Monday, April 25, 2016

Bucky and Stu vs. the Mikanikal Man

Bucky and Stu vs. the Mikanikal Man
written and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright
2015 (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Wait a minute! We've pledged to protect our town. Protect our planet-"
"And our favorite TV show."

Box Man. Phat Tyre. Trash Man. Hose Nose. These are some of the foes that Bucky and Stu face in the backyard. In their battle to save the planet and their favorite TV show, these hometown heroes show ingenuity and bravery against the spare part scoundrels. After a successful morning, Bucky reveals a secret to Stu. He and his Uncle Ernie have been building the behemoth Mikanikal Man. All he lacks is a Bio-Mechanical Nuclear Power Pac, so there is little chance he will actually come to life. With a nod to Doc Brown, a lightning strike brings the energy needed for the Mikanikal Man to come to life. Bucky and Stu engage the metal monster, but with little progress. The end seems near (think Batman TV show endings) until the Mikanikal Man shows a human foible that is very near and dear to Stu's heart and stomach. Foe becomes friend and the planet gains another dedicated defender.

People complain that our current video game generation doesn't engage in imaginative play. They need to visit an elementary school playground. Imagination abounds with role playing all over the place. Bucky and Stu will fit right in with any primary classroom. My class enjoyed the comic book panel artwork and the superhero tensions that come with it.  If you're looking for a book to model how to use quotation marks, this book would be a good pick. Another lesson could be how to incorporate plot twists in your writing. Celebrate imagination and a can-do spirit by bringing Bucky and Stu to your class.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Animal Bites: New Series from Animal Planet

Animal Bites
written by Laaren Brown
2016 (Animal Planet)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

All life in the ocean is connected. Tiny plankton are the most plentiful ocean food, and are eaten by bigger creatures. Animals are at the top of the food web aren't hunted-they do the hunting. 

A new book series from Animal Planet features animals and their habitats. The first two books detail the lives of ocean and polar animals. There are several aspects of these books that will delight young readers, parents, and teachers. A beautiful two page photographic spread of an animal greets the reader first. This is what you would see in a high-end coffee table book. One unique part of these books is the use of colorful tabs as a guide. The tabs are easily located on the top right side of each spread. Categories include close-ups of animals, data, similarities and differences, and how people interact with animals and their habitats. Where They Live is one tab that begs particular attention because it highlights useful text features such as charts and maps. In Ocean Animals, this is a two page chart of the different levels of the ocean such as the sunlight zone and the twilight zone. Photographs of animals that live in these zones are present with factoids interspersed. Polar Animals has maps of both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles in conjunction with factoids and several photographs. Another favorite section of mine was The Stackup. Several varieties of a particular animal are stacked so readers can compare size and talents. Penguins (chinstrap, macaroni, adelie, gentoo, king, and emperor) are stacked in Polar Animals while whales (beluga, gray, sperm, fin, and blue0 are stacked in Ocean Animals. This would be a great place to practice using organizers like a chart or a Venn Diagram.

With an abundance of luxurious photographs and tons of fun facts, you would think these books are going to be expensive. On the contrary, they are reasonably priced at $12.99. I would have expected a price tag much higher for coffee table-like books that clock in at 80 pages. I could see them being a big hit at a book fair. As a teacher of K-2 writing, I would use this as a mentor text for nonfiction writing. If you are going to tackle projects like All About booklets, this is a good place to talk about and model formatting. Check out these cool activities that you can use with this book:

Your animal lovers (and that would be all of your students) will quickly dive into this exciting new animal series.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Wee Gallery Books

2016 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copies provided by the publisher

When you are a parent or grandparent, you want to flood your toddler with books. They need to be colorful, cute, and have interesting textures. I'm holding Pets slide and play board book right now. I like the contrast between the bright blue and the black and white. I'm sure someone has done research and found out that this combination of colors is attractive to toddlers. Opening the book, I read three clues about the pet on the left side of the spread. The right side is an illustration with slides. You can go up and down and make different versions of the picture. These slide and play books are fun and a perfect size for a toddler. 

Now your toddler has grown into a kindergartner or a first grader. They love to count, draw, and play games. The Playgroup activity books will be a big hit with them. There is a WIDE variety of activities in this book. Math activities including counting and drawing patterns. Activities that ask the reader to find the differences and several mazes as well. A five to six year old will really enjoy this book. I would buy it for a kid getting ready for a long car trip or as a stocking stuffer. 

Check out the Wee Gallery website for many more cute activity books. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Twenty Yawns

Twenty Yawns
written by Jane Smiley; illustrated by Lauren Castillo
2016 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Lucy slipped out of bed and padded to the door. Her dad was snoring in the living room. 

Lucy's family is having a wonderful day at the beach. She buries her dad in the sand. He helps her fly a kite. The two of them and Mom roll down the dunes. This is the most time they have ever spent at the beach. As the family heads home, Mom announces "Early bedtime!" Seeing the exclamation mark, you know she's not messing around. With Lucy in bed and yawning, Mom begins reading a favorite bedtime story. The sound of zzzzzs fill the air. Except it's not Lucy. Mom is snoozing away in the chair. Having the roles reversed is like a jolt of caffeine to Lucy. She can't sleep with the silence only punctuated by Dad's snoring in the living room. She tiptoes to the shelf near the couch to find Molasses, her bear. He's tucked in behind stuffed friends on the shelf so when she retrieves him, all of the others fall to the carpet. A bear in tow, Lucy expects to drift back to bed. What happens instead raises the clever and sweet levels of this superb new bedtime tale.

I often use a thesaurus to try and avoid repeating words in a blog post. Adorable, charming, and delightful help me avoid using cute a thousand times which is what I really want to do when describing this story and the wonderful illustrations. Just look at the cover! What puts Twenty Yawns in the top tier of bedtime stories is that it's savvy too. There are two twists in the story that should be used as a model for those of us who want to create picture books. If you want to write a really good one, you need to be this smart.

In the classroom, I would definitely use the bedtime part of the story as an example of a small moment story. This section takes a tiny piece of time and stretches it out with splendid details. It could also be a good book to give to a young friend who likes to count. One other possible exercise would be to challenge your class to think ahead to a twenty-first yawn. Where would it come from?
Twenty Yawns produced twenty smiles for me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Go, Little Green Truck!

Go, Little Green Truck!
written by Roni Schotter; illustrated by Julia Kuo
2016 (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Little Green was ready! Ready for adventure. He was set. Go!

Little Green is a plucky pickup. He loves his work and is proud of the help that he provides his farming family. Corn, hay bales, and pot-bellied pigs all take a ride in his bed. Life is great until a rival appears on the scene. Farmer Gray acquires a bigger blue truck that can carry more pigs and even cows. Big Blue takes over all of the chores Little Green loved doing. Instead of hauling and traveling around town, Little Green is left to rust in the meadow. After a lonely winter, hope arrives in the form of a cat. Farmer Gray's cat crawls up in Little Green's cargo bed to catch some rays in the spring sunshine. Noticing the cat's absence, Farmer Gray's daughter Fern finds her in the cargo bed and decides to hang out. One by one, members of the Gray family follow suit. Surrounded by her mom and dad (and many farm animals), Fern announces that Little Green is the perfect size vehicle to take to the new farmer's market. The family pitches in and gives Little Green an auto makeover including a new engine that runs on corn and soy oil. With Fern's fresh paintings on his sides, Little Green happily transports the Gray family and crates of vegetables to the farmer's market and shows that going green is a great idea.

Go, Little Green Truck! is a vibrant book that can be used several ways in a K-2 classroom. When discussing how a fiction book works, we talk about how most fiction books have a problem. Tying in prediction, we also talk about the possible solutions to the problem. This book has a classic problem of a character not feeling appreciated. This problem can also be paired with the need to discuss classroom culture and making sure everyone feels a part of it. Like the Gray family finding a way to appreciate Little Green, we need to make sure all members of our class feel like a part of our community. Go, Little Green Truck! is also a welcome addition to a unit on taking care of the environment and finding ways to recycle. Many kindergarten classes teach a unit on farm life so this book fits nicely there too.

Arrayed in bright colors and adorned in a winning story about an underdog pickup truck, students will gladly take a ride with Go, Little Green Truck!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

Samurai Rising
written by Pamela S. Turner; illustrated by Gareth Hinds
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Warning: Very few people in this story die of natural causes

That warning is no joke. If you and/or your students, like me, are into comic book hero movies, this book will be to your liking. Minamoto Yoshitsune is like Batman on a horse. Before he could walk, his father and two older brothers are killed in their attempt to kidnap the Retired Emperor and gain respect for past slights. Losing parent at early age bringing about bitterness that fuels the hero to fight injustice as he grows older: check. Did I mention that, unlike the Caped Crusader, this is a true story? Yoshitsune is sent to a Buddhist monastery, by the man who vanquished his father, so he could follow the path of the monks. Instead of becoming a monk at age 15, he finds a traveling gold merchant who is a friend to his family. This is his chance to escape and start his plan to seek revenge for his family. Being caught after escaping from the monastery would have probably brought about a beheading, but when you want to exact revenge, you have to take your chances. Yoshitsune grows into a samurai who takes enormous risks in battle and survives. In one particular fight, he rides a horse down a cliff to penetrate a coastal enemy fortress. He's an unbelievable fighter and leader.

Samurai Rising was a book that I couldn't put down. Minamoto Yoshitsune is such an intriguing underdog that I kept flipping pages so I would find out what happened next to the most famous of all samurai. The writing, maps, and illustrations are all first class. You feel like you are riding along with Yoshitsune as he hurls himself into the battles. Middle and high school readers who like action and history will devour this book. Now I want a movie. C'mon Hollywood, make it happen!

This trailer will help provide background for interested readers:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jump! Books

Jump! Books
(Review copies provided by the publisher.)

I like Minnesota. My favorite band, the Jayhawks, hails from Minneapolis. You may be familiar with a couple of other local musicians named Dylan and Prince.  I've always thought that the Vikings uniforms were some of the best in the NFL. So I'm not surprised that I am enthusiastic about a couple of imprints from the Star of the North. Jump! (Is David Lee Roth the editor?) has been around since 2012. They aim to provide high interest nonfiction books for readers in the K-2 range. This is like the best chocolate in that you can't have enough of these kinds of books. The first imprint, Bullfrog Books, is for K-1 readers. I have a copy of Painting, from the Artist's Studio series, next to me. My first impressions come from the photographs. Bold colors in the pictures and background catch my eye. There is very little white space here as opposed to the books of my youth that sometimes looked like a snowstorm broke out. You can see the brush strokes on the canvas because the views are up close. The people in this book don't all look the same. That's great! I want my students to be able to see themselves in these photographs. So what about the text? A mix of short sentences with challenging Tier Two words sprinkled throughout. You'll want to review a few words before reading with K-1 students, but that's a good thing. Beginning readers love to learn new words and try to connect them to their world.

The second and newer imprint is Pogo. These books are STEM related and written at a second grade level. In Paper Airplanes and other titles from the Early Physics Fun series, you get the text features that you expect. Bold print, diagrams, fun facts, labels, and procedural text all take a bow. What I really like about this particular title is that it explains the science behind why a paper airplane is able to fly and in second grade language. That's not easy! Like Bullfrog Books, the photography is spot on. The books are the right size too. Easy for smaller hands to grip with the right amount of text to read. If Goldilocks reviewed nonfiction, she would say the text is just right.

You need these kinds of titles in your public and school libraries. They play a big part in getting kids excited about their world and serve as a gateway for learning how to do research. With many attractive features, you might as well Jump! and find these books for your students.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Typewriter

The Typewriter
Text and illustrations by Bill Thomson
2016 (Two Lions)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Three kids are riding their bikes on a winter day. In their path is a merry-go-round. Also curious is a monarch butterfly that is flying around out of season. Making it a trio of out of the ordinary, there is a black box with large white letters sitting on a bumblebee seat. If it's fifty year old me, I'm turning around and pretending I didn't see anything. This would make for a lousy book so it's good that the kids are more intrigued. Opening the box, they find a typewriter. They have prior knowledge of the machine because the girl runs to her bookbag and finds a piece of paper. She's types beach and suddenly they are on a deserted beach. Typing ball yields a beach ball. Typing ice cream brings about a massive orange pail filled with a sundae and a cherry the size of your head. Then comes a twist that I would want to discuss with my students. The girl types crab. I would ask my class why she typed that word. I can understand crab cake or crab dip but after seeing the gargantuan ice cream pail, I'm thinking I want no part of a living thing produced by this typewriter. Sure enough, mayhem follows. The crab punctures the beach ball and chases the kids. Here's where a fun prediction lesson ensues. I would ask young readers what word they would type to get rid of the crab. That can also lead to a great cause and effect lesson because your "rescue" word might be worse than the crab problem. Fortunately for the kids, this girl is very bright and saves the day by not only removing the crab but also getting them home. How does she do it? I would want several predictions produced by a turn and talk before I revealed the answer.

Bill Thomson's clever story is equally matched by his tremendous artwork. I love the expressions on the faces and the shadows cast by different objects. The paintings are very lifelike and not computer generated. If you know someone who teaches art, I would share this book. Children like adventure and stories where they could imagine themselves as the hero. The Typewriter scores on both counts. Teachers like stories where brains buzz and fun writing possibilities abound. I am going to ask students to create a list of 5 words that they would type and have them make a story around the list. The Typewriter will stretch imaginations and bring smiles to young readers.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Animals That Make Me Say Ewww!

Animals That Make Me Say Ewww!
written by Dawn Cusick
2016 (Imagine Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

There is so much competition for food in the wild that the small amount of energy in a booger is worth eating.

Yes, I just wrote booger. So the gorilla equivalent of an energy drink or gel is nose candy? This and many more animal facts will keep young readers enthralled. Want to hear about flying hippo dung? Instead of using cell phones, hippos send their "thoughts" further out by swatting them with their tails. Marking your territory is big in the hippo world. Ever truly wonder about what happens in a kangaroo's pouch? In over fifty years of living on this earth, I can tell you that I never thought about Mama Kangaroo having to clean her pouch. I'll give you a hint: She's not using baby wipes.

Unlike some other nonfiction animal books in this genre, Animals That Make Me Say Ewww! has a definite scientific purpose for this showcase of gross facts. It's a fascinating biology lesson that can be used in other areas. In the introduction, author Dawn Cusick explains that gorillas and orangutans clean out their nose hor d'oeuvres in order to be able to smell food and predators. Other animals eat feces in order to have plant-digesting bacteria in their bodies. A great point of view lesson can be had here. For humans, these actions are disgusting, but for the animals it is a way to prolong their lives. Want to enliven an activity for teaching cause and effect? Find this book. Your group of readers will not be bored. If you teach symbiosis, there is a wealth of examples and photographs here.

Readers will say Ewww! when reading this book, but they will also say Oh! and Wow! That's the sign of a winning book.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Too Many Tomatoes

Too Many Tomatoes
written by Eric Ode; illustrated by Kent Culotta
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It's bursting with berries and beans and potatoes
and tall, twining vines of too many tomatoes.

Somebody bring me some bread, salt and pepper, and mayonnaise quick! A young grandson celebrates the bounty of his grandparents's garden in this charming ballad to a favorite food source. When sprouts appear above ground, the boy dances with delight. Soon, vines are all over the place hanging with tasty treats both red and yellow. As the family heads to the farmer's market, tomatoes are spotted on trains and the back of a tow truck. After selling at the market, it's time for a whirlwind of tomato gifting. The teacher, the tailor, the scientist, and the sailor all receive a tomato. With a seemingly never ending supply, why not have a parade? A marching band in, what else, tomato red uniforms, celebrates the fruition of garden labors. The grandparents and the boy tote tomatoes while the band plays on.

Mater mania running wild will make for an enjoyable read aloud in your classroom. With the rhymes, you can touch on phonemic awareness. Too Many Tomatoes is also full of rich parts of speech. Vivid verbs and abundant adjectives will invigorate the pencils of young writers. If you have a plant and/or foods unit, this book needs to be a part of it. Spring is just around the corner, so celebrate the joy of keeping a garden with Too Many Tomatoes.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk
written by Jane Sutcliffe; illustrated by John Shelley
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It all started with a waving flag. At about one o'clock in the afternoon, a banner was raised from the playhouse roof. 

William Shakespeare apparently can't stand for someone else to write about him. Drama king. Why am I hatin' on the Bard? Glad you asked. Author Jane Sutcliffe is trying to do a good deed and write about the playwright and his home court, The Globe. Unfortunately, Shakespeare keeps interrupting the process with his words. Sutcliffe writes about how Londoners loved a good play and couldn't get too much of a good thing. That phrase comes from As You Like It, a Shakespeare comedy. She explained how some play attendees simply came to show off their clothing and didn't worry about getting their money's worth by actually watching the play. Act 2, Scene 1 of Love's Labour's Lost is where you will find that phrase. Writing about Stratford-on-Avon's famous son, or writing about anything, can be almost impossible without using his words.

This book is blooming brilliant. It received a starred review from School Library Journal and certainly deserves it. On the left side of each spread is a text box that explains the workings of the playwright's world in the 16th and 17th centuries. Expertly woven into each box is a sample of words created or popularized by Shakespeare. A box on the right side lists the phrase, what it means, and cites the play and context where the phrase appears. You can see an example below.

As stated by other reviewers, the illustrations are a feast similar to what Waldo would look like if dropped into London of the 1600s. There is so much detail in this artwork that you keep going back again and again. Author's notes on the front and back ends and a time line complete the book. If you face an argument as to why we need to learn about William Shakespeare, this book would be a fantastic ally. I would so use this as my introductory piece to a unit on Shakespeare. All's well that ends well!

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Knowing Book

The Knowing Book
written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich; illustrated by Matthew Cordell
2016 (Boyds Mills Press)
Source: Review provided by the publisher

Sit down.
On a step or a hill or at the edge of a sea.
Take time to imagine something, or let something imagine you.
The unknown is waiting.

You can't judge a book by its cover. Balderdash! I saw a rabbit wearing a scarf on top of a house that is simply Bagginsesque and I was hooked immediately. My suspicions were proven correct. This is a great book. It's not so much a story as a glorious exhortation to get out into the world and do your thing. Seen through the eyes of a young rabbit, the narrator reassures you that whatever path you follow will be a good one. Take time to be joyful and to have a cry. You're going to need them both. Readers are urged to sit a spell and let their imagination take over. Don't let structure keep you from veering off the path when needed. Dream big but don't forget the small things that can bring you happiness too. At last, remember that all your steps will lead you back to where you started.

The Knowing Book is a gentle and beautifully illustrated nudge in the right direction for anyone who is about to embark on a big adventure. Graduates and soon-to-be parents are two audiences that immediately come to mind, but readers of all ages need to hear the wisdom on these pages. The text pushes us to be curious and search out new experiences. It's easy to settle and become a sheeple. Don't do it! Life can be a wonderful enterprise if we trust our instincts and remember what is truly important.