Posted in Non-Fiction

Celebrate Earth Day! Books about our big, blue dot.

Families on Foot: Urban Hikes to Backyard Treks and National Park Adventures, by Jennifer Pharr Davis & Brew Davis, (March 2017, Falcon Guides), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-4930-2671-5

I’ve been waiting to talk this one up! Published in partnership with the American Hiking Society, this is the book you want if you want to start – or already are a fan of – hiking and taking nature walks with your family. You’ll find tips and information on hiking etiquette, packing, safety, urgent matters like diaper blowouts, using technology like smartphone apps and GPS, activities to keep all ages engaged, and 9 tasty trail mix recipes that are nature-friendly. There’s information on hiking with special needs children and seniors; comprehensive online resources, and a state-by-state directory of family-friendly trails. Full color photos and first-hand stories from the trail will have you packing a bag and getting ready to hit the road.

 

Ranger Rick’s Travels: National Parks!, by Stacy Tornio & Ken Keffer,
(Aug. 2016, Muddy Boots), $14.95, ISBN: 9781630762308

Now that you’re ready to hit the trail, Ranger Rick’s Travels: National Parks will tell you where to go! Ranger Rick and his friend Deputy Scarlett take readers on a scenic tour of America’s 58 national parks, which profiles including stunning photos and facts, top nature picks on plants and animals to look for, and a bucket list for each park.

 

Change the World Before Bedtime, a collaboration by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, and Karen Good (Schiffer Publishing, 2012). $16.99, ISBN: 978-0764342387

I tend to think of Change the World Before Bedtime as an accompanying read to 10 Things I Can Do To Help My World, by Melanie Walsh. The story tells kids that anyone, big or small, can do things to bring about positive change. Over the course of one day, a group of children make positive decisions and take action to brighten the world around them, tying on their “hero capes” and eating a healthy breakfast, spending the day doing random good deeds, like picking up litter, visiting a sick friends or family, donating clothing, toys, and food to the needy, and keeping a positive mindset.

 

The Earth Book, by Todd Parr, (March 2010, Hachette), $11.99, ISBN: 9780316042659

Who does social justice better than Todd Parr? The Earth Book – printed with recycled material and nontoxic ink – empowers kids to work together to make the Earth feel good, from planting a tree to reducing, reusing, and recycling. The Earth Book is great for toddlers and preschoolers, who may otherwise feel left out of the action.

 

These Bees Count!, by Alison Ashley Formento/Illustrated by Sarah Snow,
(March 2012, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807578681

I love this book and its companions, These Seas Count!, These Rocks Count!, and This Tree Counts! In These Bees Count, kids learn the importance of bees to our society by helping pollinate flowers and producing honey. There’s a counting aspect to the books, too, making it accessible to preschoolers and possibly younger; introduce the counting concepts and talk about the good things bees do.

 

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth, by Mary McKenna Siddals/Illustrated by Ashley Wolff,
(March 2010, Tricycle Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781582463162

What’s composting? Glad you asked! This A -to-Z explains composting, how to make a compost pile: what to throw in? what to keep out?, and how composting helps keep gardens growing healthy and happy. It’s great for toddlers and preschoolers who can learn their ABCs through gardening, after they practice their 123s with the bees (above)!

Gabby and Grandma Go Green, by Monica Wellington,
(March 2011, Dutton), $10.99 via Kindle, ASIN: B01F2IJRXA

If you can buy this through a third-party seller or see it in a bookstore, it’s worth it to make the purchase. I really hope this one comes back into print, because I love this story. It’s a good intergenerational story, with young Gabby and her Grandma going green by sewing their own cloth bags, buying veggies at the Farmer’s Market, and recycling their bottles. I love this book and use my battered old copy during my Earth Day storytimes.

These are just a few great Earth Day titles. For today, go out and enjoy the planet! Tomorrow, go to your library or bookstore and check a few out for yourself and your family.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

Happy British National Tea Day! Spend it with The Queen!

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, by Kate Hosford/Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, (March 2017, Carolrhoda Books), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-4677-3904-7

Recommended for ages 5-10

A pampered queen is fed up with her usual cup of tea and demands that her butler take her in search of the perfect cup of tea. The duo travel via hot air balloon to gorgeous, green, tea-growing lands and meet three children: Noriko, from Japan; Sunil, from India, and Rana, from Turkey, all of whom teach the Queen to make tea as they do – after she snuggles a kitten, dribbles a soccer ball, and dances. The Queen, noticeably more relaxed with each trip, returns home, invites the children to a tea party, and greets them, hair askew, smiling, and happy.

The soothing repetition of this story, combined with Gabi Swiatkowska’s colored pencils and the strong individual characters Kate Hosford creates all come together to give readers a story about unity, multiculturalism, and letting your hair down. The Queen’s transformation from stuffy and coddled to open and self-sufficient is a joy to watch. Each new experience, each new child she meets, expands her world view, signified by the different teas she enjoys.

The tea rituals are also repetitive in their own way; each ingredient is laid out, and the steps in making each tea are illustrated, inviting readers (with adult help) to make their own tea. An author’s note at the end touches on the history of tea and the author’s inspiration in coming up with the Queen.

This makes a great addition to a multicultural storytime, or a fun addition to a food-related storytime (have some cooled tea prepared for kids to try). I read this one with my 4 year old, who loved the idea of traveling by balloon and meeting new kids – wasn’t so interested in the tea – and that’s the whole point of the book. Talk to kids about being self-sufficient and open to new experiences, and you’ll be just fine.

Want a Queenly storytime? Pick up Gabi Swiatkowska’s own book, Queen on Wednesday (2014), and see how the two monarchs match up.

Don’t forget to enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win your own copy of How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea!

Posted in Preschool Reads

Rock Away the Night with Granny!

Rock Away Granny, by Dandi Daley Mackall/Illustrated by Mike DeSantis, (Apr. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-0835-8

Recommended for readers 3-6

A little girl gets dropped off at Granny’s, and she isn’t looking forward to the evening. She misses her toys and TV, and Granny just sits there in her rocking chair. But once Mom pulls away, Granny taps her blue suede shoes, paints her granddaughter’s nails, gives them both pony tails, and gets ready to rock the night away! Granddaughter and Granny pull out the old records (“a guy named Elvis has a giant stack”) and do the Twist, the Boogaloo, the Monster Mash, and the Bunny Hop before collapsing back into their rockers. When Mom comes back to pick her little girl up, she kisses Granny goodnight and shuffles off to Buffalo, right out the door – until next time!

What a sweet book about grandparent bonding! Kids don’t always remember that grandma and grandpa were pretty darned cool before they had kids and grandkids; Rock Away Granny has too much fun reminding us about that. This book appeals to grandkids and their parents, who will likely remember hearing Elvis, The Twist, and the Monster Mash while growing up. My own mom is a diehard Elvis fan, so the two of us got a great laugh over the Elvis reference in the book. Instructions on doing the Bunny Hop and how to rock and roll end the book on a high note.

Mike DeSantis’ watercolor illustration gives a soft, cuddly feel to his artwork, and I love his movement when Granny and granddaughter dance. The swaying skirts and swinging ponytails, the imaginative underwater sequence for the swim, and Granny’s cat, who gets in on the action, give this happy book a joyful look and feel.

Bring this book on your next visit to Grandma and/or Grandpa’s, and get them up and dancing! Grandparent’s Day is September 10th this year – add this to your read-aloud and give everyone a dance party with a playlist from the ’50s and ’60s.

 

Award-winning author Dandi Daley Mackall has written more than 450 books for kids and adults. You can check out her website for more information. See more of Mike DeSantis’ illustration work at his site.

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

The jungle heat begs for The Perfect Siesta

The Perfect Siesta, by Pato Mena, (June 2017, NubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-84-945415-3-7

Recommended for readers 3-7

It’s a hot day in the jungle, so when a lovely, cool breeze blows through, a jaguar seizes the moment to take a nap. He has things to do, though, so he asks a coati to wake him in 10 minutes. The coati doesn’t want to say no to a jaguar, out of a healthy sense of self-preservation, but that breeze is just sooo nice… so he asks a cockatiel to wake him up in 10 minutes, who then goes on to ask a sloth. The poor sloth feels the pressure to stay awake, but can’t fight it anymore and lets out a giant SNORE that keeps everyone’s promise!

The Perfect Siesta has entered regular storytime reading at home, and I’m planning a great nap-centric read-aloud to debut this one at my library. It’s hilarious and I love the art, especially the giant, sleepy sloth’s eyes (shown on the cover). Snoring is up there with farts in terms of read-aloud humor, so let your loudest snore rip when you’re reading – the text will support you!

The collage-style artwork will catch readers’ attention and makes for a great read-aloud to large groups as well as small groups. The animals are native to South America, so this also makes for a good rainforest storytime, with extra fun if you have plush or flannels to add to the atmosphere.

Originally published in Spanish, The Perfect Siesta translates hilariously into English and makes for a fun bedtime, naptime, anytime read. The Perfect Siesta is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

A mother’s love letter to her daughter: When I Carried You In My Belly

When I Carried You In My Belly, by Thrity Umrigar/Illustrated by Ziyue Chen, (Apr. 2017, Running Press Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-6058-8

Recommended for readers 3-7

A mother explains where all of her daughter’s wonderful qualities were born: as she grew in her mother’s belly. Her mother laughed so hard that baby laughed, too; that’s why she has a great laugh today. Her grandmother’s loving hands built her crib, and grandfather made sweets to eat; that’s why she dreams softly at night and is so sweet. Her mother sangs joyful songs in different languages, and that’s why the girl feels at home anywhere in the world. It’s a sweet love story between mother and daughter, but also illustrates the love and importance of family.

This is a first picture book for author Thrity Umrigar, who hopes that children will come away understanding the importance of family and the importance of being kind and generous. Her text – a mother lavishing praise on her daughter while reminiscing about her pregnancy – combined with Ziyue Chen’s joyful illustrations featuring multicultural characters, invites children to laugh and play together, part of a world community.

This is a great baby shower gift: the story embraces motherhood, empowers mothers to love their bodies (mom happily belly dances with a beautiful bare midriff), and encourages mother-child interaction from the womb. I remember the little tickles and wiggles I felt with each of my boys even now. I remember playing with them, pushing on my belly in one spot and the delight in seeing a little hand (or foot) push back in response. It’s also a good reading choice for a discussion group, to get moms talking with one another, and their children, about their own pregnancies and what they love about their children. When I Carried You in My Belly is a love letter from mother to child, and a love letter to mothers everywhere.

Display this with books on family and individuality. I like Mary Ann Hoberman’s All Kinds of Families, Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers, The Family Book, by Todd Parr, and What I Like About Me, by Allia Zobel-Nolan.

Thrity Umrigar is the bestselling author of a memoir and six novels, including The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, and The Story Hour. Her books, articles, and more information is available via her website. Ziyue Chen’s work has been recognized in the 3×3 Picture Book Show (2014), SCBWI’s SI Scholarship (2013), the Society of Illustrators’ Student Scholarship Show (2013), and Creative Quarterly (2012). You can see more of her illustration at her website.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

The Blue Songbird discovers her song

The Blue Songbird, by Vern Kousky, (Apr. 2017, Running Press Kids), $22.49, ISBN: 9780762460663

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young blue songbird wishes that she could sing like her sisters. She wants to sing along with them, but she can’t seem to sing like they do. Her mother encourages her to go and find a special song that only she can sing, and the little bird sets off in search of her special song. She meets other birds and experiences the world, only to discover that, upon reaching home again, her song was inside of her all along.

The sweet story of self-awareness also shows readers that your experiences help make you who you are. The songbird’s song is influenced by her travels and who she met; the music was inside of her all along, but venturing out – and returning home – helped shape the music into a song.

The watercolor artwork is beautiful to look at. The colors are soft and the depiction of the music, as a spray of notes and color, is lovely and stirring. The text encourages kids to explore their world, even if, at a young age, that world is their backyards, their playgrounds, their friends’ homes. At the same time, it reassures kids that they can always return home.

There are so many ways to enjoy and extend the lessons put forth in this story. The little birds can be recreated with thumbprint art. Have little readers make their own songbird families by using watercolor paint, dipping their thumbs into a color, and giving their own songbirds adventures in finding their songs. Encourage kids to go on scavenger hunts – I love this idea for scavenger hunt bags and plan to go on an adventure with my little guy once this crazy NYC weather lets up – to explore the world around them.

Good readalikes for this book include A Song for Papa Crow, by Marit Menzin, and the classic Over in the Meadow. Over the Meadow also makes a good singalong and flannel play.

Vern Kousky is an adjunct professor of English for Touro College and the author of the award-winning book, Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry. You can see more of his artwork, including some interior art from The Blue Songbird, at his website.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Humor, Preschool Reads

Welcome to New York. Now, STOP FEEDIN’ DA BOIDS!

Stop Feedin’ the Boids!, by James Sage/Illustrated by Pierre Pratt, (Apr. 2017, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-77138-613-5

Recommended for readers 4-8

A young girl named Swanda moves to Brooklyn. Missing all the local wildlife she used to enjoy, she spots a pigeon on a rooftop and decides to set up a feeder on her fire escape. Since Swanda appears to be new to New York living, she has no idea what can of worms she’s opened, and before she can say, “bagel”, pigeons swarm the fire escape. New Yorkers know all too well what a horde of pigeons brings, and sure enough, Swanda’s neighbors find themselves under siege as the pigeons leave their mark as literally as they do figuratively.

Stop Feedin’ Da Boids is a love letter to New York. Sage and Pratt capture the city’s diversity by giving us a heroine of color, and in the bustling community. The pages are loaded with representatives of different cultures and colors; Hasidim and Rastafarian, women with rollers in their hair, kids running through the street, men chatting with one another. Pratt even captures the New York pigeon to perfection, with the bright yellow eyes that target lock on any scrap of food in the birds’ vicinity, and the grey/black bodies with a hint of color, usually green. Sage nails the New Yawk accent so well when Swanda’s beleaguered neighbors gather together to tell Swanda, “YOU GOTTA STOP FEEDIN’ DA BOIDS!” that any reader, anywhere, will hear it, as clear as a clanging bell.

This makes a great read-aloud – you can go to town with the voice! – and invite the kids to give their best New York accents a whirl. Let them feel like part of the city! There are oodles of New York-centric books to add to a New York/New Yawk storytime: Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny books spotlight Mo’s art over black and white photos of Brooklyn, home of Swanda and the pigeons; Mommy Poppins has a nice list of New York-related books to choose from, and I also love Christoph Niemann’s Subway and Bryan Collier’s Uptown. You could also have a pigeon read-aloud, which gives you an excuse to read Mo Willems’ Pigeon books. (Not that anyone needs an excuse to read Mo.) A fun storytime craft that may or may not get you in trouble: a bird feeder. Or you can do the sticker/coloring sheet thing, too.

Stop Feedin’ Da Boids! received a starred review from Kirkus.