Little Red & the Very Hungry Lion

A few years ago I wrote a post called “The Various Tales of Little Red Riding Hood” about retellings of the well known story. It actually gets the most hits of any blog post that I’ve written. While I’m not on the hunt for more stories about the crimson clad kid, if a great story comes out, I do pay attention. One such story is Alex T. Smith’s Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion.little red cover

Right off the bat there are a few noticeable differences in this story versus the traditional version. Little Red is a spunky, intelligent, African girl. The lion is, well, a lion and not a wolf, but more importantly, he doesn’t manage to trick Little Red. Smith uses some creative illustrations to move this story along and capture a completely different tone. The best part, in my opinion, is when Little Red walks into her Auntie’s house, notices the lion, and decides to teach him a lesson. Continue reading →

Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted

she-persisted-bookYesterday Chelsea Clinton’s new book, She Persisted, arrived in my mail. I had pre-ordered it because I believe that it is an important item to show our children. Kids need to see people like them achieving their dreams. They need to know that life isn’t going to just hand them what they want, but if they believe in themselves and never give up, they can do great things. It is why I have also ordered a copy of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

I will admit, that when I first read the book, I was less than enamored with it. Clinton has put together 13 very abridged biographies about women from all over the spectrum – civil rights activists, artists, politicians, professionals, and athletes. I wanted something I could sink my teeth into a bit more. But I also tend to immerse myself in full picture book biographies about many of these subjects, so I wanted a viewpoint closer to the intended audience and asked my 10 year old to read it this morning. She actually read it out loud as we were driving to school and somehow hearing it in her voice gave it more power. Continue reading →

One Proud Penny

The penny doesn’t get a whole lot of respect these days. Aside from the fact that we have become a society that is highly reliant on credit cards, the poor penny is looked down upon for not being worth as much as other forms of currency. Randy Siegel has given the penny its day in the quirky and fun book, One Proud Penny.

penny cover

Siegel takes us on the journey of a penny. Our particular narrator was born in Philadelphia in 1983. He has traveled all over the country and had many adventures, although at times his time days have been spent waiting in a jar or under a vending machine. Our narrator tells us how pennies have changed over the years and how long pennies usually stay in circulation. Readers also get a little lesson on Abraham Lincoln who graces the penny’s face. Continue reading →

Caleb and Kit

If you are a fan of middle-grade fiction, you have most likely heard of the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. Wonder deals with a child who has a cleft palate and his experiences when he goes to a real school for the first time rather than being home-schooled. He can’t hide his condition but he also won’t allow it to define him. There is a reason this book has received a great amount of praise. For similar reasons, the new book Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel (Running Press Books, Sept. 2017) is going to be a hit for the middle school crowd.

caleb and kitCaleb and Kit tells the story of 12 year old Caleb, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning lungs that fill with mucus and a shortened lifespan. He feels completely overprotected by his mother and his “perfect” big brother. Even his closest friend, Derek, makes sure that he is included when the other kids play sports, but also makes sure that he doesn’t over-do it. Caleb is aware of his condition and knows how to take care of himself, but no one ever seems to let him. When summer break comes and he has to spend each day in a camp with mostly 8 and 9 year olds, he just can’t take it. To add insult to injury, his father has started a new life with a woman who seems oblivious to his condition.

Caleb’s life changes when he gets lost in the woods behind his house one day and meets Kit. Kit is like no one he has ever met. She is home schooled and seems to be free as a bird. Kit believes that she can talk to animals and fairies and doesn’t worry about what anyone thinks. Her mantra is “I do what I want,” a concept that especially appeals to Caleb who feels so trapped by those looking out for him. Kit’s fantasy world and the freedom Caleb feels when he is with her lure him to make some very unwise decisions, including some that risk his health. Early on the reader knows that there is more to Kit than meets the eye. She isn’t just a girl with a lot of freedom, she is a girl who isn’t being cared for and who is struggling simply to survive. It just takes Caleb a lot longer to figure this out.

I couldn’t put this book down. It was wonderfully written, honest, and had true to life middle grade voices. Caleb had moments of exceptionally bad behavior, but a) he’s 12 and b) he is fighting for his own voice and his life. Caleb had never really been given the ability to make his own decisions and figure out who he was. He also had quite a chip on his shoulder and found it difficult to comprehend what others might be thinking or feeling. Common enough for any tween, let alone one with CF. Caleb and Kit is a must read and one that I couldn’t stop thinking about.

***Note – I received a digital review copy from NetGalley in return for my honest review.

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.

empowering girls

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 →