We are all overdue to pile into the car and get out of the house, and what better book to pack in your suitcase than editor and children’s book author Dinah Williams’ book A Curious Kids Guide to the Awesome 50 States? This cool compendium for kids with curious minds provides more than 1,200 quirky, fun facts about all our states for this summer’s cross-country trips or armchair traveling.
Williams’ colorful, hard-cover book, filled with photos of unique foods, natural wonders, and awesome animals, opens to the map of America’s 50 states and closes with facts about Washington D.C., America Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. Remembering the days of assisting my kids in memorizing the capitals of each state, I was drawn to the layout of the map with stars indicating the name of the capitals. Looking up Georgia, kids find the abbreviation (GA)—a good thing to learn—numbered points of interest, a banner stating The Peach State, and a star next to Atlanta. The Weirdest Roadside Attraction? The world’s largest peanut in Ashburn. And the spookiest spot in the state? Savannah’s Colonial Park Cemetary for those of you looking for a good haunt!
The intro lists the states alphabetically to help readers randomly search for a state they may be most interested to learn more about or a state they plan to visit. It’s also a fabulous tool for learning about the state you reside in. With that in mind, I started with California since that is the state I call home. It features a drawing of a brown bear and the Golden Gate Bridge, along with the names of the cities throughout the state, and main highways.
When randomly turning to states I have visited, and states I wish to one day see, I liked how Williams explains, for example, that the Natural Wonder of Kentucky is Mammoth Cave National Park, “site of the world’s longest cave, with 400 miles explored to date.” I then turned to Louisiana, eager to find about the Bayou state and under the Awesome Animal section for that state I read, “Louisiana has the most wild alligators in the country, about two million, with the highest population in coastal marshes.”
Each state features a Unique State Food, Spookiest Spot, Horrifying History Site, Thrilling Rides, Funniest Town name, and Weirdest Roadside Attraction. I also liked that a bottom strip includes “Other Stuff to Know” giving extra tidbits, such as in Missouri at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, visitors got their first taste of cotton candy, known as “fairy floss.”
In the “Where in the US?” section, a yellow box in the right-hand corner shows a map where I learned that at 570,641 square miles of land, Alaska is the biggest state in America, bigger than the combined area of the 22 smallest states. And when turning to Hawaii, we are told that this state can fit into Alaska 89 times, and Iowa can fit into Alaska 10 times.
I enjoyed learning what foods I should order the next time I am in Maine, which will be the Delicious Dessert Whoopie Pie, and it brought back memories of eating the Unique State Food of Lobster Roll. The blueberry muffins were amazing too!
And I have to mention the Bad Joke of every state which really made me giggle. Here goes: Which State Has The Most Pirates? ArrrrrrKansas. Oh and one other: Why are New Hampshire stonemasons so sad? Their work is taken for granite. LOL!
This book got me excited to return to travel, and I know kids and parents will enjoy the fun facts as well as ideas for the best thrilling ride to lose your breath over. That would be the Soaring Eagle Zipline in South Dakota. Teachers will also enjoy turning this book into a fun game of Did you know? Okay, one last joke: How do you measure a Texas rattlesnake? In inches, because they don’t have any feet. Wishing you happy, humor-filled travels!
Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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DIJ – Do It Jewish, written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by Daria Grinevich, makes a unique gift to give tweens who are eager to flex their creativity muscles. It even had me thinking about looking for my Nana’s rugelach recipe to play around with and update.
From filmmaking, songwriting, art, cooking, graphic novels to cartooning, midrash, and Judaica, there’s something here to suit everyone’s creative tastes. This clever nonfiction book jumps right into the first of its seven chapters. While the cooking chapter spoke to me the most, the songwriting chapter might resonate with your child or perhaps the one on painting and art.
Bietz approaches each chapter by first presenting motivational insights from an expert in the respective topic whether filmmaking, catering and cookbook writing, cartooning, or creating Judaica. These pros tell readers how they became involved in their area of expertise which is always interesting. Then they offer suggestions on how to get started, what tools/equipment tweens will need, and what to do next. I can picture kids taking the book along with them as a reference guide when first getting their feet wet in a particular area covered in the book. e
Bietz then goes on to share the individual experiences of someone pursuing a creative field that resonates with them, as a hobby or career. Everything is broken down into manageable steps as seen in the text and illustrations above and below.
I especially liked how certain words are presented in a different font and color so readers can refer to these words in the glossary provided at the end of each chapter.
Every chapter is neatly tied into Judaism so just before Passover is a great time for kids to read this book. I remember recording my family at one seder for a Jewish holidays project I had in my university media class. My professor taught me how to edit the recording so I could add layers of my dialogue on top of my family reading from the Haggadah, sharing jokes, and commenting on the food served. My whole family was on board which added to the festive atmosphere that evening. This book reminds me of that course in that it’s like having a teacher, professor, or mentor at your child’s side as they dive into an area of the arts that they feel passionate about.
Bietz and the professionals she’s interviewed all explain how easy it is to gain experience by seeking help from those closest to us—family and friends fieldwork so to speak. Grinevich’s spot art, as well as occasional photos, nicely break up the text and add colorful appeal. I hope your kids will take advantage of the upcoming holiday to explore some of the topics in DIJ-Do it Jewish by joining you in the kitchen, the synagogue, or out in your community as they gain a better understanding of what Jewish creativity is all about.
How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field
Written by Scott Riley
Illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien
(Millbrook Press, $19.99, Ages 7-11)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Call him adventurous, but author Scott Riley traveled all the way to Koh Panyee, Thailand, to research and write The Floating Field, a middle grade nonfiction picture book. A soccer lover himself, Scott read about Prasit and a group of boys who built a floating soccer field in a village where open space is reserved for the essential buildings. He packed his bags to see the hand-built field for himself!
This inspiring story begins with an early morning scene, fisherman-dad off to work, doughy, sugary-treats at the local coffee shop, and Prasit and his friends making plans to play soccer the moment the fleeting sandbar surfaces across the waters. The timing is crucial as it is dependent on the moon and the tides, the opportunity occurring only twice a month.
After watching a 1986 World Cup game on TV, Prasit and his friends dream of becoming a team and having a real soccer field. Taking inspiration from their village built on stilts, they decide to build a deck on the water. A series of overhead illustrations give a bird’s eye view of the construction, one plank at a time. Equally satisfying, the process illustrates the camaraderie between the group of determined friends, despite doubting villagers. My favorite spread shows one boy lying flat on his back across the newly built wooden deck, exhausted, but radiating a smile that embodies a sense of accomplishment, pride, and joyfulness. Soon, the boys’ enthusiasm and practice attract even the community.
I don’t want to give away the end of the story. But, you bet there are games played. I couldn’t help but cheer on these boys as their limitations became their strengths in the game of soccer.
Photos, Prasit’s perspective, and a pronunciation guide of soccer terms in Thai round out the extensive back matter. This is a book for soccer players, soccer lovers, friendship partakers, diverse culture lovers, DIY builders, dreamers, or anyone who loves a good story!
I love everything about travel, the new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. And getting there is also a big part of the excitement. But right now, staying home during the pandemic means we have to find other ways to get that thrill. There are travel programs and international webcams to watch, online museums to visit, and best of all, there are books to read. Take advantage of the variety of books that kids of all ages can enjoy for unique vicarious experiences. I hope you’ll share these books so that, while at home, your children can adventure both near and far simply by turning a page.
Help your kids become global citizens by introducing them to a vast array of fascinating destinations in this fabulous board book series. The 28-pages in Tiny Travelers Treasure Quest: India provide an engaging illustrated journey into the heart of India. My first trip to India was over 30 years ago and yet that trip has remained with me all these years because of the scenic beauty, the delicious food, the warm, welcoming people, and the majesty of the monuments such as the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Kids, parents, teachers, and librarians will love how the book is filled with facts about the “language, history, food, nature, music, and more,” in every colorful spread. There’s a seek-and-find element woven into the text that parents can choose to play with their children during the first reading, or return to the next time. Top that off with the rhyming prose, “Bollywood movies / are one of a kind. / They have dancing, singing / and costumes combined!” and kids will be hooked. Find more info and books in the series including China, Mexico, Puerto Rico atTinyTravelers.com.
Covering 15 topics, My First Book of London, a large-format picture book, is just one title in this fun series that combines vibrant graphic illustrations, brief narrative and simple words to give an overview of the most well-known attractions and things to do in this beloved city. I actually laughed out loud when on the first spread I saw that for Buckingham Palace not only was Queen Elizabeth II included, but also a Corgi! I wasn’t quite sure why a fire engine was featured, (must look that up) but I’m glad that the “flag-waving crowd” and “Changing of the Guard” were depicted. Arrhenius has zeroed in on London’s museums, too, one of my favorite things about this city. There is a museum for everyone’s interests, from the famed British Museum with its mummy collection to the V&A Museum (Victoria & Albert), my personal fave. Use the book as a dictionary, as a seek-and-find book, or simply as a wonderful way to get familiar with what makes this English city so popular.
The fourth book in this beautifully illustrated U.S. travel series is Lulu and Rocky in Indianapolis, informational fiction that is part story, part travelogue, and 100% interesting! The books all feature fox cousins, main characters Lulu and Rocky, and their penguin pal Pufferson. There is a welcome consistency in how each story begins the same way making it easy to read the books out of order. First readers get a sneak peek at Aunt Fancy composing a letter, then comes a map of the featured city (in this Indiana’s state capital), followed by Lulu receiving the purple envelope in which Aunt Fancy invites her to bring Pufferson to meet up with Rocky at the destination. Once together the trio embarks on an adventure in a different city that will make you want to pack your bags and hit the road to join them. Kids’ll discover that there is so much more to the “Hoosier’s paradise” than the famed motor race. In the backmatter’s two-paged “More to Know” section, each attraction visited is described in more detail so you can plan a future trip to Indy. Make sure to include the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world!
Another picture book for armchair travelers is the detailed 50 Maps of the World, recommended for tweens. Not your mother’s atlas, this large-format book is an easy way for kids to connect with our world through travel, culture, historical and current famous personalities, geography and animals without leaving home. There is a helpful intro so kids know what to expect before diving in. What I love about this book is not just how good it feels to hold in your lap, but I also appreciate how much info has been packed into every page so there are multiple ways to approach it. Take South Africa for example. Sometimes you may pick up the book to learn the key facts about its largest cities, population, official languages, etc. Other times you may want to find out about its natural attractions such as Hole in the Wall, Tugela Falls, or Kruger National Park. You can even study a timeline or discover who once called this country home such as Elon Musk, cricketer De Villiers, Nelson Mandela, inventor Thato Kgatlhanye, or actress Charlize Theron.
What makes Cities in Layers so cool and accessible is how it takes kids back in time to two previous eras in history per city in addition to the present time via fact-filled pages, bright visual maps, as well as info about people who lived there. There’s even a cleverly designed “die-cut element,” that “allows readers to really peel back layers of time.” This visually appealing large-format, 64-page picture book will delight tweens as they see the changes in the six famous cities unfold right before their eyes. Starting with an intro and a timeline, the book then covers Rome, Italy; Istanbul, Turkey; Paris, France; Beijing, China; London, U.K.; and New York City, U.S.A. Cities in Layers would be the perfect companion to stories from those time periods. When looking at London from 1863, kids could learn about authors from the Victorian era, or they could read about the Great Depression when checking out the map of NYC from 1931. What’s interesting is that Steele has chosen different centuries to focus on for each city so while the pages for Paris zero in on 1380, 1793, and today, the section on Istanbul covers 550 ce, 1616 as well as the present day. A two-page spread at the end ponders what future cities will look like while addressing population growth, the scarcity of resources, and technology. This fascinating read combines history, maps, architecture, and progress with its unique perspective that will no doubt spark interesting discussions.
The rat is the first animal on the Chinese zodiac and this year you’ll see all kinds of depictions of it as the two weeks of celebrations get underway this weekend. I’ve selected two books to share that are great for all ages. The first one is a board book for the youngest members of your family and the second is a fact and personal-account-filled middle grade picture book that will educate, enlighten and entertain every reader with its comprehensive approach to the Chinese New Year.
This sweet 28 page board book, in both Chinese and English, features adorable photographs of children doing assorted things related to certain Chinese zodiac animal traits pictured on the opposite page. Readers learn that the 12 animals “are in a race to cross the river.” Rat, shown first, thinks about how to win. The picture is of a little boy peering into a pond. We then hear about Ox and Tiger and all the others, my favorite being the bunny. The precious photo of a mom and baby head to head, full on in conversation complements the actions of rabbit who in the race is described as chatting “to everyone along the way. The simple movements and children’s facial expressions and accompanying text for the dozen creatures help convey a bit about the Zodiac character’s personality. The Animals of the Chinese New Yearprovides a gentle introduction to the holiday celebrated around the world and includes a brief note from the author at the end.
This middle grade nonfiction book is part of the Orca Origins series that explores traditions around the globe and has its own dedicated website here: www.orcaorigins.com. This particular title on the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, aims to be “a snapshot of Chinese culture,” and succeeds beautifully.
The book, with gorgeous color photos throughout, is conveniently divided into four chapters: “What Chinese New Year is All About,” How Chinese New Year Spread Around the World,” How Chinese New Year is Celebrated Today,” and “Chinese New Year Celebrations Across the Globe.” In addition there’s an intro, a final word from the author, a glossary, and resources, making Chinese New Yeara comprehensive and engaging go-to book for fans of the holiday as well as schools and libraries. Children can read the book in one sitting or take it one chapter at a time.
I was quickly hooked from the start after reading about Lee’s family’s story of moving to Vancouver. Her grandfather arrived as a teenager in 1913 and worked hard to establish a life for himself there. I also liked how Lee incorporated into each chapter several other individuals’ personal stories that focused on their connection to the Chinese New Year. By explaining the holiday, its meaning, popularity and traditions, the story of Chinese emigration and the diaspora in places like Canada, the United States and Australia was also revealed. Chinese New Year addresses racism, too, and how the goal of bringing the holiday out into the public was meant to welcome others into the celebration and help them see the Chinese culture with new, more tolerant eyes.
Lee includes CNY sidebars with interesting facts such as why numbers are important in the Chinese culture. For example eight is “the luckiest because when spoken in Chinese it can sound like the word for wealth.” I learned that the number four which can sound like word death is considered the most unlucky number. I now know the significance of the colors red and gold, red symbolizing fire and a color associated with the victory of fending off the mythical beast Nian. Gold symbolizes wealth and the enduring wish that one’s family should benefit from a year of prosperity. And did you know that twenty percent of the world’s population celebrates Chinese New Year? Or that in the United Kingdom 630,000 people of Chinese descent live, mostly in London?
There is something for everyone to get out of reading Chinese New Year whether that be learning where around the world Chinese New Year is celebrated and how, why people left China for a new start in hundreds of countries around the world and what they encountered in their new homeland, or the many different foods associated with the holiday. And with that I wish you Gung hay fat choy!
CHINA: A HISTORY Written by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum (Abrams BYR; $22.99, Ages 10-14)
Cheryl Bardoe’s beautiful and educational nonfiction middle-grade book, China: A History, is based on the Cyrus Tang Hall of China exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. Whether or not you’ve visited the museum, the book serves as a go-to resource for young readers looking to learn more about this powerful nation.
Both a visual feast and a wealth of knowledge, China: A History provides information in a way that’s easily understood, interspersing frequent visual aids. Chapters are enlivened with full-color maps, photos, and illustrations of the people, landscape, artifacts, and rare objects. Kids will be amazed to discover all the remarkable things related to China.
Attention-grabbing stories include the 8,000 nearly life-sized terracotta warrior statutes buried with the emperor Shi Huangdi for the afterlife. Your feet may ache when reading about the painful custom of female foot-binding (officially banned in 1911). And, fascinating for everyone who loves eating noodles: “The world’s oldest-known noodles were discovered beneath a bowl that tipped over in northwest China, and then was buried under ten feet of sediment that formed a stay-fresh seal for four thousand years.” Those are some old noodles!
In honor of the Year of the Pig, it should be noted that pigs were first domesticated in East Asia in 7,000 BC.
All ages will be fascinated by this lovely book. Bold patterns accent pages and bright colors highlight additional material. The text concludes with an interesting 20,000-year Time Line.
Drawn Togetheris one of my favorite picture books of 2018 and not just because it has a clever title. Lê’s spare text perfectly captures the tale of a boy and his grandfather who are separated by words but find a way to connect through drawing—a feel-good story that crosses cultures and time.
Santat’s gorgeous art alternates between vivid modern color for the grandson’s images and a black-and-white traditional style when the grandfather draws. The book’s beauty will move you. The publisher includes clever details such as a sharp pencil on the spine and a surprise image beneath the cover; the two characters’ contrasting art styles serve as lovely bookends.
This book would make an ideal gift for that special child in your life who speaks a different language than you do, although any child will find it speaks to them about connectivity and family ties. It is also befitting for kids who love to draw because the book shows how pictures open up worlds.
★Starred Review – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The Day You Begin isn’t about the day you’re born. Instead, this heartening 32-page picture book invites you to make a space for yourself in the world. Woodson grabs the reader from the empathetic first line, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Those words give voice to the uneasiness we all experience. Yet, to forge connections we must learn to take a chance and open up. López takes the story beyond the words. His colorful artwork imaginatively captures the emotional tone, showing conflicting feelings of hope and despair, isolation and togetherness.This lovely tale reaches hearts of all ages. The Day You Begin would be an ideal gift for graduates, people seeking to begin anew, or anyone who needs a nudge to remember that life is a beautiful blend of our differences.This story was inspired by a poem in Woodson’s New York Timesbest-selling memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming.
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Shelf Awareness,School Library Journal and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid is THE book for that kid on your holiday shopping list who loves extraordinary facts. Who knew there was a school in Iceland dedicated to the study of elves, or that fireflies in Tennessee blink in sync with one another?Travel to destinations in forty-seven countries on every continent in this entertaining journey to 100 real places. The book opens with a clever Packing List and Adventure Plan (Table of Contents). Readers can randomly choose places to explore, or read the book straight through. Each two-page spread highlights segments that are stand-alone entries, yet there’s a teaser at the end connecting a topic from that country to the next one. For example, after reading about how Cambodians built their own bamboo trains called “norries” (when the war damaged their rail system), you’re invited to read about another do-it-yourself system of transportation in Colombia—homemade zip lines! Parents who find themselves unable to put this book down can ask Santa for the adult version: #1 New York Times best-seller, The Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Whether young or old, the Atlas Obscura books take you on a fascinating spin around the globe delivering strange facts in the most delightful way.
This book was first released as adult fiction in 2009, then as a children’s picture book in 2012. For this review, I refer to the Young Readers Edition, published earlier this year.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an inspirational underdog story about an African boy who changes his world through ingenuity, willpower, and imagination.
Consider that, at the outset of the book—from the very title itself—the reader realizes William Kamkwamba will build a windmill. We know victory is on the horizon, yet we still fall into the book’s pages to walk at his side on this amazing path.
This book’s prologue begins in the middle of the action, when the windmill is first built. Teen-aged William climbs to the top to try it out. The writing clearly evokes images relevant in William’s world: “The muscles in my back and arms had grown hard as green fruit from all the pulling and lifting.” His family, and the unbelievers, watch expectantly from below. Together with them, we celebrate William’s first success.
The story then falls back to 1997 (William is nine years old) and unfolds chronologically past the scene in the prologue. William tells us where Wimbe, Malawi, is located and what the African village is like. He includes a sampling of his language and introduces his family, describing their lives as maize (white corn) farmers. Their daily porridge of maize flour and hot water called nsima is so essential to their diet that even if they were to eat a steak dinner they would say, “There was no food there.” We are immersed in the Malawi world. However, when William realizes his area’s beliefs in magic and wizardry do not work, he looks for answers elsewhere but his resources seem limited.
A famine and cholera sweep the land (2001-02). William must drop out of secondary school because his family cannot pay the tuition. He recalls a recently-opened three-shelf library in a primary school; the books donated by the American government. In these science books he finds the explanations he seeks for his various tinker projects. When William sees his first photo of a windmill, his path is forever changed. William teaches himself to read the textbooks in English then he gathers discarded items with the dream to build his own windmill, improving his family’s and his village’s quality of living. One piece at a time—with many setbacks—the windmill takes shape.
In November 2006, the world discovers this incredible teen and his life moves in a new direction. We realize with hopeful anticipation that William’s accomplishments thus far are merely the beginning.
– Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Today we welcome guest reviewer, Christine Van Zandt. She’s a writer, editor, and owner of www.write-for-success.com. Find her on Twitter @WFSediting, and contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.