The brown bear is first introduced yawning and stretching at the entrance to his cave, awakening from hibernation. Illustrator Brandon James Scott’s humorous and expressive digital art portrays the bear and his surroundings with glowing and warm woodsy colors. The illustrations, paired with Bernstrom’s engaging alliterative wordplay, motivated me to turn the page to spend more time with these characters.
The tree is filled with a honeycomb and lots and lots of busy worker honey bees doing what bees do best, passing the nectar to the house bee. Bernstrom’s words a bee, a busy bee, a honey bee next to the art visually showcase the bees focused on their work. That is until the brown fuzzy hungry bear discovers the gold and yellow bee hive up in the tree. And that’s where the playfulness of the words begins.
The bee eyes the brown bear who is staring up at the green foliage in the tree. The bee’s bulging black eyes and angry eyebrows show he is not happy when next he sees the bear’s bottom side hanging under those same leaves. The bear hangs from one branch and holds on to another while the bee’s angry eyes swirl around him. A busy bear and a busy bee. A cute little bird is intrigued watching the pair.
When the bear’s paw is pushed into the hive, the bee is not happy. In fact, he is a very angry bee who lands on the bear’s nose, catching him with honey dripping from his lips. Bernstrom’s writing encourages each child to joyfully experience the words of the story.
The bear’s eyes are now the ones that bulge when the bee does what he needs to in protecting his honeycomb. The bee has brought in his colony. A million buzzing bees are drawn with angry faces swarming the bear who unwillingly succumbs by falling out of the tree. The hilarious chase ends at sundown when the bees return to their hive and somewhere a hungry bear returns to his cave.
This is a delightful picture book that, even with its spare text, teaches kids about bee and bear behavior with fun rhymes and rich, captivating illustrations that work together so well. Kids will ask to hear A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree over and over, a sure sign to keep the book close at hand.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!).
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!
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. e
Calvin is a little bird called a Starling. He has seven brothers and sisters and sixty-seven thousand four hundred and thirty-two cousins. Wow! Starlings have big families. But Calvin wasn’t like his other family members. While they did Starling things all day long, like discovering worms and dirt and grass and bugs and ants, Calvin discovered books. And as he learned to read, he dreamt of adventure stories and legends, poetry and even of becoming a great writer, himself, one day.
But while he had his beak buried in a book, all the other Starlings were learning a very important skill… how to fly. While they all practiced swooping and hovering and flying figure eights, high in the sky, Calvin’s mind soared with all the knowledge flying into his brain.
And then, one day, it was time for the Starlings to fly South for the winter… everyone except Calvin, that is, since he had never learned to fly. What happens next is two-fold. One, how a family comes together to help one of their own, and two, how one little Starling’s knowledge, learned from reading books, would save his entire family.
This engaging and satisfying tale will delight little ones and reinforce how important, educational and fun the written word can be.
The very versatile Lindy Michaels aims to inspire young minds through children’s literature. Lindy owned L.A.’s first children’s bookshop, OF BOOKS AND SUCH (1972-1987) where she did storytelling, taught drama to children, had art and poetry contests and the like. According to Lindy, “It was truly a ‘land of enchantment.” She also spent years lecturing on realism in children’s literature at colleges in the state. For close to five years Lindy has worked for Studio City Barnes and Noble (BookStar) in the children’s section and does storytelling every Saturday at 10:30 a.m.
What’s the best part of going back to school? Is it the new clothes, the supplies or simply the excitement of seeing old friends and the prospect of making new ones? I’ve left one very important part of a new school season out – the learning! And who couldn’t stand to learn a new thing or two? I’ve gathered together a bunch of books I hope you will want to share with your kids. They cover a range of these topics so there really is something for everyone. Dive in and let me know what you think.
A particular favorite of mine is the latest offering from Tad Hill, creator of the New York Times Bestseller Duck & Goose. For those of you with pre-schoolers and Kindergarten-aged kids, How Rocket Learned to Read (Schwartz & Wade Books, $17.99, ages 3-7) will inspire. If your children are already readers, this charming tale will bring back those early days when every word was a new adventure. Rocket the darling dog just wants to nap, but a little yellow bird has set up school at the same spot and is determined to teach all the letters of the alphabet to the reluctant Rocket. Soon Rocket is pulled into the story yellow bird reads aloud and waits with baited breath for more, but the bird has flown away for the day. It doesn’t take long for Rocket to become a star pupil, sounding out each letter of the alphabet, “With a G and many Rs as they spelled Mr. Barker’s growl. GRRRRRRRR!” Share the excitement beginner readers experience with this adorable book.
The Exceptionally Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School (Abrams, $15.95, ages 4-8) by Albert Lorenz is just the kind of book kids clamor for. It’s clever, creative and incredibly, enormously imaginative. Filled with fun facts (about things like paper and spitballs, anthropomorphism and more!) alongside the narrative, and enhanced by hilarious illustrations, this is a book that will be read again and again. I found myself scanning every corner of the pages, each time delighted at finding new things. While the speech bubbles may at first be a distraction, they really do add to the over-the-top effect the author aimed for. The book introduces us to new (could he be nervous, too?) student John,the librarian Mrs. Dewey and a plethora of interesting schoolmates and teachers. Apparently his parents now seek an ordinary school and life since John’s previous school (a castle) was anything but! Do we believe John or simply go along for the raucous ride? Will your Parents’ Night ever be the same? What a wild and weird way to begin the new school year!
How lucky for us to have Teacher’s Pets (Candlewick Press, $6.99, ages 5 and up) by Dale Ann Dodds with illustrations by Marilyn Hafner. An enjoyable read-aloud story both parents and children alike will relate to. There’s always one teacher like Miss Fry, kind, caring and extremely patient, but when she tells her students that Monday is sharing day, she soon finds herself caretaker to a host of pets the kids have brought to school then left behind. The classroom’s a virtual pet shop what with the rooster, tarantula, and boa constrictor, but somehow the cricket Moe chirrups its way into Miss Fry’s heart making this story as heartwarming as it is humorous.
I was happily tricked by 1 + 1 = 5 and Other Unlikely Additions (Sterling, $14.95, ages 5 and up) by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Brenda Sexton. Try figuring out these quirky equations and you and your kids will have a blast looking at math in a whole new light. The bold and colorful artwork by Sexton adds to the winning formula in a book about thinking “outside-the-box” that will not disappoint. If this doesn’t get kids thinking up fun new math games, I don’t know what will. When does 1 + 1 = 1? When you take 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. which then equal 1 day.
I am constantly in awe of pop-up and flap book artists and engineers who create new ways to make what could be an average alphabet or counting book outstanding. Robert Crowther delivers with these two new titles from Candlewick Press. ABC: The Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek Alphabet Book and 123: The Most Amazing Hide-and-Seek Numbers Book(Candlewick Press, $12.99 each, ages 3 and up). These interactive titles are great in the way Crowther has configured everything. For example, pull down the tab for “O” and you will see an owl, and pull just a little more and watch the eyes move. I love that added feature! What I like best is that I know with the great illustrations and creative approach, kids won’t be bored and with the counting book, and will actually spend time counting. Be prepared parents, the numbers book goes up to 100!
Charlesbridge Publishing brings us two winning books. The first is Lola Loves Stories(Charlesbridge, $6.95, ages 2-5) by Anna McQuinn with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw, about a little girl who needs no encouragement to read and head off to distant lands, and Kindergarten Day USA and China – A Flip-Me-Over Book(Charlesbridge, $7.95, ages 4-6) by Trish Marx and Ellen B. Senisi , ideal for teachers and classrooms or simply for parents and kids who are curious about what it’s like to attend school on the other side of the world. And though far apart in miles (and 12 hours ahead in time zones), the average school day is really very similar. While one story is about using our imagination and all the great places it can take you, the other deals with real people and real places and teaches some Mandarin Chinese in the form of pinyin using the English alphabet to sound out the characters. Both books are upbeat and ideal for reading together or alone. Part of the proceeds from Kindergarten Day USA and China goes to The Global Fund for Children supporting the world’s most vulnerable children and youth.
It’s 1970s Boston and forced busing is in place in Busing Brewster (Knopf, $16.99, ages 6-10) by Richard Michelson and illustrated by R. G. Roth. “Ain’t no Negroes at Central,” Brewster declares after learning that he’ll be attending first grade at Central, a White school and not his local elementary because of mandatory desegregation. With his Mama all positive about the advantages of Central, Brewster figures a school with a pool can’t be all that bad despite an hour’s bus ride. A rock thrown at the bus window by protesters and two policeman standing guard may not seem encouraging, but when older brother Bryan gets into a spat, a day of detention in the library turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Enter Miss O’Grady, the librarian, who sees all children’s potential regardless of race or ethnicity, and makes Brewster promise to come back, and maybe even consider running for president one day.
Here’s my $64,000 question: Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?(Balzer & Bray, $16.99, ages 4-8) by Audrey Vernick with illustrations by Daniel Jennewein. Check off the following list of criteria: Does your buffalo have a packpack? Is he worried about not being good with scissors? Can your buffalo cooperate and take turns? Well I think he’s ready! You’ll turn the pages quickly as you eagerly await what hilarity ensues as the big dude experiences Kindergarten including snack time – and you do know how Buffalos eat their food, don’t you? Can your Buffalo pull off a huge, shiny grin on picture day and charm all your classmates? You decide!
Older kids should be on the lookout for George Brown, Class Clown: World’s Worst Wedgie in bookstores Oct. 7 (Grosset & Dunlap, $4.99, ages 7-9) by Nancy Krulik and illustrated by Aaron Blecha, but in the meantime they can read the first two in the series George Brown, Class Clown: Trouble Magnet, and George Brown, Class Clown: Super Burp! If you are not familiar with our man George, he’s the disaster-prone titular ten-year old character spun-off from the popular huge selling Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo chapter books. In the most recent book, George is seized by uncontrrollale super burps. Whether it’s do-si-doing and swinging your partner or having to stay with the lunch lady during recess for sneezing snot on someone’s lunch tray or making the loudest belch in history, it seems everyday at Edith B. Sugarman Elementary is filled with new challenges for the class clown.
From the Emmy Award-winning PBS Kids Series Between the Lions comes What Does a Lion Say? (Gryphon House, Inc. $14.95) an ideal book for parents to share with their kids this summer and year-round. Here’s an easy way to promote literacy, active listening skills, vocabulary, comparative language and so much more. Kids will be inspired by their favorite Between the Lions characters as they take on new adventures in learning. I wish I’d had this book when my children were younger, but when flipping through the different sections I noticed that these playful language games are suitable for either ages 3-93, 4-94 or 5-95, in other words, I can still play along! Portable and affordable, What Does a Lion Say? is a must for parents to include in their pack list for upcoming travel, dining out, long waits at the doctor’s office or simply to tuck in their beach bag for a day out.
Families will never be bored with the educational and entertaining selection of over 50 games where you don’t have to worry about losing any pieces because most of the time you need nothing more than your imagination though occasionally some games do call for a pad of paper, some type of writing implement (I don’t recommend sharp pencils for a car ride) and a sense of humor. There’s a comprehensive introduction to help parents use the book to its greatest advantage, a More Ideas! section, book recommendations, an Index of Games by Age and one of the most useful, an Index of Literacy Skills so whether you see to work on letter recognition with child, descriptive language or or rhyming, the info’s at your fingertips.
I remember when my daughter first began to read and the fun we all had deciphering billboards, but I was often hard-pressed to come up with other creative ideas to foster her love of reading. The variety of wonderfully inventive games found in the pages of What Does a Lion Say? means I’d never be wanting. Here’s an example of a super storytelling idea that would have been just up my daughter’s alley.
Fantastic Pets make for some fantastic stories:. To play this game, make up a story about a silly or unusual animal that comes to live with you.
What if a bear, an eagle, or a kangaroo moved into your home? What would you name it? What would you do with your new pet? Would you keep it in your room? What would it eat for breakfast
If all these great games weren’t enough, available soon are LION LETTER cards from Between the Lions—a set of Alphabet Cards and a set of Rhyming Cards. For more information about these great educational tools click below:
The Best Stories Told Are The Ones That Come to Life!
Good Reads With Ronna is giving away one copy of this fun new Wii educational game from Konami,a must-have for all you electronically inclined families. One lucky winner will receive this “E” rated game with a value of $39.99. Enter now by clicking here, and remember to write STORYBOOK in the subject line. For rules click here. Hurry, because this contest ends on Monday, April 19th.
* 16 Classic Fairy Tales and 4 sing-along songs
* Become storybook characters using the microphone (included)
* Record your readings and playback later
Enjoy Little Red Riding Hood, The Ugly Duckling, Old MacDonald, The Happy Prince, The Golden Goose, and more.
Attention: Hours of fun await you! Parents and children can read along together or alone, record and play back readings of favorite stories, including the most beloved tales from Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Aesop and around the world. The coolest feature kids will love: Storybook Workshop’s unique microphone functionality will even magically change your voice to sound like the characters in the stories, including fairies, giants and robots!
In addition to all the wonderful reading attractions with Storybook Workshop, kids are able to create memories and tap into their creativity simply by using the sound of their voice and “painting” colorful masterpieces that they are able to display on their own personal virtual easel. With all this and more, Storybook Workshop will transform family story time into a wonderfully memorable, fun and enriching experience with your pre-schooler.
Today’s guest reviewer is author, Esther Jantzen. Her new book, Plus It! How to Easily Turn Everyday Activities into Learning Adventures for Kids shows parents just how to do that. You can check it out at <www.plusitbook.com>. and read Jantzen’s article in our Fall 2009 Education Directory available online.
The two charming fox sisters, who have appeared in four other books, experience plenty of the rivalry that often occurs between siblings. Sometimes older sisters can be bossy, sometimes they might try to trick you, sometimes they like to show off. And sometimes younger sisters figure out smart ways to take care of themselves without fighting or complaining.
This book, with three short chapters, is for the 5–8-year-old set. With the benefit of engaging illustrations, we first learn how Zelda sets up Ivy and her friend Eugene to test whether they can keep woozy-weasel-promised secrets. (Well, it’s very challenging…)
In the second chapter, we see how April Fools jokes can be played by the big sister AND by the little sister. And the final chapter depicts a marvelous attempt by Zelda to stage an opera when those around her are more intent on catching butterflies. One just might end up with empathy for both the elder and the younger. It’s not easy being Sis!