Posted in picture books

Are you Fast Enough to keep up with Bessie Stringfield?

Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride, by Joel Christian Gill, (Feb. 2019, Lion Forge), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5493-0314-2

Ages 5-9

Young Bessie just wants to ride her bike with the kids after school, but they’re awful to her. They tell her she’s not good enough, not fast enough, not pretty enough, not tough enough. Determined not to listen to them, she asks her mother for advice and is told to “ask the Man upstairs”; she does, and she has a dream where she rides all over the world: she rides over water, between buildings, and even up into the sky. Bessie wakes up with a new determination, and starts riding that bike. Mistress of her own destiny, she beats the boys who scoffed at her, and goes on to become Bessie Stringfield, groundbreaking pioneer motorcyclist and traveler.

Bessie’s story is told here by Joel Christian Gill, award-winning graphic novelist and historian behind Strange Fruit, Books One and Two. Mr. Gill creates an inspiring story with a young child of color at the forefront. Bessie Stringfield was othered from a young age, and used that to fuel her resolve. In the book’s back matter, we learn that Bessie traveled the United States using Victor Hugo Green’s “Green Book”: The Negro Motorist Green Book, further illustrating Bessie Stringfield’s determination to succeed in the face of those who would other her. Joel Christian Gill’s artwork is filled with deep, vibrant color and is a joy to read. Endpapers show Bessie happily riding her bike as depicted in her dreams: throughout the world and beyond. The book is playful, with a spine of steel delivering its message. Read this often.

Fast Enough: Bessie Stringfield’s First Ride has a starred review from Kirkus.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Two more #Nocturnals easy readers bring laughs and love!

The Nocturnals: The Best Burp, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Josie Yee, (Apr. 2020, Fabled Films Press), $12.95, ISBN: 9781944020323

Ages 4-6

Another fun night out with the Nocturnals has Bismark (of course) competing in a burping contest with a new friend, Bink the Bat. As Bismark and Bink bicker (hee hee… alliteration is fun), Dawn emerges to suggest that maybe a burping contest isn’t the way to be their “best selves”. A cute story about recognizing that burps are natural, but sometimes, polite behavior calls for an “excuse me”, The Best Burp also has a cute side joke that involves my poor buddy, Tobin, as the butt (the burp?) of the joke when Bismark and Bink try to blame the other for the burping contest, which leaves them both pointing toward Tobin, who’s standing the in the middle. Adorably fun with a nice lesson about manners, to boot. Kids will love (and cafeteria aides will relate to) the characters and the tempting fun of the burping contest. Parents, educators, and caregivers will appreciate Dawn, ever the voice of reason, stepping in to negotiate more polite behavior.

 

The Nocturnals: The Weeping Wombat, by Tracey Hecht/Illustrated by Josie Yee, (Aug. 2020, Fabled Films Press), $5.99, ISBN: 9781944020330

Ages 5-8

Can you believe this is the eighth Nocturnals adventure? This time, we’ve got a sensitive story about Walter, an emotional, highly sensitive wombat who’s made fun of because he has a tendency to cry easily. The Nocturnals friends rally around Walter, letting him know that they all cry sometimes – even Bismark, who gets emotional just thinking about his Grandpa Guffy. Walter feels so much better after Dawn wisely explains that weeping is “just another way to show how we feel”, and that it can even make us feel better. A very sweet story about sensitivity and emotions, The Weeping Wombat is a nice addition to social-emotional learning texts for storytime.

Each book has a Nocturnals Fun Facts section that introduces readers to the Nocturnals. Don’t forget to visit their Nocturnals website, which is updated often and has great resources for homeschooling and nature camp activities. You’ll find Nocturnals character masks, book club questions, sight words games, and Common Core, Science, and Social-Emotional Learning Guides, all free and available for downloading.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

#BooksfromQuarantine: Baby Clown and Follow Me, Flo!

Baby Clown, by Kara LaReau/Illustrated by Matthew Cordell, (Apr. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763697433

Ages 3-7

Parents and littles alike will love this book. Frieda and Boffo are two circus clowns who’ve just had a baby clown! Everyone is thrilled for them, especially the Big Boss, Mr. Dingling, who swears the new baby is going to be a star. There’s one eensy problem, though… Baby Clown cries all the time! Boffo can’t calm him down, Frieda can’t calm him down, and Mr. Dingling is getting frustrated. There’s no crying at the circus! Each member of the circus tries to lend a hand, but neither the trapeze artists, the animals, nor the wire walker are successful. Will Baby Clown calm down in time for his Big Top debut?

This book is SO RELATABLE. Who hasn’t tried to calm a baby who will not be soothed? The baby’s dry, not hungry, not sleepy, just cranky, and amount of juggling, antics, or soothing voices will do a darned thing. The artwork from Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell brings the story to life with his colorful inks and watercolors, giving us a baby who becomes, as Geisel Honor Winner Kara LaReau writes, “a big, wide, loud, mouth” in full meltdown mode. The characters take on frantic, manic expressions as the baby continues to scream; one of my favorite illustrations has poor Mom Frieda curled up in a fetal position next to the screaming baby, as Dad Boffo, kneeling, pleads for peace. Does Baby Clown get it together? Heck, you need to see for yourself, but I promise you: you’ll recognize yourself in this one right away if you’ve ever been around young children. Inspired by Kara LaReau’s own experience with colic, Baby Clown is a must for storytime.

 

Follow Me, Flo!, by Jarvis, (March 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212709

Ages 3-7

Another book that is SO relatable to kids and grownups, Flo is a young duckling who loves to do her own thing, much to her father’s chagrin. When they go visit Aunt Jenna’s new nest, though, Daddy Duck lays it all out for Flo: she MUST follow him or she’ll get lost. He even makes up a song with directions for the trip, but Flo – you guessed it! – decides that she’s bored and decides to take a little side trip of her own. But when she finds herself in big trouble, Daddy’s directions will save the day!

Kids will immediately love Flo, an adorably bright, yellow duckling with some sass. She doesn’t want to follow Daddy’s boring instructions; he doesn’t even sing loud like she does! But, as we parents and caregivers know, when she strays off that path, things may look fun at first, but there’s always a moment when things aren’t quite so fun any more. After a brush with stranger danger, Flo quickly discovers that her dad’s directions are there for a reason, and thankfully, easy enough to remember! The pencil, chalk, and painted artwork is cheery and fun, and both Flo and Dad’s faces are expressive, communicating both the seriousness of Dad’s discussion with Flo, and Flo’s increasing impatience with him as they head out on their trip. Will Flo stick to the straight and narrow? In the short run, sure… but maybe, just maybe, Flo will be back with a new adventure? Follow Me, Flo! is a fun story for readalouds and a no-pressure way to broach the concept of stranger danger.

Follow Me, Flo! has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A monster slayer never sleeps! Poesy the Monster Slayer

Poesy the Monster Slayer, by Cory Doctorow/Illustrated by Matt Rockefeller, (July 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781626723627

Ages 4-6

Cory Doctorow always knows how to make me smile, whether he’s writing about gamer uprisings (Little Brother) or unionizing MMORPG gold farmers (In Real Life). His newest book, Poesy the Monster Slayer, is an illustrated picture book about a little girl who’s got to contend with her parents giving her a bedtime when she’s got far bigger things to worry about: monsters. Dad reads her trusty book on monsters to her every night, so Poesy is prepared and waiting when the slew of monsters arrive throughout the evening: werewolves, Great Old Ones, vampires, even Frankenstein’s monster all face off against Poesy’s skills, and she deftly navigates dispatching the monsters with carefully selected toys in her room while putting up with her parents’ constant interruptions as they tell her to go to bed.

Illustrated in comic book style, with panels and word bubbles, Poesy is a fun story about a smart little girl taking on bedtime and those irksome bedtime monsters. Shades of black, purple, and blue set a nighttime feel for the story, and the monsters are comically menacing, meeting their defeats at the hands of Poesy and her room full of carefully selected toys. Parents will love the relatability of trying to get one’s little one to stay in bed: I know I feel like I log more steps in the hours from 9-12pm than I do most of the day!

Absolute fun for storytime; keep this one handy for bedtime, too – just don’t blame me if your little ones add fighting Great Old Ones to their list of nighttime activities!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Celebrate your siblings!

A Celebration of Sisters, by Harriet Evans/Illustrated by Andrés Landazábal, (June 2020, Kane Miller Publishing), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-052-2

A Celebration of Brothers, by by Harriet Evans/Illustrated by Andrés Landazábal, (June 2020, Kane Miller Publishing), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-051-5

Ages 2-6

These are the sweetest books that celebrate the sisters and brothers in our lives: half-sibling, step-siblings, adopted siblings, the siblings we choose for ourselves. Endpapers show siblings running across the pages of each book, smiling, arms thrown out wide. The rhyming text rejoices in the relationships between siblings, old, new, and expected: a girl hugs her mom’s pregnant belly; groups of siblings wander across puddles, comfort each other at bedtime, ride amusement park rides, and sing to babies together. It’s a joyous celebration in words and pictures, a multicultural families celebrate their relationships together. Only children aren’t left out, either, as the author recognizes the importance of the families we create: “You might find your brothers in the friends you make”; and “Friends can become sisters as you grow up together, facing dark storms and enjoying fair weather”.  Jubilant illustrations and happy rhyming verses make these great readalouds.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Start your day off with Yoga Animals

Yoga Animals: A Wild Introduction to Kid-Friendly Poses, by Paige Towler, (Apr. 2020, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9781426337529

Ages 4-8

What better way to start the day off – or bring it to a gentle close – than with yoga? Nat Geo teamed up with poet Paige Towler to give readers Yoga Animals: A Wild Introduction to Kid-Friendly Poses. Rhyming verses lead readers through a series of animal poses that stretch, balance, and slide them into a zen state of mind. Verses are accompanied by color photos of the animals inspiring the poses, and callouts, artfully placed inside colorful mandalas, walk readers through the pose with a photo and explanatory text. An Animal Yoga Guide at the end provides the Sanskrit names for each pose, photos of a child completing the pose, and a brief, descriptive paragraph about the animal inspiring the pose.

I love doing yoga with kids. I did it when my own were little, and I had a yoga storytime for years at my libraries, where one of my most popular readalouds was You Are a Lion! by Taeeun Yoo; it’s another book that uses animal poses to introduce yoga to kids and will make a nice companion to Yoga Animals. The photos and pose explanations are helpful to illustrate how to achieve the pose, and having photos of animals on the spreads makes a nice correlation between the animal pose and the animal. Let the kids channel their lion or their cat and achieve a nice stretch! There are some very good yoga and meditation books available for younger kids, and yoga may be a nice way to ease some stress and anxiety these days.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

#SummersCool: Concepts, Political Science, and MAD LIBS!

Summer marches on, and we still don’t know what Fall is going to look like. So let’s keep pulling together all the learning material we can get our hands on, because whether or not we realize it, we’re all learning alongside our kids these days. Let’s make it fun!

This or That? What Will You Choose at the British Museum?, by Pippa Goodhart, (March 2020, Nosy Crow), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536212235

Ages 3-7

First up, I’ve got a great concept book: This or That? is part of the Early Learning at the Museum series from Candlewick’s Nosy Crow imprint. Author Pippa Goodhart and the Trustees of the British Museum have curated 12 spreads of artifacts from the British Museum’s collection, each with a different theme in mind: would you rather wear a skirt or a shirt? Live in a tent or a tree house? Soar above the ground in a balloon or skim the water in a boat? There are hundreds of jumping off points for more questions, some posed in the text (“Do you see any vehicles pulled by animals?” “Do you see any buildings with a ladder?”), and endless questions you can come up with as you look through the pictures with your kiddos. This is serious I Spy territory for colors, shapes, and counting here. The index has numbered spreads that provide more information about each featured piece. This is just a gorgeous, fun book that always offers something new to discover.

 

Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy!, by Ruth Spiro/Illustrated by Greg Paprocki, (April 2020, Charlesbridge), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-62354-227-6

Ages 0-5

And now, for political science! The Baby Loves… series of board books have been a hit at my library (Baby Loves Science titles include Baby Loves Quarks! and Baby Loves Aerodynamics!), so I’m especially interested in this latest offshoot of the series. The first book, Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy! introduces the democratic process to little ones with easy-to-understand explanations of choosing leaders and defining terms like “candidate”, “rally”, and “polling place”. Bright, colorful and cartoony illustrations appeal to the littlest listeners, inviting them to look at the action in the books and get used to hearing these new vocabulary words; the text is wonderful for explaining the political process to pre-K readers and Kindergarteners. Ruth Spiro and Greg Paprocki let kids know that there’s enough room for everyone to get involved and have a voice, including cheering parents on when they’re voting, stamping postcards, and coloring signs for rallies. Involve children early on so they’ll grow up knowing they have a voice! Charlesbridge has a free, downloadable activity kit with coloring sheets and more.

 

Baby Loves Political Science: Justice!, by Ruth Spiro/Illustrated by Greg Poprocki, (Sept. 2020, Charlesbridge), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-62354-228-3

Ages 0-5

Coming in September, we have a new Baby Loves Political Science book, Justice! Here, a little boy learns that breaking rules come with consequences, when he breaks something at home; it’s a jumping off point to explain how laws are rules that keep our communities safe and fair, and touches on an explanation of the Constitution, three branches of government, and how lawyers and courts help interpret the law to keep things as safe and fair as possible for all of us.

Greg Poprocki’s artwork is adorably bright and sweet, creating expressive cartoon characters who lead readers through classrooms, public spaces, and the halls of the court and government. Ruth Spiro explains huge concept in an easy-to-understand way that kids (and, like me, some adults) will easily understand and appreciate.  I’m a fan of this new offshoot of Baby Loves Science and look forward to seeing what else is on the horizon. (Psst… Baby Loves Civil Disobedience? Anyone?)

 

Mad Libs Workbook: Grade 2 Reading, by Mad Libs, (Apr. 2020, Penguin Young Readers), $8.99, ISBN: 978-0-593-09616-1

Ages 7-9

WOW, I never thought I’d see the day when Mad Libs was recognized as an actual ELA aid! Mad Libs kept me sane during many a summer road trip as a kid, and seeing these new workbooks now just make my ’80s kid heart happy. Remember Mad Libs? You created crazy stories by inserting random adjectives, verbs, names of animals, numbers, planets, you name it, into the dialogue, and then read it back? Hilarious! Well, now, my generation must be in the driver’s seat, because there’s a line of Mad Libs Reading Workbooks for Grades 1-4. I checked out a copy of Grade 2’s reading workbook, because I have a second grader (well, he’s a rising third grader now) at home, so why not?

WOW. So spiffy.  Now aligned with State and National Common Core Standards, Mad Libs workbooks have phonics work, grammar and spelling explanations, comprehension exercises, and vocabulary words. There are rebuses throughout the stories, helping readers use pictures to look at columns and identify the types of words that get dropped in the slots. Rather than just note, “adjective”, for instance, there will be a picture that leads the child to a column full of descriptive words. There are phonics exercises, with work on prefixes and suffixes, plurals, digraphs, and more. This is a phonics workout wrapped in absolute fun, and my kiddo and I are having a ball with it. Mad Libs, I’m so glad you’re still with me. Parents and educators, use some of these for summer reading challenges – or rewards!

 

That’s all for this #SummersCool. More to come! Stay cool and safe!

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction

The Derby Daredevils are rolling into action!

The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team, by Kit Rosewater/Illustrated by Sophie Escabasse, (March 2020, Amulet Books), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4197-4079-4

Ages 9-13

I love that roller derby is back and appealing to middle graders. In recent years, we’ve had Dorothy’s Derby Chronicles from Meghan Dougherty, Jessica Abel’s Trish Trash bringing roller derby to Mars, and Victoria Jamieson’s monster hit graphic novel, Roller Girl. For the teens, DC Comics’s Harley Quinn is taking to the rink, and the girls from Slam! had a derby-centric title. As a kid who always wanted to try derby but was (still) too chicken, this is vicariously glorious.

Enter a new middle grade series, The Derby Daredevils. Kenzie and Shelly are BFFs who love roller derby: Kenzie’s mom is even a derby girl, and Kenzie can’t wait to be old enough to try out for a league. She and Shelly have it all figured out: their superstar moves, their secret handshake, their big rink entrance. Luckily for the girls, their local rink is starting up a junior league and are holding tryouts! But unless they have a team to try out together, the two besties risk being split up if they try out separately. Kenzie’s answer: recruit friends from school and make a team! The have one week to recruit and train a whole team, and Kenzie has a hard time reconciling what’s in her head with reality, which threatens to cause some friction: Shelly and shy classmate Tomoko start becoming friendly, which upsets Kenzie. Isn’t she supposed to be Shelly’s best friend? When Shelly invites Kenzie’s secret crush, Bree, to join the team, Kenzie flips out, but inviting the risk-averse Camila and the way-enthusiastic Jules isn’t helping much. Can the girls get it together in enough time to make the tryouts?

This is SO much fun. There’s so much to work with here: a fully realized cast of characters from different cultural backgrounds, each with a distinct personality. Massive “OMG!” moments involving Kenzie and her crush, Bree, that every middle grader will recognize and empathize with. The relatable feeling of wanting something so bad, that you’ll take that square peg and pound it into a round hole to make it work. And black and white illustrations throughout, to really make readers feel like they’re part of the action! Derby Daredevils is a positive LGBTQ+ series, not only giving us a main character who experiences a crush on another girl, but a transgender dad in a loving marriage. I love the way the author explains Kenzie’s understanding of her dad: “Since her dad was transgender, that meant in some of his stories he looked more like a girl, and in other stories, he looked more like a boy. Actually, he was a boy all along, her dad had explained. But before he told people, they thought he was a girl. In his ‘before’ stories, Kenzie’s dad was like an undercover agent, with a secret only he knew.” It’s a straight-forward, commonsense way to explain gender to kids that respects them and respects the adult. I love it.

There’s action, a little tween romance, and a strong bond of friendship in this book, and I can’t wait for the next book to pub later this year. In the meantime, I’ve dogeared (the horror!) and scribbled all over my ARC, in the hopes of writing a discussion guide for it at some point, so if I get that done, I’ll post it. In the meantime, this is a great choice for a book club and way too much fun for budding (and frustrated middle aged wannabee) derby girls.

The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

STEM for the new school year: The Science of Defying Gravity

The Science of Defying Gravity, by L.G. Reed, (Sept. 2020, Keyes Canyon Press), $14.99, ISBN: 978-0985007447

Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Cassie is dying to go to Space Camp, but there’s a problem: she’s not that great of a student, especially in science. She wants to go to Space Camp to learn how to make movies in space, though, and with her dad out of work, there’s no money to send her. She’s determined to win a scholarship, but that means she needs to turn around her grades and her study habits and win the school Science Fair! Once Cassie turns to her best friend, Wylie – a model student – for help, she starts realizing that science may be kinda cool after all.

I enjoy a good STEM novel as a way to empower and inspire my library kids. Giving them characters that they can relate to can really get that spark going. Here, we have Cassie, who isn’t your typical Space Camper. She doesn’t love math and science, but she wants to make movies. In space. She’s even making her own documentary to journal her journey to Space Camp! We see her develop first, an understanding of study habits, then an interest in science, and finally, the desire to learn more. That’s got to reach kids out there. There’s also some good mentoring going on, with the Society of Women Engineers making an appearance. With a good story, pacing, dialogue, and characters that kids will want to get to know, and nice information about the scientific method and developing good study habits, this is a nice addition to STEM novels like Stacy McAnulty’s The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, Michael Buckley’s NERDS series, and Hilary Homzie’s Kate the Chemist books, written with Kate Biberdorf.

Want to learn more about Space Camp? Check out the Space Camp website, or try some Space Camp at Home activities from Steamsational.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Startup Squad: Middle grade entrepreneurs!

The Startup Squad: Face the Music (The Startup Squad #2), by Brian Weisfeld & Nicole C. Kear, (May 2020, Macmillan), $7.99, ISBN: 9781250180469

Ages 8-12

The second book in the new Startup Squad series has our group of entrepreneurial friends working to promote a band. The series is all about the adventures of four friends – Harriet, Resa, Amelia, and Didi – who take matters into their own hands, learning how to earn money by creating their own businesses! In the first Startup Squad adventure, the girls worked to get a lemonade stand business up and running for a class assignment and grand prize. Here, Harriet’s brothers are in a band called the Radical Skinks; they’re kind of on hiatus because Harriet accidentally broker her brother’s guitar. A Battle of the Bands is on the horizon, where the winner would get a spot on the huge talent show hit, American Supahstars! The Startup Squad jumps into action with a plan to sell t-shirts, raising enough money to get a new guitar for Harriet’s brother, Larry, in time for the show… but Harriet tends to be a little overenthusiastic, and doesn’t think things quite through, which cause a lot of tangles for the girls: and the band. Can the Startup Squad get it together in time to help the Skinks get back on their feet?

This is a fun, comprehensive series that embraces entrepreneurship and shows kids that everyone can start a business with the right information and drive. The multicultural group of girls each has different strengths and skills, and get some solid information and encouragement from friends and family members on the way. They make believable mistakes to illustrate the pitfalls of going into a business without a fully sketched out plan, and how to correct those mistakes the next time. Back matter includes a section on what principles the girls learned in this adventure, a breakdown of the terms and how to put them to use, with tips and emphasis on customer service, negotiating, and revenue vs. profit; there’s also a profile on a real-life tween entrepreneur. Brian Weisfeld is the founder of The Startup Squad; he was inspired after being disappointed in the lack of entrepreneurial books available for girls. Author Nicole Kear is also the author of The Fix-It Friends series, where a group of friend solve problems together.

The Startup Squad website has a wealth of information for young entrepreneurs, including free, downloadable parent and teacher guides; activity kits; business tips, and book recommendations. Add these to your collections and booktalk/display with books like The Babysitter’s Club (the original chapter book series and the newer graphic novels) and Jessie Janowitz’s novels The Doughnut Fix and The Doughnut King. The Startup Squad and The Fix-It Friends are great for those readers that are moving out of intermediate chapter books and moving toward longer fiction.