story for several reasons. The whole story centers around the secret, but it doesn't reveal it until the very last page. It's a page turner! Plus, the sudden reveal at the end makes grabbing the next book that much more necessary. And yet, while it is quite the secret, the totally common problems of nervousness about school or dealing with a bully make the book approachable for young readers. The characters are charming, the illustrations help with the story, and I think it's a great book for kids.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, March 9

12 Brand-Spankin' New Favorite Picture Books for Winter 2015

It's time for a new batch of picture books! Woo! So, just like I did back in November, I have created a list of my favorite favorite recently-published picture books.

Friday, March 6

Library Display: March Madness

Update: Due to the popularity of this post, I've uploaded the bracket sign images here. They fit onto standard letter-sized paper. Just save them to your computer, open them in your favorite editor and add the dates of your voting periods! 
Elite 8  Final 4  Top 2  Number 1

I admit it: I enjoy creating library displays. I also enjoy creating a bracket for March Madness (even though I have no idea which teams are better). So it only made sense to make this display with my coworker:

To pick our competitors, we pulled the top circulated items in our juvenile collection. What was funny, however, is that even with a list of the top 100 books circed, it was really just eleven or twelve series. Yep. In fact, our top ten includes eight of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. So instead of making it a competition between books in the same series, we simply selected the top circed book in each of the series. And then we pulled a few top YA books, so that we'd have sixteen competitors.

Starting with the Sweet Sixteen, each week in March, we'll let patrons vote on which book is better amid our competitors. Each book with the most votes will move on to the Elite Eight, then the Final Four, etc., etc., until we pick our winner at the end of the month. Those who make predictions (who fill out their own bracket) are eligible to win prizes.

We'll also have the books and other books in the series available for checkout, in case people want to see why these books are so great of competitors. Of course.

Hopefully it works! Wish us luck!

Thursday, March 5

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener
Jonathan Auxier

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1419711442
Publisher: Henry N. Abrams
Date of publication: May 20, 2014
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Horror

Themes: wishes, consequences, storytelling, truth

With the Irish famine wiping the landscape, Molly and Kip are forced to travel to England to find whatever work they can. They are hired as servants in a creepy, crumbling manor house where nothing is quite what it seems to be and the locals avoid at all costs. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious, dark specter and an ancient curse that threatens the lives of everyone in the house.

Oh man, I should not have started this book late at night! Not even kidding, I had the heebie-jeebies by the second chapter. Which, of course, is one of the main reasons this book is so great. Once the kids discover more about the dark specter, the goosebumps go down but the concern for the welfare of these characters is forefront. At one point, I, myself, was feeling pretty depressed as I read, as Molly tries to deal with the depressing consequences of her choices. On the one hand, that shows excellent skill in writing and character development. On the other...it's depressing. Obviously. But, of course, the ending makes up for it, so I'd definitely recommend it. To the person who can take a scare.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, March 3

The Terrible Two

The Terrible Two
Written by Mac Barnett & Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1419714917
Publisher: Henry N. Abrams
Date of publication: January 13, 2015
Age: Grades 3 - 7
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: pranks, cows, identity, friendship

Miles Murphy is not happy to be moving to Yawnee Valley, a sleepy town that's only famous for its cows. In his old school, he had already established himself as the prankster. But here? Miles quickly discovers that Yawnee Valley already has a prankster, and a great one at that. Miles wants to make a name for himself, and the war between pranksters begins. But what if the two finally decide to join forces? And pull off the biggest prank ever seen?

So I knew that Mac Barnett and Jory John were hilarious, and I knew the premise for this book, but I was still surprised. I laughed out loud repeatedly. Like, people-looking-at-me-weird, awkward-snorting-noises book laughing. I loved it! There's just the right amount of suspense and trickery to keep you on your toes but with enough humor in between to keep it absolutely hilarious. Great for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or, perhaps, a good offer to those reluctant readers. Go and try it for yourself!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, March 2


Written by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Kristyna Litten

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0803740464
Publisher: Dial
Date of publication: January 22, 2015
Age: 3 - 6

Themes: snuggles, cuddles, sleeping, festival festivities

Snuggleford Cuddlebun is the sleepiest of sloths. In fact, the only thing that disrupts her rest is the chance to go to Snoozefest, an entire musical festival devoted to nappers and sleepyheads. The seats are all hammocks, warm milk is available for all, and with bands like the Nocturnal Nesters playing—well, it's no wonder that Snuggleford might have accidentally slept through the whole thing.

This just may be the cuddliest of nuzzle-wuzzle books. I mean, it just doesn't stop! Eveything in it is just so darn cuddly! Snuggleford lives in Snoozeville, and takes Schluffy Street to get to the Nuzzledome, where (of course) Snoozefest is being held. And don't forget your Snoozeticket. Or blanky named Woobee. For extra cuddling. Gah! The snuggle-ness of it all! I just want to go cuddle a child and read this as their bedtime story!

Okay, I'll be a bit more controlled now. The illustrations have just the right amount of softness and whimsy, but are still vivid and full of color. The text has a simple rhyming scheme, making it a perfect read-aloud. It's just like a big, hilarious lullaby. Really. Give it a try. Although, be warned, it does make you sleepy!

Find it at your library or on Amazon