Author Archive: michelle @ books my kids read

I Yam a Donkey – Making Grammar Fun

donkey coverTeaching children grammar doesn’t have to be boring. In the same vein as the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Cece Bell has created a winner in I Yam a Donkey.

This book helps children see the difference in saying “I Yam” versus “I am,” comically explained to a donkey by a yam. The donkey in this story does not use proper grammar and the yam tries to correct him, but doesn’t get very far. What helps this story along is the fact that the donkey fails to comprehend anything that the yam says, which only gets the yam more riled up.

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The fact that kids enjoy it is huge. In North Carolina, many of the school libraries participate in the NC Children’s Book Awards each year. I volunteer weekly in one of our local libraries and watch as the librarian reads them all of the nominated books and then has the kids vote on their favorites. This year, the winner of the picture book category, by an overwhelming majority, was I Yam a Donkey. Each year children nominate their favorite picture books, librarians read those books to their students, and then children vote on which was their favorite.

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The fact that a third of the votes cast this year went to I Yam a Donkey speaks volumes. Kids loved this book. They read it in the library and then checked it out to read at home. A book about grammar! Parents will also get a kick out of the book, especially if they ever heard the classic routine of Who’s on First by Abbot and Costello (a childhood favorite of mine). A book that was completely silly yet drove its point home. Cece Bell, job well done!

A Boy and A Jaguar

Alan Rabinowitz is an American zoologist who has spent his life studying wild cats and was called ‘The Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation’ by TIME Magazine. But as a child, Rabinowitz struggled to fit in due to a very pronounced stutter. In the picture book, A Boy and A Jaguar, Rabinowitz tells his story to young children as a way to encourage those who struggle to find their own voices and for those who have found their voice, to speak up for those in need.

boy and a jaguar cover

As a child, Rabinowitz simply couldn’t get the words out. It made it difficult for him to go to school, let alone have friends. However, when he talked to animals, he could speak without stuttering. He felt a bond with the animals. He felt that they were misunderstood and mistreated, just has he was. As a child, he promised his pets that if he ever found his voice, that he would keep them from harm. Fortunately, his father saw the bond that he had with animals and frequently took him to the Bronx Zoo.

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Rabinowitz learned tricks to get him through school and finally found a program that helped him deal with his stutter. But even when speech was less of an issue, he still much preferred the company of animals over humans. His work took him to Belize to study jaguars and to ultimately fight to protect them.

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This is a beautiful book that can really encourage children to think about they way that they treat others, the way that they treat and respect animals, and how one person can be a change for good. Rabinowitz was up against a lot of really challenging obstacles, and yet he persevered. The story also shows how Rabinowitz followed his passions and made good on his childhood promise to protect the animals. In a world where we are told by many different people how we should act and what we should do when we grow up, Rabinowitz listened to his inner voice and took solace in the places that gave him the most peace.

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The only thing that I felt was missing from this book was any sort of author’s note to explain just who Rabinowitz is and the work that he has done. He is a very well respected animal activist and he founded the organization Panthera, a group devoted to protecting wild cats and their ecosystems. Turns out that Rabinowitz also does work advocating for stutterers as a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America. From a childhood where teachers considered him “disturbed,” he proved them wrong and has truly become a voice for those in need.

nfpb2017Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the  Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!

Choose Your Own Ever After

A big part of growing up is figuring out friends and, as you get a bit older, what it means to be more than friends. I remember that when I was in the 5th and 6th grade, one of the book series that was incredibly popular, and which I adored, was Sweet Valley High. Now no one is going to argue that this was high quality literature, but it was fun. These books hit on topics that I was thinking about, but wasn’t ready to quite voice or fully understand. Most of my friends were at least a year older than me, and the notion of boys was definitely in play.

Back in the day, the Sweet Valley High books were intended for preteens, the market that we now consider tweens. Were the SVH books quality literature? Not even close. Were they brain candy and super fun? Absolutely. Kids have to be kids and read light fluff from time to time, especially when we put so many pressures on them. So where am I going with this? I want to take a look at the Choose Your Own Ever After series published by Kane Miller and available through Usborne Books & More.

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Choose Your Own Ever After is a series of books that were first published in Australia in 2014. The concept behind these books is that each one lets you choose your own path and change the story based on your decisions. Many people recall the Choose Your Own Adventure series written in the late 70s and early 80s. These books work within that same concept, but have fewer decisions to make and the choices are based on bigger issues. A sample question is do you go to the big party with your two closest friends so they can chase the boys they like or do you go to the movie night/fundraiser for the club at school that you have been a long-time member of? Continue reading →

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education

There have been many books written about Malala Yousafzai, and rightfully so. One of the newer books is Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, by Raphaële Frier. This book was originally published in France in 2015, but was translated to English and published in the US this year.malala cover

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education takes a different approach in telling her story, focusing a great deal on her formative years. With wonderful illustrations by Aurelia Fronty, the reader sees the happy and loving home Malala was born into. While many families in Pakistan might have been dismayed at the birth of a daughter, Ziauddin Yousafzai and Tor Pekai were thrilled. Ziauddin ran a school for girls and asked his friends to shower his daughter with the same attention that they would a boy. Continue reading →

Early literacy and a baby book

Today I was able to talk to a group of mothers in my area about early literacy and fostering a love of books. I am not a trained expert on the subject, but years of observation and following the research makes me feel pretty secure in my knowledge. When I hear a child who has hit 4th grade complaining about having to read it simply breaks my heart. The problem is that by 4th grade it is unlikely, though not impossible, that we can make much of a change. Where we need to instill that love of books is as early as possible.10 Family Literacy Tips

Children are natural sponges. If we want to instill a love of books, we need them to see that we share that love ourselves. The best things we can do for our kids is to be an example of someone who loves books, have books around the house, and allow them to read what they want without worrying about lexile level or even content. But more than anything, our children mimic our behavior. If they see us reading, they are more likely to read. If they see us purchasing books or going to the library on a regular basis, they learn that we value books. In lower-income homes, this can be an issue because books are often not as valued, especially when other high priority needs need to be met. In other homes, adults have stopped purchasing “real” books and instead have started relying on digital books and kids can have a hard time differentiating between the fact that you are reading a book on your tablet vs checking Facebook or your email. (For more on digital media’s impact, check out this fascinating article from the NY Times) Continue reading →

Dear Dragon

dragon coverWe have recently started encouraging our daughters to get into the “old fashioned” concept of writing letters to pen-pals. J has started writing to a cousin and some of E’s closest friends will be moving away this summer. With that in mind, finding Josh Funk’s new book, dear Dragon, has been an absolute delight.

The story is that two young boys, George Slair and Blaise Dragomir, go to two different schools and have been assigned to be each other’s pen pals. Their entire classes have teamed up as a class project and their letters have to be written in rhyme as it is also for their poetry project. What they don’t know is that one school is for dragons and one school is for humans. Much hilarity ensues. Continue reading →

Princess Lila Builds a Tower

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Princess Lila is a princess who had everything in order to be happy, and yet she wasn’t. She lived in an enormous castle, had all of the material things a princess could hope for and servants to take care of her every need. But she wasn’t allowed outside of the walls of her castle and she had no friends. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be so happy in that situation either.

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So begins the story Princess Lila Builds a Tower, by Anne Paradis (CrackBoom! Books, May 2017). Lila tries a variety of ways to get past her parent’s rule about not leaving the castle grounds and still seeing the world outside the walls, until she decides to build a tower with the help of one of her tutors. The tutor is thrilled as it will involve architecture, geometry and mathematics. Continue reading →

Balderdash!

One of the best things that has come out of blogging is being a part of the blogging community of amazing children’s literature reviewers. Learning about new books and getting other takes on how to encourage a love of books in all children is why I do this. Since we don’t live in a city with tons of great book stores and large libraries, there are many times that the only way I know a book exists is through the pages of other people’s blogs.

As long-time readers will know, I try really hard to be a part of the nonfiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy every week. This week, Alyson posted about three books she had recently read, but one stood out to me, partially because this week also happens to be Children’s Book Week. The book was Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books, by Michelle Markel. I happened to be at one of our local libraries that evening for a CBW event and did a happy dance when I found a copy there.

balderdash cover

Balderdash! is a great biography about a man whose name is synonymous with children’s literature. The cover of the book even has such a wonderful illustration by Nancy Carpenter that the book screams out to be read. But even with Newbery being such an important name in children’s literature, I admit that I didn’t know much about him before reading this book. Continue reading →

Fancy Party Gowns

FPG coverThe Story of Ann Cole Lowe is not one that I probably would have ever heard of if not for the new biography, Fancy Party Gowns, by Deborah Blumenthal. Her story, however, is important in the world of fashion, women, and African-American history.

Ann Cole Lowe learned how to sew from her mother and grandmother who were both dressmakers in Alabama. When Ann was 16, her mother had been working on a dress for the governor’s wife when she died. “Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.” So Ann finished the dress.

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Ann continued to work hard and in 1917 was sent to a design school in New York, but she had to study alone, in a separate room, because of the color of her skin. This image alone in the book is exceptionally powerful to help get the notion across to children just how unfair laws and practices were when it came to segregation. This didn’t stop Ann, if anything, it might have made her stronger. Continue reading →

Usborne Illustrated Stories of Princes & Princesses

My younger daughter’s current favorite book is the Usborne Illustrated Stories of Princes and Princesses. We are big fans of the Illuustrated Stories series in general because of their gorgeous illustrations and ability to take well known stories and bring them to younger audiences at an age appropriate level (Shakespeare for an 8 year old!). What sets this particular book apart is the fact that it brings forth many lesser known fairy tales from a variety of cultures and it is a book focusing on princesses, but without that common thread of princess needs saving from prince.

Usborne Book of the Week

E found this book in our catalog and started begging for it, so of course I bought it, since I’m a sucker for that desire. We were quickly surprised by the content of the stories. Many are well known tales like Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty, and the Frog Prince. But then there are stories that have never made their way into my fairy tale loving family – The Princess and the Glass Hill, Princess Nobody, and the Seven Ravens, for example. Each story is beautifully told with illustrations and an easy to read font. Continue reading →