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Back-to-School Books Bonanza! A Roundup Part 2

SCHOOL’S STARTING SO …
IT’S TIME FOR OUR
 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS ROUNDUP 2018
PART 2

 

Back to school clip art looseleaf paper

 

Some kids returned to school in August. Have yours? Maybe your children are getting ready to begin the new school year after Labor Day. In other words there’s still time to read about and buy the latest books covering the entire school experience. Today’s titles range from first days and school staff to pet pandemonium. Don’t forget to also check out our Back-to-School Roundup Part 1.

 

No Frogs in School book cover illustrationNO FROGS IN SCHOOL
Written by A. LaFaye
Illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans
(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 4-7)

What do you do when you love pets so much that you can’t imagine going to school without one? That’s Bartholomew Bott’s dilemma in No Frogs in School. Monday meant frogs much to his teacher’s dismay. Tuesday turned out to be super for bringing in his salamander. Once again, Mr. Patanoose, was not amused and banned all amphibians from being brought to school. It worked out to bring Horace the hamster to school on Wednesday, but once on campus things didn’t go so well. Mr. P added rodents to the banned list. On Thursday Sylvia the snake had a turn and scared some classmates. Naturally no reptiles were allowed after that fiasco! In fact for Friday’s show and tell, the teacher specified that kids could bring in anything “But no more of YOUR pets.” That’s when Bartholomew had a brilliant idea. He’d bring in Rivka the rabbit who could be EVERYONE’S pet! And that made all the kids and even Mr. P happy. Kids can be so literal and LaFaye has taken this childlike characteristic and woven it into a cute and colorful tale. I give Bartholomew a lot of credit for persevering to get his beloved creatures to accompany him to school. When that didn’t work, he found an even better solution, a class pet to please all.

LaFaye’s created a clever story about a clever youngster that will appeal to pet-loving kids everywhere. This year ’round read is infused with subtle humor that is complemented beautifully by the illustrations. From the kitty in the fish bowl to a sandwich eating duck, the first spread by Ceulemans gives readers a great idea what fun the multiple media artwork has in store. I laughed upon finding a sock puppet peeking through the classroom door in the second spread that I’d somehow missed during my initial reading. I appreciated all the attention to little details whether that is a student about to eat a shovelful of dirt or Bott’s slippers. Pick up a copy today and enjoy!

 

Fairy's First Day of School book cover illustrationFAIRY’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Bridget Heos
Illustrated by Sara Not
(Clarion Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

In Fairy’s First Day of School, the action starts off before the title page with a speech bubble “Wake up,” as a lady bug calls out to a sleeping fairy. Over breakfast Mama fairy explains how things will go on the first day of school which in this case means the entire routine we all know so well—swan school bus, teacher greeting, classmates meeting, circle time, show and tell, centers, recess, lunch, nap time, story time, and home—but with wings and fairy things!

This delightful twist on what children should expect on their first day works so well with the fairy angle. All the tiny things are gem-toned and appealingly illustrated. And all the activities are ideal for winged little ones such as art center, tooth center and spells center. Just remember your wand for cleaning up any messes made. It’s so much fun playing hide-and-seek behind toadstools, dining on “a petal-and-dewdrop sandwich” and eating one human-sized sprinkle for dessert. Just imagine having story time in a bird’s nest and you’ll understand how charming and enchanting this fairy-take on the first day of school is. Not’s whimsical illustrations combined with Heos’ magical language and fun premise make one reading simply not enough. 

 

School People book cover artSCHOOL PEOPLE
Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
Illustrated by Ellen Shi
(Wordsong; $17.95, Ages 5-8)

The first thing I noticed when I read the contents page of School People, an interesting new collection of school-themed poems, is how many different jobs there are. Fifteen fabulous poems run the gamut from bus driver and crossing guard to teacher, principal and librarian and lots more important professionals in-between. I especially like that the nurse, custodian and lunch lady are also included. Even the building itself has been included. “School’s Story” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, the first poem in the anthology, is a warm and welcoming one beginning with “I am waiting – come on in! / Welcome to this house of brick. / Enter whispers, whistles, signs, / footsteps, fossils, notebook lines.”

While I was never a P.E. enthusiast as a student, I have to admit Charles Ghigna’s “Coach” felt upbeat and its ending, “life is a gym / come- / have a ball”, is terrific. So is the accompanying artwork by Ellen Shi. In it she’s presented the instructor with students from what would likely be the ball’s perspective, down low and looking up, with students’ faces fixed on the coach, replete with whistle in her mouth, hands gesturing, all under an afternoon sky. Hopkins shares the magic a librarian brings to their position, the one person I credit with turning me into a reader when I had all but given up on books as a second grader.

Notable poet names you’ll recognize, as Hopkins often includes many of them in other collections, are Ann Whitford Paul, Alma Flor Ada, J. Patrick Lewis, Joan Bransfield Graham, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Renée LaTulippe plus others new to me such as Robyn Hood Black, Michele Krueger, Matt Forrest Esenwine,  Darren Sardelli, and Irene Latham. Shi’s illustrations, done digitally, are cheerful, energetic and cover a range of emotions from the sadness of an ill child at the nurse to dramatic student performers in theater class. School People, an ideal read aloud, is a fitting tribute to the variety of important individuals whose roles throughout a typical school day help shape our children’s learning experience.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

 

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Star Wars and Brain Quest Workbooks From Workman Help Kids Steer Clear of Summer Slide

KIDS WILL HAVE FUN LEARNING ALL SUMMER LONG!

 

cover illustration SUMMER BRAIN QUEST: Between Grades Pre-K & K from WorkmanSUMMER BRAIN QUEST: Between Grades Pre-K & K
Written by Workman Publishing, Bridget Heos
Illustrated by Edison Yan, Maris Wicks
Consulting Editor: Kimberly Oliver Burnim
(Workman Publishing, $12.95, Ages 4-5)

If the SUMMER BRAIN QUEST® series of workbooks, which launched last summer, aren’t on your radar, now’s a great time to discover them. The most recent addition to the “parent-trusted and kid-approved Brain Quest series, America’s #1 educational bestseller” is SUMMER BRAIN QUEST: Between Grades Pre-K & K and is certain to make learning an adventure! This 160-page workbook/activity book has been designed to prepare four- and five-year-olds for school, something that Workman found both parents and educators have been requesting for this age group.

Billed as a workbook, a game and an outdoor adventure all-in-one, SUMMER BRAIN QUEST: Between Grades Pre-K & K aligns with Common Core standards and cleverly and creatively covers Science, Social Studies, English Language Arts and Math. If your children are familiar with the popular Brain Quest decks, they’ll find this new workbook as enjoyable. Spanning eight levels of curriculum-based activities including ABCs, phonics, vocabulary, counting, shapes, patterns, maps skills, seasons and lots more, the workbook comprises a detachable foldout progress map, over 150 stickers “to track your progress on the map,” outside activities, a Brain Quest mini deck and a super cool Summer Brainiac Award certificate. Not only are there plenty of things to do indoors such as coloring pictures, tracing letters, counting and calendar skills there are also a bunch of exciting outdoor activities called quests including bug detective, making letters from sticks and ABC hopscotch.

The colorful and inviting cover, map, and sticker artwork by video game artist Edison Yan will get your curious kids eager to open the workbook and easily engaged with the interactive style of the exercises. An answer key is provided at the end along with some SUMMER BRAIN QUEST extras. This is one workbook both you and your soon-to-be kindergartners will welcome. And a reminder, the SUMMER BRAIN QUEST series is available up to the summer between grades 5 & 6 so once your children get hooked, there are more books to look forward to.

 

Star Wars Workbooks from Workman cover artStar Wars Workbooks
Grades 3 (Math, Reading and Writing) & 4 (Math, Reading and Writing)
by the Editors of Brain Quest; Consulting Editor: Barbara Black
(Workman; $8.95, Ages 8-10)

The latest installments in the Star Wars Workbooks are for 3rd and 4th graders and, like all the others (Pre-K through 2nd grade), they’re out of this world! Let the Force be with your kids as they conquer the curriculum-based exercises in these well-crafted, engaging books. They seamfully blend Star Wars spirit with “the unique mix of editorial quality, fun presentation, and rigorous educational standards of the Brain Quest Workbooks.”

These 96-paged interactive workbooks make learning or reviewing core subjects, including numbers, ABCs, phonics, and reading readiness for younger grades, and math, reading, and writing for the older ones, an intergalactic adventure. “The material aligns with national Common Core State Standards and is designed to reinforce essential concepts and lessons taught in schools.” In the 4th grade math workbook I had fun shopping with Han where it’s necessary to read a word problem first and, using fractions and multiplication, find the answers to questions such as: “Imagine that Chewie needs quarrels to load in the bowcaster. Each projectile costs 2/6 credit. How much will 6 quarrels cost? 6 x 2/6 = ? _______ credits.” Not sure of the math involved? Answers are provided in the back. I know because I had to double check—it’s been a while since 4th grade. 3rd grade math topics include multiplication and division, measuring area and perimeter, word problems, quadrilaterals and graph reading.

Illustrated throughout with fan faves like Rey and Finn from The Force Awakens as well as Luke Skywalker, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and other creatures, monsters, Jedi, and Sith, the workbooks make math, reading and writing accessible and surprisingly enjoyable with their array of original art inspired by “Star Wars movies and the expanded Star Wars universe.” I mean it’s not every day that kids will find themselves eager to outline in order to write a Rebel Report from Princess Leia, picking up parts of speech at a new Imperial Pilot Academy or understanding adverbs by Describing Droids—all part of the 3rd Grade Reading and Writing Workbook. Comprehensive yet not overwhelming, the Star Wars Workbooks provide a clever incentive to get kids away from the electronics that will reinforce prior learning and introduce key grade-appropriate skills. Help your kids “stay on target” the Star Wars way for mastering school skills.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Find a review of a math activity book here.

The Common Thread

13356669Happy Earth Day!!!

Spiders, Algae, Goats and Silkworms. What’s the common thread?

Stronger than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures and Parachute Rope  ($18.99, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Ages 10 and up) will enlighten you as much as it does your curious child. This sophisticated science book is all about transgenics, a process whereby genes from one species are isolated, modified and then injected into a different species so transgenes can be developed. The objective of this type of science is to find new ways to solve health issues in humans and other animals as well as in the foods we eat.

Readers will be fascinated by orb spiders as they spin silk that is stronger than Kevlar (the material used to make bullet-proof vests) and is more flexible than nylon, even in extremely low temperatures. This silk has the potential to be so valuable with so many uses such as bioengineered ligaments and tendons, surgical sutures, parachute rope, bulletproof vests and even space suits.

Author Bridget Heos focuses the book on the research of Dr. Randy Lewis, who conducted experiments at the University of Wyoming and currently is a professor at the Utah State University. Since spider silk has so many coveted properties , the focus on the research involves figuring out the best and fastest way to reproduce it. We learn that Orb spiders cannot go to work together in the same space to produce silk, because they would eat each other!

Randy’s team is experimenting with spider silk by injecting the gene into goats, so their milk produces silk. The gene does not change the appearance, health or behavior of the goats, only the properties of their milk. There is also research being done on growing silk through alfafa, the flowering plant, which is a major crop in Wyoming. Essentially the plant is infected with bacteria that contain the spider gene, and then the spider alfafa grows as sprouts. Dr. Lewis’ intriguing research also includes injecting the spider gene into silkworms; unlike spiders, silkworms never eat each other and can produce silk at rapid rates.

What impresses me most about the book is the author does an incredible job explaining the revolutionary science in such a way that young advanced readers can completely understand it. There are comprehensive explanations about DNA, proteins, genes and more that are so educational. I loved reading about the goats and all the possible uses of spider silk too. The photographs in the book by Andy Comins are terrific, especially the close-ups of the spiders and silkworms.

I was happy to see that there is a chapter on the ethic of transgenics, as it is  a controversial topic. Some people believe the practice is unnatural and immoral because scientists are basically “altering nature.” There are animal activists too who believe it is unjust to use them for experimentation. It’s so important that children (and adults) learn not only about bioethics, but also understand that many of the foods we buy in our grocery stores have been genetically modified for a variety of reasons. We each must form our own opinions about this science by objectively looking at both points of view – for and against – transgenics.

I’ve read and reviewed many science books for kids, and can say without a doubt that Stronger than Steel is the most sophisticated and advanced of all those books. It’s a fascinating read and the perfect way to introduce your gifted child to transgenics. They can also get a glimpse into the long process of doing scientific research.  I have no doubt this book will inspire some very bright children to choose careers in science. It sure made me wish I had a PhD in Molecular Biology!

Note: This title is one of many in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field Series. Check out the website here.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

 

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