Thursday, October 27, 2011

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Animals by Catherine D. Hughes

My little girl is going into her third month of Pre-K, and she's having soooo much fun. I think I was more excited than her when she brought home her first Scholastic Book order form. I let her pick out two books, and her first choice was National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Animals. Since it arrived a few weeks ago, we've read it cover to cover at least three times. She also used it as last week's book report in Tae Kwon Do.

Because it's a NatGeo book, there is naturally amazing photography of all types of animals, but what makes the book stand out is its child-friendly format and content. I've seen TONS of non-fiction for kids that is packed with big words and tons of details, but this one presents information in easily digestible chunks and the author chose facts that seem to be naturally interesting for young children. The book is organized into different habitats with spreads of the types of animals that live in those habitats. The book is oversized (10x10), so there is plenty of real estate for fun facts. Each spread contains a call-out box with quick facts such where the animal is from, what it eats, and how many babies it normally has at once. The pictures also have captions and call-outs with fun facts. There are also typically a couple of paragraphs that provide more detail.

I tend to prefer non-fiction that tells more of a story or narrative, but this is a great choice for a quick reference. I can see it being used across the curriculum for language arts, geography, and science. This would even be good in math and technology classes.

4-Year-Old's Review:
"I like this book because it has a red-eye tree frog. The red-eye tree frog has red eyes all of the time, but that doesn't mean he's sad. It lays its eggs on a leaf, and they look like fish when they hatch. And I like all of the pictures, especially the one of the giraffe drinking water. Next time I go to a pond, I'm going to try to drink like that if the water isn't green."
ISBN: 978-1426307041 | Publisher: National Geographic, 2010 | Source: Purchased copy

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann

Sometimes I'll see a picture book, and without even opening it, will know that I'll love it. That's what happened with Eric Rohmann's Bone Dog. The cover shows a boy in a skeleton costume with his arm around a skeleton dog. They are sitting on the grass, their backs toward the reader, the skeleton dog wagging his bony tail. Something about that tender moment between a boy and his dog tugged at my heart a bit, and of course, the idea of a boy and a bone dog was intriguing.

I'm a fan of Eric Rohmann. I think he's a fantastic storyteller and artist, so I had high expectations for the book. I was surprised when the story exceeded my expectations. I absolutely loved it.

The plot begins with Ella (a furry brown dog) and Gus (the young boy on the counter) playing. One night, under a full moon, Ella tells Gus that she's old and won't be around much longer but promises that she will always be with him (pretty sad, huh?) Then she seals the deal by saying, "A promise under a full moon cannot be broken." Then the story cuts to a time when Ella is no longer around, and Gus seems to be moving through the motions of life and forcing himself to do things like leaving the house and doing chores even though he doesn't really want to. On Halloween, he doesn't even want to go trick or treating, but he pulls on his skeleton costume and goes anyway. On his way home from trick or treating, Gus meets up with some spooky skeletons in a graveyard, and Ella's fulfills her promise and comes to Gus's rescue.

This book is bittersweet, a bit spooky, and funny all at the same time. And the illustrations are superb and full of emotion. But above all, in just a few pages, Eric Rohmann is able to capture the love between a boy and a dog and tell an exciting story.

It's not often that I experience such a range of emotion in a children's book. Highly recommended.

I nominated this book for the picture book category for the 2011 Cybils. Head on over and vote for your favorite children's and YA books published between October 16, 2010 and October 15, 2011.
Nominations close at midnight (Pacific time) on October 15, 2011.

Publisher: Roaring Book Press, July 2011 | ISBN: 978-1596431508 | Source: Advanced Reader's Edition from Publisher

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

School for Bandits by Hannah Shaw

My four-year-old often tells me, "It's really hard to be good all day." Ralph the Racoon has a different problem. He is so "disturbingly" well behaved and "shockingly polite" that his parents are extremely worried. They decide to send him to bandit school where he will hopefully learn to be a bad bandit like his Grandpa Cutlass and Uncle Whiskers. Poor Ralph does poorly in school from the very first day. When the teacher Mrs. Mischief presents the first lesson on unpleasant behavior, Ralph says "pardon me" on the instruction to burp, causing the other students to laugh at him. The rest of the term didn't get much better at all, and when it's time for school vacation, Mrs. Mischief hands out loot bags telling the students that the racoon who fills his or her bag with the most loot will win the Best Bandit in School competition. It looks hopeless for Ralph until his natural good behavior surprisingly earns him a lot of loot.

Hannah Shaw's School for Bandits is full of wit. My four-year-old just started Pre-K and is learning about school rules, so she thinks it's pretty hilarious when the teacher tells the class to burp. Shaw's quirky illustrations, rendered in pen and ink, printmaking techniques, and Photoshop, are full of detail and provide many opportunites for laughter.  The twist at the end is a clever way to show that good manners aren't so bad at all. This is a great choice for a funny, read aloud.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers | ISBN:  978-0375867682 | Source: Review copy from publisher

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Library Finds: Seashells!

I'm always finding surprises in drawers, boxes, and closets that my little four-year old explorer finds on our nature walks - pine cones, leaves, rocks, flowers, etc.

Her latest fascination is seashells, so we stopped by the library to find photo books of shells. Here are our two favorites.

The World's Most Beautiful Seashells  by Leonard C. Hill, photography by James H. Carmichael (ISBN: 978-1884942037)

This is our favorite. The book contains more than 300 stunning photographs of rare and beautiful seashells. The text is a high level, but we really got the book for the pictures.

Seashells: Jewels from the Ocean by Budd Titlow (ISBN: 978-0760325933)

This is also a great find. The book features tons of different types of shells, and most of the captions for each photo are just the right length for young readers.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Back to School Books

We had a super busy summer, and I stayed true to my promise of spending more time with the kids and family and less time on the computer. I also stayed true to my Book A Day pledge and read with my kids every day. My little daughter, who was just seven months old when I started this blog, is starting Pre-K next week, and she is so excited she can hardly stand it. I, on the other hand, am probably like most parents when their kids go to school for the first time - proud of the little girl she's become but also a little tearful because she seems to be growing up so quickly. She is SO eager to learn how to read. We've been practicing letters and sounds, and I keep telling her that it takes time and that she's still very young. A part of me is super excited to see her reading books, and another part is secretly hoping that she'll still want me to read to her when the time comes. It's become such a routine that I think she will. She's only 4 1/2, so there's time before she starts to read independently.

The little dude is 19-months-old now and has started developing a real interest in books. He's starting to name the objects he sees in books and brings me books to read to him. Our reading sessions last about 10 minutes before he gets restless, and it's definitely fun to see him show an interest and get excited when he sees something he can name.

Now that school's almost here, my daughter has asked me to find books for her about kids starting school. We have a few that she loves (Splat! The Cat is one of her favorites), but the books we've found so go something like this:

Kid is nervous about going to school. Kid goes to school and discovers that it's a wonderful place. Kid can't wait to go back the next day.

Until we read some of these, my daughter didn't even think about being nervous. Do any of you have recommendations for books in a school setting where the kid is happy and excited about being back to school?

Thanks, and I hope everyone has a very happy school year!

Monday, June 27, 2011

If Rocks Could Sing by Leslie McGuirk

Alphabet books are a dime a dozen, but once in a while, I come across truly unique alphabet books, and Leslie McGuirk's If Rocks Could Sing is one of them.

The book is a collection of "found rocks" that just happen to look like letters and other things like ghosts, toast, a nose, and more. The book goes through each letter of the alphabet featuring a rock in the shape of that letter along with an object or concept that illustrates the letter.

For example, T is for toast. 
The rock really looks like a delicious slice of toast.

Some are a little more abstract. For instance O stands for "Ouch" and the rock on that page looks like it's wincing in pain.

G is for "Ghost," and it features a spread full of eerie looking rocks that really do resemble floating ghosts.

Check out N:

Seriously cute, right? What I really love about this book the most is the creativity it inspires. My daughter loves rocks, and on our daily walks, she hunts rocks and points out the things she sees. This is a truly unique book that is definitely worth checking out.  

Reading level: Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Tricycle Press (May 24, 2011) | ISBN-13: 978-1582463704 | Source: Review copy from publisher

Images from If Rocks Could Sing by Leslie McGuirk, copyright © 2011 by Leslie McGuirk. Reprinted by permission of Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Third Annual Book-A-Day Challenge

Donalyn Miller, aka, The Book Whisperer is hosting her third annual Book-A-Day challenge. (Thanks to Jen Robinson for tweeting about it and raising my awareness of the challenge.) You can read all about here, but the idea is pretty simple. Read one book every day during the summer. You pick the start and end date, and all books and genres count - picture books, nonfiction books, etc.

My kids aren't in school yet, but I have definitely noticed that during the summer, reading with my kids every day gets more challenging since we are busier with more outdoor activities. So my goal is to read at least one book a day with my kids, and if we read more, that's great!

Tonight was our first night, and we immersed ourselves in Rob Scotton's Splish, Splash, Splat! . We've been Splat the Cat fans for quite a while, and in this book, Splat comes face to face with his fear of the water as well as the dreadful Spike who steals all of his toys.

The illustrations are amazing as always, and the storytelling is engaging and charming. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interview at Children's Books and Reviews

Aaron Mead, who blogs at Children's Books and Reviews, recently interviewed me about The Well-Read Child and my thoughts on reading and children's literature. It was really fun to be the interviewee and answer his thought-provoking questions.

If you haven't checked out Children's Books and Reviews, take a minute to explore the site. Not only does Aaron feature interviews with children's literature bloggers, but he helps adults find great books for kids. I particularly enjoyed reading his "How to Choose Children's Books" series.

A big thanks to Aaron for the opportunity!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore, illustrated by Howard McWilliam

When a little boy builds a sandcastle at the beach, an impressive fire-breathing dragon moves in. At first, it's pretty cool to have a dragon living in your sandcastle. He does things like scare away the beach bullies and roast marshmallows. But when no one but the boy believes a dragon moved in, the dragon gets a little more mischievous and claws the brownies and eats all of the sandwiches. Soon, the entire family, including the boy have had enough of the dragon.

This is a super cute book that celebrates the imagination. My daughter has asked me to read it to her many times and never fails to laugh at all of the mischief the dragon and little boy get into. Because the story never directly tells you whether or not the boy is imagining the dragon, she always asks, "Is the dragon real? Or is the boy making it up?"

The illustrations really steal the show though. Howard McWilliam brings the story to life, from the vivid images of the beach setting to the expressive faces of the characters. Check out the publisher's website to see some of the excellent illustrations. They certainly inspire my daughter and I to go the beach and see if a dragon moves into our sandcastle.

I highly recommend this book for a fun, engaging read.

Reading level: Ages 4-8  | Publisher: Flashlight Press (May 1, 2011) | ISBN-13: 978-0979974670 | Source: Review copy from publisher

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    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    Guys Lit Wire Book Fair

    I just learned of this awesome book fair Guys Lit Wire is holding for Ballou Senior High School in Washington, D.C. When the fair was announced on May 1, the school library only 1,185 books for a student population of 1,200.

    Check out the full details about the book fair here, but the gist is simple. Guys Lit Wire has teamed up with Powell's books. Those wishing to donate can choose from a wishlist of over 900 books and send them to the school. Here are some instructions from Guys Lit Wire that will ensure your books are going to the right place:
    According to Guys Lit Wire,

    Once you have made your selections head to “checkout” and you will be prompted to inform Powells if the books were indeed bought from the wishlist. This lets the store know to mark them as “purchased” on the list. After that you need to provide your credit card info and also fill in the shipping address. Here is where the books are going to:

    Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
    Ballou Senior High School
    3401 Fourth Street SE
    Washington DC 20032
    (202) 645-3400

    As of yesterday evening, 500 books had already been purchased. I'm heading over now and buying some books for this very worthy cause. I hope you'll consider doing so as well.

    Bumped by Megan McCafferty

    Imagine a world where a virus prevents people older than 18 from conceiving a child. A world where teenagers are encouraged to have babies and sell them to the highest-bidding families. A world where even teenagers can go "pro" and get paired with the best "breeds" in hope of making the perfect baby, where brokers get paid a nice sum to make a match.

    Now imagine the world of the "churchies," a fundamentalist group that takes in the weak, sick babies that no one else wants. A group that refers to themselves and the "Goodside" and arranges the marriages of their youth, where babies are born to families the "old-fashioned" way.

    This is the world that Megan McCafferty has created with Bumped.

    Twin sisters Harmony and Melody have never met each other and never knew the other existed until recently. Harmony was raised on the Goodside and is betrothed to a man she doesn't love. She decides to leave Goodside to save her sister from the evil of the "Otherside" and bring her back to her community.

    Melody has lived a life under the constant scrutiny of her adoptive parents who want her to be perfect. She was the first girl in her school to get a "conception contract" with the Jayden family who are willing to pay a lot for the baby she produces. It's just up to the broker to find the perfect father for the baby. But time is running out. She only has a couple of years before she'll be unable to conceive.

    When Melody and Harmony meet, both of the girls begin to question the worlds in which they grew up and have to make tough decisions about their futures.

     I expected it to be a little more dark and dreary like most dystopian novels are, but this was very satirical. McCafferty pokes fun of the social media that has consumed the lives of everyone. No one can do anything without it popping up on "MiNet." And the commercialization of the teenage pregnancy phenomenon looks downright ridiculous from the outside. Girls who aren't yet pregnant can try on "Fun Bumps," lifelike baby bellies that actually wiggle. When the book starts, Melody is wearing a 40-week twin fun bump. Jingles, products, and commercials that encourage girls to "bump" with a guy and have a baby permeate their lives.

    At times, the conversations between Melody and her friends were annoying and superficial, and I found myself rolling my eyes a lot. But that was definitely McCafferty's point. These girls have been programmed from early on to get pregnant and give their babies away. It's the norm for them and consumes their daily lives.

    This book is entertaining and gets a little provocative at times. The ending leaves room for a sequel, and it hooked me enough to read it if one does come out.  

    Reading level: Young Adult | Publisher: Balzer + Bray (April 26, 2011) | ISBN-13: 978-0061962745 | Source: Purchased Kindle book

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    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Shine by Lauren Myracle

    Shine by Lauren Myracle
    16-year-old Cat lives in Black Creek, a poverty-stricken town in North Carolina. Two years earlier, one of her brother's friends sexually assaulted her, and she's shut out the world and her friends since. She even shut out her best friend Patrick, with whom she used to spend nearly every waking minute. Then Patrick is brutally attacked in a hate crime, and Cat must face the demons of her past to help bring his attacker(s) to justice.

    When trying to write this review, I really tried to avoid overused descriptors like "gritty," "raw," and "profound," but those words really do describe this book. There are so many issues that are addressed in this book that it could have gone horribly wrong - homosexuality, poverty, religious intolerance, discrimination, sexual assault, drug abuse. But it didn't. Lauren Myracle masterfully addresses these issues through the perspective of a character who is strong, unique, and oh-so-vulnerable. It's Cat who makes the story real and believable.

    The small town setting plays a crucial role in this book, and at times, I felt as if I was stepping into the town where I spent my childhood. From the gossipy neighbors to the intolerance that still seems to permeate some areas, any other setting would have done this book injustice. Without writing in dialect (which is super difficult and often done poorly), Lauren Myracle added touches that made the small town setting believable, such as having Cat's aunt exclaim things like, "Holy creamed corn."

    Cat's character is spunky, strong, and inspiring, and the story is thrilling up to the very end.  Highly recommended.

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    Reading level: Young Adult | Publisher: Amulet Books (May 1, 2011) | ISBN-13: 978-0810984172 | Source: NetGalley ARC

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    Friday, April 29, 2011

    The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale by Lucine Kasbarian, illustrated by Maria Zaikina

    I adore folktales. I love storytelling and grew up in an area with a rich oral history. The idea of stories being passed down from generation to generation – that my children are hearing stories that other children across an ocean heard a hundred years ago is amazing. True – many are didactic – which normally turns me off in a children’s book, but folktales get a pass. It’s in their very nature to teach you some sort of lesson. Plus, the stories are often so well told and entertaining that it’s okay.

     The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale is retold by author Lucine Kasbarian, whose father told the story to her at bedtime when she was young. In the book, a sparrow gets a thorn in his foot. As he’s flying through the countryside, he happens upon a woman baking bread and asks her to remove the thorn. She happily obliges and the sparrow is on his merry way. However, he soon returns and demands that the baker return his thorn. When she says she threw it in the oven, he demands that she give him a loaf of bread in return. She does, and the sparrow files away, carrying a loaf of bread. The story repeats itself as the bird flies across the Armenian countryside, asking locals to keep an eye on whatever he has and demanding something in return when the original item invariably goes missing. At one point, he even finds himself with an Armenian bride. As folktales go, the greedy sparrow eventually gets his comeuppance. This is the part where readers realize the importance of sharing, being nice to your neighbors, etc.

    The story is simple, yet very entertaining. The illustrations give the book an old-fashioned feel – what you would expect to see in Armenian villages of long ago. Word bubbles appear over the bird and the people he interacts with, offering ease in readability for young readers and a bit more interaction. Humorous facial expressions on animals and humans add a nice touch.

    This is definitely worth checking out.

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    Reading level: Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Corp/Ccb (April 2011) | ISBN-13: 978-0761458210 | Source: Review copy from publisher

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    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan

    Annah is scarred - scarred from an accident that disfigured one side of her face and body; scarred by Elias's apparent abandonment three years ago; scarred by leaving her twin sister Abigail behind in the zombie-ridden Forest of Hands and Teeth when she was five years old.  She's survived on her own in the Dark City for three years, and is on her way out when she notices someone who looks just like her - except this girl has no scars and appears to walk with the confidence of someone who's led a better, even happy life. Soon, she's reunited with her sister and Elias and meets Catcher, a guy who is amazingly immune from the "Unconsecrated" who roam around in search of human flesh. Like Gabry, he's broken, and she finds herself strongly connected to him.

    But life is less than happy. A massive horde of the  Unconsecrated has awoken and is feverishly invading the Dark City. The only safe place is the "Sanctuary," an island run by the recruiters, and they need Catcher to bring him supplies. The recruiters keep Annah, Elias, and her sister on the island to keep Catcher coming back, but they soon learn that zombies are not the only threat. They have to escape before it's too late, but how?

    The Dark and Hollow Places is the third book in Carrie Ryan's "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" trilogy. It's fast-paced, exciting, and full of lots of gory zombie action. Oh yeah, and there's also a pretty good love story that unfolds along the way.

    Of the three books, Annah is the lead female character that I like the most. She has an inner strength that she's had to rely on for a very long time, but as the story unfolds, you realize just how vulnerable she is and much of a toll a lifetime of living in fear has taken on her. Unlike the second book, which takes place about 17 years after the first one, this one picks up right after the end of the second. Yes, zombies are a central theme, but the book is smartly written and is much more about survival, growth, and learning not only to love yourself but to open your heart to others.

    Very well done.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    In Front of My House by Marianne Dubuc

    One of my favorite things about reading with my kids is finding books in which we can participate together, and Marianne Dubuc's In Front of My House is a really good book for doing just that. It's a circular book, meaning that the book begins and ends in the same way - in a child's house on a hill.

    It begins with an unseen child narrator saying, "On little hill, behind a brown fence, under a big oak tree, is..."

    You turn the page and see, "My house. In front of my house..." [Turn the page again] "a rosebush. On the rosebush..." The story continues in the same pattern throughout, turning the pages to reveal what's next. At first, it's pretty typical of what you'd see, a bird, a window, the child's bedroom, a sock, etc. Then comes the fairy tale book, and the child's imagination soars. Soon, we're seeing things like a princess, a prince charming (a frog with a crown), the big bad wolf, a vampire, a pirate ship, a lion, a zoo, a shooting star, and more until it eventually gets back to the house on the hill.

    What I really love about this book is the anticipation it brings. You have no idea what's going to come up on the next page, and on the first read, my daughter loved to yell out what she saw. After a couple of reads, she knows what's coming next and yells it out before I can even turn the page. In one section of the book, we go inside a dark cave and before I even turn the page, my daughter screams and covers her eyes, hiding from the abominable snowman who is hiding inside the cave. It is so much fun.

    I can't forget to mention the illustrations. The book itself is a chunky square book and it's chock full of wonderful, whimsical illustrations that look like the child narrator drew them. Some pictures like the lion are colored in a bit unevenly, giving the appearance that a kid colored it in.

    The text and pictures are simple and fun, and kids who can't read or who are just beginning to read get the opportunity to participate in the reading experience. I highly recommend this book for the younger set of children. I can even imagine it being a fun book for an older child to read to a younger child.

    Learning concepts: 
    • Grammar - Prepositions 
    • Literacy/Reading - Prediction

    Ages: 4-8 | Publisher: Kids Can Press, September 2010 | Source: Review copy from publisher | ISBN: 978-1554536412

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    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming

    As long as I can remember, I've always been intrigued by Amelia Earhart's story. Her courage was inspiring, and her disappearance always seemed very sad to me. But I've never really read a lot about her life or her disappearance in 1937. As soon as I received a copy of Candace Fleming's, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, I was eager to read it.

    First off, I have to tell you that I always love reading Candace Fleming's work. Her non-fiction is always thoroughly researched, and she does an exceptional job of weaving her research together to tell a compelling, engaging story. This was definitely the case with The Lincoln's: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary (my review here). And her fiction picture book Clever Jack Takes the Cake is well, clever, and very well-written (my review here). So, I expected to find a clever, thorough, and engaging story about Amelia Earhart, and of course, I did.

    I wondered how Ms. Fleming would address all of the myths surrounding Earhart herself and her disappearance, and in the very beginning of the book, Ms. Fleming describes how she spent two years digging through research to find the real Amelia. She says, "...the person I eventually uncovered surprised me. Amelia Earhart was so much more than a pilot. She was a savvy businesswoman...a popular lecturer; a fashion icon;.... But most important, she symbolized the new opportunities awaiting women in the twentieth century"  (ix).

    And with that, Amelia's story begins. The book alternates between July 1937 -- the time of her disappearance and the days of searching that followed it -- and the story of her life from the time she was born. The different chapters present an Amelia Earhart that is not only courageous but super smart and savvy and likable. There are photos of Amelia and her family, pictures of Amelia's report card from school, pilot's license, newspaper clippings, and handwritten notes from Amelia herself. Informative sidebars are weaved throughout the book and provide even more interesting information about Amelia. There's even a sidebar that introduces the Morse Code.

    The back matter includes an extensive bibliography, websites where readers can learn more about Earhart, source notes, picture credits, and an index.

    The story itself really takes you back to the past, and the chapters about her disappearance provide an excellent picture of what the entire country was feeling when her plane disappeared.

    I think anyone who reads the book will learn more about Amelia Earhart than they previously knew, and kids who are interested in aviation, women's history, non-fiction, or who just want to read an interesting story will enjoy this book. I give this my highest recommendation.

    Age range: 9 -12 | Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, February 2011 | ISBN: 978-0375841989 | Source: Review copy from publisher

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    Monday, February 28, 2011

    Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

    Moon Over Manifest has been sitting in my TBR pile for a while, but after it won the Newbery Medal last month, it moved to the top. What a lovely book.

    Abilene Tucker is 12 years old in 1936, when she goes to live with strangers in a town she's heard stories about her entire life - Manifest, Kansas. Still reeling from her father's decision to send her to Manifest, she soon becomes enthralled in the story of town and the ghosts from the past - 1918 to be exact - that still seem to haunt it.

    Moon Over Manifest is a story within a story. While Abilene is struggling with her father's abandonment, she furiously searches for clues about him. How did he know Pastor Shady with whom he sent her to live? Why doesn't anyone in a town full of stories ever mention his name? Will he ever come back to get her?

    A historical fiction novel, the book offers glimpses of two different time periods - the 1918 town that is not only struggling under the control of greedy coal lords but that is also sending its young men away to war. Then in 1936 when Abilene arrives, it's in the grips of the Great Depression. A once bustling town is rundown, and even the vibrant people of 1918 seem to have lost their hearts.

    What's particularly well done about the book is the way the story is told through different voices - Abilene's, a box full of letters written in 1918 from Ned Gillen to his friend Jinx , a weekly newspaper column written by the vivacious Hattie Mae, and stories from the diviner Miss Sadie. Each source has a unique voice and plays a crucial part in weaving the story together.

    And the cast of characters is wonderfully developed -

    • Pastor Shady is part pastor, part saloon owner and seems to live up to his name. 
    • Miss Sadie is a Hungarian diviner who is surrounded by mystery. 
    • Sister Redempta is a strict schoolteacher in Manifest and is also the town midwife. 
    • Hattie Mae is a spunky newspaper columnist with a big heart. 
    • Ned Gillen is a young aspiring track star who never really knows his true origins. 
    • Jinx is a feisty trouble-maker who ends up in Manifest and may just find a home there. 
    • And then there's Abilene the heroine of the story who is also trying to find a place in life and maybe even a place to call home. 
    I would say that this book is complex, and younger readers may have some difficulty piecing it all together, but more mature readers will have no problem.  Some teens will definitely identify with Abilene's search to fit in.

    There are funny moments, scary moments, and heartwrenching moments that, put together, make for a very enjoyable and beautiful read.

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    Friday, February 4, 2011

    Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe

    One morning, Chico Bon Bon, the industrious monkey with a most impressive tool belt hears a very loud noise "Arooga! Boom! Clang! Clang!" echoing through his tree house. He sets about to fix it, but just can't figure out what the noise is - the wind, a super noisy family of squirrels, a hunter chopping down his tree? As the day continues, the noise doesn't let up. After conducting a thorough search, he finally finds the culprit in his laundry chute - an elephant named Clark. Once he's found Clark, he sets upon a detailed plan to rescue him - a plan that involves bananas and a homemade contraption. Not only does he get rid of the noise, but he makes a new friend. While we never find out how Clark got into the chute because Chico thinks it would be rude to ask, we do get a book full of giggles and fun.

    Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem is Chris Monroe's 2009 follow up to Monkey With a Tool Belt (see my review here), a book where Chico Bon Bon has to save himself from a devious organ grinder who wants to make him a circus monkey. Chris Monroe is so very clever and creates books that entertain both adults and children. With every read, we find something new in the detailed illustrations, and my daughter absolutely loves to yell out "Arooga! Boom! Clang! Clang!" on cue. While there are so many pictures to adore, our favorite is when Chico discovers the super huge elephant squished into the tiny laundry chute. It induces giggles every single time.

    If you're not familiar with Chico Bon Bon, I highly recommend the Monkey With a Tool Belt books. They are full of fun and spark many opportunities for laughter, commentary, and interaction.  

    Publisher: Carolrhoda Books (April 2009) | ISBN-13: 978-0822592471 | Source: Review copy from publisher

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    Monday, January 31, 2011

    365 Days of Reading: Month 1 in review

    As I suspected, returning to the "real world" after the holiday break proved to be a bit challenging on the blogging front, but I am happy to say that we've read to our kids every day, minus a day when the baby went to bed early. With Lady B, it hasn't been a challenge because she loves books and always asks to read them. The baby is starting to show interest but really can't sit for more than 5 minutes without wanting to do something else. That's completely typical for his age, and I've learned from experience that constant exposure to books will help him develop a love for them.

    Some old favorites with Lady B continue to be the Knuffle Bunny trilogy. She especially loves to see how much Trixie has grown from book to book. Just last night, we noticed that Trixie is reading an Elephant and Piggie book on the airplane in Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion. After that, we set about reading every Elephant and Piggie book we have in the house. My personal favorite is Watch Me Throw the Ball!, but Lady B is still partial to We Are in a Book! . Another book she discovered yesterday that's been sitting on the shelf for quite a while is Kersplatypus by Susan K. Mitchell and illustrated by Sherry Rogers. I reviewed it here three years ago, and it was nice to pick it back up again and "kid-test" it. In other news, Lady B is truly enjoying "reading" to her baby brother, and he is so captivated by her. She has a few books memorized, so it's fun to watch her read to him. Last night, she surprised her daddy when he missed a word, and she corrected him. She's so much fun.

    My personal reading has suffered a bit. I finished American Gods and have been engrossed in Washington: A Life. For the first time in a very long time, I haven't wanted to read anything else, but I'm only getting in personal reading time during my twice-a-week commute to work. Most nights, I crash into bed soon after the kids get to sleep. So, I'm sorry to say I haven't gotten far into the book, but it very well researched, and the narrative is very captivating unlike a lot of biographies.

    For the month of February, I'm hoping to get in more personal reading time and of course continue reading to my kids every night.

    The links in this post are affiliate links. With every purchase you make through clicking on these links, you are helping support The Well-Read Child. 

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Chalk by Bill Thomson

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I absolutely love wordless picture books for so many reasons. They spark imagination, they take the pressure off of kids who are having trouble reading, and they can also help break the language barrier between kids and older family members who read in different languages.

    Bill Thomson's Chalk is one of my new favorites. Three kids are walking toward a park on a rainy when they notice a bag of chalk hanging from a "ride-on" T-Rex.

    They take the bag of chalk, and one of the girls draws a sun. Suddenly, the sky clears, and the sun shines brightly overhead. Another girl draws butterflies, and soon after, the kids are surrounded by fluttering butterflies. The boy in the group gets a bit adventurous with the chalk drawings, and the kids are soon running in terror from a ferocious T-Rex.

    Bill Thomson's acrylic and color-pencil illustrations jump off the page and come to life. You see close-ups of the menacing T-Rex, looks of fear as the kids escape, and looks of pure exhilaration as the kids discover what they can do with the magical chalk.

    This is a book that celebrates true imagination, and it's beautifully executed.

    Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Children's Books (March 2010) | Source: Review copy from publisher | ISBN: 978-0761455264

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    Reading Challenge: Days 3 & 4

    After being off from work for over a week, readjusting to the "real world" has been a challenge, but reading with my kids is important. I've built into our nightly routine since Lady B was a tiny baby, so now it's something we both look forward to at the end of the day. The kidlets have been super exhausted, and the baby went to bed soon after bath time tonight. So no reading for him tonight. We got a couple of books in last night. I want reading to be a fun experience, and I'm careful not to force it if the kids are tired or cranky.

    However, unless Lady B is extremely exhausted, she asks me to read a book to her after bathtime and before bedtime each night. I normally let her pick out 3 books she wants to read; she usually begs for at least one more, and we often get half an hour of reading in each night. Tonight, she was pretty tired, so we read for about 15 minutes before she told me she was ready for bed. I'm sort of glad because I'm not a huge fan the book she picked out - The Big Green Book of Beginner Books by Dr. Seuss.

    It's a collection of six of Dr. Seuss's beginning reader books:
    • Great Day for Up! 
    • I Am Not Going to Get Up Today! 
    •  I Wish That I Had Duck Feet 
    •  Maybe You Should Fly a Jet! Maybe You Should Be a Vet!  
    • Wacky Wednesday  
    • Would You Rather Be a Bullfrog?
    Tonight we read Wacky Wednesday, I Wish That I Had Duck Feet, and Would You Rather Be a Bullfrog? I'm hot and cold with Dr. Seuss. I absolutely love Green Eggs and Ham and Horton Hears a Who, but Oh the Places You'll Go makes me cringe, and The Cat in the Hat is just creepy.  Don't hate on me, Seuss fans. And I'm also hot and cold with The Big Green Book of Beginner Books. Wacky Wednesday is fun to read with a little one because on each page, you have to find wacky things whether it's a turtle stuck in a tree or a man driving a car from the backseat. However, as the book progresses, you're asked to find more and more wacky things until you have to find 20 things on one page. It may not be so bad if Lady B didn't get stuck on the numbers 15-20. So we go from 15 to 17 to 16 to "11-teen."  Tonight, she had fun on the first few pages, and then she said, "I'm too tired to find more wacky things. Can we read I Wish That I Had Duck Feet now?"

    That particular book has a fun rhythm as the main character imagines what it would be like if he had duck feet, a whale spout, antlers, and more. I also love looking at the 1960's style illustrations, especially the boy's father who is always smoking a pipe. What I don't like about the book are the instances when the main character imagines using his new body parts to make the supposed bully Big Bill Brown jealous and to even knock him down at one point. I cringe at the message it sends that you can use your new "talents" to finally get back at a bully. It's then that I have to have a conversation with Lady B about how it's not nice to knock people down, etc. In any case, even though I'm not a huge fan of the book, she loves it, and I'm happy to read her the books she chooses.

    Over the past two days, I've been doing my own reading when I've had time. I finished AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, and even though the book was a fast, interesting read, I'm not inspired to hike the trail. Camping for months, bugs, outhouses (or lack therof in many cases), injuries, etc. are not that appealing. Perhaps hiking a section or two would be better for me. :-)

    I also read a good portion of American Gods on the train to and from work today, and it's really getting good. I also used the remaining value of the Kindle gift card I got for Christmas to buy Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. I suppose I'm on a bit of a nonfiction kick.

    Oh - and I also have one teeny Kindle complaint. I miss flipping through books to find passages. I don't think I'll ever stop reading paper books. I have a long commute to work, and I love not having to lug around books and having the ability to pull out a small device and choose which books I want to read. But I do miss the touch and feel and smell of "real" books.