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Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine
Author: Jonathan London; Illustrator: Andrew Joyner
Published: December 18, 2018 by Two Lions

GoodReads Summary: Join Duck, Hippo, and their friends as they uncover their secret valentines!

It’s Valentine’s Day, and something curious is going on. As the birds tweet their love songs, Hippo and his friends Elephant, Pig, and Turtle each receive mysterious, unsigned Valentine’s Day cards. Hippo wonders if his is from Duck; Elephant and Turtle think theirs are from Pig; and Pig dreams that hers is from Turtle. The cards tell the friends to come to the park at four o’clock to meet their valentines—so they’ll find out soon enough! As the clock ticks away, the friends wonder—and dream—about their valentines and make special preparations. But when they arrive…SURPRISE!

This Valentine’s Day might not go exactly the way they expected, but one thing is certain: being friends with Duck and Hippo is always a special treat!

Ricki’s Review: Valentine’s Day is coming up, and this book will surely drum up the excitement! I brought this book out during my night-time reading session with my kids, and my 5-year-old shrieked, “More Duck and Hippo! Yay!” Duck and Hippo are a beloved duo that are on their way to becoming a classic pair like Frog and Toad. Kids in the current generation recognize them and love them. Adults are starting to recognize them, too! I am just waiting for more Duck and Hippo stuffed animals to appear in stores! One thing I loved about this book is that it focused on friendship. Each of the animals is particularly excited about which friend sent the valentine. There is so much joy as they guess who the secret valentine might be and head toward the park. Readers who are experienced with the Duck and Hippo series can make great predictions while reading the book. Others will just be excited as they turn the pages! This would make a great read-aloud for classrooms on Valentine’s Day because the focus isn’t on commercial items but friendship and neighborly love.

Kellee’s Review: In this fourth installment of the Duck and Hippo series, the author continues to teach important lessons to the readers that they may not have thought about. Too often Valentine’s Day is focused on the commercial: How many cards did you get? Did s/he get you a gift? etc. etc. But really, the point of the holiday is to spend time with those you love. And like other stories with unexpected friendship, Duck and Hippo show that opposites attract and first impressions aren’t always correct. In addition to the story, the illustrations add a whole other layer to the story by taking the shared emotions that were written and showing them. Together, the story and the illustrations tell a story that kids will easily connect to and love.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Valentine’s Day is often a day of parties in elementary schools. To move away from the commercial focus of the holiday, teachers might use this book to foster a secret valentine’s day party. This would be great fun!

There’s more fun with Duck and Hippo in the free downloadable activity sheets (including a learn-to-draw page!): https://www.andrewjoyner.com.au/activities/

Discussion Questions: Who did you predict the secret valentine would be?; What do each of the animals think?; What were their reactions when they arrived at the park?; Is there someone in your life who might enjoy a secret valentine?

Book Trailer: 

The fourth book in the Duck and Hippo series is a sweet way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Check out the trailer!

Read This If You Loved: The other books in the Duck and Hippo series (like this one!); Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems; The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel; Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion

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Giveaway!
Two Lions is offering a copy of Duck and Hippo to one lucky winner (U.S. addresses).

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip for providing copies for review!**

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Waiting for Pumpsie
Author: Barry Wittenstein
Illustrator: London Ladd
Published February 21st, 2017 by Charlesbridge Publishing

Summary: In 1959 the Boston Red Sox was the last team in the Major Leagues to integrate. But when they call Elijah “Pumpsie” Green up from the minors, Bernard is overjoyed to see a black player on his beloved home team. And, when Pumpsie’s first home game is scheduled, Bernard and his family head to Fenway Park. Bernard is proud of Pumpsie and hopeful that this historic event is the start of great change in America.

This fictionalized account captures the true story of baseball player Pumpsie Green’s rise to the major leagues. The story is a snapshot of the Civil Rights Movement and a great discussion starter about the state of race relations in the United States today.

About the Author: Barry Wittenstein has tended bar, driven a taxi, worked at CBS Records and CBS News back in the day, spent a decade writing music and lyrics, toiled six years as a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball, and three years as a substitute elementary school teacher.  He could be Walter Mitty’s brother.

Barry loves to write narrative nonfiction picture books. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. In 2019, he will publish two more nonfiction picture books—Sonny’s Bridge, about the legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins; and A Place to Land (with illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney) about how Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech. He is currently working on a YA novel. He lives in New York City with his wife. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides, visit his website: https://onedogwoof.com/ or follow him on Twitter: @bwittbooks

Praise: 

“A grand slam” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Bernard’s conversational narration creates a warm bond with readers from the get-go, and although Wittenstein and Ladd never sugarcoat instances of racial prejudice, the story’s moments of triumph sound the loudest notes.” — Publisher’s Weekly

“This uplifting account of a family and the integration of Boston baseball will be inspiring to many youngsters.” — School Library Journal

“This picture book contributes to children’s understanding of America’s past, while telling a good story”— Booklist

Kellee’s Review: This story was one that is new to me, and as a baseball fan and interested in social justice history, I found it so fascinating! Like the author’s note suggests, the history of baseball integration has been skewed in its telling over time because it does seem to those ignorant in the history that Jackie Robinson started up, fought the racial prejudice, then everyone was integrated; however, Pumpsie’s story shows us that this false truth is far from the truth. I really love that the author took something he did not know about and wrote a book to share the story with an audience. 

The author and illustrator told Pumpsie’s story from the point of view of a young Red Sox fan named Bernard and his anticipation for a Black baseball player on the team he loves and how one player can change the morale of fans.

Ricki’s Review: This is a wonderful book. My family is divided (half Yankees fans and half Red Sox fans), and yet, no one seemed to mind that this story featured Pumpsie, a Red Sox player. He isn’t one of the more famous, well-known Red Sox players, but he truly should be. This book gives careful insight into Pumpsie, his career, and his struggles, and readers will see layers of topics—even beyond baseball and equity. The illustrations and dialogue bring readers right to the stadium and field during the time period. My older son had a lot of questions as we read the book, and it felt good to navigate such a richly complex text with him. This is a must-have for libraries. It offers great themes to be discussed in the classroom setting, and students will be interested in this piece of our history. Also, it makes for a great read aloud. We were roaring right along with the stadium. 🙂

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are so many different ways that this story can be integrated into a classroom setting! First and foremost, it is a fantastic read aloud. The narrative will suck students in and will lead to some great discussion. Additionally, it could be used in equity discussions when looking at the history of the fight for equal rights. Lastly, I can definitely see this picture book being an asset in a baseball history book clubs/lit circles.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why was Pumpsie’s debut so important to Bernard?
  • How does Pumpsie’s story change how baseball integration is traditionally told?
  • How does Pumpsie’s story fit into a bigger story of Civil Rights in the United States?
  • Other than baseball and equity, what other topics does this text touch on?
  • Who did the prejudice man in the stands represent within the larger world?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: I am Jackie Robinson by Brad Meltzer, Henry Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares, Baseball Is… by Louise Borden, Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss, Something to Prove by Robert Skead, Silent Star by Bill Wise

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Giveaway!: 

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media and Charlesbridge for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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The Undefeated
Author: Kwame Alexander
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Published April 2, 2019 by Versify

Summary: The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.
Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present. Robust back matter at the end provides valuable historical context and additional detail for those wishing to learn more.

Ricki’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is an incredibly powerful book. I loved seeing the poem (which was previously performed) turned into a picture book. The book touches upon many critical topics for youth to consider across time and place. It offers a strength that makes readers want to jump from their chairs to support the message of the text. This is a must-read. Teachers might use this book in classrooms by asking students to select a page that they find to be particularly inspiring. Then, they might research individuals who reflect the undefeated-ness that they see on the pages. This might devolve into research projects that explore the “faith and fire,” as quoted from the book summary, that students see across time, space, and place.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does this book make you feel?
  • What do you perceive to be the author’s and illustrator’s purpose(s)?
  • What similarities and differences do you see across the pages?

Read This If You Love: Out of Wonder by Kwame Alexander; We March by Shane W. Evans; Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson; Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Hush Up and Hibernate
Author: Sandra Markle
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
Published August 28th 2018 by Persnickety Press

Goodreads Summary: Leaves are falling, a cold wind is blowing, geese are heading south. Clearly, winter is coming. It’s time for black bears to do what they always do this time of year―hibernate. Kids will get a kick out of this romp of a tale about a black bear cub that finds every excuse imaginable to avoid the inevitable go-to-bed moment. Will Mama Bear finally win? Or will Baby Bear come up with the ultimate reason to skip going to sleep?

Review: As I sit and write this post, it is 9:50pm, and my older child is upstairs not sleeping. The chance of him crafting an excuse to come out of his room within the next 10 minutes? High. So saying that I enjoyed this book is an understatement. I found great joy in reading this book to my son. We first read it a few weeks ago, and I’ve told him to hush up and hibernate a few dozen times. It’s a clever book that parents will enjoy immensely. The illustrations are beautifully done (take a look at the gem shared below!). If you take a look at the cover image (above), you will see the baby bear’s face. The way he’s reacting to his mother is an all-too-familiar look that makes me chuckle. I absolutely adored this charming book. When my son chooses it for his bedtime book, I have a warm, happy feeling. This signifies that it is a good book and one to keep.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: It would be fun for kids to create their own version of this book—imagining an animal that is refusing to do something and giving every excuse imaginable to a parent. I suspect that this would be a fun writing exercise for kids, and they might reconsider their constant excuses.

Discussion Questions: What are some of the excuses that Baby Bear uses? What excuses have you used? What strategies does he use, and do they work?

We Flagged:

Read This If You Loved: Share, Big Bear, Share by Maureen Wright, Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton, Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley and Lauren Castillo

Recommended For:

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**Thank you to Wiley at Saichek Publicity for providing a copy for review!**

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Crow Not Crow
Author: Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Illustrator: Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Published August 28th, 2018 by Cornell Lab Publishing Group

Summary: New York Times bestselling children’s author, Jane Yolen, and her son, Adam Stemple, have teamed up to write a gentle tale of a father introducing his daughter to the joys of bird watching. Using the simple “Crow, Not Crow” method for distinguishing one bird from another, father and daughter explore the birds near their home…and there are so many to see! After the story ends, readers learn more about all the birds that appear in the book with photographs, descriptions, and QR links to bird sounds.

About the Creators:

Jane Yolen has authored more than 365 books, including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, loved by children and bird watchers of all ages, You Nest Here With Me, a popular new favorite, and the New York Times bestselling series How Do Dinosaurs…? Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and are popular around the world. Her husband, David Stemple, was both a well-known bird recordist and professor of computer science who taught his family how to identify birds. Many of Ms. Yolen’s books are about wildlife, especially the winged kind. Jane lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts.

Adam Stemple is an award-winning writer of novels, short stories, graphic novels, and children’s books. He is also an avid bird watcher, taught by his father David Stemple. He invented the Crow Not Crow method of teaching beginning birders in order to teach his city-bred wife to bird. He lives in Minneapolis with his family—all birders—where he is also a working musician and is hard at work on his next novel.

Elizabeth Dulemba has always loved birds. As a kid, she used to run across the yard, flapping her arms, trying to fly. She later became a hang glider pilot in Tennessee. When not chasing birds, Elizabeth loves to draw, write, and teach. She has over two dozen titles to her credit, including her debut, award-winning novel A Bird On Water Street. In summers, she teaches in the Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating MFA program at Hollins University in Virginia. She spends the rest of her time in Scotland, where she is pursuing a PhD at the University of Glasgow. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.dulemba.com.

Praise: “…a solid choice for introducing the hobby [birdwatching] to younger readers.” – Kirkus Reviews

Kellee’s Review: My father love bird watching, but I’ve always been intimidated by it. He has books and guides and flyers, all with different information about different birds. But I also have always been fascinated by birds. They are beautiful and just a true testament of the miracles of Mother Nature. Crow Not Crow introduces the reader to a really fun way to introduce birdwatching to anyone interested. The story of a dad spreading the love of birdwatching to his young daughter is a sweet tale filled with interesting bird information. What takes the book to the next level though is the back matter. While the book is full of only “crow” and “not crow,” the back matter has all of the different birds’ names as well as a QR code to listen to the bird. There is even information about two different bird apps! I am excited to read this book with Trent then start with “crow” or “not crow” with him!

Ricki’s Review: I come from a long history of bird watchers. My brother, aunt, and mom are huge bird watchers, and it isn’t unusual for them to stop conversation to name the bird that they hear in the background. I had a very rare bird in my backyard in Connecticut, and they were all incredibly thrilled. So reading Crow Not Crow was an absolute delight. Jane Yolen is one of the best picture book authors alive, so I was particularly pleased that this book did not disappoint me. Like most of her books, it is quiet and has a powerful force behind it. It lends itself to a “crow not crow” type of game with children that would be quite fun. I will be purchasing this book as a gift for several friends. It’s beautifully done.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First, use the backmatter as a key to a scavenger hunt within the book. Find each bird and discuss what clues were used to figure out that was the certain bird. Also listen to the bird using the QR code. Then, take your class outside! Start with “crow” or “not crow” but then create your own glossary like the back matter in the book to share your “not crows.” Comparison and contrast activities could also easily be weaved in as well as science!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What traits of the crow did the birders use to determine if the bird was a crow or not a crow?
  • What was your favorite bird that they encountered?
  • Take one of the birds and compare/contrast it to a crow.

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Look Up!: Bird-Watching In Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate, Birds by Kevin Henkes, On Gull Beach by Jane YolenOn Duck Pond by Jane YolenOwl Moon by Jane Yolen

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to the Cornell Lab Publishing Group for having us as part of their book tour!**

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Happy 2019! 

This year, I reread more books than any previous year. I am not including the billions of pictures books that I reread to my children in that statistic, either. 🙂 But for this list, I am focusing on my favorite reads of 2018. These are books that will stick to my bones for years to come!

 

Favorite Books Marketed Toward Young Adults

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women, Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi

The Astonishing Color of After by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

 

Favorite Books Marketed Toward Upper Elementary and Middle Grade

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

 

Favorite Picture Books

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by John Agee

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell

 

Which were your favorite reads of 2018?

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Happy 2019! 

I had one of my best reading years ever! My GoodReads goal was 300 which I exceeded!

I read 415 books this year!
(Though I will admit GoodReads adding the ability to add rereads really helped with the total; however, I was quite inconsistent with it– I marked re-reads sometimes and other times I didn’t, so I don’t know how accurate the count is, specifically picture books…)

 

It was almost exactly split between picture books and non-picture books with my novel, etc. total being a bit over 200.
My average rating for the year is 4.2 and my top shelves were: realistic fiction, nonfiction, Unleashing Readers, Trent 4-5 years, middle grade, audiobook, mg-ya picture books, picture book, and read to Trent. 

Today, I want to highlight my favorite reads from the year by sharing my 5 star reads from 2018
(the visual includes all while the list includes only newly read in 2018 books): 

Click on the photo above to see my 2018 Goodreads shelf to learn about any of these titles. If I’ve reviewed the book on Unleashing Readers, I’ve also hyperlinked it in the list. 

Picture Books & Early Readers (nonfiction & fiction)

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
Windows by Julia Denos
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
Grand Canyon by Jason Chin
Lights! Camera! Alice!: The Trilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker by Mara Rockliff
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes
My Kite is Stuck! And Other Stories by Salina Yoon
Duck, Duck, Porcupine! by Salina Yoon
Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude by Josh Funk
Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Dream and You by Carole Boston Weatherford
Square by Mac Barnett
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers
Mission Defrostable by Josh Funk 
What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers
Masterpiece Robot and the Ferocious Valerie Knick-Knack by Frank Tra
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
Drawn Together by Minh Lê
The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët
A Place for Pluto by Stef Wade
Cute as an Axolotl: Discovering the Worlds Most Adorable Animals by Jess Keating
Turning Pages: My Life Story by Sonia Sotomayor
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
One of a Kind by Chris Gorman
The Dinosaur Expert by Margaret McNamara
Memphis, Martin, and Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan
A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey
Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Veissid
Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton Hughes
Santa Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
We Can’t Eat our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins
Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World by James Gladstone
Sun!: One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty
The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal by Nick Seluk
Thank You, Earth by April Pulley Sayred
Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi

Middle Grade

False Prince trilogy by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Granted by John David Anderson
Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Bat & the Waiting Game by Elana K. Arnold
Track Series: Sunny & Lu by Jason Reynolds
Breakout by Kate Messner
Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart
Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Wonderland by Barbara O’Connor
Front Desk by Kelly Yang
Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo
Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth
Orphaned by Eliot Schrefer
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamura by Pablo Cartaya
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher
Garbage Island by Fred Koehler
The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai
Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt
Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez

Young Adult

American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles
Tyler Johnson was Here by Jay Coles
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro
What Girls are Made of by Elana K. Arnold
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Here to Stay by Sara Farizan
One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
Resistance by Jennifer A. Nielsen
This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills
Internment by Samira Ahmed
Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills
Odd One Out by Nic Stone
Dry by Neal Shusterman
Another Day by David Levithan

Graphic Novels

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
The Divided Earth by Erin Faith Hicks
I Am Ghandi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero edited by Brad Meltzer
Illegal by Eoin Colfer
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Monsters Beware by Jorge Aguirre
Kitten Construction Company: Meet the House Kittens by John Green
HiLo #4: Waking the Monsters by Judd Winick
Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable
Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths by Graham Annable
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
Fox & Chick: The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

Nonfiction

Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
Chasing King’s Killer by James L. Swanson
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries by Ammi-Joan Paquette
Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation by Patricia Newman
The Great Rhino Rescue by Patricia Newman
National Geographic: History’s Mysteries: Curious Clues, Cold Cases, and Puzzles from the Past by Kitson Jazynka

All of these books are highly recommended by me, so if you haven’t read them and they interest you, they won’t let you down 🙂 Happy reading!

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