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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

Let me introduce you to my new best friend, A Tale of Magic by Chris Colfer! I read this book with my mom for a “book battle“ in which we see who can finish their book first and actually have read it! I chose this book, a 500 something paged book and my mom read a 200 something paged book! I was so surprised when I finished my book first! This book pulled me in right from the start and I could not put it down! This book is recommended for ages 8-12!

Magic is strictly forbidden in the place and time this book takes place. The punishment for use of it is death. Madame Weatherbury is a very powerful fairy and wants to change that law. At the beginning of the book Madame Weatherbury is allowed to take two magical kids, one named Brystal from the Southern Kingdom. The world is split up in five sections, the Northern Kingdom, the Eastern Kingdom, the Southern Kingdom, the Western Kingdom and the In-Between.

Here is a map that shows the world back then. It is in the beginning of the book. Brystal is a kid in the Southern Kingdom, her father is a judge and her oldest brother is one too. Brystal’s second oldest brother is going to be taking a big test to become a judge too, soon. Brystal likes to stay up late and read books! Unfortunately, reading books is a crime, at least for girls. One time her mother catches her doing it! She gives Brystal a warning and takes all of her books but doesn’t tell her father anything because he hates Brystal as is. Brystal is expected to do chores like washing the dishes, cooking food and setting the table.

Just then Brystal’s biggest brother, Brooke, enters the dining room. He sends Barry, her second-oldest brother, a mean comment and then sits down at the table. After his butt hits the chair they all hear some commotion on the front of the house and they all stand up assuming it is father. They stand up because everybody always stands up to the judge in the courtroom and he expects that he is welcomed the same way at home. As they sit back down Brooke tests Barry in mental flashcards and gives him the wrong answer even when Barry says the right one! Brystal can’t stand her older brother lying to Barry so she yells out all of the correct answers and tells Brooke to stop telling him the incorrect answer. Her father is surprised and asks her in a stern voice how she knows all of that. Do you think that he will get really mad because then her mother tells him about the books that she was reading or do you think he will calm down after a while? And even better yet, it gets even better!

When I was reading this book I thought it would never end and I loved the idea! I also love this book because this book propelled me through its pages! It has so much detail and excitement in it! The author, I must say, did a beautiful job pushing the story along. So far this is my favorite read of 2021! It is of course a bit too early in the year to say that, BUT STILL! I also loved this book because the characters were so relatable and had many good and bad characteristics. During this book I noticed some changes in character and Brystal changed in a way I would have never imagined. I really enjoyed this book and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do! (I just figured out this is a series and the second book is called A Tale of Witchcraft by Chris Colfer! Also a third is coming out in September. It is called A Tale of Sorcery by Chris Colfer! I am really excited to read the second book in the series!!!)

**Thanks so much to Sofia for this review! We love that you not only beat your mom, but you found a new best friend!**

 

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Follow That Frog!
Author: Philip C. Stead
Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Published: February 2, 2021 by Holiday House

GoodReads Summary: When a curiously croaking stranger comes knocking at the door, Aunt Josephine launches into a rambling tale about her lifelong pursuit of a rare giant frog.

Eccentric Aunt Josephine poignantly ignores a stranger knocking at her door as she tells her niece Sadie the story of her time in the jungles of Peru, cataloguing amphibians for the scientific team of Admiral Rodriguez. When the admiral’s son was suddenly swallowed by a giant frog, Aunt Josephine gave chase in a journey which took her around the world.

In the tradition of Philip Stead and Caldecott Medalist Matthew Cordell’s previous collaborations Special Delivery and The Only Fish in the Sea, this is a story full of rambunctious fun and sensationally appealing artwork.

Ricki’s Review: I could not stop laughing as I read this book. This, in turn, made my kids laugh. It was a joyous affair–ha ha! I have not read the first two books in the series, and this book stood alone very nicely. Aunt Josephine’s story is simply fantastic, and this feels like it will be a classic. It’s a bizarre, quirky telling, but this makes it stand out from other books that I’ve read. 

The illustrations are absolutely marvelous–not surprising, given the illustrator–and the story is very engaging. The story winds in a way that keeps readers on their toes and feels different and exciting. This book demands to be read aloud to a crowd of children! Adults and children alike will want to read this one again and again.

Kellee’s Review: Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell sure have a vivid imagination and silly sense of humor, and this book definitely show that it is true–once again Aunt Josephine takes the reader on a wild adventure! This book strays away a bit from the structure of the first two books in the series because instead of Sadie going on an adventure, Aunt Josephine shares an adventure SHE had from her younger days. 

I loved this story because it gave us a bit more insight into Aunt Josephine as we got glimpses not only into her past but also into her home, and it all gives us a bit of an understanding of some of Sadie’s characteristics! I think the easiest way to describe it all is quirky, equally balanced between Stead’s sensational story telling and Cordell’s intricate illustrations.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is an obvious choice for read alouds and creative writing classes. I’d also use it with high school and adult readers, too. It teaches excellent examples of craft that could be analyzed richly by all ages and would inspire writing of all kinds.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does the story maintain reader interest?
  • How do the illustrations pair with the story to make the story more effective?
  • Was the ending what you predicted? How does the ending enhance the story?

Read This If You Loved: Special Delivery and The Only Fish in the Sea by Philip Stead; Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems; The Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel; Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion

Author and Illustrator Interview

What keeps bringing you back to Sadie and Josephine?
MATTHEW: Phil’s had such great ideas and adventures for them, so I was always thrilled to be on board. I love the strange world these characters inhabit and the madcap stories they tell. So much fun to draw!
PHILIP: Sadie and Josephine are two of my favorite characters I’ve ever created. Matt and I talked a lot at the outset about wanting strong female leads that were confident and capable in the face of increasingly ridiculous circumstances. It’s just been so much fun coming up with those ridiculous circumstances and watching how Sadie and Josephine power right through.

Was the original story a collaboration? If not, how did it come to be? And is it more of a collaboration now that you’re on book 3?
MATTHEW: Unlike most author and illustrator picture book team scenarios, Phil and I and our editor Neal have collaborated through and through. Typically, authors and illustrators do not work together to make a picture book come to life. It’s a bit more of a relay race. The author does the first bit with the editor. Then the editor passes the baton to an illustrator to finish up the book. But since Phil and I were friends before Special Delivery (book 1), we always wanted to work together with Neal, so that’s how it’s always been. It’s always been a very natural and organic way of working for us. Can’t imagine it any other way, really!
PHILIP: Ditto that! Really, collaboration is the only way of working I’ve ever known. The only other illustrator I’ve worked with (other than myself) is my wife Erin. Writing work and illustration work are constantly overlapping in our studio and I think that overlap leads to better, more cohesive books. I definitely think many of the weird quirks of the three Sadie books wouldn’t have survived the more normal book making process where author and illustrator work separately on their own little islands.

Each Sadie story has an animal focus–how do you choose which animal(s) will be in the story?
PHILIP: Well, obviously I have a thing for elephants that goes back to my first book with Erin, A Sick Day for Amos McGee. My first book with Matt, Special Delivery, centers around an elephant as well. I love how expressive an elephant face can be. Erin and Matt are both very expressive illustrators, albeit with very different results. That’s probably why elephants came to mind for both of them. Plus, an elephant can really fill up a book page nicely. All the other animal choices are somewhat opportunistic. Like, who wouldn’t want to see Matt illustrate a giant frog riding on the back of a rhea?! A rhea is basically a South American ostrich, for those of you reading that aren’t current on your ornithological studies.

Any plans for more Sadie stories?
MATTHEW: Nothing else is in the works for Sadie, Aunt Josephine, Sherman, and those monkeys. But Phil, Neal, and I (different kind of monkeys?) are already working up a whole different picture book idea now. I’m currently in sketches for this one. And hopefully there will be more books on down the road too. I sent Phil some drawings from my sketchbook a while ago to see if he could pry a story out of them. We shall see!
PHILIP: In Follow That Frog! there’s talk of getting to Paris. I’d love to send Sadie and Josephine to Paris someday. But for now Matt and I are onto something new.

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**Thank you to Sara at Holiday House for providing copies for review!**

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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

WOW! That was a hilarious read! The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas is so funny and super interesting! If you like comedies, fantasy books, books that include some Spanish and maybe a myth or folktale that comes to life, then this is made for you! This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Nestor’s dad is in the army and because of that Nestor has had eight or nine first days of school. He has moved to five different places at least. But no matter what he does, he always follows his one rule, DON’T MAKE FRIENDS BECAUSE IT WILL BE TOO HARD TO LEAVE THEM. Nestor also has a secret, he can talk to animals! Nestor isn’t exactly happy with his ability because the raven that lives in his neighborhood can be pretty annoying sometimes. Nestor likes to go into the forest sometimes to chat with other animals like a deer.

When he visits them just before going to school on the first day of school, he has a little chat about what he should pretend to be, for example he could be the brainy one, the athletic one etc. Sometimes Nestor thinks what the animals tell him could bring him into detention for a month, so he just acts like himself. After talking to his science partner, Talib, he discovers that his dog went missing and also after overhearing a girl called Maria Carmen he discovers that her goats went missing. He thinks something is definitely wrong when other people in the town report their pets missing. And even worse, all of the people in the town think it’s his grandma who is making all of the animals disappear! Nestor is sad that he can’t write to dad about all of this because that would be breaking his mom’s rule, Always be positive, Always be Happy. Nestor accidentally makes friends with Maria Carmen and Talib.

One day Nestor sees his grandma sneak into the woods with a knife and gets super suspicious and scared. When Maria Carmen invites Nestor to her home, her mom wants him to leave as soon as possible as soon as she hears his last name. When Nestor figures out what the thing is that is taking the animals, he also realizes that the thing gets stronger with every eclipse and the next eclipse is coming up!

I love this book because of how funny it is! Seriously, this line is classic, “The faded sign outside New Haven Middle School declares HOME OF THE FIGHTING ARMADILLOS. The only fighting I’ve ever seen an armadillo do is against a truck on a highway. And they don’t usually win.” Like how funny is that? Another reason I love this book is because you don’t usually come across books with kids that have superpowers – well, actually you do, but none of them are this good. No offense to other superhero books.

**Thanks so much to Sofia for this review! We love books that are funny!**

 

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AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published: August 25th, 2020 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroNuts Mission Two: The Water Planet is the second book in the laugh-out-loud series by children’s literature legend Jon Scieszka.

The book follows a new mission, where AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug must find a planet fit for human life after we’ve finally made Earth unlivable.

After they splash-land on the Water Planet, they find power-hungry clams, a rebellious underwater force, and a world full of too-good-to-be-true. Can this aquatic world really be humans’ new home? And why are these clams so eager to swap planets?

• Features full-color illustrations and an out-of-this-world book jacket
• A can’t-put-it-down page-turner for reluctant readers
• Complete with how-to-draw pages in the back

AstroNuts Mission Two is full of laugh-out loud humor with a thoughtful commentary on the reality of climate change at the core of the story.

Eager and reluctant readers alike ages 8 to 12 years old will be over the moon about this visually groundbreaking read.

• Creatively illustrated, full-color action-packed space saga
• Perfect for fans of Dog Man, Big Nate, Wimpy Kid, and Captain Underpants
• Great gift for parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, and educators who are looking to introduce STEM and environmental topics to children
• Add it the the shelf with books like The Bad Guys in Superbad by Aaron Blabey, The 104-Story Treehouse: Dental Dramas & Jokes Galore! by Andy Griffiths, and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the official educators’ guide for AstroNuts Mission Two (created by me!):

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about AstroNuts Mission Two here.

You can see information about AstroNuts Mission One and its Educators’ Guide here.

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It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Edwardian Taylor
Anticipated Publication: October 27, 2020 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary: Once again, the beleaguered storyteller tries to tell a traditional fairy tale, with little success. Red has some questions about her delivery to Grandma’s house, the wolf calls in sick, and more chaos ensues.

About the Creators: 

Like the characters in his books, Josh Funk doesn’t like being told how stories should go—so he writes his own. He is the author of many popular picture books, including the popular Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, illustrated by Brendan Kearney, and the It’s Not a Fairytale books, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor. He lives in New England with his family. Learn more about him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @joshfunkbooks and Instagram: @joshfunkbooks.

Edwardian Taylor is the illustrator of multiple children’s books, including Race!, written by Sue Fliess; the Toy Academy chapter books, written by Brian Lynch; and the It’s Not a Fairytale books, written by Josh Funk. He lives in Texas with his partner and their four dogs. Learn more about him at www.edwardiantaylor.com.
Twitter: @edwardiantaylor
Instagram: edwardiantaylor
Tumblr: Edwardian Taylor

Review: With each book that comes out in this series, I have a long, intense internal debate. I ask myself, “But which one in the series is your favorite NOW?” And I simply cannot decide. Josh Funk and Edwardian Taylor’s It’s Not a Fairytale books are the best picture book fairytale retellings that exist. I know that’s a bold statement, but it is the truth. If you’ve missed this series, you must order copies from your nearest bookstore. They are such beautiful, thoughtful texts, and they inspire amazing classroom opportunities and critical thinking.

When I pulled out It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood, I suspect the shrieks of joy from my children could be heard by passersby outside of my house. These books are so cherished in our home. I’ve had It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood about a week, and I think we’ve read it about fifteen times (no exaggeration). Similarly to the other books in the series, Red is smarter than the narrator, and she tells her own story and does so boldly. Readers will laugh aloud as they read it! It offers good critical discussions about the stories we hear and read. I loved it and can’t wait to read it (several times) tomorrow. Thanks so much to Josh and Edwardian for another great book in this series!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be great to read as a Readers’ Theatre. Students could read different characters and the narrator aloud to create a powerful effect. Fairy tale retellings offer great opportunities for kids to tell counterstories to the narratives that are popular in society or the media, and teachers might ask students to write retellings and counterstories to those that are commonly told.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you describe Red?
  • How do the author and illustrator work together to create a story?
  • What aspects of the retelling are different from the traditional fairy tale? What does this make you think about when you consider the original fairy tale? How is the story improved in this retelling?

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Giveaway:

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Read This If You Loved:  It’s Not Hansel and Gretel by Josh Funk, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk; Dear Dragon by Josh Funk; Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk; Whose Story is This, Anyway? by Mike Flaherty; Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett; A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

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**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media and Two Lions for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

 

Dear readers,

If you are a dragon lover like my friend who recommended this book to me or love a kindhearted tale this would be your book: Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi! This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Kenny is a little rabbit who always has his head stuck in a book. One day, Kenny’s father rushes into the kitchen all out of  breath. He tells his family to move out straight away but the Mom sits him down for dinner and then tells him to explain. The father says that a Dragon lives on the hill next to their farm and Kenny, the bookworm, obviously wants to see the dragon. The mom protests but the father says he can go but he has to be careful. Kenny quickly goes upstairs and covers himself in pots and pans like a knight and takes a benastary (a book of beasts) with him. Once Kenny gets up on the hill and sees the dragon he gets very scared. Once Kenny meets the dragon he becomes best friends with him. Kenny’s parents think that they should meet the dragon, whose name is Grahame, so they go over to Grahame’s house and have a cup of tea. Later Kenny goes to the village to meet his friend George who lends him books. Kenny discovers that George is assigned to kill Grahame! Will Kenny be able to explain to George that this monstrous but kind beast is his friend before it is too late?

I love this book so much because of its kindness and how it proves the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. It warms my heart when I see how the two companions work together to stop Grahame (the dragon) from getting hurt. I also love this book because of the cute pencil drawings and the great words that express the story. For example, this is how the book starts: ”Many years ago . . . Hold on, I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking a book about a dragon should start with “Once upon a time.” But this one doesn’t because frankly, I don’t really know what “Once upon a time” means.” Ha ha ha by now you must be laughing! Now you can see how the whole book is told in an exciting way. I hope this book captures your heart and your imagination. Either way HAVE FUN!!!

Discussion questions

  • If you were Kenny would you go up to a mountain that your father tells you has a dragon in it?
  • When Kenny decides to help his friend Grahame do you think that was the right thing to do? Why?
  • Which character is like you the most? What do you have in common?
  • Which of Kenny’s actions surprised you and why did they surprise you?

If this book got the action in you going or you just liked it then be sure to check out The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi. I have not read it yet but have watched the movie twice and can’t wait to get my hands on that book!

**We feel so lucky to have Sofia.**

 

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Unicorns are the Worst!
Author: Alex Willan
Published September 29th, 2020 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: This wildly funny and imaginative picture book celebrates the value of differences as a grumpy goblin gets to know his new unicorn neighbors.

It’s an undeniable fact that unicorns are the worst!

Magic is serious business, but all unicorns do is frolic around, have tea parties, and leave glitter all over the place! They’re nothing like goblins—practical and hard-working, who can put magic to good use! Unicorns aren’t helpful at all.

Or are they?

About the Author: Alex Willan grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was seldom seen without his sketchbook in hand. His love of drawing led him to earn a BFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design. Alex has exhibited in art galleries and has painted murals, theater sets, and squirmy kids’ faces, but his true love has always been children’s books. He lives in Chicago with his dog, Harley. Visit him online at Alex-Willan.Squarespace.com.

P.S. If you haven’t read Alex Willan’s Jasper and Ollie, I HIGHLY recommend it as well!!!

Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Happy book birthday to this funny tale! I am a sucker for a funny and unique narrator, and our Goblin in Unicorns are the Worst! fits that bill. You can hear his grumpy voice as he tells of his tales of whoa trying to do his job while unicorns get to just frollick and be happy. You can feel his despair while he gets frustrated with his hardworking life versus the laidback life of the unicorns. But you also witness his realization that his assumptions were wrong.  Because the reader has such a connection with him, this realization comes to the reader as well because as you read, you are starting to agree with the goblin. All of this leads to the idea of assumptions, fake news and gossip, propaganda, different points of view on one thing, and envy–all topics that are tough to talk about with young children, but Unicorns are the Worst! gives the perfect context (and is hilarious!).

Book Trailer:

Flagged Passages:  

Read This If You Love: Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea, Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, Eduardo Guadardo, Elite Sheep by Anthony Pearson

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**Thank you to Simon Kids for providing a copy for review!**

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