Sunday, October 29, 2017

Goats of Anarchy: Polly and Her Duck Costume

Polly and Her Duck Costume
written by Leanne Lauricella; illustrated by Jill Howarth
2017 (Walter Foster Jr.)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Polly's new mom brought her home, wrapped her in a blanket, and cuddled her close. With a small huff, Polly fell right to sleep. 

Polly is a blind goat who could use a break. Only when she buries herself in the hay does she feel content. One day, a break arrives when a young lady takes her to a new place. This new mom is very kind and helps Polly learn how to maneuver throughout the house.  Even better, she's bottle-fed and gets to snuggle in a blanket on the couch. Polly gets nervous when she isn't bundled so her mom has an idea. She finds an outfit that will keep Polly cozy even when she is walking around. Yeah, it's a duck outfit, but Polly doesn't care. She's never seen a duck. The two go down grocery aisles to the delight of shoppers. Soon, Polly is joined by more friends who are rescue goats. One friend, Pippa, even gets Polly's old duck outfit. They frolic in the field like two goats dressed like ducks. How can you not like that! Eventually, Polly is so busy playing with Pippa that she doesn't need the outfit any longer.

They had me at Goats of Anarchy. Check them out on Instagram. PreK-1st grade students will adore this story. You could have a good discussion with young students about what comforts them and why. This book is also a great resource in teaching students to be kind to animals and a lesson in problem solving. Don't let someone get your goat. Get this book instead.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sports Illustrated Kids All Star Activity Book

Sports Illustrated All Star Activity Book
written by editors of Sports Illustrated Kids
2017 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

So you have a young sports fan who is about to take a long plane or car trip. Or it may be that their baseball or softball game has been rained out and they are bummed out. Want to be the hero of the day? Here is just the thing. All of the major sports and more are represented in this book of activities that will entertain for hours. Each sports section begins with a set of six frames that highlight greats from the sport. After that, there are several activities that feature aspects and heroes of the game. Did Roger Federer really wear a pink tutu at Centre Court? If not, you can mark that on the Wimbledon Look-And-Find. How well do you know your football terms? Use the clues on the Gridiron Grid to fill out the crossword puzzle. There are plenty of games for students who like wordplay or who just like to draw. Create your own golf hole or retell the Miracle on Ice in your own words. This book would be a great stocking stuffer or a reward for a job well done.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Grace and Katie

Grace and Katie
written by Susanne Merritt; illustrated by Liz Anelli
2017 (EK Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Grace sometimes thought Katie's pictures needed to be more organized... and Katie sometimes thought Grace's pictures needed to be more exciting. 

Twin sisters Grace and Katie love to draw, but they have different approaches. Grace likes "straight lines, squares, and angles." Katie is more of a "patterns, squiggles, and swirls" artist. When Grace decides to draw a map of their home, Katie offers to help, but her twin sister wants no part of it. So Katie goes on her own to draw a map of the park near their home. Grace's map has a legend and a compass rose. There are straight lines galore and everything is labeled. I love that the author and illustrator chose, in a wonderful two page spread, to show Grace's map as she drew it. It's kid friendly and would be a great mentor text for students studying maps in a geography unit. Even though it's a terrific map, Grace is not quite satisfied. It's like a dish that needs extra seasoning. Katie's map of the park is a glorious collage of shapes and colors. If you wanted to explain mixed media to an elementary audience, I would use Katie's map. Although it's full of color and energy, Katie is not entirely happy with her map either. After examining both maps, the girls decide that they do their best work together.

There are many things to like about this book. The message of working together is always appreciated in an elementary classroom. As a teacher, I see a mini-lesson on comparing and contrasting with Grace and Katie as the featured text. You can pull in graphic organizers as well. As stated above, you can also go cross-curricular with lessons in art and geography. Grace and Katie are a formidable picture book team.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Space Boy and the Snow Monster

Space Boy and the Snow Monster
written by Dian Curtis Regan; illustrated by Robert Neubecker
2017 (Boyds Mills Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The spaceship blasts off. It sails through whirling snow, howling winds, and scary clouds. 

Niko, Radar, and Tag are back with a snowy adventure. While Niko and his dog Tag dig out their spaceship, copilot robot Radar has disappeared. Could he have been captured by Niko's sister Posh, alias The Snow Monster? Only a trip to Planet Ice will reveal the answer. Sure enough, The Snow Monster is spotted on the planet and it attacks our brave duo with snowballs. If that's not enough, this audacious alien beguiles Tag with kind words and a pat on the head. Now Niko is stranded on a strange planet. Fortunately, Tag returns to his senses and his captain. And just in time as an evil bunny spy is tracking them. They follow the bunny who leads them to their now frozen copilot Radar. Is it a kind bunny or a diabolical trap? It's a trap! Nearby is The Snow Monster who is aided by an army of cold collaborators in the form of snow people with mohawks. Can our plucky crew escape and head back to Planet Home?

Students love to write narratives where there are few boundaries to their imagination. But there is a structure and The Space Boy series of picture books are great mentor texts to show young writers how to frame their stories. Want to teach how to include dialogue in a story? This would be another way to showcase these books. Or they may just be the inspiration a struggling writer needs to unleash their creativity. Space Boy and the Snow Monster is a fun blast of wintry inspiration.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rise of the Jumbies

Rise of the Jumbies
written by Tracey Baptiste
2017 (Algonquin Young Readers)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The sand shivered. Corinne felt a tremor go straight through her body. The girls on the beach stopped mid-action. But her papa and the other fisherman in their boats were still far out on the water, their nets dragging in the sea. 

Corinne La Mer was having a good day swimming and battling two brothers for a prized pink seashell. But then everything goes quiet as she watches from the shore. She feels the ground shake. Suddenly, voices scream to tell everyone to get out of the water. The trio make it safely to their house, but a neighbor friend goes missing. Soon, other children are missing as well. All eyes on Corinne. Even though she had defeated an evil jumbie months earlier, she is half-jumbie and suspicions rise. Corinne knows she must go back to the sea to find the missing children. That's going to mean finding the ultra formidable Mama D'Leau who governs the sea. At what cost will it be to bargain with Mama? And what about the jumbie that Corinne thought she had conquered? Is Severine still out there and waiting for revenge?

What are the odds that a young reader will like a fantasy with a determined and courageous heroine who fights to keep her and other families together? Oh, did I mention there are fascinating villains here as well as a beautiful Caribbean setting? And magic? Rise of the Jumbies is a terrific read with rich characters and a gripping story. This would be an excellent choice for a unit on characters or a fantasy unit. Students will be begging you to read more if you choose it for a read aloud. Rise of the Jumbies is a jewel that readers will treasure.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thank You and Goodbye

After over 8 years of blogging about books, I'm taking a hiatus after November 9th. I need time to make a go of my own writing career while working a full-time job. Thank you for supporting this blog and the wonderful books that I shared with you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Wild World of Buck Bray: The Missing Grizzly Cubs

The Wild World of Buck Bray: The Missing Grizzly Cubs
written by Judy Young
2016 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Buck rolled his eyes, but Dad and Toni took turns seeing who could come up with another word to describe the landscape's beauty, counting each word as they went. 

Buck Bray is an eleven-year-old with a famous father. His dad goes around the world filming documentaries while Buck stays with his grandparents since his mother has passed away. Hoping to spend more time with Dad, Buck pitches an idea of a kid-centered nature show. The producers are very excited, so Buck and Dad are on their way to Denali National Park in Alaska. At the airport in Fairbanks, they meet Shoop the cameraman and his daughter Toni. Buck is not thrilled about hanging out with a girl, but he soon grows to respect Toni's acumen in audio production. They become partners in exploring as they prepare for Buck's first show. Sometimes the two intrepid explorers go a little too far. Hiking alongside a river, they witness a grizzly bear taking down a caribou. Buck wants to see bears, but this is a little too close. The adults they meet are much less wild, but they are suspicious of a rude passenger on their bus. He bumps them and then stays with his computer as if he is tracking something. They do enjoy spending time with park ranger Craig, who shows them an old bear's den as they begin filming. Later, Buck and Toni hear about two bear cubs missing and they have an idea who may behind it. Now they have to produce enough information to convince the adults that their hunch is a real possibility.

When you combine a mystery, kid heroes, and the Alaskan wilderness, you're going to hook elementary school readers. I'm well beyond my elementary student days and I gobbled this up. It's an engaging story with interesting characters. In addition, there is a lot of geographic and science information in this book. Students will learn about the landscape of wild Alaska and the behavior of many animals. Readers will enjoy exploring Buck Bray's Wild World.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade: A Thanksgiving Story

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade
written by Trinka Hakes Noble; illustrated by David C. Gardner
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

All you had to do was dress up like a beggar in old ragged clothes and parade down Broadway. For Rettie, dressing up was easy. She already had holes in her shoes and worn, patched clothes. 

Rettie lives in the tenements of New York's Lower East Side. Even though she's only nine years old, she is the oldest child in her family and carries quite a load. Her mother is bedridden with consumption and her father is fighting overseas in World War I. Rettie does all of the chores for her family of 5 and washes rags for the ragpicker to make money. This family needs every penny she can earn and Rettie pins her hopes on the annual Ragamuffin Parade on Thanksgiving where children walk down Broadway and scramble for pennies tossed from the watching crowd. As Rettie does the shopping for her family, signs of severe poverty are everywhere and also of the terrible influenza outbreak. Children are huddled in alleys as they have been left orphaned by the epidemic. People wear masks and vendors are scarce as many have been quarantined. Rettie manages to buy stale bread, cabbage, and a few mealy potatoes. Even the manager of her apartment building is stricken and ordered to stay inside. But this leads to an opportunity for Rettie to take on a cleaning job that will bring more money. Now she starts to work at four in the morning to earn enough to keep her family together. Good news comes in the form of the war ending in November 2018 and cold weather diminishing the effects of the epidemic. This means the parade will be held and Rettie can help her family even more.

So what does Thanksgiving represent to you? For this young lady, it was hope and gratitude. This story provides an opportunity to have a class discussion about Thanksgiving that goes deeper than paper turkeys and pilgrim hats. Does everyone have the same Thanksgiving? It might open some eyes. It's also a terrific history lesson that highlights life from a century ago. You could compare 1918 to almost 2018. The excellent artwork really sets the mood and provides information about the era. There aren't many bright colors here which is pitch perfect. Make sure you check out the Author's Note too. Another teaching possibility would be to do a character study of Rettie. What traits does she have? 2nd and 3rd graders, who are about Rettie's age, will be amazed at what she does to keep her family afloat. Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is a great choice for a Thanksgiving read aloud.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Old MacDonald Had a ...Zoo?

Old MacDonald Had a ...Zoo?
told and illustrated by Iza Trapani
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Old MacDonald in the sty, E-I-E-I-O,
Saw a kangaroo hop by, E-I-E-I-O.

Old MacDonald was having a typical day. Milking a cow. Feeding the pig. Getting splashed with mud by a kangaroo. E-I-E-I-Whoa! That's not typical. It seems the farmer has a few visitors. Going to the hose to clean up, he finds an elephant taking a drink from the trough. "Everywhere a squirt squirt" finds Old Mac doused with water. Moving on with his chores, he hears crunching in the barn. What could it be? Zebras finding hay on the menu. A fox in the hen house would disastrous, but monkeys? Eggs splatter on the ground. Picking beans is usually a quiet duty. But when a crocodile intervenes, it's every man and beast for himself. This is the last straw. With a loud stomp on the barn floor, Old MacDonald has his E-I-E-I-No moment. With some rope and a trailer hitched to his red truck, this old man doesn't go rolling home, but instead returns the visitors to their home at the zoo. On the last page, there's lyrics and sheet music that would make for a week's worth of uproarious shared reading.

There are a lot of possibilities for classroom use with this book. Want a fun activity that connects to phonemic awareness? Have students guess the last word in a two line stanza.

Old MacDonald heard a crunch, E-I-E-I-O. 
Zebras helped themselves to _____, E-I-E-I-O. 

How about contrasting farm animals with zoo animals? What's different? What's the same? Or you could contrast Old MacDonald with another book like Goodnight Gorilla. You could also read the book to older students for a mini-lesson on using vivid verbs in writing. The fun will E-I-E-I-Flow with this lively twist on a traditional nursery rhyme.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Melvin the Mouth:Young Mel Blanc

Melvin the Mouth
written by Katherine Blanc; illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

I'm flying over the cat, laughing like a loony bird. I'm Melvin the Mouth, maker of sounds. 

There's going to be a little bit of bias here. Bugs Bunny was one of the molders of my childhood. He cracked wise, and I loved him for it. I'm occasionally humorous to my friends and family, and I owe part of that to Bugs and Mel Blanc. So I was thrilled to learn about this picture book biography and it doesn't disappoint. Instead of chronicling his whole career, the author (his daughter-in-law Katherine) presents a day in the life of young Melvin. It reads like a Looney Tunes cartoon and that's a good thing. Melvin starts with a laugh that will remind older fans of a certain red-headed bird on the loose. Racing through the halls of his school, he roars like a tiger. Melvin's imagination is brought to life with an accompanying black and white illustration of what he is portraying. In the bathroom, there's water so of course you need a shark chomping. If you have a hallway shaped like a tunnel, you're going to need a train with Melvin the engineer at the helm with "Woo-Woo"s echoing through. Putting young Mel on trash duty instead of recess will teach him a lesson, right? It will teach him that a half-eaten carrot can lead to a character that needed to take a left turn at Albuquerque. Any situation in Melvin's day is an opportunity to liven things up with his imagination. Sweeping calls for a tornado. Eating means a visit from a hungry hippo. It's only sleep that can quiet this noisemaker and even then, he sounds like a snoozing dragon.

I really like the approach taken with this picture book biography. It captures the zaniness that I remember being exhibited in those beloved Warner Brothers cartoons. Students will also see that using your imagination can lead to bigger things down the road. This will be such a fun read-aloud with your class as you use your imaginations to think about everyday occurrences and make connections like Melvin does in the book. The Author's Note provides information about Mel's career and some of the many characters that he voiced. Perfect for a biography unit/wax museum or just when you need a fun read.