Exploring the World with Billie B.

One of the really great things about getting involved with Usborne is getting to learn about books that don’t have the same kind of marketing that most of the big name, character driven books get. When I was getting ready for my first big book fair, I borrowed a number of books from a friend and my daughters found two series that they loved! What was even better about the whole thing is that they feature the same character, just at different reading levels and slightly different ages. Kids can get to know this charming character at a young age and grow with her and her friend Jack, who has his own book series as well!


The first time we came across Billie is when she is in preschool in the marvelous Billie’s Underwater Adventure (there is also a desert adventure). In this book, Billie’s teacher has the kids pretending to be sea animals. Billie is too slow to get the coveted mermaid costume, but she manages to use her imagination to create an even more wonderful outfit. Then she and her friends create an entire world to explore “under the sea.”Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 9.50.14 AM

Similarly, in the desert story, Billie is annoyed when it is a rainy day and her preschool teacher tells her that rainy days are great to sit inside and read. She doesn’t want to read, she wants to stomp in rain puddles. But her friend Jack comes to her rescue and together they explore secret caves in the desert.Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 9.52.21 AM

We have had a lot of fun with the Billie preschool books. So when my kids got a hold of the early reader books about her, they were thrilled! The first series, Billie B Brown is marvelous because it was designed for new and struggling readers. They feature large print with no more than 50 words per page. Young Fiction 5 - Billie B & Hey JackBillie B is a bold and brave young girl who is learning how to believe in herself. Her best friend is a boy named Jack who struggles with some of the same issues that she does. Together, they navigate the world around them and perhaps learn a lesson or two in the process.

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My 5 year old absolutely loves the Billie and Jack books. We read them at bedtime and now she is also super excited that there are some audio-book versions. She tries to read pieces of them herself and I think these will be her first chapter books. These are two series that I’m happy to have found.

For the slightly older set, there are the great Billie B. Mysteries. She is slightly older and now she is using her smarts and general common sense to solve mysteries at school and in the neighborhood. These books utilize longer sentences and more words per page, but are still easy to read. Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 10.36.50 AM

We’ve read one and ordered the complete set. Both my 9 year old and my 5 year old enjoy these together. They are the kind of thing where J can read them to E and mom doesn’t have to worry at all about content.

It is really great to find a character that we can grow with. She doesn’t feel overly girly and there is something endearing about the fact that her best friend is a boy. While being purchased mainly for E, we will all get lots of good reading out of these books!

A chameleon who learns just to be himself

Any parent is well versed in the artistry and engaging stories of Eric Carle. There was a time that I could recite Brown Bear, Brown Bear by memory. What did the Very Hungry Caterpillar eat that gave him such a terrible tummy ache? Yeah, knew that one too. But every once in a while, I still manage to come across a book of Carle’s that I didn’t know about.

coverThe Mixed-Up Chameleon is a brilliant story about just being yourself and appreciating what makes you different. It is told from the eyes of a young chameleon who happened upon the zoo one day. After seeing each animal, the chameleon thought how that animal was better than he was and wished to be like the other animal – “‘How small I am, how slow, how weak! I wish I could be big and white like a polar bear.’ And the chameleon’s wish came true. But was it happy? No!”

Each page continues with it finding something about each animal and slowly taking on a part of each animal. There are also cutouts on the left side of each page to show each animal that the chameleon is turning into, which miraculously also take on the colors of the rainbow. By the end, the chameleon is barely recognizable, but worse than that, he was so mixed up that he couldn’t even manage to catch a fly so he could get something to eat!chameleon mixed

At that point, he realizes the importance of just being himself, wishes himself back to normal, and caught the fly.

This is such a simple story and yet so powerful. My 5 year old really loved the cut out tabs and all of the crazy colors. It is a great opener to a conversation with kids about what they like about themselves. Another win for Eric Carle!

Wild about The League of Seven

leaguecoverOne of the best experiences as a book loving mom is to watch your child go absolutely crazy for a new book. There have been many books that J has devoured in the past – Harry Potter, Land of Stories, and The School for Good and Evil to name just a few. But we have typically stayed in the same general genres. When we first got the Battle of the Books list for the upcoming year, we decided to purchase a few of the titles that sounded exceptionally good. One of books was The League of Seven, by Alan Gratz.

This book is the start of a Science-Fiction trilogy set in an alternate 1875 American reality. As the summary explains, “electricity is forbidden, Native Americans and Yankees are united, and eldritch evil lurks in the shadows. Young Archie Dent knows there really are monsters in the world. His parents are members of the Septemberist Society, whose job it is to protect humanity from hideous giants called the Mangleborn. Trapped in underground prisons for a thousand years, the giant monsters have been all but forgotten―but now they are rising again as the steam-driven America of 1875 rediscovers electricity, the lifeblood of the Mangleborn. When his parents and the rest of the Septemberists are brainwashed by one of the evil creatures, Archie must assemble a team of seven young heroes to save the world.”

I read the book first when we were on vacation at the end of March. I enjoyed it, didn’t swoon over it, and was actually a tad concerned how J was going to respond to it. I shouldn’t have worried. She inhaled it! I think this was her first real taste of science-fiction and she fully enjoyed it. The book takes real characters like Thomas Edison and makes him into the evil genius who is trying to restore electricity to the world in order to bring back the Mangleborn. I think what truly enticed her were three young heroes with various strengths and weaknesses coming together to save the world. She was especially drawn to the main character of Archie Dent and went crazy when he disappeared for two chapters. While I was good only reading one book, she immediately wanted us to purchase book 2.

There were lots of pieces that went over her head, but that made it even more appealing for the grownups reading along. I especially laughed at the whole scene of people physically hacking the pneumatic mail tubes (p-mail) and talking about the fact that people seemed to really respond to silly requests for money from made up princes in foreign lands. It was also great to see how the three saviors grew into their roles and learned large amounts by finally having friends and a purpose that was bigger than themselves.

The Battle of the Books competition has some issues in terms of the types of questions they ask and how schools choose to approach the process, but the fact that it gives a list of books that challenge young readers to test out different styles of writing is outstanding. This is a book I highly doubt J would have ever picked up, and now she has been shown a whole new genre that she can consider.

Poetry to make you think

Recently my 3rd grade daughter had a quick unit on poetry. I was thrilled that they were teaching this as it is such an important style of writing. The more comfortable you can get kids with poetry at an early age, the better, in my opinion.

echo and echo coverSo when we found the book Echo & Echo, by Marilyn Singers, which not only was written in verse, but about Greek Mythology, I grabbed it up! My 3rd grader loved it as well. Kids and adults will find this book captivating.

Echo & Echo is a book of reverso poems where the poem is written twice – read top to bottom and then bottom to top. The fabulous thing about having them written this way is that it manages to highlight the fact that reading the poem differently also manages to tell the story from someone else’s perspective, which can be exactly opposite to the story most of us know. We have enjoyed studying perspective lately as well, since it is good to realize that things change depending on who tells you the story and that there are many sides to every tale.Pandora

Since many of these myths might be unknown to young readers, and not fully remembered by many adults, each poem has a brief explanation of the myth at the bottom of the page. Each poem is also accompanied by gorgeous illustrations by Josée Masse. (If you enjoy these, Marilyn Singer has 2 earlier books of reverso poems that deal with fairy tales)Icarus

jumpingSpeaking of poetry, we found a wonderful book that combines poetry with a love of books and libraries. In Jumping off Library Shelves, Lee Bennett Hopkins put together a marvelous collection of books praising the library.

These poems are aimed at the young poet and they read remarkably well. In terms of poetry, it is nice that not all of them rhyme as it helps children understand that rhyming is not a requirement. The poems explore subjects from taking refuge in the library, the power of a library card, the brilliance of a librarian, and the power of a storyteller. There is even a poem with the modern twist of utilizing computers in the library and being an “Internet Explorer.”library card


In addition to the wonderful poems, Jane Manning has done a marvelous job with illustrations, and whoever did the actual layout of the pages did a nice job of making the lines of text feel like they have movement and shape. As a lover of all things library, I highly recommend this title.

Flying through Dreamworld

A few months ago I received a review copy of Before I wake Up, by Britta Teckentrup. This is not a book that I would normally pick up, as it seems like a bedtime story, and yet it was a breath of fresh air.before I wake cover

The wonder of this book is two-fold. First it is a wonderful story of a young girl who falls asleep and travels in her dreams through the sky, down to the ocean’s depths, and into a jungle. She is accompanied by a lion friend, who eases her fears, gives her confidence, and helps her explore the world around her. flying

While they are exploring, she acknowledges that there might be some storms, but she won’t be afraid, that together with her lion they are strong. storm

Once they get past the rocky parts, her explorations begin. She swims with the whales, dives in the ocean with the jellyfish, and is fully at peace. The timing is such that you are meant to truly get a sense of her joy as she travels.


But like everything, it must come to an end. friendsShe and the lion run through the jungle to her balloon, where she must leave him. However, when she wakes up, she is safely snuggled in her bed with her stuffed lion next to her, welcoming a new day.sunrise

The second reason that I love this book has to do with the art work. I’m not personally familiar with Britta Techentrup, but she is apparently an award winning illustrator, author and fine artist who has written and illustrated over 80 children’s picture books. Well, she has a new fan in her art. The pictures in this book are stunning! She utilizes mixed media and textures in her art that give it a special kind of depth. While some of the pages are sparse and dark, they are there to highlight that times can be challenging. Once the duo weathers the storm, the tone of the pictures changes and wordless spreads help communicate how full of happiness the little girl is.

We have read this book a few times now and I like the air of calm that it gives off. My 5 year old is less enamored with this story, but we don’t read it as a bedtime story. Perhaps on the most basic level it just isn’t her style – it is a very calming book and she is not a very calm little girl . I see this as an amazing bedtime story for young children and some of the pictures I would love to have hung on the wall.

Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster

What if no one likes me? What if I don’t know anyone in my new class? What if I fall? What if I make a fool of myself? What if people laugh at me? What if I don’t like it? What if I get homesick?

Children and anxiety go hand in hand. There are periods in a child’s life when fears pop-up more than other times. We see it when kids are getting ready to transition to a new school. We see it when they are getting ready to try something new, like my own daughter going to sleep-away camp for the first time. But how do we help them deal with these fears?

whatif coverWhen talking it through doesn’t work or when you simply need another option to drive the message home, what do we do? Reach for a book! One book I recently came up on is Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster, by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt.

In this charming book, Jonathan James is plagued by a whatif monster who is constantly telling him about all of the bad things that might happen if he tries something new. We all have whatif monsters, but some people’s monsters are peskier than others, and poor Jonathan’s won’t leave him alone. He hears “those words full of dread, and all those ‘what ifs’ got stuck in his head.”

Jonathan couldn’t do much of anything without his monster getting in the way. With marvelous illustrations and engaging rhymes, the reader is shown all of the options of how things could go wrong and how it keeps Jonathan from taking risks.

whatif tree whatif pool whatif race

Finally, Jonathan puts his foot down – “What if you’re wrong?”

what if wait

Because Jonathan has finally realized that his fears of the what-ifs were holding him back from awesome experiences. The other side of the what if equation is always what if I have a blast?

The message in this book is simple and put to readers in a super accessible manner. You have to try. Take the risk and you might find out that it was all worth it. And what if you fail? No big deal, try again.

whatif spread 1This book is a Kane Miller publication for sale at Usborne Books and More. You can check it out, along with the plush toy whatif monster at http://b5788.myubam.com/p/1583/jonathan-james-and-the-whatif-monster.

A Tale of Two Beasts – Looking at both sides of the story

We read a lot of picture books in our house, and one of my new favorites is A Tale of Two Beasts, by Fiona Roberton. This book is a clever way of not only telling a great story, but showing children that there are two sides to every story depending on the narrator’s point of view.a-tale-of-two-beasts

In this book, a little girl is walking through the woods when she finds a lemur and decides to “rescue” him and take him home as a pet. She wraps him up in her scarf and carries him home where she proceeds to “care” for him with a bath, clothing and food.Two_Beasts_Portfolio_20146Alas, later that evening, “Fang” runs away out an open window and the little girl can’t understand why. She is even more frustrated when instead of being able to go look for him, her mother proceeds to tell her that it is time for her to eat, take a bath, and go to bed.
Two_Beasts_Portfolio_20149So we are already seeing a different perspective because the little girl’s mother is making her do the same things that she was doing to Fang, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The little girl’s recounting of her day was only part one of the story….turn the page and you get the tale from Fang’s perspective.

See, poor Fang was hanging around one day having a marvelous time when this girl came up and grabbed him, growled at him, tied him up and took him home to her “secret lair.” There she tortured him in various ways, including giving him squirrel food!beast fang washingThrough subtle changes in the illustrations as well, the reader truly feels like they are getting the story from Fang’s perspective.

This is such a fun story and a great way to let children see that there are two sides to every story. It is easy to know how you perceive a situation, but you never really know what is going on in the minds of those around you. This is one book that I know we will read again and again!

A Tale of Two Beasts is an outstanding Kane Miller publication sold by Usborne Books. I did recently become an independent Usborne Books & More consultant, but the review is all mine. If you are interesting in purchasing this book, check out this link.


Feeding the minds of future foodies

Teaching children about nutritious food and where it comes from can be incredibly challenging. The goal is to make it fun. Thankfully, there are now a wide variety of resources to help share the story of how our food gets to us and how to make healthy choices.1-food books

how did that getIn Chris Butterworth’s “How Did That Get in my Lunchbox?” children are taken on a fun journey of how the foods in a well-balanced lunchbox get there. While mom and dad probably bought most of the ingredients at the market, food doesn’t grow in stores, so its a good idea to know where it really came from. From the process of making bread and cheese to growing fruits and vegetables, this books makes the process fun. The book ends with an explanation of the different food groups and a statement that most of your plate should come from fruits and vegetables. A big hit with kids!


chef foodyAnother fun book that shows how foods make it from the farm to our tables is “Chef Foody’s Field Trip,” by Agostino Traini, originally published in Italian but now available in English. In this beautifully illustrated book, children are shown how a wide variety of fields are grown, harvested, and turned into the foods that we know and love. In addition to showing the full farming method, this ingenious book also explains how foods are processed into things like flour, pasta, jams, yogurt and many other items. There are also sections on how we get meat and seafood and how they are processed into individual cuts. A colorful way to learn about where our food actually comes from.


what's so yummyIn Robie Harris’s “What’s so Yummy?” the focus in all about eating well and how that helps keep you healthy. This book is more of a story following two young children and their family as they visit the local co-op farm and markets. It focuses on the wealth of foods that we should be eating and acknowledges vegetarian diets as well as food allergies. Kids not only learn about good foods and the value of drinking water, but also are shown how people sometimes get tired or cranky when they are hungry. The book ends by encouraging families to eat well and to get outside and move in order to stay healthy and happy.

yummy inside

bears junk foodA final book that does an awesome job of pushing home what a diet of too much junk food can do to you is “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food.” When Mama Bear notices all of the junk that her family keeps snacking on, she decides that it is time to get rid the bad choices in their house. A fortuitous run-in with the family physician while at the market buying wholesome foods also brings the whole family to doctor’s office for a lesson on how our bodies work and the pitfalls of junk food. Mama does a great job of moving her family away from the sugar balls and coco-chums and towards healthier, nutrient filled snacks that keep them going as they also get out and exercise more. For younger kids that respond better to fiction, this is a perfect way to start teaching them about nutrition.

bears inside

No matter how you do it, helping kids learn about where our food comes from and what helps make their bodies work the best is something to start earlier rather than later. Then after reading, get out and move!

Getting into the Scavenger Hunt

book scavengerLast summer, while wandering the library I discovered the book The Book Scavenger. I was quickly enthralled by the book which takes kids on an adventure through the streets of San Francisco searching for books that have been hidden and also for clues that have been left by a writer who was about to launch a new game before he was attacked and left in a coma. I loved this book and could completely see kids from 3rd grade up liking it. It had everything for me – a great premise, books, San Francisco and engaging characters.

So earlier this week I happened into our local book shop and on my way out noticed signs for the book. Author Jennifer Chambliss Bertman was coming to town. She is planning on having a discussion about her debut novel and a book trivia game. I rearranged my older daughter’s piano lessons and we will be at the event!

One big part of this book is that people all over the country participate in a massive game of “find the book” that has been organized by a book publisher. A few years ago we got into geocaching with my kids and their friends, but we floundered when there weren’t a ton of things in our area to find. The idea of basically being able to geocache with books and literary clues…awesome! I remember reading the book wishing something really existed. The thing is, it does, it’s just that last year when I read the book, no one had hid any within an hour of our home. The bookstore, however, also reminded me that people can hide books via the Book Scavenger website. Someone from the store itself has hidden a few in preparation for this event. That in mind, my thoughts began to churn – I need to hide some books!

Today I picked up 6 books at a local used book store and am going to hide them over the weekend. I would love for my daughter to get into this book, she just is currently devouring The League of Seven and wants to finish that one first. But once she finishes the book, I want her to have the ability to go searching for books. For that, I need more people to get involved. If you live near us, and you know who you are, go to the Book Scavenger website and get the materials necessary to hide a book. If you don’t live near us, do it anyway, you never know what young reader you will be helping!

As for the book itself, I honestly don’t remember a ton of details from the book. I do know that there were lots of wonderful little gems. As someone who grew up roaming the streets of San Francisco, it was like stepping back in time visiting places I hadn’t thought of in years, especially City Lights Bookstore. I loved that not only were ciphers used, but you got a little bit of history lesson on them as well. Then there were the relationships between Emily and her brother Matthew as well as between Emily and James. This book was one that struck me as just fabulous and that all book loving kids should read.  If you are a fan of Mr. Lemoncello’s Library or a fan of a good mystery, you will definitely enjoy this book.


The True Pocahontas

My 5 year old is a big lover of Disney Princesses and while she got an absolute blast out of taking pictures with Cinderella, Belle, Ariel and Tianna recently, she has always been more interested in the stories of Mulan and Pochahontas. She has been listening to the audio versions of these stories again recently and as we lie there listening to Pocahontas (it’s first on our CD), she keeps asking me questions about the real Pocahontas, questions I simply haven’t been able to answer.

pocahontas coverSo yesterday I was in the library looking for non-fiction children’s books for an article that I’m working on and I found Pocahontas: Princess of the New World by Kathleen Krull. I knew that I had to bring that home for her to see and of course she loved it. Kathleen Krull is a real pro at writing biographies for children and I didn’t even realize it was one of hers when I picked it up.

Of course, as soon as E saw the book she was super excited. She started asking me questions in the car and I kept saying, “We will have to read it when we get home.” I didn’t get a chance to read it with her because J read it to her while I was making dinner, but when I asked if she liked it she said she loved it.

pocahontasKrull admits in the back of the book that very little is known of Pocahontas and that all of her information came from English sources but with the known facts and research from a variety of sources, she tried to put the story together as best she could.  Through engaging and colorful illustrations, she captures the younger listener’s eye and her story can be told. As the story begins she is an 11 year old girl who was “clever and fearless.” She was well respected and “knew how to get her own way – as a proper princess must.”

In 1607 three ships from England landed near her village. “The men were exhausted, sick, smelly, and crabby” and they had come to this new land to try and make money for investors in England. “Within months, half of these 108 men would be dead.” The new land wasn’t an easy place for them to live and they didn’t know how to work or live off of the land.

poca saving johnJohn Smith was a brave adventurer who tried to learn the language of the Powhatan tribe, but one day he was ambushed and taken to their chief who wanted them to leave the land or commit to being his allies against other tribes. When John Smith didn’t answer, a sign was given that made him believe he was about to lose his life. Pocahontas stepped in and for a time there was peace between the two groups. Smith became an important part of the colony’s fate and helped Jamestown develop as it grew to contain 500 English, but one day for no reason he needed to return to England.

poca weddingThe settlement struggled for a while and then things got openly hostile with the Indians. In 1613 they kidnapped Pocahontas, remembering her high status. Her father called their bluff and would not negotiate to get her back. During her kidnapped state, she started to learn more about the English, was coaxed into their clothing and taught their religion. In fact, “the princess became the first American convert to Christianity.” She fell in love with an Englishman, wed him, and had a child. Her father sent gifts and a promise for peace. She wound up traveling back to England and seeing what life was like there, but died soon after.

So the two Disney movies got parts of it right, except for the overwhelming love story angle of the first movie. And now we have a much better idea of what the story of Pocahontas entails so I can answer more of my little one’s inquisitive questions.

nfpb16I was thrilled to find this book and to add it to the list of non-fiction picture books as a part of the roundup organized by Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy. I love the encouragement to explore more non-fiction by reading through all of the other blogs and the challenge it gives me to actually get my posts up.


Mr. Colby Sharp

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