Posts Tagged ‘Children’s Books’

StanleyThis is the sixth book in the Stanley series written by children's author Linda Bailey and illustrated by Bill Slavin. It was my first introduction to the Stanley series and the experience was a good one.

One of the best things about being an elementary school teacher is that I am exposed to children's books all day, every day. In graduate school, I had to take two or three classes just on children's literature alone in order to be fully qualified to teach. I love picture books and I find that, as I've noted elsewhere, it's kind of difficult to write a bad children's book. I mean, you really have to work hard to mess it up. Bailey and Slavin did not mess this book up at all. It was well written and a fancy story about some dogs and a dog name Stanley.

Part of the problem I had with reading this book is that it is the latest in the series of Stanley books. I had no context for how to interpret these characters. Early on I had to get to know the characters in the book (viz., Stanley's friends) and get a feel for who they are and what they are about. Some of that is revealed in their names. They have funny names like Nutsy and Gassy Jack, not terribly original, but fun. I imagine the boys in my classroom would have a proverbial field day with those sorts of names. Of course it's difficult to come up with such a creative name for his female friend, Alice, so Alice is just Alice. And Stanley is just Stanley. Back to my problem: now I have to go to the library and collect the other five because I want to know more about Stanley.

This is probably a good thing.

Humans play a minimal role in the book and the animals move all the action forward in a quick pace–there's a lot to do in 32 short pages. The first human words we hear are 'Bad dogs' from an unhappy custodian wielding a menacing broom. A chase ensues and more and more messes are made as the dogs run from place to place and eventually end up sitting in the principal's office where we hear from another human, "There now, my sweeties." The only voices we hear are those of the dogs and of two adults. There are no children's voices heard in the book at all, although we do see them in action at times. This may or may not be a bad thing; I don't know. Sometimes when reading children's books it is important to hear children's voices. In this case, maybe this is part of the author's purpose in writing. The kids are only shown in school, or going to school, or running around inside the school. The children are always smiling and happy in the story (with one exception). It is interesting that the dogs desired so greatly to be in this place called school where they encounter happy children doing fun things like recess, playing ball, and laughing with the dogs.

Teaching children lessons by anthropomorphizing animals is a time honored tradition. As an elementary school teacher, I see this a lot and, furthermore, I see a lot of dog books. This is another fine 'dog book' to add to my collection and to share with my students who often come into the classroom rather unhappy about being in school and all that being in school entails. Perhaps in reading this book to them, they will see that school isn't such a drag and that even dogs are anxious to get in and get around the building. I like that the dogs are enthusiastic about their plans for the day. Hopefully this will transfer to the students who read this book too. I also like that the principal in the book is kind to the dogs even after the dogs make a wreck her school building. There's probably an important lesson in this for adults.

The artwork is fluid and well done. When I saw fluid I mean to say that the edges are soft and rounded and have a comforting feel. Buildings are somewhat distorted. The dogs have different shapes even if they all seem to have the same feet. And we are always looking at the story from an outsiders point of view. We see the action and the dogs, but we are not the dogs. An opening scene features the dogs looking up at the door to the school. The distortion makes the building appear even bigger than it might be. I imagine this is how a young student might feel when seeing the building for the first time. The artwork gives us the opportunity to have a laugh at the chaos and mayhem and messes created by the dogs. The artwork definitely enhances the story and moves it forward.

I enjoyed this book immensely and I will most certainly be going to my local library to obtain more of the Stanley series. I will also be sharing these stories with my students.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Stanley at School Amazon (Hardcover, $17.95) or Kids Can Press (Hardcover, $17.95) (Available August 1, 2015)
  • Author: Linda Bailey
  • Author at Kids Can Press: Linda Bailey
  • Illustrator: Bill Slavin
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press
  • Resources from Kids Can Press: Stanley at School
  • More Stanley books from KCP: Stanley
  • Pages: 32 (picture book)
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience:Children (primarily), anyone who can read would enjoy it
  • Reading Level: K-2
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free reader's copy courtesy of  Kids Can Press via NetGalley.

BOBTitle: Blue Ocean Bob: A Challenging Job

Author: Brooks Olbrys

Illustrator: Kevin Keele

Publisher: Children's Success Unlimited, LLC

Year: 2015

Pages: 51+

Blue Ocean Bob Website

[Disclaimer: In exchange for my fair and unbiased review, I was provided an ARC by the publisher through NetGalley. The views expressed here are mine alone. I was not required to write a positive review and I was in no way compensated for the review. All images belong to the copyright owner.]

Blue Ocean Bob wants to be a marine scientist who helps all the animals and 'safeguard the sea.' What follows are five short stories told in a series of couplets (AABBCC, etc.). Each chapter is relatively short, but they are fairly well balanced and interesting enough to hold the attention of the reader. It took me about 20 minutes to read the book and I enjoyed it.

In chapter 1, Bob has to help a baby seal learn how to swim, but first he must learn how to dive himself. In chapter 2, he has to help clean up the water, but in the process gets a pelican tangled in a net and has to solve another problem. In chapter 3, he has to warn some sea animals that a storm is coming and they need to find safe place to wait it out. In chapter 4, he has a crisis concerning his choice of a career path and has to wrestle with some tough decisions. And in chapter 5, Bob finds his calling once again by rescuing an animal that needs help.

Bob has to work hard to see his goals through to the end in each chapter. I'm guessing this has something to do with the author's interest in 'achievement philosophy.' The little bird, Xena, his 'guardian, ally, and friend,' is kind of annoying and serves as a sort of Jiminy Cricket type character except that Xena is (seemingly) always negative and warning Bob of the dangers that lie ahead and why he should just abandon all his quests and his ambition to be a marine scientist. Bob has to press on through this constant negativity, through constant challenges, and seek wisdom from others in order to accomplish his goals of rescuing and warning animals in the sea.

I do like this book. There are times, yes, when the rhythm of the rhyme gets a bit difficult and that may prove challenging for students at times. With that said, I have no real problems with the story as such. I would use this book in my special education classroom because I find that many of my students often default to 'I can't' or 'it's too hard.' Sometimes those negative nancies abound and it would be helpful for them to have another voice showing that they can, in fact, accomplish things they put their minds too; that they can achieve when they try. Bob is a great character study in perseverance.

One final note, the artwork is spectacular. I would like to have provided a link to the illustrators website, but I'm not sure I found the right one so I didn't include it. I love the pictures and the color and the overall wonderfulness of the art. It is appropriate to the story and enhances it on every page. Children seem to like stories involving interaction between humans and animals. I think this accomplishes that in a nice way, even if there are moments when the grammar could be a little clearer.

I recommend this book and will adopt this as part of our social skills curriculum in my classroom.

4.5/5 stars

ImagesTitle: The Fourteenth Goldfish

Author: Jennifer L. Holm

Publisher: Random House Children's Books

Year: 2014

Pages: 110

[Disclaimer: I was provided and ARC in exchange for my promotion and unbiased review of this book. I'm only required to be honest which is waht I am. I don't even get to keep the book. It's only an e-book for my Nook. And I don't even get to keep it. So there.]

If I’m going to be honest in my review of this book, then I must confess it took me about 50 pages to actually get into the book. The beginning all seemed like so many disconnected ideas that I almost quit reading. I also got frustrated very early on because I was reading yet another children’s story that consisted of, surprise, a broken, ‘dysfunctional,’ family. I am still amazed that so many children’s authors think the best vehicle for story telling or heroic children is the broken family. The early description of the Melvin’s family on page 27 was really not funny even though I suspect a certain considerable depth of sarcasm. Personally, I find nothing funny whatsoever, ever, about meth, arson, or death. It's a cheap laugh in my opinion.

I’m no prude, but I think a certain amount of discretion should rule when writing books for kids. That’s just my opinion.

I also didn’t care for the, generally speaking, poor male role models. Grandpa is cranky and overbearing. Dad is more or less absent—although he does appear every now and again to fix the plumbing which, expectedly, breaks again. Finally, the fake description of Melvin’s ‘father’ on page 28 presents us with yet another lousy male role model. I think children's books authors ought to take care to present us with a few more positive male role models.

I’m not privy to the author’s intentions, and from the bio at the end of the book it seems she had a fairly typical upbringing and family so I’m uncertain why there was a need for such negative portrayals. The only fairly positive models the reader gets are from dead scientists and some literary figures. This is too bad.

So much for my criticisms of the book. Once I managed to get through some of the early tension and scene setting, the book started to move a little better for me. I appreciated, with the above exceptions noted, the humor in the book. Grandpa was a bit cranky and critical, following a stereotypical presentation of an old person, but at times it was a funny.  One part I found apropos was his ‘criticism’ of a twenty-two year teacher. His quip, “What does she know about anything?” was, in my opinion, an appropriate question and social commentary because I happen to agree. Teaching is far more than being able to dispense facts or information and grandpa rightfully asks the question.

But this is no ‘simple’ book to read. In order to understand a lot of the commentary, a lot of the plot, and a lot of the dialogue, one must be familiar with a lot of our culture and history. The reader needs to know about Shakespeare and Salinger, Newton and Galileo, Curie and Einstein, Thornton Wilder and L. Frank Baum; Jonas Salk, Louis Pasteur, and Robert Openheimer. This is no story for people unacquainted with a certain stream of literature and science. This is really thrilling to me because as an educator I sometimes wonder if our students are being made to read and understand the contributions such folks made to our history and to our culture. The book is thick with these sorts of references and bring the story to life for those who either already understand these references or make the effort to Google them and learn.

There are other references (historical, film, and literary) too that will make the book exciting for the reader, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun.

The story is fun and makes some important points as it begins to conclude. One of the most important lessons we are forced to think about is our responsibility to leave the world a better place by thinking carefully about the decisions we make. We think about this in relation to the work of Oppenheimer; we think about it in relation to Jonas Salk. At the end of the day we are confronted with a choice: just because we can do something, should we? It’s an important ethical question that we would do well to start thinking about at a younger age. I think the author has asked us an important question and asked us to think thoughtfully about how we will answer it. I’m not sure there are easy answers—even in a children’s story.

At the end of the book is a nice collection of recommended resources for continuing the conversation. I love when authors do this because, I think, it’s their way of saying: “I want you to think for yourself. I’ve started a conversation, now go do some work on your own.” It’s a simple, yet brilliant, way of continuing the dialogue. Some overachievers will certainly take her up on the challenge and these are the ones who will later write the books we read.

I mostly enjoyed the book and I don’t think my criticisms and caveats will detract from the enjoyment that readers will have with this story. Good effort.

4/5 Stars.


SeawigsTitle: Oliver and the Seawigs

Author: Philip Reeve

Illustrator: Sarah McIntyre

Publisher: Oxford

Random House Children's

Year: 2013

Pages: 200

[Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC (advance readers copy) via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of Oliver and the Seawigs. I have in no way been compensated or asked to provide a positive review. Just honesty.]

I am glad that I am rather frequently asked by publishers to review children's literature. In this way, I am introduced to new authors that I may not otherwise know about or hear of. I am also introduced to illustrators who make beautiful drawings and or painting. One of my favorite classes in graduate school was the one where we did nothing but read children's books and literature.

Oliver and the Seawigs is a fun, whimsical book written for upper elementary to junior high students. I suspect, however, that even senior high students and adults will enjoy and appreciate the fast paced action, light-hearted fun, and witty humor of this book. It's filled with plenty of puns, alliterations, and jokes along the way–and rambling islands, talking birds, sarcastic seas, sea monkeys,  mermaids, and hallowed shallows. As a teacher, I enjoy when authors make fun use of words and invite the readers to think their way through a story. Words are great fun and Reeve did a wonderful job making his enjoyment of words fun for the readers.

As I noted above, I read an ARC. I downloaded through NetGalley into Adobe Digital Editions and attempted to read the book using my Nook. I was very disappointed that the graphics heavy book did not function at all on my Nook. In fact, it crashed my Nook many times before I simply gave up and read the book entirely on ADE. Even in ADE the book pages turned very slowly and at times caused the program to be unresponsive for several minutes. This was unfortunate. I don't know if this is a problem just with the ARC or if this is an inherent problem, but it was my experience.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and these technical glitches in no way took away from the enjoyment of the story and my pleasure in reading it. I think I would prefer to have a nice hard bound copy as opposed to the digital copy, for reasons mentioned above and I hope that my digital experience was my own and not shared by other readers.

In some ways the book reminded me of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket–in this case, one young child working through a challenging adventure and attempting to solve relatively complex problems along the way. Furthermore, the language is not softened for readers who may well find themselves in need of a dictionary to work through some of the larger words in the book (e.g., crotchety, feted, doubloons). Of course they are not mountainous words, but still there may be some challenges for some students and other readers. And of course I believe this to be a good thing. One of the best ways to learn how to read and how to think through books is when a reader is forced, at times, to look up a word in a dictionary. Even now, after 40+ years of reading, this is a frequent practice of mine.

The artwork is spectacular. The version I read was mostly pencil drawings with a very small palette of color (blue & black). The artwork was very well done and complimented the story nicely. After looking at the web pages of the illustrator, I also see how the artwork reflects her personality in any number of ways. The artwork only enhanced the story and in no way detracted from it.

The story is simple. The story is short (and the illustrations, sometimes taking up two pages, make the book go by rather quickly). The story is fun. I don't think there is a lot of suspense for older readers who will find the story somewhat predictable and cookie-cutter, but younger readers will probably find it somewhat suspenseful and scary at times. (Maybe.) I highly recommend the book and hope at some point to include it in my own classroom (there are some extras at the illustrator's web page, see above for link).

5/5 stars