Thank you so much to the author for providing #KidLitExchange with a finished copy of this book for review purposes! All opinions are my own (as always).
Back in April I discovered the Branches books published by Scholastic. These great books are a way to bridge the gap between leveled readers and chapter books. Or as my new 1st grader likes to say, these books are like picture books and chapter books smashed together! So when author Amy Marie Stadelmann sent copies of her series Olive & Beatrix to the KidLitExchange I jumped at the opportunity to check them out.
The Olive & Beatrix books focus on twin sisters Olive & Beatrix. Olive is “ordinary” and loves science, nature, and exploring. Her sister, Beatrix, is less than ordinary as she was born at midnight on a full moon and is therefore a witch. She has a brain full of tricks and uses her magical powers to play pranks on Olive and her best friend, Eddie.
These books arrived at our house on Saturday and by Sunday evening, E had read them both at least 2 times. Olive & Beatrix is a really fun series. There is a touch of mischievousness, a dash of science, and a balance of true sisterhood battles and friendship. Beatrix tends to take the easy way out by using her magic, but in the end, it is usually a combination of magic and science needed to solve the problem at hand. Even though the sisters look at life differently, they have to work together to make things work.
Book #1 is “The Not-So Itty-Bitty Spiders” in which Olive and Eddie attempt to prank Beatrix with a bucket of spiders and it back-fires on them when the spiders get into her growing potion. When the spiders escape out of their house, the three friends have to figure out what to do. When their first plans don’t work, some scientific thinking helps solve the problem.
Book #2 is “The Super-Smelly Moldy Blob.” In this book, Olive is tired of Beatrix always managing to win the science fair due to an unfair use of magic. She and Eddie come up with great entries, but a battle between the twins over which table to set up on ends in both of their projects falling to the floor and turning into a super-smelly moldy blob that starts oozing through the school swallowing up everything in its path. Once again, the twins and Eddie use a combination of magic and scientific know-how to stop the blob and get everything back in order.
These books are perfect for emerging readers, specifically those in kindergarten through 2nd grade. By combining a slightly longer story with a load of really fun pictures, kids just want to read them. There is a real sense of accomplishment for struggling readers and a lot of color and action for reluctant readers. As with all Branches books, there is also a page in the back with comprehension questions to help they understand what they are reading and to start talking points for parents. Our school and public libraries need to have more of these books available for our emerging readers.
“There is a unique kind of magic that comes from hearing a story told. With only the power of a voice, an entire world can be created. Suddenly, the audience becomes the hero, the villain, or the magic djinn commanding the desert sand storm.”
So says Evan Turk in the author’s note to his book The Storyteller. Apparently, it is also an old Moroccan saying that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns.” I thought that sharing this book on Read Across America day was especially important.
There is power in telling a story, especially to an audience. While we now have easy access to books, television, movies and so on, we have historically learned from tales passed down orally from generation to generation. Stories teach us the ways of our cultures and feed our souls. Evan Turk shows that feeling in a literal way through this vivid tale.
Long ago, the kingdom of Morocco was formed on the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of water to quench the thirst of the desert and storytellers to bring the people together. But just like everywhere else, modernity came and people soon forgot their storytellers and the land soon became parched.
As a young boy walks home, searching for water, he is given a brass cups from a water seller in the hopes that he might just be lucky enough to find something. What he finds is an old storyteller who calls out to him, assuring him that his thirst will be quenched if he listens to a story. The storyteller spins a tale of the terrible drought and how one family always had enough water to share. The young boy is enthralled, and by the time the old man has finished speaking, the boy’s cup is miraculously filled with cool water.
Through the power of a magical brass cup and the voice of a storyteller, a young boy once again learned the history of his people and slowly brought water back for his own parched thirst. What he didn’t realize was that not only was he physically thirsty for water, he was spiritually thirsty as well.
At the same time that the storyteller is weaving the story for the young boy, a sandstorm is forming. Just as the boy is quenching his thirst with the power of the story, the sandstorm comes to destroy the city in the form of a djinn. He has the power to destroy the city because the fountains have run dry and the fountains have run dry because the people have stopped listening to the storytellers. The boy, realizing the power that the story holds, tricks the djinn into listening to a story before destroying the land. It takes him multiple days to tell the story, but through the power of his tale and the fact that he is telling it in front of an ever expanding audience, the boy refills the city’s fountains and quenches the physical and metaphysical thirsts making the djinn powerless.
As the author notes, “Morocco, like countries all over the world, including the United States, is at a crossroads where the future threatens to eclipse what is beautiful about the past.” Evan Turk gave us a beautiful reminder to keep the past alive through the power of a good story.
The Storyteller was a beautiful book with haunting illustrations. You can also get a sense of it from the following trailer. May we continue to shine a light on the power of the story.
My children are not overly fascinated with magic, but they are moved by women who break the norm and especially by performers. When I found a copy of Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic, it struck me as a book that they would get a kick out of and I was spot on.
Adelaide Hermann, nee Adele Scarsez, was a girl who never wanted to be ordinary. She always wanted to “astonish, shock and dazzle.” Born in 1853, she lived in a time when girls had a very specific role they were supposed to play but that she didn’t seem to fit into.
As a young girl she answered an ad to become a dancer, but ballet wasn’t exciting enough and found other outlets for her charisma and creativity. She met Alexander Hermann, a famous magician, and the two hit it off immediately. Together, they astounded audiences around the world. When Alexander suddenly died, Addie wanted the show to go on and decided to be the star herself. While it wasn’t done at the time, she knew that she had the skills and pulled off one of the most difficult tricks known in the magical world.
What makes this book so fun is the fact that Addie truly believed in herself no matter what. When she saw something that she wanted, she went after it 110%. She proposed to her husband in a time that women proposing was completely unheard of. She tried tricks that she had never done before, just having faith in herself and her abilities. The one trick that frightened her wound up being the trick she did to convince the world that she had the ability to be the world’s first female magician.Her story is exciting and the book is chock full of amazing illustrations that bring it all to life. Thanks to Mara Rockliff who wrote this book and Margaret Steele who put researched Adelaide Hermann and wrote her own book in 2012 (Adelaide Hermann: Queen of Magic), this fascinating story is being told to a new generation of children.
Thanks to Alyson Beecher of Kid Lit Frenzy for hosting the weekly link-up of amazing non-fiction picture books. I’m always amazed by the great books that I find from all of the other bloggers.