5.31.2016

What This Story Needs is a Munch and a Crunch by Emma J. Virján, RL 1



I don't usually have the time to review follow up books in a series, but Emma Virján's Pig In a Wig series of beginning to read books is such a find that I want to call it to your attention as often as possible. The illustrations are bright and colorful with fantastic picture clues and the gently rhyming stories are always entertaining and just silly enough to keep kids reading over  and over.


In What This Story Needs is a Munch and a Crunch, the Pig in a Wig plans a picnic for all her friends. As before, the phrase, "What this story needs," appears often in the text, which is never more than a sentence per page. In fact, the book has only five sentences total! Emerging readers will find this book engaging and feel success at the end, which comes quickly. The story arc follow the picnicking animals as they eat and play and then, as the skies grow dark, find a new place to picnic. These books are a staple in my school library and I can't wait to see what the Pig in a Wig does next!












Source: Review Copy

5.30.2016

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems




I didn't intend to review Mo Willem's The Thank You Book, the 25th and final book in the Elephant & Piggie series that began in 2007. I first encountered these books as a bookseller and story-time-reader while working at Barnes & Noble. I wasn't a big fan of Willems's Pigeon books, mostly because I found them challenging to read out loud. I quickly discovered that Elephant & Piggie books were a joy to read out loud and had mass appeal, from little kids to parents to even teens! Then my youngest son started learning to read and my appreciation of what Willems was doing deepened immensely. You can read all about that experience HERE. I want to take this time to tell you what a deeply satisfying end to a series The Thank You Book is and share my experiences with Elephant & Piggie as an elementary school librarian and, of course, say THANK YOU to Mo Willems!



Willems's The Thank You Book is both a wrap-up and a genuine thank you to readers. While spending time with Gerald and Piggie is always a treat, I remember how exciting it was to pick up a new Elephant & Piggie book over the last nine years and find a new character in the story. Snake from Can I Play, Too? is probably my favorite. All these characters are back in The Thank You Book and on the endpapers! And, in a really awesome wink, Pigeon appears in the pages (and not just the endpapers) of The Thank You Book! Piggie apologizes for not including him in their books, to which Pigeon (in his own font) responds, "That is what you think!" The Thank You Book reads like the best ending to a long running television series possible. Readers get to revisit old friends and familiar story lines while also seeing their favorite characters do what they do best one last time.



I am finishing up my second full year as an elementary school librarian. More than 80% of the students at my school are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 65% of them are reading at grade level and 55% of them are English language learners. When I took over my library it had languished through more than a year of substitute librarians cycling in and out of the space and several years of a diminished or non-existent book buying budget. There were just a few Elephant & Piggie books on the shelves and they were not circulating. Taking advantage of my employee discount at Barnes & Noble one last time, and taking advantage of the generosity of my amazing principal, I bought a copy of every book in the series and began reading them out loud to my students - all grades. Gerald and Piggie became instant celebrities in the library. Today, we have at least three copies of each book in the series on the shelves (in their own special section) and they are always almost all checked out. They are a staple for my first graders, but I especially love checking them out to the kindergarteners. Technically, I'm not supposed to check books out to the kinders, but it's hard to say "no" to those adorable little faces. And I absolutely love telling them to look for Pigeon at the end of the book -and in all of Willems's books! Sometimes I have to nudge the second and third graders away from Elephant & Piggie, or encourage them to get one book at their reading level and one E&P. And, happily, I occasionally get older students checking these books out to read to younger siblings. 

Willems's books have become a common thread for all of my students. As I read The Thank You Book over and over, about 25 times in all to all grades, I choked back more than a few tears. I explained to the students that this would be the last Elephant & Piggie book and their disappointment and shock was always audible. They didn't always understand why I was sad that this was the last book, but when I told them it was like saying, "Goodbye," to two good friends who were moving away, the lightbulbs went on - just like Piggie's often did. Having had two years now to inspire my students to read by hooking them with Willems's humor, I am looking forward to seeing our reading scores rise. And, while I am sad to think that there will be no more new books from Gerald and Piggie, I look forward to whatever it is Mo Willems does next, and I especially look forward to getting to share it with my students! THANK YOU, MO WILLEMS! Your books have made a difference in my life and the lives of my students.

Source: Purchased

5.27.2016

More-igami by Dori Kleber, illustrated by G. Brian Karas



More-igami is the debut picture book from Dori Kleber, illustrated by longtime favorite G. Brian Karas. More-igami is a fantastic picture book for so many reasons. The main character shows perseverance or, grit, to use the hot new word in the world of education, as he struggles to master a skill. More-igami is a marvel of diversity in a picture book, featuring African American, Asian and Hispanic characters. But, best of all, More-igami is just a really great story with marvelous illustrations that is a joy to read our loud.


Joey loves all things folded, from maps to accordions to tacos to, of course, foldaway beds. When Joey's classmate, Sarah, brings her mother to school to teach the class how to make origami cranes, Joey's mind is blown. Mrs. Takimoto tells Joey that she can teach him the folds, but if he wants to be an origami master, he'll "need patience and practice." No problem! Joey practices everywhere with everything, including folding the $38.00 he found in his mother's purse. Frustrated and out things to fold, Joey heads to the restaurant next door because "fajitas always made him feel better." There, he finds a place to practice folding and help out Mr. Lopez. Even better, he finds a new friend to share his talent with - as long as she has patience and is willing to practice!

Karas's illustrations are perfectly matched to Kleber's text, which wonderfully, simply shows the frustration and determination that Joey possesses. The hand drawn texture of Karas's illustrations add to the creative feel of More-igami, which will undoubtedly inspire readers to do some folding of their own, especially since there is a two page spread at the end of the book that shows you how to fold an origami ladybug!

Source: Review Copy

5.26.2016

BLOCKS by Irene Dickson



I absolutely adore BLOCKS by Irene Dickson! I often consult Kirkus Reviews to see what they think of a book and occasionally their reviewer will sum up a book so perfectly I have to quote, and that is the case with BLOCKS. Of Dickson's book, Kirkus succinctly writes, "A cleverly simple book builds skills as well as towers."





Ruby builds with red blocks on the verso, Benji builds with blue blocks on the recto. They parallel play until Benji borrows a red block and a tussle follows. And the structures they have built come crashing down. Ruby even loses a shoe. Both children look stricken and the tension is palpable. Dickson does so much with few words and bold illustrations in BLOCKS. Even if you can see it coming, it is exciting to see the conflict and the resolution in this wonderful picture book. And, while Dickson could have ended BLOCKS with Ruby and Benji happily building together, a final page turn reveals Guy with his green blocks.

As a parent, I find so many teachable moments in BLOCKS. As a librarian who just won a grant that has brought three different sets of blocks (Kapla, Magnatiles and TEDCO Blocks & Marbles) into the library, I especially am grateful to have this book to pull off the shelf when the battles begin...

Source: Review Copy


5.25.2016

Flora and the Peacocks by Molly Idle


Molly Idle is the brilliant creator (and choreographer) of the first two books about Flora, an expressive, if not always graceful, little girl who seems to find herself frolicking with birds of all shapes and sizes. Flora, in a swimsuit, swim cap and flippers, has danced with a flamingo. Flora has skated with a penguin. Now, in Flora and the Peacocks, Flora faces her greatest challenge - dancing with not one, but two peacocks.


For this dance, Flora has a fan and two elegant partners. As with the first two books, clever flaps change the plot of these wordless picture books with just a flip. Flora's fan and the tails of the peacocks flip and flap to change the tone as the three try to orchestrate a dance that leaves no one out. 





As you might expect, there are jealous moments, frustrating turns and even some stomping off stage. But, Flora and the peacocks find a way to dance together by the end of the book, which culminates in a magnificent gatefold that opens to a huge 18 by 33 inches. Besides being gorgeously illustrated, all three of Idle's Flora books are examples of masterful design and paper engineering that make these stories so readable and memorable. It's hard to capture all of the magic of the Flora books in words. Happily, Chronicle Books, the publisher of these excellent books, has made a book trailer!


Source: Review Copy

5.24.2016

A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, illustrated by Corey R. Tabor


A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman with illustrations by Corey R. Tabor has the feel of an instant classic. Hoffman's rhyming journey of imagination is paired perfectly with Tabor's layered, playful watercolor illustrations and pencil drawings that have a hint of magic to them. Best of all, A Dark, Dark Cave has one of my favorite things to do with kids at the center of the story!

As the "pale moon glows," a sister and brother go spelunking. Hoffman repeats the refrain, "a dark, dark cave," throughout the text, creating a gentle suspense that builds with each page turn while Tabor's illustrations blend the real with the imaginary in a satisfying way that keeps readers guessing - are these two REALLY in a dark, dark cave all by themselves?

A light appears in the darkness, revealing that, in fact, the sister and brother are in a blanket cave! As a kid and a parent, building blanket forts is definitely one of my all-time favorite things to do. We even build blanket forts on rainy days in my library. But, sadly, for this sister and brother, the bright light means Dad coming in and asking them to find a more quiet game because the baby is sleeping. This could easily have been the end to A Dark, Dark Cave. Happily, it is not. There is one more imaginary adventure in store for these siblings, and more marvelous illustrations (and a change in palette) from Tabor!

I hope you will seek out A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, who worked with preschoolers for over 35 years before writing this book, and Corey R. Tabor, making his picture book debut. I read hundreds of new picture books a year (and almost as many old ones) and it is truly rare to find a book of this kind!



 Look for Fox and the Jumping Contest 
illustrated AND written by Corey R. Tabor 
Coming October 2016!





Source: Review Copy

5.23.2016

Wishing Day by Lauren Myracle, 314 pp, RL 5




Having been a bookseller for so many years, I am very familiar with Lauren Myracle and her two very popular series, the Winnie Years and the Internet Girls, which, told entirely in texts, emails and IMs, was especially innovative and popular (and prescient) when first published in 2004. But, having a proclivity for fantasy, it took me until now to finally read one of Myracle's books. The blurb for Wishing Day grabbed my attention immediately. On the third night of the third month after her thirteenth birthday, every girl in the town of Willow Hill makes three wishes: the first is an impossible wish, the second is a wish she can make come true herself and the third is a wish made from her deepest, secret heart.

Natasha Blok is the oldest of three sisters born in under three years. In fact, her sister Darya is in seventh grade with her. Ava, their youngest sister is in sixth grade. As Wishing Day opens, Natasha is at the ancient willow tree, planted by her grandmother many times removed, the woman who started the wish tradition. Her aunts, Vera and Elena, are steps behind her, waiting anxiously for Natasha to make her wishes. Natasha's mother Klara disappeared eight years earlier, leaving her father sinking into sadness and silence and her aunts moving in to raise their nieces. Of course Natasha wants her mother back, but she also wants to be kissed and she secretly wants to be somebody's favorite.

Myracle's story rich with layered characters. Natasha is a typical big sister, stepping in and caring for her siblings after her mother vanishes. Yet, she also lets a distance grow between herself and Darya, who, with a head of red, shiny curly hair, a flair for fashion and a firm disbelief in magic of any kind, especially when it comes to the Wishing Tree, seems like Natasha's opposite. And, an even deeper secret than her three wishes is hidden under her mattress. Natasha is a writer, albeit a writer who has yet to finish a story. As Wishing Day unspools, Natasha learns more about her mother's complex life before she disappeared, finishes writing her first story and kisses a boy. She also has her deepest secret self revealed when her sisters discover her writing and enter it in a local contest, she is not kissed by the boy she thinks she wants to kiss her and Natasha might not even want to be kissed at all. Most surprisingly, discovers that she IS someone's favorite, but whose?

Myracle also weaves in a thread of magic - beyond the Wishing Tree itself - in the character of the Bird Lady, an eccentric, ancient legend in Willow Hill who has a sparrow nesting in her fluff of grey hair. The Bird Lady appears every so often to utter cryptic words to Natasha as begins finding meaningful notes around town. The ending of Wishing Day will leave you wondering and wanting more (especially more answers) and, quite happily, there is more to come because this is an intended trilogy! I suspect that the next two books will focus on serious, gorgeous, skeptical Darya and the ethereal, playful, free spirit Ava as Natasha's sisters turn thirteen and make their own wishes.

Source: Review Copy

5.20.2016

Before I Wake Up by Britta Teckentrup


Before I Wake Up . . . is the fifth book I have reviewed by Britta Teckentrup and her illustrations are as magically wonderful as ever. A simple rhyming text follows a girl through her nighttime, dreamworld adventures, a protective, comforting lion at her side.


Teckentrup begins, "Before I wake up, I float through my dreams . . . imagining worlds. Never ending it seems." The rhymes sometimes feel forced, but the illustrations are so unique and marvelous that it is easy to overlook. The girl and her lion travel by sky and by boat, over and under water, in and out of woods and jungles. Teckentrup establishes a dream landscape in a variety of ways. Sometimes the narrator is seen multiple times on a page, sometimes she seems to float across the page. As morning approaches, the palette lightens with it. Dark blues and blacks shift to oranges, reds and eventually yellows. The final page shows the narrator, tucked beneath a sunny yellow quilt with a toy lion snuggled at her side, ready for the new day.


While I am a big fan of Teckentrup's style, I think that my favorite thing about Before I Wake Up . . . is the book itself. Published by Prestel, an internationally renowned publisher of art, architecture, photography and design books, appealing to "all those with a passion for visual culture." Holding Before I Wake Up . . . in my hands, this is evident. This gorgeously designed book (it's trim size is square!) is printed on thick matte paper with a sturdy paper-over-board cover and stitched binding that makes reading it a multi-sense experience. Before I Wake Up . . . is a memorable book that children will cherish, but also one that makes a beautiful gift.


Source: Review Copy

5.19.2016

Where's the Elephant? by Barroux



I opened the cheerfully colored,  creatively illustrated Where's the Elephant? by French children's book illustrator Barroux expecting a fun look-and-find book and got so much more. Where's the Elephant? is indeed a look-and-find book, and it is not always easy to find the elephant and his companions, a parrot and a snake, but it is also a subtle lesson on deforestation and loss of habitat that affects so many of the world's animals.



Where's the Elephant? is a journey through time and space.  The book begins with an expanse of blue ocean with the tip of a lush island seen at the edge of the opposite page. A two page spread that shows a lollipop colored forest (can you find the elephant? Snake? Parrot?) But a page turn shows a clearcut starting. A few page turns later, and it's very easy to spot the elephant and his friends because their habitat has been taken over by houses and roads. Huddled in the few trees left, the wild animals eventually find themselves caged in a zoo.


But, bars can't hold them for long. Soon they are making their way to a new island, a new habitat. Hopefully one that will stay wild.




Barroux ends Where's the Elephant? with the story behind the book. During a visit to Brazil five years ago, he saw parts of the Amazon rain forest set on fire to clear the way for the production of soybeans. This inspired him to look for a way to talk about deforestation in a picture book. Inspiration came to him at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2014 and this amazing book is the brilliant end result. Little listeners will enjoy looking and finding while older readers will be inspired to ask questions and learn more about this serious subject.

Source: Review Copy



5.18.2016

A Brave Bear by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Emily Hughes



A Brave Bear pairs prolific author Sean Taylor with Emily Hughes, a new illustrator I've been wanting to review for a while now. Hughes's illustrations are a story in their own, but Taylor's narrative makes A Brave Bear a memorable story about a falling down and getting up again that parents will find sweet and young listeners/readers will relate to instantly. And, A Brave Bear also makes a fantastic Father's Day gift!



A Brave Bear begins before the title page with the words, "Everything was hot" and an illustrations of two bears in their den. The language of A Brave Bear continues on in this simple way, with the little bear narrating. Papa Bear says, "I think that a pair of hot bears is probably the hottest thing in the world." Little Bear suggests they cool off in the river and the pair begin the long trek downhill. There are grassy parts, bushy parts and jumping parts. Jumping over the rocks, Little Bear says, "I think a jumping bear is probably the jumpiest thing in the world." But Papa Bear cautions him to take small jumps. Of course Little Bear takes a tumble and gets hurt, but Papa Bear knows just what to say and do and the two make it to the river where Little Bear declares that a "pair of wet bears is probably the wettest thing in the world." As they walk home, the sun is glowing, the air is glowing and, "even tomorrow is glowing."


With A Brave Bear, Taylor has written a story that perfectly captures one of the many moments of childhood that are major to the little person experiencing it, but easily surmountable to the adult standing by. The subtle empathy, compassion and calm that Papa Bear shows is especially meaningful and is sure to resonate with readers. And rare in a picture book. Thank you, Sean Taylor and Emily Hughes for this gem! 

Source: Review Copy




More books by the spectacular Emily Hughes!











5.17.2016

Grandad's Island by Benji Davies



Benji Davies new picture book, Grandad's Island, is a wonderful story of friendship, adventure, imagination and saying goodbye. I especially love that Grandad's Island is a book that can be read and understood on more than one level. Davies's illustrations have a cinematic feels and are packed with colors and details that will bring you back again and again, as will the charming characters of Syd and Grandad.


A gate at the bottom of Syd's backyard leads right into Grandad's and the two are clearly as close as two peas in a pod. When Syd drops by for a visit and can't find Gradad anywhere, he finds him in the attic where, surprisingly, there is a big metal door that opens onto the deck of a huge ship!



The pair head out to sea and, after a pleasantly long journey, they reach an island. After disembarking, the two head into the jungle where they turn an old shack on stilts into the perfect vacation house.


Syd and Grandad explore the island, paint and swim and clearly have a wonderful time. Then Grandad tells Syd that he is thinking of staying on the island. "But won't you be lonely?" Syd asks.Grandad assures him that he doesn't think he will. Syd sails the ship home, and the trip seems much longer without Grandad. Back at home, Syd visits Grandad's house and hears a tapping at the attic window, where an envelope is sitting on the ledge. A toucan can be seen flying away. The final illustration shows the contents of the envelope - a painting of Grandad and a new friend, an orangutan.



This might seem like a simple story, but it is the details of Davies's illustrations that add depth to it. Grandad is an explorer, a traveller, and his house shows that. Books, plants, keepsakes and paintings (of and island that looks quite a bit like the one they travel to), done by Grandad show that he has had a rich life. It's also clear how much Grandad loves Syd, even if he is saying goodbye to him. Syd heads home with Grandad's hat on his head. Older readers might see Grandad's Island as a story of saying goodbye to a loved one and the special memories that are left behind. But, whatever story readers takeaway from Grandad's Island, it will be one that is full of joy, love and an appreciation for life.

Source: Review Copy


5.12.2016

Otters Love to Play by Johnathan London, illustrated by Meilo So





Otters Love to Play is the fantastic new non-fiction picture book from Johnathan London, author of the Froggy series of picture books, and Meilo So. It's hard not to love otters, in part because they are so playful, and London and So perfectly capture this - and many other fascinating facts about otters - in this highly readable book.



Otters Love to Play employs a format that I love in a non-fiction picture book because it allows me to read it to all audiences. A larger font at the top of the page delivers broad information about the subject while a smaller font at the bottom of the page provides detailed facts. Backmatter includes an index and further information about otters. Otters Love to Play begins with a lakeside scene, So's illustrations are the perfect mix of bleeding watercolors and tight pen and ink sketches that bring both the otters and the forest to life over the course of four seasons. On the very first page, I learned that otters often use the abandoned dens of beavers, muskrats and woodchucks!


Of course, Otters Love to Play focuses on the playful way that learn to survive in the wild, from developing agility and speed to strengthening family bonds. London engages reader with facts like the size of an otter at birth (about as big as a candy bar) and with onomatopoeic words that capture the energy of these creatures. Otters Love to Play is the perfect first non-fiction book to introduce little listeners to, as well as a book that emerging readers and solid readers will love to tackle on their own!

Source: Review Copy