Gimme Mo (Willems)

Mo Willems is probably best known for his Knuffle Bunny books. We have never been huge fans of that series, but we have thoroughly enjoyed a ton of his other stories. While vacationing at my parents’ house, I always make a stop at the local library to keep my kids in books. I went looking for some Elephant and Piggie books for my 4 year old and  found some additional books that were new to us. Perhaps some of these will be new to you as well.

my new friendElephant and Piggie is a series about two friends and their comical adventures. The books are mainly written in comic book style with very few words on each page. Gerald the Elephant is an overly dramatic worrier and Piggie is his rock. E loves reading the book “We Are in a Book!” where the pair realize that they are in a book and then figure out how to get the reader to say certain things. When she sees the covers of these books she lights up and begs for me to read them. We had a lot of fun with “My New Friend is So Fun” as well.E+P.breakfast

dont-let-the-pigeon-drive-the-busThe Pigeon books are also quite hysterical. We first get introduced to Pigeon in “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” In that story a bus driver takes a break and tells the reader that he shouldn’t allow the pigeon drive the bus. It is a fun way to include the children in the story as they are expected to answer the pigeon back every time he asks a question. Most of the other books in this series also feature the pigeon wanting something and begging for it. From pigeon’s excitement in finding a hot dog to his outrage when Duckling gets a cookie (and he thinks he doesn’t), pigeons antics are sure to keep young children laughing. The image below is from Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!pigeon_late

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In the adorable “Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator!” Amanda’s stuffed alligator is full of life. Adults can imagine how kids envision their beloved friends and it is a great way to encourage children to truly make their stuffed animals good friends. Unfortunately, Alligator gets bored when Amanda isn’t around. Initially she is off at the library bringing home a bunch of books in her weekly trip (yay!) and Alligator hopes that she will have a surprise for him as he loves surprises. But Amanda doesn’t always want to play with Alligator, sometimes she just wants to read a book. When she brings home a new stuffed animal Alligator is concerned and then realizes that now he has a new friend to play with while Amanda is gone. A very cute story about friendship that both of my girls enjoyed.alligator surprisesGoldi hc c

This book isn’t new to us, but we loved Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs the first time we found it so I grabbed a copy for our vacation pile. This is a very funny take on the classic Goldilocks tale where instead of three bears, Goldilocks goes into the home of three dinosaurs. However, those dinosaurs know the three bears story pretty well and have their home set up to try and turn Goldie into a “chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbon.” This book is always good for a laugh.

goldilocks insideedwinaWillems must enjoy drawing dinosaurs because we also found the cute book Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct. Edwina is the town dinosaur who is helpful and friendly and loves to bake chocolate chip cookies for everyone in town. Everyone likes her….everyone except Reginald Von Hoobie Doobie. Reginald is a know-it-all who likes to have people pay attention to him, but when he tries to tell the town that dinosaurs are extinct, no one will listen. Finally, Edwina listens to him but in the end she just doesn’t care. Now that someone has finally paid attention to him, Reginald doesn’t care anymore either. A cute story with fun illustrations.edwina-2We hope that you enjoy these as much as we have!

Diving into the Titanic

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As I mentioned before, we are going through a period of loving to read about the Titanic. I am more than happy to search the library and bookstores for good books on the subject.

Discovering all of the information about the Titanic has really got J thinking. She is deeply saddened by the loss of life. She doesn’t understand how the Captain could make such bad decisions. In her words, “if you were sailing in the North Atlantic, would you put the ship on high speed?” She thinks that no ships should be allowed to sail in the North Atlantic during iceberg season. It really has been great for her to tackle a non-fiction subject like this, so I thought that I would share some of the fiction and non-fiction books that we have managed to find recently.

pig on the titanicBased on the true story of a music box owned by Edith Rosenbaum, A Pig on the Titanic is a beautiful picture book that helps bring the story of the titanic to life. Miss Edith takes Maxixe the music box pig with her all over the majestic ship, or at least the 1st class parts. Then tragedy strikes as they hit the iceberg. You can see the ear in the passengers eyes as families get separated and people flee the ship. The music from the pig helps entertain boys and girls in the lifeboat until at last a rescue ship comes for them. It doesn’t touch on a lot of the harder to comprehend aspects of that horrible day, but it is a picture book aimed at a younger audience, so the tone is spot on. A great starting point.

all stations distressMoving away from the picture book story format, we found the great book All Stations!  Distress! This is a non-fiction long format picture book by Illustrator Don Brown. It almost reads like a chapter book, but Brown has made the information very accessible for kids in the younger elementary grades. A wonderful addition to a collection and very informative.

on board the titanicTaking another step towards serious non-fiction, On Board the Titanic takes readers through the experience on the Titanic in narrative form through the eyes of two survivors. It is filled with illustrations and paintings from the actual ship. The illustrations of how the iceberg hit and how the compartments failed are especially useful to comprehending what happened.

magic tree house titanicOf course Mary Pope Osborn produced a wonderful fact tracker to go along with the Magic Tree House book Tonight on the Titanic. J hasn’t been excited by Magic Tree House in a long time, but she still knows that their fact trackers are impeccably written and fun to read. This book aims to answer many of the questions that children would have about the Titanic that get brought up in the fictionalized account. How many people were aboard the Titanic? Why weren’t there enough lifeboats for all the passengers? How did this “unsinkable” ship sink? Even if you are not reading the companion books  that the fact trackers go along with, these are definitely worth checking out.

can you survive the titanicWe happened to find the book Can You Survive the Titanic?: An Interactive Survival Adventure at the library and it quickly became one of J’s favorites. This is a “you choose” book which is like a choose your own adventure in a factual situation. It pairs fact based information with create story paths. Your choice in this book is to either follow a surgeon’s assistant, a governess to a first class family, or a 12 year old boy. Everyone starts out at the same point with excellent information to set the scene. The choices that you are asked to make are choices real people probably had to make as well and could mean the difference between life and death. For example, men that chose one side of the ship versus the other had different chances of survival based on the ship steward on either side and how strict they were about only allowing women and children on or allowing men to also flee the ship. It was a great way to really make you understand what happened on board the ship.

i survivedThe “I survived” series takes the most terrifying events in recent history and brings them to life in fictionalized stories. I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 was the first in this series and from J’s response, I have a feeling we will be reading many more of these in the future. This creates the story of a 10 year old boy and his little sister sailing on the Titanic. By utilizing historical fiction the author manages to make history more accessible to kids who prefer “stories” to “facts.”

 However you do it, getting kids excited about non-fiction subjects is a wonderful thing that opens up a new world of possibilities and thought. Now we have to find another subject to add to our list!

Dream Big Little Girl

As far as our society has come, it can still be challenging to find books that encourage little girls to consider anything and everything in terms of what they are capable of. We love finding good books that also reinforce the message that girls can do anything they want. In honor of women’s history month, here are a few of the newer books that we have discovered that fit this mold. For any other books in this category, you can also find books we have talked about by checking out the tag “a mighty girl.”

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when i was a girl i dreamedAuthors Margaret Baker and Justin Matott along with illustrator Mark Ludy have put together visually stunning book with the perfect message that little girls can dream big in When I Was a Girl I Dreamed. The book follows the memories of a grandmotherly woman saying all of the dreams that she had as a little girl – from being the lead in a ballet to exploring the seven wonders of the world in a hot air balloon, from being an artist in Paris to being a big time basketball player. Each page repeats the phrase that encourages little girls to follow their dreams. In the end, the woman turns out to have become an award winning writer and getting immense pleasure from hearing that people love her books, but it never says that she didn’t also pursue the amazing adventures that she dreamed about as a child. The wonderful part is that I know my 8 year old definitely got the message as when I asked her why she liked it she said “You can dream anything and you can be anything.” A wonderful book that we were lucky enough to receive as a gift with an autographed illustration by Mark Ludy. There is also a boy version although I haven’t actually seen it.

rosie revereRosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty is one of my favorite books and one that my 4 year old can listen to over and over. This is the story of Rosie Revere who dreamed of becoming a great engineer. “Where some people see rubbish, Rosie sees inspiration.” Rosie loves to invent things, but after an uncle laughed at one of her inventions, she became afraid to show anyone anything. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions a life-long dream of flying, Rosie sets out to create a flying machine for her. It hovers for a moment and then crashes and Rosie again feels like a failure. Her aunt Rose, on the other hand, sees her invention as a marvelous success because you can only fail if you quit. This is a great book to encourage experimentation and to remember to believe in yourself.

most magnificent thingIn the same vein of creating new things, we also love The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This is the story of a little girl and her dog who love to do things together. One day, she gets a marvelous idea to make the most magnificent thing. She knows just how it will work and starts drawing up plans and then she gets to work in front of her house and starts to build. She figures that building it will be easy-peasy, but it’s not. She tries over and over again and just can’t get it right. She gets frustrated and then even gets mad. Her dog convinces her to go for a walk and it manages to clear her head and by the time she gets back, she has figured out exactly how to build her project. This book is awesome in its display of perseverance and creativity.

stand tallFor a wonderful book both about believing in yourself as well as bullying, we recently purchased Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon, by Patty Lovell. Little Molly Lou Mellon is tiny, buck-toothed and clumsy but her grandmother has always taught her to believe in herself. When she moves to a new school the local bully taunts her in various ways but each time she just stands up for herself and turns whatever he has said to her around. If he makes fun of her buck teeth, she wows everyone by balancing pennies on them. She manages to put the bully in his place and gains many friends in the process. In the end, she calls her grandma to let her know that all of the thing she had taught her were true. Sometimes it is really hard to be different, but this book shows how believing in yourself allows your differences to shine.

graceIn a completely different vein, we have also enjoyed reading Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio. In this great book, Grace’s class is learning about American presidents when she learns that there has never been a female President of the United States. She sets out to change that by first running for class President in a mock election. The race is between Grace and a little boy and for the most part it becomes a boys vs girls election, but it also shows the boy making popular promises while Grace actually tries to figure out how to make change. While learning a great deal about elections and the electoral process this book shows you how hard work, determination and independent thought can help you move mountains. One voter makes all the difference when a little boy chooses Grace over the boy candidate because he thought that she would do a better job. A great book about elections and a great way to inspire our young girls to be interested in politics and to make changes in their world.

We love our mighty girl books which is why we are always looking for new ones. Here are some of our favorite resources:
A Mighty Girl
What Do We Do All Day?
Pragmatic Mom
No Time for Flash Cards
And other great lists that I find on Pinterest – here is my children’s book link

Let’s encourage our girls to go out and change the world!

Passover Books for Older Kids

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As you saw with my last post, I have a deep love for all things Passover and so we have a wealth of materials in our house. It is not only my favorite holiday, but my older daughter’s as well. With that said, we of course wanted to present books that are more appropriate for older kids, especially those still in elementary school.

toby belferFor a perfect explanation of the Passover seder, look no further. Toby Belfer’s Seder by Gloria Pushker was written as a Passover primer for everyone. As the opening page explains, “The idea for this story was suggested by non-Jewish friends who wanted to know the meaning of Passover.” With that in mind, it is the story of two best friends who happen to be different religions. Toby invites Donna to her family’s seder but Donna isn’t quite sure what she should wear and what she is supposed to do. Throughout the lovely story, items of Passover are explained, with key terms in bold. The basic story of Passover is also included as well as transliterations of key blessings. This is an awesome book for Jewish and non-Jewish children.

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While the main concept of Penny and the Four Questions by Nancy Krulick is the questions and the fact that the youngest child at the table gets to read them, it is also a lesson in friendship and understanding. Penny is super excited to get to read the four questions for the first time. When her mother tells her that a new family from Russia will be at their seder and that their daughter is actually younger and has been practicing the questions, Penny is crushed. She mopes around until she actually gets to meet Natasha. As the girls get to know each other, Penny realizes how difficult life had been for them in Russia, what fleeing meant, and generally how much easier she has had it. This is Natasha’s first seder because they were not allowed to celebrate in Russia. Penny realizes that tonight is more special for Natasha and that she should in fact get to ask the questions.

We love this book partially because of my older daughter’s obsession with asking the four questions, but also because it is a lesson in humility. In the end, the girls wind up asking the questions together – supporting each other as best friends do.

miriam's cupMiriam’s Cup, by Fran Manushkin, tells an important part of the Passover story that is often left out of seders. We all know of the prophet Elijah. In this book, young Miriam’s mother decides to tell her daughter the story of the “other” passover prophet – Miriam. Miriam was Moses’s sister who had tremendous amounts of faith and courage. She knew of the coming of Moses, watched over him in the bulrushes, and made it possible for their mother, Joheved, to be his nursemaid. Miriam praised God with her song, specifically when they crossed the red sea, and He remembered her by creating a well of water that traveled with the Jews through the 40 years in the dessert. We should all remember and honor Miriam. I feel that this book is especially important in homes with strong Jewish women.

passover parrotThe Passover Parrot is a very silly story by Evelyn Zusman that tells the importance of the four questions and the hunt for the afikomen. Right before Passover Leba is given a parrot. When she needs to practice the four questions, the parrot is the only one that will listen to her and, of course, he started to squawk the questions too. At the seder the children steal the afikomen from their father so the can ransom it to him later. Leba hides it in her room. She winds up having to also bring the parrot upstairs when he wants to ask the four questions with her. When they go to get the afikomen, both it and the bird are gone! The parrot is on a tree branch outside and Leba realizes that the easiest way to get the afikomen back is by singing the questions – Hametz the parrot just can’t resist singing along. This is a sweet story that also ties in the holiday.

mrs katzThis is not a Passover book, per se, but there is a section that does touch on the holiday in a truly beautiful way. In Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco, young Larnel asks if he can join Mrs. Katz for Passover so she teaches him about the holiday. She explains that the Jews, like African Americans, were once slaves as well. The Jews prayed to God for freedom. Then she says that we have a large feast to celebrate our freedom, but we also take note to remember those who suffered so that we could be free – the Jews that came before and the Egyptians that suffered from the plagues. This book is a beautiful read all year long, but I loved what it had to say about Passover. For the complete review, click here.

matzah and miraclesNo list of Passover books for slightly older kids would be complete without including Matzah & Miracles: A Passover Musical, by January M. Akselrad. We got this about 2 years ago and at the time, I promise you that we listened to it NONSTOP! So, when you buy this it comes with a chapter book and a CD. I am sure that J read the story, but more than that, we listened to it. The story is about two kids who think Passover is boring – they want magic and miracles to keep them entertained. Their Bubbe (grandmother) starts spinning the story of Passover such that they go back in time and become key characters in the story. Pharaoh is as evil as ever singing of his evil decree that “ever first born male child must be thrown into the sea.” We learned more about Miriam and Joheved in this story than anything that had come before and the kids are encouraged to think what it would be like if they had been in Moses or Miriam’s positions. It is an awesome way to bring the story to life.

escapeOne final book that I couldn’t leave out is Scarlett and Sam Escape from Egypt by Eric A. Kimmel. This was released in January of 2015 and we only got our copy yesterday. That said, we have always been highly impressed with Kimmel’s work and the premise sounds fabulous (although a little similar to Matzah and Miracles)

From Amazon – One minute, twins Scarlett and Sam are bickering about who’s going to read the Four Questions at the Passover seder. The next minute, they’ve been swept up by Grandma Mina’s time-traveling carpet and dumped in the ancient Egyptian desert! And as if being stranded 3,000 years in the past isn’t bad enough, they also find their fellow Hebrews suffering in slavery. So they team up with Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help free the slaves. The future’s looking bright! But the story they know so well doesn’t turn out the way they expected…

This last one will come with us on the airplane to California. Chag Sameach!

Passover Books for Preschoolers

passover preschool-001Hello spring! Aside from the outrageous allergies, spring is definitely one of my favorite times of the year. It is wonderful to see the trees start to flower and life come out of hibernation. Spring is also the time of year that we celebrate Passover – the Jewish holiday that celebrates the exodus out of Egypt and out of slavery. Passover has long been my favorite holiday and I am happy to say that it is also my older daughter’s favorite. In terms of the Jewish religion, Passover is understandably one of the more important holidays, so there is a veritable wealth of books available for children of various levels. We actually have so many that I decided to write two posts about them based on appropriate age levels.

seder time coverKar-Ben Publishing has a marvelous series for preschoolers by Latifa Berry Kropf that I call the “It’s Time” series.  These books illustrate various holidays as celebrated by kids in a Jewish preschool. For Passover, they have “It’s Seder Time!”which does a great job of easily explaining how we get ready for Passover, some basic parts of the seder and a quick telling of the Passover story. By using preschoolers, kids can see themselves celebrating this important holiday. This is a fabulous book for a preschool classroom.seder time inside

GehlSheepAnother wonderful book that we recently got our hands on is And Then Another Sheep Turned Up, by Laura Gehl. This comical story takes us from Passover house preparations through the seder to the traditional saying of “next year in Jerusalem.” What keeps kids so engaged is the repetitive action that just when they think that everyone is seated, another sheep turns up! Just like the Sammy Spider books, I had my daughter say this line each time we got to it. She also found it funny as young Noah’s yawns grew larger and larger as the seder progressed. This is one that we have definitely enjoyed. To read an interview with author Laura Gehl, click here.

sweet passover coverWe were shocked to find this little gem at our Scholastic book fair this year. A Sweet Passover, by Leslea Newman focuses on a little girl named Miriam who loves celebrating Passover at her grandparents’ house, loves singing the four questions and searching for the afikomen (just like my little girls). Miriam also loves eating matzah and she describes her favorite ways to enjoy it. But on the 8th day of Passover, Miriam has had enough. She is SICK of matzah and she just wants BREAD! When her grandfather refuses to come down for breakfast, he tells her that he is making French Toast, but he is actually making matzah brei. Miriam refuses to eat it. The whole family joins at the breakfast table and everyone enjoys the matzah brei with different toppings, but still “Miriam is never eating matzah again.” Her parents are shocked. They explain to her that matzah reminds us of when our ancestors were slaves in Egypt, we see that “even the plainest food eaten in freedom tastes sweeter than the fanciest food eaten in slavery.” Her family tells her all of the many reasons that we eat matzah and, as if that weren’t enough, “your grandfather makes the best matzah brei in the world.” She finally agrees and grandpa teaches her the art of making it herself. The book even closes with a recipe. A very fun book about what happens AFTER the seder is over.

mouse old coverThe Mouse in the Matzah Factory, by Francine Medoff was given to us by a family friend from her days of teaching in a Jewish preschool. This book describes the preparation for the shmurah matzah eaten by the especially observant Jews. Shmurah matzah is watched over from the time of planting through production, but it is a great teaching tool about how matzah is made in general. The story follows a little field mouse who watched the watchers. He was curious as to why the wheat was so special, so he followed it. He saw it ground into flour and packed into trucks. Then he hops on the truck with it and arrives in the city at the matzah factory where he sees the real magic happen in under 18 minutes each time. A marvelous way to show how matzah is made especially if followed up by a hands on experiment.

The-Little-Red-HenWe are all familiar with the story of the Little Red Hen who finds a grain of wheat and asks the other animals to help plant, harvest, thresh, mill and bake it into bread. In The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah, by Leslie Kimmelman,  rather than finding a grain of wheat, the hen is making special preparations for matzah for her seder dinner. Her friends get rude in always saying no, but she goes on and gets the matzah ready herself. When Passover arrives, her animal friends are at her door ready to celebrate. She gets quite upset, scolds them and asks why she should share her seder meal with them, but she remembers the words in the Haggadah – “let all who are hungry come and eat.” Her table had seemed oddly empty without her friends, but now it can be a true celebration. Of course, she did make them all clean up the dishes.

let my people go

Let My People Go! by Tilda Balsley is a great retelling of the 10 plagues, a part of the Passover story that is vitally important and yet often confusing to young children. This takes us into the part of the story where Moses repeatedly asks Pharaoh to let the Jews leave Egypt. Then with marvelous illustrations, the children can actually see what each of those plagues meant to the Egyptians. Even when the people of Egypt begged the Pharaoh to end the plagues and let the Jews go, he said no. Not until the 10th and worst plague were the Jews finally set free, we might even use portions of it in our seder this year.let my people go frogs

P is for passover coverP is for Passover – A simple, poetic journey through Passover from afikomen to zzzz – the sleepy sounds that kids make at the end of a long seder. Alphabet books are always a wonderful addition to any library.

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However you celebrate the spring holidays, if you are looking for a way to educate a preschooler on Passover, these books should definitely be on your list.

When the Student Teaches the Teacher – The Wonderful book Willow

willow coverWhen we first opened the pages of Willow, the strains of Harry Chapin Carpenter’s  “Flowers Are Red” floated through my head. Given that this was a favorite song from my youth, I was immediately captivated by this book. Multiple readings with my 4 year old only made the book that much better.

Willow is the story of a little girl with a big imagination and a deep love of art. The only problem is that her art teacher cares more for order and conformity than for creativity. With today’s climate of teachers being so limited by new rules and regulations and a need to teach to the test rather than inspire and focus on creativity, this book really touched home.

Every day when the kids entered their art class, the room felt cold and definitely devoid of creativity. Their art teacher, Miss Hawthorne, isn’t what you would expect from an elementary school art teacher. She expects the room to be in order with nothing out of place and no broken crayons.

willow paintingEach week Miss Hawthorne gives them assignments with an example of what she would like to see. Then all of the children in the class copy what she does. “Everyone except Willow.” Willow takes the assignment and then paints what she sees when she closes her eyes. Each time Willow gets told things like trees are not pink and apples are not blue.

Willow-Childrens-Art-Book-Interior-2This would crush most children, but Willow has a deep love of art and a favorite art book at home and so each time she is told that she has done it “wrong,” she brings in her art book and shows another famous painting that didn’t follow the rules.willow art book

When winter break comes, only Willow thinks to give Miss Hawthorne a gift – her beloved art book that inspires her. All alone during the break, Miss Hawthorne allows herself to be creative and the children come back to a brand new world of art.

This is a marvelous book that encourages children of all ages to use their imaginations and to believe in themselves. It is also a good way to see that famous artists often saw things outside of the box and created fabulous works that viewed the world in different ways. It is through art that we can have pink trees swaying in the breeze. It is through art that you can combine parts of many different animals into one.

My 4 year old loves this book because she has a very vivid imagination. My 8 year old has started to enjoy art more and this is a nice way to encourage her to believe in her own vision and start wanting to visit art museums with us. As Harry Chapin Carpenter said

There are so many colors in the rainbow,

so many colors in the morning sun,

so many colors in the flowers and I see every one.

Captivate a Young Mind about the Titanic

A few months ago my husband asked me why our older daughter only read fiction. I looked at him incredulously, as I know of very few 8 year olds girls that have a love of non-fiction. My husband, however, had 2 brothers and comes from a house where very little fiction was read. To this day, he reads very little fiction, so he just wanted more to connect with her on since she is such a voracious reader. The biggest problem is that finding books that meet her interest level, which is only just budding on non-fiction subjects that attract her, is challenging.

When I found a copy of National Geographic Kids Titanic at the local library, I decided to test the waters. Apparently I picked well because she LOVED it.

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The book is printed on bright paper, organized into manageable sections and full of great photos and illustrations to keep younger readers engaged. There are also great information bubbles defining terms and giving “weird but true” facts.

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The book does a great job of focusing on the ship itself, why it was so famous, and why people made claims that it was unsinkable. The majority of the book deals with the Titanic itself and when it focuses on the actual disaster, it is handled in a way that makes it simple enough for kids to understand, but not so detailed that it will upset them.

When I asked my daughter what she thought of it, she said that it was “really good.” She liked the way that the series told “facts about interesting subjects,” and then asked, “can we get more of them?” Turns out she both liked the National Geographic format as well as learning about the Titanic as I was sent out to the library a week later to find more.

An awesome way to get a reader into the world of non-fiction!

titanic 10 cool things

Author Interview – Laura Gehl

One of the wonderful things about having this blog and following the numerous other awesome book bloggers out there is discovering new authors and great books. In addition, as my older daughter grows in her writing abilities, it is fascinating to learn more about the writing process.

For anyone who follows this blog, you can tell that I have often written about Jewish books. They are very important to helping my children understand aspects of our religion and I find them especially important as we do not live in a large Jewish community. That said, finding new and exciting books that focus on our culture is incredibly exiting.

After writing this year’s Hanukkah post, I was thrilled to get an email from author Laura Gehl letting me know about two of her newest books – Tortoise and Hare Race Across Israel and And Then Another Sheep Showed Up. She was kind enough to send me copies of these great books and we thought that it would be fun to also talk about her writing process.

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How long have you been writing for kids and what is your favorite part?

I started writing my first children’s book about ten years ago, around the time I began writing for children’s magazines. But that first book, ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, wasn’t actually published until last fall. I remember scribbling verses in the middle of the night while nursing my then-infant son. Now he is about to graduate from elementary school.

I have a lot of favorite parts about writing for kids. One of the best parts is when I read to a big group of kids and they all start laughing. At one recent school visit, a boy called out “Hey! This is a really funny book!” after just a few pages. Which, of course, made all the rest of the kids laugh even harder.

You’ve chosen animals as all of your characters, why?

There is a movement within the children’s book industry to make sure all kids can “see themselves” in books. This means, among other things, making sure books are produced with characters of all races. I agree 100% with the idea that every child should be able to see herself or himself in a book. And that’s why I love animal characters. My animal characters don’t have any specific race, so kids of every race can identify with those characters.

What are you currently working on?

I’m always working on lots of projects at once. Right now these include a middle grade novel about a seventh grade science genius (no animals in that one), a picture book series with a wacky duck main character, and a few humorous nonfiction science books.

How did you come up with the ideas for your books?

Sometimes a title just pops into my head and the story follows. That happened with both AND THEN ANOTHER SHEEP TURNED UP and ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR. As soon as the words “And then another sheep turned up” entered my brain, I knew I had the beginning of a great Passover book. Many Jewish families can identify with trying to squeeze in an extra chair or two at the seder table. Not to mention needing to pull out a beach chair from the garage when the regular chairs run out!

The idea for HARE AND TORTOISE RACE ACROSS ISRAEL came from my second son’s preschool class. They were reading HARE AND TORTOISE RACE TO THE MOON, and that story was still in the back of my mind when I started thinking about writing an Israel book.

How long does it typically take between coming up with the idea and publishing it?

I think three years might be about average for a picture book, at least for a professional author who has published other books in the past. That time estimate includes one year for writing and selling the book and two years for the publication process. For an author’s first book, the writing and selling part of the process often takes a lot longer, though.

For a review of Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel, check out this post.

Bio: Laura Gehl is the author of One Big Pair of Underwear, a Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Title; Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel; And Then Another Sheep Turned Up; and the Peep and Egg series (hatching spring 2016). Laura also writes about science for kids and adults. She lives in Maryland with her husband and four children. Visit Laura online at www.lauragehl.com and www.facebook.com/AuthorLauraGehl.

Hosting a book club on Matilda

Maybe a year ago a good friend started a kid’s book club for our, at the time, first graders. Most of this had actually started because a few of them had gotten into Harry Potter and they had a lot of fun watching the movie together and then discussing the differences. So when deciding to start a book club for such young readers, and given the fact that they needed more than just a book to read and discuss, we went with books that also had movie counterparts. The group fizzled out due to a variety of reasons, but a few weeks ago I decided to give it new life.

Over the holidays I purchased some soundtracks for my Broadway loving 8 year old. One of the picks was Matilda: The Musical. I wasn’t initially enamored with the soundtrack, but it has definitely grown on me, especially since I listen to it EVERY DAY. That said, it can be hard for a kid to fully understand what is going on just by listening to songs. So when we were driving with another friend one day, I tried to explain some of the story to them. Then I said, “You know, we should read this for our book club and then we can watch the movie.” Needless to say, the girls loved the idea.

J had already read two Roald Dahl books in the past, one being The BFG with our book club, but she didn’t seem all that interested in reading others. Perhaps because they both had male leads and she has a thing about strong female protagonists. Regardless, her love of Roald Dahl has done a complete turnaround.

matildaThe story of Matilda is about a little girl who loves to read but is completely misunderstood by her parents who are completely self-absorbed and think the television should be the center of their universe. Mom plays bingo all day (leaving Matilda on her own) and Dad is a crooked used car salesman. Matilda sticks out like a sore thumb having learned to read by age 3 and her parents generally think of her as a nuisance or a scab. When she finally convinces her parents to sign her up for school she winds up at a horrible place run by Miss. Trunchbull, who happens to also hate children. Luckily, she does have a wonderful teacher and she discovers that she has some remarkable powers of her own to deal with grown-ups who are so awful to children.

J immediately took to reading Matilda. We started reading it together because that is fun, but she quickly left me in the dust and read it on her own. When she finished, I asked her what she thought and this was her response: “It was a really good book. It told all about this girl that had a family who didn’t love her and how she escaped them. It also tells how girls can be strong. Matilda has a family that thinks she is weird so they send her off to school with a mean principal who is evil. Matilda has special powers to make things move with her mind and she escapes.”

The magical powers was a theme that the kids really loved. When we got 4 girls together yesterday to talk about the book and watch the movie her superpowers and the chalk writing scene came up. J also later talked about how it was cool that she used her powers to get Ms. Honey’s doll out of Ms. Trunchbull’s house without going back on her promise of not actually going into the house.

Matilda is also a great story to encourage kids to think about writing themselves. One of our book club members talked about how she liked that there were unexpected twists and turns in the book, similar to the much loved Harry Potter. She added that among the books that she has been reading, a lot of them don’t have that aspect. That led us to a conversation about what makes good writing and thinking about books that we look forward to reading.

Hosting a children’s book club is an awesome way to get kids engaged in what they are reading and to help make it that much more fun. It is great to see how these young minds thing about the books that they read and it is always wonderful to broaden their horizons about the books that they are reading.

matilda quote

Journey to Israel

For the past few weeks I have been working on an Israel unit with my Hebrew school class. It is very hard to get a group of 7-8 year old excited about a place that is so far away from them, so a key way that I have tried to make it a little more interesting is to bring in a wide variety of picture books to capture their attention and engage them. As a member of the PJ Library we have been fortuante to get some of our books sent to us, but I have also built up quite the library over the years.Israel

hare and tortoiseA new book that I recently received direct from author Laura Gehl is Hare and Tortoise Race Across Israel. This takes the oft told story about how slow and steady wins the race, but seen through the comical lens of Hare and Tortoise making their way from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea. Before the race begins, you get a quick view of the fun things the pair like to do in Tel Aviv, the most metropolitan city in Israel. The two decide to race and of course Hare makes it to Jerusalem first and starts to soak in the local culture, complete with signs in both Hebrew and English. Tortoise manages to catch up and off Hare goes again. From Jerusalem, Hare continues east towards the dead sea and enjoys a quick stop for tea at an oasis then takes a quick nap under a palm tree, just steps from the finish line. As the story always goes, Tortoise manages to make it to the finish line first and then both soak their tired bodies in the rejuvenating Dead Sea. This is a wonderful romp through Israel that the kids definitely enjoyed. (Stay tuned for a special interview post with Laura Gehl)

bella and harry jerusalemAnother favorite series of ours that focuses on learning other cultures are the Bella and Harry books by Lisa Manzione. When we saw that there was a book on Jerusalem, of course we had to add it to our library. This books focuses on Jerusalem, but also tours Masada and the Dead Sea. The main focus is the old city, and while there is a slight focus on the Jewish history, the book does do a great job of showing that Jerusalem is a historic region for a variety of religions. As with all of the Bella and Harry books, there is also a fun portion about local foods and fun Hebrew words and phrases.

sammy israelSpeaking of book series, a great Jewish series for younger children are the Sammy Spider books. We probably own nearly every book in this series, so of course we had to have a copy of Sammy’s first trip to Israel. Many of the Sammy Spider books not only focus on a specific topic, such as a holiday, but many of them also have a theme like shapes, sounds, counting, etc. The Israel book focuses on the five senses. In this book, Sammy accidentally stows away in Josh Shapiro’s suitcase when his family goes to Israel. He visits the beaches of Tel Aviv, strolls along Dizengoff Street, rides the bus to Jerusalem, visits a kibbutz, explores the old city of Jerusalem, rides camels in the Negev, snorkels  in Eilat, and floats in the Dead Sea. Throughout his journey, he also explores the different sounds, tastes and sights of being in a different country. This is one of the best Sammy Spider books and also works well for a slighter older age group. A wonderful book to be a part of your collection.

zvuviAnother awesome book is Zvuvi’s Israel, by Tami Lehman-Wilzig. What is wonderful about this is that it manages to get kids and adults excited about Israel. Zvuvi is a fly that takes you on a whirlwind trip across all of Israel showing pieces of the country that I never knew existed. This continues to be one of my older daughter’s favorite books and she is dreaming of the day that she gets to visit Israel. One of the truly wonderful things about this book is how it covers such a wide variety of cities in Israel. In addition, the illustrations are truly fun and kids love to try and find the flies when they are hidden in various pictures.

greatisraelscavengerhuntAs a part of our Hebrew school curriculum, I discovered the amazing book The Great Israel Scavenger Hunt, by Scott Blumenthal. This book is almost like a textbook, but written as a story as well. An American boy travels to Israel with his family and on the airplane over receives a cryptic letter from his grandfather telling him of a scavenger hunt that he is to do while in Israel. He is joined by his Israeli cousin and the two travel across Israel in search of the special objects, including the Israeli flag, a palm tree, and the Western Wall.

As they travel, Daniel and your students learn about the major cities and extraordinary sites of Israel, the diversity of Israel’s people and cultures, our biblical and modern ties with the Jewish homeland, and the geography of Israel. They also learn key Hebrew terms, such as Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), Ivrit (Hebrew),shalom (hello, goodbye, and peace), and they learn about important Jewish values, such as rodef shalom (pursuing peace) and ahavat Tzion (love of Israel), that are linked to chapter content.

This is a truly wonderful book that is a great way to educate kids about Israel in a fun and engaging way.

explore israelThe final book that we have found that really allows kids to explore Israel is a wonderful non-fiction book called Let’s Go Explore Israel. This book is absolutely gorgeous! The book is broken down into 6 sections – Places to go, Sights to see, Culture to experience, People to know, Curiosities to Consider, and Words to work on. It is incredibly in-depth and full of absolutely stunning pictures. This is actually a part of a series that has a few other books – Jerusalem, Galilee, and Egypt. Interestingly, this is published by a Christian book company but does not have any religious overtones in any way. If you are looking for an amazing non-fiction book on culture and geography, this is a must have.

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