Posts Tagged ‘childrens literature’

MagnificentIt's rather difficult to dislike a children's book–especially a picture book. I mean the book has to be pretty bad to get any negative feedback from anyone. After all, children's books are written for children: there's a lot of pictures, few words, colorful artwork, and few pages. What could go wrong?

So it took me all of 5 minutes to read The Most Magnificent Thing and I'm glad I did. Sometimes I think those authors who write children's books are really writing to adults; secretly though, as if adults are the true intended audience. I could be wrong, but sometimes I think the intended audience should be adults when I read these certain children's books. What is a shame is that the lessons we learn when we read children's books do not stick with us when we finally become adults. It's a shame, really, that, I'm paraphrasing here, children's literature is lost on children. To them it's a fine story, a jolly good romp through a forest or a field or a fantasy. To adults, children's literature is a sword cutting deep.

This is probably why I read so much of it. It's easier to understand the lessons the author is teaching. I don't have to wade through a dictionary when I don't understand a word–I can just look at the pictures. I don't have to think too deeply if I don't want to and yet I find that even when I don't want to I can't help but notice something deeper about the book than I had hope for.

I like The Most Magnificent Thing. I teach special education and one of the things that I have found with my students is that they too easily give up. I recall a time when a particular student was having a most difficult time with a simple art project we were completing in the classroom. The student's first instinct was to get angry, throw everything on the floor, and simply quit. I assure you it was more complicated than that, but I'll spare the details. There was no reasoning with the student. That's how the day ended (or began, depending on how one looks at it). It is a constant, day in, day out, effort to convince my students that failure is OK as long as it is not the final word on a matter. In short, my students have a terrible time persevering through difficulty.

And I'm not sure why. There are probably studies available and perhaps some expert can explain in ten different ways why students with E/BD have a propensity to quit when the quitting is easier than the sticking with something.

This is the kind of book that I always need in my classroom because this is the kind of book that teaches us those important lessons we always need to learn. What I like about this book is the fact that the main character sticks with it. I like that there are adults in the story, but only somewhat invisibly. The character–who is unnamed–has to find a way through her difficulty on her own. We call this self-regulation, learning how to overcome difficulties and keep ourselves under control because we have learned to generalize skills we have been taught by others. I like that she goes for a walk. She clears her head. She distracts herself with other thoughts. Then, only then, does she come back to the problem and see it from a different angle.

Then she grows.

This is an important lesson for my children to learn and, I think, also for adults. We tend to downplay failure here in America but every now and again someone comes along and shows us that failure need not have the last word. I like that the failure of our main character did not have the last word but served as a catalyst for better and more creative thinking. I also like how others in the story even found uses for the 'failures.'

My students, despite all that they are typically capable of, will sit and listen to a story. Stories are the best intervention I have in my classroom. They are cheap, they are always ready, and they require little planning. This book fits that formula nicely.

This book has great artwork and I like how the text is written on the pages. I'm not sure how the pages render on a Kindle, but I viewed it on a NOOK and I wasn't too happy with the rendering either on portrait or landscape view. That's a small thing and didn't take away from the content.

Excellent picture book. Kids Can Press publishes excellent stories and I'm happy I can read and review the work of excellent authors like Ashley Spires. This is a great pick-up for the general education classroom or the special education resource room or self-contained unit.

5/5 stars

Preview the Book here:


Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase The Most Magnificent Thing Amazon (Kindle, $7.39)
  • Author: Ashley Spires on Twitter: @ashleyspires
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press
  • Resources from Kids Can Press: The Most Magnificent Thing
  • Pages: 32; picture book
  • Year: 2014
  • 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.

Thanks for stopping by for a visit. Below I have published a list of books that I would like to obtain for my classroom. I have these books on cassette and would like the actual book to go along with the cassette. If you have any of these books and would be willing to donate them or sell them to me for a reasonable price, please comment below or contact me via email. Thanks.


What have you done, Davy

The Bunny Hop

Just one!


The Apple Pie Tree

Franklin and the Thunderstorm

Franklin’s New Friend

The Grumpy Morning

The Paperboy

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

The Kinderkittens Show and Tell

Tell Me Something Happy Before I go to Sleep

Little Red Riding Hood (Ernst)

Alligator Baby

The Runaway Pumpkin

The Roly-Poly Spider


The Seven Silly Eaters

Walter the Baker

Franklin’s Neighborhood

Bat Jamboree

Toot and Puddle

Make Way for Ducklings

Little Cloud

Sara Squirrel and the Lost Acorns

Stone Soup (McGovern)

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Those Can-Do Pigs

That Fat Hat

The Gingerbread man

Blabber Mouse

Zoom Broom

Moose’s Loose Tooth

The Patchwork Quilt

David Gets in Trouble

Possum’s Harvest Moon

Monkey Mo Goes to Sea

Strega Non Meets her Match

When the Earth Wakes

I’m a little Teapot

Sweet Dream Pie

A Bad Case of Stripes

Barney Beagle Goes Camping

What’s the Matter with that Dog?

I Can Read about Dinosaurs/Trucks & Cars/Seasons/Baby Animals

What Will the Weather Be Like Today?

Clifford the Firehouse Dog

Franklin’s Halloween

YOKO (Wells)

Inside a Barn in the Country

Comet’s Nine Lives

Finders Keepers for Franklin

Hopper’s Treetop Adventure

Monster Movie

Colors of the Rain Forest

Walk_on_the_wild_sideTitle: Walk on the Wild Side

Author: Nicholas Oldland

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Year: 2015

Pages: 36

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I am not required to publish a positive review, just an honest one. So…here you go.]

Walk on the Wild Side is a whimsical tale about a beaver, a bear, and a moose who decide one day to go on an adventure. We are introduced very early to what would eventually be the main 'conflict' in the book: the three animals loved adventure, but they are competitive–and this competitive streak sometimes gets in the way of their having a good, fun time.

This story moves quickly from the decision to go on an adventure to the adventure to the conflict to the resolution. I like that the parts of the story are easily discernible and that the characters always seem to be smiling. I also enjoyed the easy text and that the amount of words on each page were limited to a few. This helped keep the story moving. I read the story to my students and they were engaged the whole way through the story. When we talked about it at the end, they were able to clearly define what happened in the story, recall elements of the story, and recall the characters in the story. It was also fun to have the students make predictions during the reading.

When we were finished with the story, I asked if the students liked it and to a student they said, "Yes!"

I am a sucker for the artwork in a kids book. The artwork in this book is strange and quirky, but it works and I love it. The color palate is limited to greens, greys, browns, blacks, and blues. The only other color was a small smattering of red that colored a bird that appeared on nearly every page–as if 'he' was watching the story unfold. I think the artwork is creative, fun, and in a positive sense, silly.

In my classroom, this book was used to talk to the kids about being competitive. Some of my students always have to be first or 'boss' or make everything a matter of winning or being first. We talked about how it is important to work together, play together, and to simply have fun being with one another. This book was a great help. In other applications, this will be a good story for helping students make predictions and, perhaps, sequencing or ordering events in a story.

A book has to be pretty bad for me to rate it lower than a five, and this book was not even close. It's a five star book that students will enjoy very much. This is a fun story that children will enjoy from front to back. I love this book because it was a fun and enjoyable read. I will be adding this to my personal library in my classroom. Highly recommended.

5/5 Stars

LunaTitle: Luna's Red Hat

Author: Emmi Smid

Emmi Smid on Twitter

Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Year: 2015

Pages: 36


Special contribution from bereavement specialist: Dr. Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers (Website is in Dutch)

[Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my review of this book. I was not compensated in any way nor was I asked to write a favorable review. Cover image is the property of the publisher.]

Around the same time as I received my permission to access this book (the morning of March 2, 2015) I was looking at a story on the internet about a school teacher in a California high school who had committed suicide. Last year the world was stunned when beloved actor Robin Williams was found dead of suicide. It seems scarcely a day goes by that we don't hear about the suicide of someone. But we typically only hear about the famous people or the 'fantastic' suicides–like a school teacher who is found in her classroom by her students.

What we often fail to take into consideration is that suicide more often affects 'everyday' families and the little people who make up those families. Except within our own communities, we hardly ever hear about suicides that affect families and children in small towns all around our nation every day. A US News story from October 2014 reported that the suicide rates in the US are at a 25 year high at nearly 13 suicides per 100,000 persons. These are frightening statistics and should give us pause as we consider what factors have led to such confounding numbers of people taking their own lives.

As a teacher, I am thankful that I have yet to find it necessary to have this conversation with any of my students or their parents. When I was a church pastor, I did have to have this conversation with one of my congregants after her son committed suicide. I also conducted the funeral which was among the most difficult I ever conducted.

As a parent, a teacher, and a former church pastor, I have often wondered what resources are available to help adults help children work through the difficulties of suicide. I have seen small pamphlets in funeral homes, but nothing of the caliber of this 36-page picture book. I'll say it right up front: I loved this book. Absolutely loved it.

Luna's Red Hat is a wonderful book and frankly, if I may say so, it's not just a children's book. I found the book warm and comforting. It wasn't preachy or overbearing, but gentle and touching. In fact, the book invited me in with its soft brushstrokes in the art and the honest dialogue between Luna and her dad. It's not thick and syrupy, but light and honest. It does not in any way come off as cheesy or fake, but rather genuine and meaningful.

I have reviewed quite a few children's books, I have read even more, and one thing that always bothers me about many (if not most) of the children's books I read is that the dad is often portrayed as a dupe or as absent or as just plain lousy. I will say this about Luna's Red Hat the author did a fantastic presentation of the father character in this book. The father doesn't have all the answers, but he is not stupid. He is not absent, but he is not overbearing. He is mature, yet can also be silly. He is wise, but he doesn't talk too much. He gives his daughter space to vent her emotions and to give words to her feelings. He comforts her in her grief and yet he also helps her keep her life's momentum.

I very much like that the father in this book is portrayed positively. This alone would make me recommend this book.

Finally, I am sucker for a children's story with good artwork. The story can be pretty terrible and yet have good artwork and I will be a fan–maybe because the students I work with in special education tend to spend a lot more time looking at pictures than they do at words. In this book, however, I got both. The artwork is excellent. The colors are soft and inviting when they need to convey a certain emotion, and strong and dark when they need to convey another emotion. At times the author wrapped the text into the picture so as to convey an extra sense of the turmoil Luna is experiencing. I think this is an excellent idea and it works well for this book.

Other attention to detail is important too: flowers that droop to match the mood of the characters, a  small tear rolling down a cheek, the sadness in the mother's face. All of this works together to give a strong emotion to the book–an emotion that I believe captures well what a person in Luna's situation might well experience.

The story is deep, but the text is not complicated. The artwork is simply excellent. The topic is a difficult one, yes, but the author handles the subject matter with a deft hand and a sensitive heart. I believe this is a book that needs to have a wide audience and should be on hand for such an occasion as one might have to endure as a teacher or a parent or a pastor. Sometimes we simply do not have the words to give voice to our feelings. This is a book I believe that lends its voice to help grief stricken parents and children alike navigate through the troubled waters of the suicide of someone close.

There is also a two page guide at the end of the book from a professional grief counselor (links are provided above). There are some helpful words for parents and other professionals. In my opinion, while it is helpful, it's probably not necessary. It neither adds to nor detracts from the book's content. The story stands well enough on its own.

This is a book I will be purchasing for my classroom. It probably won't just 'sit on the shelf', but it will be handy if I ever, God-forbid, need it.

Very highly recommended. It is simply a beautiful book.

5/5 Stars

912Ap+P711LTitle: Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret

Author: Bob Shea

Publisher: Disney Book Group (Hyperion)

Year: 2015

Pages: 56

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair review of this book. I was in no way compensated or asked to write a positive review. I was asked to write a minimum number of words and to be honest. Done. The copy I read and reviewed was prepared for NOOK via Adobe Digital Editions.]

This is a short book that is highly enjoyable both for it's delightful artwork and for it's whimsical storyline about two friends learning about compromise, friendship, and honesty. It's a simple enough book to read and understand from an author who has demonstrated an ability to write stories that make connections with young readers in a variety of situations (see Dinosaur vs. series).

I think it is a hard lesson to learn, as humans, that real friendship is a difficult water to navigate precisely because it entails things we'd rather not think about–things like compromise and honesty. Children seem to understand these things, but I think even children tend to get caught up in the mayhem of 'one-upism'. I see this a lot in special education where children often come from such environments where family or economic struggles obscure these things for one reason or another. I have no explanation for why it seems to be so, but in my experience working in special education I see a tendency among my students towards selfishness and an unwillingness to compromise even in the smallest areas of social interaction. It could be their particular diagnosis; it could be environmental. Others can tell us why, I'm concerned that it is so and that the classroom becomes a training ground where these things–not taught in other environments–are learned and perpetuated.

Ballet Cat has it all worked out and seems to push towards playing 'ballet' every day: "We play ballet every day, Ballet Cat," grumbles Sparkles the Sparkle Pony. Then Sparkle engages, less than enthusiastically in Ballet play until he simply can take it no more and slouches to the floor in despair. He is sad, frustrated, and defeated and has to muster up the courage to tell Ballet Cat the truth that 'Sometimes [he doesn't] want to play ballet!'  His other fear is that in telling the truth to Ballet Cat he might lose his friend. In the end, however, Ballet Cat is a gracious friend and reveals to Sparkle Pony that he is more important to her than playing Ballet every day. (I'm using 'he' and 'she' carefully since it could be that Ballet Cat and Sparkle Pony are not, in fact, 'she' and 'he'. I don't think the identity of their sex is of particular importance in the story.)

The author makes it clear that friendship involves two things: compromise and honesty. Ballet Cat must learn to compromise; Sparkle Pony must risk friendship by being perfectly honest. It's also important to learn that we can have differing opinions, differing likes, differing opinions and that in the end these differences, and our honesty about these differences, do not have to spoil a good friendship. This is a helpful book and I think it would serve its purpose well in the midst of a classroom and especially in a special education classroom such as mine.

The only problems I had with the book are 1) that I didn't particular care for the way it rendered on my NOOK reader. It read like a comic strip. It's supposed to be 56 pages, but rendered as 30 on my NOOK. 2) I'm not sure why Sparkle Pony is called Sparkle Pony. There's nothing about the Pony that sparkles. He is covered with three giant polka dots, but no sparkles. Perhaps this will change, but in my review copy it was kind of strange. Otherwise, I very much like the art work and I like how the dialogue is printed in call-out boxes–which may lend itself to a reader's theater type reading of the story. The artwork is happy and, I think, conveys the proper emotive feel at just the right times. The color palette is simple, but captivating.

Really I like this book very much, exceptions noted, and will most certainly purchase a copy for my classroom. It is designed for younger readers–the inside cover says ages 6-8, grades 1-3. That might be appropriate, but I think by the time a student is in third grade they are beginning to understand these things and this book may not be age appropriate. I might actually lower this to say Pre-K-K as it might be too 'babyish' for a second and/or third grade student. That's my opinion and it is not necessarily a statement of scientific accuracy. It's a statement of my experience working with boys that age and raising three of my own.

5/5 Stars

JasperTitle: Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble

See also: Jasper John Dooley: You're in Trouble

Author: Caroline Adderson

Illustrator: Ben Clanton

See also: Ben Clanton's Squiggles and Scribbles

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Year: March 1, 2015

Pages: 124

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I was in no way compensated nor asked to write a favorable review of the book. All you get here is honesty and my opinions.]

My initial reaction after I finished this book was that I didn't care for it all that much. I mean, frankly, I work with children all day long who need absolutely zero drinks of Torpedo High Energy Drink. On one level, I perfectly get the humor; on another level, the story was an echo of what I deal with every single day of my life. I'm sure I am in for some nightmares. I jest, of course, but reading about my students in this book was fun and helped me see them in a little different light. Maybe I can just go to work each day an imagine they have dads or moms who allowed them to drink Red Bull before they came to class.

So, let's start with what I didn't like about the book and from there move on to what I did like.

First, the role of the parents kind of bugged me. I see this in children's books a lot. The parents are present, but they are also kind of stupid. I'm not sure if Jasper's parents are sitting back and waiting for Jasper to figure out the problem on his own or if they are aloof (mother) and kind of irresponsible (dad). This is the only Jasper story I have read so I'm not sure if this is typical or atypical of the parents in the series. I'm not sure why the parents seem so strange, but they bugged me because they seemed to provide no guidance whatsoever in the story; they were there, but they were absent. The age group this story is written for (7-10 according to Kids Can Press) is an age group that needs guidance during discovery. I'm not sure I want my sons' best friends giving them guidance for living–even if I am not naive enough to disbelieve they get it from them anyhow.

Second, there were a few language issues that bothered me. Maybe it's Canadian to say things like 'the lates', but this is not something that is typically understood in American English–and it's certainly not something we teach in Language Arts. It's a colloquialism that might need explained to students who read the book or adjusted in versions destined for the US. Second, I'm not sure why there are so many randomly placed capital letters in the book. At seemingly random places, random words are capital in the middle of sentences. It's odd and, again, it's not how English is taught. I'm sure it's a literary device, but I still hate it because there's no accompanying explanation as to why it is that way.  Third, I'm not sure I understand the author's intention in using the word 'pills' to describe cutting celery. As an adult, I understand what it means; I'm not sure children will understand. And the notion that 'it would be so much easier to swallow a pill with Torpedo High Energy Drink…' is just a bit too close to reckless even if the author is talking about celery.

I am a teacher and I see the results of children who make reckless choices. I also see the results of parents who are irresponsible and aloof. I understand that some things are meant to be funny, but lampooning dangerous things can problematic, for children, if done so without explanation. I hate to be critical, but if I want children to read a book I have to read it with an educator's eye and a parental eye. It seems to me that these, and some other strange things, might require explanation or some guidance. It also appears that Jasper is simply destined to learn the hard way. He keeps going back to this energy drink, he keeps feeling badly about it, and he keeps swearing off drinking more. There is probably a lot of truth in this for adults as well as children. If Jasper learns he cannot manage these things on his own, I wonder if there are lessons to be learned by adults too?

Now, on to the things I liked about the book.

First, I think the book is really funny. As an adult, I saw the humor and some innuendo that made the book interesting. There was one particular conversation that I thought was terrific:

"Three things, the. Good sleep? Check. Good breakfast? Check. Dad set two plates of bacon and eggs on the table. "With your good sleep and your good breakfast behind you, you'll feel confident and strong for the game, Jasper.' 

"My breakfast is in front of me," Jasper said.

"But after you eat it, it will be behind you."

"Won't it be in me?" (46; digital edition; NOOK)

I love conversations like this. Here in this conversation I think the author captures well the spirit of a precocious child. It's really a wonderful exchange and it characterizes many of the conversations that take place in the book. It's funny and charming and totally exasperates the dad.

Second, there are not a lot of illustrations in the book, but the ones that are there are well done and add texture to the story. One of my favorite pictures is of Jasper falling asleep on picnic table in the park while his friend Ori, wearing a shirt reminiscent of Charlie Brown, looks on. I would like to have seen a few more illustrations, but that's a personal preference. The ones that are in the book are fun and capture well the tenor of the story.

Third, I think the ending added a nice twist to a story that seemed to me lacked an overall plot. Essentially the story goes from scene to scene and works very hard to see how many 'bad' things Jasper can do after drinking the energy drink. There's no real rising action, no real climax, and the can of energy drink must be the biggest can of energy drink on earth. But the end of the story provided a fresh twist that I truly appreciated and, to be sure, brought the story together for me. I laughed out loud when I read it and, after I thought about it for several hours after finishing the book, it caused me to reassess the entire story. Really it was the ending that won it for me.

Overall, I like the story even if I have a few reservations about some of the things in the story. Those reservations might well be matters of personal preference and nothing more. This book is part of a collection of Jasper John Dooley stories–early chapter books for young readers. I am sure that young readers will be amused by the chapter dedicated to Jasper's underwear, to toilet foot, and to getting stuck in the wrong bathroom. I'm sure they will be amused by many things in the book. It's a good effort even with my exceptions noted in the above paragraphs. It's a fun story I think will be fully enjoyed if there is some parental or teacher guidance. The book is not just about making good choices or the sketchy things that happen when we make bad choices, but about learning to resist temptation. In this regard, it may be helpful for some adults too.

4/5 stars

Grades 2-5/Ages 7-10

ZippyTitle: Zippy the Runner

Author: JiYu Kim

Illustrator: JeongHyeon Seon

Publisher: Norwood House Press

Year: 2015

Pages: 29

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair an unbiased review of this book. I was in no way compensated for my review and I was not required to write a positive review of the book. ]

I teach special education at a small elementary school. I have been teaching special education for 4 years now as a second career. It is not easy work–I work with students who have emotional/behavioral disorders. The students keep my on my toes and on the go. They have more energy than is typically necessary for a human, but that is all part of the fun of the work.

Another aspect of these students' lives that is perplexing is their willingness to give up easily on tasks they deem too difficult. Typically their default mode is: "I can't." It is terribly frustrating for me as a teacher because I see in them the ability to do anything they set their minds to doing–even if it requires more processing time to do so. Yet within in them there is a chicane of some sort or another that convinces them they cannot. Thus a large part of every day is spent working to show them that they can, in fact, accomplish something and that what matters is not, always, success, but effort. We constantly use the word 'try' in my classroom because, as I tell the kids, you do not know if you can or cannot until you try. 

To this end, I believe Zippy the Runner would be a helpful book. Zippy, the main character, has to press on and on, keep practicing, keep running–keep trying. What I like best is that at the end of the book Zippy has no yet succeeded, but neither has Zippy quit trying. This, in my opinion, is what is key to this story.

I also like the artwork very much. I believe the illustrator did a brilliant job composing art for the pages–even though what I saw on the digital version didn't render very well on my Adobe Digital Editions (I didn't even download this to my NOOK so I'm not sure how it rendered on that device.) Still, I loved what I saw. And if the truth must be told, I will say that if a children's book as good artwork, it will usually fly with kids–and with me. I love the illustrations.

The end of the book features a Reader's Theater idea which can be found here and some curriculum ideas for using the book in the classroom. The reader's theater is a bit short, but may be helpful in lower grades. The curriculum idea is a fun little art project that the students will likely enjoy as well.

This is a book I will incorporate into my classroom and one that I think my students will enjoy. I enjoyed very much and I will look forward to reading more from this author and, perhaps, from Norwood Press House books in the MySELF Bookshelf Series.

5/5 stars

The information below is from the Norwood Press House website I have linked to above.

Grade level: K-2
Dewey: E
Subject: Fiction, Social and Emotional Learning, Optimism, Self-Worth
Accelerated Reader Reading Level: 2.5
Accelerated Reader Quiz #: 168500
Lexile Level: 470L

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

Curve ballTitle: Curve Ball

Author: John Danakas

Publisher: Lorimer

Year: 2014

Pages: 121

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free review copy of the book (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest and unbiased review via my blog. Review is also published at Goodreads and Amazon. I was given no compensation for my review and I don't even get to keep the book, but the FCC thinks it is important for you to know that this review is free of all subterfuge. Enjoy!]

This is another in a series of books published by Lorimer that I have read that feature sports themes. Given that I am a huge fan of baseball, and have been all my life, I have to say that I enjoyed this book very much. Of course 'curve ball' is the working metaphor as young Tommy Poulos navigates through a summer with his uncle Nick, a new Little League baseball team, a mean spirited bully named Jeff, and a budding friendship with Kelly, the only girl on the baseball team.

I like that this book is set in the world of Little League baseball. I coached for many years and it was fun to reminisce on all those times when games were on the line and tough Little League coaching decisions had to be made. It was fun to relive the crack of the bat and remember that Little League baseball is about the local, neighborhood teams and not so much about all that ESPN nonsense that most kids never experience.

I also like that for the first time in a long time I have read a children's book where the male adult characters are put in a positive light. Uncle Nick, while a bit sad about some of the realities of life, is a genuine and positive male role model for young Tommy. Given that most of the children's books I have read lately have featured less than stellar male role models–if they were even present–this was an excellent change of pace. I applaud the author for having the courage to buck the trend of making male characters either terrible humans or absent altogether.

I'll be terribly frank about my next point: I'm not sure how I feel about the Kelly character. Yes, I get that we live in a remarkably, wonderfully diverse world where girls join boys in playing on boys' teams. Sadly, however, we do not live in a world where boys are permitted to join girls in playing on girls' teams. It's an awful double standard in the USA and Canada. So I am indifferent about the Kelly character's presence in the book. She could have fulfilled her 'cheerleader' for Tommy purpose in the book without being a member of the baseball team. That's just my opinion.

All in all this was a good story. I have read several really good stories from Lorimer authors now and I seem always to be surprised by one thing or another. Weaving Tommy's baseball trajectory into his uncle Nick's business trajectory was a nice move and helps us understand that adults and children face curve balls in life and that we all need to find ways to overcome them. I am pleased that the author allowed Tommy to deal with differences he had with another player not through lowering himself but by rising up and simply being a good ball player. That is, he proved his skill and worth through working hard.

This is a good story, if a little predictable, that I recommend and would keep in my own classroom.

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.


Gabriel FinleyTitle: Gabriel Finely and the Raven's Riddle

Author: George Hagen

Illustrator: Scott Bakal

Publisher: Random House Children's Books (Schwartz & Wade Books)

Resources for Teachers/Librarians: RHTeachers/Librarians

Year: 2014

Pages: 252 (e-book via Nook)

[Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. I was given no compensation or otherwise in exchange for the review and was not required to be positive, just honest.]

If you are a fan of The Hobbit, Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, The Goonies,and Lord of the Rings (and perhaps a few others) then I think you will like this book. This book has a lot of action, many interesting characters, and some fun along the way towards the end of the story.

This book is an adventure book, but perhaps not so much in the sense of Indiana Jones. The adventures take place in words–a favorite story type of mine. So the story is more in line with The Hobbit because as it turns out the main adventures are found in riddles and puns: word adventures, word games. This makes the book thrilling and keeps the reader engaged. It kept me engaged the entire story as one riddle after another was scrawled across the page and I had to close my eyes to keep from seeing the answer so that I could guess it myself. In my opinion, the book hung on the word games so much that it didn't really matter that there were talking birds and walking desks and magic necklaces and paravolating and more. All of this added to the fantastic nature of the book, but the riddles kept the book grounded in reality and kept it moving forward.

Along the way we meet characters–strange characters, characters we can relate to, and characters we despise. The most frustrating (and my favorite) character was Somes but only because he was so hard to figure from page to page. From the get go I thought he was just going to be a bully all the way through, but in the end we learn some things about Somes that really alter the way we think about him as a character. Along the way, I think Somes actually surprises himself too. Pamela is another interesting character who comes into the story with her mother Trudy. I was a bit confused about why Pamela's mother Trudy was always so bossy towards Gabriel. She was a guest in his house and yet seemed to come in and act like the queen of the castle. Another character, introduced early in the story, Addison, perplexed me because he played absolutely no significant role in the book at all. He was a throwaway character but perhaps the author intends to make use of him in another volume. The end of the book caught me off guard with respect to Abigail's family situation and her 'two moms' (I may have missed it earlier in the book.) There's nothing explicit and it is mentioned almost in passing. We are given no details. It just is. It was a surprise.

There are, of course, other characters. The reader gets hints of these characters' lives–especially the main character Gabriel–but the characters do not drive the narrative. The narrative is driven by the word games that they must unravel each step along the way in order to uncover more clues to the mystery. All of the characters have their issues. Gabriel has parents, but they are nowhere to be found. Somes has a sketchy home life. Abigail, I just mentioned comes from an evidently non-traditional home. Pamela lives with her mother and they both, in turn, live with Gabriel who lives with his aunt Jaz. Even the bird, Paladin, only lives with his mother. The only character whose family situation is relatively typical is Addison who moves before the main narrative kicks into high gear.  It's strange why so many stories have to feature chaotic family conditions. Maybe it is these chaotic conditions that drive these children to adventures. For some students, it will be easy to relate to such diverse family conditions.

Along the way the reader learns about families, friends, loyalty, courage, overcoming doubts and fears, and trust; good and evil. Readers are also asked to think their way through the story. I was only a bit disappointed that 'The Duel' only lasted a few pages and a few riddles. The duel reminded me in a lot of ways of the riddle game played by Bilbo and Gollum in the dark cave. In fact, Lord of the Rings seems to have influenced this story in other ways too. When the author wrote, "It [the magical torc] wanted to be found, and after a thousand years, I was the unlucky one to stumble upon it" (109 ARC e-book, NOOK version) I immediately thought of the Ring of Power that also wanted to be found or lost as if it had it's own will. I think it's a good allusion that I hope students who read this book will catch on to. Understanding the allusions to the stories I have referenced will give the reader a deeper appreciation of the nature of the story and enhance the reading experience.

In conclusion I will say this: it's a good story, but it is dark. There is death in the story. There is a certain level of violence. There is a certain level of metaphysical evil (one of the characters is continually referred to and depicted as a demon). There's good; there's evil. This is a complex story in that regard and I am always quick to help my readers understand that some younger readers may need some guidance working through some of these complex narrative devices. In other words, this is not a story for 'everyone', yet it is a story for everyone. Since I am necessarily an opponent of censorship, my main objective here is simply to state that some readers might need some guidance. Might is the operative word.

I liked this story a lot. It is a bit clunky at times and there are a few phrases I might have turned a little differently, but all in all I think it's a good start to what might be a good franchise (spoiler: since the ending is kind of open, the author has left himself an in to future installments featuring these characters.) Good read and an all around enjoyable story if this is your kind of story.



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

51qJCS3okbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_Title: Annaleise Carr

Author: Annaleise Carr as told to Deborah Ellis (Note: I believe this link to Ms Ellis' page is correct, but the book is not listed on her page. If this is incorrect, please advise and I will correct it.)

Publisher: James Lorimer & Company., Ltd. Publishers

Year: September 1, 2014

Pages: (Nook e-Book via NetGalley): 63

Camp Trillium

Follow on Twitter: Annaleise

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free e-book copy of this book in exchange for my fair and unbiased review. Visit NetGalley for more information.]

This was a short book about a young girl (14) who got an idea in her head one day to swim across Lake Ontario in order to raise money for a camp (Camp Trillium) specializing in helping children who have cancer. It is not a long book, 63 pages, and it was easy to read because the paragraphs are nicely separated and the print was large (at least on my Nook version it was).

The book is laid out nicely and actually takes the time to build in intensity as the reader waits to see if Annaleise will be permitted to do the swim by her parents, if she will raise the money she wanted to raise, and if she will complete the actual swim. There are eleven chapters that build this intensity for the reader–insofar as a book of this nature can build intensity–before concluding with a helpful epilogue, glossary, bibliography, and index (important tools I always look for when reading a book!)

The glossary will be helpful to younger readers who may not understand all of the language being used in the book; although, I found that even though there was help from a professional author (I don't know what percentage) the book comes across very much in the language of a fourteen year old girl. She has an enthusiasm about herself and took this challenge very seriously–that enthusiasm comes across very well in the book. To me it seemed genuine and not feigned for the sake of an audience.

I also liked that the book contained a variety of pictures for the reader to enjoy. It helped me to know who I was reading about and what I was reading about too.

Throughout the book, there are intermittent sub-headings within each chapter such as 'What is Cancer?' After this sub-heading, the author gives us a paragraph or two of definition. I was happy to learn about many of the challenges that come with such an ambitious undertaking. She was blessed to have so many supporters working with her to make the attempt.

Finally, I was pleased that the author and publishers didn't decided to squelch the young lady's faith. There were a couple of times when she made reference to her faith or to a Bible verse which was refreshing. Some teachers/schools may struggle with this aspect of the book, but it doesn't come across as preachy or condescending. It is matter of fact like everything else in the book.

All in all I enjoyed the book. It took me about two hours to read and I believe it will be a wonderful addition to any classroom library. The book will be useful for helping students see a progression of thought and perhaps also for making predictions (given that the end of the book has a rather surprising twist!) I recommend this book for students fourth grade and up. It will be a book of courage and hope for those struggling against cancer and perhaps inspirational for other young people who want to help or make a difference in the lives of others.


IndexTitle: 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6

Author: Catherine Austen

Publisher: James Lorimer & Company Ltd.

Year: 2014

Pages: 101 (e-book)

Author Page: Catherine Austen

Author Blog: Deadline? What Deadline?

[Disclaimer: I am required by some law of the land to inform you that the FCC thinks you will be better off knowing that I read a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Wow, I feel better having gotten that off my chest.]

I grew up reading Judy Blume whose books for children were, at least when I was reading Blubber and Superfudge and Frecklejuice, at the pinnacle of elementary-junior high reading. Not a single RIF week or Scholastic book club paper went by that someone in our class failed to get a Judy Blume book. In fact, I still happen to own many of those books that I bought in fourth and fifth grades. Now I'm 44 and I still love books that are targeted to kids who are in the 'awkward' stages of life–namely, 5-8 grade. So I was pleased when I was offered the opportunity to read 28 Tricks and review it.
When I was in those awkward Junior High days, I remember having fears. I feared things like bullies, my parents' wrath for poor grades, and acne. In 28 Tricks, the fears are a little more subjective: fear of dancing, fear of public speaking, fear of dogs, and a fear of the future. When I was young, I was generally too busy to worry about whether or not the future was something I should worry about, but then again when I was that age we were not having conversations about things like global warming. In the 80s, we were worried about things like the spread of communism and the proliferation of nuclear arms–but we were also not watching nearly as much television, there was no internet, and there were no cell phones. We were outside playing ball, hide and seek, or swimming in the creek.
I suppose every generation has to have their fears. This is about as political as the author gets in the book (and it wasn't as bad as I'm probably making it); nevertheless, these are the things that kids worry about nowadays and the author's background in environmental and conservation studies  probably helped shape the last section of the book. It's not  offensive or rammed down the readers' throats and I think it rightfully helps walk children, who may have such fears, through some of those fears and get a good grip in the here and now.
And I appreciated this: "Too much reality makes you depressed. But not enough reality makes you a fool. So what we need is just enough reality to manage." This from one of the characters named Claire who has been learning to overcome her fear of the future. There are other insightful thoughts along the way too, but I don't want to spoil the fun. I agree with the author that living now, giving up worry, having hope, and not wasting our time is essential to a wholesome, productive, and less fearful life. These are deep thoughts for Junior High students to absorb and it is far and away from the sorts of worries we were talking about when we read Blubber and Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great.
I also appreciated the teacher, Mr. Papadakis. First of all because he is a male teacher. I have this suspicion that there are not nearly enough male teachers in schools today–especially in elementary and junior high. It was nice to see a positive male figure–even if he did remind me a wee bit of Ms. Frizzle with his carefree-let-the-children-learn kind of approach to education. I also thought he was a sympathetic character. His character wasn't intrusive, but he was present. This left the author free to pull him in periodically to dispense some wisdom or humor or reality: male teachers can provide positive links between students and life and need not always be those frowning curmudgeons who haunt our sleep at times.
Finally, I enjoyed the flow of the text: it was funny. Even to me, as an adult, I found the book chock full of humor–and more often than not, good humor. I especially enjoyed the malaprops that showed up every so often. I also found the humor wasn't quite as acerbic as what I used to read when I was kid. It had a softer touch to it which made it more palatable and enjoyable. The running gag featuring the Canadian national anthem was good times too–and it would be funny if readers could go on youtube and find links to some of the songs Dave and his band invented.
I'm sticking with a positive review of this book because I really believe children will enjoy it. It's a quick read, it's funny, but it's not a throwaway book. By that I mean, this is a book that can be re-read with a certain satisfaction–maybe to explore some of the subplots about things like bullying and telling the truth and simply being nice to our friends.
I am hopeful this book will get a wide audience because it is good fun and a good, thoughtful story.
5/5 Stars