Friday, April 22, 2016


   As a writer, you probably hear the phrase "take an old theme and make it new." I know I hear it. And this book is a perfect example. As a parent, teacher, reader, you just want a fun book with re-readability. Check!

Title: The Perfect Dog                               

Author/Illustrator: Kevin O'Malley
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers, May 31, 2016
Intended Ages: 3-7
Themes: Dogs, Grammar
Synopsis: Using comparatives and superlatives, a young girl imagines the qualities she'd like in the perfect dog, and then her family heads to find the perfect match.
Opening line(s): "My parents said we could get a dog. And I know the perfect dog . . . ."
What I like about this book: If there is a dog on the cover, I want to read it. I'm a dog-lover. Okay, a HUGE dog-lover. So the Brady Bunch type cover brought a smile to my face. It's a big doggie world out there! The endpapers carry that theme forward with two dozen thumbnail sketches of various dog breeds. I personally wish the Pit Bull had been given a "full" sketch, and wondered where the All-American mutt was, but understand that this is a story, not an encyclopedia of the dog world. It's great to see the pet picking process explored in a thoughtful manner. I believe readers will be left feeling that this is going to be a happy life-long match.
     Dog breeds are a fun way to learn comparatives and superlatives! Grammar and fun are not exclusive! Do you want a big dog? Bigger? Biggest? The words, the dogs--and even the font itself reinforces the curriculum concepts. The illustrations support the text so this book could transition quickly from read-aloud to read-alone. And the ending brings the main character into the real world where serendipity trumps the best laid plans.
     I'm not an artist so the technique escapes me, but the characters pop off the background. Perhaps it's the black outlining? Taking a closer look I wondered if it is a shadow or leggings that seem to move/disappear on the first spreads? And a beret changes color in the final ones. Of course, these may be modified in the final bound copy.
No dog in this spread, but lots of fun!


Make a list of attributes your perfect pet would have. Is it a dog, or something else?

Make a game of finding objects in your home and have someone else guess how they link together. Is it big, bigger, biggest? Funny, funnier, funniest? Purple, purpler, purplest? 

Learn everything you can about one dog breed. 

Make homemade dog biscuits and take them to share at your local shelter. Nope, there is nothing about feeding dogs in the book, I just think any excuse to have kids helping shelter animals is justified! (be sure to use a recipe from a trusted source--dogs shouldn't eat some people foods)

This review is part of PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books. Organized and curated by author Susanna Leonard Hill, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Note: My review is based on a Folded and Gathered review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thanks for stopping by! I love to know what you think of my selections.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Two titles next week!

     Sorry, there's no post today. My perfect picture book Friday posts will double up next week. I'm just back from a wonderful workshop. (more about that later!)
     Bonus brownie points to #kidlit writers who know where I went just by looking at this photo. :)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Where's the BABOON? #PPBF

     Hold onto your seats. I usually gravitate toward story-driven books, so this choice is an unusual one for me. Except that I loved the last book from this team, too. Seeing a pattern for this duo . . .

Title: Where's the Baboon?                                

Author: Michael Escoffier (click on the British flag
to see the book list in English! Author is French)
Illustrator: Kris Di Giacomo
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books, 2015
Intended Ages: 4-8
Themes: Word games, Clues, Animals
Synopsis: The answers to a series of questions about the illustrations is hidden in the wording of the questions themselves.
Opening line(s): Let's go search for hidden words! Who is the headmaster?"
What I like about this book:  The illustrations in this book are tremendously fun, yet simple enough that children just learning to decode letters as well as early readers can figure out the answers to each question. The "clue" word uses red and black lettering, with the "important" letters in red, and in order. No scrambling required. Ex. headmaster
The first one, in my opinion, is the hardest since kids this age in the United States are probably more familiar with the terms principal and teacher and may not know what a headmaster does, nor recognize the small bell-ringing creature as a hamster. But cows, apes, etc are easy game!
The illustrations look like they were painted on brown craft paper, adding texture and mottled color variations. Two thumbs up!


Practice more wordplay! Googling wordplay for kids or preschoolers brings up a host of possibilities. I especially liked the series at that lets you pick easy and hard settings.

Scholastic has a good article about making up your own word games.

Visit the Zoo and try to find hidden words in each animal's name!

Are their hidden words in your own name? (you might need to scramble the letters!)

This review is part of PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books. Organized and curated by author Susanna Leonard Hill, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF
Thanks for stopping by! Is this book new to you?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Little Red Gliding Hood - #PPBF

     I've missed a few Perfect Picture Book Friday posts and the wonderful books are piling up!
     This book has been featured on other blogs, but I have to give it a shout-out because I love it.

Title: Little Red Gliding Hood                        

Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: Troy Cummings
Publisher: Random House, 2015
Intended Ages: 2-10
Themes: Fractured fairy tales, Sports

Opening line(s): "It was winter, and the river winding through the enchanted forest was frozen solid. A girl raced down to the river's edge and laced up her skates."

Synopsis: If she's going to be able to continue her trips to Grandma's house, Little Red Gliding Hood's well-worn skates need to be replaced and the upcoming pairs skating competition is offering skates as a prize--if only Little Red could find a partner.

What I like about this book: My love began with those opening lines, cleverly placed BEFORE the title page. The text goes on for three more sentences to set up the title character, a gorgeous winding illustration drawing the reader into the fairy tale world.
     Tara manages to fit a slew of fairy tale favorites into the story. In the third spread alone you'll find The Dish and Spoon, Hansel and Gretel, Little Boy Blue, The Seven Dwarfs and Old MacDonald. I was already smiling, but Old MacD's "E-I-E-I-ouch" made me laugh! No story is sacrificed for the mash-up and the last lines are brilliant.
     Hilariously expressive brightly-colored illustrations update the fairy tale realm perfectly. One lone dark moody moment is allotted to the Wolf's introduction, then cartoon colors abound. It bubbles over (freezes solid!) with kid appeal.

Talk about how a pairs event is different from a singles skating event. Physically and mentally depending on a partner. The Olympic committee has a pairs website and videos posted here.

Tara interviewed Troy (her illustrator) here

 Tara shares a how to write a fractured fairy tale guide and a Little Red coloring page here

See if you have an indoor rink nearby and try it out!

The has several ice skating related activities for preschoolers.

Read, or watch the movie of Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates. (Blades of Glory is a hoot for teenagers, but at PG-13 may not be appropriate for this book audience!)

The Youtube links that claim to be about this book are trolls advertising free book downloads! Avoid them! If you want to learn more about the author, Kidlit TV interviewed  Tara when her debut book, The Monstore, was released.

This review is part of PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books. Organized and curated by author Susanna Leonard Hill, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thanks for stopping by! Is this book new to you?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mama's Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

Title: Mama's Nightingale:
A Story of Immigration and Separation

Author: Edwidge Danticat                                 

Illustrator: Leslie Staub
Publisher: Dial, 2015
Intended ages:5-8
Themes: Family, Separation, Immigration (Haitian)
Opening Line(s):"When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice. At night, while Papa's asleep, I sneak out of bed to listen to Mama's greeting on our answering machine."
Synopsis: When a young girl's mother who lacks "proper papers" is sent to an immigration detention center the girl looks for ways to bridge the distance between them, and maybe even bring Mama home.
What I like about this Book:  This story puts human faces to the problem of immigrant status. No matter what your political stance on this issue, I hope the story touches your heart. The story may not be for every child--and I would adhere to the intended ages and not share with younger readers as I wonder if the thought of this separation might upset those too young to understand immigration status and worry that all parents might be spirited away. However any family touched by this issue would certainly benefit as well as older children in every community. The way our government drags its feet, it's a problem that their generation may well have to deal with.
     As a writer, I love finding the solution in this instance in the power of words. I also enjoyed the way the nightingale was woven through the story, as the girl's nickname from her mama, as part of Haitian folklore, and in the stories that mama and the main character create for each other.
     The vibrant jewel-toned art has a naif, happy quality that lightened the story for me.
     An author's note at the end of the story reveals that the author's family was separated for a time when her parents went to the United States and she and her brother remained with family in Haiti. 
Activities and Resources:
I couldn't find websites for the author or illustrator (the links above go to their active Facebook accounts). Nor could I find book specific lesson plans. And the resources about Haiti at Teaching for Change were targeted to older readers. So here are my own ideas.
  • Discuss why people might leave their homelands. Read the author's book EIGHT DAYS: A Story of Haiti (a fictionalized story of a Haitian earthquake survivor), also written for ages 5-8.
  • Compare other picture book immigrant stories. Here's a few to get started! I'm New Here. My Two Blankets. The Seeds of Friendship.
  •  Think about a family member or friend you haven't seen for awhile. Write a story or draw a picture to send to them. Can you put a bird or a rainbow in your story or drawing?
  • Go birding. Do you have a favorite local bird? Why or why not?
  • Listen to the nightingale's song. :)
illo by Leslie Staub

This review is part of PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books. Organized and curated by author Susanna Leonard Hill, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF
Thanks for stopping by! Is this book new to you?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

I am re-posting a review from yesterday, with a few changes. This book is a chameleon. Is it a "Perfect" picture book? I found it an unusual read, that brought me back again and again.
     Out this week:

Title: Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate
              Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Charlotte Voake
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, February 2, 2016
Intended ages: 4-8
Themes: Literary figures, animals, death
Opening Line(s):
"My Dear Reader,
This is a story about a girl named Beatrix Potter and what happened when she borrowed her neighbor's guinea pig. So if you are about to lend your favorite hamster, snake, cat, turtle, or hedgehog, please wait!"

Synopsis: In homage to Beatrix Potter, a story of good intentions going awry when a young girl borrows a neighbor's pet for an artist's model.

     I'm recommending a book that is more anecdotal than epic. Why? I don't know if my background affected my reading, but in case it did, here are the relevant bits. I lived in England for four years, and am a huge fan of Beatrix Potter's work.  Everyone hears Beatrix Potter and thinks about Peter Rabbit, but The Tale of Two Bad Mice is probably my  favorite. Go read it if you haven't. And I had three childhood guinea pigs (RIP Ginger, G.P., and Ruff). I also write for children, and belong to one particular group that focuses on nonfiction (so I hear Kristen Fulton's voice in my head while reading)
     I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way young Beatrix's life in late 1800's London is portrayed. The reader meets a young girl walking rabbits on a leash and bringing a huge menagerie of wild animals into the house with apparently no adult intervention or repercussions. Her permissive upbringing in a well-to-do home is, from what I know, an accurate reflection of her life. I recently finished Leonard Marcus' biography of Margaret Wise Brown that refers to times when Margaret skinned dead animals, shocking the other children, also shattering the notion that women of earlier eras didn't live rough and tumble lives.
     The pages reproduced (happily, in translated form) from her diary are interwoven seamlessly, propelling the story to the main event. Her picture diaries bring to mind today's books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure and may serve to inspire a new generation of writer/artists.
     While, thankfully, I never killed any of my pets, the reality of such accidents feels realistic and sympathetic. But then I read the Author's Note. It is documented that Potter drew watercolors of guinea pigs around the time that this story is envisioned. However, Potter was 26 years old at the time, not a child. I had pictured a child's mistake as just that, a forgivable mistake borne of responding to her parents' call. The same actions committed by a 26-year old woman? Not as humorous. Would I have the same reaction if the author chose to focus on the death of the bat or family of snails Potter was also responsible for? Perhaps not. But thinking more and more on this plot point, I've decided that it is a great talking point for children.

     The author notes that except for her diary pages, all of the dialogue is invented. Thus the fiction classification. So is this a biography? The publisher says it is. I had to go to my nonfiction experts. The nonfiction group had an interesting discussion about what it means to be a biography yesterday. It's clear to me now that this IS one! It indeed tells a story of a person's life. And the Dewey classification (823) puts it clearly in literature. Because most of the biographies I've read for children purport to be nonfiction, I wonder if kids will catch the distinction and hope the adults in their life will make that clear for them.

     Read Beatrix Potter's books!
     Start a picture/letter diary.
     Discuss the responsibility involved in borrowing something.
     Draw a picture of something you love, and give it as a gift.
     Discuss PROPER pet care!! (Imagine a row of exclamation points here). There are many resources for this, but you can start perhaps with the generic information from the Veterinary Medical Association.
     Compare Beatrix Potter's life to your own. WebEnglish Teacher has lesson plans and teacher resources for grades 3-5. First has activities for pre-school readers.
     I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Note: I received a review copy from Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”