Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Size matters not… Small, by Gina Perry

Small, by Gina Perry, (Aug. 2017, Little Bee Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0401-0

Recommended for readers 3-7

Sometimes it’s a drag being small. It can be intimidating. In Small, a little girl goes through a day in the crowded city feeling small and overwhelmed. When ducks snatch her hot dog, she feels helpless… until a trip to a playground helps her turn it around by allowing her to embraces the positives in her life and how they make her feel big. The love of her family; her drawing ability; her fierce game – all of these and more make her big, brave, and loved.

Small is loaded with positivity. It’s a good book for preschoolers and kindergarteners on self-esteem, filled with moments kids recognize all too well: feeling like second banana to a younger sibling; fears about being lost in a crowd; of not being heard; of just feeling plain helpless. It also taps into positive moments that kids feel: the invincibility of being on a slide or the monkey bars; the power of sidewalk chalk, the power that comes from doing something for someone else. I read this to my toddler/preschooler storytime group, and they loved it! Two of my QH kiddos were captivated by the sidewalk chalk art, so we spent a couple of minutes letting everyone look at the spread and point to the different drawings. The story and the pictures resonated with them.

Author/Illustrator Gina Perry’s webpage has a free, downloadable butterfly craft and activity kit that I’ll definitely use – especially since I just saw a sidewalk art page! This is a great book for letting little ones know what a big space they take up in your life.

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Posted in Preschool Reads

Hispanic Heritage Month: nubeOcho picture books

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I love nubeOCHO picture books. I discovered the publisher when I was at the PLA conference last year; I was a children’s librarian in a largely monolingual Spanish-speaking community, with outdated books on the shelves in their language. I was buying books in Spanish that I knew how to search for: Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Percy  Jackson – but I needed to find new books that spoke to the kids and their cultures. I found that publisher in nubeOCHO, who simultaneously publishes Spanish and English language copies of their books that are perfect for my kiddos. I could read a storytime book in English, interjecting some Spanish words where I knew how, and the parents could borrow the Spanish copy to take home and read with their kids. I am forever grateful.

This season, nubeOCHO has a couple of adorable books out – available in English and Spanish – for beginning readers and cuddlers. Enjoy.

The Perfect Animal (El animal perfecto), by Raquel Diaz Reguera, (Sept. 2017, nubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-8494633393
Recommended for readers 4-8

The kids at school have to dress up as an animal; Valentina wants to be “the perfect animal”. But what does that mean? Valentina considers several animals: elephants, bears, bats, birds, and more. She notes their strengths and their “curiosities” – noted throughout the book as fun facts, paper-clipped to the pages, written on note paper. So which one is the perfect animal? Why pick just one? There’s vibrant art throughout the book, plus fun facts kids will love (elephant are the only mammals that can’t jump, which makes really good sense). The Perfect Animal is part of nube’s Egalite imprint; publishing stories that emphasize equality and that illustrate the richness of diversity.

A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise (Una sopresa para tortuga), by Paula Merlan/Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer, (Oct. 2017, nubeOCHO), $16.95, ISBN: 978-84-946333-4-8
Recommended for readers 4-8

Mrs. Tortoise sees her reflection one morning, and it really brings her down. Her shell looks old and worn out, and it’s really making her feel old and sad. Luckily for her, Birdie, her best friend, is there to cheer her up! He bops around to the sky, the flowers, the wind, and clouds to help decorate her  shell and cheer her up, but it seems like everything just makes Mrs. Tortoise feel worse; she loses her temper and snaps at Birdie, but even that doesn’t stop him. When Mrs. Tortoise goes to apologize to Birdie, she discovers that forgiveness and friendship are all that matter (and a little help from the rainbow doesn’t hurt). Washed-out watercolor art splashed across each page spread creates beautiful artwork that readers will gravitate to – especially when Mrs. Tortoise’s shell is covered in flowers! (I see art project at storytime here!) This is a sweet story about friendship and going the extra mile for a friend. A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise is part of nube’s Somos8 imprint, exploring first sensations and challenges kids meet.

Posted in Fantasy, Science Fiction, Teen

Gork the Teenage Dragon serves up scaly green goodness

Gork the Teenage Dragon, by Gabe Hudson, (July 2017, Knopf), $24.95, ISBN: 9780375413964

Recommended for readers 14+

Gork’s a dragon, but don’t even think about mentioning Smaug to him. He’s not happy at all with the way dragons are portrayed in Earth fiction, and he’s here to set the record straight. So begins the story of Gork: teenage dragon, student at WarWings Academy, orphaned on Earth during his parents’ mating mission and raised by his scientist grandfather, Dr. Terrible.

Starting off on Crown Day – the day dragon and dragonette cadets at the Academy agree to be mating partners – Gork has one goal in mind: to get the luscious Runcita Floop to wear his crown and agree to be his queen. The problem? His nickname is Weak Sauce, his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious (if you’re a gamer, think of Will to Power as a CON/DEX/overall attractiveness level) and he’s got a bad habit of fainting when he’s scared. If Runcita says yes, she and Gork will go off in his spaceship and find a planet to conquer together. If Gork can’t sea the deal, he’s doomed to be a slave.

Gork has a heck of a day ahead of him: Dean Floop – his intended’s father – hates him; his sadistic grandfather is on the run from the Dean, he’s being hunted down by a group of WarWings cadets that have murder on their minds, and the Trenx, a fellow cadet who had similarly low ratings, has seemingly blossomed overnight. Before the day is out, Gork will have to survive and learn some hard truths about his family. He’d better keep his best friend – a robot dragon named Fribby – by his side.

Gork is an out-there novel. It’s a page-turner, and Gork is an endearing first-person narrator, if a bit single-minded in focus. He’s obsessed with mating, but he is a teenager, after all. He refers a lot to his “scaly green ass” a lot, which gets tedious. Gork’s story uses fantasy to tackle some very real points: bullying, friendship, self-esteem, and falling in love. It’s a much deeper novel than the title “teenage dragon”encompasses; it’s a fantasy, a YA romance, and a coming of age story.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Ozzy the Ostrich teaches kids to stand up to bullies

Ozzy the Ostrich, by José Carlos Andrés/Illustrated by Bea Enríquez, (June 2017, NubeOCHO), $15.95, ISBN: 978-8494541599

Recommended for readers 3-6

Ozzy Ostrich and two friends trot across the plain, munching on flowers, until three lions threaten to eat them! Ozzy – who also has an egg to defend – stands up to the bullies, scaring the so badly that one loses his teeth, one loses all of his fur, and one turns completely white. The former bullies befriend the ostriches, but what happens when another pride of lions shows up to menace the group?

Ozzy the Ostrich is a good introduction to the concepts of bullying and standing up for oneself and others. When the first group of lions bullies Ozzy, she stands up for herself and the bullies back down. When the next group comes along, Ozzy sees that her actions resonate. The art is bright, vibrant, and bold; both lions and ostriches have exaggerated facial expressions that readers will enjoy and laugh at (especially when the chastised lions react).

Originally published in Spanish under the title Un avestruz con much luz (2016), Ozzy the Ostrich makes a good social issues read-aloud for storytime. Pair with Kathryn Otoshi’s One for an anti-bullying storytime message.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Shannon Hale Talks Cool Kids, Crybabies, and Real Friends

Real Friends, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyen Pham, (May 2017, :01 First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-62672-785-4

Recommended for readers 8-13

How do I even start my gushing over Shannon Hale’s memoir about family, friendship, and growing pains? I’m a Shannon Hale fan and a LeUyen Pham fan; their collaborations – like on one of my favorite chapter book series, Princess in Black – work so well, visually and literally, it’s a treat for the eyes, the imagination, the whole reader is satisfied.

Here, we see young Shannon’s life from Kindergarten through fifth grade in terms of her relationships; with her mother, a series of friends, her troubled and sometimes abusive sister, and with God. Primarily, this is a story of how Shannon struggled with The Group. We all know The Group. Mean Girls was a story about The Group; just about every high school or middle school movie or TV show has a Group. It’s the in-crowd, the girls who make lives miserable for everyone that isn’t part of their group – and sometimes, even for the people in the group. Shannon desperately wants friends, but with friends comes the stress of being part of The Group and putting up with the mind games and backstabbing that is aimed at her by another jealous group member. At home, she tries to navigate relationships with her large family, trying to give her temperamental sister, Wendy, a wide berth.

We see the effects of stress on Shannon, who develops OCD-type behavior and manifests physical ailments often associated with anxiety. We also see how Shannon copes by creating her imaginary worlds – she’s a Wonder Woman, a Charlie’s Angel, a secret agent, and she brings her friends along for the ride. This book is powerful for a girl who, like Shannon, grew up in the ’70s, disappeared into my own imagination, and struggled for years with Groups and backstabbing. I’m an only child, but Shannon could have been writing about me – and that’s how readers will feel reading this book, just like readers do when they read literally anything by Raina Telgemeier.

Readers will know this is their story, whether they’re an 8 year old kid or a 46 year old librarian and book blogger; maybe there’s a boy out there who, like Shannon or Kayla, another character, hides in the bushes so no one will see them crying and make fun of them. Real Friends is painful, real, and beautiful.

Real Friends received a starred review from School Library Journal, and Kirkus offers an interview with Shannon and Dean Hale. Wander over to Shannon Hale’s author page for information on her other books, games and quizzes, and more; LeUyen Pham’s webpage is loaded with neat things to see, including a free, downloadable Love: Pass It On poster, and links to her illustration, Facebook, and book pages.

This one is a no-brainer for collections. Display with Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, and Sisters, and novels like Jennifer L. Holm’s Fourteenth Goldfish,  and Dana Alison Levy’s Family Fletcher books. If it’s a display or book talk on self-esteem and standing up to the crowd, make sure to include Kathryn Otoshi’s Zero, One, and Two.

 

 

 

 

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 Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

She’s full of glitter, she’s wielding a glue gun… She’s The Amazing Crafty Cat!

crafty-cat_1The Amazing Crafty Cat, by Charise Mericle Harper, (Apr. 2016, First Second), $13.99, ISBN: 9781626724860

Recommended for ages 7-10

Bridie is a little girl who loves, loves, LOVES to craft: so much, that she has an alter ego: the Amazing Crafty Cat! Crafty Cat can craft anything, anytime! Crafty Cat becomes Bridie again so she can go to school; she’s excited because it’s her birthday and she’s got special panda cupcakes for everyone during birthday break – even Anya, the class bully. She just knows these cupcakes will make her the school star… and then, Bridie falls, sending the cupcakes flying. She gets stains on her dress trying to pick up the cupcakes. Grandpa is supposed to come to the rescue, bringing something to hand out snack time, but that’s just a disaster. Things aren’t supposed to go wrong on her birthday! What is Bridie going to do? She’s got hungry classmates! Looks like a job for… THE AMAZING CRAFTY CAT.

The first book in the Fashion Kitty/Just Grace author’s new trilogy is just too much fun. There’s a great message about teaching kids resiliency and how to fall back on Plan B… and Plan C, if necessary. Plus, there are craft ideas and template at the end of the book! You know what I’m going to say… it’s a program in a book! Make Crafty Cat your next book talk/activity; do your scanning and photocopying ahead of time, and let your kids work on the crafts as you talk about things that went wrong for them (and you), and how you all bounced back from them. Such a fun addition to graphic novel and intermediate collections, you’ll never keep them on the shelf.  Now, we just need a Crafty Cat website with some videos…

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