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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 112 pgs.
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Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field is an illustrated transition book from beginning readers as move from picture books to chapter books. Bear is a kind animal who is woken up from hibernation, but Rabbit is a disgruntled creature who has some bad habits, like eating his poo.

When the characters are introduced, you expect to see who robbed bear of her food, since the robber supposedly stood on her nose, but the robber seems to vanish in thin air. The illustrations in this story are gorgeous, right down to the wisps of snow falling. Bear calmly handles Rabbit’s cranky retorts and doesn’t even blink at being called “Idiot.” Personally, this household shies away from those words because they are hurtful and can have long-lasting effects, but kids in my daughter’s school and at her age certainly do use that word and others that are far worse. While I don’t like the use of it, I can see how it mirrors a child’s reality on the playground — only here the kids are animals and the playground is the forest.

My daughter reached for this book the moment it entered the house and started reading while eating breakfast. She didn’t eat much before school that morning. She was too absorbed in the story and she easily read the first pages on her own. Because it still has pictures, it helped keep her engaged with the story.

Talk of gravity and digestion, as well as how to build the best snowman, pepper the pages. Kids will learn something while laughing at the antics of these animals, and they’ll be thankful they did as they find Rabbit is later in peril.

Despite a few initial bumps, Rabbit & Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field ended up being a good story about overcoming initial differences and finding a friendship based on caring and giving.

RATING: Quatrain

Mother Earth’s Lullaby by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 36 pgs.
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Mother Earth’s Lullaby: A Song for Endangered Animals by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer, is a delightful bedtime story read for younger kids. The rhymes make it easy for kids to be lulled into sleepiness. Each page has a cuddly illustration of an endangered animal nestling down with their family or in a cozy den. Each of the endangered animals featured in the book are described in the back pages, providing kids and parents information about where the animals live and how much they weigh, etc., as well as why they have become endangered.

My daughter read this one on her own, which was great to hear. She learned new words along the way, like slumber and wallaby, and she loves the words that mimic sounds, like flutter-flap. The book provides a gentle reminder to kids that they can feel safe falling asleep with their families and that the darkness will not harm them. It would be interesting to have a singer sing this lullaby on an accompanying CD to enrich the experience for kids.

Mother Earth’s Lullaby: A Song for Endangered Animals by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Heyer, is beautifully illustrated and the rhymes were spot on. I liked that it was easy for my daughter to read for the most part, though there are some unfamiliar words that she had to work at.

RATING: Cinquain

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold, explores the various styles of painting from a number of masters, including Leonardo da Vinci. In the opening pages, young readers are treated to a step-by-step outline of how to draw a stegosaurus in crayon. Many kids begin drawing with crayons, and this opening page highlights how they can draw their own dinosaur before asking them what it would look like if a famous painter and/or artist used dinosaurs in their paintings.

Through imaginative renderings of famous paintings, the author and illustrator work in tandem to engage young readers in an exploration of artistic styles, famous works of art, and playful pretend games. In one instance, kids are asked to find how many dinosaurs are hidden in Diego Rivera’s painting. This was a great way to introduce my daughter to some famous works of art and she was stunned to learn that a can of soup became a famous piece of art. She asked if she could sell the soup from our pantry to make lots of money, and I told her that art is in the eye of the beholder. So we did have a good discussion about that.

One quibble I had as a parent with a young reader is that there are no pronunciation keys for some of the harder to pronounce names. These could help parents sound out the names with their children. I prefer these in books because it demonstrates that like my daughter, sometimes I need help pronouncing names. This helps her to feel less frustrated.

Not only is drawing explored, but also painting, stamping, and more. Art is what you make it. In If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur by Amy Newbold, illustrated by Greg Newbold, kids can see how art is transformed with dinosaurs and it will get them thinking about their own art work.

RATING: Quatrain

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories by Sarah Lerner

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 192 pgs.
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Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories edited by Sarah Lerner is deeply moving and filled with passion — a passion for making a difference and a passion for the lives that were cut too short and should be remembered. From students to teachers, these essays, poems, photos, and drawings will make you an emotional mess. Reading through this collection, you can tell how scared these kids were when the shooting occurred on Feb. 14 , 2018. The lives of these unsuspecting students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was upended by one school shooter.

The initial reaction was disbelief because many thought the second fire drill was just routine, but the rapid fire soon became the scariest thing they had ever heard. Many lamented they didn’t stick to their routines and wait for friends, while others wanted to have done more to save their friends. There was the interminable wait for their friends to respond, but the silence was deafening. The heavy weight of sadness was soon wielded as a weapon against those who dare not to talk about gun reform, with many kids marching and lobbying for change still.

From “Can’t You Hear?” by Alyson Sheehy

You can blame what you want, pull on whatever thread
Bully us into silence and treat us like we don’t matter.
However, don’t forget there is no future when all of us are dead
Although it seems that is still not enough for all lives to matter.

Can’t you hear the screams now? Cause they are only growing louder.

The speech from Emma Gonzalez is widely known, but it bears repeating.

From “We Call BS” speech by Emma Gonzalez

“The students at this school have been having debates on guns for what feels like our entire lives. AP Gov had about three debates this year. Some discussions on the subject even occurred during the shooting while students were hiding in closets. The people involved right now, those who were there, those posting, those tweeting, those doing interviews and talking to people, are being listened to for what feels like the very first time on this topic that has come up over 1,000 times in the past four years alone…”

Parkland Speaks: Survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas Share Their Stories edited by Sarah Lerner must have been a cathartic experience for the writers, artists, and photographers who participated in sharing their stories, emotions, and trauma with readers. It’s a must read for anyone who does not understand the movement toward gun control. Our world has changed, our children are no longer safe in school, and more guns are not a viable solution.

Rating: Quatrain

Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, Illustrated by David Bucs

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
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Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by David Bucs, is a delightful read full of adventure and riddles for young readers to solve. A trio of friends, including the birthday boy Mason, are invited to have a sleepover at the museum. This is an adventure that they will never forget, as it tests their knowledge of history, evolution, and biology. These friends work well together solving the riddles and in the process Mason gets to imagine what it would be like to sleep in each of the rooms at the museum. Which one will he actually pick, is something readers will have to find out for themselves.

This was a book that my daughter and I read together over several days as she did her nightly reading. There were some large words like “biodiversity” and “behemoth” that were a challenge for an early reader, but sounding out smaller chunks helped her get through them. She loved reading the riddles with Mason and his friends and even figured some out on her own. She was very proud that she knew some of the answers. The images are detailed and colorful and will have kids looking at everything all at once.

Sleepover at the Museum by Karen LeFrak, illustrated by David Bucs, will test kids’ imaginations and knowledge, as well as ensure they strengthen their vocabularies. My daughter was thrilled with this book, and enjoyed following Mason on his birthday trek through the various parts of the museum.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Karen LeFrak is a creative and philanthropic New Yorker. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Mt. Holyoke College. Karen continued her education earning an MA in Music History from Hunter College. Her thesis “In Search of the New Classics,” which surveyed the commissioning activity of the New York Philharmonic from 1842-1986, won the Dean’s Award in Arts and Humanities. Karen’s education also includes courses in archival management and historical editing at New York University. In 2010, in recognition of outstanding achievement, the Hunter College Alumni Association elected her to the Hunter College Hall of Fame.

About the Illustrator:

David Bucs studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. After working in the animation industry in Los Angeles as an art director and character designer, David moved to Beijing, where he was a designer in a 3D animation studio. He loves to create characters, bringing them to life through strong expression using digital media. David is the illustrator of Sleepover at the Museum by Karen Lefrak (forthcoming from Crown/Penguin Random House). He has also created artwork for Capstone, Highlights magazine, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt leveled readers. David lives with his wife and young son in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where life is sweet. Find him online: @davidbucs / davidbucs.com.

Wild Embers by Nikita Gill

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 160 pgs.
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Wild Embers by Nikita Gill is a collection of poems to empower women to embrace all that they are — wild or not — and to inspire them to love themselves enough not to fall into the deadly traps of wolves.

One of my favorites from this collection was “Multiverse” in which the poet examines the concepts of time and universes — parallel lives in which things are better. I also loved “Your Heart Is Not a Hospital” in which the idea of fixing lovers and friends is explored. “Learned Helplessness” and “The Bones of Trauma” also are fantastic. These poems are personal and examine the roots of abuse and learning to move forward and love oneself.

Gill takes on some fairy-tale characters and goddesses and recharacterizes them in poetic sketches. But these are not as in-depth or as powerful as those persona poems created by other poets. They barely scratch the surface of these characters and sometimes read like a litany of characteristics we learned about in school. While the purpose and intent are sound — empowering women — the execution fell flat for me. I far preferred the first half of the book that was more personal.

Wild Embers by Nikita Gill is a good first collection, even if the second half of the collection falls a bit flat. The beginning poems are worth reading more than once and sharing with others.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Nikita Gill is a twenty four year old madness who likes to write short stories that are, kind of like her, barely there. She has recently published her first anthology and is now working on her book of poetry.

The Christmas Selfie Contest by Rosie Greening, illustrated by Clare Fennell

Source: Purchased from school book fair
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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The Christmas Selfie Contest by Rosie Greening, illustrated by Clare Fennell, teaches Alfie the elf and kids about teamwork. Alfie loves to be the best at everything and boasts about his accomplishments, but he also loves to win. When he learns that Santa is hosting a selfie contest with a special prize he wants to win very badly.  To that end, he ditches his toy making duties to find the best selfie to win the contest.

My daughter read this book on her own as well, with very little help from me. This makes reading all of these 400 minutes per month with her worthwhile. When she looks to me to correct her and say she got it right, she smiles right away. One thing that did trip her up a couple times was the name of the elf, Alfie, and the word “selfie.”

The Christmas Selfie Contest by Rosie Greening, illustrated by Clare Fennell, is a delightful read about teamwork and its importance, as well as a colorfully illustrated book. My daughter laughed at Alfie’s struggles, but she also felt bad for him when he gave up on winning and went back to work in the toy shop. But while she felt bad for him, she noted that his return to the workshop meant he learned something important.

RATING: Quatrain

How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish

Source: Purchased school book fair
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish, is a delightful book for kids this Christmas season. It’s easy enough for them to read on their own if they are early readers and offers a few more challenging words for older readers. The book offers tips to children on how to catch Santa and involve their entire family. It advises that children be clever but gentle in their efforts. Kids should even ask their parents for what tricks they used to try and catch Santa.

Be warned that your child may want to try some of these out and one of them includes an envelope full of glitter so you can track Santa’s movements throughout the house.

I was delighted to see my daughter read this one on her own and sound out the harder words on her own as well.  She loved the colorful pictures of Santa behind piles of letters and so much more. Even Rudolph makes an appearance. How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish, is a warm story for kids who want to keep Christmas adventurous.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author and Illustrator:

Jean Reagan was born in Alabama but spent most of her childhood in Japan. She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband. In the summers, they serve as backcountry volunteers in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. To learn more about Jean and her books, please visit JeanReagan.com.

Lee Wildish became interested in art at a very young age. He is the illustrator of many acclaimed children’s books, and he has also worked in advertising and greeting card design. Lee lives in Nottinghamshire, England. Visit him on the Web at WildishIllustration.com.

But Seriously by John McEnroe (audio)

Source: Purchased from Audible
Audiobook, 8+ hours
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But Seriously by John McEnroe, narrated by the former tennis star, is a look at his life as a tennis commentator and in television, among other things. This is his second memoir, and I caution that I have not read the first one, You Cannot Be Serious. The introduction to this memoir from his current wife, Patty Smyth, is delightful, and I almost wanted more of her.

I thoroughly enjoyed his recaps of his rivalry with Bjorn Borg and his perspective on some of tennis’ current greats, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, as well as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Pete Sampras. He does talk about the Williams sisters but not as in depth. The tennis aspects of the story are melded (sometimes not well) with his adventures in television and outside the tennis world — including his own talk show. It was also fascinating to learn about his stint as an art dealer and buyer.

Because the narrative jumps around quite a bit, McEnroe’s memoir feels like it could have used some editing, particularly when he repeats things previously said in other chapters. It is clear from this memoir that he clearly still loves the game of tennis, and even though he’s no longer playing competitively, he still gets out on the court from time to time for charity or to just play around. His love of the game is apparent, especially when he comments on major tournaments.

But Seriously by John McEnroe still loves being the center of attention and commands that attention when he’s on the sidelines, in the commentator’s box, or even in charity events. His temper may have mellowed, but he’s still passionate about the sport and a number of other things. The memoir just suffered a bit from his inability to stay on one track or at least connect his train of thought better.

RATING: Tercet

The Gingerbread Man and the Leprechaun Loose at School by Laura Murray, Mike Lowery

Source: School library
Hardcover, 32 pgs.
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The Gingerbread Man and the Leprechaun Loose at School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery, is a book from the series The Gingerbread Man on the Loose, and it pairs the resourceful gingerbread man’s wits with those of a mischievous leprechaun. The leprechaun is on the loose in the school and making big messes. The gingerbread man wants to help his classmates, so he goes on a search for the leprechaun mischief maker with the help of some witty, rhyming notes with clues as to his whereabouts.

My daughter had some challenging words to read in this book like “leprechaun” but for the most part, it was a fun easy read for her. She loved how the gingerbread man trapped the mischief-maker and made him cleanup all those messes. She’s on track to read another 400 minutes this month, and I think she’s getting better the more she practices.

The Gingerbread Man and the Leprechaun Loose at School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery, is just one book in a series, and I think my daughter should find more of these to read as she had so much fun with them.

RATING: Cinquain

Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 64 pgs.
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Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic is a cookbook for younger kids to start learning how to cook simple meals with the help of an adult. The recipes come with a little bit of story from Shimmer and Shine and their friends, as well as an ingredient list and step-by-step instructions. These recipes are easy enough to read that early readers can follow along themselves. Some elements will require help, including pre-heating the oven and taking the items in and out of the oven, etc. I will caution that there are some odd recipes in here for Pizza and ice pops, but they do make for healthy alternatives.

My daughter loves helping in the kitchen with recipes and the Blue Apron boxes (which I have 5 free boxes to give out so if you want one, let me know — you can’t have been a previous customer or previously received a box before).

For her first recipe, she selected Sparkle Cakes from the book, though we did not have the ingredients to make the frosting. We did have some other store-bought frosting, which we used on the cupcakes and improvised with the fruit topping since we also didn’t have raspberries. The recipe for the chocolate cupcakes was easy to follow, though when we added the hot water at the end after everything was mixed, it took a bit to get the right consistency for the mix before putting it into the cupcake pans. Since I’ve baked before, I knew the consistency wasn’t right when we poured it in, so I had to help her mix it more thoroughly. For this recipe, I would have added the water earlier in the recipe.  Otherwise, the cupcakes turned out nice and fluffy and moist.

 

Our second recipe, Cheesy Noodle Flowers, was messy and fun to make, though we had no-bake lasagna noodles, which made it a little harder to roll our flowers up. Eventually we got them rolled up and ready for the oven, even though some noodles cracked and broke.  Despite the messy look of this one, I can tell you it was a big hit in the house and was nearly eaten in one evening with very few leftovers. My daughter was extremely proud of how well it tasted and how much everyone ate.

Shimmer and Shine: Kitchen Magic would make a perfect gift for kids who want to cook with their parents. It makes cooking more of a family activity and helps kids see how things are measured, how long they take to cook, and how much prep time is needed for some recipes. In today’s instant gratification world, kids can learn that taking our time and putting in additional work can lead to some great results.

RATING: Quatrain

The Sun Is Kind of A Big Deal by Nick Seluk

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk imagines the sun as a rock star of sorts in the solar system where everyone knows his name and his importance. Even Pluto is in the background of this one. My daughter loves books where she’s learning without realizing it. Nonfiction told in a way that’s fun and engaging will always be a big hit with her. Seluk achieves that for the most part in this book.

The book includes a main dialogue about the sun as well as some sidebars about specific facts on the solar system and space terms like “asteroids.” The pictures are colorful and fun, especially since space can be very black and colorless.  My daughter loved how the planets introduced themselves, with Saturn being the “Hula-Hoop Champion.” And Seluk uses a racetrack to illustrate the rotation of the planets around the sun. Very helpful for younger readers just learning about space. The visuals explaining direct and indirect sunlight and its affect on Earth were helpful as well.

However, there are some larger words like Condensation, Evaporation, and Precipitation that make an appearance in the water cycle section, which younger readers may stumble over. Challenging words, however, should never be a discouraging thing. My daughter and I made a game out of mispronouncing the word and breaking each down into smaller, more pronounceable parts until she got them right.

One of our favorite parts of the book is the visual of the sun’s roll in the water cycle where the sun is putting raindrops down an enclosed slide for precipitation. It’s cute. At first my daughter thought the book was too challenging until she realized how fun the pictures were and the thought bubbles became amusing to her.

The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk is chock full of facts about the solar system, nature’s cycles, and so much more. The pictures are bright and engaging, and the characterizations of the planets and other elements are amusing for young readers.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Nick Seluk worked as a graphic designer before becoming a full-time illustrator. He is the creator of the popular Awkward Yeti comic and author of the New York Times bestselling Heart and Brain, and its follow-ups Gut Instincts and Body Language. His work has appeared on CBSNews.com, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, reddit, and blogs across the internet. Nick lives in Michigan with his wife, three kids, and a very awkward dog.