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The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 14 pgs.
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The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt, which publishes in early September, is a great introductory book for elementary school kids to learn about tornadoes, storms, drought, and more. Earthquakes are not touched on, but the author does speak to the benefits of storms and the destruction they can cause. Moreover, the pop-up storms are larger than life and well executed. The book opens and closes easily without any snags.

Younger kids may need help pronouncing some of the terms, but the explanations are on the right level for kids to understand. Older elementary kids will grasp these concepts more easily as they begin to study Earth science in school. This would make a great addition to any teacher’s library to provide students with visual representations. The author does make the push for a move toward renewable energy and more sustainable agriculture, but it isn’t overly preachy.

The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt is definitely a good starter book for kids to learn about their environment, natural disasters, energy use, and agriculture. Weather can be something that seems not only destructive but also magical, if you understand it.

Rating: Quatrain

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter

Source: FSB Associates
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is a book focused on not letting rejection and negative thoughts get in the way of your dreams. Carter’s book guides writers through the doubts, negative thoughts, roadblocks, and obstacles of writing and publishing, helping them review their own perspectives and how to change their mindsets.

She begins by talking about her hammock where she daydreamed and thought about her writing, but one day, her neighbor cuts the shade tree down in his yard and the hammock is now not “perfect.” Carter’s thoughts are consumed by the loss of shade and the bright sun, but her husband suggests she moves the hammock to another spot. She’s unwilling to do that, until she realizes that sometimes obstacles pop up when we need to change direction.

“I had traded the powerful peace that I am for the illusion that somebody had taken it,” she says. “You may think, as I did, that someone or something outside you is responsible for your upset. As convincing as this appears, it’s a misconception. Our peace and happiness come from within.”

Our internal demons and thoughts are those that keep us from reaching our dreams, and she urges us to stop being rats on that spinning wheel and get off. We need to release ourselves from the “cage of our own making.” In order to do this, however, you need to know wholeheartedly what you want, especially from your writing. You need to have a clear vision of the writing and its purpose. Without it, agents and external forces can push you in directions that are not a perfect fit for you. While some may provide additional opportunities that you may want to pursue, other opportunities may not be a right fit. The trick is to have a clear vision at the start to recognize those right opportunities.

“We cannot control outside circumstances or thoughts, we can choose how we relate to them.”

Carter does offer some writing advice, but her book is less about craft itself and more about the mindset you need to create freely. She does offer a great deal of insight about choosing agents and publishers and learning what route is best for your writing. Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is part spiritual journey, part publishing advice, and part writing craft advice.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Bella Mahaya Carter is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, speaker, and author of an award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, and a collection of narrative poems. She has worked with hundreds of writers since 2008 and has degrees in literature, film, and spiritual psychology. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and interviews have appeared in Mind, Body, Green; The Sun; Lilith; Fearless Soul; Writer’s Bone; Women Writers, Women’s Books; Chic Vegan; Bad Yogi Magazine; Jane Friedman’s blog; Pick The Brain; the Spiritual Medial Blog; Literary Mama, several anthologies’ and elsewhere.

Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 128 pgs.
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Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells from National Geographic Kids is another stunning book from this publisher. The full-color pictures, the facts throughout the book, and just how the book is put together is fantastic. For kids who are curious about the world around them and pick up rocks and stick them in their pockets as they walk through the park, this is a book for them. This book will open their eyes to the wonderful world of rocks, minerals, and shells.

The introduction gives parents some basic information about how the book rolls out its information, from fact boxes to interactive questions for the kids and the parent tips at the back of the book. This book offers parents a starting point for exploring the natural world with their kids and rekindling some of the curiosity they once had as children. I remember taking earth science in school, but this rock cycle graphic is a great refresher about how all rocks can come full circle.

In addition to pictures of mountains and natural formations that are comprised of rock, the book points to man-made structures that use different types of rock. Kids will learn about rocks in their own backyards, as well as rocks they don’t see every day. I learned about rock that floats like an island in the South Pacific. The interactive map of rocks in different locations is a fun matching quiz for parents and kids alike.

Kids also will learn about shells and mollusks and turtles and so much more. Don’t forget about the minerals. We love discovering new minerals and the matching game where kids are asked to match minerals like topaz with their natural forms, rather than their refined gem looks.

My daughter has collected rocks for as long as I can remember and when we visited Myrtle Beach she started collecting shells. This book has so much information, you may get overloaded if you read it in one day, but as a resource you can come back to again and again, it is a gem of a book. We’re always amazed by how National Geographic Kids puts its informational books together and makes them interactive, and Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals Shells is no exception.

RATING: Cinquain

Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum from National Geographic Kids offers a look at the sea habitats of sea turtles, including the leatherback, green turtle, hawksbill, and more. Like Go Wild! Pandas, this books includes vibrant photographs and a ton of facts about turtles. There is so much variety in these turtles and what they eat and where they live. The book opens with a beautiful photograph of a sea turtle gliding through the water and a child-like poem about turtles, the reptiles of the world’s oceans.

Turtles live in so many oceans around the world, except the Arctic. The book talks about the turtles’ anatomy, and you learn about how the leatherback doesn’t have a traditional shell and that sea turtles cannot retract their head and legs inside their shells like land turtles can. We learn about how vulnerable these animals are to our own trash, which are dumped in the oceans, as well as how we can help turtles recover and thrive by protecting their habitats and dimming city lights so the babies can find the sea. There are simple things each of us can do, including take a few hours to clean up our own waterways and beaches.

Go Wild! Sea Turtles by Jill Esbaum has a great deal of information about habitats, eating habits, dangers, and human interventions. Like the other book reviewed this week, this one offers tips for parents on how to engage their children in learning more about turtles from writing stories to holding plays. It also has a few games for kids so they understand what they’ve read. Definitely a book you’ll want for your little naturalist.

RATING: Cinquain

Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 48 pgs.
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Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian from National Geographic Kids is chock full of panda facts and vibrant photographs. Kids will open the book to find a panda hugging a tree, but when they turn the page, they’ll be greeted by the smiling panda face and a riddle. Kids will be learning in a fun and interactive way with this book.

We loved all of the facts, the pictures, the riddles, the quiz at the end, and the call to action on how kids and parents can help pandas. Pandas, as many know, are endangered and most of that is because their habitat is disappearing. There are also tips on how to engage your children in learning about pandas beyond reading the book. Some of the ideas include adopting a panda online, doing some math about how much pandas eat vs. how much the child eats, and putting on plays about pandas. The book also contains a glossary for words in the book from “habitat” to “reserve.”

Go Wild! Pandas by Margie Markarian is a great starting point for young readers interested in the natural world. From its interactive quizzes and riddles to its plethora of facts and photos, National Geographic Kids has created a book that can create a lifelong learner and spur kids to explore the world beyond the page.

RATING: Cinquain

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 10+ hrs.
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How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, read by the author, is a phenomenal listen. I want to read the book as well in print. Kendi has the perfect voice for this book, and it makes the personal stories far more relateable. Much of this resonated with me because I grew up in the 1990s and I saw many of these phenomena that Kendi talks about. The idea that “color” is no longer seen is obviously ridiculous, but the sentiment is even more trying when systemic processes and socialization force us to “see” color as thug or criminal or worthy of the benefit of the doubt or forgiveness, etc.

“The hate that hate produced. … More hatred makes them more powerful,” Kendi says. He himself is a victim of this, enabling the racist policies and power to continue and gain strength. Hating white people becomes hating black people and vice versa, he adds. His arguments can be convoluted and circular in his narration, which is another reason, I’d like to read the text because I tend to absorb these kinds of concepts better in print than audio. I was particularly fascinated by his conclusion that white supremacy is actually a nuclear ideology that is anti-human because many of the policies it opposes actually would have helped their poor white brethren, so the question is which white people are supreme? Those with more money, at least so it seems from the examples provided by Kendi.

Kendi also reminds us that we often look for theories and evidence that validates our points of view or biases. None of us are immune to it, but we can be watchful for data that caters to those biases and learn how to see through the fog. The story of Kendi in college coming to a conclusion that white people are aliens and that’s why they hate blacks is an illustrate of this point. What we need to understand is that racism is the lumping of one group of people into a group to be looked down upon or turned into the “enemy” or “evil” other. We all have the power to protest racist policies, no matter where in the power structure we are.

The only drawback for me was that Kendi tends to get sidetracked and the narrative becomes convoluted, which muddles the message in some ways. His narrative also is far from linear. I do like how he personalized his examples to demonstrate that all people are capable of racism. This is a message we all need to hear and understand, so that we can be prepared to move away from racism as the human race.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi reminds us not to fall under the mind control of white supremacy that we have no power — if they control your thinking, they control you. These are wise words. Now, if you are looking for a practical guide on how to accomplish real change in policy and processes, this is not the book for you. What you need is to take the lessons in this book about identifying racism and resisting those policies, affecting change, and standing up to the oppression of yourself and others.

RATING: Quatrain

Advanced Lift-the-Flap: How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 16 pgs.
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How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins from Usborne is full of information in easily digestible chunks for young kids. From the organs to growth and eating, this book covers a lot. Some of the book covers nutrition and the importance of exercise, but there is a lot about immunity, germs (good and bad), and about different levels of maturing the body goes through.

My daughter could read most of this on her own as an elementary school student, which is great because it provides her with interesting facts, real microscopic images of the tongue and other things, and engaged her. She was eager to lift the flaps to learn more, and she was excited to share what she learned with the rest of the family.

The book is visually engaging with full-color images of the body and germs and other things. How Your Body Works by Rosie Dickins is a book that children can read over and over. It’s definitely a fun way to introduce important topics like eating healthy and exercising as well as puberty to young kids. My daughter enjoys science, and this book really held her attention, even when she knew some of the facts already from school.

RATING: Cinquain

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audible, 6+ hrs.
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White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo, narrated by Amy Landon, takes a sociologists’ approach to race (which does involve generalizations). White Americans must remember that we are products of our socialization and culture, and no aspect of society lies outside the forces of racism, even if you come from a mixed-race family, had ancestors who were once discriminated against (Irish, Italian, etc.), or experienced poverty, etc. The trick is not to see our unique experiences as making us exempt from racism but to see how those experiences shaped who we are within a racist society and to see the larger picture of how racism impacts others. Secondly, she says we need to redefine the term “racist” — we’ve been taught that racists are immoral and mean and that they consciously hate/oppress others based upon their race. However, this assumption is a societal definition propagated by a racist society. White people need to first examine what it means to be white and what that has brought them in society and cost others — this examination will be a struggle for many.

Superficial differences between races and genders are a result of geographical location and evolution, but biologically we are all the same. The race construct is just that – made up. White supremacy has taken that construct and divided resources based on a false hierarchy, hence the accessibility gaps for non-white groups and non-male groups. Many of these discussions are ones I’ve had before in college with courses and other groups — open dialogue is essential about things that are not “fact” even though they were credited as such. She does touch on exploitation as the catalyst for racism (I would read Stamped From the Beginning for more on this).

Imagine going to court to proclaim you are white because you were misclassified as another race! This actually occurred and scientific experts were called into these cases to provide “expert” testimony. DiAngelo indicates that those European immigrants are the only ones who were successful in becoming “white” after assimilation, etc. Assimilation — think about that — casting aside their customs, speaking English only, and eating only American foods, etc. Those assimilated people now benefit from their whiteness. DiAngelo also points out that if poor and working class Americans across all “races” worked together – they could become a powerful force against the upper “white” classes. However, many perceived as “white” also tend to look down on other poor and working class peoples because of their “whiteness” and the system that oppresses them both. The irony!

“Scholar Marilyn Frye uses the metaphor of a birdcage to describe the interlocking forces of oppression.16 If you stand close to a birdcage and press your face against the wires, your perception of the bars will disappear and you will have an almost unobstructed view of the bird. If you turn your head to examine one wire of the cage closely, you will not be able to see the other wires. If your understanding of the cage is based on this myopic view, you may not understand why the bird doesn’t just go around the single wire and fly away. You might even assume that the bird liked or chose its place in the cage.

But if you stepped back and took a wider view, you would begin to see that the wires come together in an interlocking pattern—a pattern that works to hold the bird firmly in place. It now becomes clear that a network of systematically related barriers surrounds the bird.

Taken individually, none of these barriers would be that difficult for the bird to get around, but because they interlock with each other, they thoroughly restrict the bird. While some birds may escape from the cage, most will not. And certainly those that do escape will have to navigate many barriers that birds outside the cage do not.”

We all have prejudices (it is the way our brain operates) or a sense of discomfort around certain people or groups — acting on those prejudices is discrimination. Racism is a structure (white supremacy) and we need to remember that we have a role to play in that structure. We need to learn to recognize our prejudices and work toward not acting on them and dismantling the structures that employ discrimination against groups different from white males. This is a tall order because many of these ideologies are reinforced in our daily lives.

One notion that came to mind, however, is the “kafkatrap” by which an accused is guilty by merely being silent. Many of us are silent, many of us fail to stand up and point out discrimination (even subtle discrimination), and does this mean we’re all complicit in racism? While this may be true, I prefer less circular arguments and prefer that we work as a human race to improve our systems for all of us. THIS will require us to have discomforting conversations and require actions that run counter to our normal daily actions. It will require us to reform and dismantle white supremacy. We’ll need to widen our view of history, particularly in schools, to acknowledge both the good and the bad, highlighting those who have exploited and committed racism to obtain the upper economic hand, among other things.

My only complaint is that DiAngelo was very repetitive toward the end. She would bring up examples she already used and talk about them again in the same manner she did in the previous chapter. I wouldn’t have noticed it as much if it wasn’t back-to-back repetition. Perhaps she believes repetition will stick with readers more and help them to see the situations she discusses in a new light. I’m unsure.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo, narrated by Amy Landon, asks us to recognize our faults, work to fix them, and to question ideologies that are considered the norm. There is much work to do. Challenging racism starts with recognizing your own prejudices and being conscious of how to modify/change your reactions and behaviors going forward. This is a very academic look at racism, which some may find too high-brow for them. Racism is real and present today (across the globe) — it is not a thing of the past, and we need to tackle it head on and in a multitude of ways. While some of her arguments are circular, she provides a good overview of racism in today’s society and the reactions that white people have when confronted with its subtleties.

RATING: Quatrain

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs

Source: TLC Book Tours

Hardcover, 400 pgs.

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America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic, tells the story of our country in photographs and is broken down by region: the West and Pacific, the East and mid-Atlantic, the South and Caribbean, and the Midwest and central plains. Katharine Lee Bates and her work are the spine holding the volume together from her poem/song “America, the Beautiful” to her 1893 pilgrimage across the United States. Like the divisions in America today politically, Bates saw much the same debates and divisions on her journey, but she saw the merciless beauty in all of it, and documented her journey in a diary. What’s beautiful about the poem and this collection is that it not only praises the beauty of our country but never fails to criticize its flaws and call for evolution/improvement. “America! America!/God mend thine ev’ry flaw.”

The photographs in this collection are stunning. Some state photographs are accompanied by stories from authors, actors, and others who are from those states, including Tara Westover and Maya Rudolph. The glorious gray wolves in their natural habitat and the Zuni women of Arizona in their finery and dresses awaiting a celebration. Imagine yourself flying high in the traditional blanket toss in Alaska during whaling festival. Hear about the glories of Las Vegas beyond the gambling and the Neon lights from Wayne Newton. Even Barack Obama makes an appearance to share his memories of Hawaii, and the celebration of the Harlem Hellfighters in a photograph of a granddaughter holding her grandfather’s portrait, draped in an American flag. Some of my favorites are the portraits in sepia; they are gorgeous and there is so much depth in these American faces.

There is a serene calm of Walden Pond in Massachusetts, contrasted with the crowded beaches of New Jersey (at least before COVID-19). Play hide-and-seek with a young boy in Idaho in his father’s cornfield. So much joy in these photographs and stories told in captions and quotations. Fruit so bountiful and children joyous in the streets of Washington, D.C., as they take the summer heat in stride. Tattoo artists, American flags in a field, gray seals playing in the ocean, the weary faces of coal miners in West Virginia the sleepy faces of Appalachian Trail hikers, the camouflage of an alligator in duckweed, the fields of cabbage in Arkansas provide a snapshot of America and all of its faces and landscapes.

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic, is a love story for our nation. There is beauty in the harvest of Kansas, as rows of wheat give away to what begins to look like a race track, alongside the children in Illinois sharing the spray of water in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Photographs speak a thousand words, and what this collection tells me is that America may have differences and at times be at war with itself, but we are more similar than we think. We are one nation, something we need to remember.

RATING: Cinquain

National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 128 pgs.

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National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld is so well organized with fact boxes, interactive questions, and tips for parents to use with their kids who are interested in doing more with science. The full-color photographs are gorgeous, and my daughter didn’t want to stop reading this one. It definitely opens kids’ eyes to the world around them, the simple ways in which science can be done, and explains how they too can become scientists.

From what our senses tell us about the world around us to how we can find answers to our questions, this book provides a great foundation for kids. My daughter has already kept a science journal for class in 2nd and 3rd grade when they were studying clouds and the growth of seeds, but this book also goes more into depth about hypotheses and theories and the difference between them. I loved the “Branches of Science” tree included in the book, though the branches of engineering, ecology, and physical science seemed a bit short to me; I’m sure there are more branches coming off of those. There is so much more that this book could cover in each chapter, but as a “first” book of science for kids, it does a wonderful job.

We loved how easy to read this was for my daughter. She read it to us on more than one occasion when she got excited about something she learned. I hope that this is just the first in the series and that there are more of these books about the other branches of science that are not covered in this volume. National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld is a great addition to any library and will be fun for both parents and kids with plenty of activities to share.

RATING: Cinquain

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!)

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 224 pgs.

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5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) from National Geographic Kids packs a lot of information into its little more than 200 pages, and many of these pages have full color photographs. The layout of the pages differs, but they are each packed with some fun and unusual facts from the 15 facts about mysteries throughout history to facts about animals (like penguins and dolphins) and facts about women, transportation, robots, paranormal activity, space junk, the Olympics, swimming, and Antarctica, among others.

We did notice that certain lists of facts are super long and don’t fit well into a fun and engaging bubble or other format, which means they were simply listed with one large photo or two medium photos. For instance, the two pages of sharks were just a list with one photo of a Great White Shark, and the text was a bit small. While my daughter loves watching shark week, this page of facts was not engaging to her. Neither were the two pages about skeletons and muscles, which was similarly arranged.

However, this book is chock full of information that kids can explore at their leisure and share with their parents. We love using these books to quiz each other and share what we found interesting. It’s fun to see our daughter say, “I knew that.” And then she’ll share a fact that she found interesting by first asking, “Mom, did you know…” I love these kids of books for this reason alone. My daughter also loved learning about inventions and some other things that she wouldn’t think to ask about. This book provides her with new thinks to explore on her own and with help.

5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!) from National Geographic Kids is a great gift for kids who are curious about the world around us — including the man-made parts of our world. My daughter loves nature, so those parts of the book were most interesting, but we did have some conversations about space junk and other things she had no idea about. We’ll likely turn to this book again and again, especially when we can get back to doing road trips.

RATING: Quatrain

Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 208 pgs.
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Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer contains all things Halloween, the quirky, the factual, the fun, and the ghoulish. I wanted to review this one on Oct. 13 because it is a mirror for Oct. 31 and because 13 is considered an unlucky number.

My daughter loved the fun facts in this book and was awed by the spectacular displays throughout that people made with carved, lighted pumpkins. These displays are massive and inventive. I was riveted by the unusual: did you know that Halloween was once associated with love and romance? Or that in Scotland, people peeled apples in one long strip and tossed the peel over their shoulder to see what the first letter of their future love would be? Or that people in England used to take the front doors off their neighbors’ homes and hide them? And one I never would have known without reading this book is that the filling of Kit Kats is made from ground up Kit Kats.

Some of the fun facts I knew in here, especially the ones about Macbeth and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but there wasn’t much about my favorite Halloween reads, but then again, perhaps my personal readings of Edgar Allan Poe are not traditions elsewhere.

There are even some goodies in here that I hope to try with my daughter on Halloween in lieu of Trick or Treating — some mummy wrapping, apple bobbing, and carving challenges. Weird But True: Halloween 300 Spooky Facts to Scare You Silly by Julie Beer is a delightful look at the holiday and all the craziness that it inspires. Definitely a great gift to offer kids when candy and door-to-door stops is ill-advised.

RATING: Quatrain