Monday, May 30, 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.
It's Memorial Day! Hope you're having a wonderful day with family and friends. I also hope you're taking a few moments to remember all of the brave men and women who have fought and died making sure that we could enjoy the freedom and liberty that the United States represents.
Summer is soooooooooo close! There are three days left with students. As everyone is getting their Summer Reading piles together, here's what I've been reading: 
 The Drake Equation by Bart King
I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. I'm really glad that I did, because I enjoyed it even more than I expected to. This middle grade science fiction adventure novel has compelling action that sweeps you up into the story from the very beginning. It also has true-to-life characters that kids will definitely be able to recognize and identify with.  
For my complete review, please visit:


Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior, Laura James (Illustrations)  
This is a picture book in which just about every kid will recognize themselves. Anna is the youngest of six children, and so wants to do the things that the older kids can do. This family lives in the countryside and doesn't have tap water available. The kids make a daily walk to a spring for water. The older kids could carry their containers of water on their heads, but Anna was too young. She couldn't do it without spilling it. I love that we get a peek inside the lives of kids who live in another country and while it's different that they have to carry their water, they share many of the same family activities that we do. I think our students need to see that we have more in common with kids from other cultures than differences. I wish that the story mentioned that this story is set in Jamaica. Except for the Jamaican flag displayed on the side of a roadside stand, there are no other references to the setting. The illustrations are very bright and colorful and show the beauty of this Caribbean country. According to the title page, the artwork was created on canvas and photographed. I think this would be an awesome addition to my classroom library and a good picture book companion to A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.
The Airport Book by Lisa Brown 

Despite all of the young children and crying babies that seem to be present on every flight I take, many kids have never traveled by plane before. This picture book does a great job of breaking down the experience step by step. For any kids getting ready to take such a trip, this book would be an awesome resource to cut down on any anxiety about it. And even if there's not a flying trip on the horizon, it's an interesting and informative book. I love the illustrations because there is so much going on on each double page spread. I found myself lingering over each page to see what all the other people were doing and saying (kind of like I do when I'm at the airport).

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, Brendan Wenzel (Illustrations)

This book is just a joy to read. This cumulative tale tells the story of a boy walking along with a whirly-twirly toy when a snake drops out of a eucalyptus tree and gobbles him up. From the belly of the snake the boy calls out that there's plenty of room and that the snake should eat more. The story goes on with the snake eating more and more. The story kind of reminds me of The Mitten, with so many animals squeezing into such a tight spot. But with rhyming text and a great rhythm to the story, this book would be so much fun to read aloud. The illustrations are bold, colorful, and fun. According to the title page, "the artist used everything imaginable to create the digital illustrations for this book." 

All We Know by Linda Ashman, Jane Dyer (Illustrations)  

This book is absolutely beautiful. In light, rhyming text a mother shares with her child how everything knows how and when to do the things they do: Ex. " A cloud knows how to rain; the thunder how to boom; a bulb knows when it's time to sleep and when it's time to bloom." And most importantly, the mother already knew how to love the child. This would be lovely to share with a young child as a bedtime story. The illustrations are gorgeous. The paintings kind of remind me of the work of Mary Englebreit.


  One Hundred Bones by Yuval Zommer 

This is a cute picture book with a great story about friendship, teamwork, and discovery. Scruff, the dog is different than his friends. He did not have a "human friend", so he didn't wear a collar, he wasn't brushed, and he spent many hours digging in dirt. One day when he was digging, he made an amazing discovery. But it took help from his friends and a professor at the museum to excavate these bones and put them together. The digital illustrations are funny and adorable. Young readers and dog lovers will get a kick out of this book.  

Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds, Matt Davies (Illustrations)  

This is a great picture book with a terrific message about friendship and cliques and fitting in. Nerdy Birdy isn't like the cool birds. His glasses are too big, his wings are too short, he reads, he plays video games and he doesn't hunt like Eagle, Robin, and Cardinal. When he finds a group of friends who likes all the same things as he does, he realizes that there are more nerdy birds than cool birds. Things are great until another bird comes along that the cool birds don't like and even the nerdy birds reject. This big, weird bird is lonely and Nerdy Birdy has a decision to make. This is a great reflection of the way adolescents deal with each other in the middle grades of school. I would love to share this book with students at the beginning of the school year and have it as a permanent volume in my classroom library. The illustrations are funny and cute and do a great job of helping to tell the story. According to the title page, the art for this book was created using pen and ink and watercolor on paper. 

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Mary GrandPré (Illustrator)  

I really enjoyed reading this picture book biography. I really didn't know very much about Vasya Kandinsky before reading this. I found the text to be very friendly and easy to understand while at the same time telling an inspirational and engaging story. I think that my students will be able to appreciate the excitement at mixing new paints for the first time and wanting to express oneself through painting. The book also has an informative author's note and resources at the back of the book. I loved the illustrations: created using acrylic paint and paper collage by the same artist that created the cover illustrations for the Harry Potter books. I would love to have a copy of this book for my classroom library.

What Happens on Wednesdays by Emily Jenkins, Lauren Castillo (Illustrator)  

What a sweet and charming picture book. The little girl as the narrator shares with readers all of the events that occur every Wednesday, from the time she wakes up before dark, to the time she goes to bed at night. Young readers will certainly be able to relate to this book through the activities they have in common with this girl. And for those events that are different, that definitely invites comparison and discussion. The illustrations are the same cozy and warm detailed paintings that are the hallmark of all of Lauren Castillo's work.

The Reader by Amy Hest, Lauren Castillo (illustrator)  

This is a cute story about a little boy enjoying a winter day with his dog. The little boy pulls a small suitcase up the hill on his sled. When he gets to the top, he takes a book out of the suitcase and reads it to his dog. Then they get on the sled and slide down. Very simple, yet sweet text that young readers would enjoy. Lauren Castillo's illustrations are always just wonderful! 





Sunday, May 29, 2016

Book Review: The Drake Equation by Bart King

The Drake Equation by Bart King

 I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley. I'm really glad that I did, because I enjoyed it even more than I expected to.  This middle grade science fiction adventure novel has compelling action that sweeps you up into the story from the very beginning. It also has true-to-life characters that kids will definitely be able to recognize and identify with. 

Bart King's characters come to life right from the opening of the book. Noah Grow, a seventh grader and an avid bird watcher, is dealing with all of the typical problems middle schoolers face: friendship issues, bullies, and school work. The book opens as Noah is riding home from school on the school bus. Noah's seat mate is a shy, awkward boy named Ronnie Ramirez. Noah gets off the school bus before his assigned stop because he hears a bird call that he recognizes as a rare wood duck. The school's bully, Coby Cage, also gets off at this stop to pick on Noah and this starts all of the book's adventure. 

Coby causes Noah to take a tumble down a steep hill into the local nature preserve. When he's getting back on his feet, he finds a strange electronic object underneath a bush. When he's visiting with his friends, Jason and Jenny Bright, he discovers that this strange, glittery object gives him extraordinary powers. These powers put him into other dramatic situations, and eventually put him contact with extraterrestrial aliens. The action in this book makes it a real page turner! I had a hard time putting the book down as I really wanted to find out what was going to happen next! I had several sleepy days from staying up way too late with this book.

The author uses the analogy of rows and rows of dominoes tumbling onto each other to describe the cascade of events in this story. At the opening of the book, Noah describes it this way: "Some of the rows are short, while others lead far off into the distance. Step one way, and you'll knock over one domino. Step a different way, and you'll knock over another domino. Then that domino will hit another one, and so on and so on and so on... Life is sort of like this. It's hard to see where we're going when we're always in the dark." 

With the domino metaphor, this book would be a great way to discuss cause and effect and causal chains. I also think that this book would be a popular addition to my classroom library.  

There is a good interview with Bark King at The Hiding Spot blog:

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Disney-Hyperion
Original Title
The Drake Equation
1484725522 (ISBN13: 9781484725528)
Edition Language

Monday, May 23, 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.
Summer's so close, I can taste it! There's only 8 days left to teach the children and then it'll be time to recover and prepare for next year. There are so many good books to read, and I find myself distracted from the work of writing report cards and getting ready for the end of the year. Pretty soon, I'll be able to read as much as I want!  Here's what I've been reading this week: 

Hurricane Kiss by Deborah Blumenthal   
I had the opportunity to read a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for this review. This was kind of a fun book to read. The residents of Houston are evacuating because of the impending hurricane, Danielle. The teenage characters in this book are trapped in a car on the freeway, because everyone is trying to leave the city at once. It becomes clear that the storm is going to arrive while they are still in the car. Jillian and River decide to leave the car, against the will of River's dad, and run back fifteen miles to Houston. They get to the high school just in time and manage to get inside just as the storm hits. But this is only the beginning of their troubles. The storm, a category 5 hurricane, is stronger than anything they've ever experienced before. And along with the drama of the storm, these two have also had a stormy personal past.

While the language and mature themes make this book inappropriate for my fifth grade classroom, I certainly had fun reading it. It was a fun escape, and I would totally recommend it for a vacation read! This book would probably be all right for high school students.
A Fire Truck Named Red by Randall de Sève, Bob Staake (Illustrations)     For anyone who has ever been disappointed because a gift did not match your expectations, this is a great picture book. The little boy in this story had his heart set on getting a brand new fire truck for his birthday. It had "a ladder that reaches all the way up and a hose that sprays real water." It had "lights that flash and a siren that wails and wheels that spin, silent and smooth." Instead he got an old, beat-up fire truck that had belonged to his grandfather when he was a child. While his grandfather was fixing it up, he began to tell the stories of all of the exciting rescues that he and his fire truck performed. The illustrations in the book are great! I especially love how the illustrations that accompany his grandfather's memories are in a limited palette of brown and white, like old photos and movies.
The Thank You Book by Mo Willems    This was a wonderful way to wrap up this awesome picture book series!  
Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, Yuyi Morales (Illustrations)     This is a cute picture book about a little boy that wants to be his own person and have his own name. His father's name is Big Thunder and so he is called Little Thunder. He hates this name. He starts listing all of the other things that make him special and suggests appropriate names that would be good. The illustrations are really special. According to the title page, they "were made from the remains of an antique house in Xalapa, Mexico, where Yuri (Morales) now has her studio and where she created this book. When the rotting roof and some of the walls came down, she picked out old wood as well as clay bricks that she later scanned and used their color's and textures to digitally paint the illustrations." 
Playing from the Heart by Peter H. Reynolds     Wow! What a beautiful book! Peter H. Reynolds tells such an emotional and heartwarming story that truly comes from his heart. In this story, a little boy named Raj begins playing notes on the piano, and begins to make his own joyful music. Hearing this music, the boy's father has him take formal piano lessons. He works hard to become a classical pianist, but in the process becomes tired of playing and stops. Years later, when his father becomes ill, the son returns home. When his father asks him to play a song on the piano, he reaches back to the memories of when he played from his heart. By the time I got to the end, I needed a tissue because this book really moved me! The illustrations, rendered in pen, ink, watercolor, gouache, and tea, are the sweet, comforting images we've enjoyed from Reynolds' other books. I'll need a copy for my classroom library and one for home!     

 Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu     This is a really cute picture book that shares three separate stories about the six bunnies and their friends, Bear, Mr. Goat and Mrs. Goat. The bunnies find themselves in mishaps such as getting splashed with mud from Mr. Goat's tractor, getting dusty when they were accidentally sucked up into Mrs. Goat's vacuum, and accidentally getting their tales cut off while hiding in the bushes. Each time the bunnies have trouble, Bear is the one to make everything okay again. The illustrations, artwork that was silkscreened using water-based ink, are adorable. Young readers would enjoy this book for sure. 

Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu     This wordless picture book has beautiful illustrations telling the story of some magical seeds planted by a young boy and girl. The artwork was silk screened using water-based ink. This book was the author's thesis project inspired by an odd-looking gummy bear with magical powers. (It was promptly eaten.)


Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead
This picture book was highly recommended by Josh Funk, and what a treat it is! This fun adventure tells the story of a little boy whose parents traded his beloved stuffed bear, Frederick, for a toaster because he was too old for stuffed animals. Heartbroken and determined to find his friend, he climbs aboard the Big Blue Boat and sets off on an ocean voyage to search the world for him. The story is so imaginative and whimsical, it'll be awesome to share with students. Along the way, the boy makes many friends who all work together to help him. There are lots of great messages here about friendship and teamwork. The artwork is just fantastic: a mix of detailed collage and acrylics. I'll be on the lookout for my own copy to place in my classroom library.  
Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden, Renata Liwska (Illustrator)     The illustrations in this picture book are absolutely beautiful. According to the title page, "the art was initially sketched by hand in the artist's journal. It was then scanned and colored in Adobe Photoshop. The animal characters were inspired by the artist's experiences with nature, from her worldwide travels to her own backyard." At the beginning of the book, a feather drifts through the window and the child begins to wonder about the before and after of things. For example, "Does a feather remember it was once a bird?" It would be interesting to share this with students and use it to discuss cause and effect, or sequence skills. It might inspire some great writing as well. 
Bear and Hare Go Fishing by Emily Gravett    This cute picture book shows what happens when the two friends go fishing. Bear loves to fish, but he's not very good at it. There's a fun surprise ending. The illustrations are adorable.
Bear & Hare -- Where's Bear? by Emily Gravett     This cute installment to the Bear & Hare series will have young readers giggling as the two friends play hide and seek. Bear isn't very good at hiding, as Hare finds him right away each time. They switch and Hare is a little too good at hiding. The adorable illustrations will make this a fun read.
Bear & Hare Snow! by Emily Gravett    This charming picture book would be great for young readers who can relate to all the fun things friends can do together on a snowy day. The two catch snowflakes on their tongues, make snow prints, snow angels, and so on. The lovely illustrations were rendered in pencil, watercolor, and wax crayons.
Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley     This is a fun picture book that a lot of young readers will be able to relate to: in an attempt to get her older sister to want to play with her, a young girl describes her secret tree fort to her. With each turn of the page, the descriptions and the illustrations become more and more elaborate. This would be a great book to share with students and then see what kind of secret tree fort they would invent!    
Hat by Paul Hoppe     Don't let the size and apparent simplicity of this picture book fool you - this lovely story is loaded with fun and terrific messages for kids. A little boy finds a hat on a park bench and he tells his mom how awesome that hat would be: he names the ways this hat could be useful, including sun protection, cover from the rain (reminding me of the urban sombrero), a boat, a sled and many more. Instead of recoiling with warnings about head lice (like I would do), the mother gently reminds him of all the folks that might be needing and missing the hat. The book kind of reminds me of "Not a Stick" and "Not a Box" by Antoinette Portis. This book could be a great springboard for creative ideas of how a hat might be used. Lots of great ideas in this cutely illustrated book! 
The Jacket by Kirsten Hall, Dasha Tolstikova (Illustrations)     This is certainly a different kind of picture book. The first thing I noticed when I picked it up, is the book jacket. Bright yellow paper with child-drawn crayon illustrations, there are two holes cut in the middle and two eyes peaking out. I didn't want to manhandle it too much, because it's a library book, but a peak under this book jacket reveals a plain blue cover with just the two eyes. The story is of a plain blue book that just wants a child to find him and love him. A little girl falls in love with him and takes him everywhere with her. The only problem is that she has a big, messy dog named Egg Cream. He threatens to ruin everything. Kids will have fun reading this book about the creation of the jacket of this book. There is even a set of detailed directions on how to make your own book jacket. I love how this book draws the reader right into the story. You'll never look at a book jacket the same again!
  Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julia Denos
This book is absolutely wonderful! I love it. This beautiful picture book takes us into the world of Swatch, an amazing little girl who is a color tamer: "She was small, but she was not afraid." She runs, dances, and performs magic with the wildest shades. She spends much of her time hunting the rarest colors. And while she loved the colors and they loved her back, could they be truly magnificent if they were tamed and kept in jars? The illustrations are breathtaking. I think this book would be an awesome companion to "My Blue Is Happy" by Jessica Young.

So Many Days by Alison McGhee, Taeeun Yoo (Illustrator)     This book would be a nice one for a parent to share with a child, perhaps at bedtime. The rhythmic text gently celebrates all of the choices and opportunities that are possible in life. The illustrations, rendered as limo cuts and then manipulated digitally, are just lovely and accompany the text nicely.
Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee, Eliza Wheeler (Illustrations)    This heartwarming picture book would be perfect to share with a young reader at bedtime. The father is washing up the dishes as the little boy asks to see his tattoos. You can tell that there is a bit of a nightly ritual in the telling and this youngster never tires of the stories attached to each tattoo. I really like how fresh and real this story feels in an age when lots of parents do have tattoos. I would like to share this book with my students, because so many of them would recognize themselves and their families in it. The illustrations, rendered in India ink with dip pens and watercolors, are sweet and help make this book so cozy and wonderful.

This Is Our House by Hyewon Yum 
I love that the narrator of this sweet picture book, uses family photographs to tell the story of the house in which she lives. With the way people move so frequently these days, it seems like a rare thing to have generations of a family living in the same house. The book starts with her immigrant grandparents buying the house. She tells of her mom growing up there, going off to college, coming back to live there with the man that would eventually become the narrator's father, and then her own life there. The illustrations are very warm and comfortable. Young readers would enjoy reading about this family and their house.
My Blue Is Happy by Jessica Young, Catia Chien (Illustrations)  
This picture book would be great way to start a discussion about differing viewpoints. The author uses different feelings and perceptions about colors to explore this concept, but with comfortable and relatable text: "My sister says that blue is sad; Like a lonely song. But my blue is happy; Like my favorite jeans; And a splash in the pool on a hot day." The author goes through the other colors in similar fashion. The illustrations are bright and engaging for all readers. I think this book could make a great mentor text for students writing about their perceptions. I definitely want to get a copy of this for my classroom. 
Rules of the House by Mac Barnett, Matt Myers (Illustrations)  
This is a fun picture book that I'm sure will be a popular addition to my classroom library! Ian and his older sister, Jenny, are complete opposites. Ian always follows rules, and Jenny hates to follow rules. There is a list of rules in the summer vacation home where their family is staying. Jenny breaks every single one of them, including the last one: "Never, ever, open the red door." When monsters show up to eat the rule breaker, will Ian be able to break a few rules to save his sister? There is a lot of dark humor and suspenseful action to keep young readers engaged. The bright, colorful illustrations really make this a terrific book. 
The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi 
This is a beautiful picture book that has the feel of a classic fairy tale. One snowy morning, a little girl's father leaves the house to walk to her grandmother's house to clear snow. When the little girl sees he forgot to take a pie that had been packaged up for Grandma, she takes off after him, hoping to catch up and give him the pie to take the rest of the way. She loses her way and winds up at the most extraordinary tea party ever! All of the participants are forest animals that seem surprised, but delighted that she's there. They are very kind and help her as much as they can. The illustrations, rendered in charcoal, pencil, and colored ink, are presented with a limited palette of colors. We only see reds and yellows, and the rest is all dark gray, very appropriate in a wintertime world. I love the surprise of the little girl and the animals to be together in this way, and friendship and kindness they show each other. I also love that the last page has no text! I will be really interested to see what text kids would attach to the illustration!