Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade

Bad Mermaids Make Waves!

Bad Mermaids Make Waves, by Sibéal Pounder/Illustrated by Jason Cockcroft, (May 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $13.99, ISBN: 9781681197920

Recommended for readers 8-12

What happens when you’re a mermaid, spending a summer on land with your temporary legs and feet, and you have to go back under the sea early because someone fishnapped the Mermaid Queen? That’s what besties Beattie, and twin sisters Zelda and Mimi have to do in this first middle grade mermaid adventure by Witch Wars author Sibéal Pounder. The mermaids arrive back under the sea to discover everyone acting… strange. A new queen who hides her face and calls herself The Swan is making everyone go back to wearing shell tops, and piranhas patrols are keeping things in check. The threesome steal a clamshell car and investigate who could be behind this fishy plot!

Mermaid stories are HUGE here. Heck, they’ve been huge at every library I’ve been at, from picture books, through YA. You’ve got three best friends who work really well together, a mystery to solve, and humorous villains and mean mermaids (all genders are referred to as mermaids), a café set inside an actual whale, plus black and white illustrations throughout. There are loads of in-jokes poking fun at mermaid tropes, like the clamshell tops and hair-combing, and the characters’ speech is full of fishy references like the exclamation, “Oh cod!”

This is an automatic add to my shelves. Give this to your Mermaid Tales and Mermaid S.O.S. fans who are ready for higher leveled books, and your Emily Windsnap fans.

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Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

When the World is Full of Friends, it’s a pretty great place

When the World is Full of Friends, by Gillian Shields/Illustrated by Anna Currey, (Feb. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 9781681196268

Recommended for readers 3-6

The rabbit family from When the World Was Waiting for You and When the World is Ready for Bed returns in this sweet book about play and discovering new friends. Siblings Albert, Tom, Flossie, and Pipkin love to play, and wish they had more friends to play with. They see a squirrel family across the stream, and put their heads together to figure out how to cross the stream to play together, turning the experience into a fun game in itself. The takeaway? “Playing with friends was wonderful!”

This is a great bedtime, quiet time, or circle time story. It’s got a calm pace, with soft watercolor and ink art. The messages of friendship and working together to play together reinforce positive lessons, and the opening and closing rhyming verses beautifully bookend the story narrative. Add this one to your storytime collections.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Lola Dutch is just TOO MUCH!

Lola Dutch, by Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $17.99, ISBN: 9781681195513

Recommended for readers 3-7

Lola Dutch is a little girl whose life motto may well be, “Go big or go home”. She starts her day by sliding down the bannister of a grand stairway, landing on her cushy friend, Bear’s, belly. She is bursting with ideas, and this is going to be an AMAZING day. She has grand ideas for breakfast, which turns into a several course meal for Lola and her animal friends, Gator, Pig, and Crane; a trip to the library for some “light reading” yields a Herculean amount of books. Lola’s inspired to create art, and begins producing work that the masters would be cowed by, including a Sistine Chapel-esque work on her ceiling, starring Lola and friends. At bedtime, seems overwhelmed. Everything’s quiet for the night, but Gator’s got cold feet, Pig is snoring, and Crane kicks in her sleep. Frazzled, Lola cries out, “This is ALL TOO MUCH!” and wants something simple and comforting: a hug from Bear.

We all have a little Lola in us, don’t we? I know I get those moments where I want to READ ALL THE BOOKS and end up reserving 5 books, which will sit on the pile I have at home; from there, I’ll want to straighten up all my bookshelves, and to do that, empty all the shelves on the floor so I can go through them, which will inevitably end up with me, sidetracked, coming back hours later to just shove everything on the shelves until the next time I get inspiration. Lola’s friend Bear is her guardian, and knows his charge too well: he takes a deep breath at breakfast, and often repeats the phrase this book is built on: “you are a little bit much”. At the end of the day, though, it’s a warm hug that’s all Lola really needs.

Lola Dutch is cute, if a bit manic; she just has a lot of energy to devote to each day. The pencil, gouache, and watercolor artwork is soft, largely pink, and has lots of kid appeal. Endpapers spotlight Lola sitting on the windowsill, reading (under Bear’s watchful eye, below) and using a telescope, and the cover of the book converts into a dollhouse that kids can play with; the back flap comes with paper dolls of Lola and Bear to cut out and play with. There are great extras on the Lola Dutch webpage, including paper dolls of Crane, Gator, and Pig; a coloring sheet, and a book hunt challenge and certificate (psst… good for Summer Reading programs at the library).

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Valentine’s Day Reading: Valensteins

Valensteins, by Ethan Long, (Dec. 2017, Bloomsbury USA), $16.99, ISBN: 9781619634336

Recommended for readers 4-7

The latest book starring Ethan Long’s Fright Club friends sees Fran – Frankenstein, to you – intently working on something. The rest of the gang has to find out what’s going on, naturally, and when Fran’s secret gets out – he’s working on a valentine! The mere thought of having a crush gives the rest of the group the heebie jeebies, so Fran heads off to get some alone time… and ends up having a sweet moonlight meeting with his Valentine.

How adorable is this book? It’s a sweet little Valentine’s Day story that talks about crushes, with all the perfect kid-like reactions: the heart looks like a bat, a pair of fangs, or – my favorite – a little butt – to the other kids, and when the Easter Bunny regales the group about all the mushy-smushy details about love, they shriek in terror. If you’ve ever been around kids giggling and squealing over kissing and crushes, you know what I’m talking about. Fran’s crush’s reaction to her valentine is adorable and sweet, and Ethan Long sums up a crush perfectly with the sentence, “It’s about something you feel in your real heart, even if it does feel a little funny sometimes.”

The graphite pencil artwork provides a nice, classic monster-movie base that the digital coloring takes to and gives a classic monster movie sort of feeling to the whole story. The cover font, with its monster movie marquee font and hot pink drop shadow, is eye-catching. I always enjoy Ethan Long’s books; this one is an adorable add to picture book collections and makes for a sweet Valentine’s Day read-aloud.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Hanukkah picture books for holiday storytime!

I realized that my winter holiday reading has been somewhat narrow in scope, so I’m looking for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books to read deeper and stronger. Here are some adorable Hanukkah books I’ve just read; I hope you enjoy them, too!

Latke, the Lucky Dog, by Ellen Fischer/Illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke,
(Aug. 2014, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.95, ISBN: 978-0761390398
Good for readers 4-8

Narrated by Latke, a shelter dog that’s rescued on the first night of Hanukkah, this is an adorable story about pet adoption and Hanukkah. As he gets used to his new home, Latke manages to get in trouble every single night of Hanukkah! He’s eating the sufganiyot, chewing up dreidels, and slobbering all over the gelt. Yikes! Luckily for Latke, his family is very forgiving, and gives him his very own present on the eighth night. As Latke repeats throughout the book, he is “one lucky dog”. Latke the Lucky Dog has soft illustrations and changes in font color to note when Latke is narrating (blue) versus when someone else speaks (black). Anyone who has lived with a puppy will recognize Latke doing what dogs do; the forgiving family makes this a story of compassion and empathy while also giving kids a look into what life with a pet can be like. The story touches on the foods and activities that are part of the Hanukkah celebration.

 

Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah, by Sylvia A. Rouss/Illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn,
(Oct. 1993, Kar-Ben Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 978-0929371467
Good for readers 4-7

Sammy Spider and his mom watch from their web as their family, the Shapiros, light their menorah on the first night of Hanukkah. Sammy is intrigued, and drops down a bit. He loves the way the menorah keeps his feet warm, and he enjoys hearing the story of Hanukkah, but what he really loves are the dreidels that Josh, the young boy, receives from his parents each night! He asks his mother if he can have a dreidel, but Mom tells him spiders spin webs, not dreidels… but on the last night of Hanukkah, Mom has a wonderful surprise for Sammy. I really enjoyed this book, because it provided a nice background on the holiday itself – the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil – and incorporated family traditions. It’s also a concept book, with illustrations reinforcing numbers and colors. The artwork is reminiscent of Eric Carle, with a collage feel. There is a whole library of Sammy the Spider books, where he learns about different aspects of Jewish life, from holidays, to traveling to Israel.

Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf, by Greg Wolfe/Illustrated by Howard McWilliam,
(Sept. 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619635210
Good for readers 4-8

This story is adorable, and handles that whole Elf on the Shelf business (Shmelf on the Shelf, maybe?) while we’re at it. Shmelf is a new elf, working on Santa’s List, checking it twice, when he notices something really distressing: there are a whole bunch of kids that aren’t on the naughty list, yet they’re not receiving presents! When he asks the head elf what the deal is, he finds out that the kids on the list are Jewish, and have their own holiday, where they receive gifts from their parents. This still doesn’t sit right with Shmelf, who goes investigating and sees a family celebrating Hanukkah: they’re spinning dreidels, they’re snacking on gelt, and yes, they’re getting presents! One for each night! He hears the story of Hanukkah and is so excited, he races back to the North Pole, where Santa gives him a special task: he’s going to travel the world, spreading Hanukkah magic! He gets a snazzy blue and white outfit, a sleigh and reindeer of his own, and heads out every year – sometimes November, sometimes December – to make sure your latkes are crispy and think, your menorahs burn bright, and your dreidels win. You want to thank Shmelf and his reindeer, Asher? No cookies – they like gelt and kosher dill! How can you not love this story? It’s a great way to explain Hanukkah – I love how Mom’s story takes shape in word bubbles  – and adds a fun spin to the holiday.

That was my first foray into Hanukkah reading, and now I plan to request more!

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Catch Ralfy Rabbit, the Book Burglar!

ralfyWanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, by Emily MacKenzie, (May 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1681192208

Recommended for ages 4-7

Ralfy Rabbit LOVES books: he dreams about them; he makes lists of them; he wants to be surrounded by books ALL THE TIME. He loved books so much that he started sneaking into people’s bedrooms and reading their books while they were sleeping, but even that wasn’t good enough; he upgraded to taking the books home! One little boy named Arthur noticed that his books were starting to go missing, and to add insult to injury, soggy lettuce and half-eaten carrots were left behind. He makes a plan to catch the book burglar, but can Ralfy be rehabilitated?

A fun story with a good subplot about borrowing (and a great shout-out to libraries!), Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar is a great storytime book and a great independent read. Kids can appreciate Ralfy’s single-minded love for books and understand Arthur’s dual frustration at having his books go missing and have no one believe him. Arthur’s confrontation and solution makes for good conflict resolution and problem-solving that works for everyone.

Emily MacKenzie’s artwork is adorable. Ralfy is wide-eyed and innocent, even when he’s up to no good; when he’s caught red-handed, his eyes fill up with tears and readers can’t help but feel bad for the poor book bandit. Arthur is drawn with a kindness that will invite readers to put themselves in his place right away. The pictures are sketched with defined outlines, and the font changes for emphasis: bolds, enlarged fonts, angled text to keep readers’ attention.

I’ve paired this with Helen Docherty’s Snatchabook and Ian Schoenherr’s Read It, Don’t Eat It! for library visit read-alouds; the kids love Ralfy and Arthur, but know that Ralfy’s “not being nice” when he takes books. One Kindergartner even called out, “He should just go to the library!” (Love that kid!) You can have a great discussion about borrowing versus taking things with kids as young as preschool; for younger audiences, use Ralfy’s adventure as a good starting point for talking about sharing and forgiveness.

Originally published in 2015 in the UK, Ralfy’s just arrived on US shores. Give him a welcome space on your shelves! There’s an activity kit available from Bloomsbury UK, and you can see more of Emily MacKenzie’s art and books at her author site.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Blog Tour: Busy Builders, Busy Week! Interview with Jean Reidy!

busy builders_1Busy Builders, Busy Week, by Jean Reidy/Illustrated by Leo Timmers, (June 2016, Bloomsbury), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1619635562

Sunday! Dream day! Study, scribble, scheme day. Map, measure, plan a treasure. Gather up a team day!

The author-illustrator team that brought us All Through My Town – a storytime staple at my library – comes together to bring readers a book about working together! Over the course of a week, animal characters pull together to build a brand new playground in their community. Each day brings new things to do, from planning, to digging, to fixing and planting!

This is such a fun story to read out loud, and has entered regular rotation at home. Kids can practice their days of the week and get lost in the rhyming story, which has the added benefit of showing readers how to group tasks to get things done in the best way. On Sunday, the builders come up with plans for their big job ahead; on Monday, they clear the area. Tuesday is for infrastructure: cement, pipes, boards, fixing fences. On Wednesday, we load everything up and take it on the road. Thursday is for getting the place shaped up: drills, nails, rake and spread. Friday, the plants go in and the final details, like painting and sanding, get the park ready for their big opening on Saturday!

I love Leo Timmers’ bright, bold acrylics here. The bright colors and cartoony animal characters are a perfect accompaniment to Jean Reidy’s bouncy, happy rhyming text. Even the endpapers bring on the fun, with yellow, diamond-shaped construction signs featuring different animals working at different tasks leading readers in and out of the story.

Transportation books have done well at all of my libraries, so this is a no-brainer for my collection. If your readers love books like Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site, by Sherri Duskey Rinker, and Kate and Jim McMullan’s series (I Stink!, I’m Brave!, et al), this is a perfect fit. Busy Builders also lends itself to a days of the week read-aloud, right next to fun books like John Himmelman’s Chickens to the Rescue!,  or Albert Bitterman’s Fortune Cookies.

I was lucky enough to get a few minutes with author Jean Reidy, and we talked about Busy Builders, Busy Week! Read on!

 

MomReadIt (MRI): I love the idea of the characters coming together to create a playground! Did you decide on the idea of building the playground as the best way to talk about the days of the week, or did the story come together separately?

Jean Reidy (JR): A little bit of both, I’d say. When my editors at Bloomsbury asked me to write a days-of-the-week book for their list, I loved the idea. So I brainstormed a variety of approaches that ranged from the mundane to the wildly weird. But that’s the way I like to work, creatively uncensored, putting all the possibilities out there. I’ve always wanted to write a construction trucks book, so when I hit on the notion of a “construction week” the only decision left was, “What can we build in a week that will resonate with a child?” Well, a playground, of course. Even better, a playground designed by illustrator Leo Timmers. And while the premise was fun and uncomplicated, the idea of a community coming together to transform an old, abandoned city lot into something fun and beautiful felt like it added an additional layer of meaning to the essential story. I like that layer. I think it gives readers more to talk about. And Leo did a fabulous job bringing it to life.

MRI: When you were working on the text, did you plot out the different phases of construction to help you group together the tasks the characters undertake each day?

JR: That would have been really smart, eh? But my process was a little looser than that. I tried to keep my free association of the topic going as long as I could before I forced it into any kind of order. I wanted to fully explore all the fun possibilities for structure and language. So, I developed word lists—starting with the days of the week and then all the construction actions, sounds, vehicles and tools I could think of. I played with those lists until I sounded out the bouncy rhythm and rhyme scheme I wanted for my young readers. From there, I made sure that the construction tasks were logically ordered and grouped so that the artwork could then bring sense to the process of building the playground.

MRI: You’ve also written a book called ALL THROUGH MY TOWN that features animals as the main characters. Do you think these two books could take place in the same storytelling universe? Could the kids from All Through My Town come and play at the new playground built in Busy Builders, Busy Week?

JR: Oh my goodness! What a brilliant idea! I love unexpected connections, surprises and meta moments in storytelling. So let’s play that out. ALL THROUGH MY TOWN is loosely modeled after the Chicago suburb in which I grew up—a self-contained town with its own shops, library, gardens, fire department and only thirty miles from Chicago. The Chicago and Northwestern train line—now called the Metra—whistled through multiple times each day, taking commuters to and from the Windy City. BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! takes place in an urban area where the characters transform an old empty lot. So yes, let’s have our town characters hop on their train and visit their city friends—all meeting up at that brand new playground. Bloomsbury, how ‘bout it? Readers, toss me a title! Let’s do this!

 

Jean Reidy photoJean Reidy is a two-time winner of the Colorado Book Award. Especially gifted at writing for very young children, Jean is a frequent presenter at national and local literacy, writing, and education conferences and at schools across the country—in person and via Skype. She is a member of the Colorado Council International Reading Association and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and she serves on the board of Reach Out and Read Colorado. Jean writes from her home in Colorado where she lives right across the street from her neighborhood library, which she visits nearly every day. Visit her at www.jeanreidy.com and on Twitter: @JeanReidy.

 

Follow Jean on the BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! tour!

Mon, Aug 22 Cracking the Cover
Tues, Aug 23 Literary Hoots
Wed, Aug 24 NC Teacher Stuff
Thurs, Aug 25 Mom Read It
Fri, Aug 26 Unleashing Readers
Sat, Aug 27 Booking Mama
Mon, Aug 29 Bluestocking Thinking
Tues, Aug 30 Jean Little Library
Wed, Aug 31 Geo Librarian
Thurs, Sept 1 Mrs. O Reads Books
Fri, Sept 2 Where Imagination Grows

Click here for a free classroom curriculum guide and storytime kit!

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