Monday, May 13, 2019

MMGM: A Circle of Elephants by Eric Dinerstein


From the author of What Elephants Know, a 2017 ALA Notable Children's Book and winner of the 2017 South Asia Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature, comes this stunning companion novel about the complex relationship between people and nature coexisting in the Borderlands of 1970s Nepal.

Thirteen-year-old Nandu lives in the newly established Royal Elephant Breeding Center on the edge of the jungle. Here, the King's elephants are to be raised under the protective watch of the stable. Nandu-along with his adoptive father Subba-sahib, his mentors, friends, and the rest of the elephant drivers-is tested by man and nature as earthquakes, drought, wild herds, and rumors of poachers threaten the Center.

When Nandu's world is thrown into turmoil, so, too, is the world of Hira Prasad, the Center's powerful bull elephant. An unbreakable bond of brotherhood drives Nandu and Hira Prasad together as they struggle to maintain the delicate natural order of life in the Borderlands.

Dinerstein's poetic prose and scientific expertise come together in this breathtaking tale that transports the reader to the center of dangerous conflicts and heartbreaking friendships.


I really enjoyed Dinerstein's first book about Nandu.  When I heard there would be another book about Nandu I was excited to return to the setting and characters I'd grown to care about.  This book is just as fascinating and important as the first one.  I love books like this one for several reasons.  First, they give me a glimpse into a way of life and a culture very different than my own, something I enjoy reading about.  Second, I'm a big believer in the need to take better care of the environment and the animals around us.  And third, I just love a good story.  This story revolves around the live of a young Tibetan boy named Nandu, who was adopted by Subba Sahib, the man who runs the elephant breeding stable Nandu calls home.  Nandu's love for his home and the elephants shines through, which I credit the author for, his own passion for his subject is clear.  But he does struggle with the tradition of chaining the elephants up, especially in the face of his growing desire to protect the animals that live in the surrounding jungle.  When poachers arrive and start killing the rhinos, Nandu is infuriated and desperately wants to help stop them, but to do so would be very risky.  But Nandu's heart is tender and he can't just sit back and let the animals die, so with the help of some friends he sets out to do something about it.  I enjoyed reading about Nandu's journey as he wrestles with the circumstances in which he finds himself as well as his own conscience.  A fabulously told story for those interested in reading about other cultures and the importance of the environment. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

NEW EARLY CHAPTER BOOK SERIES: Unicorn and Yeti #1: Sparkly New Friends/Hello Hedgehog! Do You Like My Bike?


This series is part of Scholastic's early reader line, Acorn, aimed at children who are learning to read. With easy-to-read text, a short-story format, plenty of humor, and full-color artwork on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and fluency. Acorn books plant a love of reading and help readers grow!

Unicorn has a horn and can do magic.
Yeti is big and furry and cannot do magic.

Yeti likes snowball fights.
Unicorn does not like snowball fights.

But Unicorn and Yeti both love sparkly things, magic rainbows, and -- most of all -- being best friends! These laugh-out-loud stories with full-color artwork and easy-to-read text throughout are perfect for new readers!


Unicorns are really popular these days which caught my attention when I first heard about this book.  So I was eager to read it when it came out.  And I found it delightful.  Not only are the illustrations really appealing with their bright, colorful, expressive nature, but the text, mostly dialogue, is a winner as well.  The title is really appropriate in its reference to sparkly things as Yeti and Unicorn argue over sparkly snow when they meet.  Unicorn finds the snow sparkly and Yeti does not.  After gently arguing for a few pages, Unicorn offers to show Yeti what she means and gives Yeti a ride into the sky.  This creates a funny picture of the large Yeti on the small unicorn's back.   The second story revolves around Yeti's desire to be as fancy as his friend who has a horn and sparkles.   After Unicorn uses her magic to try a variety of different ways of making Yeti fancy, they finally come to a compromise that works for them both.  And the last story has Yeti introducing Unicorn to the joys of snowball fights.  Unicorn struggles to figure it out at first, until she finds a way to do it that works for her.  The themes of friendship, compromise, and trying new things shine through but not in a didactic way.  A delightful beginning to what is sure to be a well loved series. 


This series is part of Scholastic's early reader line, Acorn, aimed at children who are learning to read. With easy-to-read text, a short-story format, plenty of humor, and full-color artwork on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and fluency. Acorn books plant a love of reading and help readers grow!

Hedgehog loves his new bike. His best friend Harry says he likes it, too. But when Hedgehog asks Harry to go bike riding with him, Harry says he does not want to go. Does Harry not like his friend's new bike? Or could this all have something to do with training wheels? These reassuring, laugh-out-loud stories with full-color artwork and easy-to-read text throughout are perfect for new readers!


The first story in this book made me laugh out loud.  It's so typical of human behavior.  In the first story, Hedgehog is so excited to ride his new bike, but he can't find his bike helmet.  He searches throughout the house including the freezer and the flower pot.  But not until he looks out the window does he remember what he did with it.  (It's so typically human to put something somewhere specifically so you remember where it is, only to forget it's location anyway.)  The second story has Hedgehog introducing his bike to his guinea pig friend, Harry.  But Harry is really reluctant to ride the bike when Hedgehog offers him a try.  Luckily, Hedgehog is a great friend and reacts perfectly when he discovers why.  And the third story has Harry and Hedgehog sharing a bike ride together to Hedgehog's house to have some snacks (Harry is especially interested in snacks).  A delightful book any way you look at it.  The illustrations are bright and appealing, the characters are fun, and the stories are easy for both children and adults to relate to.  A great new series for early readers.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Picturing America/Otis and Will Discover the Deep


This look at artist Thomas Cole's life takes readers from his humble beginnings to his development of a new painting style that became America's first formal art movement: the Hudson River school of painting.

Thomas Cole was always looking for something new to draw. Born in England during the Industrial Revolution, he was fascinated by tales of the American countryside, and was ecstatic to move there in 1818. The life of an artist was difficult at first, however Thomas kept his dream alive by drawing constantly and seeking out other artists. But everything changed for him when he was given a ticket for a boat trip up the Hudson River to see the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains. The haunting beauty of the landscape sparked his imagination and would inspire him for the rest of his life. The majestic paintings that followed struck a chord with the public and drew other artists to follow in his footsteps, in the first art movement born in America. His landscape paintings also started a conversation on how to protect the country's wild beauty. 

Hudson Talbott takes readers on a unique journey as he depicts the immigrant artist falling in love with--and fighting to preserve--his new country.


I'll admit I don't normally find books about artists and their art very appealing.  Probably because I'm not any kind of artist and can't relate to them very well.  But I saw some of the illustrations from this book and wanted to read/look at it.  That's probably because of the gorgeous landscapes.  I'm a nature lover and enjoy looking at beautiful depictions of the natural world.  So I picked up this book.  And I was not disappointed.  Thomas Cole's life is briefly described, as in most picture book biography's details are spare, but there is enough there to be interesting.  But my favorite parts involved Cole's trips that lead to his most famous landscape paintings.  The illustrations of some of Cole's most famous works are especially beautiful.  I truly enjoyed this book, especially the beautiful illustrations.  It would make a great teaching tool for an art class, but it can also be enjoyed solely on it's own merits as well.


The suspenseful, little-known true story of two determined pioneers who made the first dive into the deep ocean.
On June 6, 1930, engineer Otis Barton and explorer Will Beebe dove into the ocean inside a hollow metal ball of their own invention called the Bathysphere.

They knew dozens of things might go wrong. A tiny leak could shoot pressurized water straight through the men like bullets! A single spark could cause their oxygen tanks to explode! No one had ever dived lower than a few hundred feet...and come back. But Otis and Will were determined to become the first people to see what the deep ocean looks like.

This suspenseful story from acclaimed author Barb Rosenstock with mesmerizing watercolors by award-winning artist Katherine Roy will put you right in the middle of the spine-tingling, record-setting journey down, down into the deep.


Combining Rosenstock's great storytelling with Roy's fabulous artwork was a brilliant move on someone's part.  I've long enjoyed reading the picture book nonfiction that Rosenstock writes because it's always on an unusual interesting topic, told in an informative, easy to understand, yet accurate way.  And Roy has quickly become one of my favorite illustrators, her art is amazing.  Combining the work of the two makes for a fascinating told, beautifully illustrated book about an unusual subject.  I'd never heard of Otis Barton or Will Beebe before reading this book and yet both men played a significant role in helping move forward exploration of the natural world.  In this book, the focus is on the work the two men did together, creating one of the world's first submersible's which allowed them to take a dive into the deep ocean.  The additional information and photographs at the end were greatly appreciated by me in adding to what I learned reading the book.  A great book for both entertainment and educational purposes. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

EARLY READERS: Click, Clack, Peep!/Bunny will not Smile!


New York Times bestselling duo Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s beloved story about a noisy duckling is now available as a Level 2 Ready-to-Read!

There’s more trouble on the farm, but Duck has nothing to do with it, for once. This time the trouble is a four-ounce puff of fluff who just won’t go to sleep, and whose play-with-me “peeps” are keeping the whole barnyard awake with him.


How do you get a baby duck to hit the hay? Poor Farmer Brown will find out—and Duck might just find himself in trouble after all…


Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin have a magical partnership when it comes to the Farmer Brown/Click, Clack books.  The books are light and fun to read with lots of humor.  The illustrations are just as appealing as the rhythmic text.  The content of this book was originally published as a picture book in 2015.  But it works just as well as an early reader in terms of content.  Of course for reading aloud with a group the picture book would be the better choice.  But for a young reader developing their reading skills the smaller illustrations and larger text work well.  The story is just as funny in this version as it was in the original.  A young duckling hatches and won't stop peeping, driving all the other animals from the barn.  Duck takes charge after putting headphones over Farmer Brown's ears.  But as with many things that Duck undertakes, there's an unfortunate aftereffect.   


From the endless imagination of Jason Tharp comes a brand-new, interactive Level 1 Ready-to-Read that’s perfect for fans of Mo Willems, Jim Benton, and David Milgrim and for beginning readers who like to giggle!

A bear named Big has a problem. His friend Bunny will not smile, no matter what Big tries…so Big needs your help! With appealing comic-inspired speech bubbles and interactive storytelling that prompts kids to do everything from turning the page, to leaning in so Big can whisper an idea, to making their silliest silly face, beginning readers will giggle their way through this Level 1 Ready-to-Read.


This silly book revolves around a bear named Big who wants the reader/listener to help him get Bunny to smile.  It's an interactive book where the reader/listener is encouraged to respond to the characters in the book.  After reading this with several kindergarten classes and seeing their response, I can safely say that the book generally works well.  Not all children chose to respond to the book but most of them did.  And it is rather silly with plenty of places for young readers/listeners to repeat what is being said or done or to respond.  A fun book for young children who enjoy interacting with the stories they read/hear.

Friday, April 26, 2019

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Wishbreaker by Tyler Whitesides


Ace and Ridge are back to save their friend—and the world—in this sequel to The Wishmakers, which Chris Grabenstein, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, praised as a “fantastically fast-paced and funny read.”

Being a Wishmaker may be more trouble than it’s worth. Sure, you get a genie who can grant an unlimited number of wishes, but for each one you make you have to accept an awful consequence in return. Not to mention that you’re also given an impossible quest and only seven days to fulfill it!

Despite all that, Ace and his genie, Ridge, managed to complete their last mission—but they couldn’t save their friend Tina from being abducted by a rogue genie who’s bent on using his limitless power to rule the world. To rescue her, Ace must reunite with Ridge to become a Wishmaker once more, and they’ll need to team up with the unlikeliest of new allies. It’s not every day you get a second chance to save the world, so Ace is determined to learn from his past mistakes and wish for the best, literally.


Note: If you haven't yet read the first book in the series, The Wishmakers,  I recommend that you do so before reading this review.

Having loved every book I've read by Tyler Whitesides, including the first book in the Wishmakers series, I was eager to read this one.  And I wasn't disappointed in the least.  Whitesides has a remarkable ability to combine story elements and ideas in such creative ways that I never know what's going to come next.  

After the hi-jinks of the first book, and the cliffhanger ending I was thrilled to pick up the book and discover that it picks up right where the first book ends.  Ace is desperately trying to get his genie, Ridge back so that he can save Tina, who sacrificed herself to save her mother.  But Tina has been taken captive by a very powerful genie and Ace and Ridge have their work cut out for them.  Especially when Ace receives his quest (part of being a wishmaker, see the first book) and discovers that the Universe has assigned him a task that has nothing to do with saving his friend.  Teaming up once again with Jathon Anderthon and his genie, along with Tina's mother, Ace and Ridge set out to find and free Tina.  But consequences pile up fast as they make wishes frantically in an effort to catch Chasm before he unleashes his own plans to conquer the world. Juggling strange consequences (dancing on sidewalks, brushing away nonexistent cobwebs, and spinning heads, along with his own longing to discover his past, Ace must choose what he wants the most and what he's willing to give up to get it.

Once again, Whitesides has written a thoroughly entertaining, creatively-written story about the power of choices and living with consequences versus having to choices at all. A real winner of a conclusion for a fantastic fantasy series for any reader, young or old, whose ever wished for things to be different.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Hello, I'm Here!/Bloom Boom!


A poetic text and wonderfully intimate photographs follow a newborn sandhill crane as it takes its first steps into the world.

Will my legs hold me?
What if I fall?

Peek in as a sandhill crane hatchling makes its first wobbly stand and takes its first steps alongside its brother. With their parents close by, they flap their wings and dance before enjoying a buggy treat. Someday they will fly with the majestic cranes overhead, but for now, Mama's soft feathers beckon. With a lyrical narrative and lovely photo illustrations, this latest venture from an acclaimed creative team makes a perfect new baby gift -- and will appeal to bird lovers, too.


Helen Frost and Rick Lieder have created another beautifully poetic ode to the wonders of nature.  This book focuses on the experiences of a young sandhill crane chick as it emerges into the world.  One of the things I love most about Frost's and Lieder's work is how well the words and photographs go together.  As Frost writes, "I'm out in the world ---I don't know where. Mama? Papa? Hello, I'm here!" we see a close up photograph of the chick all alone in the nest.  The matching words and text creates a wonderful story that is neither too simple nor too detailed. As with their other works, Frost and Lieder have created a gorgeous book that honors the beauty that nature provides those who take the time to look.


Discover the magic—and the science—behind spring flower blooms with this companion to the celebrated Raindrops Roll, Best in Snow, and Full of Fall.

When spring arrives, flowers of all kinds sprout and grow buds and bloom. Sometimes, they bloom a few at a time. But other times, many will bloom at once in a colorful flower boom! This photographic exploration of flowers goes from the desert to the woodlands and beyond, celebrating their beautiful variety and the science behind these colorful displays.


I always enjoy getting my hands on another April Pulley Sayre book because I know that it will be lovely.  And this book lives up to that expectation.  With only a few words per page, Sayre's poetry beautifully complements the large photographs.  In this book, the topic is wildflowers and springtime and the beauty of a field of wildflowers.  The catchiness of the title and repeated refrain adds to the joyful feel of the book.   And at the back of the book there is additional information for those like me who want to know the names and locations of the different flowers.  A book that highlights one of wonders of the natural world in a powerful way.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

PICTURE BOOKS: From Tree to Sea/Trees/Seeds Move


From the edge of the sea to a high mountain top, everything has its place in the world and all living things are connected. The world around us has a lot to tell us if we take the time to look and listen. This tender and comforting picture book celebrates the wisdom in many of the things great and small that make up our wonderful world.


This wonderful book takes the reader on a journey through some of the beautiful scenery that nature offers us.  The natural world has much to teach us if we are willing to listen and pay attention.  The author shares the things that she sees when she looks at the world around her.  For example, she points out that bees can teach us the value of working together for the common good.  Soil supports plants and roots and other growing things. Humans can support each other in similar ways.  One of my favorite parts was where she pointed out that like whales our dreams can be enormous, yet "I can take only small strokes one at a time to make them come true".  The comparison between a large whale and a tiny rowboat is especially striking.  A beautifully ode to the natural world and the value that exists there for those willing to see it.  

Every tree has its own story to tell in this evocative collection of poems celebrating the many varieties—from maple to willow to oak.

There are so many different kinds of trees in the world, and each has special qualities that make it unique. This lyrical, fanciful collection of poems celebrates the singular beauty of each tree, from the gnarled old apple tree to the tall and graceful aspen.


I have a special appreciation for trees.  I think they are beautiful and an important part of the world we live in.  This book highlights several different kinds of trees with a poem and illustration.  It's a gorgeous piece of work, rather a piece of art in my opinion. For some of the illustrations the book has to be turned sideways because the glorious height of the tree is being portrayed.  Each illustration also shows a child enjoying the benefits of that particular type of tree.  A wonderful book that pays homage to importance and varying roles of trees in the natural world. 


Discover the fascinating and surprising ways that seeds move and find a place to grow in this gorgeous picture book from Caldecott Honoree Robin Page.

Every seed, big or small, needs sunlight, water, and an uncrowded place to put down roots. But how do seeds get to the perfect place to grow? This exploration of seed dispersal covers a wide range of seeds and the creatures that help them move, from a coconut seed floating on waves to an African grass seed rolled by a dung beetle, to a milkweed seed floating on the wind.


Robin Page has written another beautiful book about the natural world.  This book focuses on how seeds move from place to place before sprouting and growing into a full size plant.  Each two page spread focuses on one kind of seed dispersal such as burrowing or rolling or sinking with additional information about the specific seed being shown.  This is not only a beautiful book, which is to be expected from a Caldecott Honoree, but it beautifully teaches an important concept.  This is a book that is bound to be used by many teachers in their efforts to help children understand seeds and plants and how human beings interact with and effect both. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

MMGM: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams


This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.

There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.

What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.

But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?


There are some books that touch your heart from the very first page.  For me, this was true of this book.  Genesis is a sympathetic character from the get-go because she arrives home in the first chapter to find her family's belongings sitting on the front lawn of the apartment building they've been living in.  What makes it worse is that she's not alone, she brought some of the popular girls home with her, hoping that finally she's made it into the 'in' crowd.  But her hopes have crumbled again as she and her mom stay at her grandma's house while their father, trying to compensate for his not paying the rent, looks for a new place for them to stay.

Genesis's father finds them a new place to stay, and it's really nice.  But Genesis is afraid to believe that it will last any longer than any of the other places they've stayed.  In addition to worrying about her family's situation, Genesis must confront her own self-hatred, created by her father's criticism's and her former classmates name-calling and teasing.  She even keeps a list created for her that lists reasons they hated her, and she's added her own reasons to it.

Her new school doesn't seem to offer much at first, but when she makes a couple of friends, and meets a choir teacher who believes in her, she starts to realize that the negativity she's heard her whole life just may not be true.  But between the secrets she keeps (including her efforts to change her own skin color) and the shocking history lesson she gets from her grandma, Genesis struggles to find hope or reason to believe in herself.

I found this a powerful story about self-esteem and how damaging verbal abuse can be, intentional or not.  Despite the heartache that Genesis deals with though, there is still plenty of hope in the book brought into her life through her new friends, her new teacher, and her loving mother.  I found myself cheering for Genesis as she fought her way through her pain to find a reason to begin again, letting go of the pain of the past to find faith in her future. I also learned a lot about a situation and culture very different than the one I grew up in.  I love books like this one because they encourage me to look outside myself to develop empathy for other people's struggles.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: You are Light/Circle


With a wondrously simple die-cut book, the Caldecott Honor-winning creator of the Journey trilogy brings his talents further into the light.

This is the light that brings the day.

Open this beautiful book to find a graphic yellow sun surrounded by a halo of bright die-cut circles. Now hold the page up to the light and enjoy the transformation as the colors in those circles glow. In an elegant, sparely narrated ode to the phenomenon of light, Aaron Becker follows as light reflects off the earth to warm our faces, draws up the sea to make the rain, feeds all the things that grow, and helps to create all the brilliant wonders of the world, including ourselves.


This rather unusual picture is all about the power of light and it´s connection to life.  The beauty of the simple text highlights the way sunlight brings dawn, which touches water, which rains and ´waters the wheat'and ´feeds the leaves´.  Eventually the light touches you and me connecting all living things.  What makes the book extra special is the use of die-cuts and colored plastic to highlight the various colors that the light brings to life.  The book needs to be held up to the light to be fully appreciated, but it´s worth the effort.  A deceptively simple, yet gorgeous reminder of the power of light to bring life.


Multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling duo Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen deliver the final wry and resonant tale about Triangle, Square, and Circle.

This book is about Circle. This book is also about Circle's friends, Triangle and Square. Also it is about a rule that Circle makes, and how she has to rescue Triangle when he breaks that rule. With their usual pitch-perfect pacing and subtle, sharp wit, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen come full circle in the third and final chapter of their clever shapes trilogy.


Like most Mac Barnett books, Circle,  has an unusual twist at the end, leaving the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.  As Circle, Triangle, and Square get ready to play hide-and-seek, Circle reminds the others not to hide behind the waterfall because it´s dark.  When Circle opens her eyes, Square tells her that Triangle went behind the waterfall.  Circle sets out to find her friend.  It does indeed prove to be a bit scary and Circle´s irritation shines through when she finds Triangle, or at least seems to do so.  But as with most Barnett books, things are not as they seem, and the reader is not provided with all the answers, leaving the reader to come to his/her own conclusions.  This makes the book a remarkable personal one as each reader will come away from the book with his or her own opinion.  It also makes it a great book to use in teaching as it provides students with a chance to infer and speculate and participate in the story.  A fitting ending to an intriguing new way to learn about shapes.
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