Wednesday, December 31, 2014

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Books about books part 1


Violet and Victor Small are twins on a mission: to write the best book in the whole, entire world--together! Victor is reluctant, but Violet is determined, and soon the ideas can't come quickly enough.

They begin to write a story about a hungry Bookworm who is eating all the books in the library. Thanks to Victor's brilliant ideas, Violet is able to save the day (and the library).

This delightful story-within-a-story is filled with good-natured sibling rivalry, and focuses on the spirit of cooperation, the satisfaction of a job well-done, and the magic of storytelling.


Kuipers provides a cute look at the process of writing a story, from a child's point of view.  Not only is the relationship between the siblings funny and realistic, but it maps out beautifully the elements needed to create a story.  The imagination expended here is to be applauded and the book is not only entertaining but is a natural lead in to young readers writing their own stories.  In fact, I plan to use this with some of my own students.  The multicolored ink helps distinguish between Violet and Victor which helps the reader know who is speaking.  The delightful collage illustrations are bound to inspire children to use their own imaginations to create their own "best-ever" stories. I also like the fact that the two children come at the story with very different ideas, but somehow manage to create a single story which they then enjoy reading together.  A great book for young readers who aren't sure they can create a story of their own.  The book is also plain good reading.


Discover the secret ingredients to crafting a truly delicious story!

Turn up the heat-
the bubbles quicken.
And then my plot
begins to thicken.

Join one lucky little girl as she learns the recipe for making the perfect story. A pinch of good, a dash of bad, some big words, and carefully cut out characters all provide the ingredients for a truly delicious read!


Comparing the creation of a story (book) to baking a pie makes for an entertaining premise and a great teaching idea. The little girl spends a lot of time finding just the right 'ingredients' of words, characters, and plot.  I loved the imagery that is conveyed by the words and illustrations. The use of words is so clever and fun to read, this is a book I'd recommend for any elementary teacher/librarian who is trying to help students understand the different elements that make up a good story.


Many children want to know where stories come from and how a book is made. Marie-Louise Gay's new picture book provides them with some delightfully inspiring answers in a fictional encounter between an author and some very curious children, who collaborate on writing and illustrating a story.

Marie-Louise has scribbled, sketched, scrawled, doodled, penciled, collaged and painted the words and pictures of a story-within-a-story that show how brilliant ideas creep up on you when you least expect it and how words sometimes float out of nowhere asking to be written.

Any Questions? presents a world inhabited by lost polar bears, soaring pterodactyls, talking trees and spotted snails, with cameo appearances by some of Marie-Louise's favorite characters — a world where kids can become part of the story and let their imaginations run wild… and just maybe they will be inspired to create stories of their own.

At the end of the book, Marie-Louise provides answers to many of the questions children have asked her over the years, such as “Are you Stella?” “How did you learn to draw?” “Can your cat fly?” “How many books do you make in one day?”


A wonderful ode to the questions that children ask of authors, Any Questions? not only allows the author to share some of these questions and her answers to the questions, but to show how she creates her stories.  I especially liked the way she used child characters to 'inspire' her with ideas for the story she creates within the story.  And she mentions all the major story elements which makes this a great teaching tool (if you have a projector that allows the students to see all the small details), including setting, ideas, characters, and plot and how they all come together to create a story.  Gay also brilliantly demonstrates the importance of editing and revising (something all children I've worked with don't really understand the need of, after all isn't the story perfect the first time? ;)).  The story that is created about a young giant is so childlike that I had to laugh when I read it the first time.  All in all a brilliant book that I absolutely adore and plan to use with my students.

At this point I would like to thank all these marvelous authors who have created such awesome books that make my job not only enjoyable but easier!  My hat's off to you!

Monday, December 22, 2014

BLOG TOUR: Demon's Heart by Emily Hall Bates

Demon's Heart blog tour


Young ruffian Rustav is determined to escape his abusive uncle and hated homeland, even if it means braving the demon-infested forest. His escape is halted, however, when a race of legendary beings reveal him to be the country’s fabled heir. As the people rally around him, Rustav teeters precariously between raising his people from the dust—or destroying them from the inside.


Emily H. Bates grew up in Northern California, where she spent much of her young life happily closeted away with a book. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in German Linguistics, married a dashing young man from her study abroad in Germany, and now writes novels in English. She currently resides in Washington with her husband and her very busy daughter.


I wasn't really sure about this book at first since I'm not really into demon's but I'm glad I gave it a chance because I ended up loving it and I am sad that I have to wait to read the sequel.  It didn't take me long to get into the story as Rustav is on the run from page one of the book.  He's escaped his abusive uncle and is searching for a way to leave the country.  But when he sees Dantzel in trouble, he can't help but stop to help.  Unfortunately, his physical state causes him to pass out leading to a lengthier stay in the village than he had planned.  Slowly, he learns to trust Anton and Dantzel and others in the village, and he grows to appreciate their care and concern.  But when the Guards show up to take him, he and Dantzel flee into the forest where they meet the Tuath, a people long thought extinct.  What he discovers there will change everything, but can he bring himself to risk everything for people who never helped him?  Can he figure out how to lead before it's too late?

I found the book remarkably compelling and both Rustav and Dantzel believable and authentic. Rustav is gruff and projects a tough exterior while Dantzel is spirited and not afraid to say what she thinks.  They make an interesting match, although things are just beginning when they are forced to flee and after that circumstances interfere with them pursuing things any further.  The plot is intense and moves forward quickly making the book really hard to put down.  I finished it in like two sittings. A thoroughly enjoyable beginning for a new series full of promise.  There were several surprises that I really didn't see coming and enough twists and turns to please most readers. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Two Fun Picture Books!


In this companion to acclaimed Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, Maria (Mary's daughter) and Mouse Mouse (Mouse's daughter) are looking for their mothers. They're not in their bedrooms, their car and cart are still in the driveway, and they are not in the gazebo or under the mushroom! Where could they be? Well, turns out Mary and the Mouse are great friends—just like Maria and Mouse Mouse—and soon the new generation is in on the old generation's secret, and vice versa. Sparingly told and beautifully illustrated, this book is every bit as charming as its predecessor. Kids will pore over the minute details of a mouse's parallel world.


I found this a delightfully fun book with the detailed illustrations and the hunt that Maria and her friend, Mouse go on.  Comparing Maria's living space with Mouse's is a good part of the fun.  However, the size of the illustrations makes this more appropriate for one on one reading so that the small details can be studied. There is plenty of typical McClintock adorableness here that kids are bound to love, plus the idea of the two girls searching for their 'missing' moms is portrayed in a really cute way.  A thoroughly enjoyable read that I can heartily recommend.


Brother Hugo can't return his library book -- the letters of St. Augustine -- because, it turns out, the precious book has been devoured by a bear! Instructed by the abbot to borrow another monastery's copy and create a replacement, the hapless monk painstakingly crafts a new book, copying it letter by letter and line by line. But when he sets off to return the borrowed copy, he finds himself trailed by his hungry new friend. Once a bear has a taste of letters, it appears, he's rarely satisfied!Brother Hugo and the Bear is loosely based on a note found in a twelfth-century manuscript -- and largely on the creative imaginings of author Katy Beebe. Lavishly illustrated by S. D. Schindler in the style of medieval manuscripts, this humorous tale is sure to delight readers who have acquired their own taste for books."


What an unusual book!  Not only did I learn about how medieval illumination worked but there's also a very literary bear.  I have to say that the ending made me laugh at first (the reader part of me, the librarian part of me was a bit horrified ;)).  Definitely a book that isn't like anything else I've read in a long time.  Entertaining and informative this is a book that is bound to get a reaction from readers, of one kind or another.  I can't wait to share it with students just to get their opinion on it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

BLOG TOUR: An Uncommon Blue by R.C. Hancock

An Uncommon Blue blog tour


In a society where the color of a person’s palm determines their social class, Bruno goes from favored to fugitive when he kills a Royal Guard to save a boy’s life. If he wants to survive, Bruno has to learn to accept the lower colors. A thrilling blend of fantasy and adventure perfect for readers everywhere.

RC (Really Cool) Hancock began his writing career with a story about a dead cat which his second grade teacher thought was brilliant. Convincing others of his literary genius has taken longer than expected, but along the road he has acquired a lovely wife, four entertaining ankle-biters (who, thankfully, look more like their mother), and a degree from BYU in Recreational Management & Youth Leadership (which means he’s really good at having fun.) An Uncommon Blue is his first novel.


Whew! I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked this book up, but I got a lot more than I bargained for with this one.  The story starts with a bang when Bruno gets 'painted' by a boy who claimed to want an autograph (Bruno is a very talented rugby player).  This leads to his unexpectedly defending the boy from the poker (guard) who ends up getting killed in the process.  The life that Bruno expected to have as one of the highly favored 'Blues' is destroyed and Bruno goes on the run.  I think what I found especially interesting here is the shocking ways that Bruno is exposed to the prejudicial flaws in his country's culture.  

Each person is born with a 'fire' and based on the color of his/her fire (blue, green, or red), they are placed in a caste, with Blue at the top, Green in the middle, and Red at the bottom. As Bruno faces the reality that his life is gone and seeks to find out what triggered the attack in the first place, he finds that people are people regardless of the color of their fire, and that some things are more important than others.  I really liked the fact that Bruno's strength of character has obviously been developed by his parents and grandmother.  So many YA books lack good adult role models that it's refreshing to find some.  And it is due to that strong background that Bruno finds the will to survive and try to do the right thing, even in the face of death.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Bruno's conscience lead him down the road to some rather painful discoveries about his world and even about himself and those he cares about.  The ending is a bit surprising (at least it was to me, although I suspect that many readers will expect it, but I did not).  And I have a sneaking suspicion that Bruno's troubles are only going to get worse as he faces a life so utterly different than the one he had planned. An intriguing and thought-provoking book about the dangers of pride and prejudice in society. And just a down-right entertaining story all around. I look forward to reading future volumes.

Thankfully while there is some violence it's not graphic and there is only made-up swearing and no sex.

BLOG TOUR & GIVEAWAY: Twenty-two Cents by Paula Yoo


From a young age, Muhammad Yunus was drawn to helping those in need.  As a Boy Scout, he raised money for the poor.  As a young man, he studied economics so he could teach people to manage their money.  As a university professor in Bangladesh, he moved his classes outside to learn how poor villagers managed to survive.  It was there that Yunus met a young craftswoman who needed just twenty-two cents to buy materials and feed her family.  Ignored by local banks and in debt to moneylenders, she existed in a cycle of poverty.

With a dream of a world in which no one goes hungry, Yunus launched Grameen Bank in 1977.  The bank was based on the idea of microcredit, which allows people to borrow very small amounts of money at low interest rates and eventually lift themselves out of poverty.  Ever since, Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Banks around the globe have been changing the lives of millions of people for the better.

Twenty-two Cents is an inspiring story of economic innovation and a celebration of how one visionary person--like one small loan--can make a positive difference in the lives of many.


Paula Yoo is an author and a screenwriter whose books for young readers have been recognized by the International Reading Association, the American Library Association, the Texas Library Association, and the National Council for the Social Studies, among many others.  Yoo has also been a television writer for The West Wing and Tru Calling, as well as a professional violinist and a violin teacher for underprivileged children.

Yoo's latest book, Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank was released in September 2014 from Lee & Low Books.  This nonfiction  picture book introduces young readers to Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank and developed the innovative concept of microcredit to help the world's poorest citizens break out of the cycle of poverty.  "I felt children should know that peace can be achieved in many different ways, including financial responsibility and self-reliance," Yoo says.

School Library Journal says, "[The] story of a true hero of the modern world will resonate with students," and Publishers Weekly says, "Yoo makes the significance of Yunus's contributions understandable, relevant, and immediate."

Yoo's other books include the IRA Notable nonfiction picture book biographies Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, which won the Lee & Low New Voices Award, and Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, which also won the 2010 Carter G. Woodson Award from the National Council for the Social Studies.

Yoo is currently a producer for the Amazon show Mozart in the Jungle.  She and her husband live in Los Angeles, California with their three cats.


Jamel Akib is the illustrator of several picture books, including Lee & Low's Bringing Asha Home and Tan to Tamarind.  He began working for the London Observer newspaper while still a student at art school.  Since then his award-winning artwork has also appeared in numerous museum and gallery shows in England, including several Best of British Illustration exhibitions.

Akib's latest book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, was released in September 2014 from Lee & Low Books.  This book is an inspiring story of economic innovation and a celebration of how one person--like--one small oan--can make a positive difference in the lives of many.  Akib calls Muhammad Yunus an "inspirational man," and felt that "[Yunus's] colorful character, as well as the colors of Bangladesh would make wonderful images."

Publishers Weekly says "Akib's grainy, jewel-toned chalk pastels contrast a sense of scarcity and deprivation with one of warmth and humanity," and Kirkus Reviews calls Akib's artwork "unforgiving and exhilarating."

Akib lives with his family in Salisbury, England.  You can learn more about him at


I was really excited when I heard about this book.  I'd heard about microlending before, but didn't know the whole story.  I felt truly inspired after reading this book, inspired by a man who used the opportunities that he'd had in his life to help others.  What I especially love about the whole concept of lending small amounts to the poor is that it helps where help is the most needed, and it helps the poor pull themselves out of poverty rather than creating a system of dependence.  Paula Yoo does a fabulous job in telling the story of Muhammad Yunus, giving the reader a brief overview of his life and explaining what lead him to do what he did.  She truly shows the reader the experiences that touched Yunus's life rather than simply telling, and the illustrations wonderfully compliment those stories.  I also loved the emphasis on how one person can make a difference in someone's life, even with a contribution as seemingly small as twenty-two cents. A very valuable book and one I think everyone should read.

by Paula Yoo

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the need for improved diversity in children’s literature. As there should be. Why?

The statistics say it loud and clear: “From 1994 to 2012, only 10 percent of children’s books in the past 18 years contained multicultural content. And yet 37% of the U.S. population are people of color.” (From “The Diversity Gap in Children’s Books” report by Lee & Low Books.)

Social media says it loud and clear: Just look at the thousands of viral hashtag posts on Twitter for the social media campaign of #WeNeedDiverseBooks (

Controversy says it loud and clear: An unfortunate and racist “watermelon joke” made by Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler about Jacqueline Woodson marred what was supposed to be a joyous occasion at the 2014 National Book Awards ceremony honoring her award-winning book, BROWN GIRL DREAMING. Handler quickly owned up to his mistake and donated money to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Woodson wrote a powerful essay on the incident in the New York Times:

But on a personal level, I wanted to share with you the long-term and nuanced effects that the lack of diversity in children’s literature can have on our children. 

When I was a child, I was your classic bookworm. I DEVOURED books. I read all the time. I read so much that I developed near-sightedness and had to get glasses by the third grade. My favorite books included such classics as E.B. White’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB and Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN (to this day, two of my all-time favorite books). And as a child of the ‘70s, I was also obsessed with the books AND TV series of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE books. To this day, I still treasure all the books I read as a child.

However… I did not read many books that featured a diverse child character. Every main child character was white. As for an Asian American main character? Nope. Never saw one when I was a child.

How did this affect me as a child? I have some visual proof.

Below are some photographs I took on my iPhone of drawings I drew when I was I in kindergarten. The drawings start off depicting me as a princess with my Korean black hair. There’s even a drawing of me playing my violin for my friends. There are also pictures of my parents with black hair. This was how I identified myself. As a child who was American but with a Korean heritage.

But once I started to read voraciously, here is what happened to the drawings I drew as a child.

I no longer wanted black hair. I no longer wanted to be Korean American.

I wanted to be white.

I started drawing pictures of myself as a blonde-haired princess. That was how I wanted to see myself. I wanted to look like the characters I was reading about. Because no one in these worlds looked like me. Which meant I didn’t belong. And I wanted to belong.

The change in how I viewed myself is heartbreaking. I had no idea how to identify with my racial and ethnic heritage because the only role models I saw were non-diverse characters. THIS is the real effect behind the lack of diversity in children’s literature.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think this last drawing says it loud and clear. WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS.


1 print copy of the book (Thanks to the publisher!)
US Only

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

ALL DIFFERENT NOW by Angela Johnson


Experience the joy of Juneteenth in this celebration of freedom from the award-winning team of Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis.

Through the eyes of one little girl, All Different Now tells the story of the first Juneteenth, the day freedom finally came to the last of the slaves in the South. Since then, the observance of June 19 as African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. This stunning picture book includes notes from the author and illustrator, a timeline of important dates, and a glossary of relevant terms.

Told in Angela Johnson's signature melodic style and brought to life by E.B. Lewis's striking paintings, All Different Now is a joyous portrait of the dawn breaking on the darkest time in our nation's history.


There is something extra special about a book like this that is based on family experiences.  As the author explains in an author's note at the end that this story was inspired by a photograph that of her great-grandparents that she saw as a child.  When the Civil War is studied, most often the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation is considered the moment when slaves were freed.  But many slaves didn't ever hear about that, they were too far away.  This is the story of a group of slaves that doesn't hear about their freedom until the 13th amendment had been passed through the efforts of an union general.  One can only imagine the way they must have felt and that is exactly what Johnson does here.  And I think she does a great job as does Lewis.  I found Lewis's note about creating the illustrations fascinating.  To go to so much work in creating time period appropriate photographs before he does the pictures.  The celebration is neat to read about, but still all the uncertainty created is shown in the last picture with the people leaving in wagons going who knows where to do who knows what.  A book full of celebrations and hope in the power of freedom, a legacy that hopefully we today can continue.

Monday, December 8, 2014

NONFICTION MONDAY: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh


Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.


I appreciated the fact that this book addresses an historical event that is not very well known.  We need more books that look at the experiences of a variety of different backgrounds.  This book is very well put together.  The design is fresh and appealing.  The text is informative with being didactic.  I found the inclusion of actual testimony fascinating.  The other thing I really liked was that the story shows that simply winning the case doesn't 'fix' everything.  Even after being allowed into the white school, Sylvia faced harsh treatment from the other students.  Winning in court does not mean attitudes have changed.  Sometimes it takes time for attitudes to change as sad as that is, people's beliefs don't adjust overnight.  Thanks to the urging of her mother, Sylvia found the courage to go back and by doing so she helped change the world.  The notes and back along with the glossary, index, and bibliography provide a great deal of extra information for those who want to know more.  An important story well-told and beautifully illustrated making for a winner of a book all around.

Friday, December 5, 2014

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis



Wherever you need to go--the Map to Everywhere can take you there.

To Master Thief Fin, an orphan from the murky pirate world of the Khaznot Quay, the Map is the key to finding his mother. To suburban schoolgirl Marrill, it's her only way home after getting stranded on the Pirate Stream, the magical waterway that connects every world in creation. With the help of a bumbling wizard and his crew, they must scour the many worlds of the Pirate Stream to gather the pieces of the Map to Everywhere--but they aren't the only ones looking. A sinister figure is hot on their tail, and if they can't beat his ghostly ship to find the Map, it could mean the destruction of everything they hold dear!

In Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis's first installment of a fantastical new series, adventure, magic, and hilarity collide in the treacherous skies and dangerous waters of the Pirate Stream. Heart-pounding escapades and a colorful cast of characters will have readers setting sail through this wholly original and unforgettable tale.


It took me a while to finish this one, not because I didn't like it, but because other things got in the way.  This is a fun fantasy adventure that I think many fantasy lovers would like.  Marrill and Fin are both great characters and Fin's forgettability is unique in children's literature.  It helps create empathy for the character when you realize that until he meets Marrill, nobody has ever remembered him once he is out of sight.  It makes him admirable that he has found a way to survive despite what most would consider a serious issue.  It is not surprising then that he is willing to do almost anything to try to find his mother who he hopes desperately will remember him.  Marrill on the other hand ends up on the Pirate Stream by accident and desperately want to get home.  They join up with a wizard and a sailor to locate the map to everywhere, hoping that it can help all of them get what they want.  An interesting story with an unusual villain.  The Oracle wants more than anything to make his 'prophecy' come true, even if it means destroying the whole Pirate Stream and all the worlds attached to it.  This makes for an complication that neither Fin nor Marrill need, but they end up having to face decisions even bigger than the ones they started with. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

THE FORBIDDEN CITY: a look in two picture books


Rabbit is eating breakfast with his friends Baby Squirrel, Young Porcupine, and Little Brother Panda when an unexpected visitor arrives. He is a master builder, searching for inspiration to design a great palace for the Emperor of China. Together, Uncle Builder and the little animals explore how nature supplies us with the wonders that enrich our lives.

Created by internationally renowned children's book artists Brian Tse and Alice Mak, this book teaches children about Chinese architecture, how nature's influence can be seen around us, and how people and animals can live together in harmony. The illustrations capture both the majesty of the natural world and the Forbidden City and are enhanced by interactive components for readers, including a gatefold spread and lift-flaps.


A very pleasing and informative book, This is the Greatest Place looks at the building of the Forbidden City and how the natural world inspired the builder.  The story is told through the eyes of a bunny rabbit and his friends who meet the builder in the forest.  There are flaps and an extended illustration that help highlight this most remarkable of cities.  Under the flaps are actual photographs from the city that show the things the book talks about.  The illustrations are cute and the pictures of the buildings are fascinating.  At the end of the book is more information about the building and some of its many features, including a map.  A great introduction to one of the world's greatest cultural treasures.


Serving as the seat of imperial power for six centuries, the Forbidden City is one of China's most famous and enigmatic landmarks. Accompanied by a mischievous cat, readers will tour this colossal architectural structure, discovering the secrets hidden inside the palace walls. They will encounter the people who have walked through its halls and gardens, including emperors, empresses, and rebel leaders, and hear exciting tales about the power struggles and intrigues of everyday life.

This large format book conveys the grandeur of the Forbidden City through highly detailed line drawings of its buildings, gardens, and courtyards with numerous fold-out spreads. Each page is populated by a large variety of characters and peppered with entertaining anecdotes. Every book includes a plastic magnifying glass for looking at the drawings more closely.


The amount of detail in this book is absolutely mind-boggling.  I can only imagine how long it must have taken to create the pictures.  The inclusion of a small magnifying glass was much appreciated as it helped me look at some of the tiny details.  This is the sort of book that you could spend hours looking at and still not have found all the information.  The text is rather heavy so the book works better for older students, plus the extended pages are awkward for little hands.  The information I found fascinating since my knowledge of the Forbidden City and the Ming and Qing dynasties is rather limited.  While the book focuses on the city itself, the reader also catches a glimpse into the lives of the Emperors who lived there and how their lives impacted the whole country.  The book definitely made me want to go visit the city (now a museum) to see all the amazing sights for myself. A great resource for teachers and parents and a fantastic glimpse at an unusual place full of history and art.

BLOG TOUR: The Night Before Hanukkah by Natasha Wing


The newest title in the bestselling Night Before series is the perfect gift for every girl and boy who celebrates Hanukkah!

It's the night before the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah begins, and everyone is excited! Each evening, the family gathers to light the candles and share holiday traditions such as playing dreidel, eating latkes, and exchanging gifts. The seventeenth title in Natasha Wing's bestselling series, The Night Before Hanukkah captures all the joy and love in one of the most wonderful times of the year!

Natasha Wing

Natasha Wing has published 22 children's books, with more in the works.  She is best known for her paperback series based on the popular story, The Night Before Christmas.  The stories are about families celebrating holidays and other big events in kids' lives such as the first day of school and losing a tooth.  Her titles include The Night Before Easter, the original book in the series which was published in 1999, and The Night Before Kindergarten, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies and has regularly been on bestseller lists since its publication in 2001.  This title is also a sticker book, part of a kindergarten gift set, and an ebook.  Her newest Night Before book is The Night before Hanukkah was released October 2.

Wing's multicultural book, Jalapeno Bagels, is a favorite among elementary school teachers and students.  the story is based on a real bakery in Arcata, California and includes recipes from the bakery.  It is a multicultural book with a mixed family that is Jewish and Mexican.  It is dedicated to Los Bagels and Lender's Bagels. (Natasha grew up behind Marvin Lender whose father founded Lender's Bagels.)

An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers is about a neighbor of hers when she was growing up in Connecticut. The artist of the "Homage to the Square" paintings studied color for 25 years and changed how teachers taught color.

Several of her poems appear in anthologies, and she has also written articles for children's magazines such as Highlights and Babybug.

Natasha now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, Dan, and cat, Purrsia.  She collects squished pennies and old toasters, and loves dark chocolate and champagne.


The Night Before Hanukkah is a cute addition to a series that introduces children to holidays.  The book was informative and interesting and the little girl and her brother are adorable.  The size of the book makes it most appropriate for sharing one on one.  The only problem I had with the book was the awkwardness of some words in the poem.  One thing I've learned as I've shared poetry with children out loud is that rhythm is almost more important than rhyming.  And certain words even when they fit inside the poem and are not intended to rhyme can lead to the poem being much less smooth sounding and unfortunately that happens here.  It's not a huge problem, just that it takes more work to read out loud in a smooth, flowing way.  But children are bound to enjoy learning about the holiday in such a kid friendly way. A nice addition to a nice series that highlights different holidays.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014



Caldecott Honoree and NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author/artist Jon J Muth takes a fresh and exciting new look at the four seasons!

Eating warm cookies
on a cold day
is easy

water catches
every thrown stone
skip skip splash

With a featherlight touch and disarming charm, Jon J Muth--and his delightful little panda bear, Koo--challenge readers to stretch their minds and imaginations with twenty-six haikus about the four seasons.


A beautifully written and illustrated book that highlights some fun and unique aspects of each season.  Some of the poems addressed things that I expected such as the weather or seasonal actions such as falling leaves. But some of the poems looked at things I didn't expect such as throwing snowballs at a stop sign, a cat disappearing in the snow.  The adorable panda is the perfect vehicle to take the reader through each of the four seasons and the adventures contained therein.  The book also shows the value of friendship and the fun that friends can have.  A true winner of a book that may well inspire young readers to write their own haiku about friends and nature.


Celebrated poet and anthologist Paul B. Janeczko pairs with Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet for a collection of short poems to sample and savor. 

It only takes a few words, if they’re the right words, to create a strong image. Whether listened to in the comfort of a cozy lap or read independently, the thirty-six very short poems in this collection remind readers young and old that a few perfect words and pictures can make the world glow. Selected by acclaimed poet Paul B. Janeczko and gorgeously illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems invites children to sample poems throughout the four seasons.


Offering a more abstract look at the seasons, Firefly July, gives a brief glimpse into the variety of ways of seeing the world through one's imagination.  Janeczko has selected an interesting combination of short poems that look at the seasons through a wide lens. I think these poems would work better with older students as some of the comparisons and abstract images will confuse younger readers who think in more concrete terms.  But this book has great potential to help readers look at the world in new and imaginative ways. Sweet's illustrations help in the interpretation of some of the poems but leave some of the interpretation to the reader's imagination.  A truly wonderful collection of words and images that are meant to be relished and pondered and shared.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

THE PRINCIPLE GANG by Dan Dugi Jr. & Bli Marston Dugi


Everyone knows that lizards eat flies, but Bli the Fly and Danny the Wizard Lizard are willing to put their differences aside to become the best of friends.

Danny the Wizard Lizard goes on a fly-free diet as he sets out to prove that he is not like all the other lizards. During their quest for friendship, Danny the Wizard Lizard and Bli the Fly encounter the Lousy Lizard Gang, a no-good group of bullies. Danny the Wizard Lizard gives the first glimpse into why he is a Wizard Lizard by exhibiting special powers to stop the bullying that goes on at the movie theater. Witnessing his heroic act, Bli the Fly’s mother, Mrs. Fly, realizes that she misjudged this lizard, and Bli the Fly gets her first lesson in giving second chances.

Don’t Judge a Lizard by His Scales, Book One in The Principle Gang series by Dr. Dan and Bli Dugi, delivers lessons in anti-bullying, prejudice, and the value of friendships. The Principle Gang series introduces the foundational principles that guide families, relationships, and communities.


Dr. Dan and Bli Dugi have a combined 50 years experience as a physician and physician assitant team.  With The Principle Gang series, they have created a way to connect with young children outside of the exam room.  They live in Cuero, Texas, with their daughter, Emmy.  Online at and @theprinciplegang.


I have mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand the illustrations are really cute and child friendly, on the other hand the writing focuses too much on the lesson being taught and not enough on the story.  The concept behind the book is a good one, children need reminders of the importance of choosing good friends and standing up for themselves.  The problem I had was with the way the story was told.  The characters didn't speak like real children and there was too much dialogue and not enough description.  The story is pretty much all dialogue which I found a bit confusing. Thankfully the illustrations added a great deal that the story left out, but it makes for a reading experience that isn't as smooth as I would like.   The tips at the back for parents and children were good and I think that most children won't necessarily notice the things that I did.  But when I choose books to read out loud, the text is very important.  I would have a hard time reading this text comfortably out loud. I did notice that the cover doesn't represent the story very well, Danny looks like he is standing on a stage, when he and Bli go to a movie theater and there is no contest for which he could win an award. Overall, the book makes a worthy effort to teach an important lesson, but I would have preferred a stronger sense of story and writing.


The adventures of Bli the Fly and Danny the Wizard Lizard continue as the best friends take a trip to New York City for an anti-bullying conference.

Wizard Lizard Rides the Subway, Book Two in The Principle Gang Series, finds Danny the Wizard Lizard and Bli the Fly receiving positive attention for their mission to rid the world of bullying. In recognition of their great work, Mrs. Gecko, their school counselor, registers The Principle Gang for an anti-bullying conference in New York City.

Enlisting the driving talents of Mrs. Fly, Danny the Wizard Lizard and Bli the Fly make the long drive to the Big Apple for the conference. Before the conference, Danny the Wizard Lizard shows his friends around the city, where they experience speeding taxis, street food, and the subway. At the conference, The Principle Gang shares their three rules to prevent bullying: don’t be mean; tell your teacher; and, be a friend. Mrs. Fly, Bli the Fly, and Danny the Wizard Lizard leave the Big Apple having signed up 132 new members of the Principle Gang—a resounding success for their anti-bullying mission!


Just like in the first book, I found the illustrations cute but the story lacking.  Too much dialogue and not enough description leaves the reader floundering a bit in terms of what is going on in the story.  If the illustrations weren't there to clarify things the reader would be rather lost.  While Danny and Bli make a cute pair of friends, they don't sound like real children, at least not any that I know.  The anti-bullying message is certainly a good one and the steps the authors encourage are good ones: Don't be mean, tell your teacher, be a friend. But the book focuses too much on the message and not enough on the story.  There is really no conflict and little happens other than the trip to the city.  There is certainly potential for this series but the stories need to be stronger.  Although I'm sure that there are children out there who would enjoy these books.
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