Wednesday, July 31, 2019

MY LITTLE FARM: Interactive Felt Playset


ABOUT THE ITEM

  • My Little Farm has 8 colorful panels and is fully reversible - a red barn exterior can be reversed to reveal a barn interior and colorful outdoor farm settings
  • Comes with 32 matching felt pieces that can stick to the barn, specifically designed to teach concepts such as quantity, colors, shapes, and sizes - included pamphlet explains key early language concepts, and suggests strengthening activities
  • Collapses flat, like a four panel felt board book, and easily transforms into a reversible 3D barn and farm. Measures Flat: 52" x 15", Assembled: 13" x 13" x 15"
  • My Little Farm takes kids on a creative adventure and promotes developmental language skills and abstract thinking concepts, while having fun along the way
  • Designed by the speech therapist behind the award winning My Little House, endorsed by the Center for Autism Related Disorders and Autism Live
REVIEW

The My Little Farm playset is intended to help young children develop their expressive language skills as well as their ability to imagine and create their own stories.  The kit comes with the items mentioned above, including the paneled barn with 8 reversible sides, 32 felt pieces, and a pamphlet with a description of the purposes of the kit as well as a story for parents or teachers to use with their children/students to encourage interaction.  I'm a big fan of activities that encourage children to tell stories.  These type of activities help children develop their imaginations and also learn to express what they are imagining.  I believe this kit could be used in a multitude of ways.  Children could use it as a storytelling kit, playing with the pieces and making things happen.  Parents could use it to help children learn about shapes, animals, numbers, and farms as well as encouraging them to learn to tell stories, so basically as a learning activity.  And teachers could also use it with students who need visual tools to help them develop their skills.  The kit is of high quality, with the barn big enough to use with a table full of children.  There are enough pieces to involve multiple children as well.  A great product that is well worth the investment.



Tuesday, July 30, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Is 2 a Lot?/Angry Cookie/Noah Builds an Ark


ABOUT THE BOOK

While Joey’s mom explains the context of numbers in vivid ways, Joey’s imagination transforms their ordinary car ride into a magical odyssey through a land of make-believe. 

Is 2 a Lot? is a wonderfully charming and authentic exchange between mother and child. Annie Watson’s story makes numbers tangible, and Rebecca Evans’s illustrations bring them to life.

REVIEW

Is 2 a Lot? takes the reader on a journey through the relative value of numbers as imagined by a mother and her little boy.  I quite enjoyed reading this as the comparisons the mother makes are amusing.  For example, when Joey asks if 2 is a lot, his mother tells him that 2 isn't a lot of pennies, but it is a lot of smelly skunks.  At this point, the mother turns the car down a path with a sign that says, "Fasten safety belt before time travel".  Joey continues by asking about 3, 4, 5, 10, 50, 100, and 1000.  As the mother shares various amusing comparisons with her son, the various items and animals start to interact and build up in the illustrations creating an amusing conglomeration of chaos amidst the orderly nature of numbers.  Numbers have never been so fun!  A great book for sheer enjoyment, but even better for teaching children about a rather abstract concept. 


ABOUT THE BOOK

Famed spoken-word poet Laura Dockrill's hilarious read-aloud about an outraged baked good!

Oooohhh . . . not you again!
AGGGHH It's so bright! . . . Close this book this very second, you nosy noodle!

Cookie has woken up on the wrong side of the bed and is very angry. You want to know why? Well, you'd have to keep reading to find out, but now Cookie's calling you annoying and telling you to mind your own business. If by chance you do stick around, you might hear about a certain roommate's terrible musical skills, why you should never let your barber try out a "new look," how it's impossible to find a hat that fits a cookie, and why an ice-cream parlor that's out of your favorite treat can be a source of desolation. Then there's the matter of a hungry bird who tries to snack on you. . . . Propelled by quirky humor and woes that every young child can relate to, Angry Cookie suggests that sometimes the best way to cheer up a grumpy lump is simply by being there -- and lending your ears.

REVIEW

Angry Cookie tells the story of a cookie that wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, annoyed with the reader for intruding on his privacy.  It turns out that he has an underlying reason for his anger that led him to take out those feelings on the reader.  As the reader listens to Cookie's frustrations (an annoying song, a bad haircut, a dangerous bird), Cookie starts to feel better.  The story shares the idea that simply being listened to by a friend can help one work through bad feelings.  I liked the theme.  Feelings are a topic that young children are still learning about and learning to deal with and manage so a fun book like this one that shares the importance of managing one's emotions is great.  The illustrations are cute too for the most part.  But there was one thing that I didn't like and it lowered my rating of the book.  In two illustrations, the cookie's 'bum crack' is showing.  I do not enjoy seeing this when I read a book, especially since it is so totally unnecessary to the story.  Of course this won't bother every reader and if it doesn't bother you than this is a fun story to read and share.  As it is, it's not one I would feel comfortable sharing with a class because I can guarantee that some student will point out this detail and I'll lose the class to giggles and wisecracks.


ABOUT THE BOOK

A storm is coming -- a big one. How does a young urban boy prepare? A lovely allegorical story about ecology and caring inspired by the ancient tale of stewardship.

While his family readies his townhouse for an approaching storm, boarding up windows and laying in groceries, Noah heads to the back garden, where beetles are burrowing deeper into the bark and mice are stuffing their hole with moss. Quickly and efficiently, Noah sets to work building an ark for them and other backyard creatures -- salamanders and toads, snakes and spiders, even brightly colored hummingbirds. Setting out fistfuls of nuts and leaves, berries and seeds, the boy props a flashlight inside and arranges some miniature furniture for the animals to sit or sleep on. "Come," Noah whispers to his friends just as his mother calls him inside and the dark storm roars in. From an award-winning author and a Caldecott Honoree comes a quietly inspiring story about how taking action on behalf of our fellow earth travelers can help us face fearsome events.

REVIEW

Noah Builds an Ark does as one would expect follow the biblical story.  In this version, a young boy decides to build a shelter for the animals that live in his backyard to protect them from a coming storm.  Now, in real life, these animals aren't likely to seek shelter together, and the illustrations show problems with the durability of the shelter, which is understandable since it's built by a young boy.  But the boy's efforts to take stewardship for the animals he cares about makes for a tender story.  My favorite part of the book though are Rocco's luminous illustrations.  They are absolutely stunning.  The animals with the tiny furniture huddled against the rain compare interestingly with the illustrations of the boy sheltering with his family in their home.  The theme of human environmental stewardship shines through loud and clear.  The religious parts of the original biblical story are not to be found here, the story revolves around the boy's efforts to save the animals.  An enjoyable tale of environmental care.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

BLOG TOUR: The Missing Money by Okeoma Moronu Schreiner


ABOUT THE BOOK

The Missing Money is the first picture book in a new series aimed at inspiring young children to learn basic financial terms in a fun and age-appropriate way. The book follows Kai, a young boy on his way to the bank to deposit his newly earned money. While at the bank, a big scary ATM machine eats all of his money! Kai struggles to understand where his money went and creates an elaborate plan to get it back.

Just before attempting to break his money out, his parents sit him down to explain this confusing turn of events and help put his mind at ease. He discovers the basics of modern saving, such as how money goes from dollar bills to numbers on a banking app. Finances can be a difficult task to navigate, even as an adult, so these books are meant to aid young children through the puzzling world of money.

The series, all first three of which are set to publish within the year, emphasizes the idea that you are never too young to tackle your money fears head on!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Okeoma Moronu Schreiner is an attorney, wife, mother, and host of the nationally recognized, Happy Lawyer Project podcast. Now as an author, her goal is to guide parents in helping their children navigate the seemingly stressful wide world of money. The inspiration for her new children’s series, Money Monsters, stems from her own experience as a struggling young lawyer who had seen first-hand the difficult situations created by financial problems. Schreiner is an advocate for early education of finances and wants parents to instill comfort and confidence in their children regarding money issues.

LINKS

Author's Instagram: @finkidlit
Amazon: Link


REVIEW

Concepts surrounding money can be difficult for children to understand.  Just learning the different types of money and ways to spend it can be confusing for children.  The Missing Money is intended to help young children begin to develop their financial literacy skills.  But it's also a cute story in it's own right, which for me is vitally important.  There are too many books out there whose whole purpose is to teach a lesson, which is fine, although often the stories and/or illustrations are lacking because the focus is on the lesson and not the quality of the story.  I was very pleased to find that this book doesn't fall in that category.  While it does teach about banks and ATMS, the story is one that kids can relate to which young Kai confusing an ATM for a monster that steals his Chinese New Year money.  As a worrier, he can't help worrying about what happened to his money, and wanting to get it back.  He even makes plans to go after the monster and get his money back.  Fortunately for him, he decides to consult his parents first and they help calm his worries.  Worrying is a problem for all to many people, not just children either, and makes for a solid base for the story.  The illustrations are adorable as well as bright and appealing.  And having the ATM appear as a monster who eats money is a rather amusing concept (for a slightly older audience 4-6 years-old).  I recommend this book for parents who are looking for ways to start teaching their children about money and related concepts.

INTERIOR SPREAD



Monday, July 22, 2019

MMGM: Piper Cooks Up A Plan by Erin Soderberg


ABOUT THE BOOK

When you follow your dreams, the possibilities are endless!

Nobody knows how to follow her dreams better than a Disney Princess. And that's what the Daring Dreamers Club knows through and through. Diverse, talented, and smart, these five girls became friends because they all had one thing in common: big dreams. Touching on everyday dramas and the ups and downs of friendship, this series will enchant all readers who are princesses at heart.

The second book in the Daring Dreamers Club series will focus on Piper, who is an aspiring food scientist and inventor. She hopes to open her own business someday, just like Tiana!

REVIEW

Comparing the lives of real girls with those of Disney princesses seems like a funny idea on the face of it, but after reading this book, I'd say it works surprisingly well.  The stories revolve around a group of five diverse girls who've formed a group they've entitled the Daring Dreamers Club.  With the help of a teacher advisor the girls help each other with their struggles both school and personal.  Each book focuses on one of the girls and their chosen Disney princess.  This second volume focuses on Piper.  Piper loves to cook, experimenting and creating her own recipes.  But her struggles with her learning disability makes it difficult to spend as much time doing it as she would like.  After sending in an application to appear on the television show The Future of Food, Piper is thrilled to be informed of her chance to appear on the show.  But some poor school assignment scores threaten to derail her dream as do her father's efforts to find a full time job.  My favorite part is Piper's time on the show.  It was fun to read about the kid's efforts to make food based on a zombie theme.  The underlying themes revolve around persistence and overcoming obstacles in pursuit of one's dreams which come across loud and clear without being didactic.  The comparisons to the Disney princesses that the girls' make in their journal entries are a fun touch and are likely to inspire young readers to compare their own lives to their favorite princess.  A fun series that's bound to be popular with middle grade princess lovers.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters/Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants by Andrea Beaty


ABOUT THE BOOK

Rosie Revere is no stranger to flops and fails, kerfuffles and catastrophes. After all, engineering is all about perseverance! But this time, Rosie has a really important project to tackle—one that feels much bigger than herself.

Rosie’s beloved Aunt Rose and her friends, the Raucous Riveters—a group of fun-loving gals who built airplanes during World War II—need help inventing something new. And Rosie is just the engineer for the job!

After one flop . . . then another . . . and another . . . Rosie starts to lose hope. But thanks to some help from her fellow Questioneers Iggy Peck and Ada Twist, Rosie gets the job done. And, along with the Riveters, she rediscovers the meaning of home.

REVIEW

There were things about this book that I liked and things that I didn't.  I liked Rosie and her friends and their persistence in the face of failure.  Rosie kept experimenting even when her experiments didn't work.  Although it did take the addition of her friends to help her when she got discouraged. I'm not sure the final solution would work in real life but it makes for an amusing solution in the book.  I did enjoy the interactions between Rosie and the Riveters, a group of older ladies who worked on airplanes during World War II.  I thought it was fun to combine some history and engineering this way.  This book would be fun to use with STEM activities.  Roberts illustrations added a nice touch, especially the chapter beginnings.  I wasn't such a fan of the solution that was presented, it seemed rather outlandish, I would have preferred something rather more realistic.  The book had a touch more silliness to it than I would have liked for a STEM book.  However, this won't bother a lot of young readers.  In fact, they may actually enjoy the silliness and touch of absurdity.  In fact it may inspire them to do some engineering of their own.  In that regard the book is definitely a success. 


ABOUT THE BOOK

Ada Twist is full of questions. A scientist to her very core, Ada asks why again and again. One question always leads to another until she’s off on a journey of discovery! When Rosie Revere’s Uncle Ned gets a little carried away wearing his famous helium pants, it’s up to Ada and friends to chase him down. As Uncle Ned floats farther and farther away, Ada starts asking lots of questions: How high can a balloon float? Is it possible for Uncle Ned to float into outer space? And what’s the best plan for getting him down?

REVIEW

I enjoyed this book more than the first book in the series, Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters, probably because I'm more into science than engineering.  But I still struggled with the absurd elements of the story.  I mean the problem that Ada is trying to solve involves Rosie's Uncle Ned whose pants are filled with helium, leading him to float off when his 'leash' is accidentally released.  Ada uses her science knowledge and skills to try to get Uncle Ned back to the ground, or at least close enough to the fire truck that he can be grabbed.  I enjoyed the actual science aspects of the story, the principles and ideas that Ada and her friends come up with as well as the experiments that Ada is working on at the beginning of the story.  I just rolled my eyes a bit at the idea of pants full of helium lifting anyone off the ground.  But young readers aren't likely to be as bothered by that as I am, this is a series that is specifically aimed at a young audience, combing STEM principles with some silliness to make for an enjoyable read.  I think the book could be used as an introduction to some STEM activities, but it isn't a real practical or realistic read other than the actual science included.

Monday, July 8, 2019

MMGM: Refugee/All the Greys on Greene Street


ABOUT THE BOOK

Three different kids.

One mission in common: ESCAPE.

Josef is a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world…

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America…

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe…

All three young people will go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers–from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But for each of them, there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, surprising connections will tie their stories together in the end.

REVIEW

I knew going in that Refugee was likely to be a tearjerker just because of the themes involved.  But that didn't make some parts any easier to read.  Reading about the three children around whom this book revolves broke my heart.  And what made it worse was knowing that while this book is fiction, the stories are based on the experiences of real people, real refugees who had lost everything, often through no fault of their own.  Each of the three stories focuses on a different historical period.  Josef and his family are fleeing the Nazis in 1939.  Isabel is fleeing Castro's Cuba in 1994 with her family and neighbors.  And Mahmoud flees the Syrian War that continues to this day.  While each story focuses on some of the unique aspects of each situation, there are common elements and themes that cross the story boundaries, and the three children are connected to each other in surprising ways.  Josef faces severe prejudice and a father suffering severe PTSD as his family seeks refuge in Cuba, only to discover that Cuba doesn't want them.  Isabel and her family and neighbors set off in a boat that is barely seaworthy forced to face storms, other ships, and sharks, not to mention tensions within the group.  Mahmoud and his family flee after their apartment is destroyed by a bomb, seeking refuge in Europe, only to discover that people are more than willing to take advantage of their desperation.  Each character faces physical and emotional challenges including a devastating loss.  While I didn't find this the easiest book to read emotionally, I found it a powerful book in terms of understanding something I've never experienced.  Like most Alan Gratz books, I read this quickly because of the compelling nature of each of the stories, and I cried with each character as they faced unimaginable losses and heartbreaking decisions.  A great book for middle grade readers who are emotionally mature and ready for the emotional punch the book offers.


ABOUT THE BOOK

SoHo, 1981. Twelve-year-old Olympia is an artist—and in her neighborhood, that's normal. Her dad and his business partner Apollo bring antique paintings back to life, while her mother makes intricate sculptures in a corner of their loft, leaving Ollie to roam the streets of New York with her best friends Richard and Alex, drawing everything that catches her eye.

Then everything falls apart. Ollie's dad disappears in the middle of the night, leaving her only a cryptic note and instructions to destroy it. Her mom has gone to bed, and she's not getting up. Apollo is hiding something, Alex is acting strange, and Richard has questions about the mysterious stranger he saw outside. And someone keeps calling, looking for a missing piece of art. . . .

Olympia knows her dad is the key--but first, she has to find him, and time is running out.

REVIEW

There are more books being written for a middle grade audience revolving around mental illness.  This is one.  This one interestingly takes place in 1981 in SoHo, New York City.  I found the setting especially interesting since I knew little about SoHo in the 1980s.  That Olympia and her family lived in a large, open room in an old factory was fascinating to me.  The details about art and the creation of it were new to me as well.  The details about how different paint colors are made was especially fascinating to me.  However, the story is not a particularly happy one, which I didn't enjoy so much. 

Olympia finds herself in a pickle.  Her father has run off with his girlfriend to return a piece of art that doesn't belong to him (he stole it), leaving her and her depressed mother in the lurch.  With her mother unable to get out of bed, Olympia is left to take care of herself.  And she doesn't want to tell anyone because it feels like betraying her family.  But finally she tells one of her friends.  Eventually, her friend, Alex tells her father's business partner, Apollo, about her mother.  Olympia feels betrayed, even though she knows that her mother needs help.  Spending some time with Alex and his family on vacation helps her deal with some of her feelings.  But an additional tragedy leaves her reeling once again, wondering what's going to happen to her. 

The story is very well written and plotted, the characters are appealing and interesting in their differences.  Young readers who enjoy thoughtful, issue stories will likely enjoy this one.  It does have a hopeful ending despite the ongoing challenges in Olympia's life.  I picked up the book because it was billed as a bit of a mystery, but it isn't really.  The mystery of Olympia's father's disappearance is fairly easy to figure out fairly early in the story (at least for me).  The main story line focuses on Olympia and her mother's condition.  A thoughtful, historical story revolving around the challenges that come with mental illness and the power of having an outlet for one's fears.
 
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