Friday, September 27, 2013

A Vacation for Pooch - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     I know that I include "Why I liked this book" below as part of the review. But I had to share one reason up front. 

     You can't tell it from the cover photo, but this book is small. But not too small. This picture book is the Goldilocks equivalent of "just right." My ruler says 6 and 1/4 inches tall by 8 and 1/4 inches wide. The perfect size for little hands and laps to enjoy by themselves. Or to fit in a carry-on bag for a child's vacation. Perhaps that makes it less attractive to story-time readers who have to hold the book up for an audience but I say let them all scooch in closer and enjoy it.

The real cover is lighter blue than this image appears

Title: A Vacation for Pooch, Fiction

Author/Illustrator: Maryann Cocca-Leffler

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2013

Audience: 4-7

Themes:Vacation/Travel, Separation

Opening: "Violet packed two bags. In one bag she packed her doll, Molly, crayons, drawing paper and her favorite books. And in the other, she packed a leash, dog food, a red ball , and Pooch's stuffed cat.

Synopsis: When Violet and her family fly off to a beach vacation, Violet worries that her dog will be lonely at Grandpa's farm.

Why I liked this book: First, there's that cute book size I talked about above. Next, the author captures Violet's emotions so well. The text doesn't say how old she is, but she looks 4-7 and has the swing of emotions that feel so right for this age range. First Violet worries about Pooch, then she gets caught up in her own adventure oblivious to her prior worries, then she implodes in a fit of hysteria when reminded about Pooch. And I'm no artist, so I don't even know exactly what this means but the illustrations of "gouache with fabric collage on watercolor paper" are jaunty and adorable.  The dog's favorite toy is a stuffed cat with X eyes. I also love that Ms. Cocca-Leffler says on the back flap that her inspiration for this book was her own daughter leaving for college.

Activities/Resources: The author has activity pages on her website for her older books. A Vacation for Pooch came out earlier this year, so maybe some will be in the offing for this title, too?? 
Until then. . . . children can practice their planning skills by packing for a vacation (or just brainstorm). What do you really need to take when you travel? (one college-age son went to China for three weeks using only one carry-on!) Do you need to make preparations for plants, pets, relatives left behind? 
Or, use online sites or travel books and brochures to plan the perfect holiday. Would it be somewhere your pet would enjoy or would they be happier at home or staying elsewhere? Googling the term "pet friendly vacations" brings up hundreds of places you and your pet could go together. 

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books on her blog.

Thanks for stopping by! Our family has had dogs with health issues, so they always did better being left at home with a live-in housesitter when we were away.

Where would your perfect vacation be?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Willie and the All-Stars - Perfect Picture Book Friday

Last week was wonderful. I didn’t realize how much I missed Perfect Picture Book Friday until it was back! Reading everyone’s reviews took me on a book vacation to places I might otherwise not have visited. Thanks again  to Susanna Hill for allowing me to participate.

The end of the baseball season is approaching. For those of us living in Philadelphia, it can’t come soon enough. For every winner there has to be a loser, and this year, it was our turn to come up short. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy "the game." With the World Series approaching, my pick this week is the perfect choice for any young sports fans in your house.

Title: Willie and the ALL-STARS

Fiction/Nonfiction: Fiction

Author/:Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Note: Mr. Cooper's link above is to his Facebook page because his website is being re-worked. He says it will be back up soon at

Publisher: Philomel Books, 2008

Audience: 6-8 years (publisher’s rec)

Themes: Baseball, Hope, African-American History

Opening:  “Willie lived with his grandma in a tiny one-room apartment on the North Side of Chicago. It was 1942 and nothing came easy, not even a boy’s dreams.”

Synopsis: After hearing elders in the neighborhood scoff at his dreams, a young boy gets a gift of tickets to a game between the Negro League All-star team and the Major League All-Stars.

What I Liked about this Book: The jacket flap says that Mr. Cooper lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, not too far from where I live but that isn't the reason why I liked this book. The language is rich and the illustrations carry emotional depth. I wasn’t alive back in 1942, but the book took me there, and the hopes and dreams expressed by the young men still ring true today for people of all ages and races. Although generations have passed between 1942 and today, the book is a subtle jumping off point for a discussion between parents and children about how much has changed, and how much is still the same--in baseball as well as the world in general. Note: This book is fiction. Despite the child’s name, it is NOT a book about Willie Mays. The historical aspect of the book is about African-Americans in general, not a specific individual. Although the book was published in 2008 it is still in print, widely available through Philomel/Penguin's website (link above), Indiebound, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Activities/Resources: When the author's website is re-launched, there may be activites included there but there was nothing on Philomel's site. So perhaps make a ball with wadded up duct tape and string (or use a small soft rubber ball or tennis ball) and organize a game of stickball in your neighborhood. If you want a quiet indoor moment, read the book and then talk to children about their dreams and what obstacles they may have to overcome. Brainstorm ways to achieve their own goals.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of PerfectPicture Books.

I attended two great writing events this week! Looking forward to adding a Tuesday post and sharing them with you next week. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Scrambled Posts

I went to check on my blog in preparation for tomorrow's Perfect Picture Book Friday and somehow all the posts are scrambled up. They're all still there, but not in their previous order. If anyone is looking for something and can't find it let me know and I'll figure out where it is for you! I have no idea what is going on.

It's Useful to Have a Duck - Perfect Picture Book Friday

First, a note: If you missed my blog post on Tuesday last week, you have until May 5 to leave a comment on that post to enter the BOOK GIVEAWAY for Debbie Dadey's newest chapter book in her Mermaid Tales series with Simon & Schuster. 

    Now, on to today's "business."
    Last Friday I reviewed Isol's Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winning book, Nocturne: Dream Recipes. I'm pleased to say that I didn't order just one of her books to get to know this author. The second book is just as original. And although I'm calling it the second book, because it's the second to be reviewed here, it was actually published five years earlier. So here's more charming work from Isol.

Title: It's Useful to Have a Duck
"Sleeve" on right

Author: Isol  Note: her website is NOT in English
Illustrator: Isol

Audience: ages 3 and up 

Themes: Point of View

Opening and Synopsis: I said this last week, and now I'll say it again. I can’t start with the words. The structure of the book is part of the experience. A little boy finds a rubber duck and uses him as a hat, a straw, a nose. But how does the duck use the little boy? 

By turning the book over, readers find the same story told from the duck’s point of view. This picture book/board book crossover uses the same images, shaded yellow from the boy's point of view, and shaded blue from the duck's point of view.  

While it looks like a board book, I agree with the assessment on Kirkus Reviews:
   "Do not be deceived by the simple-looking board format: This is not for babies. Rather, it      
    challenges children who have accepted the initial premise with developmentally appropriate 
    narcissism to regard the world from the opposite perspective."

The boy's opening line: I found a duck and I picked him up. 



The duck's opening line. I found a boy and he picked me up.

The book sleeve has all the publisher and copyright information. I'm probably a lot more careful than a kid would be, and the edges of the book cover are already getting that chewed up look, I assume from the effort needed to get the book back in its sleeve. Other than that, it's a winner. Note that the pages are hooked to each other accordion-style, so there's no page turning in the classic sense. It's sixteen linked pages on one side and another sixteen on the reverse. Some of the spreads are laugh out loud funny. I especially liked the duck "waxing" his bill in the boy's ear.

There's a good Youtube review of this book here. 
Sharing this book is a good opportunity to talk about the adage that there are two sides to every story! Literally two sides to this book.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Open This Little Book - Perfect Picture Book Friday

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Title: Open This Little Book

Author: Jesse Klausmeier

Illustrator: Suzy Lee

Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2013

Audience: 3-8 (I would say 3-5)

Themes: Colors, friendship

Opening:  “Open this . . . Little Red Book”

Synopsis: Inviting the reader to be part of the story, the book asks them to open a book and read about another animal who is opening another book. And inside the covers are progressively smaller pages that represent book covers that the reader opens to meet all the characters, then progressively larger pages that represent the back covers as the books are closed in sequence.

Don't you love these colors!
     What I like about this book is its simplicity of language and repetition that encourages young readers to read it themselves. The unique design is whimsical and the interactive nature will be a treat for kids to discover. I laughed as the "readers" got bigger and the books got smaller! 
     Whether the page stock stands up to the repeated tugs remains to be seen. When the books got smaller, I had no problem with the page turns but when the books got larger, sometimes it was difficult to lift the edge. Perhaps the smaller hands of the intended readers would have no trouble! Also, because the tiniest book at the center is so-oo tiny, this is best read to one child at a time or I predict fighting to flip pages and see everything there is to see. . .

Activities/Resources: See the book "in action" in the Youtube video. Download teacher's resources from the Chronicle website here. (note: it took longer than I expected for the 7 page guide to download). Perhaps just ask a child what they think each character is reading about. (ex. What would a ladybug read about in a Little Green Book?) Use colored construction paper to make your own colored books. You can use a stapler or hole punch for an easy version or follow the directions here (this requires an adult's help to cut the pages).

Thanks for stopping by for another review!

Light in the Darkness - Perfect Picture Book Friday

      What's my only beef with the title I chose this week? The title itself. If you search the words online without the author’s name, you come up with horror films, a Star Wars tribute flic, a Bruce Springsteen book, the list goes on, and on. I’ve made it easy for you by embedding the links below. Maybe if enough of us click on them we can get the search engine to find the book first!
This is a meaty 40 page picture book. It won’t be a quick bedtime read. I hope that won’t keep readers from enjoying the Ransomes’ beautiful work.

Title: Light in the Darkness

Historical Fiction

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome 
     (her author photo with her HUGE St. Bernard is lovely)

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher: Disney, Jump at the Sun, 2013

Audience: 5-9

Themes: Slavery, Education, Resilience

Opening:  “Rosa.”
            In the dark of our cabin I can’t see my mama, but I can feel her breath on my face in whispers.
            “It’s time.”

Synopsis: Although slaves are forbidden to learn to read or write, Rosa and her mother risk their lives to attend a pit school, a large hole dug in the ground and covered with branches to avoid detection..

What I Liked about this Book: I believe that an education is the greatest gift one generation can give the next, and I felt Rosa and her mother’s passion to learn in these pages. At the price of being whipped and going without sleep, slaves struggled to get the barest education that children today take for granted. It took my breath away.  Without pens or paper, the students studied and learned. Apart from the story itself, the illustrator’s dedication "to the light of his life," his wife (the author), gives a hint of the passion they brought to this project.

Activities/Resources: Watch the demo video about the artwork for this book. Starting with a blank page James Ransome shows each step in his watercolor technique, from pencil drawing, washing off sizing to final drawing. Watching the faces come alive was amazing for a non-artist  like myself. The video is 14 mins in length. Make letters and numbers with twigs and leaves . Draw words in a sandbox or garden. (if you take a photo of these you could make greeting cards from this!).       
      This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Just Like My Papa - Perfect Picture Book Friday

It feels like a lo-ong time since the last PPBF posts and if I am a bit rusty, I apologize. Plenty of other writing was done in the interim, and—lucky for me—plenty of reading, too!
Writing the PPBF post isn’t difficult. The books provide plenty of inspiration. The difficulty is in selecting which book to review. Yeah, a definite first world problem, too many beautiful picture books being published!
So what is this week’s selection?

Title: Just Like My Papa

Author: Toni Buzzeo

Illustrator: Mike Wohnoutka

Publisher: Disney, Hyperion Books, 2013

Audience: 3+ years of age 

Themes: Growing Up, Lions

Opening:  “ROAAAAAR! A warning echoes across the plain. Yellow moon peeks over the horizon. Kito peeks too. His papa paces and roars again:”

Synopsis: The text and illustrations take readers on a journey to the African savanna. Without showing any bloodshed it touches upon the themes of survival and THE LION KING-like cycle of life.
Why I like this book: The author wasn’t afraid to include “difficult” words like savanna, acacia, and wildebeest that give the story concrete images and expose listeners to great vocabulary. The subject is treated lightly, suitable for the very youngest readers even at bedtime! It leaves readers with the impression that the male cub and his father are part of a big happy family—but I suppose the harsh reality that a cub will have to kill it’s own father or leave in order to be king isn’t picture book material! The illustrations are lush and layered. My favorite shows the lions heading off to hunt at twilight while oranges and gold push the blue from the sky and the other animals are silhouetted in trees and on the horizon.
Activities/Resources:  If you have one nearby, visit a wild animal park where you can see lions acting like lions. I’m not a personal fan of many zoos, but you can find lions there, too. The author’s website has a curriculum guide and Reader’s Theater script. The curriculum guide is a good resource for older readers but doesn't have the arts & crafts links I enjoy. For a fun lion mask cutout to paint visit first palette. The author also has an earlier book titled Stay Close to Mama using the same African setting and with giraffes as main characters. Honestly, I like her newer book better.

Thanks for visiting! I want to thank Danielle Smith, too, for the book giveaway on her blog There's a Book where I won a copy of Just Like My Papa.
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.