Monday, April 27, 2015

Janine

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

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


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

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

Check out Janine's Party on Blogspot.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

In The New World: A Family in Two Centuries

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dirty Rats?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Edmund Unravels

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Boy and the Book

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sparky and Tidbit

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

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

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

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Baby Animals Spots & Stripes

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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

50 Things You Should Know About the First World War

50 Things You Should Know About the First World War
written by Jim Eldridge
2015 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

For hundreds of years, countries in Europe had been at war with one another. Each nation wanted more power and more land, which they hoped to take from the countries around them.

Ever have a task that you thought was too monumental to tackle? You end up taking care of it in small bites. Kind of like Bruce Bogtrotter eating the cake in Matilda. I bring this up because World War I is a huge subject that can be very daunting to tackle, but if you break it up in small pieces like 50 Things does, you don't get overwhelmed and end up learning a lot. As expected, the subject is presented in chronological order. Each year is like a chapter with a timeline at the beginning of each of these chapters. Important topics for each year are featured with bite-sized paragraphs. Early on, readers learn about trench warfare with brief explanations, impressive photographs, and a concise diagram. This book is chock full of text features which makes it infinitely more digestible than a straight narrative text that I would have been subjected to in my childhood. A language arts teacher could set this book under a document camera to showcase how to write nonfiction text and include features like bold print and captions. A social studies teacher would love the maps in 50 Things. In addition to a timeline, each yearly introduction contains a map on the two page spread that explains what is happening at that time. The back matter has a Who's Who gallery of important figures for both sides of the conflict.

50 Things will help readers of any age get a good introduction to World War I. It's a great gateway to deeper research into particular subjects that came from this war. If you want to understand the 20th century (and you should!), you need to study World War I. It is terribly sad, but instructive when it comes to events that occur later in the century.