Monday, June 6, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey as a way to share what you have read and/or reviewed in the past week. It's also a terrific way to find out what other people are reading.

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers have given this meme a children's literature focus: picture books, middle grade novels, etc. They "encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting the other bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.
And finally, it's summer! I dove right into Summertime Reading! It's so wonderful to have time to relax on my deck with a glass of iced tea and read all of the books that have been piling up around me. Hopefully, you're enjoying a cool drink and good book (or two or three) as well!
Here's what I've been reading:
The Underdogs by Sara Hammel

I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for this review. I have to say that this is just a terrific book for the start of my Summer of Reading! This is a juicy, summertime mystery that definitely has a surprise twist at the end! I thought that it would be pretty difficult to surprise me with a middle grade mystery (I am an experienced educator with a graduate degree), but I'll admit that I was already 90% through the book and thought I knew the answers to everything, before I figured out something VERY important about one of the main characters!

The book opens with the discovery of a sixteen-year-old girl's body at the side of the swimming pool of an advanced competitive tennis club in a suburb of Boston. Nobody is quite certain what exactly happened, but a police detective begins investigating immediately. There are plenty of suspicious characters around at this club, and twelve-year-old Evie and Chelsea are snooping around trying to get to the bottom of the mystery themselves.

To read my entire review: Book Review - The Underdogs

  Diana's White House Garden by Elisa Carbone, Jen Hill (Illustrator) 

This is a fascinating look inside the Roosevelt White House during World War II. Diana's father was an advisor to President Roosevelt and so she lived in the White House. As the war raged on, Diana tried to find ways to help the war effort. Finally she helped plant the White House Victory Garden and became famous for it. The illustrations, along with the story of her efforts to be helpful, make this such an awesome book. Can't wait to share this with students.

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

This is a very imaginative picture book that deals with a young boy's search for a place in the world in which he truly belongs. It's quite a journey as he spends time with a colony of penguins, a smack of jellyfish, a pod of whales, and so on. He enjoys his experiences with each group, but eventually is left alone and has to keep moving. When he finally meets up with the tribe of kids, I like how he contributes what he's learned to help the group evolve. According to the title page, the illustrations were painted in oils and sprayed with an acrylic varnish to create various mottled textures. Also used were colored pencils, graphite, traditional cut and paste, and digital cut and paste. This would be a lovely book to share with my students.

 Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

This is a beautiful picture book that examines the relationship between a young boy and his great grandfather. The boy is walking through a garden recounting the important events of his great grandfather's life, each represented by a beautiful topiary. As the boy moves along telling the story, you almost don't notice him picking up stray items along the way. These items and the topiaries lead to the old man finishing up his work. It's a very moving book, and the artwork is beautiful. According to the title page, the characters were rendered with brush and waterproof drawing ink. The foliage was created with watercolor, oil paint, and digital paint. This is definitely one that I would like to share with students. 

  Snail and Worm: Three Stories About Two Friends by Tina Kugler

This is a fun book for emerging readers. There are three stories about two friends: "Meet My Friend" in which they play a strange and silly version of Tag, "Snail's Adventure" in which Snail attempts to climb a tall flower, and "Meet My Pet" in which we meet a couple of unlikely pets for Snail and Worm. This book kind of reminds me of the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. According to the title page, "Tina used acrylic on pastel paper, collage, and digital media to create the illustrations. No snails or worms were harmed in the making of this book."  

Gator Dad by Brian Lies

Just in time for Father's Day, this is a wonderful picture book celebrating the special relationships dads have with their children. The book opens with the gator dad waking his kids, telling them to "Squeeze the day!" The father details the great time they will have eating together, grocery shopping, playing in the park, and relaxing on the sofa. This book, with gorgeous illustrations rendered in acrylic paint, would be a nice book to share with young readers at bedtime.

 Rain Fish by Lois Ehlert

This is a picture book that will have readers gazing at each double spread illustration and simple, rhyming text and imagining the fishy possibilities that exist in our own homes and classrooms, if we just take the time to look. Lois Ehlert has created beautiful collage pictures of fish out of everything imaginable. I love the way she encourages us to look at our world with a new set of eyes. I would love to get my own copy of this book for my classroom library!

Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson 

This book has a cute story about friendship and exploring new things in nature. Both the bear and the boy love to explore and find new things in the forest. When they run into each other, they are frightened at first, but soon become great friends. This story has a sweet message about all the things friends can accomplish together if they have open minds. The illustrations are bold, colorful and nicely detailed. I love looking at all of the creatures hidden in leaves and underneath logs and rocks.

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, Steven Salerno (Illustrations) 

This is a great picture book biography about a young woman who was an outstanding baseball player during a time when not many women played. Edith Houghton claims that she must have been born with a baseball I'm her hand. When she was ten, she earned a spot on the Philadelphia Bobbies, a women's professional team. As the team's shortstop she had the opportunity to travel to Japan and tour the country, playing men's teams. This book shares the fun and exciting details of that trip. The illustrations, created with charcoal, ink, and gouache, with added digital color rendered in Adobe Photoshop, really do an awesome job supporting the text. There are also photographs and further information about Edith Houghton at the end of the book. I would love to get a copy of this book for my classroom library!

Buddy and Earl by Maureen Fergus, Carey Sookocheff (Illustrations) 

This book is just downright adorable! When Meredith brings a mysterious box into the living room with a strange creature inside, Buddy can't resist a peek. When he meets Earl, the hedgehog, the two become instant friends. They pretend to be pirates at sea and have quite the adventure. The illustrations were done in Acrylic Gouache on watercolor paper and assembled in Photoshop.

Buddy and Earl Go Exploring by Maureen Fergus, Carey Sookocheff (Illustrations) 

This is a very cute sequel to Buddy and Earl. These two friends are at it again one night. After the family goes to bed, they explore the kitchen: swimming in the lake that is Buddy's water dish, next to the mountain that is the garbage can; rescuing a damsel hedgehog (a hairbrush) in Mother's purse; and other adventures. Young readers will giggle and look at familiar items with new eyes with this charmingly illustrated story.

How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz 

This is a fun picture book that takes readers on an imaginary journey to find gold. Anna and her friend, Crocodile, plan meticulously for success on their mission. They practice making secret-keeping faces, check to see if they have the strength to carry the gold, and draw a map with an X so they can find it. Young readers that like to pretend will enjoy this story. The illustrations are rendered in a palette that showcases the two friends, but leaves the background in black and white pencil drawings.  

President Squid by Aaron Reynolds, Sara Varon (Illustrations) 

This fun picture book comes just in time for the Presidential election. While all eyes and ears are on the battle between Donald Trump and either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, a giant squid believes he has what it takes to be President. He goes through his five important qualifications for the job. Young readers will giggle at these reasons and watch as the squid puts his talk into action when a potential voter needs his help. The illustrations, rendered in ink and brush on bristol paper and colored in Photoshop, are colorful, bold, and charmingly detailed.

Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum, Keika Yamaguchi (Illustrations) 

Young readers will definitely be able to relate to this adorable picture book, especially those who feel like older people don't listen to them or take them seriously. Teeny's mother was captured and trapped in a bucket. Seven brothers made several rescue attempts, but wound up trapped in the bucket themselves. It was all up to Teeny to rescue them all by herself. The detailed illustrations really help tell this story of courage and ingenuity on the part of the smallest member of the Toady family.

How to Dress a Dragon by Thelma Lynne Godin, Eric Barclay (Illustrations) 

This is a cute picture book that will have young readers giggling as the little boy tries to put clothes on a dragon. This book would be great for little kids who are just getting the hang of dressing themselves. Once you've gotten ahold of the dragon, you need to get him into underwear, socks, shorts, and the rest of his outfit. Obviously dressing a big dragon will have its challenges. The illustrations are colorful and funny and support the story very well.

The Snow Rabbit by Camille Garoche

This beautiful, wordless picture book tells a touching story about kindness and seeing circumstances through another's eyes. The illustrations are just gorgeous: 3-D, cut-paper, meticulously constructed.  

The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen, Melanie Cataldo (Illustrations) 

Jane Yolen does a terrific job telling a story that will tug at a reader's heartstrings. The narrator of the story is walking home along a beach with her two brothers. It is Maine in 1971, and the three come upon a beached whale. Since nobody had cellphones back then, one of the boys has to walk further up the beach to call for help. When help finally arrives, it's not enough. The author really captures the grief that the girl feels, and it makes us wonder if this will inspire any of her future choices for education and a career. The illustrations, rendered in digital paint, oil paint, and pencil, are all double page spreads and just beautiful. This is definitely one I would like to share with students.

City Cat by Kate Banks, Lauren Castillo (Illustrations) 

For anyone who dreams of visiting Europe someday, this is the perfect picture book. A cat settles in among the luggage of a family taking a car trip through some of Europe's most famous cities: Rome, Marseille, Barcelona, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Munich, and Venice. The rhythm of the text matches the busy traffic and crowds in each of the these locations. But the cat isn't fazed, she makes her way through cafes, onto boats, across bridges, and so forth. Along the way, the reader gets a terrific tour of Europe. Lauren Castillo's illustrations are perfect for this story. Her paintings make the family and the cat seem like old friends and help the reader feel completely comfortable on this European vacation. The back page gives more information about each of the cities and could serve as a great starting point for further research.

Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts, Lauren Castillo

Soccer is very popular with the students in my class, and so I think this book would speak to them and they would recognize themselves in this story. I love how the girl in this story deals with her difficult circumstances. She loves soccer and she wishes that her aunt could come and watch her games and cheer for her. Her aunt, like many of my students' parents, have work schedules that make it impossible for them to attend games. Lauren Castillo's illustrations are always so inviting and familiar that we can all feel like we're a part of the story. I definitely want to find a copy of this book for my classroom library.  

Where Do You Look? by Marthe Jocelyn, Nell Jocelyn 

This is a cute book that explores the concept of homonyms. The artwork, rendered in paper collage and mixed media, is very bright and attractive. This would be great to have in the classroom library, especially when studying this particular subject.

Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward, Julie Morstad (Illustrator) 

When I was a young girl growing up in Iowa, I walked to school in some wicked cold weather. I didn't have to walk a mile in the dark, but I can relate to bundling up and leaving a warm house to go out into the cold on the way to school. The little girl has to walk through some dark, scary woods in order to get to her bus stop (which is hard to imagine in this day & age). She calms herself by singing. Julie Morstad's illustrations are so charming and sweet, this would be a nice addition to my classroom library.

Blues Journey by Walter Dean Myers 

This picture book is a fascinating exploration of the music form known as the blues. The poetry of the blues tells the stories of the African American experience. Some of the blues are sad, but some of them express joy, love, and hope. Walter Dean Myers' poetry in this book could serve as a great mentor text as students could write their own blues. The illustrations by the author's son, Christopher Myers, are simply beautiful. According to the title page, the artwork was created with blue ink, white paint, and brown paper bags. I would love to have a copy of this in my classroom library!

Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse, Jon J. Muth (Illustrator) 

This book is just awesome! The little girl in this story, along with her mother and the rest of the neighborhood, haven't seen rain in weeks. Everything is hot, dusty, and limp from the summer heat. As the girl waits for a rainstorm to roll in, she and her friends put on their swimsuits and get ready for a great time. The watercolor illustrations are just terrific! I definitely want to get my own copy of this book to share with students.






  1. What a great reading week! I really enjoyed The Underdogs too and was completely surprised by the ending. I thought something else was happening. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

  2. The Underdogs seemed more YA to me because it moved rather slowly. Why have I never noticed that you are in Columbus, too? If you're interested in the 48 Hour Book Challenge for next year, let me know!

  3. WOW! That's a lot of fantastic titles!! I totally fell in love with Buddy and Earl, they're such a sweet and fun pair, and Earl just cracks me up.

  4. Wow! I wish I had your reading stamina! Many good ones here, but The Underdogs have captured my attention. I will have to look into that one.

  5. So many great books. I've only read a few. Underdogs sounds intriguing. So many new titles to add to my list.

  6. So many great books. I've only read a few. Underdogs sounds intriguing. So many new titles to add to my list.

  7. I'm very excited that there is a sequel to Buddy and Earl! So excited that I almost didn't pay attention to the rest of your post. I did go back and read more carefully though. The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton, and Blues Journey are available from our local public library so I put them on hold. Thanks for the update!

  8. My son and I read Teeny Tiny Toady at least once per day. I love the story so much. I think each time I read it, I like it even more!

    I've wondered what There Is a Tribe of Kids is about. Thanks for the great review!

  9. You've got me curious about The Underdogs! I put it on hold at the library. I think it may be above my readers, but I'd like to check it out!

  10. Oh my goodness - so much love for picturebooks here! So many great titles. I have marked There Is a Tribe of Kids - a new Lane Smith title, how awesome! Thank you for letting us know.