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Early Reader Review – Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers

 

 

DIRT AND BUGSY BUG CATCHERS

Written by Megan Litwin

Illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn

(Penguin Young Readers; Available in trade paperback $15.99,
and hardcover, $4.99; Ages 6-7)

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers cover two friends ready to catch bugs

 

 

Author Megan Litwin and illustrator Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn have created an Early/Progressive Reader Level 2 book for young readers learning to use picture and context clues, recognize beginning, middle, and ending sounds, and predict what will happen in the text in this sweet story of friendship Dirt and Bugsy: Bug Catchers, Book #1.

The book opens with an illustration of best pals Dirt, who, of course, has dirt on his face, and Bugsy, who is wearing a ladybug t-shirt. Panczyszyn depicts smiles on their faces and arms around each other’s shoulders showing the bond between these friends. Her illustrations are joyful with wonderful detail.

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int1 bugs that crawl bugs that slide
Interior spread from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

Using both short and long sentences, Litwin guides the reader with words that explain the different kinds of bugs the boys like to catch. Bugs that crawl. Bugs that slide. The reader learns about various bugs as they crawl on the boys’ arms and down their legs. Dirt and Bugsy don’t mind. They love bugs!

The action changes when rain begins to pour down on the boys and their bugs. The progressive reader can use the more in-depth plot to figure out how the boys will find a solution to their problem. This is a great way for readers to decipher the problem and come up with a solution.

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int2 Dirt and Bugsy are outside
Interior spread from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

Litwin’s words guide children to think about how rain affects the bugs and how they can use their brains to come up with a plan. The plot has been set, and a problem has arisen, so the reader can now stop and think of solutions before continuing to read. This is a fabulous way to teach kids about plot development.

 

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int3 They spy. They dig.
Interior art from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

 

Together the boys decide they can build a shelter and that shelter will be a bug barn. Panczyszyn draws a beautiful, large red barn with a sign that reads ALL BUGS WELCOME as imagined by the pair but when the page is turned, the real bug barn is three cardboard boxes with towels tied to sticks to shield the rain. That problem is solved But now—they have no bugs.

 

Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers int4 they give each bug a room.
Interior art from Dirt and Bugsy Bug Catchers written by Megan Litwin and illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn, Penguin Young Readers ©2023.

 

 

Setting off individually, the boys spy, dig, lift, and sift placing the bugs in glass jars. They give the bugs individual names and play games until the rain stops. And then the bugs crawl, slide, and fly home. The story ends with talking quotes teaching the reader about quotation marks and dialogue tags.

The back matter outlines How To Be A Good Bug Catcher. I can see kids getting psyched to go out and search for their own bugs. There is also a suggestion for other Level 2 books and some Level 3. Once kids fall in love with the series, they can move on to book #2 in the series, Beetle Mania available now.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Best New Books for Back-to-School 2021

10 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

∼A ROUNDUP FOR 2021∼

 

 

backtoschool pencil clipart

 

 

Back-to school this year is not only the start of a new school year, for many it’s also a return to in-person learning in over a year. For others, it’s really the first time ever to attend daycare, preschool, or elementary school. This selection of ten assorted books highlights all the things that returning to school means for kids.

 

 

MEET YOUR SCHOOL!: An All About Me Book
Written by Cindy Jin

Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Cindy Jin’s upbeat 12-page school-shaped board book, Meet Your School!: An All About Me Book, features a variety of animals making their way through a school day. A nice overview is given of what kids can expect, from the main classrooms to the art room, gym, cafeteria, library, and music room. The rhyming couplets reinforce what can be found in each area: “The library is filled with books of all kinds / to teach and inspire bright, young minds.”

The illustrations by Melissa Crowton depict cute, colorful animals interacting happily in various situations. Each page has fun lift-the-flaps for further exploration. Overall, this book has a lot to discover while also providing a positive message as to what school is all about. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

HowtobeKindinKindergarten cvrHOW TO BE KIND IN KINDERGARTEN:
A Book For Your Backpack
Written by D.J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Ruth Hammond
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99; Ages 3-5)

 My eyes were instantly attracted to the colorful book cover illustration of an apple being shared on the school playground with a new friend, while classmates throw balls and glide down the slide, introducing readers to acts of kindness in How To Be Kind in Kindergarten: A Book for Your Backpack.

A book for your backpack is a perfect subtitle for this small hardcover book that reads rhythmically, teaching hidden lessons to kids first entering the new world of school. The fun-to-read story includes a diverse mix of abilities, races, and genders. Kids should have no problem finding themselves in one of Hammond’s realistic drawings.

Steinberg opens the story with the question, “Are you in kindergarten? Is that really true? How in the world did you get so big? So smart and funny, too!” The story moves into the classroom with posters of 1, 2, 3, and ABC so a child sees what a kindergarten classroom looks like. Kindness is threaded through each page as Steinberg points out, ‘Cause you’re the kind of kid who always shows you care.

This book shows kids what an impact they can make in their new school, whether cheering up a sad new friend or including a shy friend in a game. This truly is an ideal backpack book and should be read on the first day of school, the middle of the school year, and at the end of the school year because kindness is needed year-round. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

whats in dragons backpack coverWHAT’S IN DRAGON’S BACKPACK?
Written by Joan Holub

Illustrated by Christopher Lee
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 3-5)

The eye-catching cover of Joan Holub’s, What’s in Dragon’s Backpack? gleams with metallic dragon scales and the backpack-shaped 14-page board book has a cut-out handle just the right size for small hands. Inside, the fun rhyming couplets give us a glimpse of what Dragon’s got in there: “Stickers, charms, a message, and some homework that he fried. Oops!”

Each page has lift-the-flaps for further exploration adorned with Christopher Lee’s adorable art. The faces on his dragons, such as on the mock A Dragon’s Tale book, are top-notch. I also really like the subtle math lessons showing three flames equals one on-fire number three. Other teaching elements include groups of shapes that, once you peek beneath the flap, combine to make a sword.

Educational, interactive, and fun, this engaging book is sure to be a hit with kids who are starting school and donning backpacks. It can also be a conversation starter about what should be inside your child’s backpack to make school days a success. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL
Written by Alexandra Alessandri
Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

It’s the first day of school, an English-speaking school, but Isabel only speaks Spanish. Isabel is a charming and irresistible main character and I cared about how she felt going into unknown territory, alone. Her reluctance is understandable. She doesn’t know English and is scared of what it will be like. Isabel sees things in gorgeous colors and through art and doesn’t realize how quickly she will pick up the new language. “English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites.” Isabel preferred the warm, cheerful colors of Spanish.

Ultimately her language learning is facilitated by one good friend but her limited grasp of English initially gets in the way. Isabel’s thoughtful art saves the day and new friendship blossoms. The interplay between Alessandri’s beautiful prose and Dawson’s flowing art makes every page a delight to behold. This cleverly presented bilingual picture book also includes Spanish to English translations in the back matter but for English speakers, most of the Spanish words can be understood in the context of the story. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

My School Stinks! coverMY SCHOOL STINKS!
Written by Becky Scharnhorst
Illustrated by Julia Patton
(Philomel; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

School really does stink when one classmate is a skunk and the teacher is unBEARable. So, when little Stuart tells Mom his classmates are wild animals she says all kids are wild animals in debut author Becky Scharnhorst’s hysterical read-aloud with drawings by Julia Patton.

The originality of this story told in diary form starting on the first day of school and ending at Open House, when Mom and Dad realize they have sent their young child, Stuart, to a school full of animals, takes the reader through the first seventeen days of school. Stuart attempts to play along with his classmates when the monkeys hang him upside down. He’s then caught by Patricia the Porcupine pricking him with her many quills. Stuart journals P.S. The deep breaths still aren’t working. P.P.S. Neither are the happy thoughts P.P.P.S. I’m not going back tomorrow!

As Stuart continues to journal he also begins to make friends. Charlie the Crocodile apologizes for biting his fingers and becomes Stuart’s new best bud. This sweet story can be read for school storytime or by a parent before bed. I laughed on entry September 15 when Scharnhorst writes P.S. Mom doesn’t understand how a skunk got in the storage closet. I guess she’ll find out at Open House. I was anxious for Open House to find out how Mom and Dad would react to realizing they sent their child to the wrong school, but Stuart repeats what they told him on the first day of school Mom and Dad told me to take deep breaths and THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS. This was a great lesson for his parents. I just hope they let him stay friends with a crocodile! Patton’s detailed artwork adds to the whimsy with letters written on notebook paper and characters drawn with big teeth and round glasses. The P.S. notes were a fabulous extra touch. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

WE WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL:
The Fight for Disability Rights
Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler + Janine Leffler
Illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Oh, how I’d love for this nonfiction picture book to be required reading in all schools! I could not believe as I read it that prior to President Ford signing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975 with its Individualized Education Plan (IEP), children with disabilities did not have the right to a free, appropriate, public education. But the book really focuses on the lawsuit in 1971 called Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia, the District Court ruling in 1972 that led to this important act being implemented, and the seven school-aged children and their families who made it happen.

We Want to Go to School is narrated by author-illustrator Cocca-Leffler’s daughter, author Janine Leffler, whose own inclusive experience as a student with Cerebral Palsy (CP) receiving various special assistance in school contrasts to what students prior to her would have experienced.  She explains how prior to the ’70s, students with disabilities either didn’t go to school, stayed in hospitals, or were sent to special schools at a huge expense to families. If they were allowed into some schools, these children were segregated in separate classrooms. There was little chance to interact with mainstream students. That is until Peter Mills, Janice King, Jerome James, Michael Williams, George Liddell, Jr., Steven Gaston and Duane Blacksheare decided they’d had enough of being left out. Of course, the schools objected, finding reason after reason why students with disabilities should not be able to attend. Their parents were having déjà vu.

Wasn’t public school supposed to be for everyone? Wasn’t that the lesson learned in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when segregation because of the color one’s skin was the issue. So the families fought back. They began to meet others facing the same school challenges and there was power in numbers. The news of the lawsuit spread so that pretty soon “more families joined the lawsuit.” It then became a class action suit. “18,000 students from the Washington, D.C. area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities.” Would the judge presiding over the case agree? YES! And the positive outcome of this lawsuit led to big changes for students with disabilities with “federal laws guaranteeing public education for all children.

I loved the energy of Cocca-Leffler’s art, especially the spread where she’s filled the page with faces of 1,000 kids and tells readers to imagine those 18,000 DC students, and the 8 million US students denied an education because they had disabilities. Powerful! Five pages of back matter include information on Disability Education Rights, a timeline, Author Notes, and an enlightening Note from Paul R. Dimond, Plaintiffs’ Attorney in the Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia. I’m grateful for these change-makers. They paved the way for future students with disabilities who continue to benefit from their commitment to equal rights in education for all. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

TheNightBaaforetheFirstDayofSchool coverTHE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Dawn Young
Illustrated by Pablo Pino
(WorthyKids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Night Baafore The First Day of School blends the counting element, the rhyme and hilarity of Sandra Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk with the irresistible art of Mark Teague’s Pigsty. As the main character Bo—the star of two previous books I haven’t yet read—attempts unsuccessfully to fall asleep due to day-before-school-starts jitters, he calls on sheep to help. The catch is they make it more difficult to sleep with the ruckus they create. Poor Bo, aware of the hours slipping away, is desperate. He offers them a snack if they’ll stop, but when that doesn’t work he calls an emergency meeting. Only then a mysterious shadow of a monster appears further exacerbating the chaos. 

There’s as much for readers to enjoy in Young’s wild storyline as there is in Pino’s zany and action-packed illustrations. The counting of sheep from 1 to 10 as they get up to no good adds an engaging layer to the book. Then, reversing that to eventually count back down as it gets later and later, is such fun and a great way to involve young readers. I love how the 10 sheep all wear number necklaces to identify themselves. Kids may want to study each spread more closer upon further reads to see what each individual sheep is doing with the supplies Bo has prepared for his backpack. The massive mess is mighty fun to look at. Tension builds with each page turn as we wonder if Bo will get any shut-eye and manage to catch the bus to school. And the humor surrounding every sheep-filled episode encroaching on Bo’s time to sleep is a delight in this rhyming romp of a read-aloud. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NORMAN’S FIRST DAY AT DINO DAY CARE
Written and illustrated by Sean Julian
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Norman, a very small, almost invisible dinosaur compared to all the other dinos at Mrs. Beak’s play group, is shy. This may resonate with young readers experiencing a similar emotion when just starting school and being away from home. Julian’s rich artwork is charming in how it depicts Norman hiding (except his tail always adorably sticking out) in various situations where the text also states “he was very good at hiding.” In the beginning, before Norman makes friends, parents can ask children to see if they can spot him in the illustrations as he avoids interaction.

My favorite part of the picture book is when Norman confides in Mrs. Beak that he really wants to join the other dinos but feels shy. “It’s okay to be shy,” Mrs. Beak replied. “It’s a special part of who you are.” When she asks the dinos to perform in pairs, Norman teams up with big, loud Jake who despite his size, admits he’s rather nervous too. The two share a laugh and come up with a magical performance that not only satisfies (and perhaps comforts) children but provides the perfect conversation starter for parents and teachers to discuss shyness. I’m not sure it was deliberate, but I appreciated Mrs. Beak’s rainbow door and her rainbow mug, another welcoming feature to this warm and reassuring read. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

SCHOOL IS COOL! (A Hello!Lucky Book)
Written by Sabrina Moyle
Illustrated by Eunice Moyle
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99; Ages 5-9)

School Is Cool was written and illustrated by sisters Sabrina Moyle and Eunice Moyle founders of Hello!Lucky, their award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio.

Targeting the child who has already had some school experience, this story begins on the beach where the rhinoceros, dog, and platypus are chilling out until they realize Tomorrow’s the first day of school! The expressive drawings tell it all when the dog almost drops his ice cream cone and the rhino jumps from his floatation device. The friends are worried kids won’t like your hair. Or how they talk. Or what they wear.

Eunice Moyle’s bold, captivating illustrations depict all sorts of animals arriving for their first day by school bus and bikes. They line up awaiting a handshake from the animal teacher, in popping bright greens and oranges and a happy yellow sun, a perfect complement to the welcome the smiling animals.

This book expresses the true feelings many kids have when it’s time to say goodbye to Mom and home now replaced by an unfamiliar teacher and classroom where they must learn the new rules. What if your teacher calls on you—and the answer is five, but you said … 2. It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” Everyone is here to grow.”

The back flap states that the Moyle sisters use their creativity and humor to inspire kindness, empathy, self-awareness, and service and in doing so dedicate this book to teachers everywhere. You are the coolest! Thank you for all you do! – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

TWINS VS. TRIPLETS #1:
Back-to-School Blitz

Written by Jennifer Torres
Illustrated by Vanessa Flores
(Harper Chapters; HC $15.99, Paperback $5.99, Ages 6-10)

It looks like it’s going to be three times the trouble at school for David Suárez. With new neighbors, the Benitez triplets adding to what’s already an annoying presence by his other neighbors, the Romero twins, David must navigate third grade and not lose his cool. His goal after all is to be captain of the Globetrotters, the geography club, and that requires an uncluttered mind. Except the Benitez triplets and Romero twins are messing with him and everyone else.

When David is tasked with monitoring the playground (trouble maker prime turf), he fears it may be made off-limits for everyone if the five tricksters continue getting up to no good. And that is looking more and more likely when both sets of mischief-makers aim to rule recess with their pranks and pushy personalities.

This early chapter book, filled with humorous black-and-white illustrations, works well with its mix of Spanish words and expressions along with comments at the end of most chapters noting a reader’s progress. I like how Back-to-School Blitz includes a diverse group of students and some interesting geography information (David’s favorite subject) that ends up playing an important part in keeping the bullies in check. A couple of things jumped out at me like having the triplets together in one class which I thought wasn’t typically done. Another time, after causing a distraction, the triplets sneak out of class early without the teacher, Mr. Kim, noticing. But I’m an adult and if the kids reading this first book in a new series don’t mind, that’s great because as the book ends, there’s some unusual digging going on in the sandbox, and surely more pranks to come in book #2. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

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Children’s Early Graphic Novel – Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell

 

SCAREDY SQUIRREL IN A NUTSHELL
(Book #1 in Scaredy’s Nutty Adventures)

By Melanie Watt

(Penguin Random BYR; $12.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

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WARNING! This book is absolutely … NUTS!

Award-winning author and illustrator Melanie Watt, well known for her Scaredy Squirrel picture book series, has created her first graphic novel, Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, featuring a squirrel beset by many (and often improbable) fears about life outside his beloved nut tree. To his credit, Scaredy Squirrel confronts each challenge with an elaborate and hilarious action plan that’s often doomed to failure. From the potential alien landing to deadly dust bunnies, Scaredy Squirrel not only has a plan but a backup as well (play dead). 

Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell tree Page 2
Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Since childhood, Scaredy Squirrel has kept himself and his nut tree safe from dreaded “trespassers” who could damage his tree. Who knows when a mammoth may want to uproot it? Or a cat might scratch it. So Scaredy Squirrel has developed a strategy to protect the tree. He places objects around his tree to distract the trespassers, such as a fake tree for the mammoth to uproot or a scratching post for the cat.

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Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell vacuum Page 4
Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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However, there’s a downside to this ambitious plan: these objects get dusty and from the dust springs notorious dust bunnies! So this quick-thinking squirrel comes up with a detailed plan to prevent dust bunnies … vacuum all the decoy objects! All well and good until the vacuum gets clogged and now Scaredy Squirrel must develop a plan to unclog the vacuum cleaner. As you can imagine, more problems emerge which entail more plans and greater chaos. Inevitably (despite playing dead) he finds himself face to face with a real bunny who would like to be his friend. Which of course necessitates a new plan …

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Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell pompom Page 7
Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Watt’s familiar cartoon-like illustrations go nicely with the graphic novel format. Simple geometric shapes are used to create the characters and setting. Faces are wonderfully expressive. Panels are well organized on the pages with a clean and uncluttered look, making this book perfect for newly independent readers. Witty word plays and expressions such as “going out on a limb” and “dust bunnies,” keep the narrative lively and make this a good read-aloud as well. Delightfully quirky features include a “Nutty (Table of) Contents,” and some silly and interactive features to be taken before it is “safe” to begin the story. 

Parents, caregivers, and teachers are sure to appreciate that, despite the zany humor of the book, Scaredy Squirrel manages to demonstrate, in a light-hearted way, how children can face their fears and develop problem-solving skills such as writing down action plans, to face real-life challenges. While the age is listed as 6-9, younger children would certainly enjoy having the story read to them.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Click here and here to read more squirrel stories.

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An Interview with Vicky Fang about Layla and The Bots and Friendbots

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH VICKY FANG

AUTHOR OF 

LAYLA AND THE BOTS: CUPCAKE FIX

AND AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR OF

FRIENDBOTS

 

 

SHORT SUMMARIES:

Layla and the Bots Cupcake Fix cvrCUPCAKE FIX 

Blossom Valley is opening a new community center! But they need to generate buzz for the grand opening. Layla and the Bots know how to help: they will build a cupcake machine for the party! But will their invention be a piece of cake… or a recipe for disaster? With full-color artwork on every page, speech bubbles throughout, and a fun DIY activity that readers can try at home, this early chapter book series brings kid-friendly STEAM topics to young readers!

 

 

 

 

Friendbots Blink and Block book1 cover

FRIENDBOTS

Meet the robots Blink and Block in this STEM-inspired, Level Two I Can Read Comic by debut author-illustrator Vicky Fang.

Blink is scanning the playground for treasure, but Block is pretty sure there’s no gold to be found. When Blink finds a penny and decides to make a wish, will these two new pals find treasure after all—or maybe something even better?
Blink and Block Make a Wish is a Level Two I Can Read Comic, geared for kids who are comfortable with comics, can read on their own, but still need a little help.

 

 

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Hi Vicky! It looks like I caught you right in the middle of two book launches. Layla and the Bots: Cupcake Fix came out on June 1 and Friendbots hits bookstores on June 22. Congratulations! How exciting to have two books coming out in one month! How does it feel?

Vicky Fang: It’s so much fun but also quite exhausting! Social media is such a strange place and two book launches means I’m on it more than I’d like to be. But I had the amazing opportunity to do an in-person launch party for Layla and the Bots: Cupcake Fix with Linden Tree Books and it was amazing! Even though it’s my sixth book (gasp!), it was my first launch party! I had so much fun celebrating the book with friends, new readers, and even some Layla and the Bots fans I met for the first time.

 

CP: Oh, my gosh. That sounds amazing! It must have been so nice to see your fans live and in-person. Friendbots is your debut as an author/illustrator. How was the experience of creating that book different from your previous experiences writing the text alone? Were you surprised by any particular aspect of the author/illustrator process?

VF: Illustrating a book is so much work! I mean, writing a book is too, but there’s definitely a different kind of pressure to illustrate a whole book within a few months, including revisions and cover illustrations, etc. I do think that between Book 1 and Book 2 I got much better at designing panels that would be fun to draw. I also had a much better sense of how long the drawings would take. Creatively, I’m more comfortable incorporating wordless panels as the author-illustrator. Somehow, it feels less like I’m just leaving a hole there, because I know I’m the one who’s going to have to fill it!

 

CP: One thing I love about your Layla and the Bots books is that I can never anticipate what’s going to go wrong (and something always does!). When you set out to write those books do you start with the problem, the solution, or something else entirely?  

VF: Ah, that’s a great question! I usually start with the solution, in some rough form, just in the sense that I think about something that would be fun to design! So an amusement park for dogs (Happy Paws), a suped-up go-kart (Built for Speed), or a cupcake machine (Cupcake Fix). From there, I think about the problem they might try to solve and that leads to the specifics of the solution they come up with. It does feel a bit like a fun puzzle trying to plot those books!

 

Laylaandthe Bots in volleyball
Interior illustration from Layla and The Bots: Cupcake Fix Credit: Scholastic Inc., Vicky Fang, Christine Nishiyama (2021)

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CP: Coding plays a big part in your books–even the board books. What would you recommend to parents who are intimidated at the thought of coding, but who want to foster a love (or at least a level of comfort) with coding in their children? 

VF: A lot of people ask me this question! First off, I incorporate coding into the books because I think computational thinking is so important for all kids, whether or not they want to code or become software engineers. It’s really about being able to break down a problem logically and think through the solution in small, logical pieces. I’m just hoping kids start to think in these logical blocks: if/then, and/or, etc. And they do already naturally! It’s just about seeing those logical blocks and realizing that those blocks are how you give instructions to a computer. Besides books, there are also great tools and toys out there. Scratch/Scratch Jr., Code-a-pillar, and Sphero are just a few that parents might look into!

 

CP: Awesome. Thank you! You’ve written (and sold!) a picture book, chapter books, board books, and an early graphic novel series. What do you like about writing in so many different formats and do you have a favorite?

VF: As a former product designer, I get inspiration from the strengths and restrictions of the different formats! The format is part of the ideation process for me. I don’t have a favorite. I love the conceptual and tactile nature of board books, the poetic precision of picture books, the fun of chapter books, and the theatre-like quality of graphic novels!

 

LaylaandtheBots int Sweettooth
Interior illustration from Layla and The Bots: Cupcake Fix Credit: Scholastic Inc., Vicky Fang, Christine Nishiyama (2021)

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CP: How do you know which format is right for which story idea?

VF: I usually have an idea floating around in my head and it will click with a format, based on some of the qualities I described above. I have an ongoing list of ideas that I keep, usually of vague picture book ideas. But then separately, I’ll decide I want to try a particular format and read a lot of books and realize, oh, this is perfect for that idea about X! And then I start writing it. It becomes a bit of, what format has the right shape to fit the story I need to tell? Which will give me enough room for the characters and the plot? Which will support the visual needs? Which will fit the age group the best?

 

CP: I understand you worked as a technology product designer for Google and Intel. What exactly is a technology product designer and what are some of the coolest projects you worked on during that time?

VF: Yes! I designed the user experience for products, which means I designed how things should work. By the end of my time at Google, I was a design lead, which meant I oversaw the creative team, which included interaction designers, visual designers, writers, and even voice/audio designers. I loved working on projects that used technology to create surprising and delightful experiences! I designed DIY cardboard robots that you could build and code yourself, interactive voice games for kids, and a building that lit up and played music when you held hands in the space. Those are just a few of the projects that I loved!

 

CP: That sounds amazing! Tell me something I might not know about working for Google!

VF: Ah, what wouldn’t you know? Hmm … I think you hear all about the amazing perks and the amazing people. So what wouldn’t you know? One time, we took dozens of our cardboard robots and set up a giant robot dance party in the hallways in the middle of the night and videotaped it. We had a lot of fun—but we did a lot of work too!

 

CP: Hahaha! I love that!! I read that you were a theater major in college (me, too!) and an actress on Charmed and other TV shows. How did you get from theater to tech? 

VF: Oh, cool, I didn’t know that! I moved to LA to act but was working at some startups to pay the bills. One startup actually had very little work to do, so I spent my days teaching myself Photoshop and making little Quicktime animations in the most inefficient way possible. From that, I got jobs making Flash animations, which lead to coding Flash websites, and I eventually ended up going to grad school at Parsons School of Design to get an MFA in Design and Technology!

 

FriendbotsBook1pp4-5
Interior illustration from Friendbots written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, HarperCollins BYR ©2021.

 

CP: What skills from your previous professions have been most useful to you as a children’s book author?

VF: One of the things I love is that I feel like writing pulls from ALL of my experiences! Acting I think is an obvious one, in terms of story and character, and emotion. It also helped with understanding the agent landscape! But I also feel like all of the design work helps me craft stories, and understand how to respond to critique feedback, and be creative on demand, etc. Both acting and design have helped me as an illustrator, in thinking about color and layout, and visual focus. In some ways, I think of myself as somebody who just loves creating in different mediums—whether that be technology or pictures or words!

 

CP: What is your favorite thing about writing for children?

VF: I love that I feel like I can make a positive impact on even just one kid with a book. It never feels like a wasted effort. I love seeing kids embrace the books and become inspired to make fan art or invent something or write a story.

 

CP: What are the three most important tools in your “Writer’s Toolbox?”

VF: First off, my critique partners. I met Christine Evans and Faith Kazmi in 2017 and I wouldn’t still be here if not for their moral and creative support. Secondly, my agent. Elizabeth Bennett is an amazing partner who gives me the most insightful and inspiring directional guidance. The third, I would say, is creative brain space. I find that I have to give myself space to create and forgive myself when I’m not able to (which inevitably happens with life, more than I’d like!).

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Interior illustration from Friendbots written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, HarperCollins BYR ©2021.

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CP: What’s next for you?

VF: I’m finishing up Friendbots Book 2, which launches this fall. And I’m excited for Layla and the Bots Book 4, Making Waves, which launches in January 2022. I have an unannounced project coming in 2023, and I’m always working on new ideas!

 

CP: Great! I look forward to reading them all. Thanks, Vicky! 

VF: Thank you, Colleen! It’s been a pleasure chatting books with you!

 

Author Photo Vicky Fang
Vicky Fang Photo ©Lindsay Wiser

BRIEF BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent five years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author of nine new and upcoming STEAM books for kids, including Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code, Layla and the Bots, and her author-illustrator debut, Friendbots. Find Vicky on Twitter at @fangmous or on her website at www.vickyfang.com.
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WHERE TO BUY VICKY’S BOOKS:

https://vickyfang.com/books/layla/#cupcake-fix

https://vickyfang.com/books/friendbots/

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: @fangmous

IG: @fangmousbooks

FB: @fangmousbooks

Website: www.vickyfang.com

 

FOR MORE ON VICKY FANG:

KidLit411 Author Spotlight

Get to Know Vicky Fang

12 x 12 Featured Author (On writing for different formats)

Storyteller Academy: Student Success Story

Google Product Designer Creates New Graphic Novel Series (BleedingCool.com)

Launch Countdown: Reflections and Results

CritterLit Interview

Cynsations: Journey to Publication

Awesome Activities from Vicky Fang

Code a Musical Instrument: An Introductory Scratch Activity

Build a Balloon Powered Speedboat

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books). Click here for more info.

 

Check out https://www.soaring20spb.com/to read about more debut authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators.

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Chapter Book Review – Starla Jean Which Came First: The Chicken or the Friendship?

STARLA JEAN (Book 1)

Which Came First: The Chicken or the Friendship?

Written by Elana K. Arnold

Illustrated by A. N. Kang

(Roaring Brook Press; $14.99, Ages 4-7)

Starla Jean Which Came First: The Chicken or the Friendship cvr

 

 

Starred review – Kirkus

 

Starla Jean – Which Came First: The Chicken or the Friendship? is the first in a new early chapter book series by author Elana K. Arnold. Divided into four chapters and written in first-person, the book begins with Starla Jean and her father going to the park where Starla Jean happens upon a chicken. Her father tells her, “If you can catch it, you can keep it” not believing that she actually will. But Starla Jean can do anything she sets her mind to! So, of course, she does catch the chicken and they take it home. She names her Opal Egg, so the chicken will feel more comfortable and know they don’t want to eat her “because you don’t give a name to your dinner.” Back home Mom is not too pleased although baby sister Willa eventually benefits from Opal Egg.

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Interior art from Starla Jean Which Came First: The Chicken or the Friendship? written by Elana K. Arnold and illustrated by A. N. Kang, Roaring Brook Press ©2021.

 

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However, the big question remains: if Starla Jean found a chicken, does that mean someone lost a chicken? The family puts up ‘Found’ signs to locate her owner but when the chicken’s owner does show up, does that mean Starla Jean will have to say goodbye to her new friend?

A. N. Kang’s illustrations are crisp and plentiful on every page, encouraging early readers who are attempting to read this book on their own. Humor is also abundant in each picture, whether it’s showing a chicken taking a dust bath or Opal Egg wearing one of Willa’s diapers, an idea Starla Jean has to satisfy her mother’s complaint against her.

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Chapter Book Review – The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane

THE SCRUMPTIOUS LIFE OF AZALEAH LANE

Written by Nikki Shannon Smith

Illustrated by Gloria Felix

(Picture Window Books; $14.95, Ages 5-7)

 

 

AzaleahLane3 cover

 

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The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane, written by Nikki Shannon Smith and illustrated by Gloria Felix, is the third title in this chapter book series set in D.C. featuring a personable and persistent main character who kids will adore. 

For those not familiar with the series, the book begins with a one-page introduction to eight-year-old Azaleah and the people in her world: her parents, Mama and Daddy, who own a restaurant, her two sisters, older sister Nia and four-year-old Tiana, and her Auntie Sam, who often looks after the girls.

 

 

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Interior text from The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane written by Nikki Shannon Smith and illustrated by Gloria Felix, Picture Window Books ©2021.

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Divided into ten fast-paced chapters, the book begins with Azaleah and her sisters going to their Auntie Sam’s for the weekend while their parents are away. Azaleah has the thoughtful idea to bake chocolate chip cookies as a surprise for her parents’ return. But when they turn out less than scrumptious, horrible even, Azaleah has a mystery on her hands, trying to figure out what went wrong since she had followed the recipe perfectly.

She soon thinks she’s figured out the problem, but after baking a second batch that also doesn’t taste just right, she’s left wondering what went wrong. At this point, Azaleah is determined to solve the mystery, and still bake a perfect third batch before her parents’ arrival.

Azaleah’s first guess at solving the mystery is something that young readers might guess at also (I did!) but the real answer to the mystery might be harder for them to figure out (I didn’t!) despite a planted clue which will encourage them to keep reading until the very satisfying end.

Full-color and bright illustrations are depicted in every chapter, adding to the readability for those children who are reading on their own at this stage but still look forward to seeing illustrations along the way.

 

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Interior text and art from The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane written by Nikki Shannon Smith and illustrated by Gloria Felix, Picture Window Books ©2021.

 

Extensive educational backmatter rounds out the book which includes a glossary of nineteen of the more difficult words that appear in the story; Let’s Talk!, which presents different ideas to discuss from the story; Let’s Write!, which gives budding young writers some ideas to write about based on the book’s plot, and a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Yum!

I love a children’s book that treats its audience as intelligent readers and The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane does just that by creating a mystery whose solution will introduce children to a topic they may not be aware of while, at the same time, entertain them with a likable and realistically portrayed cast of characters.

  •  Reviewed by Freidele Galya Soban Biniashvili

 

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Five Diverse Books for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021

A ROUNDUP

OF

FIVE DIVERSE CHILDREN’S BOOKS

FOR

MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY 2021

 

 

ItsNotLittleRedRidingHood cvrIT’S NOT LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD:
It’s Not Fairy Tales
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Edwardian Taylor

(Two Lions; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Funnyman Josh Funk’s picture books are huge hits and the third book in his fractured fairy tale series, It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood, is sure to connect with audiences everywhere. Little Red’s a smart girl who questions the narrator of the story. If Grandma’s sick, why isn’t Red taking her some medicine? And why send a kid into the woods alone in the first place? I like how the pulled-apart story is cleverly pieced back together.
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Art by Edwardian Taylor elevates the story’s hilarity. Red’s expressions say it all. With a crazy cast of characters—did I mention the pirate and Pinocchio?!—kids will be laughing with each page turn. Yet, at the same time, this book teaches kids to think about stories on another level and creatively come up with their own ideas. And that’s a win-win situation for me.

 

HelloMandarinDuck cover*HELLO, MANDARIN DUCK!
Written by Bao Phi
Illustrated by Dion MBD
(Capstone Editions; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

* Available on 2/1/2021

Bao Phi’s Hello, Mandarin Duck! features a duck lost midst the bustling May Day parade. Twins, Hue and Hoa, help it out, meeting friends and neighbors along the way. The duck’s fear of not being understood or accepted in a new place feels genuine and represents the people in similar situations, relying on or hoping for the kindness of strangers.

Dion MBD’s illustrations showcase a diverse community. A sticker and the signs carried in the parade further reinforce the community’s openmindedness. And, though the twins are key, it’s the adorably spunky mandarin duck that stole my heart as it goes from uneasy to dancing with the crowd.

 

DendeMaro coverDENDE MARO: THE GOLDEN PRINCE
by Sally Mallam
Illustrations created from the ancient rock art of Africa
(Hoopoe Books; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

Sally Mallam’s stunning picture book, Dende Maro: The Golden Prince, depicts an African origin tale which begins when there was nothing except a longing. This longing becomes the wind, then a shape until “the sighing of the wind awoke the shape, and in its breath she heard the longing, and understood.” The story continues until everything exists. Beyond the journey, we’re shown how humans “learn and develop their arts, language and mathematics and their ability to settle all over the world; to remake the world.”

The illustrations differ from what’s in many picture books; inspired by ancient African carvings and paintings, Mallam rearranged and colored these collages. I found it fascinating that the “oldest-dated human-made image as yet discovered is a small piece of incised ochre from the Blombos Cave in South Africa that is between 75,000 and 100,000 years old.” Secret picture alert: peek under the cover. This book is a worthwhile addition to home libraries and classrooms as it offers a springboard into many discussions.

 

TheBoyWithoutaName cvrTHE BOY WITHOUT A NAME
Written by Idries Shah
Illustrated by Mona Caron
(Hoopoe Books; HC $18 PB $9.99, Ages 5-8)

Idries Shah’s picture book, The Boy Without a Name, “belongs to a tradition of storytelling from the Middle East and Central Asia that is more than a thousand years old.” Parents of a newborn are told by a wise man to not name the child because he is a “very, very important boy.” Years later, “Benaam” (“Nameless”) and his friend, Anwar, take an insightful journey to visit the wise man.

Realistic illustrations by Mona Caron give the boys depth and character, elevating the tale. The pages at the wise man’s home are spectacular for their attention to detail and wealth of information. Caron has a gift for facial expressions that extends to the animals in the book as well. I would be happy just looking at the stunning images.

 

SadiqandtheBridgeBuilders cvrSADIQ AND THE BRIDGE BUILDERS
Written by Siman Nuurali
Illustrated by Anjan Sarkar
(Picture Window Books/Capstone; $6.95, Ages 6-8)

Siman Nuurali’s popular chapter-book series features Sadiq, an eight-year-old Somali-American boy living in Minnesota. In Sadiq and the Bridge Builders, Sadiq and his third-grade classmates join the school’s building club where they create a model city that can withstand a natural disaster. Using information from the teachers and sussing out things on their own, the kids succeed.

The book opens with facts about Somalia and Somali terms. Back matter includes a glossary and examples of how to take the story further such as talking about a problem the kids in the book have with their model, writing down examples of how teamwork helped, and drawing your own neighborhood. I like how the extras boost the book’s usefulness in classrooms and are also a boon for parents of bored, stuck-at-home kids.

 

Click here and here and here to read all of last year’s posts.|

 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.

Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. Read about our Mission & History HERE.

Multicultural Childrens Book Day graphic

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!

FOUNDER’S CIRCLE: Mia Wenjen (Pragmaticmom) and Valarie Budayr’s (Audreypress.com)

Platinum Sponsors: Language Lizard Bilingual Books in 50+ Languages, Author Deedee Cummings and Make A Way Media

Gold Sponsors: Barefoot Books, Candlewick Press, Capstone, Hoopoe Books, KidLitTV, Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Silver Sponsors: Charlotte Riggle, Connecticut Association of School Librarians, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Pack-N-Go Girls

Bronze Sponsors: Agatha Rodi and AMELIE is IMPRESSED!, Barnes Brothers Books, Create and Educate Solutions, LLC, Dreambuilt Books, Dyesha and Triesha McCants/McCants Squared, Redfin Real Estate, Snowflake Stories, Star Bright Books, TimTimTom Bilingual Personalized Books, Author Vivian Kirkfield, Wisdom Tales Press, My Well Read Child

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!

Poster Artist: Nat Iwata

Authors: Author Afsaneh Moradian, Author Alva Sachs & Three Wishes Publishing Company, Author Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pedersen, Author Anna Olswanger, Author Casey Bell , Author Claudine Norden, Author Debbie Dadey, Author Diana Huang & Intrepids, Author Eugenia Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Green Kids Club, Author Gwen Jackson, Author Janet Balletta, Author Josh Funk, Author Julia Inserro, Karter Johnson & Popcorn and Books, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, Author Keila Dawson, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Author Mia Wenjen, Michael Genhart, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Natalie Murray, Natalie McDonald-Perkins, Author Natasha Yim, Author Phe Lang and Me On The Page Publishing, Sandra Elaine Scott, Author Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher, Tales of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, Author Theresa Mackiewicz, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Author Toshia Stelivan, Valerie Williams-Sanchez & The Cocoa Kids Collection Books©, Author Vanessa Womack, MBA, Author Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by our CoHosts and Global CoHosts!

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by these Media Partners!

Check out MCBD’s Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board!

Multicutural Childrens Book Day poster art

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Diversity Book Lists & Activities for Teachers and Parents

Homeschool Diverse Kidlit Booklist & Activity Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Activism and Activists Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Empathy Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Kindness Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Physical and Developmental Challenges Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Poverty Kit

Gallery of Our Free Posters

FREE Diversity Book for Classrooms Program

TWITTER PARTY! Register here!

Join us on Friday, Jan 29, 2021, at 9 pm EST for the 8th annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day Twitter Party!
This epically fun and fast-paced hour includes multicultural book discussions, addressing timely issues, diverse book recommendations, & reading ideas.
We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome. **
Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter!
Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

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Kids Chapter Book Review – The Case of The Bad Apples

THE CASE OF THE BAD APPLES:
A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery

Written by Robin Newman

Illustrated by Deborah Zemke

(Creston Books; $18.99, Ages 5-11)

 

badapples cover

 

Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”

Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.

 

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Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.

 

Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?

As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as  Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.

 

BadApples int16
Interior art from The Case of The Bad Apples written by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke, Creston Books ©2020.

 

Zemke’s illustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.

Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts.
I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).  

• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Click here for an educator’s guide.

Website: www.robinnewmanbooks.com
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RobinNewmanBooks/339179099505049 

 

 

Click here to order a copy of The Case of The Bad Apples.
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Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 9/14/20

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Early Chapter Book Review – Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem

STELLA ENDICOTT AND THE ANYTHING-IS-POSSIBLE POEM:

TALES FROM DECKAWOO DRIVE

Written by Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

(Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 6-9)

 

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Starred Review – Kirkus

“I like the idea that anything is possible, don’t you?” (Stella to her teacher, p. 7)

In Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem, Stella Suzanne Endicott, is one of those glorious young children who finds the whole world and all of life absolutely amazing. A wonderfully engaged, curious and imaginative child, she lives in the same neighborhood as that awesome pig, Mercy Watson, and other characters on Deckawoo Drive. On the first day of school, she meets her new teacher, Tamar Calliope Liliana, and thinks the teacher’s name “… sounded like the name of a good fairy in a deeply satisfying story … “ Her “arch nemesis” is Horace Broom, a big know-it-all, whom she finds most annoying.

 

Stella Endicott int1
STELLA ENDICOTT AND THE ANYTHING-IS-POSSIBLE POEM. Text copyright © 2020 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Chris Van Dusen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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When Miss Liliana asks the students to write a poem using a metaphor, “Stella had a feeling that she was going to be very, very good at coming up with metaphors.” Unable to work at home, due to her brother’s hovering (he sometimes reminds her of Horace), she goes to visit Mercy Watson and curls up beside her on the couch.  As everyone knows it is

 “… a very comforting thing to lean up against a warm pig.”
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Stella Endicott int2
STELLA ENDICOTT AND THE ANYTHING-IS-POSSIBLE POEM. Text copyright © 2020 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Chris Van Dusen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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The next day she and Horace have a disagreement over Mercy Watson. Horace, a literal type, refuses to believe a pig could live in a house and sleep on the couch! Stella angrily assures him that Mercy Watson does! Miss Liliana sends the arguing pair to Principal Tinwiddie’s office (“the toughest sheriff in town”). Horace, greatly frightened of the principal and of a blemish on his academic record, flees from the office and hides in the janitor’s storage closet. Stella races after him and, as she steps inside the closet, the door closes and the two are locked in. Did I mention that poor Horace is also claustrophobic? While they wait to be rescued, Stella comforts him. A glow in the dark map of the solar system gives Horace the opportunity to help Stella learn the names of the planets, and keeps his mind off of his fears. They share the things they love best: Horace, who wants to be an astronaut, loves telescopes, Stella loves metaphors. By the time they are rescued, both are fast friends.

With an almost lyrical narrative, a gently humorous, but thoughtful story, and delightfully quirky characters, this early chapter book is pure DiCamillo. Van Dusen’s gouache illustrations humorously enhance the narrative. DiCamillo helps children see the value of imagination and creativity and that trying to understand that annoying person could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. As Stella always says: “anything can happen …”

Kate DiCamillo
Chris Van Dusen

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Early Chapter Book Review – Houndsley and Catina at the Library

HOUNDSLEY AND CATINA AT THE LIBRARY

Written by James Howe

Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Houndsley and Catina atthelibrary cvr

 

Today school librarian Dornel Cerro reviews Houndsley and Catina at the Library by James Howe with art by Marie-Louise Gay.

On Saturday mornings the beloved characters of this series, Houndsley the dog, Catina the cat, and Bert the big white bird, meet and walk to the library together. At the library, Houndsley assists students learning to read, Catina participates in a yoga class, and Bert is a library volunteer who helps reshelve books. After their visit, they return to Houndsley’s house for tea and fresh baked muffins.

On this occasion, they notice that Trixie, the librarian, seems unlike her usual upbeat self and the friends become concerned. Soon they find out that Trixie plans to retire to pursue her dream of performing in a circus. “it is never too late to try something new,” she tells the friends. However, since there is no one able to replace her, the library will have to close. The trio are shocked and saddened, but quickly busy themselves with creating a “special” gift for Trixie’s retirement party. Houndsley and Catina have no problem coming up with an idea for Trixie’s gift. Gay’s homey watercolors depict Houndsley pouring over a recipe book with a steaming cup of tea and Catina strolling through a quaint small town to pick up supplies. However, Bert is unable to think of anything and wonders what he could bring Trixie “… for all the happy Saturday mornings she had given him.”

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Houndsley and Catina int1
HOUNDSLEY AND CATINA AT THE LIBRARY. Text copyright © 2020 by James Howe. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Marie-Louise Gay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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On the day of the party, the three friends meet at Houndsley’s house. He has baked delicious muffins: pumpkin chocolate chip, blueberry buttermilk, cranberry orange, and more. Oh what a feast! Catrina brings a special circus outfit that she has made for Trixie’s next career. Poor Bert still has not thought of a gift. However, just as he leaves his house, he suddenly realizes what he can bring. What special gift could he get at the last minute? Why himself, of course! Inspired by Trixie’s belief that anyone can learn something new, Bert decides to attend library school so he can take Trixie’s spot and keep the library open. Everyone gives a big cheer (perhaps even bigger than the cheers for Houndsley and Catina’s gifts). Soon the closing sign on the library door is changed to read: “This library will not be closing.”

This is the sixth in a series of touching friendship stories with gentle life lessons woven in. I love how this story draws on library values of bringing people together and creating a community while weaving in concepts of caring and supporting people. Howe’s story also introduces retirement, new careers, and adult education, life changes even young children are likely to see in their families.

Houndsley and Catina int2
HOUNDSLEY AND CATINA AT THE LIBRARY. Text copyright © 2020 by James Howe. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Marie-Louise Gay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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The three short chapters listed in the table of contents give this transitional reader the feel of a chapter book. Vocabulary and concepts are more advanced, but appropriate and accessible for children who are almost ready for full length chapter books.

Adding to the book’s appeal are Gay’s whimsical and endearing illustrations. The bright and homey watercolors, packed with intricate details, perfectly fit the story’s quiet and charming tone. Children will be so busy pouring over the details in Houndsley’s messy kitchen, the visit to Trixie’s backyard, or Catina’s adorable red-trimmed house, that they might forget to read the story! But, no matter, they’ll want to return to this lovely neighborhood again and again.

As a librarian I was touched by Howe’s dedication. He writes: “in memory of Winnifred Genung, my first librarian – and to all librarians past, present, and future. Where would we be without you?”

Thanks James and Marie! Authors and illustrators like you make our job of promoting reading and literature to children so easy!

Starred Review – Booklist

 

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Back to School Books Are What We’re Reading on Wednesdays With Once Upon a Time

“What We’re Reading”
WEDNESDAYS WITH ONCE UPON A TIME
A Roundup of Back-to-School Booksback to school clip art

 

This time of year always brings so many emotions to students and parents alike as the realization settles in of a summer more than halfway over. I always remember the back-to-school preparation in my household as a fun yet chaotic time of paper everywhere, backpacks filled, and of course, shiny new books! This month we’ve got a variety of books covered including Hello School!, I Love You All Day Long, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School.

 

Hello School! by Priscilla Burris cover artA brand-new picture book for preschool or kindergarten students eager to start the school year is Hello School! (Nancy Paulsen Books, Ages 3-5) written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The title of the book captures the energetic possibilities that come with experiencing school for the first time. Each page shows a different part of the school day from greeting classmates, circle time, nap time, and recess all told with soft-colored illustrations. I love the little speech bubbles on each page that demonstrate children’s reactions about going to school. For example, when talking about new favorites, one child says, “Orange is my favorite,” and another carefully asks, “Can every color be my favorite?” prompting a parent or teacher reading this aloud to answer “Yes!” Once Upon A Time is excited to host Priscilla Burris on Sunday, August 12 at 2 pm to share this new picture book and the new school year so mark your calendars so you don’t miss this fun event.

 

I Love You All Day Long book cover artSometimes children new to the school experience need a little help getting over their anxiety and one picture book that does this well is I Love You All Day Long (Harper Collins BYR, Ages 4-8) written by Francesca Rusackas and illustrated by Priscilla Burris. The story starts with little Owen asking, “Do I have to go today, Mommy?,” prompting his mother to respond yes as you carefully see her packing a lunch box. Then the real trouble is revealed, “But you won’t be with me!” and the story unfolds as the illustrations show Owen finding new friends, having fun, making mistakes, and overcoming challenges all with the reminder that his mother loves him even when she is not right there with him. The tone is perfect as it is not overtly a back to school book and is instead more about a mother-son relationship. I find this book to be a beautiful story that would be perfect to read the night before or morning of the big first day of both preschool or even college.

 

Mr. Monkey Visits a School book cover illustration by Jeff MackMr. Monkey Bakes a Cake cover illustration by Jeff MackFinally, I am eager to share with you my new favorite early reader series, Mr. Monkey (Simon & Schuster BYR, Ages 4-8) written and illustrated by Jeff Mack with two titles out this season, Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake and Mr. Monkey Visits a School. In this paper over board book we follow Mr. Monkey and his wacky adventures sure to delight readers who laugh with Amelia Bedelia or the Elephant and Piggie books. Each page has only two to five simple sentences that easily match the colorful and animated illustrations inside, perfect for kindergarten and first grade readers who are still puzzling out context clues to understand the words on the page. A great addition to any library at home or at school.

 

  • Reviewed by Jessica Palacios

 

You can click on the colored links for each book reviewed and go directly to the bookshop’s web store to place an order. Good Reads With Ronna does not get compensated for any purchase. All opinions expressed are those of Once Upon a Time.

Once Upon a Time mom and daughter booksellers Maureen and Jessica PalaciosOnce Upon A Time
“Your family bookstore”
2207 Honolulu Ave. Montrose, CA 91020
818.248.9668
http://www.ShopOnceUponATime.com

Closed on Wednesday, July 4th
Story time: Every Thursday at 11 am

(Pictured at left, mom and daughter booksellers, Maureen and Jessica Palacios.)

 

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Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz

 

PRINCESS CORA AND THE CROCODILE
Written by Laura Amy Schlitz
Illustrated by Brian Floca
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz cvr image

 

Starred Reviews- Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal

Princess Cora and the Crocodile is an 80-page illustrated early chapter book about a princess who must always be a “good girl.” When Princess Cora’s Fairy Godmother answers her wish for a pet, instead of the “great, furry, golden dog” of her dreams, the princess receives a headstrong crocodile. He tries to give Cora a day off and, because the three adults in charge of the princess’s rigorous schedule barely glance at the girl, the crocodile’s disguise initially succeeds.

The ensuing mischief will tickle children—they are insiders on silliness being played on the rigid, demanding authority figures. The crocodile tries to not swat anyone with his tail or bite them, but succumbs when instigated. Kids will laugh as he rips the King’s trousers and chews on his rear end. Meanwhile, instead of bathing, studying, and skipping rope, Princess Cora relaxes in nature. After the crocodile’s overzealous intervention, Princess Cora returns to set things right. The adults finally register the girl’s dissatisfaction and recognize other ways to properly raise a princess.

Floca’s ink, watercolor, and gouache images capture the humor as both the crocodile (dressed in a frock and mop wig) and the princess come undone. The crocodile’s antics cleverly contrast against Princess Cora’s quiet day.

A skilled storyteller, Schlitz satisfies her audience utilizing a child’s universal wishes. Princess Cora and the Crocodile will delight early readers as well as younger children. The heart of this princess and animal tale shows a kid needing a break from adult-imposed overscheduling—a message with modern appeal.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Adele in Sand Land by Claude Ponti

ADELE IN SAND LAND
Written and illustrated by Claude Ponti
(Toon Books; $12.95, Ages 3 and up)

 

Adele in Sand Land by Claude Ponti cvr

 

Adele in Sand Land  by Claude Ponti is an ideal read for summer, especially for children eager to read on their own. Toon Books excels at its mission to provide easy-to-read comics in hardcover format with highly accessible content for children starting with Level 1 (First Comics for Brand New Readers) all the way through to Level 3 (Chapter-Book Comics For Advanced Beginners). This particular book, rated Level 1, will appeal to children as young as age 3 while geared for a reading level of K-1.

Originally published in French in 1988, this delightful story with its Alice in Wonderland-like fantastical plot line features a buoyant main character named Adele and her stuffed doll, Stuffy. Adele in Sand Land takes youngsters on an imaginative adventure spanning 48 colorful pages along with Adele and her charismatic cohorts Stuffy, Sandy and Masked Chicken. The action begins at her neighborhood sandbox, then inside a Sand Dragon, up to the top of the world, onto a dessert island (yes, that’s not a typo) with many other wondrous stops in-between, all before returning to the sandbox where Adele’s imagination first took flight.

Ponti wastes no time in introducing readers to a bevy of whimsical characters in the frames of the comics as the sandbox and everything around it begins to magically transform into a zany parallel universe where trees morph into birds, sand toys are caged inside a dragon and a rescued furball creature helps save the day. If you think that sounds inventive, there’s more! Ponti’s entertaining illustrations invite youngsters to explore every single image in every panel on every page because he’s managed to put such fun into every picture. Whether looking at people with “books and pots and pans to cover their heads,” a hot-dog tree or an enormous nosed Snack Man, readers won’t want to skip over a millimeter of artwork because you simply don’t know what unexpected treats you’ll find.

Prepare for numerous re-readings of this creative tale to experience the joyous journey that is Adele in Sand Land.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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A Giveaway to Celebrate 10 Years of Stink Moody

 

HAPPY 10th ANNIVERSARY, STINK MOODY! 
It’s Children’s Book Week and We’re Celebrating.

We’re delighted to get all Stinky with it as the Stink series marks ten years on the scene. And what better way to celebrate Judy Moody’s hilarious and curious younger brother than with a generous giveaway of books courtesy of Candlewick Press! We’ll be following up this giveaway with an in-depth interview with author Megan McDonald so please watch this space.

If you’ve read or heard of the popular Judy Moody series of books by Megan McDonald, then you’ll also be familiar with Judy’s younger brother, Stink. The last decade has seen Stink get his own book series (he’s got more than nine titles now if you count his Stink-O-Pedias) while growing in popularity, so much so that he’s even getting his own celebration from publisher Candlewick Press. The best thing about the Stink series is how McDonald weaves STEM into every plot, whether it’s about the solar system, sharks and guinea pigs or sneaker sniffing, and makes it fun. There are fascinating facts along with Reynolds’ funny cartoons included in every book so children learn while laughing. Sure to pull in reluctant readers, these chapter books are filled with just the right amount of illustrations, Stink-y humor, and lovable characters to keep kids coming back for more.

SharkSleepovercvr.jpgIn honor of this super sniffer, letter S loving “spotlight stealer,” we’re singing Stink’s praises and giving away three books including a brand new illustrated first chapter book and two new paperback releases. All books are perfect for adding to your child’s collection or for giving away to a fun-loving fan or school library.

Stink and the Shark Sleepover by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick; $4.99, Ages 6-9)

When a first chapter is called There Will Be Sharks you just have to read on! The Moodys have won an overnight trip to the aquarium and everyone’s going to be there including Stink’s best buddy Webster, that oh-so-annoying classmate, Riley Rottenberger, and sharks, lots of ’em. But there’s just one catch, after an evening full of activities, Stink’s heard a scary story about Bloody Mary and he’s creeped out so much that he can’t fall asleep. A ghostly red glow and mysterious noise coming from a door nearby doesn’t help matters. Stink might have to pull a prank, or two, because Judy is sleeping a little too peacefully in the presence of sharks.

Click here to read a sample chapter.
Click here to download an activity kit.
Click here for a teacher’s guide.

MasterofDisastercvr.jpgJudy Moody and Friends: Stink Moody in Master of Disaster by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Erwin Madrid (Candlewick; $12.99, Ages 4-6)
Geared for “newly independent readers,” the Judy Moody and Friends series will breed a whole new flock of Judy and Stink fans. There are just a few chapters, large print, colorful illustrations and an engaging storyline. As this story begins, Judy and Stink are sleeping out in the backyard in the hopes of seeing comet P/2015OZ4, also known as the Sherman-Holm comet. Or in Stink’s case, the Sherlock-Holmes comet. The space theme is carried through when Stink, convinced that a giant asteroid is speeding toward Earth, decides to build an asteroid-proof bunker in the basement, transforming into Asteroid Boy to save the day.

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Interior artwork from Stink Moody in Master of Disaster by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Erwin Madrid, Candlewick Press ©2015.

TheBigBadBlackoutcvr.jpgJudy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick; $6.99, Ages 6-9)

With its cool glow-in-the-dark title on the cover, this paperback edition of Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout is certain to entice some nighttime reading under the covers by flashlight. A big storm, a blackout and time off from school – what could get more exciting than that? Add Grandma Lou visiting with a host of her pets to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for fun family time together. And some great stories to boot. Speaking of boots, Judy and Stink are going to be needing them with the amount of rain that’s in store.  But there are double rainbows at the end plus tips on what things kids can do during a blackout (reading books by candlelight, flashlight or headlamp is one of ’em) making this book a must-have for any home library.

 

 

TheBigBadBlackout.int.3
Interior artwork from Judy Moody & Stink: The Big Bad Blackout by Megan McDonald with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds, Candlewick Press ©2015.

Visit www.stinkmoody.com to learn more about the character and his super series of books.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

GIVEAWAY BONUS: Follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/goodreadswithronna, then let us know and we’ll give you an extra two entries in the giveaway! Valid, too, if you’re already a fan. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories by Catharine O’Neill

Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories by Catharine O’Neill is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Starred Review – Kirkus
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Cheerful and talkative Annie, and her big brother Simon are back for another adventure in Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories written and illustrated by Catharine O’Neill (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-8). Each of the four short stories in this second volume focuses on the two very different, yet loving, siblings, delivering gentle messages about relationships, perspective, caring, and sharing.

“Living Things” is a perfect introduction to both characters. The wise-beyond-his years Simon uses his binoculars to observe nature at the lake, while Annie draws what she sees – or thinks she sees. Her scribbly drawings are not always accurate and what she believes she knows isn’t necessarily true. An exchange about frogs is humorous and telling:

“Knees? Frogs with knees? Oh, Simon. Tee-hee.  Tee-hee.  Tee-hee.”

“Good grief,” said Simon. (p. 5).

Under Simon’s patient tutelage, Annie begins to understand more of the world around her than just what she sees or thinks she knows.

In “The Sneeze,” Annie wants to take care of a sick Simon, but needs his help to do so.

Annie loves cats because they purr and tries to teach her dog Hazel to purr in “Hazel, Hazel, Hazel.” However, when she spies something dangling from a cat’s mouth, a horrified Annie decides that Hazel should just be a dog.

In “Horse Chestnuts,” Annie and Simon find a squirrel has taken made off with their chestnuts. When Annie learns from Simon that the squirrel will need the chestnuts for the winter, she agrees to share.

The quietly-paced stories reveal the strong bond between Annie and Simon despite their differences. O’Neill’s soft and colorful watercolor illustrations are endearing and perfectly complement the warm and inviting stories. Use this as a read aloud for preschoolers, share it with siblings who don’t get along, and give it to beginning readers who are fans of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series and James Howe’s Houndsley and Catina series (also published by Candlewick). Visit the publisher’s page for more information on this book and links to other books by Catharine O’Neill.

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