Monday, September 29, 2014


A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker,  illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton.
Candlewick Press, 2014.

That grumpy old bear and his faithful friend, Mouse, are off to my favorite place, the library.

Bear believes the trip is “... completely unnecessary...”  and points to his fireplace mantle, where he has seven books, including one on pickles.   Still … he did promise Mouse he’d go.

At the library, Mouse unsuccessfully attempts to find Bear a book he’ll enjoy. After being shushed for being too loud, the increasingly irritable Bear is about to go when he hears the librarian reading a story. When Mouse, suggests they leave, Bear hollers “QUIET VOICES IN THE LIBRARY!” The librarian invites them to the storytime. Enthralled, both stay and they return home with seven books including The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island.

As with her early Bear and Mouse books, Becker’s story is humorous, well paced, and rich in vocabulary.  It makes a rollicking read aloud and can be used by adults to engage and inspire both young readers and older writers with word choices like: bellowed, squished, tucked-away, and extravagant.

With colorful watercolor, ink, and gouache illustrations, Denton wonderfully captures Bear and Mouse’s contrasting personalities and creates reassuring settings with brief and expressive strokes.

My K-3 classes had a ball with this book and were engaged throughout the story.

Read my full review and find out more at Good Reads with Ronna.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Celebrating the Freedom to Read

Banned Book Week (Sept. 21-27, 2014).

My school participates in the American Library Association’s Banned Book week each year by reading a picture book to the entire school that has been challenged or banned. We’ve read Tomie de Paola’s Strega Nona and Justin Richardson’s And Tango Makes Three. This year, we will read Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach. This lovely story, based on the author’s childhood memories, was challenged in Spokane, Washington elementary schools in 1994 because it was thought to stereotype African Americans by showing them eating fried chicken and watermelon and drinking beer (from Robert P. Doyle’s excellent resource Banned Books: challenging our freedom to read. Chicago: ALA, 2104, p. 271).

Discussing issues surrounding book banning and challenges can be pretty difficult for children in grades K-3, even 4th graders. Concepts such as Freedom of Speech are too abstract or technical. So I try to boil it down to something simpler: this is a day when we celebrate having the right to choose what to read.

With older children,  the learning and the discussions are very interesting and lively. Using materials from the ALA’s Banned Book Week and the National Council Teachers of English web sites, we can discuss Constitutional issues, why books are challenged or banned, what constitutes a challenge or a banning, and so on. Nevertheless it doesn't sink in until I show them the challenged books. You should hear the gasps, the shouts of dismay, the outrage ... their beloved authors-Roald Dahl, Judy Blume,  Lois Lowry, and way too many more-challenged? Banned? Why?  Understanding the reasons behind the challenges is often quite a struggle-even for adults.
 I ask the students to understand that even though there is a right to read freely, some people, with good intentions of protecting children, will challenge this. It’s up to us to protect it.

After the read aloud, we follow up with a D.E.A.R.  (Drop Everything and Read) where the entire school reads a book of their choice for fifteen minutes. It’s a wonderful and positive way to end this event.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Illustrator Keika Yamaguchi

Presenting Keika Yamaguchi and her latest book Puddle Pug written by Kim Norman and illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi.  Sterling 2014. Recommended for grades K-3.

I had the good fortune to meet Keika at Sunday's Once Upon a Time Bookstore's Educators' Night (September 21, 2014). Keika  kindly shared the process that led to her illustrations for Puddle Pug.

Keika, it turns out, did not like to draw as a child and her parents would do the drawing for her school assignments. She began formal art instruction in middle school and is a graduate of the Art Center College of Design. Keika also interned at Disney.

Before beginning any project, Keika jots down ideas or scribbles some thumbnail sketches. Then she likes to play-literally!  For Puddle Pug she actually played with mud and grass and leaves to experience the main character's experience and accurately illustrate Percy's world,  his physical movements and expressions. She passed around her preliminary sketches and drafts,  including a mock up of the book.

About the book: Percy is an adorable dog who loves puddles. He's found several he likes even
recording their location on a map.  Still he is unable to find just  the right one ... until one day, he hears a lot of splashing next door. Peering through the fence he finds the perfect puddle. It's ", brown water ... squishy, swishy mud..." There's just one (very large) problem: this puddle belongs to Mama pig and her piglets and she's not too keen on sharing ... until Petunia, the "too tiny" piglet goes missing and Percy comes to the rescue.  Author Kim Norman's story includes frequent alliteration and repetition ("...the too-tiny pig .,, in the too-tiny puddle ...) which becomes rhythmic in parts of the story. Inventive word choice ("...thick as turtle stew puddles..."), and Keika's lively illustrations, make this story very engaging and a great read aloud.

For more information on Keika Yamaguchi and her books, visit her website, Keika's

Thanks to the folks at Once Upon a Time Bookstore  for a wonderful evening and for everything they do for teachers and librarians. We also heard from Nicole Dufort from Random House. She turned me on to a few books which I will share with you later. I staggered out with two very heavy bags of books, posters, bookmarks, a bag or two of popcorn, and a rather large, but lightweight, Captain Underpants display! Who could ask for more?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates written and illustrated by Liz Pinchon. Candlewick Press, 2014. $12.99. Recommended for ages 8-12.

The British are coming, the British are coming ...
with the brilliant and hilarious world of Tom Gates.

It’s the first day of  a new school year and 5th year (5th grader) Tom  Gates writes in his journal:

“Woke up-listened to music
Played my guitar
Rolled out of be (slowly) ...
Played some more guitar
Realized I hadn't done my ‘summer reading homework’
PANICKED … (p. 3).”
Beside the words “woke up,” Tom draws of pair of sleepy eyes. This wonderfully chatty book is accompanied by a multitude of hilarious doodles and eye catching font types.

At school, Tom’s teacher, Mr. Fullerman has moved him to the front of class. In his journal Tom wails:

“This is a DISASTER. How am I going to draw my pictures and read my comics? Sitting at the back of the class, I could avoid the teacher's glares. But I am SO close to Mr. Fullerman now I can see up his nose (p. 6).”  

Guess what Tom doodles in after “nose.”

For Tom, forgotten homework assignments, playing tricks on annoying students, and other antics keep him in perpetual trouble - and coming up with convincing excuses for his behavior. Tom's attempt to get out of an assignment by claiming he spilled water on it is hysterically rendered in a smeared doodle (p. 47).

At home, Tom must also deal with his moody teenage sister, Delia, and his eccentric grandparents,“The Fossils,”  who love to experiment with such unsavory food combinations as pizza with banana topping.

When Tom finds that  Dude3, his favorite band, will perform in concert locally, he is determined to attend.  Things go sour (and get real funny) when his best mate’s dog eats the tickets.

The comic doodles and varying fonts, while creating a busy page, make the story more visual for reluctant readers.

Visit Good Reads with Ronna to see my full review.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pure Grit: how American World War II nurses survived battle and prison camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell. Abrams Books for Young Readers, February, 2014. $24.95. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

“I wondered if I would die and how I would die. I hoped to be quiet and brave.” Nurse Maude “Denny” Williams as U.S. Troops surrendered to the Japanese (p. 67).

Pure Grit  is the dramatic story about the 101 U. S. Army and Navy nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Farrell demonstrates that while women’s military service has been basically ignored by historians, their contributions have been enormous. These unsung heroes faced the same dangers of war that the male soldiers did, while caring for the wounded and comforting the dying.

In the early 1940s,  the U.S military assignments in the Philippines were pretty routine and included a swinging night life. That quickly changed following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines.  Nurses, inexperienced with treating battlefield wounds, rose to the occasion and assisted huge numbers of wounded and dying soldiers under grueling and frightening conditions. Malnutrition, due to severe rationing, and unsanitary conditions became very serious issues. One nurse wrote:

“This morning I sat down to “breakfast” which consisted of a tablespoon of cold beef hash on a dirty plate (no water for washing dishes) ... and nothing more available until 6pm …” (p. 65).

Read my full review at Good Reads with Ronna

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Goldie Takes a Stand; Golda Meir’s first crusade
by Barbara Krasner, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley
Kar-Ben Publishing, August 1, 2014. $17.95
Review based on an uncorrected advance copy

Barbara Krasner, author and blogger, has always had a passion for Jewish history.  She has combined this passion with an interest in writing children’s books and has selected a dynamic subject for her first children’s book.

In  early 20th century Milwaukee, nine year old Goldie Mabowehz, became concerned when poor immigrant classmates could not afford school books. Determined to help, she created the American Young Sisters Society and “ ...naturally appointed [her]self president.”

But how could she and her friends raise the money? Efforts such as charging her mother’s grocery store customers a little extra, naturally failed. Giving up something she loved (candy) saved her a penny, but it wasn’t enough.  Never wavering in  her determination,  she  persuaded a local hall owner to let her use his hall,or a community-wide fundraiser. Free. Amazingly, he agreed and she and her group organized a successful event, collecting enough money for school book purchases.

Krasner’s upbeat and gently humorous, first person narrative makes the story intimate and accessible to young children, helping them to empathize with Goldie’s determination to improve her classmates’ situation. While the conversations are fictionalized,  the event is true. Krasner’s bibliography includes the primary sources she referred to , other resources, and an end note. Illustrator Kelsey Garrity-Riley’s interest in collecting old objects paid off and her charming and quaint gouache and collage illustrations, digitally enhanced, recreate authentic early 20th century urban life (check out the wall paper!).

Read my full review at Good Reads with Ronna .

A woman in the House (and Senate); how women came to the United States Congress, broke down barriers, and changed the country by Ilene Cooper and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014. $24.95.

“This woman’s place is in the house-the House of Representatives! (Bella Abzug, p. 69).

Cooper is a former librarian (hooray!), current reviewer for Booklist, author of over thirty books and the winner of the National Jewish Award for Jewish Holidays all Year Round (Abrams, 2002). Her latest book is an excellent resources for teachers, librarians, and parents who wish to help children understand and celebrate the 94th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote  (August 26, 1920) and how that impacted herstory and history.

Following an introductory essay on the role and duties of Congress, the book is divided into several chronological eras, such as “Flash and Crash, 1920-1930”.  Each era is introduced with a brief historical overview of major events and how women were impacted. For example, World War II created more jobs than there were men to fill them. This led to an unprecedented number of women joining the workforce. Two page spreads preceding each overview show iconic period photos of women.

See my full review at Good Reads with Ronna

I am Albert Einstein by Brad Meltzer. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. Ordinary People Change the World series. Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Group, September 16, 2014. Review based on uncorrected proof.
Recommended for ages 5-8.

The latest title in this fun and engaging biography series for young children, Meltzer turns his attention to Albert Einstein and explores the obstacles Einstein overcame to become one of the world’s greatest scientists.

Because Einstein thought in pictures, he had difficulty learning how to speak and was thought to be “dopey.” Instead of playing with the other children, young Albert prefered to do quieter things that allowed him to think. The gift of a compass fascinated him. The more he thought about it the more he wondered “why did the universe behave the way it did?” Later, a geometry book led to advanced math which led to his study of calculus at the age of 15.

When he was 28, he came up with a concept that linked motion and gravity and worked on it for eight more years.  While Meltzer is referring to Einstein's Theory of Gravitation, he explains the concept in kid-friendly words and Eliopoulous’s comical illustration brings further clarity.

Read my full review at Good Reads with Ronna.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Big Nate; great minds think alike by Lincoln Pierce. Amp! Comics for Kids/Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2014. $9.99 paperback. Recommended for ages 8-12.

That mischievous boy with a winning personality is back in a new compilation of colorful comic strips. Nate has a lot of big ideas for fun and achieving fun and greatness and tries his hand at Suduko, life skills coaching, painting, and  ... See my full review at Good Reads with Ronna