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This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

THIS IS HOW WE DO IT:
One Day in The Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World
Written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Book cover image of This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe

 

 

Starred reviews – Booklist, Horn Books
Included on Smithsonian Ten Best Children’s Books of 2017

“From Breakfast to Bedtime, Spend the Day with Seven Children around the world …”

Meet Romeo (Italy), Kei (Japan), Daphine (Uganda), Oleg (Russia), Ananya (India), Ribaldo (Peru), and Kian (Iran). Read Lamothe’s This Is How We Do It and spend a day with each of these real children and their families to see how their day compares to yours.

A map of the world on the end pages depicts each child and where each child and his or her family lives. The book consists of several attractive and well laid out thematic sections. Each three to four page section introduces the reader to the children from “This is Me” to “This is How We Learn” and “This is How I Help.” On each page, separate panels depict the activities of each child. Other sections include information on what children eat for breakfast and lunch, how they spell their name, and what they do after school.

Each child’s in this book’s close knit family unit consists of a father and mother and siblings. As happens with many families, there are a few challenges. Ribaldo does his homework by flashlight and sleeps on wood planks padded by three blankets. Daphine’s walk to school takes thirty minutes and she sits in a class with 68 other students.  Some of the families live in homes or apartments in large urban centers, but a few live in small villages in homes made of wood and mud. The upbeat tone and the love and happiness seen in the family photographs may be reassuring to young children whose families are facing their own challenges.

Meal times are interesting and show the great diversity of food and dinner times, while most eat an early evening meal, Daphine’s family eats at 10 p.m. Nevertheless, what will be so familiar and relatable to American children will be the illustrations of the seven families seated around a table and sharing a meal and doing after-dinner activities such as homework, playing board games, watching TV, hobbies, and, of course, reading.

The final spread,”This is My Night Sky,” presents a full moon against a backdrop of twinkling stars, a type of sky seen by children all over the world. The last pages show photos of the actual children and their families and include a glossary and a brief note on how the author collaborated with the families in putting this book together. This Is How We Do It  is a fascinating book which can be used at home or in the classroom to help children build global awareness and discover that they share much in common with other children all over the world.

See pages from the book and learn more about the author/illustrator here. Visit the publisher’s website to see a book trailer and download the free activity guide which helps young children gain a deeper understanding of the book and includes some very cool ideas!

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

WE CAME TO AMERICA
by Faith Ringgold
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

We Came to America Cover Image

 

“We came to America
Every color, race, and religion
From every country in the world.”

This lovely lyrical stanza from We Came to America  invites children to participate in Ringgold’s inspirational poem while reminding them of the journeys made to this country by many different people. From the indigenous peoples already here to those who came bound in chains, from those who fled hardships elsewhere to those who came by choice, it is their stories and creativity which makes America great. As the poem unfolds, children come to realize the scope of this country’s diversity and how it contributes to our success as a country.

The acrylic illustrations have all the rich colors and naivety of folk art, a hallmark of Ringgold’s art. Her familiar style is put to good use here, vividly complementing the theme and helping to interpret the poem. She paints a rich diversity of faces against the backdrop of the red white and blue.

While there is little reference to such events as slavery and anti-immigrant violence, this book is a welcome addition and can used across the curriculum with a variety of age groups. Share it with lower elementary students who are working on a family origins unit for Social Studies. Or pair it up with other resources such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Mary Hoffman’s The Color of Home and Anne Sibley O’Brien’s I’m New Here, to help students gain a deeper sense of the immigration experience and the importance of immigration to this country’s growth. Introduce it to older students as they debate contemporary immigration policies. Share it to help heal recent political divisiveness.

“In spite of where we came from
Or how or why we came,
We are ALL Americans, just the same.”

Awards
School library Journal Starred Review
2017 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

  • Review by Dornel Cerro
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Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

IRON RAILS, IRON MEN, AND THE RACE TO LINK THE NATION
The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
Written by Martin W. Sandler
(Candlewick Press; $22.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

iron-rails-iron-men

Prepare to not want to put down this fascinating nonfiction book called Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation by Emmy Award and Pulitzer prize winning historian, Martin W. Sandler.

In the early nineteenth century it took six months to travel coast to coast by horse and wagon. Rugged terrain and violent weather made the journey difficult and dangerous. The alternative, sailing around Cape Horn, took at least six months and was equally dangerous.

Dreams of a transcontinental railroad had great promise: quicker travel time, new communities, and improved opportunities for trade and commerce. It took years to advocate and raise money for this massive project. When President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, two companies, the Central Pacific, laying tracks eastward, and the Union Pacific, laying tracks westwards, raced to complete the job.

The work required staggering feats of engineering, which award-winning historian MartinW. Sandler effectively demonstrates using period photos and weaving mind-blowing facts into the narrative. Workers had to blast through mountains to build tunnels and erected some of the highest bridges known. Supplies had to be hauled over mountains on horseback or cart to the workers. Conditions were grueling: prairie fires, cattle stampedes, severe weather, and Native American attacks. Each job had its physical challenges: imagine graders who hauled tons of dirt away or track layers who lifted and placed rails that weighed 500 to 700 pounds!

Sandler critically examines more controversial issues such as corruption, discrimination against the highly efficient Chinese workers, and the severe impact on the life and culture of the Plains Indians.

When the two rails finally met, tens of thousands of workers had laid over 18,000 miles of track and joined the two coasts of a rugged continent. Travel time, coast to coast, was reduced to one week.

The author has made dramatic use of archival photographs to enhance the engaging and informative text, all accompanied by easy to follow maps. A fascinating final chapter discusses what happened to the main personalities. Educators and parents should check out the publisher’s great teacher’s guide and audio excerpt. Highly recommended for teachers and librarians serving grades 5 and up and a great resource for 19th century United States history and train enthusiasts.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Reluctant Readers Love Timmy Failure and Tom Gates Series

TIMMY FAILURE & TOM GATES
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR RELUCTANT READERS

Huzzah and hooray! A world class detective and a passionate doodler are back in the continuing series of two popular Candlewick Press middle grade books.

If you’re not familiar with either either Timmy Failure or Tom Gates, please take a look at earlier reviews of previous titles right here at Good Reads with Ronna (see below). Both series are a hit with fans of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and employ a diary or journal style novel filled with pen and ink illustrations. The illustrations not only add to both series’ humor, but, as one of my students, a reluctant reader (and now big fan) told me: the illustrations increase his understanding and enjoyment. Both are recommended for ages 8-12.
So check out more hilarious adventures– and misadventures– of Timmy Failure and Tom Gates.

Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection (#4)Timmy Failure Sanitized For Your Protection book cover
Written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis
Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

The young “ … founder, president, and CEO of Failure, Inc, the greatest detective agency in the nation …” is forced to go on a road trip to Chicago to help his mom’s boyfriend move, instead of working on his latest case: the theft of money from a school fundraiser. Extremely put out, Timmy endures miles of cornfields and country-western music with his mother, Doorman Bob, his polar bear ex-partner, Total, arch-enemy and “criminal mastermind,” Molly, and her family. Like the Pink Panther’s clueless Inspector Clouseau, the equally clueless Timmy accuses everyone but the actual thief and tries to elicit confessions from the innocent while advising them on their “Carmen Miranda” rights. Can Timmy solve the case while far away in Chicago? Can he trust Molly, one of his many suspects, to help him find the crook? Be prepared for “greatness!” Visit Candlewick Press for information on the books and see Pastis’ wonderful Timmy Failure website for more information on the series, the characters, trailers for each book, and activities.

Read Good Reads with Ronna’s past reviews of the Timmy Failure series here.
Tom Gates Everything's Amazing (Sort of) book coverTom Gates: Everything’s Amazing (Sort of) (#3) 
Written and illustrated by Liz Pichon
Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Tom has a lot on his mind and some big problems. Not his usual problems: an irritating older sister, an obnoxious classmate who is always trying to get him in trouble, school, teachers, and math homework. Actually, any homework.

No, he’s got much bigger worries than that. His birthday is coming up and no one seems to notice the wish list he’s conveniently posted on the refrigerator door. His weird, but sweet grandmother has promised to whip him up a special birthday cake. Not so good … she’s been known to mix jello and peas together. His parents have promised to take him and four of his friends to Dino Village for his birthday (where his father works). Four friends? No problem, he’ll invite best “mate” Derek, Norman, and two others. Things quickly go awry, when Amy, the girl he has a crush on, sees the invitations and asks if she can come … and bring a friend. He agrees before realizing the numbers (there’s that pesky math again) don’t add up to four.

His band, Dog Zombies, which includes Derek and Norman, has been “volunteered” by Principal Keen to perform at the school dance. The inexperienced trio, with only one previous engagement under their belts, is going to need a lot of practice. A lot! Even worse, Tom’s father, a loveable and delightfully quirky man, has been hired to be the DJ at the school dance. He plans to wear his dinosaur costume from Dino Village … and silver disco boots. Positively cringe-worthy.

Will this doodler and homework dodger get what he wants for his birthday? Will he figure out how to include Amy and his four friends at Dino Village? Will the Dog Zombies go up in flames at the school dance? And then there’s his father … and his grandmother’s special birthday cake. Read the book and be prepared for a laugh-out-loud experience!

Oh, in case you don’t speak British (“choon” means an excellent tune), Pichon has included a British to American glossary. Don’t forget to check out the recipe for Tom’s “Doodle Toast” at the end of the story.

Visit Pichon’s and Candlewick’s websites for more information on the author and the series as well as fun activities.

Check out Good Reads with Ronna’s earlier reviews of previous titles in the Tom Gates series:

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (#1)

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff) (#2)

  • Reviewed by Dornel CerroVisit Dornel’s blog, Mile High Books, here.
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Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

SWAN: THE LIFE AND DANCE OF ANNA PAVLOVA
Written by Laurel Snyder
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

Swan The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova book cover

Starred review – School Library Journal

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is a breathtakingly lovely book that combines a lyrical narrative and dramatic illustrations to give young children not only insight into the life of Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), but the courage to fulfill one’s dreams despite the odds.

As a child, Anna and her mother struggled economically. In order to make ends meet they took in other people’s laundry. The book’s front end papers depict a forlorn Anna, staring out the window on a cold Russian city, her apartment practically barren but for the line of drying clothes.

One night, however, Anna’s mother takes her to the ballet which proved to be a transformative event for the young girl. Despite her social background and physical challenges, she was determined to enter the Imperial Ballet School, practicing at home while helping her mother with the laundry:

Now Anna cannot sleep …

She can only sway,

         dip, and spin ….

Two years later Anna was finally accepted. And, after years of hard work, she danced her first solo, the lead role of the Swan in Michael Fokine’s The Dying Swan. Snyder writes that Anna

                             “… sprouts white wings, a swan.

She weaves the notes, the very air

                                            into a story…

                   Anna is a bird in flight,

   A whim of wind and water.

Quiet feathers in a big loud world.

Anna is the swan.”

Morstad captures this defining moment in a graceful spread filled with movement: the swirling feathers of the swan emerging from Anna’s back while lovely flowers tumble about her.

Even though Anna achieved worldwide fame, she never forgot how ballet changed her life. She freely shared her dance with people who might never have had the opportunity to see a ballet.

One night, she caught a cold she could not shake and her condition grew increasingly worse. She never recovered. Against a darkened stage, Snyder writes

“Every bird must fold its wings.

Every feather falls at last, and settles.”

Morstad’s stylistic, mixed media (ink, gouache, graphite, pencil) illustrations perfectly capture Snyder’s dramatic and poetic narrative of one woman’s determination to fulfill her dream and capture her life and dance

End materials include a short biography and a bibliography.

I highly recommend Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova not just for children who love dance and theater, but for all children to see the inspirational life of someone who refused to give up her dream despite physical and economic and class challenges. And who when succeeded gave back. That this nonfiction picture book can be coupled with a variety of extension activities incorporating social justice, creative writing, biography, history of ballet, dance, movement and art goes without saying.

Visit Laurel Snyder to learn more about her award winning books and read her very cool Bewilder blog. Learn all about illustrator Julie Morstad and her art here.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Mixed Me! Written by Taye Diggs and Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

MIXED ME!
Written by Taye Diggs
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Mixed_Me_cvr

 

Starred reviews in Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Librarian Dornel Cerro reviews Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs with illustrations by Shane W. Evans.

“I’m a beautiful blend of dark and light, I was mixed up perfectly, and I’m JUST RIGHT!”

Mike, an exuberant and energetic boy rushes from one place to another in his superhero cape:

“I like to go FAST!
No one can stop me
as the wind combs through
my zigzag curly do”

It’s clear that Mike is a well-loved, confident and joyful child. However, although Mike is comfortable with the color of his skin and the “WOW” of his hair, sometimes his diverse heritage causes people to stare and wonder:

“Your mom and dad don’t match,”
they say, and scratch their heads.

There’s pressure at school to choose a group to belong to:

“Some kids at school want me to choose
who I cruise with.
I’m down for FUN with everyone.”

Using rich vocabulary, gentle humor, rhyme, and a hip-hop like rhythm, Diggs offers a inspirational message. The author uses the diversity in the foods we eat to vividly (and deliciously) capture the differences in human appearances. Mike’s mother’s skin is “… rich cream and honey …” and Mike describes himself as:

“I’m a garden plate!
Garden salad, rice and beans-
tasting GREAT!”

This is not only a fantastic read-aloud, but a wonderful starting place for positive discussions on image, esteem, diversity, friendship, and inclusion. Adults sharing the story can easily design extension activities to reinforce the book’s theme. What do words like “fused” and “blended” mean? How do these words apply to people? How many references to multicolored or “mixed” things can children find in the book’s illustrations? What kinds of theatre, music, movement, and dance activities could help children express their understanding of the book?

Evans complements Digg’s bouncy and humorous text with textured illustrations consisting of watercolors and cut pieces of fabric. There are many two-page spreads of Mike, dominated by all that wonderful “zippy” hair and the book is awash in multicolor images: even Mom’s apron and Mike’s cape contain a rainbow of colors.

Mixed Me! is a highly recommended read for all children and adults who work with this age group.

Visit the publisher to see interior artwork and other reviews. Check out Digg’s and Shane’s Chocolate Me! website for information about their earlier book which also sends a positive message about skin and hair type. Read Diggs’ tribute to his long time friend, Shane W. Evans, in The Horn Book. See Scholastic for a biographical sketch on Evans and other books he’s illustrated.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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I Will Chomp You! by Jory John

I Will Chomp You!
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Bob Shea 
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

I_Will_Chomp_You

Starred Review – Booklist 

If you stepped inside my library during a recent reading of this book, you would have heard a ferocious sounding monster (a.k.a the librarian) roaring out:

“I WILL CHOMP YOU, BUSTER!”

Then you would have heard my kindergartners scream back:

“I WILL CHOMP YOU!”

Squealing in delight and quivering with anticipation, my kinders beg me to turn the page.

“You’ve been officially WARNED!” hollers the monster. Then he lunges out and …

“CHOMP!”

and misses. Then he warns us:

“You do NOT want to turn another page, buster.”

My students wonder why. Well, as the story continues, we quickly learn that this monster has something to hide and will use everything at his disposal, including bribery and deceit, to prevent us from finding what’s inside the book.

But, my curious and giggling students are not intimidated, even as they gasp aloud or cringe behind a classmate. They want to know what that monster’s hiding. So, I turn the page and …

“CHOMP!!

Whew! He missed. But … realizing that his threats are not working, the once fierce, but now desperate monster politely requests that we not turn the page. He even gets a bit teary and finally reveals his sweet and delicious secret. He might be willing to share it if we will …

“just come a little closer …
a little bit closer now” ….

“No, no, no!” scream my kindergartners, as I start to turn the page.

“CHOMP!”

When the monster misses yet again, he’s willing to make a deal, but can he be trusted?

Read on … if you dare!

This deceptively simple and wonderfully interactive story had my students laughing, shouting, and jumping up in excitement. The oversize words encouraged students to read aloud and interact with the story. Soon they realize that under no circumstances can this monster be trusted – he’ll do anything, even risk a stomach ache, to prevent us from discovering his secret.

Shea’s stylized and brightly colored illustrations focus mainly on the monster (and his chompers), creating an uncluttered look on the pages. Large, simple shapes (ovals, circles, triangles, etc.) that make up the monster’s body and his exaggerated facial expressions, contribute to the humor and action in John’s story.

Visit author Jory John’s and illustrator Bob Shea’s websites to learn more about them and their work. Check out the short Youtube book trailer below and this pdf from Random House Kids for a yummy activity certain to make all little chompers happy.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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The Sword of Summer: Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

THE SWORD OF SUMMER
Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
by Rick Riordan 
(Disney Hyperion; $19.99, Ages 9-12)

The_Sword_of_Summer_Magnus-Chase

Welcome to the first book in Rick Riordan’s new series,
The Sword of Summer: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

Imagine this: it’s your 16th birthday. You wake up on a cold Boston street, your friends tell you this evil dude is looking for you … and not because he wants to bring you a birthday present. Your untrustworthy uncle reveals that you are the son of the Norse god, Frey, god of fertility of the land, peace and prosperity. Yeah, right. As the son of Frey you have the power to summon an ancient, long lost sword. Apparently, whoever wields it can do some pretty cool stuff with it. Some pretty scary stuff, too. And just think, all this time it’s been sitting at the bottom of the Charles River. Nasty.

Oh, and that evil dude looking for you? He’s the god Surt, Lord of Muspelheim, the realm of fire. He wants that sword, too. And not just to polish it up. See, he’s got this plan (or maybe it’s something like his destiny) to use the sword to free the wolf Fenir and set doomsday into motion. Wolves … dude, you hate wolves!

Someone has to stop him.

Could this be your destiny?

Ready to romp through the nine worlds of Asgard to prevent the end of the world? Well, before you take off, there’s just one. small. thing.

First, you gotta die.

Whew! So, are your ready for the The Sword of Summer, the first book in Riordan’s new series? I’ve got a feeling you’re hooked! From cold Boston streets, where the homeless (and not so prosperous) Magnus Chase lives, to the halls of Valhalla (the realm of the fallen heroes), prepare yourself for a wild and exhilarating ride through the many strange, wonderful, and sometimes frightening worlds of Asgard. Magnus and his friends, who include a snappy-dressing dwarf, a deaf elf, and a Muslim ex-Valkyrie, race against the clock to prevent a cataclysmic war.

Pursued by Valhalla heroes, giant wolves, and monsters, Magnus and his team bargain with powerful beings and magical creatures in order to prevent Surt from obtaining Frey’s sword, Sumanbrander. Whoever wields it has the power to bring about Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle between the forces of the gods Odin and Loki.

Percy Jackson fans will snap up this latest series (I can’t keep it on my library shelves). Using his now familiar model, Riordan has readers take a look at an unlikely hero struggling to understand who he is and the events swirling around him. Like all great heroes (Hercules, Gilgamesh, and yes, Percy Jackson), Magnus’ journey throughout the worlds of Asgard bring him a deeper understanding of self and greater empathy for his companions, who have sacrificed much to support him.

Riordan has inventively created a world blending Norse mythology with contemporary culture and peopled it with diverse characters in positive roles. In doing so, he shines a spotlight on contemporary issues such as Muslim culture, homelessness and people with special needs. Filled with nail-biting and dramatic action, it has the same irreverent humor found in Riordan’s earlier series.

Not familiar with Norse mythology? No problem, Riordan provides a handy glossary and other back matter materials to enhance the reader’s understanding of the ancient Norse world.

Visit all the worlds of Rick Riordan for more information on this and his other series.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

 

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Treasury of Norse Mythology by Donna Jo Napoli

TREASURY OF NORSE MYTHOLOGY:
Stories of Intrigue, Trickery, Love and Revenge
 Written by Donna Jo Napoli
Illustrations by Christina Balit
(National Geographic Children’s Books; $24.99, Ages 8-12)

Treasury_of_Norse_Mythology_cvr.jpeg

Gullinkambi
Yggdrasil
Ragnarok
Ginnungagap

Do these words make your head spin, and your tongue tie up in knots? Never fear, the team that brought you the Treasury of Greek Mythology and the Treasury of Egyptian Mythology is here to guide you through the complex world of the ancient Norse with their third volume in National Geographic’s exquisite mythology series, Treasury of Norse Mythology. This handsome collection will be popular with fans of Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, the Dreamworks movie of Cressida Crowell’s How to Train Your Dragon book series, and Marvel.com’s Thor: The Dark World.

Don’t skip the “Introduction.” It clearly and succinctly explains the Norse world. Napoli describes how the geography of this area (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark) affected the Norse “worldview” and how their Norse passion for storytelling kept these myths alive long after the spread of Christianity.

What follows are eighteen traditional myths, retold in Napoli’s beautiful prose and dramatically illustrated by Balit. From the creation of the cosmos to the final terrifying battle between the gods and the giants, the stories presented in this collection include arduous quests, terrifying monsters, devious shape-shifters, and thwarted lovers. The stories, each several pages long, are preceded by Balit’s two-page spreads, which perfectly capture dramatic moments and complement Napoli’s vivid and accessible prose.

 

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Interior artwork from Treasury of Norse Mythology by Donna Jo Napoli with illustrations by Christina Balit, National Geographic Children’s Books ©2015.

In the myth “Cosmos,” Napoli clearly explains the creation of the universe and the mind-blowing Norse belief of multiple worlds. The ash tree, Yggdrasil, stretches through these worlds, which include Asgard (the home of the gods) and Midgard (humans). Balit creatively and colorfully depicts the nine worlds, giving the reader an excellent visual of this complex concept.

“Destruction,” another fine example of Napoli’s and Balit’s collaboration, is the final, hair-raising battle between the gods and the giants, ending with the fall of Yggdrasil and the fiery consumption of the cosmos. Balit’s illustrations of the raging fires’ glowing flames, set against the frigid white of the snowy land, are breathtaking.

Extensive and substantial front and back material and sidebars in each story are included to help readers understand the background of the myths. Readers will find a map of the ancient Norse world, thumbnail sketches of the characters, a timeline of Norse history, and a detailed index. The afterword discusses the history of the different versions of the myths as well as linguistic challenges faced by the author.

Author Donna Jo Napoli is the recipient of many awards including the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water. Visit her website for a biography and lists of books, awards, and reviews.

Christina Balit, a British playwright, author, and illustrator, was shortlisted for the Kate Greenway Award in 1996. Find out more about her and her books here.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Eat Your U.S. History Homework by Ann McCallum

EAT YOUR U.S. HISTORY HOMEWORK:
RECIPES FOR REVOLUTIONARY MINDS
Written by Ann McCallum
Illustrated by Leeza Hernandez
(Charlesbridge; $15.95, Ages 7-10)

EatYourUSHistHmwk_300

The author-illustrator team who brought us Eat Your Math Homework and Eat Your Science Homework has collaborated on another “tasty” title which explores our country’s roots. Part cookbook, part engaging informational book, Eat Your U.S. History Homework helps children understand U.S. history by providing “… edible connections to American History …” (p. 4).

A timeline of events in U.S. history from 1620-1789 helps children visualize the major events that occurred during this span of history along with a few fun facts such as Washington’s purchase of a cream machine for ice in 1784.

Following the introduction there’s the ever helpful and important “Kitchen Tips” section which emphasizes a few basic and common sense techniques: get an adult to assist you, read the directions carefully, and … wash your hands!

Now for the recipes!

The six recipes found here are “… based on original descriptions or what historians believe …” (p. 4) were used by early Americans. The recipes have thankfully been “modernized” for twenty-first century tastes: can you imagine using bear grease instead of butter?

I was intrigued by the “Lost Bread” recipe and so turned to p. 23 and read that during the French and Indian Wars, the British and American soldiers ate hardtack, similar to a cracker, but so hard that chewing it could actually result in chipped teeth! The French, however, made great use of their stale bread (pain perdu or “lost” bread) by dipping it into an egg batter and pan frying it. Sound familiar? We call it French toast. Sounds like they ate better and kept their teeth intact. Other recipes include Revolutionary Honey-Jumble Cookies and Colonial Cherry-Berry Grunt.

While the author does not provide a list of sources, she does include very helpful tools in promoting understanding of this period of U.S. history. Each recipe is preceded by an historical note on how that dish ties into America’s early history. The “Glossary” and the “Review of History” both contain brief descriptions of major events, people, places, etc. A scroll-like sidebar, entitled “Side Dish,” gets children to use their critical thinking skills by answering a question that ties into the recipe’s time period. The “Side Dish” for “Lost Bread” discusses how the name changes of contemporary Pittsburgh (a French and Indian War site) reflect the many cultures who lived or controlled that area: Shannopin (Native American), Fort Prince George (British), Fort Duquesne (French), Fort Pitt (British, then American). Students are encouraged to find out the origins of their own home town’s name.

Hernandez’s colorfully dressed young rabbits cheerfully capture McCallum’s accessible and humorous text as they prepare and consume the recipes or present information. Eat Your U.S. History Homework is a savory selection for children ages 7-10.

Click here for a downloadable teacher’s guide. And check out the fun www.eatyourmathhomework.com website for more Eat Your Homework Books activities.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

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The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony

THE QUEEN’S HAT
Written and illustrated by Steve Antony
(Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

TheQueensHatcvrThe Queen’s Hat,  is armchair travel for kids at its finest. Swish!! As the Queen sets off from Buckingham Palace (to visit a “very special” person), a gusty wind whisks the Queen’s favorite hat off her head. Followed by her beloved corgi (dressed in an argyle vest), her guard, and her tea-tray-bearing butler, the queen pursues her hat from one iconic London spot to another: Trafalgar Square, London Zoo, the London Eye, and more.

Author and illustrator Steve Antony uses the format of the picture book to great effect, creating eye popping and hilarious illustrations: the Queen’s Men squashed in like sardines on the Underground, stampeding through London Zoo accompanied by its inhabitants, and dangling from the London Eye. The spectacular two-page spread (to be held vertically) of everyone climbing to the top of Big Ben, as a precariously perched Queen stretches out for her hat, is guaranteed to elicit gasps and laughs from readers.

Finally, everyone floats down, Mary Poppins-style, umbrellas in hand, and lands at Kensington Palace. The hat gently plops down on a baby in a pram. Now can you guess who this baby might be? The Queen finishes her whirlwind outing by taking this very special baby for a sedate stroll, followed by her dog, and the butler, still trying to serve tea.

Where’s Waldo and I Spy fans will enjoy the challenge of spotting the Queen and her companions amongst the “Men,” not all of whom are so uniform: sharp-eyed children will notice subtle and humorous differences.

Antony, who has been nominated for several awards, including the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, effectively limits his palette of colors, making the handsome reds, blacks, and blues, stand out vividly against the white space of the pages.

Visit the author’s website to find out more about his work and his other titles. Also see his suggestions for lessons and activities. And do take a look at the video below for The Queen’s Hat, animated by children at London’s Thomas Day School.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

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R is for Rocket: An ABC Book by Tad Hills

R is for Rocket: An ABC Book
Written and illustrated by Tad Hills
(Schwartz & Wade Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

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A is for alphabet book!

Alphabet books are so important in fostering early literacy by teaching children to recognize letter shapes and their associated sounds, often in very creative ways. In addition, alphabet books, like R is for Rocket: An ABC Book, also help children build vocabulary recognition. We could have children chant “B is for boy,” but I bet they’d enjoy this more:

Bella balances on a ball while
a big blue butterfly watches.

The repetition of a single letter also creates a mood and a rhythmic effect, and, in longer sentences, encourages children to use words to expand beyond “C is for cat” and create sentences that contain multiple alliterative words. These in turn could be used to describe an activity or event:

Owl offers a cookie and a crayon to crow.
“Now will you stop cawing?” she asks.

What might children’s responses be if asked why was the crow cawing? How did this story begin or end? Can they think of other hard “C” words that could be used to tell their story? What a great precursor to creative storytelling/writing.

Tad Hills, the author and illustrator of numerous books, including the Duck and Goose books, depicts his well-known Rocket characters “ …having fun while learning the alphabet.” Unlike basic alphabet books, Hill’s popular Rocket characters are engaged in activities beginning with that letter, and accompanied by a short, alliterative sentence or two:

Rocket paints a picture of a peacock. Owl prefers her pumpkin.

My first and second grade students, already fans of Hills’ earlier titles, squealed with pleasure when I showed them the cover of this book. The students quickly caught on to the alliteration and soon the reading became dynamic and interactive as students discussed which sound they heard and how many times it occurred in each sentence.

While my students enjoyed Hills’ brightly colored and adorable characters, my favorite illustration is a two-page spread uniting letters E and F:

In the evening, Emma finds an egg.

Fred frolics with fireflies

Hills depicts a pleasantly darkening sky, dotted with “starry” fireflies. In the shadowy grass, Emma finds a delicate blue egg while Fred chases after glowing fireflies. This reminded me of a lovely summer’s night.

An extra bonus is that the book jacket doubles as an alphabet poster.

Highly recommended for schools and libraries where this author/illustrator is popular and where alphabet books play an important part in early literacy. Visit Tad Hills to learn more about his books.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan

PERCY JACKSON’S GREEK HEROES
Written by Rick Riordan
Illustrated by John Rocco
(Disney-Hyperion; $24.99, Ages 9-12)

 

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You’ve read Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and loved it, so now you’re ready for Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes and it will not disappoint. Here’s why …

“… We’re going back about 4,000 years to decapitate monsters, save some kingdoms, shoot a few gods in the butt, raid the Underworld, and steal loot from evil people.” (p. ix).

Oh no! Percy Jackson has “sold out” again. For free pepperoni pizza and blue jelly beans, Percy followed up his book on the ancient Greek gods with one on Greek heroes. So, for those who want to be famous monster fighters, Percy advises reading this book to learn from the heroes’ mistakes and to remind oneself that:

… no matter how much you think your life sucks, these guys and gals had it worse.

Percy embellishes the adventures of twelve ancient Greek heroes and heroines with lively commentary, snappy observations, and amusing references to contemporary culture. The irreverent Percy refers to Jason and his Argonauts as the “demigod dream team” (p. 237) and writes that:

Theseus was the original ADHD poster child. He was hyper in diapers (p.149).

Witty chapter titles, such as “Atlanta vs. Three Pieces of Fruit: the Ultimate Death Match,” are sure to keep young readers chuckling and turning the pages. In addition to recounting the tales of well-known heroes like Hercules, Percy shares those of lesser known heroes and heroines. Riordan’s inclusion of two heroines, Otrera and Cyrene, allows readers to see girls and women as heroes, something not often seen in ancient Greek society.

Rocco’s vivid and powerful illustrations will surely catch the attention of even reluctant readers, pulling them into the book. The breath-taking illustrations of Hercules slaying the hydra and Daedalus pulling Apollo’s chariot (on the inside front and back covers) reminded me of the Renaissance masters’ red chalk drawings. Two eye-popping and highly readable maps of the ancient Mediterranean world and the locations of Hercules’ twelve tasks are included along with background reading and websites.

Percy’s final words for would be heroes and heroines:

“… if you’re still determined to be a hero, you are beyond hope. Then again, I’m beyond hope and so are most of my friends, so … welcome to the club (p. 383).

Visit Riordan’s website to learn more about the author of Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes and check out his educational resources and event guides that tie into the popular Percy Jackson series. It’s also worth checking out the Percy Jackson website and Riordan’s blog. To learn more about Rocco’s work visit his website and Goodreads blog.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Cold War on Maplewood Street by Gayle Rosengren

COLD WAR ON MAPLEWOOD STREET
Written by Gayle Rosengren
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

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“War was something that happened in other countries, not here in the United States. Not in Chicago on Maplewood Street.” (p. 21).

On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised address to the American people about the discovery of Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba and his response to that threat: a naval blockade of the island. In the tense days that followed, U.S. and Soviet warships sped to the island and the two Cold War superpowers stood “eyeball to eyeball.” The world hovered at the edge of a nuclear precipice.

As the story in Cold War on Maplewood Street unfolds, we meet sixth grader Joanna who loves her dog, Dixie, horses, and mystery books. She lives with her single mom in a basement apartment. Her beloved older brother, Sam, is in the Navy and her best friend, Pam, lives upstairs. She is attracted to the new student in her class, Theo, but too embarrassed to talk to him. However, Joanna has a lot to worry about. A latchkey child, she’s home alone frequently after school and fears that robbers may break into her basement apartment. She wonders about the strange lady in the upstairs apartment who always seems to be watching Joanna from her window … could the old lady be a spy? She misses Sam, but won’t write to him or read his letters, because he broke his promise to her that he would never leave like her father did. One of the popular girls in school is having a boy-girl party that Joanna’s mom feels she’s too young to attend.

President Kennedy’s televised speech triggers unpleasant memories of Joanna’s father and the disastrous last visit she had with Sam. As tensions mount between the two superpowers, fears at home grow. People begin to stockpile supplies and students practice air raid drills at school. Joanna worries about her brother’s safety and she finally begins writing to him. But he does not reply. Has he given up on her? Or is his ship involved in the blockade?

This middle grade historical novel is a dramatic, wonderfully crafted, coming-of-age-story set during a critical moment in history, as one young girl, standing between childhood and adolescence, struggles to understand the changes in her world. The author’s research into early 1960s America and the political crisis creates an authentic setting, which brought back many childhood memories for me. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are references to popular culture such as transistor radios, television shows (Broken Arrow), personalities (First Lady, Jackie Kennedy), and music (The Four Season’ Sherry Baby and Bobby Pickett’s Monster Mash).The author mirrors the growing tensions between the two superpowers with Joanna’s fears and concerns, but prevents the story from being swallowed up by events on the world stage. Day-to-day life continues for Joanna: school, homework, running errands, dinners with Pam’s family, and baking cookies with her mother. But life, as her mother reminds her, changes, and while some changes may be scary, others bring hope. Could mom’s new job improve the family’s lifestyle?

Visit Gayle Rosengren’s website for more information on this book and her previous title, What the Moon Said (Putnam, 2014). Rosengren has many resources for using both books in the classroom or with book clubs, including a list of books that Joanna might have read, and links to websites about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Highly recommended for ages 8-12.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

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Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets
Written by Gennifer Choldenko 
(Wendy Lamb Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

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⭐︎Starred Review – Booklist

Lizzie Kennedy, 13, lives in a house on her aunt and uncle’s fashionable Nob Hill estate with her widowed father and her brother, Billy, 16, once her best friend, but now surly and secretive. Their beloved servants, Jing and Maggy, also reside with them. A brief prologue gives the readers some insight into Lizzie’s world at the dawn of the 20th century and the ominous developments to come:

 

“In the Palace Hotel, electric lights blaze as ladies in shimmering gowns
and gentlemen in black waistcoats waltz in a ballroom gilded with gold.

In the bay, a steamer from Honolulu is fumigated, scrubbed, and
smoked … and given entry to the port of San Francisco.

At the dock … rats slip off the ship. They scurry onto the wharf
and climb the sewers to Chinatown …”

Thanks to her aunt and uncle’s wealth, Lizzie is able to live a fairly privileged life. However, her strict and proper Aunt Hortense insists that she attend finishing school. Lizzie is not interested in becoming a society lady. She prefers science to etiquette, and, much to Aunt Hortense’s chagrin, enjoys assisting her doctor father with his house calls.

Stories begin to surface about the large numbers of dead rats found in Chinatown, and soon that community is quarantined. Despite her father’s and her uncle’s insistence that there is no plague and the quarantine is unjustified, Lizzie has her doubts. One day she discovers that Jing, the family’s cook, has smuggled his son Noah out of Chinatown and has secretly hidden him in the servants’ quarters. However Jing is now missing. Did he get caught up in the quarantine … or something worse? Stunned by the discovery that Jing has a secret life, Lizzie promises the frightened boy, Noah, that she’ll help keep his secret and try to find out what has happened to his father.

As dead rats and plague rumors mount, Lizzie boldly attempts to determine the veracity of the plague rumors and secretly undertakes some dangerous trips to Chinatown to find Jing. Her friendship with Noah and her trips to Chinatown, help her realize the gender, racial, and class inequalities which exist in her society. When Lizzie realizes she can’t find Jing on her own and illness strikes close to home, help comes from some surprising quarters.

Like her earlier Newbery award-winning work, Al Capone Does My Shirts, Choldenko’s middle grade novel, Chasing Secrets, is a wonderful coming-of-age-story that blends historical fiction, mystery, and humor, while providing a fascinating glimpse into San Francisco’s colorful past. Complex topics (some sadly similar to today’s concerns) of inequality, medical science, and immunology are made accessible to young readers through Lizzie’s experiences.

The author, a long time resident of the San Francisco Bay area, concludes with a note about the historical background, a chronology of the plague, and notes which provide information for further reading. Visit Choldenko’s website for more information about her work and find a fascinating Writing Timeline and Educator’s Guide for Chasing Secrets too.

Highly recommended for ages 8-12.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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