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1. First Day of School Jitters? Try Splat the Cat

First Day of School Jitters? Try Splat the Cat | Storytime Standouts

Storytime Standouts reviews Splat the Cat by Rob ScottonSplat the Cat by Rob Scotton
Picture book about starting school published by Harper Collins Publishers

There’s no doubt about it, going to school for the very first time can be nerve-wracking. It is no wonder that Splat is wide awake bright and early.

When mom opens his bedroom door, his first instinct is to pull the covers over his head. When that doesn’t work, Splat tries all sorts of tactics to delay leaving for school. He can’t find socks and his hair is a mess. One thing he knows for sure, having a friend in his lunchbox is certain to help. Splat pops Seymour the Mouse into his lunchbox and sets out to meet his new teacher and classmates.Splat the Cat spread

Mrs. Wimpydimple and Splat’s new classmates are very welcoming and soon Splat is full of questions. He is especially curious to know why cats chase mice! (A definite opportunity to introduce the concept of foreshadowing) When it is finally lunchtime, Splat opens his lunchbox and his small rodent friend, Seymour is suddenly the centre of attention – and not in a good way. Splat’s new classmates do exactly what readers will predict – the chase is on!

Engaging, playful illustrations provide many details for young children to notice and enjoy. A mostly grey and black color palette is highlighted with vibrant yellow and red details that pop off the page. Those who are able to read will love the signs in the storefront windows and Mrs. Wimpydimple’s blackboard illustrations.

Harper Collins has some terrific Splat the Cat printables for children to enjoy.

Splat the Cat at Amazon.com

Splat the Cat at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts - Raising Children Who Love to Read

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2. An interview with Hiding Heidi’s Fiona Woodcock

HidingHeidi Heidi is exceptionally good at hiding. She can blend in anywhere!

Kind friends know Heidi’s amazing skill and let her win whenever they play hide-and-seek, but is hiding away really the best way to have fun with your friends? What might they be good at? What might they most enjoy doing?

Fiona Woodcock‘s playful and stylish début, Hiding Heidi is a lovely exploration of friendship and thinking of others. Heidi’s delightful friends help her learn that you don’t always have to be the best at something to enjoy it, especially when you know your friends are having a good time too.

Mixing the delight of spotting Heidi in her various hiding places, with fresh and joyful illustrations and a story perfect for fostering kindness and understanding, Hiding Heidi is an uplifting read. To celebrate its publication this month I recently caught up with Fiona Woodcock and asked her a few questions about her journey to becoming a published illustrator. I’m really pleased to share our conversation with you today.

Portrait of Fiona Woodcock taken by Sandy Suffield, in front of a painting by John Hoyland at the Newport Street Gallery.

Portrait of Fiona Woodcock taken by Sandy Suffield, in front of a painting by John Hoyland at the Newport Street Gallery.

Playing by the book: Wanting to draw was in your fingertips from an early age I believe – can you tell me a bit about your early art making experiences? How were you encouraged? What experiences were particularly informative and encouraging?

Fiona Woodcock: I was always drawing as a child and my parents found it hard to get me to stop and read instead. At primary school I was selected along with two other budding artists from each class to join a lunchtime art club. We exhibited our work in the local library. So from a young age, being creative formed my identity really.

I would also add that, not only was I always drawing as a child, I did a lot of looking too (or some might say staring!) But I think that being observant and taking everything in is a big part of being creative.

One of my earliest collaborative art making experiences must have been at a preschool class when I was about 3 or 4. We had to screw up pieces of coloured tissue paper which were poked into a huge polystyrene board. The end result was an image of Alice in Wonderland, which I remember being utterly amazed by.

A family snap of Fiona and her brother. This photo inspired the climbing frame spread in Hiding Heidi (see below)

A family snap of Fiona and her brother. This photo inspired the climbing frame spread in ‘Hiding Heidi’ (see below)

Playing by the book: I really love your comment about the importance of observation. I’m sure this was something you developed further whilst studying – can you tell us a bit about your course at the Glasgow School of Art? How much illustration – and children’s book illustration in particular – was part of the course?

Fiona Woodcock: I studied Graphic communication at Glasgow School of Art, which I loved as it was very drawing and ideas based. It was there that I got into animation – I just loved making my drawings move.

There was a lot of drawing on the course, we’d draw on location every week in places like Kelvingrove Art Gallery, The Transport Museum and The Botanical Gardens. And went on an amazing field trip to Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

Sketchbook detail from Fiona's Glasgow School of Art trip to Uist

Sketchbook detail from Fiona’s Glasgow School of Art trip to Uist

Whilst at Glasgow I did a couple of book projects, but not specifically children’s books. I always enjoyed the challenge of sequential images, which is probably why I was also fascinated by animation.

After graduation, I came to London and sought out illustrative animation projects. It became clear that my favourite aspect of the animation process was the design / illustration and so my route into illustration came that way.

Playing by the book: I’d love to know about about your process for making the art in ‘Hiding Heidi’ – including the materials you used, the research you did. What would your top tips be for kids who wanted to have a go at creating art inspired by ‘Hiding Heidi’?

Fiona Woodcock: My process for ‘Hiding Heidi’ started with lots of pencil sketches to help refine the characters. I like to draw on animation paper, it’s a habit I can’t get out of. In some cases I’d use the initial pencil drawings for the final artwork as the redrawn version would loose the expression and energy of the original sketch.

I created the colour work by cutting my own rubber stamps and printing with ink pads to create textured shapes of colour. I also cut stencils and used charcoal and children’s blo-pens. Then everything is composited in the computer and endlessly tweaked.

This shows the print and stencilled colour work, which is combined with charcoal tone and pencil work. You can also see here an early concept image for the stairs spread from the book

This shows the print and stencilled colour work, which is combined with charcoal tone and pencil work. You can also see here an early concept image for the stairs spread from the book.

The way I work has evolved from lots of playful experimentation and I’d encourage children who wanted to create Heidi inspired art to do the same. They could try doing simple potato prints to create imagined places for Heidi to hide in and add extra drawn details. Or use stickers and collage to create their own patterned sofa to hide Heidi on. But essentially just play, that’s how great surprises happen!

An interior spread from 'Hiding Heidi'. Inspired by the earlier family snap (see above).

An interior spread from ‘Hiding Heidi’. Inspired by the earlier family snap (see above).

Playing by the book: Yes, playful exploration! My sort of thing 😉 Is there a secret hidden in the illustrations for ‘Hiding Heidi’ that you’d be prepared to share with us?

Fiona Woodcock: There are a couple of very subtle things to spot on the boating lake scene on the last page, which are different to the other earlier illustration of the boating lake. An indication that even though Heidi is still camouflaged, something has changed. But I’m not going to say, it’s just there for the most observant of readers!

Playing by the book: Brilliant! We’ll all be going back to take a closer look now :-)I love your celebration of a playful approach when it comes to making art. On my blog it’s all about the play inspired by the books we’ve read. What’s the last thing you did (other than creating illustrations) inspired by a book you loved?

Fiona Woodcock: I was very inspired by Cloth Lullaby by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. It reminded me about the wonderful fabric drawings and cloth books by Louise Bourgeois, which has lead me to hatch a plan do some bold graphic fabric based creation myself.

Playing by the book: What a great idea – I can easily imagine your eye for colour and design coming up with some fabulous fabric prints. I do hope your plans come to fruition!

What’s up next for you on the book front? And do you have any time to work on animation at the moment?

Fiona Woodcock: I’m presently working on my second author illustrated book with Simon and Schuster called ‘Bloom’, which will be out next year, and there are other exciting projects that I will be sharing soon too! I’m devoting most of my time at the moment to developing books, so I’m not able to take on any big animation projects, but I really enjoyed working with some friends to produce this short animated trailer for the book.


I’m indebted to Fiona for her generous answers and insight today. I hope you’ve enjoyed our interview, and will seek out Hiding Heidi. It’s given us lots of ideas for project we’d like to try at home – from making sunflower hats (inspired by this), holding bouncy hopper races, making simple boats to sail to the river this holiday, and reading an old, related favourite, Halibut Jackson by David Jackson, to trying our own version of Liu Bolin’s invisibility art!

And here’s some TERRIFIC news! Like the sound of Hiding Heidi? Well… I have one SIGNED HARDBACK to giveaway – and this time the giveaway is international!

  • This giveaway is open WORLDWIDE
  • To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post
  • For extra entries you can:

    (1) Tweet about this giveaway, perhaps using this text:
    Win a signed hardback of @FionaWoodcock’s ‘Hiding Heidi’! To enter just leave a comment here: http://www.playingbythebook.net/2016/07/22/fiona-woodcock/ Worldwide,ends 29/7

    (2) Share this giveaway on your Facebook page or blog

    You must leave a separate comment for each entry for them to count

  • The winner will be chosen at random using random.org
  • The giveaway is open for one week, and closes on Friday 29 July 2016 23.59pm UK time. I will contact the winner via email. If I do not hear back from the winner within one week of emailing them, I will re-draw as appropriate
  • Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.

    Find out more about Fiona on her website or on Twitter:

    3 Comments on An interview with Hiding Heidi’s Fiona Woodcock, last added: 7/22/2016
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    3. White Fur Flying

    White Fur Flying. Patricia MacLachlan. 2013. 116 pages. [Source: Library]

    I really enjoyed Patricia MacLachlan's White Fur Flying. I loved Zoe and her family. Her mom rescues dogs--Great Pyrenees--fostering them until they can find forever homes. Her dad is a veterinarian, I believe. He brings home a parrot one day that is in need of a home. The parrot was--and this is very surprising to me--one of the highlights of the book. In fact, without the parrot, I don't think this novel would work as well, be as emotionally moving. She has a sister, Alice, who is always talking, telling stories, writing poems and stories, etc. Zoe's own character is revealed slowly throughout the book. Kodi, the other "family member" is a dog--Great Pyrenees, of course. He likes having other dogs around, and doesn't mind them coming and going.

    So. The novel opens with the family watching the new neighbors move in. They haven't officially--or even unofficially--met the new family yet. And so some are quite busy making up stories about who they are, and why they're moving. Phillip is a boy around 9 or 10 that is moving in next door. He's the quiet type. The really-super-quiet and choosing-not-to-talk-at-all type. But that doesn't keep Kody and Alice and the other dogs from wanting to make friends with him....

    Why is Phillip so silent? Will befriending dogs "save" him and help him reconnect with the world again?

    This one is predictable enough--if you're an adult reader especially. I can't say honestly whether or not I would have found it predictable enough as a child. For one thing, if a book had a dog on the cover, I wouldn't read it because I was afraid the dog might die. Even though it might be on the slightly-predictable side. I found it very high on the feel-good side. I liked the way the book made me feel, especially at the end when Alice shares her poem. I think that is worth noting. Predictable does not always equal "bad."

    © 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

    0 Comments on White Fur Flying as of 7/21/2016 11:11:00 AM
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    4. Lowriders to the Center of the Earth - a review

    Lowriders to the Center of the Earth
    Written by Cathy Camper
    Illustrated by Raúl the Third

    They're back!

    The impala - Lupe Impala, master mechanic
    The mosquito - Elirio Malaria, the finest detail artist around
    The octopus - El Chavo Flapjack Octopus, washcloth-wielding polisher of the Lowriders in Space Garage

    If you think lowriders are impractical, think again.  When the three amigos from the Lowriders in Space Garage go in search of their missing cat, their rocket-powered lowrider is just what they need.  In this second book in the series, the three friends journey to the center of the earth and face off against a trickster coyote, an Aztec God, and other legendary Mexican and Aztec foes.   As in the first book, they do it with humor, brains, and style—lowrider style—bajito and suavecito (low and slow).

    Lowriders to the Center of the Earth is so visually cool, that it looks more like an older brother's indie comic book than a middle grade graphic novel. Raúl the Third uses red, black, and blue ink on sepia pages, and creates expressive faces, wild action, and hidden humor. The illustrations have a distinctly Mexican flair and invite the reader into the culture.  His art is a perfect complement to Cathy Camper's hilarious wordplay. It's difficult to imagine that kids can learn Spanish, geology, ancient Aztec culture,  Mexican culture, and the virtue of teamwork by reading a book that screams divertido (fun) but they can!  Camper's dialogue is sharp and witty, and even features bilingual puns, as in this exchange between Lupe and the trickster coyote.

    "Have you seen our cat?"
    "Knock knock."
    "Who's there?"
    "Señor who?"
    "Señor cat?  I don't think so."
    ¡Ja, ja, ja!

    This book may be even better than the first!

    My copy of the book was provided by the publisher at my request when my LibraryThing copy went missing in the mail.

      0 Comments on Lowriders to the Center of the Earth - a review as of 7/21/2016 7:17:00 AM
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      5. Mother-Daughter Book Camp, by Heather Vogel Frederick

      The girls are back! It's their last summer together before heading off to their various colleges and Jess (and her mom) have convinced the girls that a summer being counselors at Camp Lovejoy. Jess had gone there when she was younger, as had her mom and her aunt.  Most of the girls were up for it, but Megan needed some convincing. She did have her offer of a fashion internship, but she has been reassured that she will be able to take advantage of it another time. So, here they are, piled in the minivan, driving through the pouring rain to New Hampshire.

      The girls are excited because they have figured out that Jess and Emma are going to be co-counselors to the youngest girls, Becca and Megan will be co-counselors for the eight year olds, and Cassidy volunteered to be a co-counselor with another girl named Amanda to the nine year olds. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. It turns out that there has been a change. A counselor who had planning on coming to camp had a family emergency, and now Jess is moving up and Emma is going to be co-counselors with...Felicia! Felicia Grunewald, Jess' cousin. Immediately Emma knows that this is going to be one disastrous summer.

      And summer certainly has its' bumps. The youngest campers are beyond homesick, Emma is still heartbroken over breaking up with Stewart, and Cassidy seems to be rubbing stalwart head counselor Marge Gearhart the wrong way. Plus there is Felicia with her sackbut (look it up!) to contend with.

      The shenanigans you'd expect in a summer camp novel are all here, complete with a boy's camp across the lake, pranks and competitions. The girls bring their bookclub to their campers as a way to ease their homesickness.  The book of choice this time is Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

      All in all this is a fun ending to a great series. The girls are put in the mothering role and rise to the occasion. Their parents make appearances midway through camp as well as through letters and phone calls. Readers will be able to figure out that Vogel Frederick was a camper herself, and many of the happenings at Camp Lovejoy were mined from her own experiences. I do have to say, I think that a few of the traditions that are at Camp Lovejoy would not actually fly at a camp today -- specifically the one involving the peanuts. That said, these things weren't make or break moments for me.

      This will be a treasured series for many, many years to come. I have had students read through all of them as well as the books that the girls read in their book club. We *never* have the full series on the shelf at once and this is a series that kids recommend to each other all the time. If your kid didn't take this book to camp, mail it on out!

      0 Comments on Mother-Daughter Book Camp, by Heather Vogel Frederick as of 7/19/2016 9:55:00 PM
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      6. The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head by Daisy Hirst

      I do not think it's at all easy to capture the way children think, their logic, the black and white way that they see the world, on the pages of a picture book. Yet with her debut, The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head, which is a mix of straightforward storytelling and, as Cory Doctorow said in his review, "pure pinkwaterian nonsense," Daisy Hirst has done exactly that, creating a picture book that is immediately embraceable and ultimately unforgettable.

      Isabel is The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head and Simon, who is "very good with newts," is her friend. Until he moves away. Hirst's writing is both simple and powerful as she describes how Isabel copes with this change. 

      For a while Isabel hated everything. The parrot went to sit on top of the wardrobe. Until Isabel felt quiet inside and decided to like being on her own.

      Isabel did not need friends because she had a parrot on her head and a SYSTEM. 

      Isabel's system involves sorting her things. One aspect of Hirst's visual story telling style that I love is her choice to color in some things and leave other things as line drawings. Mostly, the line drawings are used for Isabel's toys, but also for what are abstract, imaginary items, like THE DARK and that one, nagging thing that just might be "too big for the system." The wolf. 

      Isabel heads out on her scooter, her parrot flying behind, to find a box big enough for this wolf. But when she does, she discovers that there is already something inside the perfect box. A boy. Chester, who was planning on using the box for a den ("Why not a castle?" "Why not an ostrich farm? Or a space station next to the moon?" Isabel asks) but listens as Isabel tells him about her wolf troubles. Chester takes a reasonable approach with the wolf and the results are marvelous.

      Hirst ends The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head with a new beginning as Isabel and Chester, who "has a way with umbrellas and tape," get busy with their space station, which "really needed two astronauts and a parrot with a teacup on its head."

      Daisy Hirst's second picture book comes out in the US in November of this year and I can't wait to get my hands on it. The title alone is fantastic! Alphonse, That is Not OK To Do! is the story of monster siblings. Natalie is a patient, mostly tolerant older sister until she finds Alphonse eating her favorite book.

      Source: Review Copy

      0 Comments on The Girl with the Parrot on Her Head by Daisy Hirst as of 7/13/2016 6:39:00 AM
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      7. Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson, 300pp, RL 4

      When Ms. Bixby announces that she is very sick and won't be able to finish out the last weeks of the school year (or even finish the last 20 pages of the class read aloud, The Hobbit) Brand, Steve and Topher decide that they want to give her a proper last day. That's the nutshell summary of John David Anderson's newest novel, Ms. Bixby's Last Day. I knew that this wasn't going to be an easy read, but there was no way I was not going to read (and love) Ms. Bixby's Last Day, tissue box by my side. Anderson's book is a surprise, a delight and a reminder of why I work with kids, how a teacher (or other thoughtful adult) can make a powerful, even if seemingly small at the time, impact on a child's life and how valuable it is to be reminded of this by a work of art. But will kids want to read it?

      That's what I wondered as I pored over every page - exactly who would I recommend this book to? One thing that I especially love (among many) about Ms. Bixby's Last Day is the fact that the story is told by three narrators, all sixth grade boys. In this age of (slouching toward) equality, it is a challenge to find a middle grade novel featuring all boy or all girl protagonists. The formula, for fantasy, anyway, is always boys and girls, with boys usually as the main character - think Harry, Ron and Hermione or Percy, Grover and Annabeth. It's a genuine treat to hear the voices of three different boys over the course of 300 pages. Anderson has created three characters, each of whom, to varying degrees, has things going on at home that make Ms. Bixby's unique attention so meaningful. Topher is a gifted artist who misses the way his family was before the birth of his little sister and his mom's return to the workforce. Steve, who once memorized every country (and capital, population and official language) for fun, feels inferior to his older sister, a perfectionist who meets their parents's high standards. Then there is Brand, the quiet, driving force of this trio and the feat they try to pull off while ditching school one Friday. Raised by his dad, Brand's life changed drastically when his father was paralyzed by an accident at work and his will to get back on his feet, metaphorically and literally, disappeared. 

      Topher, who has classified teachers into six categories, puts Ms. Bixby into the "Good Ones" column - the kind of teachers who you "find yourself actually paying attention in class, even if it's not art class. They're the teachers you actually want to fo back an say hi to the next year. The ones you don't want to disappoint." Ms. Bixby has a talent for recognizing, valuing and nurturing what is special in her students and also for making them think. When the class is deprived of the chance to say goodbye to Ms. Bixby because the treatment for her pancreatic cancer has been pushed up, Brand, Steve and Topher decide to ditch school and take the bus to the hospital to see her. Armed with a special knowledge of how Ms. Bixby would spend her last day on earth (this was a writing prompt she gave her students, one of whom asked her what she would do) the boys carry backpacks, cash, a picnic blanket, a wine glass and more with them as they stop to try to buy the things they need for the special day and meet with obstacles they never saw coming. As Ms. Bixby's Last Day unfolds, each boy narrating part of their odyssey to make it from school to the hospital downtown, Anderson reveals things about their lives and their relationships with Ms. Bixby. He also throws in some tension between the friends along with more than a few hilarious scenes and suspenseful twists as well. Ms. Bixby's Last Day is, as Anderson says in his acknowledgements, a quiet book. There is more reflection than action, but Anderson's story telling style is masterful, with hints to meaningful moments that are revealed powerfully in later pages or chapters. Although a quiet book, Ms. Bixby's Last Day is always moving forward with Steve, Brand and Topher as they make their way to room 428 in St. Mary's Hospital.

      So who will I recommend Ms. Bixby's Last Day book to when school starts up again in August? I'm still not sure. But, during the last week of June I was sorting discarded library books to give away and a coworker's daughter, who just finished 7th grade and is quiet and a bit shy, was helping me. I asked her what she likes to read and she responded adventure stories, real life, no fantasy. I pulled  a few books off the shelf for her and we sat and read, waiting for people to come to the book give away. A couple of middle school boys zipped by on their bikes and stopped to talk to me, getting a little goofy when they saw my helper. They circled around on their bikes showing off and my helper and I talked about how dumb middle school boys can be. Then I told her about the book I was reading, Ms. Bixby's Last Day, and how it started off with sixth grade boys talking about cooties and being goofy and how they wanted to visit their sick teacher. Later, as we were packing up the leftover books, she surprised me (mostly because of our discussion about dopey boys) by asking if she could borrow my copy of Ms. Bixby's Last Day. I gave her my Advance Readers Copy with the promise that she send a note to work with her mom in August telling me how she liked it. 

      Source: Review Copy

      0 Comments on Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson, 300pp, RL 4 as of 7/13/2016 4:56:00 AM
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      8. Save Me A Seat - an audiobook review

      Save Me a Seat
      by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
      Read by Josh Hurley and Vikas Adam

      This is a perfect middle grade novel for highlighting how easily one can mischaracterize another's words or actions.  It's also an inside look at the immigrant and disability experience.  Teachers, you should read this one and share it with your students!

      I reviewed Save Me a Seat for AudioFile Magazine.  The book spans only five days in fifth grade, the first week of school at Einstein Elementary School in Hamilton, NJ.  Its sections are titled with the school lunch of the day —Chicken Fingers, Hamburgers, etc., and chapters alternate between Joe, a boy with auditory processing disorder (APD) and Ravi, a recent immigrant from India.  Both boys are targets of the school bully—Joe, because of his disability, and Ravi because of his heavily accented English (which he himself cannot hear) and his family's style of food, dress, and manners.

      Although Ravi was a favored, top-ranked student in his native Bangalore, India, his accent and lack of knowledge about his new country land him in the resource room at Einstein Elementary.  Joe also visits the resource room to learn coping skills for his APD. Initially, Ravi views Joe with disdain —mistaking the outward signs of his disability for stupidity.

      In each chapter, the boys recount the same scene, allowing the reader or listener to fully understand how our perception of an event is shaped by our cultural, family, and personal background.  I'm sure that the printed book is wonderful as well, but the use of dual narrators in the audiobook really hammers home the differing perspectives.

      Read my complete review of Save Me a Seat for AudioFile Magazine here. (An audio excerpt is also available at the same link, however, it only features the character Ravi, read by Vikas Adam.)

      Read other reviews of Save Me a Seat and an interview with the authors at Sarah Weeks' website. 

      I recently began working in a library with many new Indian-American families, and reading Save Me a Seat was enlightening. The challenges involved in adapting to a new country are many and cannot be overlooked. I'm so glad I listened to this one!


      0 Comments on Save Me A Seat - an audiobook review as of 7/9/2016 3:28:00 AM
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      9. The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

      I always look forward to books by Kate Messner. Why? Because I know they will be solid, kid centered and bring something to the table. I had read online that she had recently been disinvited to a school due to the content of her latest book.  I quickly went to my TBR pile and pulled out my copy to give it a go.

      Charlie's sister Abby is home from college for the weekend and things aren't going exactly like Charlie had imagined they would.  When she goes to wake Abby up to see if she will come out to look at the lake with her just in case the ice flowers have shown up again, Abby waves her off telling her to just go away. Somewhat chagrinned, Charlie trudges out to the lake only to see that the ice flowers have come back. Her neighbor Drew and his nana are also out on the lake but they are checking the ice for fishing possibilities. Drew tells Charlie about the fishing derby he plans on entering and the prize of $1000 for the biggest lake perch. Since Charlie really wants a new dress for her Irish dancing competitions, she decides to give it a go.

      But despite living near the lake, Charlie is scared of its winter ice. So when she joins Drew and his nana, she sticks closer to shore. Soon everyone is landing fish left and right except for Charlie. When she finally pulls one in, it's hardly bigger than the bait she used to catch it. But right before she releases it she hears something. The fish is talking to her. "Release me and I will grant you a wish."

      Well, what would you do? Charlie hastily wishes on her crush liking her and to not be afraid of the ice anymore. What harm could wishing on a fish really do?

      Anyone who has read a fairy tale knows that wishes can easily go awry. And Charlie's wishes are no exception. While no harm is truly done, Charlie finds herself out on the ice more and more  (since she miraculously is no longer afraid of the ice) with Drew and his nana. Not only is it adding to her feis dress fund, but it's getting her out of the house. It turns out that Abby has changed in ways that Charlie never even imagined. While she was away at school, she started dabbling in drugs which led to a full blown heroin addiction. Who can Charlie even talk to about this? When she thinks about it, she feels ashamed and bewildered. How could Abby, who she had always looked up to, done this?

      Kate Messner has written an important book that somewhat gently looks at the fact that anyone can be swiftly taken down by drugs, and specifically by opiates. I live on Staten Island where opiate abuse and heroin are at an all time high.  I commute to Manhattan with my children, and by the time they were 9 and 12 respectively they could tell the difference between someone napping and someone in a nod. They have witnessed police using narcan on people who have OD'd in the ferry terminal. They watched me try to convince the friends of a woman in the throws of an OD to allow me to call an ambulance for her. Kids aren't too young for this story. My kids are living this story everyday they commute. And the brothers and sisters of kids all over our Island are living Charlie's story.  So I would like to applaud Kate Messner for telling this story. It is one I plan on sharing and book talking whenever I get the chance.

      0 Comments on The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner as of 7/8/2016 12:32:00 PM
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      10. Blitzed by Robert Swindells

      This post was originally posted in 2012, but something odd happened on Blogger and it had to be reposted.

      It is 2002 and Georgie Wetherall loves two things - knowing all about England in World War II and creeping. Creeping?  That is when you “streak across a row of back gardens, over fences, through hedges, across veg patches...without getting caught or recognized.” (pg13)  And he especially likes leaving Miss Coverley’s garden is shambles.  Georgie knows she doesn’t like him - she's always watching him.  So when he has to repair her fence post as punishment for his last creeping adventure, Georgie discoveres she watches him - it seems he reminds her of someone, but who?

      All this is forgotten, however, when Georgie’s class goes on a trip to Eden Camp, a former POW camp turned into a WW 2 museum of 29 huts each dedicated to one aspect of the war.  Hut 5 is a realistic replica of a bombed street in London during the Blitz.  The sounds and smells add to the realistic atmosphere - but wait, it is perhaps a little too realistic.  In fact, Georgie suddenly finds himself transported back to wartime London.

      Finding himself faced with the real deal, cold, hungry, lost and scared, Georgie wanders around until he finds a friendly searchlight crew who give him something to eat.  After living through a night of bombing in a public shelter, Georgie notices four kids emerging from a bombed out pub.  He and the kids start talking and they tell him he can stay with them as long as Ma approves.  Ma turns out to be a 14 year-old girl who watches over orphaned kids in the pub's basement.

      Ma has a job in a second hand shop owned by what she believes to be is a Jewish refugee from Germany called Rags.  But when Georgie discovers a radio transmitter locked in one of the shops upstairs rooms, the kids begin to suspect that maybe Rags isn't who they think he is.  And they decide to find out exactly what he is up to with that radio transmitter.  Trouble is, Rags begins to suspect Ma of snooping in his stuff and decides to find out what she is up to.  So, Georgie, along with Ma and the other orphans, is on a wartime adventure he never dreamt possible.

      I liked this coming of age time travel story.  It is told in the first person, and the author maintains the voice of a 12 year-old boy throughout, giving it an authentic quality - quick, witty, full of colloquialisms from 2002 that are questioned by the folks from 1940.  I also found Georgie's reaction to his predicament refreshing.  In most time travel stories, kids end up in a different time and place and seem to assimilate so easily.  But for Georgie, it isn't just a jolly adventure.  He worries throughout about not getting home, not seeing his parents again.  As wartime London loses its romanticized aura and becomes reality, it causes Georgie to experience real reactions like throwing up more than once and even wetting himself at one point.

      But it is also a story of survival, complete with a cast of orphan characters right out of Charles Dicken's London, who become Georgie's family away from family, helping him adjust and carry on. And most importantly, helping him see the reality of war.

      Blitzed is a fast paced but wonderful book.  The chapters are only a few pages long, but the events are exciting, making it an ideal book for a reluctant readers and certainly one that would appeal to boys as well as girls.

      This book is recommended for readers age 10+
      This book was purchased for my personal library

      You can hear Robert Swindells speaking about Blitzed here.  It is on YouTube but the embed function is disengaged.

      And there really is an Eden Camp in Yorkshire, so if you happen to be in England and would have an interest in visiting (you might want to go to Yorkshire anyway, it is a wonderful place to see.)  Information about visiting can be found here

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      11. Be A Friend

      Be A Friend. Salina Yoon. 2016. Bloomsbury. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

      First sentence: Dennis was an ordinary boy...who expressed himself in extraordinary ways.

      Premise/plot: Dennis (aka "Mime Boy") is lonely until he finds someone who really, truly gets him. Her name is Joy. And they can be friends without saying a single word. So long as they can use jazz hands to laugh together!

      My thoughts: I love this one. I do. It is cute, sweet, and true. What a celebration of friendship...and imagination...and being true to yourself. My favorite line: There was no wall between Dennis and Joy. It was more like a mirror.

      Do watch the Emily Arrow song.

      Text: 4.5 out of 5
      Illustrations: 4.5 out of 5
      Total: 9 out of 10

      © 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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      12. Every Child Needs Sad Books

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      13. Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator

      Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator. Mo Willems. 2011. HarperCollins. 72 pages. [Source: Library]

      First sentence of the first story: Amanda was at the library getting her books for the week. Her alligator was not. He was waiting for Amanda to get back.
      Want to read 6 1/2 surprising stories about 2 surprising friends? What if those stories are written by Mo Willems?!

      I am a BIG, BIG fan of Mo Willems. I am. So I was so excited to read Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator. I was happy to discover six (and a half) stories about a little girl, Amanda, and her best friend, a stuffed toy alligator. It was wonderful to see how many stories highlight Amanda's love for reading. Willems' shares with readers the titles of Amanda's library books: How to Raise a Tiger, Whale Songs for Beginners, Climbing Things for Fun and Profit, and You Can Make It Yourself: Jet Packs! (I thought the titles were clever--my favorites being Climbing Things for Fun and Profit and You Can Make It Yourself: Jet Packs!) The stories are just fun and imaginative and--at times--sweet.

      For example, in "A Surprising Value," Alligator is worried--and a bit sad--to discover that he's only "worth" seven cents. That he, in fact, came from the sale bucket. But Amanda reassures her dear friend that there was a very good reason no one else wanted to buy him,
      "No one wanted to buy you because they knew you were meant to be my best friend." After that, Alligator felt better. (And that's the truth.) (44-45)
      I also enjoyed the last story, "A Surprising Discovery." In that story, Alligator is again worried. This time he's worried because Amanda has brought home 'a surprise' from her day at the zoo. She's brought home a new toy, a stuffed panda. This panda does NOT look like it was from the sale bucket. No, the panda definitely cost more than seven cents. So Alligator isn't all that happy about this new friend. Not until he realizes that Panda is great fun. Alligator used to spend his time waiting for Amanda; spent his time being bored, bored, bored. But with Panda around? Well, it's fun to "wait" for Amanda! Here's one of my favorite quotes from that story:
      When Amanda comes home, we will have fun, thought Alligator.
      We will sing songs!
      We will dress up!
      We will make discoveries!
      Maybe Amanda will have another surprise for me!
      Alligator smiled.
      "Surprise!" yelled Amanda, swinging open the door. "Look what Grandpa got for me at the zoo!"
      It was a panda.
      The panda was huge.
      The panda was fluffy.
      The panda did not look like it came from the sale bucket.
      Alligator did not like Amanda's surprise. (58-60)
      I enjoyed all the stories. I did. And I would definitely recommend this one.

      Text: 5 out of 5
      Illustrations: 5 out of 5
      Total: 10 out of 10

      © 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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      14. By the Great Horn Spoon

      By the Great Horn Spoon! Sid Fleischman. 1963. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]

      First sentence: A sailing ship with two great sidewheels went splashing out of Boston harbor on a voyage around the Horn to San Francisco.

      Premise/plot: Jack Flagg, our young hero, runs away from home--with his butler, Praiseworthy--to seek his fortune (literally) in the 1849 California Gold Rush. While the two set out with enough money to pay for their passage aboard a ship, the two are robbed while buying their tickets. They decide to stowaway though not for the entire voyage. They turn themselves into the ship's captain. They tell their story and prove willing to work. While working, one of them comes up with a genius way to catch the thief whom they are sure is on board. This is just the first sign that this team is unstoppable and that together they are in for a lot of adventure, danger, and FUN. The book chronicles their journey on the ship, and, in California. There's more comedy than drama. Which I think is overall a good thing. It's good to be kept smiling. And while this one may lack intensity and edge-of-your-seat suspense, it has a lot of feel-good adventure.

      My thoughts: I may have a soft spot for this one because I spent so many hours playing Goldrush. I liked the comedy. I liked the friendship. I loved the resolution. How the two were working so hard so they could head back East to save the family home. And well, I won't spoil it. But it's lovely!

      I would definitely recommend this one.

      © 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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      15. The Thank You Book, by Mo Willems: A terrific finale for Elephant and Piggie (ages 4-8)

      It's almost the end of the year for us, and kids are starting to think about how hard it is to say goodbye to favorite teachers. I wish I could give every teacher a copy of The Thank You Book, Mo Willem's terrific finale for his Elephant and Piggie series.

      This is a must-read series; kids of all ages love the friendship and banter between Elephant and Piggie, especially 1st graders who are venturing into reading independently.

      The Thank You Book
      from the Elephant and Piggie series
      by Mo Willems
      Disney-Hyperion, 2016
      Your local library
      ages 4-8
      *best new book*
      Gerald and Piggie are best friends. They help each other, they play with each other, and they give each other advice--plenty of it. Piggie is outgoing, and Gerald is cautious. Piggie tends to be head-strong, while Gerald tends to be a worrier. This combination creates plenty of laughs, and it lets kids see different sides of their own personalities.

      Kids love reading Elephant and Piggie books aloud--the whole story is told through dialog which bubbles over with emotion. As my friend Carrie Gelson wrote in her Goodreads review,
      "This series has transformed many a little reader. It has given the gift of expression, confidence, laughter and fun. And it ends with gratitude."
      Gerald and Piggie have starred in twenty five books(!!) together. For their finale, Piggie decides to thank everyone. She's so happy, that she's thanking of all her friends, "everyone who is important to me." But Gerald is worried that she might forget someone...someone very important.
      "Thank you all for being great friends!"
      Willems creates tension with ease, as Gerald gets more and more upset. Readers are just sure that he wants Piggie to thank HIM, but Willems pulls out the perfect surprise ending.
      "You are forgetting someone! Someone VERY important."
      In a delightful twist, Gerald turns to Piggie and reminds her that they need to thank their readers. “We could not be ‘us’ without you,” says Gerald. Piggie joins in, adding, “You are the best!” Talk about a moment that melts my heart, each and every time I read it. Willems honors the hard work that young readers do in bringing stories to life, and he does so with joy, humor and heart.

      As a teacher and a librarian, I want to thank every child who's shared their reading lives with me, every parent who's entrusted their child to me, every author who's shared a bit of themselves with us through their words. Thank YOU, Mo Willems, for bringing so much joy to all of us, helping us create so many teachable moments, so many wonderful conversations.

      Head on over to ThankoRama.com to download, print, and fill out your own #ThankoRama speech bubbles. Teachers, definitely check out The World of Elephant and Piggie Teaching Guide.

      Thank you, my blog readers, for sharing the joy of reading with me and with all the kids in your lives! The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion. 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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      16. 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

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      17. StoryMakers | Jennifer Oxley & Billy Aronson

      STORYMAKERS - Jennifer Oxley & Billy Aronson (Peg + Cat) Featured Image

      We’re trying to make math cool … It’s for everybody
      and it’s everywhere. It’s a part of your life.
      — Billy Aronson

      Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson are the team behind the award-winning PBS series “Peg + Cat”. Peg is a little girl whose life is a big math problem, which she solves with her best friend, Cat. Her world looks like math as the backdrop is graph paper and various items are made from simple shapes. The animated television series Peg + Cat has won seven Daytime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Pre-School Children’s Animated Program, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation (Jennifer Oxley), and Outstanding Writing in a Pre-School Animated Program.

      Parents and teachers who want to continue the STEAM fun offline can turn to the Peg + Cat books written by the series creators. In this episode of StoryMakers Rocco Staino, Billy Aronson, and Jennifer Oxley discuss the creative vision for the series and several themes central to the  series of books. Fun, simple mathematics, diversity, and a seamless flow are essential to the success of the books and television series.

      Oxley and Aronson offer encouraging messages about mathematics that will inspire children, parents, and teachers alike.

      We’re giving away three (3) sets of books for this episode of StoryMakers. Each set includes a of copy of Jennifer and Billy’s picture book, PEG + CAT: THE PIZZA PROBLEM and PEG + CAT: THE RACE CAR PROBLEM. The giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on June 7, 2016. ENTER NOW!

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      Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem
      Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem - Jennifer Oxley & Billy Aronson
      By Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson
      Published by Candlewick Entertainment

      What do fractions have to do with pizza? The stars of the Emmy Award winning animated series “Peg + Cat” serve up a delicious new episode.
      It’s lunchtime at Peg’s Pizza Place. Peg and Cat are excited to take their first order from the Teens only to learn that some of their customers want a whole pizza while one of them wants half a pie. How can Peg and Cat make half a pie when they don t know what “half “is? Luckily, Ramone and Mac are there to help, with a slice up the middle of the pizza. As more customers come in, things get entertaining, with Peg singing a jazzy song and Cat doing a dance. But soon there’s another problem: four orders, but only two and a half pizzas left. Peg is totally freaking out until Cat reminds her that when it comes to halves and wholes, it’s all in how you slice it.

      Peg + Cat: The Race Car Problem - Jennifer Oxley & Billy AronsonPeg + Cat: The Race Car Problem
      By Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson
      Published by Candlewick Entertainment

      Peg and Cat, stars of their own Emmy Award winning animated TV series, zoom into a picture book and put math skills to the test in a lively racing adventure. Peg and Cat have built an amazing car out of things they found lying around. They’ve named her Hot Buttered Lightning (since she’s built for speed), and they plan to win the Tallapegga Twenty. If they can make it out of the junkyard, that is. It’s a good thing Peg knows the best shape to use to make wheels and how to count laps to see who is ahead. And it’s lucky that Cat reminds Peg to keep calm when she’s “totally freaking out.” Will Peg and Cat be the first to complete twenty laps and win the Golden Cup? Or will it be one of their quirky competitors? Count on Peg and Cat to rev up young problem-solvers for an exciting race to the finish.


      Jennifer Oxley was born in Hollywood, California and caught the filmmaking bug early – she made her first film at the age of seven. Since then she has directed fifteen short films for Sesame Street, as well as the award-winning adaptation of Spike Lee and Tanya Lewis Lee’s children’s book, Please, Baby, Please.

      Her latest film, The Music Box, was acquired by The Museum of Modern Art for their permanent children’s film collection. Her work in children’s television includes directing and artistic credits. Jennifer is the recipient of an Emmy Award for her role as director on Little Bill, and she created the look and animation style of The Wonder Pets!, which won an Environmental Media Award and the prestigious Japan Prize.

      Most recently Jennifer teamed up with Billy Aronson to create Peg + Cat for PBS Kids, and is co-founder of 9ate7 Productions.

      Source: 9ate 7 Productions

      Website | Facebook | Twitter


      Billy Aronson is a playwright and writer. Aronson is probably best known for creating the original concept behind the Tony award-winning rock opera Rent. He’s written several plays and musicals. Also, he’s written for popular children’s shows, and cartoons including Courage the Cowardly, Codename: Kids Next Door, The Backyardigans, The Wonder Pets, and Beavis and Butthead.

      Aronson attended Princeton University. He counts several plays by Shakespeare, Looney Tunes, and The Brothers Grimm among his influences. Billy Aronson is a co-creator of Peg + Cat for PBS Kids, and is co-founder of 9ate7 Productions, with Jennifer Oxley.

      Learn more about his playwriting, television work, and  here.

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      18. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, by Laura Shovan -- story full of distinct voices (ages 9-12)

      Many of my students are drawn to realistic fiction because it gives them a chance to immerse themselves in someone else's story. In fact, a recent study has shown that reading literary fiction helps improve readers' ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling (see this article in Scientific American).

      Laura Shovan's novel in verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is full of distinct voices that prompt us to think about different students' unique perspectives. It's one my students are enthusiastically recommending to one another.

      The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary
      by Laura Shovan
      Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2016
      Google Books preview
      Your local library
      ages 9-12
      *best new book*
      Eighteen fifth graders keep poetry notebooks chronicling their year, letting readers peak into their thoughts, hopes and worries as the year progresses. Fifth grade is a momentous year for many students, as the finish elementary school and look ahead to all the changes that middle school brings. This year is particularly full of impending change for Ms. Hill's class because their school will be demolished at the end of the year to make way for a new supermarket.

      Through these short poems, Shovan captures the distinct, unique voices of each student. The class is diverse in many ways--racially, ethnically, economically, and more. At first, I wondered if I would really get to know the different students since each page focused on a different child; however, as the story developed, I really did get a sense of each individual as well as the class as a whole. Shovan creates eighteen distinctive individuals--with personalities and backgrounds that we can relate to and envision. And these experiences shape how each individual reacts to the year.

      I particularly love novels in verse because they allow readers a chance to see inside character's thoughts without bogging the narrative down in too much description. As researcher David Kidd said (in this Scientific American article), literary fiction prompts readers to think about characters: "we’re forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations.” This is exactly what ends up being the strength of Laura Shovan's novel.

      The funniest thing, for me personally, has been the shocked look of many of my students when I show them this cover. You see, our school is called Emerson Elementary School. "This is a real book?!?!" they say, incredulously. I know my students will particularly like the way these students protest the plans to demolish their school, bringing their protest to the school board.

      As you can see in this preview on Google Books, this collection of poems slowly builds so readers get a sense of each student in Ms. Hill's fifth grade. The poetry feels authentic, never outshining what a fifth grader might write but always revealing what a fifth grader might really be thinking.

      I highly recommend the audiobook for The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. The diverse cast of Recorded Books brings alive each character. This would make a great summer listen, or a great read-aloud for the beginning of the school year.

      The review copy for the audiobook was purchased from Audible and for the print copy it was borrowed from my local library. 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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      19. Booked--Kwame Alexander scores again with this novel in verse (ages 10-14)

      I am ridiculously excited to share Booked with kids, friends and librarians. Kwame Alexander hits the sweet spot again, this time scoring a goal with his mix of soccer, family, first crushes, friendship and poetry.

      by Kwame Alexander
      Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
      Your local library
      ages 10-14
      *best new book*
      Nick loves soccer, whether it's playing futsol with his best friend, dreaming of playing professionally, or staying up late playing FIFA online. What Nick hates are books. More specifically, he hates that his dad makes him read his own dictionary of unusual words.

      Kwame Alexander has crafted a novel that is fast to read, full of wordplay and humor, and leaves you thinking. I love the way he captures the bantering between Nick and his mom, as well as between Nick and his best friend Coby. Right from the beginning, he shows how kids play with words in smart, sophisticated ways. My students love telling jokes, and will love seeing if their friends get this. Just see if they see why this is such a funny way for Nick to introduce his dad, the linguistics professor:
      "In the elementary school spelling bee
      when you intentionally
      misspelled heifer,
      he almost had a cow."
      As Nick struggles with his parents' impending divorce, bullying at school and figuring out how to talk to the girl of his dreams, he discovers that words and poetry can actually be cool. A great follow up to The Crossover!

      Want to read more? Check out this terrific NPR interview with Kwame from this weekend:
      How To Get Kids Hooked On Books? 'Use Poetry. It Is A Surefire Way'
      -- NPR radio interview, April 3, 2016
      I'm so jazzed to share this that I've already placed an order for 15 books (!!) with my favorite local bookstore, Mrs. Dalloway's, and I will be sharing these with friends tomorrow. I hope to share soon how kids respond to Booked. My sense is that Booked will resonate more with middle school students than elementary students, but I do think many 5th graders will enjoy and relate to Nick's struggles.

      The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 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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      20. Picture Book Roundup - kind, find, and confined

      It's been a while since I've done a picture book roundup.  Here are three that struck my fancy:

      Kind. This boy is the best!

      Have you seen Elephant? 

      Written and illustrated by David Barrow.
      Gecko Press, 2016

      A kind young boy plays hide-and-seek with his elephant friend and takes care to keep the game going, despite the fact that his friend is a very poor hider! Have you seen Elephant? is bright and cheerful and funny, and above all - kind. This is the first book I've seen from Gecko Press and the first by David Barrow. I love it!

      Confined? Can the colortamer catch them all?

      Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color

      Written and illustrated by Julia Denos
      Balzer Bray, 2016

      Bright, bold, and expressive, Swatch is a color tamer - trapping and using colors in the most fantastic of ways. A bold and fearless artist, no color had escaped her artistic eye ... no color but one,
      "Morning came, and there it was, fast fading and fierce, the King of All Yellows, blooming in the sidewalk crack in spite of the shadows. Swatch was ready .... At last, Yellowest Yellow would be hers."
      Or would it?

      This is the first book that Julia Denos has written as well as illustrated. I would love this book even if my favorite color were not the hero of the story!

      Find. Where is that cat?

      Spot, the Cat 

      Illustrated by Henry Cole
      Little Simon, 2016

      A beautifully detailed, wordless book - more than just a seek-and-find, it follows the path of an adventurous cat in the city and the boy who wants to find him. Join the young boy and search the city for Spot, the cat.

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      21. Bee & Me by Alison Jay

      beemecover A hopeful tale of friendship and flower power, Alison Jay‘s wonderful wordless picture book Bee & Me opens with a young girl startled by a buzzing bee.

      No-one likes to be stung and it looks like the bee might be all over before the story’s even begun. Fortunately, a crack in the door of curiosity and bravery opens up the way for an joint adventure bringing plants and flowers across the grey city, delivering beauty and benefits to all city inhabitants, whether honey bees or humans.

      Variations on similar theme may be familiar from The Bee Movie, The Curious Garden by Peter Brown or perhaps Big City Bees written by Maggie de Vries and illustrated by Renné Benoit but what Jay brings afresh to this optimistic, reassuring and galvanising story are the glorious details in her beautiful and textured illustrations, often using multiple panels per page, thereby blurring the boundaries between picture book and graphic novel.

      Many layers of storytelling run parallel to the main plot. Repeat readings will lead you into the lives of several city inhabitants, when you peer through apartment windows, watching what happens as time passes and the plans of the girl and her bee blossom. It made me think of a recent discussion I had with author Phil Earle, in relation to his fabulous Storey Street series, where he talked about his firm belief that there is story worth hearing behind every door (or in Jay’s case, through every window). A further strand in Jay’s fabric of storytelling follows the growth of friendship between the girl and another young resident in her block of flats, as if distilling how nature can save us from loneliness and make us feel re-connected once more.

      Bee & Me 9781910646052 spd 6
      Worldwide, bees are in decline. Because of their role as pollinators, we need bees, and bees – facing the threat they now do – need us. This upbeat, optimistic, can-do example of how children are able to make a real and beneficial difference to their world will hopefully inspire a new generation prepared to make a difference.


      Enthused by Bee & Me the girls and I set about creating lots of Bee Seed Tape to give away to all our fellow allotmenteers. Seed Tape is a strip of biodegradable material with seeds already imprinted in it, evenly spaced and super easy to use for speedy planting.

      First we dyed (organic) toilet paper, spraying it with natural food colouring.


      When the paper was dry, we stuck on seeds using a thick flour/water paste (as thick as possible, so that the moisture in it didn’t encourage the seeds to germinate). We chose to use seeds for sunflower and borage because bees love these plants and the seeds are large enough to handle easily.


      Once our seed tape was dry we turned it into bees. Our bee body (which was designed to double up as a plant label) was made from a lollipop stick on which the seed types written on it.


      The seed tape was wrapped around the lollipop and held in place with some black ribbon to create bee stripes. Ping-pong balls and pipecleaners were used to create bee heads, and instructions for planting the seed tape were stuck onto black cardboard wings (you can download the template here if you’d like to use ours) threaded on to the black ribbon.


      Now it was time to share and plant our bee-friendly seeds so off to the allotment we went:


      Here’s the seed tape rolled out before we covered it up with soil.


      I don’t think I’ve ever seen such fun seed labels before!

      A bit of water and now we just need to wait!


      Whilst making our Bee Seed Tape we listened to:

    • Shakin’ up The Pollen by Scribble Monster
    • Busy Bee sung by Arthur Askey – a favourite of mine from when I was little!
    • Bees, Butterflies & Bugs by Sir Jerry
    • Bee Bom by Anthony Newley
    • Monty Python’s Eric the Half-a-Bee

    • Other activities which might work well alongside reading Bee & Me include:

    • Using out-of-date seeds to create mosaic artwork. Seeds and seed pods come in the most spectacular range of shapes and sizes and are great fun for using as an art material.
    • Going on an after-dark walk around the neighbourhood to look in windows. Can you spot, as in Bee & Me, someone reading a book? Someone painting a picture? Someone knitting, (extra points for these) tossing a pancake or writing a story on a typewriter? What tales could be behind these glimpses into the lives of others?
    • Adopting a small public space in your street (perhaps by a verge or under a tree) and planting some flowers or herbs to brighten up the lives, not just of bees, but also of your neighbours? Be inspired by Todmorden’s community herb gardens or London’s Guerilla Gardeners (with examples from around the world).

    • If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me:

    • How we made a bee hotel and read Whose Garden Is It? by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Jane Dyer
    • How we threw seed bombs around our neighbourhood and read Mabel’s Magical Garden By Paula Metcalf
    • The day we planted meatballs instead of seeds, in celebration of Findus Plants Meatballs by Sven Nordqvist
    • beetapeextras

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      Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher, Old Barn Books.

      1 Comments on Bee & Me by Alison Jay, last added: 4/25/2016
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      22. Sticks and Stones - a review

      Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper

      Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2016
      (Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley)

       "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

      This adage has been told to innumerable children, but in Elyse's case, words do hurt. Elyse has a rare condition called cognadjvisiblitis, or CAV. When she hears nouns or adjectives describing her, they appear as black words on her arms and legs.

      In elementary school, Elyse could count on her best friend Jeg, the kindness of young children, and the assistance of teachers and school administrators to ensure that only positive words would appear on her skin, HAPPY, CUTE, SMART. These words were not only complimentary, they were non-irritating. Unkind words surfaced dark, large, and bold - causing extreme itching and discomfort.

      Middle school behaviors cannot be controlled so easily. First, she is dumped by her boyfriend, and then she loses Jeg to the cool girls clique. No one can ensure that only positive adjectives find their way to Elyse's ears. It's no wonder that she takes to wearing long sleeves and pants, regardless of the season.

      Things begin getting both better and worse as Elyse follows the advice she finds written on mysterious, but mostly encouraging, blue notes. The notes exhort her to compete for the school's coveted position of class trip Explorer Leader, but the contest exposes her to social situations that aggravate her CAV. Her nervous mother takes her, yet again, to the doctor renowned for, but mostly ineffective in treating CAV,

           "People go to meetings, I said. "And take walks. It's not that crazy."

           Dr. Patel scooted closer to get a better look at my words. DUMB was still there. So were IDIOT, LOSER, STUPID, UNLOVABLE, WORTHLESS, and FREAK, the whole crew. They were going in all different directions, and some were bigger than others, but they were all thick, dark, mean, and itchy, and felt like ridiculously scratchy clothes-the ones that also have ridiculously scratchy tags-I couldn't ever take off. 

      While the postulate of a school choosing a class trip leader in reality-TV-style, seems a bit far-fetched, the underlying middle school drama rings true, and the book's unique premise of CAV will give readers pause for thought.

      Sticks and Stones offers more than just middle-school angst and coming-of-age experiences. Similar to the lives of real children who deal with name-calling everyday, Elyse's story is not one of overcoming this adversity, but of living with it. Elyse's story is a reminder that not all things can be made "right," but we should all take care that we do not contribute to making things "wrong."

      (An added bonus: it's a mystery - who is writing those blue notes?)

      This is a debut novel for former teacher and school librarian, Abby Cooper.  She's off to a great start.  Look for this one in July, or pre-order a copy.

      0 Comments on Sticks and Stones - a review as of 4/25/2016 8:16:00 AM
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      23. Friends Stick By You When You Run Into Hot Water, or Out of It

      by Sally Matheny
      Friends Stick By You When You're In or Out of Hot Water
      Occasionally, I underestimate the amount of help I'll need for a project, and later find myself struggling. 

      When our first daughter got married, I thought it wouldn’t take long to clean a reception venue designated for 155 people, especially if friends chipped in on the effort.

      My assumption was wrong on two accounts. I assumed people would stay and help with the clean up. Our friends assumed we had a clean-up team in place, and since they weren’t asked to stay, they did not. It was my fault. 

      Plus, I should have realized if I find a home for five difficult to clean, then a space for 155 would be challenging! Nonetheless, God was merciful and we completed the job with a few family members.

      But, when our second daughter began planning her wedding reception, I knew we had to do things a bit differently. My aches and pains had increased greatly in the three years since the last wedding. I’d need more assistance on all fronts.

      Three relatives and a friend were coaxed into helping decorate for the reception while another friend and I worked on floral centerpieces and bouquets. Two more families helped with the baking. My wonderful mother took charge of pressing all the table linens. Thankful for my dear friends and family, I thought I had all the reception bases covered. Right down to the servers and a clean-up crew.

      Three servers were designated for the buffet and two other people were in charge of clearing dirty dishes from the tables. Two more delegates were to run the rented china and glassware through the commercial dishwasher. Impressed with my planning, I imagined a beautiful, snag-free reception.

      Eh. Even the best-laid tables can go awry.

      Don’t get me wrong. It was a beautiful reception. The food tasted delicious and the fellowship delightful. However, pretty early in the evening we were in “hot water.”

      Even though we tried to think through all the logistics in advance, we still encountered a few hurdles. It soon became evident the salad bar and the buffet line would go more smoothly and move quicker with more servers.

      The dish-washers were needed to help serve food. And later, the original food servers and the two collectors of dirty plates were desperately needed to help the initial two dish-washers.

      Apparently, after the meal began, the facility ran out of hot water.
      Then, after a few loads, the commercial dishwasher broke down. My diligent plan for a smooth evening was in a heap of “hot water” for the lack thereof.

      Even the best-laid tables can go awry.

      However, if my friends panicked, I didn’t see it. No one made the comment, “You said I’d only have to collect dirty plates—no one said I’d have to wash them.” No one high-tailed it out the back door. In fact, they didn’t even tell me about the simmering situation in the kitchen until the evening was almost over.

      After the guests gave the bride and groom a sparkler send-off, we gave our guests good-bye hugs and wished them well. Then, I went to the kitchen to see if we were in knee-deep or barely treading water. 

      To my surprise, my sweet friends—all of them—the catering crew, servers, dish-washers, and plate collectors were in there smiling and chatting away. They rinsed what food they could from the plates and stacked them for washing later, when the hot water hopefully returned. I knew they had to be exhausted. I hugged each of them and told them how much I appreciated them. 

      They only had one request—wedding cake! 

      My friends could have left, but they stayed. They worked with what they had to make the best of a tough situation. I love my friends. Moreover, I must add my love for my family as well.

      When I left the kitchen, there they were, already busy clearing and breaking down tables. And not just the ones I had asked in advance to stay and help. God opened the floodgates. Grandparents, siblings, cousins. My heart swelled with gratitude. Not just for the family and friends God has blessed me with, but especially the ones with whom He has blessed my daughter and her new husband.

      One of my greatest joys was watching their friends. Most of them had a one-to-three hour drive ahead of them and it was already almost nine o’clock in the evening. When I came out of the kitchen to help clear tables, there stood a troop of college kids and recent graduates. I never expected them to stay. 

      God always takes my assumptions and uses them to teach me. Sometimes He teaches me through the tough love of consequences. Other times it's lessons of mercy and grace. But one thing I'm learning is to trust Him with all things. 

      “What can we do to help?” one of my daughter's friends asked.

      Knowing some had a good distance to travel; I told them they needed to get on the road. They weren’t lightly responding out of politeness.

      One said, “But we’re not going to do that. We’re fine. We want to help. So tell us what we can do.”

      They wouldn’t budge until I began sharing ways they could help.
      That’s when this mama’s heart was blessed beyond measure. Just as God had led me to choose wonderful friends, so too had He led my daughter.

      It's encouraging to know your child has friends
      who will stick by her even when the days
      aren't so sweet.

      It’s encouraging to know my daughter and her husband have the caliber of friends who will stick by them in the future. When they run into hot water…or out of it, whatever the case may be.

      0 Comments on Friends Stick By You When You Run Into Hot Water, or Out of It as of 4/25/2016 9:56:00 PM
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      24. Best Friends for Frances

      Best Friends for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1969/1994. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

      First sentence: It was a fine summer morning, so Frances took out her bat and ball. "Will you play ball with me?" said her little sister, Gloria. "No," said Frances. "You are too little." Gloria sat down and cried. Frances walked over to her friend Albert's house, singing a song: Sisters that are much too small To throw or catch or bat a ball Are really not much good at all, Except for crying.

      Premise/plot: It was easy for Frances to dismiss Gloria as an unworthy playmate, but when Albert (and later Harold) dismiss Frances, well, Frances learns that sometimes a sister can be a friend--a best friend. It's summer and Frances loves to play with her friends. One day Albert rejects Frances because it's his "wandering" day. And the next day, Albert and Harold reject Frances because she's a girl, and girls can't play baseball as well as boys. But Frances is not to be stopped. Even if it means playing with her little sister, she'll show Albert what is what! If Albert wants a no-girls-allowed club, then she'll start a no-boys-allowed club.
      "Do you want to play ball?"
      "All right," said Gloria.
      "If any boys come, they can't play," said Frances, "and I think I will be your friend now."
      "How can a sister be a friend?" said Gloria.
      "You'll see," said Frances.
      "For frogs and ball and dolls?"
      "Yes," said Frances.
      "And will you show me how to print my name?" said Gloria.
      "Yes," said Frances.
      "Then you will be my best friend," said Gloria. "Will it just be today, or longer?"
      "Longer," said Frances. (20-21)
      My thoughts: I do like this one. But Frances isn't always nice in this one. Then again neither is Albert. Or Harold. The only one that is nice all the time is Gloria.

      Text: 3 out of 5
      Illustrations: 4 out of 5
      Total: 7 out of 10

      © 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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      25. Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! by Melanie Walsh

      Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! by Melanie Walsh

      | Storytime Standouts

      Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! by Melanie Walsh

      Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! written and illustrated by Melanie Walsh
      Picture book about a child with Asperger’s Syndrome published by Candlewick Press

      Written from the perspective of a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome

      , Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers! is a cheerful, positive and reassuring picture book that explains how Isaac’s thoughts and behavior sometimes differ from those of his friends. Well-suited to preschool-age children or early primary classroom use, bright, bold illustrations are visually appealing and will be easily seen and interpreted in a group or classroom setting.

      Friends, family members and classmates will discover that children with Asperger’s Syndrome may have different interests, energy levels and ways of interacting than others do. For example, they may like to bounce rather than play team sports or they may fidget with a toy in order to relax and listen in class. They may have difficulty understanding jokes or some in social situations. Insights are shared matter-of-factly, with respect for both the Asperger’s child and a child who does not have Asperger’s.

      Isaac and his Amazing Asperger Superpowers! spread

      Using meaningful examples and fun illustrations, Walsh helps young readers to understand that children with Asperger’s Syndrome have strengths including a great memory for facts, curiosity and a heightened awareness of sounds. She also shows the special relationship an Asperger’s child can have with pets and family members.

      A great addition to a personal or professional library, end papers include a list of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome links.

      Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers! at Amazon.com

      Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers! at Amazon.ca

      Read our reviews of other picture books about Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

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