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

Monday, September 4

Top Middle-Grade Fiction of the Month

Oops, this was supposed to go up last week. But guess who just started her brand new job as an elementary school librarian?? That's right. This girl. Dream job: attained. So, yeah...I may be a littel swamped at the moment. But! I'm excited for lots of new content for the blog (for example, the decorating of my new library) and to review even more books as I share them with students. So, of course, here are some more reviews! My favorite middle-grade reads from the month...

Beyond the Doors
David Neilsen

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1101935828
Publisher: Crown Books
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Format: ARC from author

Themes: family relationships, memories, nightmares & monsters, humor, doors

"When a family disaster forces the four Rothbaum children to live with their aunt Gladys, they immediately know there is something strange about their new home. The front entrance is a four-story-tall drawbridge. The only food in Aunt Gladys’s kitchen is an endless supply of Honey Nut Oat Blast Ring-a-Dings cereal. And strangest of all are the doors—there are none. Every doorway is a wide-open passageway—even the bathroom! Who lives in a house with no doors? When they discover just what Aunt Gladys has been doing with all her doors, the shocked siblings embark on an adventure that changes everything they believe about their family and the world."

This is the second book I've reviewed of Mr. Neilsen's (see Dr. Fell back here), and may I say, his writing is still so fun. It's creepy, yes, but with just the right amount of funny. I mean, how would you like it if you were stuck eating Honey Nut Oat Blast Ring-a-Dings cereal for every meal? I also enjoyed his ability to tell the story from the point of view of each of the four siblings (alternating between the four with each chapter), each with their own unique personality and depth. It made it even more interesting and, at times, totally hilarious (I mean, one of the characters is a seven-year-old girl obsessed with all things cute and fluffy). His strong writing voice, reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, is sure to please readers of all ages.

I will admit, though, that I wasn't quite as much of a fan of the story itself as I was his first. The writing, yes, but the plot... The premise of this story, while very original and unique, became a bit difficult for me to follow. The traveling through space and time and memory became very layered very quickly (think like the movie Inception) and I was a bit lost trying to follow along. I hope younger readers would not be daunted by it. Still, I would be quick to recommend it to fans of Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and the like. And, if you can listen to the audio book, DO, because Nielsen is a very talented performer.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
Stephanie Burgis

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1681193434
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: May 30, 2017
Age: Grades 3 - 7
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: dragons, chocolate, responsibility, failure & success

"Aventurine is a brave young dragon ready to explore the world outside of her family's mountain cave . . . if only they'd let her leave it. Her family thinks she's too young to fly on her own, but she's determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

"But when that human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she's transformed into a puny human without any sharp teeth, fire breath, or claws. Still, she's the fiercest creature in these mountains--and now she's found her true passion: chocolate. All she has to do is get to the human city to find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time . . . won't she?"

Dragons and chocolate? I mean, honestly, what's not to love? And that's just the premise. Then you start reading it and it just wins you over that much faster. Burgis' character voice (in this case, it being an extremely frustrated dragon-turned-human who thinks chocolate is manna from heaven) is spot on. Aventurine is hilarious. And sassy, spunky, scared, sad, and all sorts of other "s" adjectives. She experiences a full range of emotions and wonderful development. Really, it wouldn't have been a successful story without such a strong main character; it's so well done. Kids will love it and I will definitely recommend it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Posted
John David Anderson

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0062338204
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Date of publication: May 2, 2017
Age: Grades 6 - 9
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: Library eBook

Themes: bullying, friendship, middle school, written communication

"When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.

"In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky-note war escalates, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this year, nothing will ever be the same."

Ah, middle school. Boy, does it suck. And here is a novel that really makes you think about why that is. What I loved most about this book were the characters—each with their own quirks and talents, but overall, written in a way to be widely relatable. It was easy to put one's self into the story. I also appreciated the philosophical undertones, especially in regard to words. Because, honestly, whoever came up with "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" saying should, himself, be stoned. Words do hurt. And this story carefully examines the ramifications of all sorts of words—words said to friends, whispered behind a back, or written anonymously for all to see.

On a more critical note, however, this wasn't as perfect as I would've hoped. The ending seemed to drag, especially with a bit of a double climax (in fact, there seems to be two parallel storylines, which both had to be wrapped up). And the way Anderson kept referring to the "war" of words was a bit overly dramatic—not the metaphor, but the referencing to it and how it began, because he just kept repeating himself. Overall, it's not one that I would be quick to recommend to my elementary school students, but I can see it being a fantastic classroom study in a middle school class. Also, a definite recommendation to those who enjoyed Sticks and Stones or Goodbye Stranger.

Find it at your library or on Amazon