Yosef’s Dream – A story about Ethiopian Jews

The Jewish people have a long history of being spread all over the world. Many forget, however, that for many years there was a large contingent of Jews living in Ethiopia. They lived in isolation, not realizing that there were other Jews in the world and often oppressed by their Ethiopian “hosts.”

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In Yosef’s Dream, (Sept 1st by Apples and Honey Press)  by Sylvia Rouss with assistance from Ambassador Asher Naim, the stories of “Operation Solomon” and the biblical tale of Joseph and his dreams are combined to remind us all in the power of believing.

Those with hope in God will renew their strength,
they will soar aloft as with eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:31)

This story starts in Israel, but quickly cuts back to Yosef’s memories of his time in Ethiopia. He loved his homeland with it’s “tall mountains, flowing rivers and wide plains,” but even though his people had lived their for thousands of years, they were “still seen as strangers, for we were Jewish…and different.”

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Yosef goes through his morning and readers can get a sense of what his daily life is like in Ethiopia. His sister bakes injera bread (so delicious if you’ve never tried it!) and also weaves the baskets and makes the pottery that their family sells at the market. They rely on the land for farming and water and Yosef carries food to his father and brother working in the fields.yosef 2

One day, Yosef accidentally falls into a deep hole and cannot climb out. In a folkloric turn, Gazelle comes to him in a dream, encourages him to hold onto her horns, be pulled out, and travel to see far-off places. Hyena interrupts and says that together they will “hide in the shadows and feed off of the scrapes of others.” Suddenly, a giant Eagle sweeps in and tells Yosef to pull himself out. “You can do it if you try. Catch hold of my wings and we will fly to your new home far, far away.” Suddenly, his brother has found him, but Yosef still manages to climb out of the hole himself.yosef 3

Yosef runs to school where he had been told a special visitor would be coming that day. It is Ambassador Asher Naim from Israel. He has come to over them all a home, to a return to the Promised Land. An older boy says that legends tell them one day they will return to Israel on the wings of eagles and Yosef says, “Just like my dream!” This time everyone listens to him and they are reminded of Joseph, the young Hebrew boy who saw the future in his dreams.yosef 4

There are fears that the Ethiopian government will never let them go. Yosef’s family also fears their ability to go as his mother is very pregnant. But over the next weeks, the villagers prepare for the big trip in hopes that it will happen soon. When the word comes that Ethiopia will allow them to leave, it is much like Pharoah allowing the Jews to leave Egypt, “it must be TODAY!”yosef 5

Thirteen years later, the family is in Israel celebrating his younger brother Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah. Jacob mentions Yosef’s dream in his speech – “Yosef’s dream was about making a choice. If we had gone with Gazelle, my family could have traveled to other countries, never settling anywhere. Had we stayed with Hyena, we would still be living as outcasts in Ethiopia. But we chose to fly with Eagle, and after nearly 3000 years of exile we have returned to Israel, our true home.”

I found this book incredibly powerful. There are very few stories that talk about Ethiopian Jews who lived in the diaspora. We don’t think about them as much as a part of the larger Jewish history or general world history. So while this book isn’t technically a non-fiction picture book, I believe that it has an important place in the classroom and home to tell a story that needs to be told. The story is told in an incredibly accessible way and Tamar Blumenfeld’s illustrations hold the whole thing together.

The Jews in Ethiopia were often oppressed by their Ethiopian hosts, called “falashas,” which means strangers, and were blamed for droughts, famines, and illness. Operation Solomon. The Author’s Note at the end tells about the work that Ambassador Naim did in 1991 to fly nearly 14,000 Jews out of Ethiopia and to Israel within a 36 hour period. During the fights, seven children were born, just like Yosef’s brother Jacob.

nfpb16So, as I mentioned, while not technically a non-fiction title, I am including it in the link-up of non-fiction picture books hosted each week by Kid Lit Frenzy. Check out the other books reviewed by the marvelous book blogging community!

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher while at a conference, but all opinions are completely my own. The book will be released September 1st by Apples and Honey Press.

Patricia Polacco and a Love Affair with Books

I have a deep and abiding respect for Patricia Polacco. Her books are outstandingly good and never fail to amaze me with their depth. Her stories are aimed at a slightly older audience as they tend to cover serious subjects and are wordy for picture books, but they provide wonderful learning lessons for children in the form of a story.

aunt chipThe most recent Patricia Polacco book that I picked up is “Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair.” This book is a ringing endorsement for reading and a warning about allowing televisions to take over the world. This book was written in 1996 and could easily be updated to be about over-use of the internet, but the whole feel is exactly the same.

How much TV is too much TV? Welcome to Triple Creek, where the townspeople watch TV day and night. They watch it when they’re eating, working, playing, and sleeping. They even use TVs to teach the kids at school. Sounds pretty horrible, and yet, sounds like the direction we have been heading with computers instead of televisions. Everyone in Triple Creek loves television. Everyone, that is, except for Eli’s Aunt Chip, who doesn’t even own one.

aunt chip 1Everyone sees Aunt Chip as the eccentric old lady who refuses to leave her house. Apparently, well over 50 years earlier she took to her bed and vowed never to get out of it again. She constantly railed that “there will be consequences.” What consequences?  Well, it turns out that Aunt Chip took to her bed when a television tower was built in the town and when they closed down the library. Since then, the people of Triple Creek have lost the knowledge of how to read and instead spend all day staring at their television screens.

Eli loves his crazy Aunt just the same, and visits her almost every day. He is amazed when she tells him stories and wonders where they all come from. “Some come out of thin air. Some come out of my dreams. Some come right out of books!” Eli can’t understand how she gets a story out of a book because the town now only uses books as building materials. When Aunt Chip realizes that no one knows how to read anymore, she decides that enough is enough and gets out of bed. She is shocked when she wanders around town and finds that there are no children playing in the streets…they are all inside about to watch a TV show.aunt chip 2The town is depressing and Aunt Chip has had enough. She shows Eli a book and teaches him to read. His knowledge starts to amaze his friends at school and he teaches them to read (along with Aunt Chip’s help). The kids start borrowing books from all over town, taking them from wherever they can find them. One day Eli pulls out a copy of Moby Dick from a large pile and accidentally opens up a floodgate of water which topples the television tower. As it starts to rain books, the town is finally given a sign about the importance of books and reading and the consequences of an addiction to television.

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Understand, folks still had their TV’s, all right, but they were wise about what they watched and for how long. They had so much else to do!

Polacco, in her amazing way, urges parents and children alike to open their eyes to how bad an addiction to technology can be. She also shines a light on how spectacular the world of reading can be and how it can take you places and change the world around you. A ringing endorsement if I’ve ever seen one. To reading!

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Shimmying up to Shakespeare

My 9 year old has developed a deep and abiding love for all things Shakespeare. Back in February we inadvertently introduced her to King Lear when we read a picture book called Anook the Snow Princess. Since then, we have had lots of conversations about Shakespeare’s plays, but more than anything else, we have found a wealth of truly amazing books that help bring Shakespeare to life.*

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Teaching your children to understand the stories that Shakespeare wrote and the world in which he lived is a great way to open their eyes to a world of creativity. We haven’t focused on any of the old English, but I would love to find a way to bring some of the bard’s poetry in as well. What thrills me is that there are wonderful resources out there to encourage a love of his works.

J’s absolute favorite book that we have is the Usborne Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare. From lively comedy to dark tragedy, with clowns, witches and a doomed romance, this wonderful collection has six of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays. In this durable collection, young readers can discover the stories of Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest, all beautifully retold for easy reading. The text is mainly told in modern styles, but from time to time there are direct quotes from the stories written in italics, almost like speech bubbles.hamlet spread

J has read this book from cover to cover multiple times. She is shocked that so many people perish in the end, but we have to explain to her that that is simply a part of how plays were written long ago. Her favorite at the moment is Twelfth Night.  Having her read and enjoy this book has opened up conversations about how Romeo and Juliet is the basis for West Side Story, one of my all-time-favorite musicals, and how so many people have been inspired by Shakespeare’s works.

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Once she was completely entranced with the stories themselves, we moved on to another book that engages her in a hunt and search method while also informing her about additional plays. In “Where’s Will“, readers get to explore ten of William Shakespeare’s most exciting, funny, and powerful plays. Each play has a spread that gives young readers a summary of the story, allows them to meet the characters, and find out what they are up to. Then turn the page and you get to find Will and all of the characters in a “Where’s Waldo” style hunt.

For our long car rides, J loves to do sticker books. She initially got hooked doing sticker dolly dressing books, but we have now discovered a wealth of titles that are not only fun sticker books, but also educational. One of these titles is Sticker Dressing Shakespeare. These are hands on books that allow kids to learn about the fashions utilized in the plays as well as learn little bits about the plays themselves.

A brand new title that starts children understanding the world that Shakespeare lived in and how his plays were produced is See Inside the World of Shakespeare. Through engaging lift-the-flaps, kids can travel back 400 years to visit rowdy playhouses and royal palaces and discover Shakespeare’s tales of doomed princes and mischievous fairies causing trouble.

Finally, for those who are older and really ready to get into meaty information about the Bard, there is the beautifully produced World of Shakespeare. This 64 page reference guide shows how Shakespeare’s world was full of danger, excitement and change. Elizabethan London was filthy, crowded, crime-ridden, hazardous, thrilling and inspiring. But the theaters, situated in the scruffier parts of town, provided popular places of entertainment. Shakespeare’s plays tell tales of love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, corruption, family, feuds, ghosts, witches, and murder. Discover how Shakespeare lived, and why, hundreds of years later, his works are still being performed, interpreted and adapted all over the world.

I love that my daughter has gotten interested in Shakespeare and I will do all that I can to encourage her to learn more about him. For additional titles, check out this guest post on Pragmatic Mom.

*Note – Most of these books are published by Usborne Books & More. I am an independent Usborne Consultant and the links are back to my website.

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The Wildest Race Ever

With the Summer Olympics coming soon, when I saw a book about the story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon, I had to pick it up. Written by Meghan McCarthy, The Wildest Race Ever tells the story of the third marathon in Olympic history.the-wildest-race-ever-9781481406390_hr

The 1904 Olympics took place in St. Louis, Missouri. That year, it was not only the Olympics, but St. Louis combined the games with the World’s Fair. Hundreds of thousands of people came by car, by train, and boat. Part of the Olympics was a wild, wacky marathon.

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Forty-two racers registered, thirty-two showed up, and of the three racers vying for the finish line: on drove part way, one was helped by his trainers over the line, and one was a postman who traveled from Cuba and ran in street clothes that he cut off to look like shorts.

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With incredibly fun illustrations, McCarthy highlights many facts about the day’s race and a number of the runners. As well versed as we are with modern marathons, it seems insane that the race began at 3:00 in the afternoon on a 90 degree day. Most of the race was run on dirt roads and the runners were choked by the dust that was stirred up by the cars filled with officials, doctors and reporters.

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Readers will laugh at the antics of runner Felix Carvajal, of Spain, who did things like stopped to chat with spectators and was constantly eating his way through the race and be amazed that Fred Lorz tried to claim he won even though he rode in a car most of the way. The ultimate winner, Thomas Hicks, ran the race slow and steady and was given rat poison by his trainers when he begged for water! By the time he crossed the finish line, the poor runner was suffering from hallucinations.

This was a very fun history lesson about the first Olympics held in the United States and the many ways that marathons have changed.

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I picked this book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy. She also picked a sports themed book this week and there are always a ton of great books linked up. This is a great way to keep nonfiction picture books in our reading selections.

Exploring the world of Color

Children love learning about colors and they are often some of the first words that they can read on their own. There is something completely fascinating in what you can do with three primary colors if only you are allowed to try. There are actually many wonderful books that open up a world of possibility and encourage creativity in the realm of color exploration, I’ve only found a few of them…

This post was born from random library browsing. A few weeks ago I picked up a wonderful book called Snap at our local library. When I was returning that and looking through other new books, I came across Swatch: The Girl who Loved Color and an idea was born. Why not write a post about books that talk about color? Do you have favorite books about colors? I would love to hear of them in the comments section.

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mix it up coverMy children love books that allow them to be involved. Hervé Tullet has a collection of interactive books and Mix-it Up is his way of teaching color theory. This book is a great way to get kids thinking about how to utilize the primary colors to make a world of possibilities. One of the fun things about this book is that most of it can also be done with actual paint allowing the kids to get truly tactile.

usborne colorAnother fabulous book that focuses on the colors themselves with less of a story is The Usborne Big Book of Colors. This is a great book to start young children in an understanding of colors. This is a visually stunning book for the youngest learners to kick start their excitement about colors. What is marvelous about this book is that it goes beyond exploring the basic red, blue, green colors and instead shows the various shades within the main color groups. Where it goes further is by having a color wheel to show complimentary colors, a page with an acetate layover to show how colors mix together, and a page that shows color words that are used to describe feelings.

my blue coverTouching on the concept of colors used as ways to describe emotions, My Blue is Happy is a great book that perhaps changes how we look at colors. We often forget that colors mean different things to different people. Is red angry, like a dragon’s breath? Or brave like a fire truck? Is pink pretty or annoying? Is black scary like creeping shadows or peaceful like the still surface of the lake? Art teacher Jessica Young challenges common assumptions about colors and celebrates individual perspective in this ode to colors and the unique way we experience them.MyBlueIsHappy-int1

snap coverWho doesn’t love a brand new box of crayons? In this colorful book, Evan can’t wait to draw with his brand new set until, SNAP! his brown crayon breaks in two. He tries everything to get the crayons back together until “as if by magic, something changed.” What changed? This is the awesome part – Evan realized that having two pieces was even better than having one!snap broken

In an unusual twist, Snap shows kids how to make lemonade out of lemons. The broken crayon encouraged all kinds of creativity in Evan. When wrappers came off, he figured out how to do etchings, when he lost his green crayon, he accidentally got into color mixing. This is a marvelous book about creativity, discovery, color combinations and always looking on the bright side. An incredibly fun way to encourage a young artist and the dreamer in all of us.snap mixing

Sky-ColorPeter H. Reynolds is known for his amazing books about creativity and thinking outside of the box. In Sky Color, Marisol is ready to paint the sky for her class mural, but there is no blue paint. While the rest of her class works on their portions of the mural, Marisol ponders how she can do her part. As she watches the sky, she realizes that it is so much more than blue, changing as the son moves across the horizon. When she goes to school the next day, she creates her own new color, “sky color,” and the effects are stunning.

swatch coverIn this newly released book by Julia Denos, Swatch: The Girl who Loved Color is about a little girl named Swatch who loves to run with the colors and make masterpieces. When she called to the colors, they would come to her “because Swatch loved color and color loved Swatch back.” One day she realizes that she can capture the colors in jars and starts to make a collection. However, when she goes to collect her final color, Yellowest Yellow, the color actually asks her what she is going. Yellowest Yellow doesn’t want to be put into a jar and while Swatch could have scooped it up anyway, she agrees to allow him to go free. Yellowest Yellow reminds her just how wild he is from roaring and loud to warm and buttery. She allows all of her colors to be free again and together they make a masterpiece. A wonderful book highlighting the beauty and power of colors and the life that they can bring to your world.

Liza loves her crayons, but when she decides that a blank wall in her room would make a wonderful canvas, her mother takes her beloved crayons away from her. Immediately, this bright, colorful book turns black and white and Liza experiences a life without crayons and, in her mind, a life without color. She goes about her day and unknowingly starts to create art. When she roams outside, grass stains open her eyes to the wonders that are nature and she starts to bring color back to her pages. As colors return, so does her outstanding creativity. She gets her crayons back, but she no longer needs them. A glorious look at colors and the creative genius.

Finally, what would a post about colors and crayons be without The Day the Crayons Quit? There is actually a series around this book and the kids LOVE it!  The concept of the first book, The Day the Crayons Quit, is that Duncan opens his crayon box to find that all of his crayons have quit. Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. Blue needs a break from coloring all that water, while Pink just wants to be used. Green has no complaints, but Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking to each other. The Day the Crayons Came Home is about some of the lesser known crayons writing postcards to Duncan asking to be rescued from various scenarios. This October there will be a new board book available, called The Crayon’s Book of Colors, where the crayons come together to make Duncan a birthday card.crayons quit red

No matter which book you choose, there is a world of color waiting to be explored!

Nadia – The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still

When I was a little girl, I was completely fascinated with Nadia Comaneci. She had captured the world’s attention in the 1976 Olympic games and by the time I was 5 or 6 the television movie on her life had made it’s debut and I would watch it any chance that I got. I tried gymnastics classes, but I didn’t have the skill or the passion. I was much happier playing soccer and baseball, but that didn’t deter my love of Nadia.

9780544319608_lresBack in December, I read that a new picture book biography of Nadia was coming out and decided that I had to have it. “Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still,” by Karlin Gray, shows a little girl who couldn’t sit still, but who was determined to be the best. It wisely skips over the eating disorder that she, and many other gymnasts, suffered from, but it does show her amazing focus and how she changed the sport of gymnastics.

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Bela & Malta Karolyi picked Nadia to be a part of their new gymnasium because of the joy that she showed when cartwheeling around the playground. It would take lots of hard work and determination to build Olympic level skills, but that’s what she did.

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Like most humans, Nadia was not perfect and would often fall during practice and early competitions. But like the champion that she was, she always got back up and did it again. All of this paid off when she was the first gymnast to ever get a perfect 10.

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When I read this book with my older daughter, or really, when she read it to me, she was as taken with Nadia’s story as I have always been. On the eve of the Summer Olympics, I’m thrilled to get my kids excited about the sports that they can see. J took gymnastics when she was younger, but never really got into it. She has recently been fascinated with figure skating, but we are obviously in the wrong season for that. So I’m excited to have her wanting to learn more about gymnastics and now both J and E want to watch the Olympic games. I even found the original Nadia movie on YouTube and will be letting the girls watch that at some point in the near future.

One of the things that I love about non-fiction picture books is getting kids excited about topics that for whatever reason that don’t know much about. When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, not only were there lots of kids doing gymnastics, but we were family friends with an Olympic gymnast so there was a lot of interest. I love that we managed t drum up some interest in a great Olympic sport at just the right time.

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I first found out about this book because of a post of upcoming new releases from KidLitFrenzy, the host of the non-fiction picture book challenge. I have learned of so many awesome titles because of this weekly link-up of awesome non-fiction picture books.

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Awesome Ocean Themed Books

It’s Shark Week and non-fiction picture book Wednesday. My girls have never been overly excited by sharks. Dolphins? Absolutely. Sharks? Not so much. Actually, J has been completely fascinated with marine biology for years, but more as a general study. So I wanted to put together a list of ocean themed books that actually made more sense for us. There is a little bit of something for everyone here.*

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Picture Books and Flap books for the Younger Readers

0006657_secrets_of_the_seashore_300Shine-a-light Secrets of the Seashore – The Shine-A-Light books are amazing. Each page asks the child a question and you hold a the page up to a light (or shine a flashlight) and discover the secrets hidden withing. In this book, spot the tiny shrimps hiding in the sand, see a shy crab underneath a rock and watch a jewel-like anemone open its tentacles in this beautiful book of nature’s hidden habitats. Great for ages 4-8.shine a light inside

how deep is the seaHow Deep is the Sea? – Have you ever wondered how deep the sea is? Pipkin the Penguin wants to know just that. With the help of a friendly seal, a big blue whale and a salty sea dog in a yellow submarine, Pipkin learns that the sea is very deep indeed! A VERY long poster at the back of the book shows just how deep the sea is – and how far Pipkin would have to travel to get so deep.how deep spread

0000619_under_the_sea_picture_book_300Under the Sea – Have you ever wondered what’s under the sea? Dive beneath the waves and discover bustling fish, a singing whale and twinkling creatures of the deep.

big book of sea creaturesBig Book of Sea Creatures – Open the huge fold-out pages to discover all kinds of magnificent sea creatures, from the leatherback sea turtle to the great white shark and the biggest animal on Earth – the mighty blue whale. Each page is full of stunning illustrations to pore over, showing the biggest, smallest, longest, fastest, oldest and most ferocious ocean creatures.coral reef spread

lift the flap sharksLift-the-flap Sharks – Sharks aren’t just scary fish with pointy teeth. Lift the flaps in this richly illustrated book to meet gentle giants, fierce hunters, beady-eyed baby sharks and the weird, weedy woebegone.

lift the flap under the seaLift-the-flap Under the Sea – The sea is full of surprises, so come on in and take a look. You’ll find amazing wildlife, from a fish that change its shape, to deep-sea shockers that light up in the dark. You’ll discover even more behind the seaweed and the rocks — lift the flaps to see.

Fact Based Books for the elementary aged reader

what's under the seaWhat’s Under the Sea – Shipwrecks, fish, whales and sharks, tunnels, cables and coral reefs – these are just some of the topics in this bright, colorful book. With maps and pictures, it shows the seas of the world and their wildlife, and describes how the sea provides us with fish and minerals. Diagrams and cutaway pictures show an oil rig, diving gear, submarines and other equipment for exploring the seabed, and explain how they work.

0000473_under_the_sea_ir_300Under the Sea (IR) – What lives at the bottom of the sea? What does a shark really eat? How does a sea horse swim? In this book you’ll find the answers and lots more about the fascinating things which live under the sea.  A perfect intro for ages 5-7.

0000781_see_under_the_sea_ir_300See Under the Sea – Explore the world beneath the sea, from coral reefs teeming with jewel-bright fish to the icy waters of the Arctic. Lift the flaps to peer inside shipwrecks and gaze into the dizzying depth of dark trenches at the very bottom of the ocean. Aimed at readers 7+.

0000538_sharks_ir_300Sharks (IR) – What do sharks like to eat? Which shark glows in the dark? And why do some sharks never stop swimming? You’ll find out the answers and lots more fun facts in this shark-infested book.  This book is aimed at readers 6+ but is a wonderful addition to a preschool class when read by the teacher.

0000793_sharks_il_discovery_300Sharks (Discovery) – The Discovery series takes the knowledge up a level with 64 pages of information vs 32. This vividly illustrated guide gets up-close and personal. Learn what drives sharks into “”feeding frenzies” and more.  Great for readers 8+.

Activity Books

first coloring under the seaFirst Coloring Book: Under the Sea – A fun coloring book for young children full of exciting sea creatures to color. Lively underwater scenes include sharks, dolphins, turtles and lots of different fish. With colored backgrounds allowing children to concentrate on coloring the shapes. Contains two pages of stickers to add to the pictures.

1001 spot sea1001 Things to Spot In the Sea – Brimming with things to find, count and talk about, this charming picture book provides hours of puzzle-solving fun. Readers will delight in discovering the secrets of the sea.   Great for kids 5+

shark excavationShark Excavation Kit – Inside is a complete skeleton of a Megalodon that is encased in a clay rock, and you must carefully excavate or “dig” the bones out with the tools provided.

Fiction for older Shark Enthusiasts

0003459_shark_bait_extreme_adventures_300Shark Bait -Action has a new hero – Sam Fox! With a talent for attracting danger, Sam Fox is an expert at getting himself into (and out of) the most extreme situations. When Sam and his friend are swept off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef, Sam must fight to keep them alive. As night falls over the ocean, the underwater predators start moving in?

This series has a strong appeal with a courageous young hero and exotic settings and has non-stop action and short chapters which will engage reluctant readers.

nfpb16This is my weekly contribution to Kid Lit Frenzy’s awesome non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out the link-up for tons of other super titles.

*These books can be purchased in my Usborne Books & More page. If you are interested in learning about Usborne and Kane Miller books or if you would like to host an online Facebook event to discuss how to raise readers and promote literacy in your home while earning FREE books for your own home library, please send me a note at booksmykidsread at gmail dot com.hostess wanted apply within

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On Bird Hill Blog Tour

Welcome to Day #7 of the On Bird Hill Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall (5/10/16), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Jane, Bob, and Brian Sockin (CEO and Publisher of Cornell Lab Publishing Group), plus 10 chances to win a copy of On Bird Hill and a window bird feeder!

Five Writing Tips
by Jane Yolen

My five basic writing tips for picture books (On Bird Hill is a classic 32 page picture book) are these:

1. Sit down and write. Not being snarky here. I am approached everywhere I go by well-meaning folk who say, “I have a great idea for a book, if I could just find the time. Note: There is no such thing as “finding” time. No one has dropped it by the wayside or stashed it in a treasure chest. A writer makes time, takes time, grabs time, steals time.

2. Read a lot, and I mean a LOT of picture books, and not just the classics from your childhood. A good start is to get ahold of the Caldecott winners and honor books of the last ten years. Sit down and read them, first silently, then aloud.

3. Learn what makes a good picture book. First of all, they are almost always (if they are not board books or novelty books) 32 book pages. There has to be something illustratable on each page. Do NOT write instructions for the illustrator. Do NOT find a neighbor to do the illustrate it unless that person is already a well-known children’s book artist. That’s the editor’s job. Get a copy of Uri Shulevitz’s brilliant book Writing With Pictures. It’s really for illustrators but a writer of picture books can learn an enormous amount from it as well.

4. Join SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the biggest and best  organization that will help you learn everything you need to know about writing for young(ish) children, will likely have a critique group in your area, lists of agents and editors and what they are looking for, etc.

5. Sit down and write. “BIC” as I like to say: Butt in chair.  Do I repeat myself? Of course, it’s #1 on my list and #5. Writing is not an oh-I-have-a-great-idea kind of business. Its a learning, slogging, every-day job that is the greatest in the world. You can change a child’s life and do it in your jammies!!!

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Stop by Word Spelunking tomorrow for Day #8 of the tour!

Blog Tour Schedule:
June 20th – The O.W.L.
June 21st — The Book Monsters
June 23rd  — MamaPapaBarn
June 24th — Rockin’ Book Reviews

June 27th — Kristi’s Book Nook

June 28th — Books My Kids Read
June 29th — Word Spelunking
June 30th — Cracking the Cover

Loosely based on the old cumulative nursery rhyme/song “The Green Grass Grew All Around,” a nursery rhyme first published as a song in 1912. But in this version, it’s a boy and his dog who find the bird in a nest on a hill in a strange valley.Following in the footsteps of Jane’s highly acclaimed Owl Moon, winner of the prestigious Caldecott Award, On Bird Hill is a beautiful picture book with an enchanting story, fancifully illustrated by renowned artist Bob Marstall. On Bird Hill is sure to attract interest from millions of readers and fans of Jane’s popular classics.

About the Author: Jane Yolen has authored more than 350 books, including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, which every budding young ornithologist owns, You Nest Here With Me, which is a popular new favorite, and the New York Times bestselling series How Do Dinosaurs. Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and are popular around the world.

Janes husband, David Stemple, was both a well known bird recordist and a professor of computer science and he taught the entire family how to identify birds. Many of Jane’s books are about wildlife subjects, especially the winged kind. Jane lives in Easthampton, MA. Visit her online at janeyolen.com.

About the Illustrator: Bob Marstall is the illustrator of nine nonfiction children’s books, including the The Lady and the Spider, which sold over a quarter-of-a-million copies and was a Reading Rainbow selection. Bob has also been honored with an ALA Notable; an IRA Teachers’ Choice; a Smithsonian Magazine Notable Book for Children; and three John Burroughs selections.
In addition, two of Bob’s books are included in the New York Times Parent’s Guide’s “1001 Best Books of the Twentieth Century.” Bob Lives in Easthamton, MA. Visit him online at bobmarstall.com.
About the Cornell Lab: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. Our hallmarks are scientific excellence and technological innovation to advance the understanding of nature and to engage people of all ages in learning about birds and protecting the planet. birds.cornell.edu
GIVEAWAY

  • One (1) winner will receive a copy of On Bird Hill and a Window Bird Feeder ($28.99) to get up close and personal with the birds in your backyard! Great for blends, peanuts and safflower, this durable feeder attaches right to your window pane with suction cups, allowing you to see every bird detail. It’s easy to fill and easy to clean.
  • This giveaway is open to US residents only.
  • Comment below to get a free entry.
  • Comment again if you like Cornell Lab Publishing on Facebook.
  • Comment again if you follow Jane Yollen on Twitter.
  • Finally, comment again if you tweeted about this giveaway. Make sure to mention @booksmykidsread in your tweet!

Why we love Fancy Nancy

In the world of children’s literature, there are a few names that you often hear repeated over and over again. For the younger girls ages 3-7, Fancy Nancy is one of those names. My younger daughter, who is now 5, absolutely loves Fancy Nancy. Jane O’Connor created a truly fun character and then gave her a surprising amount of depth. Some might not consider Nancy a super strong character, but they would be wrong. These days, not only do we love reading Nancy books, we even have a collection of stories that we bought on audible that my daughter could listen to over and over again. I laugh when my daughter uses big words and then tells me “that’s fancy for….” just like they say throughout the Nancy books.

1-Collages14

FancyNancy coverIn the first book simply called “Fancy Nancy,” Nancy explains how she perceives the world around her and that “more is always better when it comes to being fancy.” In her world, being fancy makes her simply feel better. A personal favorite from this book is when she explains to her mother that “lace-trimmed socks do help me play soccer better.” She wants to teach her family how to be more like her, but when she trips over her own fancy shoes, she realizes that love is love no matter what.

mermaid ballet coverThroughout that long-running series, Nancy learns a variety of lessons. In “Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet,” Nancy has to learn about not always getting what you want and then also dealing with the evil green jealousy monster when someone close to you does. Both Nancy and her best friend, Bree, assume that they will get to be mermaids in the upcoming ballet because they are glamorous and like to play mermaid from time to time. When neither gets the role, they are shocked and Nancy is bummed to be playing a dreary, dull tree. When Bree gets to step into the role of mermaid at the last minute, Nancy is incredibly jealous. She “lies” to Bree and tells her that she is happy for her, but knows that deep down she is not. Nancy finds a way to still shine in her tree costume, which she decides is fabulous and not dull and dreary and the show is a smashing success.

fabulous fashionNancy learns a lesson about being kind to her sister in “Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique.” In this story, when Nancy goes shopping for her sister’s birthday present, she also wants to buy a fancy fan for herself, but fashion boutique insidedoesn’t have enough money after buying her sister a gift. She decides to sell off some of her fabulous fashions to raise the money. She’s doing great until her sister decides that she wants a fancy necklace that Nancy has already promised to someone else. She doesn’t want her sister to be disappointed on her birthday so she goes over to the twins who purchased the necklace and asks if there is any way that she can “persuade” them to part with it so she can give it to her sister for her birthday. They do, but it means that she can’t afford her fan. Her father sees how kind she has been to her sister and surprises her with the fan as well.

mean girl coverIn “Fancy Nancy and the Mean Girl,” which is a part of the “I Can Read” collection, Nancy has to deal with a girl who hurts her feelings. Much to Nancy’s dismay, Nancy has been chosen for the relay team in this year’s Field Day at school. Despite her many natural talents, Nancy isn’t much of a runner. She’s afraid of letting her team down—especially after finding out that an unkind (that’s another word for mean) girl in her class is on the team too. With a little help from her dad, Nancy tries her best, stands up for herself, and makes a new friend.

my family history coverNancy wants everything to be fancy, but in “Fancy Nancy: My Family History,”she learns that making things up just so that they are fancy can hurt other people and that when you are supposed to be writing a report based on truth, exaggerating can turn into outright lying. Nancy and her classmates are learning about ancestors, “people who lived long ago.” Bree’s great-grandfather was a war ancestors 1hero. Robert’s great-grandmother is 101 and came to America on a ship that almost sank! When Nancy talks to her grandfather about her great-grandparents, she finds that “they were nice ordinary people.” “Ordinary?” Nancy thinks, “that’s like plain. I wish I had fancy ancestors.” She writes her report for school about her great-grandfather, but makes things up so he seems less ordinary. However, when she learns that Grandpa will be there to hear her read the report aloud she realizes she was dishonest. By the time her grandpa comes, she has written a new report that sticks to the truth.

aspiring artist coverOne that we only recently learned about by listening to our audio version is “Fancy Nancy: Aspiring Artist.” After listening to it a few times, I felt the need to purchase it because it nicely taught about various artists and styles in a simple manner. Nancy degasis sad because Bree has gone on vacation for spring break, so her mother cheers her up with new glitter markers. Inspiration strikes and she decides to turn her clubhouse into an art studio filled with her creations. Inspiration strikes again when she goes to her dance class and realizes that the studio is full of posters of art by Edgar Degas. When she tells her neighbor about her art studio idea, she teaches Nancy about Claude Monet. Nancy also experiments with the styles of Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollack. She learns about various ways of allowing yourself to be inspired and visits the art museum. It is a marvelous way to show children the world of art.

poet extraordinareA similar book that brings the world of poetry alive for young readers and encourages them to create their own anthologies of poems that they enjoy is “Fancy Nancy: Poet Extraordinare.” In this book, Nancy’s class is doing a survey of people’s favorite poems, which of course Nancy shares with the reader and then each child is supposed to write their own poem. From nursery rhymes to song lyrics, silly limericks to acrostics and odes. This book is a fun way to encourage children to start considering poetry and maybe even writing some themselves!

I could go on and on with these books, especially since the audio version has 31 different stories that we listen to over and over and over again, but instead I will simply say to give Nancy a chance, especially if you have a budding fashionista with a love of accessorizing like I do.4 nancys

Taking a Learning Adventure with National Geographic Kids

National Geographic knows that one of the best ways to capture anyone’s attention is through stunning photography. We recently received two of their newest titles and they are visually outstanding and super fun.

awesome 8 coverAwesome 8 is an outrageous collection of the “absolutely coolest, weirdest, and craziest things we could think of,” explains the title page. There is truly something for everyone in this book.

J’s favorites include items such as the toilet with a motorbike engine, the list of “Royally Amazing Castles,” which of course includes Neuschwanstein castle (Sleeping Beauty and mentioned in Land of Stories) and Alawick castle of Harry Potter fame, Ultimate Tree Houses, and crazy roller coasters.

The thing is, even though this information might seem useless, it can totally come up in conversation. Just yesterday afternoon we were talking about inventions that we would like to see happen. Of course I voted for a robot that cleans the house for me and one who folds laundry. J responded that “you know, there is a robot that plays the violin. And a robot that can find books.” Where did she learn these things? Amazing 8.

The Eight Weird Wonders reminds me of my days working at a travel magazine and the stunningly wonderful natural world that we often don’t see, especially if we don’t have access to helicopters and such. This is a great book to have around whenever you need a quick break from reality or as something to keep a child occupied. It also is a great book for car rides as it sparks all kinds of fun conversations – what do you mean there is a pink lake?!?

100 things to know 1The book 100 Things to Know Before you Grow Up also has a little bit of everything, but unlike Awesome 8, these are actually things that you can really use in your day to day life. It is “chock-full of the information that you need to be the best version of you. You know, a normal kid but with superhuman, super awesome skills for dealing with tough times.” There isn’t a method to the madness in terms of how the book is organized, but on some levels that works even better for kids because it keeps them turning the pages, waiting to see what comes next. Some of the topics include

  • How to make snow ice cream
  • How to say I’m sorry
  • How to help someone who is choking
  • How to do the laundry
  • How to say No
  • How to journal like a pro
  • How to make a tie-dyed shirt

Interspersed throughout all of these two page “how-to” guides are interviews with experts and explorers to help you discover your passion, to stand up for what you believe in, and figure out how to let your imagination run wild.

There is simply an abundance of amazing and useful information condensed into this little book. There is even a check-list and index at the back of the book for future reference! A great addition for kids to pull of the shelf from time to time.

nfpb16We really enjoyed these books and I am glad to have them as part of my collection. I’m including them as part of the non-fiction picture book challenge hosted by KidLitFrenzy. There is always an abundance of amazing picture books discussed on the blogs that link up. Go check it out!

 

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