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Results 26 - 50 of 77,189
26. Ogres Awake! by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost, 40 pp, RL 1.5


Ogres Awake! is the third book in the Adventures in Cartooning Jr. series (the mini-me of the Adventures in Cartooning series)and, as with Sleepless Knight and Gryphons Aren't So Great, authors Sturm, Arnold and Frederick-Frost present yet another silly story as the manic Knight and his steed, Edward, rush headlong into a new adventure. As always, the endpapers provide readers with instructions on how to draw the characters from the story.
From high atop a parapet where the Knight is playing fetch with Edward, the duo discover that what they thought was thunder is the snoring of ogres, one of whom is using a sheep for a pillow. Ready for a battle, the Knight and Edward gallop off to the King, who is calmly reading a comic book, naturally. This day has been foreseen - a plan is in place!


What is the plan? You just have to read Ogres Awake! to find out! But, the illustrations - and garden gnomes - just might give you a clue or two...


Source: Review Copy







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27. The Underground Abductor

The Underground Abductor. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #5) Nathan Hale. 2015. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It is time to hang this spy! Are you sure? Can't we get one more story out of him first?

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale sets out to prove that America isn't perfectly perfect, and, that America has in fact "taken part in some truly horrible, despicable, abominable, atrocious, downright evil acts." He speaks, of course, of slavery. And in this graphic novel, he tells the story of Harriet Tubman (aka Araminta Ross). It's an intense story without a doubt. He speaks of her growing up in slavery, the abuses she faced, the challenges she overcame, her marrying a free man, her decision to run away, her decision to run back into slavery. For it became her mission to travel back and forth between North and South saving slaves--escorting slaves to safety, to Canada, in fact. All via the "underground railroad" of abolitionists. Some of this information I was familiar with, but, some was new to me. For example, I was not aware of her head injury perhaps leading to her narcolepsy. I had no idea of her visions either!

My thoughts: I am so glad I discovered this series. I really have enjoyed reading these books practically back to back. I would definitely recommend all of the books in the series. I hope it is a very LONG series.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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28. Weekend Reading #12


This weekend I am giving myself reading time.  I am finishing up The Secret Sea by Barry Lyga for a blog tour (see my post and giveaway of a finished copy tomorrow!).  Then I am starting Stray by Elissa Sussman.  This is a book from my library that I brought home for the summer (along with about 40 others).  I need to get some of them read before school starts so I'm starting with thi one.

What are you reading this weekend?

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29. Book Review: The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner's Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Published: 2016
Source: ARC from a friend

Summary: Kestrel has been banished to a frigid northern work camp. Drugged and beaten, she struggles to remain defiant, but finally succumbs. When she is rescued, it's going to be a long, long road back to who she used to be.

Meanwhile, Arin is fighting for the future of his country, trying to oust the Valorian invaders and rebuild what was smashed to rubble. Reunited with Kestrel, he struggles with his emotions over previous events and the betrayal that wasn't.

It's a harrowing journey for both Arin and Kestrel to freedom for the Herrani people, and to personal happiness.

First Impressions: Arrrrgh so gooooooood.

Later On: As you can probably tell from my first impressions, I'm not exactly unbiased about this series. I adored the first two books for their mix of the great fate of nations and the intimate fate of people, and how powerfully each can affect the other. The end of the second book left everything in rubble, so I was anxious to see how Rutkoski resurrected her characters.

Refreshingly, Arin and Kestrel do not fall into each others' arms when he rescues her from the work camp. There's too much pain and betrayal between them for that, and Kestrel is far too broken to focus on anything but putting herself back together.
Kestrel's memory returns in fits and starts, and some pieces remain patchy until the end (and, one suspects, will do forever). But she is still Kestrel, brilliant and crafty and occasionally ruthless, yet still impacted by her family ties and history.

Arin, for his part, is struggling between the two sides of this woman and trying to simultaneously forgive himself for his anger and to forgive her the things that she's done, as well as trying to be the ruler that he seems to have been elected.

This book, and the whole series, are deeply satisfying on both the grand-fate-of-nations and the intimate-fate-of-people fronts.

More: My review of the first book
Waking Brain Cells
Book Nut
Cuddlebuggery

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30. Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge

Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge  by Monica Kulling illustrated by Bill Slavin Tundra Books, 2016 Grades K-6 The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher. Nikola Tesla is the latest subject in Monica Kulling's Great Idea Series featuring innovators and inventors. The story of Nikola Tesla is sure to intrigue readers. The picture book biography begins with Tesla departing from a

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31. Book Review: My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter

Title: My Life with the Liars
Author: Caela Carter
Published: 2016
Source: Edelweiss


Summary: Zylynn has been taken by the liars, away from the loving compound where she grew up knowing that she was going to heaven and sure of all the rules. If she wants to go back home, she'll have to prove she deserves it by escaping.

But the liars are crafty. They let her have as much food as she wants, they buy her clothes that are full of color, they even make her feel as if she really is part of their family. What if their lies aren't lies? And if they aren't liars, who is?

First Impressions: This was really good! I loved how disoriented and out of place she felt, trying to make sense of her new life through the lens of her old one.

Later On: Cults are a popular topic in YA because it's so often paired with religious fundamentalism and gender-based injustices, which are pretty handy straw dolls to fire arrows of authorly rage at. Because this is more aimed at middle grade, that's not quite as front and center, but you can still see it around the edges. This book is so powerful precisely because it doesn't spend much time lovingly lingering on how unfair it all is.

The focus is on Zylynn's gradual realization that the life she knew wasn't as perfect as she was always told it was. In her flashbacks, you can tell that she was a rule-follower, terrified of the consequences. In her new life, she's still trying to follow the rules of her old one, but she's gradually starting to question the value of those rules as she learns to accept the love and generosity that her newfound family offers her.

More: Kirkus

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32. Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelley Barnhill -- deep magic (ages 10-14)

I can't wait to share The Girl Who Drank the Moon with my students and hear their thoughts; it's a story full of deep magic, wonderful characters, powerful themes and rich language. Magical stories have fascinated me since I was a young girl--starting with classic fairy tales, their all-powerful witches and the young people who outsmart them. This is sure to be a favorite this fall, especially with my fantasy-loving readers.

reading The Girl Who Drank the Moon while camping this summer
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
by Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin / Workman, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
preview
*best new book*
A terrible crime happens once each year--the people of the Protectorate must sacrifice a baby, leaving it in the forest for the witch who threatens them. They believe that this child saves them all: "Sacrifice one or sacrifice all." But who is telling this story? Who makes the family sacrifice their child? And what happens when the child is left in the forest? Right away, questions start swirling in the readers' mind.

This complex story quickly unfolds, revealing that the Elders hold the power in the Protectorate, enforcing this tradition ruthlessly--and the submissive populace rarely questions them. This year, however, things go differently as the grieving mother protests vehemently when her baby is taken to be left in the forest. Barnhill quickly raises the questions of truth, power, authority and loyalty--themes that readers will reflect on throughout the story.

As soon as the Elders leave the baby in the forest, a kind witch named Xan rescues her. Xan accidentally feeds the infant moonlight, which gives her powerful magic. Aware that magic is both a power and a responsibility, Xan decides to raise the infant--whom she names Luna--as her granddaughter.

Barnhill skillfully weaves together three separate plot lines: Xan and Luna's relationship together as Luna grows into adolescence; the grief the madwoman--Luna's mother--endures after her baby is taken from her; and the questions that arise in a young apprentice to the Elders after he witnesses the madwoman's breakdown.

I cannot wait to hear what students in my Mock Newbery club say about this story. Will they react most to the characters? Or will they start thinking about the themes that Barnhill raises? How will they react to the uncertainty and complexity in the plot? It will be a terrific choice for book clubs to read and discuss.

I loved listening to Kelly Barnhill talk about the beginning of the story with my friend librarian Laura Given, in the summer reading podcast. Definitely listen to Kelly and then listen to Laura read aloud the opening chapter in her podcast PCS Reads (hopefully the podcast will embed below).

I love how Donalyn Miller and Stacey Riedmiller share their thoughts about this magical story in their NerdyBookClub review:
"It is impossible for mere mortals to adequately communicate the beauty of Barnhill’s language or the emotional resonance of Luna’s story, so we won’t even try. All we can share is our pale impressions of it like memories of a moonlit night in the woods...

The Girl Who Drank the Moon reminds us that all great stories offer readers rich explorations of what it means to be human–even when the “people” are dragons and witches. Whether our scales and warts show on the outside or not, we are all flawed, but our choices show the world who we really are."
The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a book that I want to savor, reread and talk about. It is definitely a complex story that juggles many themes and plot lines, asking readers to consider different characters' points of view and motives.

The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Algonquin Books for Young Readers / Workman Publishing. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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33. Remembrance Ideas for the September 11th Anniversary + a Book Giveaway

Educators from around the country share the ways in which they teach about September 11th to their students. This post includes programming and writing ideas, as well as links to videos and picture books you can read aloud. Finally, there's a giveaway of a brand-new picture book that deals with September 11th.

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34. Blog Tour: My Thoughts: The Secret Sea by Barry Lyga


4 yummy frosted maple cookies.

Cover Love:
I really like this cover, I think it would make kids want to pick up this book.

Why I Wanted to Read this:
I really like a good alternate universe book and the synopsis of this one seemed right up my alley.  Here it is from GoodReads:

Twelve-year-old Zak Killian is hearing a voice. Could it be a guardian angel? A ghost? No, that's crazy. But sometimes the voice is so real. . . . It warns him of danger.

One day Zak is standing on the subway platform when the tunnel starts to fill with water. He sees it before anyone else. The voice warns him to run. His friends Moira and Khalid believe this is more than a premonition, and soon all three find themselves in an alternate universe that is both familiar and seriously strange. As Zak unravels the mystery behind the voice, he faces decisions that may mean the end of their world at home--if they can even get home!

My Thoughts:
Overall this was a great read.  There were a few things in the beginning that made it a little hard fro me to get into but once I was over that hump, the book flew.

One of the things that bothered me a ton were Zak's parents.  They were so frustrating.  They were convinced that Zak was doing "bad" things so rather than talk with him, they ground him.  Then they get him a psychiatrist, but are more into blaming each other for his behavior than really getting him help. It was very hard to get over this because every scene with them made me want to throw the book!

After a pretty slow start a little twist happens that caught my interest.  Once that came about, I was much more into the book.  Once they got to the alternate universe, I was very into the book.  The author set up a great world with the alternate universe.  There are a lot of similarities between our world and the one that Zak and his friends get to, but enough differences that cause them to be very lost and confused.  The rules of the new world and society are very different than ours and they don't have a lot of time to learn them.  The author did a great job of conveying their confusion and fear.  This new universe is very technologically advanced to us and open to a lot of new ideas, but they are also very backwards in some issues.  I was glad that Khalid was able to find an ally once they got to the alternative universe and thankfully it was one willing to believe and help out.  Giving them a guide was very important.

From the start of their time in the alternate universe I felt something was off in the story Zak was being told.  I'm not sure if this was because I'm an adult and I consume a lot of content, so I'm pretty quick to develop theories, or if it was easy to deduce.  I would like to chat with someone from the target audience after they read it to see if they jumped to the same conclusion that I did.

There is a lot of action and I guess what I would call "speculative science" in the alternate universe.  None of it was over my head and the story moved along very quickly.

To Sum Up:  I think this is going to be a big hit with middle school readers.  I will be buying a copy for my library and book talking it this fall.  I already have my first reader for this story picked out and I know he will love it.

Macmillan is giving away a finished copy of The Secret Sea to one of my readers.  US only, winner will be announced on August 29.  Loading... Read the rest of this post

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35. Library Loot: Third Week in August

New Loot:
  • A Changed Agent by Tracey J. Lyons
  • Flirtation Walk by Siri Mitchell
  • Hamilton  by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Leftover Loot:
  • Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson
  • Alcatraz versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell 
  • Fudge-a-mania by Judy Blume
  • Double Fudge by Judy Blume
  • Golf Without Tears by P.G. Wodehouse
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
  • Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn
  • Man in White by Johnny Cash
  • Barbie and Ruth by Robin Gerber
  • I Saw the Light by Colin Escott with George Merritt and William MacEwen
  • The Grand Tour: The life and music of George Jones by Rich Kienzie 
  Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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36. New Kind of Orientation!

Freshmen library orientation, if anything else, should be straight up interesting.  First impressions are the best (and most lasting) ones, so it is up to us to create relationships day one of meeting the first freshmen class that comes in.  Last year, I did a meme powerpoint, which the students absolutely loved!  I am going to use this again, but I thought I'd also create something else for the little time I have left afterward.  

My creation?  10 Things to Know About the Library web list.  But it isn't just any list....it's set up like Buzzfeed and other feeds that have lists with animated gifs in it.  Fun and definitely relatable teen and tweens who are familiar with animated lists.  Pictures do tell a thousand words (boy, I'm full of classic cliches this morning!!).  Enjoy!



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37. Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrations by Rebecca Mock, 224 pp, RL 4



Compass South is the fantastic first adventure in the Four Points series of graphic novels written by Hope Larson and illustrated by Rebecca Mock. As I finished reading this book, I felt like I had read a complete novel, there are so many details, world building and character diveristy in this book. In fact, I was reminded of S.E. Grove's trilogy that begins with The Glass Sentence, although Larson's book is set firmly - so far - in real, not an alternative, historical landscape. Mock's illustrations, which are filled with warm earth tones, packed with movement and energy. At times, I had to remind myself of which twin was which, but, in all fairness, this is a story with two sets of redheaded twins!


Set in 1860, Compass South begins with a prologue that explains how and why twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge made it from Ireland to New York City with two very special items - a compass and a pocket knife. Twelve years later, the only father they have ever known (but not their birth father) has disappeared and the twins have joined the Black Hook gang, stealing to survive. When Alexander gets caught, he and Cleopatra make a deal that sends them to New Orleans with Luther, a higher up in the Black Hook gang, close on their trail. Luther has been recruited by Felix Worley, also known as Lucky Worley, captain of the black ship, El Caleuche, to find the twins and relieve them of their heirlooms. 
These threads alone are enough to keep Compass South moving at a fast pace, but Larson weaves in a few more threads that make the story even richer. Before boarding the train to New Orleans, Alexander sees an add offering a reward for the return of redheaded twins to their father, who went West to find his fortune five years earlier. Alex convinces Cleo to cut her hair so they can pose as Samuel and Jeremiah Kimball and make their way to San Francisco to collect the reward and find their father. Of course things don't go as planned, starting with a run in with red headed twin boys that lands Alex and Edwin back in jail and Cleo and Silas without a plan.

While it's a challenge at times to remember which twin is which, especially after Cleo cuts her hair, the hot head Alex is paired with Silas, who has a mysterious ailment that leaves him weak, while thoughtful Cleo ends up with Edwin, who shares Alex's temperament. I will tell you that the twin pairs both end up on ships, but what happens to them, where they end up and what Luther and Worley want with them, well, you'll just have to read to find out!

Source: Purchased


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38. Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4) Nathan Hale. 2014. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This prologue is brought to you by E Pluribus Hangman.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale shares with the British soldier (Provost) and hangman a story of when England and America will no longer be fighting each other but best friends and allies. This graphic novel is about World War I. It selectively, yet descriptively, tells of the war, year by year. It is action-packed, and yet one knows it's not exhaustive in its coverage.

Each country mentioned (both those fighting and those holding onto their neutral status) gets an animal assigned to it. So most of the illustrations are of animals at war with one another. Serbia is a Wolf. The Austro-Hungarian Empire is a Griffin. Russia is a Bear. Germany is an Eagle. France is a Gallic Rooster. Belgium is a Lion. England is a Bulldog (since Lion was already taken). America is a Bunny (since Eagle is already taken). Australia is a Kangaroo. Canada is a Beaver. New Zealand is a Kiwi. India is a Tiger. Ottoman Empire is an Otter. Japan is a Raccoon Dog. Those are the countries I can remember.

World War I is a complex subject, there is a lot to digest. There are hundreds--if not thousands--of books written by adults for adults seeking to explain the war and exhaustively cover every battle, every victory, every loss. So it is an ambitious project to condense the war into a middle grade graphic novel.
Nathan Hale: War is built and controlled by human hands--humans start it, humans stop it.
Hangman: Then WHY DIDN'T THEY STOP IT EARLIER--BEFORE IT KILLED EVERYBODY?! WHY DID THEY LET IT OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE!? THEY SHOULD LOCK IT UP AND NEVER EVER LET IT OUT!!!
Provost: Calm down, Hangman! There are times when war is a necessity. Tell him it is so, Captain Hale.
Nathan Hale: I'm not here to judge which wars were necessary and which wars weren't. I just tell the story. World War I is best summed up by those who experienced it.
All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal. ~ John Steinbeck
My thoughts: I really thought this book was well done. Yes, it's a bit text heavy. Yes, there is a LOT of information packed into it, perhaps too much information to actually absorb and digest. But it's well-crafted and well-organized. I'm impressed by how Nathan Hale (the author) was able to break down all the information and present it in such a concise way. War is never glorified, yes, the Provost and Hangman sometimes get carried away with BATTLES, but, by the end, Nathan Hale (the spy) has moved them both with his story.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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39. Monster Mash: Aaron Zenz Goes On Tour

Blog tours.  Generally speaking I don’t really do them.  Nothing against them personally, they just don’t always speak to the tenor and distinctive tone of individual blogs.  It takes a particularly keen one to get me out of my hidey-hole so that I’ll participate.  It takes, in short, Aaron Zenz.

But first . . . BACKSTORY!!!!

It was at least 10 years ago.  I was a young struggling blogger (“struggling” in this case meaning doing just fine with a nice steady job).  A fellow by the name of Aaron Zenz contacted me not long after I’d started and asked if I’d take a gander at his book, The Hiccupotamus.  It was coming out with a very small publisher, but there was something to it.  It was nice looking. Nicer than the average fare, so I took a gamble and said I’d give it a gander.  Not only was it nice, but it held together beautifully.   It also seems to be one of the longest lived books I’ve ever encountered, traveling as it has from Dogs in Hats Children’s Publishing to Marshall Cavendish to Two Lions.  If you look on Amazon you’ll see my May 16, 2006 review of the book there.

And I remembered that Zenz guy.  How could I not?  First off, his name was “Zenz”.  That’s just cool.  Second, he had this crazy cool blog he did with his kids called Bookie Woogie (not to be confused with the also amazing but different kid art site Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty).  For years I’d recommend it as what may be the most successful kids book review site written in large part by kids.  He’d also come up with these crazy amazing blog posts .  And in the interest of complete and utter honesty, they even reviewed Giant Dance Party and made fan art.  Like so:

IsaacGiant

But wait.  That’s not all.  Because on top of his art, his blog with his kids, and his kids’ kinda of freakishly good art (seriously, they should Pinterest this stuff) they also are responsible for a slew of some of the best 90-Second Newbery videos you’ve ever seen in your life.  I think if you keep watching this, the first four are by the Zenzes (Zenzi?).

None of this even touches on all the other stuff Aaron’s done over the years.  Nor, you will note, have I even gotten to his books.  As you can see, I save the best for last.

Starting with Hiccupotamus, I just kept on enjoying Aaron’s books for years.  From his art for Five Little Puppies Jumping on the Bed to Chuckling Ducklings to Hug a Bull, the man makes good literature for the small fry.  And now, the best one of all.

MonstersGoNightNow as I mentioned before, I don’t tend to do blog tours, and part of the reason why is because more than half the time I’m completely impartial (or worse) to the book that author is promoting.  Monsters Go Night-Night is different.  In one book you get the following:

  • A good bedtime book.
  • A story that is great for a range of ages (my 2-year-old and my 5-year-old get different things out of the book but both think it’s hilarious)
  • Writing that is actually funny for adults too (it may have one of the greatest potty gags I’ve seen in a long time)
  • Art that pops
  • The ability to be read to a large group (hard for any book to do, let alone well)

The whole premise is based on setting up expectations and then knocking them to the floor in a way that’s completely appropriate for very young ages.  Example:

MonstersNight

MonstersNight1

Perfect for pajama storytimes everywhere.

But where did Aaron get the idea for this book?  Well, if you’re still up for some video viewing today, this completely adorable video (could someone PLEASE publish a book of Aaron’s literary monsters since I want to see his Gurgi?) explains all:

So here’s where it gets crazy good.  Did you see how Aaron turned his son’s art into monsters?  Well, he’s been doing the same for other people as well.  Aaron asked if my daughter (who is the five-year-old I mentioned earlier) would like to make a monster.  He, in turn, would turn it into a piece of art.  And the results?  Behold:

LilyMonster1

This was my daughter’s . . . .

LilyMonster2

. . . and this was Aaron’s.

Side by side . . .

LilyMonster1LilyMonster2

Absolutely love that.

Long story short, this book good.  Get book.  Read book.

Still don’t believe me?  Then check out everyone else on this blog tour.  Lotta heavy hitters there.  Maybe if you don’t believe me you’ll believe them:

Mon Aug 15  :  Watch. Connect. Read.
Tues Aug 16  :  100 Scope Notes
Wed Aug 17  :  Nerdy Book Club
Thu Aug 18  :  Sharpread
Fri Aug 19  :  All the Wonders
Sat Aug 20  :  Playing by the Book
Sun Aug 21  :  Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)
Mon Aug 22  :  A Fuse #8 Production

And if you’d like to see the children’s art his did for these other bloggers’ kids collected for you in one place, just go to the Blog Tour Hub right here.

Thanks to Aaron for looping me into this tour.

 

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40. Starting School: 10 favorite picture books (ages 3-6)

Starting school is a big deal in a little person's life. I love sharing these ten picture books with kids throughout the fall. In part, it's creating a shared experience--letting kids know they aren't the only ones going through these experiences. It's also a time to notice all the changes and talk about what's happening.

10 picture books for the beginning of school
Preschoolers will particularly like the energetic, sweet rhyming in Susan Katz's ABC, School's for Me and the fun song that goes along with Pete the Cat.

Kids new to kindergarten will be reassured that they'll quickly get used to kindergarten, just like monkey in Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten. Other new kindergarteners will love the out-of-this-world energy of Planet Kindergarten. My teenagers still smile at the classic ABC story of Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.

If your little one is anxious, they might like the upbeat reassurance in Little Lola, or they might like the way Hyewon Yum turns the tables in Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! showing how nervous parents are, even if the kids have everything under control.

Do you have any favorite books to share as your kids start the school year? I love adding to my collection!

The review copies were kindly sent by the publishers, Macmillan, Harper Collins, Chronicle, Penguin, Random House, Simon & Schuster and Boyds Mills. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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41. Alamo All Stars

Alamo All-Stars (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #6) 2016. Abrams. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Three hundred families...land grand....Texas...almost home.

Premise/plot: Nathan Hale and his two pals (the hangman and the British Officer) are joined by Juan Seguin and his three executioners (firing squad, I believe?) to tell the story of the Alamo. It doesn't rush into the story of the Alamo though. Readers learn about Mexico declaring its independence from Spain, the setting up and deposing of several Mexican governments, the arrival, with permission, of American settlers (families) into Texas, the clashes and near-clashes of those settlers with the native tribes in Texas (all given names, I won't mention them all here) and with the Mexican government. Not all Mexican leaders welcomed the idea of settlers, some feared that the more settlers there were, the more likely they would rebel and claim Texas for their very own. Readers learn about Stephen F. Austin, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, William Travis, etc. Some of the people we learn about center around the Alamo--lived, fought, and died at the Alamo--some not. The book explores why they were fighting, what they thought they were fighting for, and their strong personalities that certainly didn't always help in their decision making.

My thoughts: Though a Texan, Texas history has not been my strongest subject especially when I was in school! I found this book a lot more interesting than a textbook. It also helps knowing that I'll never be quizzed on the subject again. Quite the difference between reading for the story and reading to remember names, dates, and places.

There were a LOT of characters in this one. It was fun that our familiar gang was joined by four more. Juan Seguin and his executioners added something to the story. I liked how the hangman came to get along with them and wanted to have a sleepover.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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42. Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea. Ruta Sepetys. 2016. 391 pages. [Source: Library]

First Sentence: Guilt is a hunter.

Premise/plot: Salt to the Sea is a historical novel set during the last part of World War II alternately narrated by four teenagers: Joana, Emelia, Florian, and Alfred. Though the book may seem excessively mysterious and difficult to follow--at the beginning especially--I want to encourage readers to keep going, to keep reading. The BIG PICTURE story of this one is so worth it.

Joana's first sentence: Guilt is a hunter.
Florian's first sentence: Fate is a hunter.
Emilia's first sentence: Shame is a hunter.
Alfred's first sentence: Fear is a hunter.

So what might be nice to know: The end is fast coming. Danger is everywhere--depending on your nationality, your paperwork, your secrets. The 'liberation' coming from the Russian side is just as troubling and disturbing and good cause for fear as accidentally bumping into German Nazis. Three of our four narrators are slowly but surely making their ways to the Baltic Sea, to a port where they may luck into finding an escape aboard a ship. The fourth narrator is already there, a German already assigned to a ship. (That would be Alfred. He will actually be one of the people responsible for registering refugees to the ships and assigning who goes where, who gets on board and who is left behind.) All four seem destined to be aboard Wilhelm Gustloff.

My thoughts: If I had to pick just a handful of words to describe this one: compelling, mysterious, intense, bittersweet. It was a WONDERFUL read. One of those books that remind you WHY you like to read in the first place. I was swept into this story, and, though it took me days to make it through the first fifty or sixty pages, I soon found it impossible to put down. The key to this one, I think, is just going for it: reading it in big chunks. You'll probably still have a few questions here and there, but, just keep going. The more you read, the more will ultimately be revealed.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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43. It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!

WRITE a slice of life story on your own blog. SHARE a link to your post in the comments section. GIVE comments to at least three other SOL bloggers.

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44. Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Ms. Bixby's Last Day. John David Anderson. 2016. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Rebecca Roudabush has cooties.

Premise/plot: Topher, Steve, and Brand are close friends who come together to give Ms. Bixby, their beloved teacher, the last day of her dreams. This middle grade novel is narrated by all three boys in alternating chapters. (Brand may possibly be my favorite. It's hard to say). Several chapters into the book, Ms. Bixby makes an announcement to the class: she has cancer. She'll be leaving within a week or two. They'll have a substitute for the remaining weeks in the year. But she leaves even earlier than intended and is, in fact, hospitalized. Three students take it upon themselves to visit her and bring the 'last day' party to her. True, the class made get well cards. But somehow that doesn't seem like enough. It is Ms. Bixby, after all, only the best teacher in the whole world. The teacher who reads The Hobbit out loud and gives all the different characters voices. The teacher who seems to see and know everything...even to understand everything.

It won't be easy to pull off this last day. All three will have to skip school for starters and pull together all their resources. They want a cheesecake, a bottle of wine, and some McDonald's french fries. And they're relying on many buses to get them there and back again. In some ways they're clueless and foolish. In other ways, just sweet with good intentions.

My thoughts: I really liked this one. I would have loved, loved, loved it but I didn't love all the bathroom 'boy' humor. I do appreciate, in a way, that there are funny parts in this one. I think humor really helps sell kids on reading. So I'd rather the book be 'just right' for kids than 'just right' for me as an adult.

I really enjoyed the characterization. It wasn't rushed and it was complex. The ending was predictable, but just right in a bittersweet way.

My favorite quotes:
"We all have moments when we think nobody really sees us. When we feel like we have to act out or be somebody else just to get noticed. But somebody notices. Topher. Somebody sees. Somebody out there probably thinks you're the greatest thing in the whole world. Don't ever think you're not good enough." (232)

The truth is--the whole truth is--that it's not the last day that matters most. It's the ones in between, the ones you get the chance to look back on. They're the carnation days. They may not stand out the most at first, but they stay with you the longest. (293)

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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45. Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrations by Rebecca Mock, 224 pp, RL 4



Compass South is the fantastic first adventure in the Four Points series of graphic novels written by Hope Larson and illustrated by Rebecca Mock. As I finished reading this book, I felt like I had read a complete novel, there are so many details, world building and character diveristy in this book. In fact, I was reminded of S.E. Grove's trilogy that begins with The Glass Sentence, although Larson's book is set firmly - so far - in real, not an alternative, historical landscape. Mock's illustrations, which are filled with warm earth tones, packed with movement and energy. At times, I had to remind myself of which twin was which, but, in all fairness, this is a story with two sets of redheaded twins!


Set in 1860, Compass South begins with a prologue that explains how and why twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge made it from Ireland to New York City with two very special items - a compass and a pocket knife. Twelve years later, the only father they have ever known (but not their birth father) has disappeared and the twins have joined the Black Hook gang, stealing to survive. When Alexander gets caught, he and Cleopatra make a deal that sends them to New Orleans with Luther, a higher up in the Black Hook gang, close on their trail. Luther has been recruited by Felix Worley, also known as Lucky Worley, captain of the black ship, El Caleuche, to find the twins and relieve them of their heirlooms. 
These threads alone are enough to keep Compass South moving at a fast pace, but Larson weaves in a few more threads that make the story even richer. Before boarding the train to New Orleans, Alexander sees an add offering a reward for the return of redheaded twins to their father, who went West to find his fortune five years earlier. Alex convinces Cleo to cut her hair so they can pose as Samuel and Jeremiah Kimball and make their way to San Francisco to collect the reward and find their father. Of course things don't go as planned, starting with a run in with red headed twin boys that lands Alex and Edwin back in jail and Cleo and Silas without a plan.

While it's a challenge at times to remember which twin is which, especially after Cleo cuts her hair, the hot head Alex is paired with Silas, who has a mysterious ailment that leaves him weak, while thoughtful Cleo ends up with Edwin, who shares Alex's temperament. I will tell you that the twin pairs both end up on ships, but what happens to them, where they end up and what Luther and Worley want with them, well, you'll just have to read to find out!

Source: Purchased


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46. Nurturing Our Writing Lives: 5 Ways to Keep Writing

How can we nurture our own writing lives once the school year begins? 5 ways to help us keep writing.

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47. Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard, 128 pp, RL 3


Eric Orchard is the creator of Maddy Kettle, Book 1: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch in which eleven-year-old Maddy heads off on a quest after her bookstore-owning parents are turned into kangaroo rats by spider goblins. In Bera the One-Headed Troll, tables are turned as Bera, a troll, finds herself with a human infant she is trying to return to its parents. Bera's spare world is one of nighttime - if sunlight touches her, she will turn to stone - rendered in faded oranges and browns. And it is filled with ghosts, ogres with more than one head, benevolent rats, evil mermaids and hedgehog wizards that are a little creepy, a little goofy and entirely fascinating.


Bera is the troll with one head is the official pumpkin gardner of the Troll King. Living on a tiny island in a secret cove with just her owl, Winslowe, and her the ghost of Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Aunt Dota, who resides in a jar, she is happy with her quiet life. As she heads back to her house after the annual pumpkin harvest, she hears crying and finds the mermaids playing keep away with a crying baby in a cauldron.


Rescuing the baby from the mermaids, Bera faces another challenge when she receives the rare visitor at her door, the Troll King's former Head Witch, Cloote. Cloote has been banished, but she hopes to win her place back by using the human baby as part of a spell to create a hideous monster. Determined to get the baby back to the human village, Bera and Winslow leave the island for the first time ever and head into the woods in search of a legendary troll hero.




Bera, Winslowe and the baby in the cauldron are let down, betrayed and half-helped by one troll after another (one with two heads and one with three, just so you know there is a reason why Bera is referred to as a one-headed troll.) The raft of monsters and dangers in Bera the One-Headed Troll are wonderfully, gently menacing and Bera faces them all with quiet determination, much like Nanna the Great, an ancient troll legend who is happily turning into a hill. The climax of Bera the One Headed Troll, and the ending, are great, but honestly, I was happy trailing behind Bera, Winslowe and the baby as they wandered the forest throughout the night. I would love to see this trio again, but until then I'm getting my hands on a copy of Maddy Kettle!

Source: Review Copy





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48. Straight From Students: Why Teachers Should Write

During the last week of school, I met with a group of fourth graders to have an end of the year reflective conversation. We can learn so much about what to do throughout… Continue reading

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49. When Celebrity Picture Books Go Kuh-kuh-kuh-KRAZY!

Celebrity picture books.  The gift that just keeps on giving.

Now in the past I’ve had my say about CPB ah-plenty.  Heck, there was an entire chapter devoted to them in Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. Today, we’ll switch tactics and tackle a topic that no one ever discusses.

Weeeeeeeeeeird celebrity picture books.

Specifically, the ones based on pop songs.

Here is how I imagine how the process usually goes.

Big publisher with lots of money sits down with the people of big famous celebrity singer.  Big publishers offers to get a top notch illustrator (who really needs the cash) to illustrate it.  Celebrity singer is keen on the idea, a deal is struck, and the book is made.  This happens time and again and usually the results are very normal.

But then . . . once in a very great while . . . the impossible happens.  The artist is allowed to be  . . . artistic.

What do I mean like that?  Okay.  Let’s start with the pop novelty song turned picture book.  And in keeping with the sheer number of foxes in picture books these days (Travis! You need to add the new version of The Dead Bird by Zolotow & Robinson to your list!) I am showing you this:

WhatFoxSay

Remember that little post-Gangnam Style hit on the interwebs?  Currently cresting at 616 million views on YouTube (nope, I’m not kidding) someone at Simon & Schuster decided it could be worth it to give the lyrics book form.  After all, it sounds like a children’s song in a lot of ways (right down to the elephant going “toot”).  And usually when a YouTube sensation gets turned into a picture book you get something like a Golden Book Grumpy Cat or a Tiny Hamster or a talking shell, and that’s fine.

Then there’s this:

FoxSay1

FoxSay2

FoxSay3I had to wonder how this happened.  Did Ylvis insist on having his own illustrator?  How did they get Norwegian artist Svein Nyhus in the first place?  How could something this . . this . . this cool be based on a YouTube video?  It was Debbie Ohi’s blog post My WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? obsession, solving a mystery AND the new picture book from Simon & Schuster BFYR that answered all my questions.  Turns out, Art Director Laurent Linn may have had a hand in the works.  Makes sense.  The man has fine taste.

And if you’re saying to yourself, “Fine and all, but clearly this is an aberration” you’d be half right.  Certainly it would take an act of God for another Svein Nyhus picture book to appear on our shores (our Norwegian picture book illustrators available here in the States are a bit, uh, lacking, shall we say).  But odd adaptations of songs into picture book formats don’t stop there.  Consider this:

LittleBlackSpot

Yep.  That’s a Sting song.  Now note the name of the illustrator: Sven Völker.  We’re with a German this time around.  Of course, the interiors might have given that away . . .

LittleBlackSpot1

LittleBlackSpot2

LittleBlackSpot3

I’m sorry but I kind of love this.  Obviously the song isn’t really meant to be for kids, but at least they didn’t cutesy it up.  It would have been easy to go the Shel Silverstein route and follow the adventures of a chipper little spot as he traverses the world.  Instead we get . . . actually, I’m not sure what we get.  Something weird, that’s for sure.

These first two books I’ve mentioned work because the publishers decided to get European artists to do the interiors.  So how often do you find a song adaptation that’s a bit on the peculiar side and that’s illustrated by an American?  Hardly ever.  Of course there are some exceptions:

IfDogsRun

Dylan gets adapted into picture books on a frequent basis.  And he usually gets some perfectly good artists like Paul Rogers or David Walker or Jim Arnosky (that one was a surprise).  One time he got Jon J. Muth and I got really excited.  But the art was pretty standard stuff.  There was a paper airplane motif.  Ho hum.

But Scott Campbell?  He’s different.  This guy has a whole life dedicated to his adult cartoons, which are delightful.  Ever see this book?

GreatShowdowns

If not, I think I’m helping you out with your holiday gift giving already.  That book is a hoot.

In the case of the Dylan book, Campbell appears at first glance to be doing everything straight.  Dogs are running free.  That’s really all there is to it.  But there’s this undercurrent that’s hard to ignore.  See if you feel it too:

IfDogsRun1

IfDogsRun2

It just doesn’t feel like other celebrity song books.  There’s a wildness reigned in here.  The song isn’t one of Dylan’s better ones, so there’s that as well, but at least the pictures are interesting to look at.  The downside is that I haven’t seen Mr. Campbell do any picture books since this and Hug Machine.  Boo-urns, sez I.  More Campbell, please.

I welcome any other suggestions of odd song-adaptation picture books, though I know they’re not easy to come up with.  A goodly chunk of them are dull as dishwater.  Very straightforward.  Artists doing something rote for a nice sized check.  But if you do hear of a case where the artist was allowed to be, y’know, artistic, you just let me know.  This is the kind of stuff I really dig.  And if you can’t think of anything then just sit back and enjoy this fake picture book adaptation of David Bowie’s Major Tom.

SpaceOddity

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50. Sing Along Saturday (Sports)

Today's prompt: Sports Themed Song

This meme is hosted by Bookish Things & More.

I'm going with Just Getting Started by Hawk Nelson.




© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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