★Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Hayley Barrett’spicture book,Girl Versus Squirrel, shows us the fun rascals many of us have stealing from our bird feeders—the same dilemma Pearl faces in this story. The lyrical text, teeming with repetition and alliteration, works well as a read-aloud. As the tale unfolds in its singsong style, we are both lulled by the beauty of a girl feeding her backyard birds and prodded by her frustration with a seemingly unstoppable peanut-stealing squirrel.
Facial expressions on the girl and the squirrel are priceless as they one-up each other from scene to scene. I enjoyed howRenée Andriani’s art captures the shifting emotions as the power pendulums between the two opponents. However, when the action peaks, a new discovery makes Pearl rethink her no-squirrels-allowed policy.
Adults will appreciate the kid-friendly “Squirrelly Facts” at the end. These mischievous mammals chirp and scamper across every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Mark your calendars so you don’t forget to set out a treat on Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21st).
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From the moment you open this beautiful picture book and see the textures and tones of the end pages, you know you are in for a treat! Written in expressive rhyme,Numenia and the Hurricane by Fiona Halliday tells the harrowing story of a young whimbrel (a large and elegant northern shorebird) named Numenia, who becomes separated from her two siblings and the other migrating birds when a powerful hurricane rips her away from them. The detour leaves Numenia weak, tired and lost, but she manages, with the help of a kind stranger and strong instincts, to literally weather the storm and reunite with her family.
Fiona’s artwork is graphic, stylized and bursting with layers and texture. Her treatment of the birds is so delicate that it makes you want to reach into the paintings and feel their feathers. The color palette shifts as Numenia’s journey—both emotional and external—progresses, from the pale and stormy blues of the skies at the beginning to the rich yellows and greens of her final destination. The juxtaposition of soft and sharp edges along with bold shapes, fine details, and great use of perspective makes each page a visual delight.
In the back matter readers will find the true story which inspired the book. Between 2009 and 2011 scientists from the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary tracked whimbrels in order to learn about their migration. In 2011 scientists witnessed a bird called “Hope” fight her way her way through a dangerous storm for 27 hours, non-stop, and survive. Fiona Halliday recounts the event as a beautiful tale of courage, strength, persistence and joy. Her poetic language combined with her stunning illustrations will inspire children to revisit this book again and again.
Guest Review by Molly Ruttan
Visit the publisher, Page Street Kids, website here.
When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms, but as she grows the world grows too. Small World, the debut picture book by writer Ishta Mercurio, takes the reader on a journey into Nanda’s world through shapes and structures, with out-of-this world illustrations by Jen Corace that are STEM themed “geometric meditations on wonder.”
This picture book’s colorful and stunning art, created with the matte finish of gouache, ink and pencil, introduces the young reader to the circle of Nanda’s loving South Asian family. Mom is seated dressed in a beautiful sari and scarf, while the siblings sit around the table with Nanda on her father’s lap. The round plates and faces are the first introduction to the various geometric shapes introduced to the reader. Page after page brings us into Nanda’s growing life from “slide and swings and whirligigs and tumbles through grass” as she plays with her playmates, until ultimately she goes off to college on her own, “But as she grew, the world grew, too.”
We visually watch as the world grows from the ground up as Nanda rises closer to the sky in “a human-powered helicopter lifting toward the sky.” Corace’s drawings depict girls playing inside on a basketball court, while Nanda “spooled through spirals of wire and foam: a human-powered helicopter lifting toward the sky.”
The deep blue sea outlines the town of square houses, boxes of farmland and round shaped trees, while our main character is seen soaring solo in a small airplane from above. “Nanda got bigger and bigger and BIGGER. But as she grew, the world grew, too.”
Soon new faces are seen looking up towards the sky as a space shuttle blasts off and we discover that Nanda is as high above the sky as one can be—Nanda has grown up to become an astronaut. Her “feet have touched foreign soil.”Wearing a space helmet surrounded by “A sea of stars, moonless and deep, distant suns twinkling … Marbled planets orbiting, speck-small in the distant night …”
Small World offers young readers the opportunity to think big and expand their horizons. They can see that Earth’s size varies based on perspective—large under little feet, but when you go into space, it’s easier to see how small our planet is compared to the size of the universe. Mercurio says, “children can see the Earth being as big and small at the same time in the same way that you are big and small at the same time.” Just like Nanda, if you stick with your ideas as you grow older, you will see more of our world and maybe even more of the universe.
In an Author’s Note, the reader is asked where they would go if they were Nanda and what places they have visited. Small World encourages young children to reach for the stars and to know that anything is possible. Beautifully written and illustrated, it’s both a positive and encouraging read with its “You can do this” message. Mercurio actually named her main character, Nanda, joy in Hindu Sanskrit, in honor of five women photographed celebrating at the Indian Space Research Organization after they had helped put a satellite into orbit around Mars.
When I was the target age for a book like The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!, if I scraped my knee or bumped my head, my dad would examine the injury and say, “Oh no. We’re going to have to amputate!” It worked every time, turning my tears to belly laughs. Similarly, in this most recent addition to the popular series kicked off by Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Mo Willems tackles first day of school fears with Pigeon’s slightly subversive wit and my dad’s effective approach: identify the worst-case scenario and demonstrate how silly and ridiculous it is.
Pigeon hints he’s worried even before the title page, ordering the reader, “WAIT! Don’t read that title!” After all, why should Pigeon have to go to school? He already knows everything. Also, he’s not a morning person. And if he learns too much — his head might pop off! Looking and feeling very small on the page, he finally admits he’s scared. “The unknown stresses me out, dude.” What is he worried about? “Why does the alphabet have so many letters … Will FINGER PAINT stick to my feathers?” Or the one that really gets me: “What if the teacher doesn’t like pigeons?”
Like other books in the series, the illustrations are spare, with large blocks of pastel colors. All the words belong to Pigeon and are delivered in prominent speech bubbles in a large hand-lettered Courier-style font. There are opportunities for interaction; I can already picture my favorite two-year-old responding to Pigeon’s command, “Go on — ask me a question. Any question!” and then giggling proudly when the next page shows Pigeon is stumped. Pigeon eventually reasons out why school will be okay, but in a fun finish, he really feels it when he realizes how he’s going to get to school: a bright yellow … bus!
If the music teacher, the art teacher, the school librarian, and even the principal of Maple View School didn’t change the rule to allow pets in class, who did? Author Linda Ashman answers that question in Take Your Pet to School Day, but only after chronicling the rowdy behavior of the animal visitors. The lively, easy-to-read verse can be a fun way to start a conversation about why we need rules at school.
Suzanne Kaufman depicts both the human and animal populations at Maple View in colors that feel vibrant, soft, and warm at the same time. The illustrations are full of variety and detail. Kids will find children of every skin and hair color and enjoy inspecting their clothes in pastel solids and rainbow stripes, their high tops and cowboy boots and sneakers. The pets include the expected cat, dog, and bunny, as well as the unexpected: a turtle, a hedgehog, and even an entire ant farm. It’s an adventure just to find the hamster, who rolls somewhere new in its wheel on each page. I can’t recommend taking your pet horse to school, but I heartily recommend Take Your Pet to School Day.
I’M TRYING TO LOVE MATH Written and illustrated by Bethany Barton (Viking Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
As someone who loves math and wants kids to love it, too, I approach I’m Trying to Love Math with caution. Is math going to get a bum rap in this book? The narrator starts off by saying, “If you ask me, math is not very lovable. I know I’m not alone here either. 4 in 10 Americans hate math.” Worried, I study the pie chart right beneath the dreaded “H” word. Sixty percent of the pie is a bright wash of green labeled “YAY MATH!” and adorned with hearts. Forty percent is lemon yellow with “BOO MATH!” above a broken heart. Meanwhile, an adorable purple alien pops up in the corner and asks, “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”
What a relief! I can see we’re in good hands here. I’m Trying to Love Math provides a variety of awesome answers to the age-old question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Baking cookies? Check. Making music? Check. Exploring Earth and other parts of the universe? Check and check. After fun illustrations of ice cream and ships and electric guitars and cash registers—and a whole page of pi—the narrator comes to the conclusion that “math is a part of so many things I already love … I guess I don’t need to try to love it at all. It turns out … I already do.” I recommend this book to all math lovers, especially the ones who think they are haters.
The wonderful thing about nonfiction biographies is that, when done well, they will take us on a journey full of facts, stories, and struggles that will not only enlighten us but also keep us glued to the page, even when we know the outcome. The following books we’ve selected to share for Women’s History Month are excellent examples of recent biographies about extraordinary, trailblazing women whose legacies are enduring and whose contributions remain invaluable serving as powerful role models for generations to come. Find out more about Hedy Lamarr, Susan B. Anthony and Ada Byron Lovelace below.
Wallmark’s chosen a fascinating woman to profile in her illuminating picture book biography of Hedy Lamarr. The Hollywood legend was more than dazzlingly beautiful actress, she was a secret inventor whose “greatest invention was the technology known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum” which has played a crucial role in keeping “our cell phone messages private” and keeping our computers hack-free. Although she knew she was more than just her looks, Lamarr chose to hide this talent from public and didn’t sell her inventions.
Born in Austria in 1920 (100 years after Susan B. Anthony), Hedy was a curious child who, when other kids would likely be out playing, was pre-occupied with how things worked. Her father encouraged her interest in science and technology which no doubt had a positive impact on the young girl. She also had a love of cinema and pretending so it was no surprise she gravitated towards a career in the movies. “I acted all the time … I was a little living copybook. I wrote people down on me.” Eventually doors opened for Hedy when a famous film producer offered her a seven-year film contract. She left her homeland for the bright lights of Hollywood, had her name changed to Hedy Lamarr from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler and went on to star in films with some of the industry’s most popular leading men including Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable.
With her wondering mind at work all the time, even after a day of filming, Lamarr always was thinking about a way to improve on things already in existence or to create something new. That was especially true during WWII. So when she met composer George Antheil, a former weapons inspector, she learned from him that the U.S. Navy, like the European ones, had trouble with the enemy jamming their weapons’ radio signals. Hedy wondered if there was a way to counter this. With the piano as the impetus for a new idea, Hedy thought there might be a way to change frequencies like playing the same keys on a piano in different octaves, and by doing so build a secure torpedo guidance system. And so, after a lot of hard work, they did. Together with Antheil they shared their invention and were told it was “red-hot” but it still needed more work to operate effectively. While the pair eventually received their patent, the Navy “refused to develop” this ground-breaking technology and even classified it as secret so no one else could use the idea. Ultimately they never earned a penny from this breakthrough.
Undeterred by her thwarted efforts to help her adopted homeland, Hedy found success by getting behind the war bond effort, selling millions. Lamarr also took time to meet with servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen and pitched in any way she could. She retired From the movie business in the late 50s and only in the last twenty years has been earning the recognition long overdue. Wu’s artwork is just the right amount of subject and space, and pulls us into every illustration, my favorite being the one where Lamarr and Antheil first meet at a dinner party. Her simple depictions of Lamarr’s big green eyes, sculpted nose and brown hair are terrific. Wallmark’s added a “Timeline” and “Secrets of the Secret Communications System” in the back matter for young readers to learn more about “jam-proofing” technology. I love how even the endpapers are filled with artwork and details about Lamarr. Plus readers will find a “Selected Bibliography,” “Additional Reading About Other Women in Stem” and a list of “Hedy Lamarr’s Films.” Award-winning author Wallmark’s also written picture book biographies about Ada Byron Lovelace and Grace Hopper. Add Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life to the list of must-read biographies.
Prepare to be impressed by the tireless commitment and inroads Susan B. Anthony made for women’s suffrage as detailed by Teri Kanefield in Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America, book #4 in this inspiring series in which each volume “tells the story of an American leader who helped shaped the United States” that we know today. My review copy is so dog-eared to mark the countless passages I wanted to return to. What Kanefield successfully does from the Prologue forward is thoughtfully convey the most important aspects of Anthony’s life so kids will see the evolution of her beliefs beginning with her Quaker upbringing, her teaching years and all the way through to her time lecturing across America as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
What comes across to the reader is that Anthony, born in 1820, prior to the Victorian era, from an early age held strong convictions that everyone should be treated as equals. At that time in our country’s history women were supposed to raise families and keep their noses out of politics and practically everything else unless it concerned homemaking. They were only allowed to work in a limited amount of jobs: teacher, seamstress or nanny. They were prohibited from owning property and, in the case of estrangement in a marriage, the man gained custody of the children. In fact, it was not uncommon for a man to have his wife committed to an insane asylum if he wanted out of the marriage.
The immoral slave trade was the most divisive issue, even among Quakers at that time. To Anthony, people of color as well as women were not second class citizens, destined to remain subservient to white men. This was considered a radical idea in the early 19th century and she did not have an easy path as she tried, along with her friend and fellow activist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to bring about change and a new amendment to the Constitution giving women the vote. Frederick Douglass was a friend with whom she worked to help first abolish slavery and then gain constitutional protection for free slaves. However, before slavery was abolished and even after, prominent politicians and leaders cautioned her to put her agenda for women’s rights on hold. This was unacceptable. Anthony, along with her friend and staunchest ally, Stanton, challenged the notion that women had to forgo their wants and needs and remained determined “to ride roughshod over obstacles, ignore critics, and take help wherever they could get it.” The support of Anthony’s large family was a constant throughout her life and I wonder how she’d have managed without them during the numerous times she was broke or in debt. Her intelligence and quick wit made her the ideal person to speak on behalf of the suffrage movement but it’s worth noting that she also gravitated towards defending anyone whose rights were being abused.
This well-researched biography is filled with maps, photos, flyers, posters and advertisements that help paint a picture of American society during Anthony’s life. Even something like a lady’s corset could be symbolic of the self-imposed restrictions 19th century women placed upon themselves due to societal norms that a woman should have an hourglass figure. “Girls as young as seven were laced into overly tight corsets.” Also included are Notes, a Time Line, Selected Writings of Susan B. Anthony, a Bibliography, Acknowledgments and an Index.
By the time she died at age 86, four states allowed women to vote but it wasn’t until President Woodrow Wilson and the start of WWI that an amendment to give women the vote would gain traction, ultimately becoming the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also called the Susan B. Anthony amendment, in 1920, fourteen years after her death. Kanefield’s invaluable biography paints a portrait of an American hero whose convictions changed the course of American history
I told everyone about Ada Byron Lovelace after finishing Dreaming in Code. I had heard her name in regards to code but it ended there. I knew nothing of the back story that led to this brilliant woman’s presaging today’s computer era almost two centuries ago!
Ada Byron Lovelace was born in England at the end of 1815, just five years before Susan B. Anthony. Augusta Ada Byron, was the daughter of the celebrated poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his “prim, religious” wife, Anne Isabella Noel, called Annabella, a woman of wealth and intelligence. The couple did not remain together due to his philandering and squandering of money among other things so Ada, as she became known, was raised by a single mother. Annabella was a self-centered hypochondriac yet quite philanthropic at the same time and left it to nannies, governesses and tutors to raise her child while she spent time away visiting her newly inherited holdings and helping the coal miners under her employ. McCully engagingly details how Ada flourished from her education although she remained removed from society until her mother deemed it necessary to find her a husband.
Around this time Ada met Charles Babbage, “famous inventor, philosopher (as scientists were then called) and mathematician” who held Isaac Newton’s chair at Cambridge University. Theirs was to be a long and intense, though completely platonic, relationship as they discussed big ideas since both were passionate about math and science. Their friendship provided Ada with the outlet she needed for stimulation. However things grew complicated when she married William, Lord King who became the Earl of Lovelace and soon became a mother. Though not as cold as her own mother, Ada, too, found it difficult to parent when her loyalties lay elsewhere. These chapters were some of the most fascinating ones yet sad at the same time. She often felt ill and, as was common in the early 19th century, was prescribed Laudanum, a tincture of opium viewed as a cure-all. That addiction had to have contributed to her early death at age 37.
As Countess of Lovelace, Ada mixed with a cross-section of society and attended talks on science given by brilliant minds of the era such as Michael Faraday. Ada also wanted to help Babbage and his Analytical Engine and at the same time make her own mark in the science and math fields. Here’s where her genius shone through. While Babbage saw his invention as “arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical,” Ada believed the machine could do more than compute … “that numbers were symbols and could represent other concepts, is what makes Babbage’s engine a prototype-computer.” Sadly, Lovelace lived in era when women were overshadowed by men and women’s freedoms were limited. We can only begin to imagine what miraculous achievements she’d have made had she only lived longer.
With the very readable Dreaming in Code highlighting her meticulous research, McCully has shed light on Ada Byron Lovelace, an important historical figure whose contributions to the field of STEM are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I recommend this young adult nonfiction book for anyone seeking to get a better understanding of the era in which Lovelace lived and how she was inspired to think outside the box.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read about the friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass here. Read another book, Dare The Wind, illustrated Emily Arnold McCully here.
Tension builds naturally through Holt’s lyrical mirrored text. Of the graphite; “Mighty, unyielding, brilliant. The rock would dazzle if it had any light to reflect, but it doesn’t.” She writes of the boy; “Mighty, unyielding, brilliant. His inventions dazzle classmates, But Tracy is still penny poor, with so many ideas floating just out of reach.”
The tale celebrates Hall’s perseverance and resolve in the face of poverty and bullying. These obstacles ultimately build his resilience as he develops an invention to produce industrial diamonds. For those interested in learning more about diamonds, Holt provides backmatter on the mined diamond industry including the DeBeers monopoly and “blood diamond” conflict in Africa. A timeline and bibliography are also appended.
Fleck’s color-saturated illustrations are digitally enhanced and multi-layered, keeping the focus squarely on the man and the gem. Clever use of the color palette, alternating between the echoing narratives, helps balance the book visually. The contrast nicely reinforces the natural comparison of Hall’s and the diamond’s transformations. Fleck makes excellent use of angular elements such as the striations of the earth, books shelved in the library, diamond facets and kite strings, while occasional red-orange ‘explosions’ emphasize dramatic changes.
In THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, Holt offers a personal and noteworthy celebration of a man deep in substance and character. This book is a different and delightful choice for readers of history, industrial manufacturing, or STEM classroom libraries. The intersection of science and personal character development is a unique and rich format that will engage a variety of readers and potential young inventors.
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Yoori, a young South Korean girl, has listened to her father, Appa, talk about his difficult childhood in North Korea. His compelling stories of hardship and hunger lead Yoori and Appa to volunteer for a secret nighttime mission; sending packages of rice over the border via special balloons.
When father and daughter arrive near the border, local villagers protest and chant, “Don’t feed the enemy.” In dismay Yoori says “The hope in my heart withers like a dying rice stalk.” But she rallies her courage and persists in completing the task at hand. With other volunteers, Yoori and Appa help inflate balloons, attach containers of rice, and send them floating over the border under starry skies.
Song’s vibrant illustrations markedly differentiate the two countries with a stark color palette. A verdant and lush South Korea features plentiful orange and pink flowers, fruits and green landscapes. Alternately, North Korea is shown isolated within a clear bowl, brown, barren and withered. The dramatic contrast peaks on a poignant double spread showing two North and South Korean girls face one another. While large grey mountains loom in the distance, the two children remain separated by nothing more than a small stream of clear running water.
Cho provides additional information on the political and cultural history of the Korean peninsula. This informative story is hopeful, compassionate and timely.
Standing in waist-high, thick green grass that spills across the long, rolling horizon, a young girl and her mother observe that the fields are ready for the haying to begin. “Mower blades slice through the grass. / A new row falls with every pass. / Stalks and stems are scattered ’round. / The scents of new-mown plants abound.” The rhythmic thunk-thunk, chunk-chunk phrases echo the mechanical beats of the machinery employed – a mower, tedder, rake and baler. Mihaly explains the terminology in a helpful glossary of “haymaking words” that add richness to the rhyming farming narrative.
As the mown hay dries, mother and daughter refresh themselves with switchel, a traditional cold haying drink of ginger, vinegar and maple syrup. For those inspired to try it, the recipe is included! Raking and baling finally lead to the satisfying conclusion of a crop safely stacked in the barn, and time to ride and play with the patiently waiting pony.
Cepada’s illustrations capture the vast fields, broad skies, and varied haying equipment with detail, vibrancy and color. Green grasses fade to olive-yellows as tinted clouds sweep across the pages. The tractors and barn are a cheerful, traditional red, and the immense rolled hay bales are textured with prickly perfection. Each generously proportioned oil-and acrylic image is paired with succinct and snappy text that explicates and enhances the unique and creative story.
Good reasons to harvest both of these titles about bounty on your bookshelves!
Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK Written by Kate Narita Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, Ages 5-7)
FLYING DEEP: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN Written by Michelle Cusolito Illustrated by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge Books, $17.99, Ages 5-9)
are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
Sharpen your math and science observation skills with two new, detail-packed STEM-rich picture books from debut authors.
In100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK, two young summer explorers aren’t bugged by insects at all. They are on a seek-and-find counting quest from the pond to the field to the forest and everywhere in between. Armed with a butterfly net and magnifying glass, the daring duo discover and count an astonishing variety of interesting insects.Naritaemploys bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.
Kaufman’sbright, colorful collage-style art is engaging and cheerful, adeptly including an impressive accumulation of bugs throughout every page. A beautiful array of wildflowers and plants are also featured, complementing the detailed and intricate insects. Kaufman adds lots of birds and animals as well as an enthusiastic dog who follows the children on their adventures. With so much visual interest, young readers will be captivated. Notes at the end provide additional information on the insects and plants, making this a great STEM book selection.
InFLYING DEEP readers will imagine an underwater journey of exploration with the pilots of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible. Their mission is to observe and analyze creatures and structures from the depths of the ocean floor, and to collect samples for further research at the surface. Cusolitouses a narrative logbook structure, inviting readers to ponder practical and procedural questions as if they are one of the crew members. What might you eat? How will you breathe? What will you see? Exciting discoveries and the possibility of danger raise the stakes for readers who will soak up this immersive science adventure.
Digital illustrations fromWongenrich this tale with incredible scenes from inside and outside the ALVIN. Realistic details abound, including the amazing variety of sea life and the riveted, technical components of the ALVIN itself. Wong uses light to her advantage, balancing sunlight and ALVIN’s spotlights above and below the ocean surface to focus attention on the stunning discoveries. A glossary, resources for further reading and notes from the author and illustrator round out this unique, informative book.
100 BUGS and FLYING DEEP were both recipients of starred reviews from Kirkus!
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Good Reads With Ronna occasionally provides links to shop at Once Upon a Time bookstore with whom we partner monthly to share a Wednesday What We’re Reading post. GRWR blog and its reviewers receive no compensation for any titles sold via this independent bookstore, but we do hope you’ll choose a local option when making your next purchase.
Having a website, I know a little bit about coding, little being the operative word. But author Josh Funk, a software engineer by day, knows a lot. Thankfully. So it’s no surprise that the end result of a Funk and illustrator Sara Palacios picture book collaboration, How to Code a Sandcastle,has yielded such a positive and inspiring read.
Beaches and bots, hmmmm … I had absolutely no idea before picking up my review copy how author and illustrator would pull off this phenomenal feat. I mean, millions, maybe trillions of grains of sand and machinery don’t exactly go together. That’s why I felt compelled to read on and am glad I did!
Narrator Pearl is spending her last day of summer vacation at the beach. She’s determined to build a castle because all of her previous attempts have been thwarted by freewheeling frisbees, slamming surfers and peeing pups. Today, however, she has her “trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal,” in tow who she will code to build a sandcastle. Code, your children will learn, is “special instructions that computers understand.” But Pearl soon realizes that in order to build said sandcastle, her instructions need to be specific because without doing so, Pascal could end up constructing the castle in the ocean or in a parking lot. We also see that there’s a sequence to the problem solving, a good tip for young readers just learning about the importance and practicality of executive functioning. So after 1. Finding a suitable place to build, it’s onto 2. Gathering up the sand, encompassing a three-step process of filling, dumping and patting down. Here’s where a coding trick called looping is introduced: repeating the three step process or sequence until all the steps are done and the sand is piled in place before moving on to 3. Shaping and decorating. When Pascal brings items to decorate the sandcastle that aren’t appropriate (a lifeguard stand, a live crab and a baby’s binky!), plucky Pearl relies on a cool approach called IF-THEN-ELSE to help the robot analyze what can and cannot be used.
When a wave washes away the masterpiece, Pearl doesn’t get discouraged because she has the key to quick and easy re-construction, the code that Pascal can implement. Only now she needs to program Pascal with a way to protect the sandcastle, a code for how to build a moat! Once that’s finished, there’s no telling what else they can do with their coding know-how. What a great way to end vacation!
Funk’s story is funny, creative and easy to follow. By using something as recognizable as a sandcastle for the coding project, How to Code a Sandcastle serves as an ideal vehicle for a gentle, accessible preview of computer science. If only we all could be assisted by robots when we head to the beach. Imagine the possibilities! In her illustrations, Palacios has combined sunshine, sand and STEM in a thoroughly modern and cheerful way. Pascal the robot, who is never portrayed as cold or remote but rather charming and accommodating, is someone any child would want as a friend. And Palacios’ diverse characters fill the pages with a realistic picture of what readers really see when they visit the beach. A two page spread of back matter, “Pearl and Pascal’s Guide to Coding,” explains all the code concepts covered.
If you never thought you or your youngster would get the concept of coding, it’s time to think again. With its goal of getting girls to embrace coding, Girls Who Code will, with the help of wonderful books like this one, succeed in closing “the gender gap” that currently exists in the technology fields. Start your own STEM-themed collection of books by visiting your local independent bookstore today.
ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST Written by Andrea Beaty Illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams Books for Young Readers; $17.95, Ages 5-7)
Ada Twist, Scientist is the third rhyming picture book from Andrea Beaty and David Roberts featuring an extraordinary child whose talents can be problematic. Ada Marie Twist doesn’t speak until age three then asks “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose?” “Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?” Her parents tell her that she will figure it out.
Throughout the chaotic story, Ada tries to find the source of a terrible smell. Though the reader is never told where it comes from, children will be happy to help Ada out. The crazy antics of Ada’s experiments are illustrated in vivid detail.
When her parents finally have enough, they send Ada to the family’s “Thinking Chair.” In this pivotal page, we see small Ada surrounded by white space—with a sharpened red pencil surreptitiously nearby. Kids gleefully grasp what comes next as Ada cannot contain her big thoughts.
Thankfully, her parents understand. “They watched their young daughter and sighed as they did. What would they do with this curious kid, who wanted to know what the world was about? They smiled and whispered, ‘We’ll figure it out.’” Together, they help Ada become a young scientist . . . if only Ada could figure out where that awful smell originates.
Readers of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect will notice that Miss Lila Greer’s second-grade class (including students Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck) make cameo appearances in Ada Twist, Scientist. Graph-paper backgrounds again evoke mathematical calculations which contrast nicely with the colorful, humorous images.
THE DARKEST DARK Written by Col. Chris Hadfield Illustrated by The Fan Brothers (Little Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
✭Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
The Darkest Dark takes place on July 19, 1969—the night before Apollo 11’s Moon landing. We meet Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield when he was a boy. Chris can’t sleep because “his room was dark. Very, very dark. The kind of dark that attracts the worst sort of aliens.” These creatures, a combination of shadow and imagination, appear on the book’s cover and throughout the story.
Young Chris believes he is an astronaut and, of course, “an astronaut’s work is never done, so astronauts do not like to sleep. But their parents do.” Chris’s parents kick him out of their bed and dutifully check his room for aliens. Finally, the possibility of missing tomorrow’s special event helps Chris fall into his favorite dream.
The next day, most everyone on Stag Island crowds into a neighbor’s living room to watch the Moon landing. When Chris discovers that “outer space was the darkest dark ever,” he views his house’s darkness differently. Chris now understands that “the darkness of the universe was so much bigger and deeper than the darkness in his room.”
The Fan Brothers’ lively and whimsical illustrations creatively blend reality and fantasy. Many pages feature Chris’s pet pug and the not-so-scary mysterious aliens.
The Darkest Dark concludes with biographical information about Chris Hadfield’s journey to becoming an accomplished Canadian astronaut. His personal message and photographs encourage young readers: “The dark is for dreams—and morning is for making them come true.”