skip to Main Content

Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli

DINOBLOCK
by Christopher Franceschelli with artwork by Peskimo
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.95, Ages 1 and up)

DinoBlockcvr.jpg

If you have a budding young paleontologist (and even if you don’t), this book’s inventive and colorful graphic design will delight and engage both children and adults.

Two children stop by the museum to “meet the dinosaurs” as the banner outside proclaims. Wait-don’t be so quick to turn the page: the first two pages fold out to form a four-page spread of the diorama-style exhibit.

But the children want to know:

WHO ARE THE DINOSAURS?

and

WHERE ARE THE DINOSAURS?

 

Intartdinoblock.jpg

Interior artwork from Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli with illustrations by Peskimo, Abrams Appleseed ©2015.

And the dinosaurs, peeking out from the jungle brush, call out:

HERE WE ARE

Pairs of two-page spreads combine to create clues and answers, comparing the characteristics of contemporary objects with dinosaur features. The design of the “clue” spread interacts with the “answer” spread and links the present to past.

A tall building is compared to the Sauroposeidon, a dinosaur that reached heights of 18 meters (almost 60 feet).

I AM TALL LIKE A SIX-STORY BUILDING …

The straight-edged tab on the shared page of the clue and the answer emphasizes both the building’s height and the long neck of the Sauroposeidon and gives children a peek into the stylized prehistoric environment.

 

Intartdinoblock.jpg

Interior artwork from Dinoblock by Christopher Franceschelli with illustrations by Peskimo, Abrams Appleseed ©2015.

In one two-page spread, the two friends float in a small boat over a large whale. The text of the clue reads:

I AM LONG LIKE A WHALE …

The next spread reveals the answer:

I AM A DIPLODOCUS.

In these two spreads, the shared tab follows the curving back and tail of both the whale and the diplodocus.

Not sure how to pronounce those complicated sounding dino names? Not to worry-the author provides a phonetic *translation” beneath the scientific name. Boy, I could have used this years ago when my sons and I struggled to pronounce names like MICROPACHYCEPHALOSAURUS (MY-cro-PACK-ee=SEFF-ah-low-SORE-us).

The final two pages fold out to reveal a four-page spread of the skeletons of each of the dinosaurs depicted in the book.

Simple words typed in capitol letters and some repetition in the sentences make the text accessible to toddlers and preschoolers. The diversity of the children and the dinosaurs they discover hint at the diversity of life and demonstrates that many children share the same wonder and amazement over dinosaurs.

Bold and colorful illustrations over two-page spreads, cheerful faces (Peskimo’s T-Rex is nothing like the raging monster in Jurassic Park), and the larger board book format guarantee interactivity. A block (buster) of a book (forgive the pun). Be prepared to read and play with this book more than once!

Christopher Franceschelli is the publisher and president of Handprint Books and the creator of other concept books like Alphablock and Countablock. See GRWR’s reviewer Rita Zobayan’s earlier review of Countablock, and check out School Library Journal’s interview with the author. Peskimo, a British husband and wife team, did the artwork on both books. Visit their website to see more of their nostalgic, retro artwork.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Share this:

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff) by Liz Pichon

The British are coming … Again!

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff)
Written and illustrated by Liz Pichon
(Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

TomGatesExcellentExcuses.jpgWhile Paul Revere is probably rolling in his grave, Pichon’s American fans will be rolling over with laughter as they read the next book in the hilarious saga of British fifth grader, Tom Gates.

Those who read Pichon’s first book, The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, will find that Tom, now on a two week break, is still up to his usual hijinks: finding new and improved ways of annoying his sister, Delia, devising the most ingenious excuses to get out of troublesome situations, eating his favorite snacks (caramel wafers), doodling, and hanging out with his best mate (friend), Derek.

Tom’s biggest hope is to find a drummer for his band, DOGZOMBIES and secure the band’s first gig. But in typical Tom Gates fashion, there’s a whole lot of everyday life – and his reaction to it – swirling around: a bad tooth, his prank-playing cousins, the ongoing rivalry with class smarty pants, Marcus, and the field trip from hell. Oh, and as Mr. Fullerman, his teacher, keeps reminding him, there’s still an overdue homework assignment to turn in. To give Tom a little incentive, Mr. Fullerman (who’s wise to this procrastinating day dreamer) has sent one of his prize worthy, tongue-in-cheek notes home to his parents. So now Tom’s got his parents on his back about that (and undone chores),

The DOGZOMBIES land their first gig, thanks to Tom’s zany grandfather, at the Leafy Green Old Folks Home (where many of the residents truly don’t mind loud music). Their success at Leafy Green even inspires Tom’s principal to ask the band to play at an all school assembly (Tom puts him off by claiming Delia injured his arm when she punched him).

In one of the book’s many subplots, Tom becomes suspicious about the growing number of gold stars Marcus has earned on the classroom Gold Star Award Chart. So he begins to spy on Marcus and observes him purchasing gold stars. Aha! Tom brilliantly exposes Marcus’ cheating and finally finishes his homework assignment. In the process, he earns three gold stars, putting him ahead of all his classmates.

Tom’s clever doodles are a treasure and often visually extend the narrative, supporting young readers with additional clues about the story and characters. And for those readers who don’t know “British” check the handy (and well doodled) glossary in the back.

Visit Pichon’s website for more information about the author and the series. You can also find several videos, including book trailers, “How to Draw Like Tom Gates,” and “Fun Stuff” to do. Visit The World of Tom Gates website, too. Click here for a sample chapter.

New to Tom Gates? Read my previous review of The Brilliant World of Tom Gates on the Good Reads With Ronna blog to get acquainted with this terrific series. Highly recommended for tweens, ages 8-12, who enjoy the humorous, diary-style series.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Share this:

ANIMALIUM by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott

 

Animalium
curated by Jenny Broom (author) and Katie Scott (illustrator)
(Big Picture Press, $35.00, Ages 8-12 – but will be enjoyed by all ages!)

 

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness

Animalium-cvr.jpgTurn off the TV, power down the devices, and take the children to the museum … simply by opening up this visually impressive book! Colorful, intricately drawn animal life forms, will instantly grab children’s attention.

Beginning with its oversize format and a bronze-colored admittance ticket, the book’s design was intended to create (or recreate) a museum visit. Turn the pages and step into the “museum.” At the “Entrance,” the “curators,” Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, welcome children and invite them to “See for yourself how the tree of life evolved from the simple sea sponge into the diverse array of animals found on Earth today (p.1).”

A breath-taking two page spread of the “Tree of Animal Life” follows. The curators explain that this unusual tree illustrates ” … how organisms that appear to be very different have … evolved from one another over millions of years … (p. 5).” Children (and adults) will find it fascinating to follow the branches up from the stem (Invertebrates) to see the development of, and interrelationships between, animal life forms. For example, a lungfish and a cockatoo once shared the Vertebrate branch. The curators note that the further away from the stem a species is, the more the species has evolved in order to survive.

As children continue turning pages, they enter individual “galleries” (or book chapters) which are ” … arranged by shared characteristics and in evolutionary order to show how the animal kingdom… (p.1) ” developed over eons of time into invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Int-art-Animalium.jpg

Interior spread from Animalium by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, ©2014 Big Picture Press.

 

The curators encourage their young visitors to ” … look for characteristic similarities and read the text to find out more about how the animals are comparable. (p.1).” Each gallery also sports a “habitat diorama” where children can learn about the ecosystem that supports those animals and how they have adapted to life in that environment. In examining the Arctic Tundra, children will learn that many of the mammals there, such as the polar bear, are predatory carnivores, requiring the protein found in meat to help fuel the energy these animals need to keep warm.

Broom’s narrative is engaging and flows smoothly. While age appropriate, it is not simplistic nor condescending. Scientific vocabulary (cnidarian, amphibian, phylum) is used throughout the book with the meanings gracefully woven into the narrative.

Two page spreads feature general information and characteristics about a group of animals. A “Key to the plate” presents information specific to the animals found in the accompanying illustration, numbered like a field guide. Scott makes excellent use of the book’s oversized format with a stunning full-paged spread of the Emperor Penguins and a diagram of the Nile Crocodile’s skeleton. Other spreads, such as the European frog, cover the bottom halves of two pages. This enables Scott to effectively and sequentially depict the frog’s five stages of development from frogspawn to adult. Her intricate pen and ink drawings, digitally colored, are reminiscent of work done by artists and naturalists like John James Audubon.

Additional material in the book includes a preface by Dr. Sandra Knapp of the Natural History Museum of London, England stressing the importance of biodiversity and a “Library” of several online resources.

Check out Big Picture Press to see several images from the book and Candlewick Press for information on the author and the illustrator and to order your copy. Watch the YouTube book trailer below, too.

So visit a “museum” that never closes-and keep children engaged for many hours. Animalium is a highly recommended middle grade nonfiction book for home, schools, and public libraries plus there’s never an admission fee.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Share this:

Throwback Thursday: Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui

Olinguito Speaks Up/Olinguito alzo la voz by Cecilia Velástegui
with illustrations by Jade Fang 
(Libros Publishing, 2013, $19.99, Recommended for ages 4 and up)

Olinguito-Speaks-Up-cvr.jpgThe recent discovery of the Olinguito, a new species of mammal resembling “…a cross between a cat and a furry teddy bear …” prompted Ecuadorian author Cecilia Velástegui to write a contemporary children’s fable about respect for others and for the world’s wildlife.

Shy Olinguito helps forgetful Tómas, an ancient Galapagos tortoise, recall how he ended up far from his native island and in Ecuador’s cloud forest. Due to Tómas’ memory loss and confusion, the other animals think his stories are “tall tales” and tease him. Olinguito finds the other animals treatment of Tómas disrespectful and sets out to help Tómas prove the truthfulness of his stories. With Olinguito’s support, Tómas reveals the twists and turns that took him from his island home to the cloud forest.

While the story focuses on its moral: “honor our elders and cherish our wildlife,” Velástegui uses the fable to gently point out the threats to the diverse wildlife referred to in her story. Through the long-lived and widely traveled Tómas, Velástegui hints at mankind’s devastating impact on the nature. In his narrative, Tómas refers to several “friends” who are now “gone” or “rarely seen” such as the Pinta Island (Galapagos) Tortoises, the Galapagos Petrel, and the cloud forest’s Harlequin Frogs.

Despite the dismay readers will experience over the loss of the many and striking species, the book ends on some positive notes: Olinguito shows young readers the importance of respect for others and the natural world and of standing up for friends who are being bullied or teased. Again, through Tómas, children will learn that some species, such as the Galapagos Pink Land Iguanas, are thriving and that other new species, such as the Galapagos deep sea catshark have been discovered.

Additional front and end material includes a brief note on the discovery of the olinguito, a “Facts/Datos” page, a colorful map of South America dotted with cheerful symbols marking significant cultural, historic, and wildlife locations, and photos of an olinguito and a giant tortoise.

As the book is bilingual, the layout consists mostly of two page spreads. On the left are the English and Spanish versions of the story. The right side features an accompanying illustration. Occasionally, illustrator Fang takes advantage of the expanse of the two page spread to create an illustration that floats across both pages. The illustrations contribute to the story, realistically capturing characteristics of the animals in the misty and diffused light of the cloud forest.

Primarily a fable, use this picture book with younger children as bibliotherapy for social and/or emotional issues around respect, aging, friendship, teasing and bullying. This book could be used with older children to introduce them to South American geography and ecosystems, threatened or extinct or new animal species, and the effects of exploration, colonialism, and development on the natural world and indigenous people. Needless to say it could also be used with children as a springboard for writing their own fables.

Visit the Olinguito Speaks Up website for more author info, facts, and a book trailer.

The author won First Place in Adventure Fiction at the International Latino Book Awards for her adult novel Missing in Machu Picchu.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Share this:

Kuma-Kuma Chan by Kazue Takahashi

Beloved Japanese Children’s Book
Makes Its English Debut

Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear written and illustrated by Kazue Takahashi
(Museyon Press, 2014; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

“I sometimes wonder what Kuma-Kuma Chan does during the day?”

Kuma-Kuma-Chan-cvr.jpgJapanese author and illustrator Kazue Takahashi poses a seemingly simple question in Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear, this small, slim, 2001 Japanese picture book for young readers, newly translated into English. However, the deceptively simple answers and accompanying illustrations reveal an important, almost Zen-like quality that should resonate with all of us.

Kuma-Kuma Chan (“cute little bear”) lives alone in the mountains, in a place difficult for visitors to reach. So how does he spend his day? Well, after waking up, he fixes himself a big salad with lettuce and tomatoes from his own garden. As he pours milk in his coffee, he draws small pictures. He carefully sweeps the house and does some shopping. Then a nap is in order. Later, he gazes at the clouds and listens to the falling rain. In the spring, he pulls weeds, and in the summer he needs to cut his fur to stay cool. Fall is good for love songs and winter would is perfect for reading and following a patch of sunlight around the room.

Alone, but not lonely, Kuma-Kuma lives an unhurried, simple but purposeful life, free from all the clutter and distractions of our modern world. He enjoys his solitude and finds joy in his routines, taking time to live in the moment, and observe what’s going on around him.

Takahashi’s illustrations complement the calm and contemplative narrative and the cuddly Kuma-Kuma Chan. Using a kid-friendly design, Takahashi frees the double page spreads from distractions and accentuates the picture book’s simplicity by focusing children’s attention on one simple and easy-to-read sentence opposite a tiny, sparingly colored illustration.

A tender and soothing story for our jammed packed lives and especially appropriate around the frantic “holidaze.” Use this story as a discussion starter on how we could live and benefit from, at least periodically, a less complicated life like Kuma-Kuma Chan’s.

Visit  Museyon to learn about Kazue Takahashi. The publisher also has displayed several of the book’s pages here.

Kazue ends her story with the sentence “I’m happy to think that Kuma-Kuma Chan has fun during the day and that he is doing well.” I am, too.

May you always have fun and do well.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Share this:

The Mayflower by Mark Greenwood

The Mayflower written by Mark Greenwood
and illustrated by Frané Lessac
(Holiday House, 2014. $16.95. Ages 4-8)

A Voyage to the First Thanksgiving

The-Mayflower-cvr.jpgIn 1621, a group of nearly 100 people, many of whom experienced religious persecution, left England to find a place where they could worship freely. After an arduous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean–which included violent storms and the birth of a child, they sighted land and eventually founded a settlement near Plymouth Harbor.

Their troubles were not over. Arriving late in the year, they faced a cold and difficult winter. Many were ill. However, in early spring, Squanto, a native from a local tribe, taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and fertilize the fields with fish. That fall, Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, and 90 of his warriors joined the Pilgrims for a harvest celebration, our first Thanksgiving

Greenwood’s narrative in this picture book can be read aloud to young children to introduce them to the traditional Thanksgiving story. Complex issues, such as religious persecution and the Mayflower Compact, are briefly, but clearly expressed in language young children can understand. The hardships the Pilgrims faced are not overdramatized and the author weaves in interesting “kid friendly” facts about daily life aboard the ship: food, sleeping arrangements, entertainment, etc.

Lessac’s colorful gouache illustrations, reminiscent of folk art, enliven the narrative and create a vivid and dramatic visual of the journey and the settlement. A stunning two-page spread of a beautiful, calm night at sea, the sky full of stars sparkling around a full moon, belies the dangers the ship would soon face on its journey to the new world. Sure enough, a month later, the Mayflower and its passengers and crew sail into the stormy season, which Lessac stylistically portrays with a pinkish sky dotted with dark storm clouds. Jagged bolts of lightning and torrents of rain fall from the clouds. The image of the ship rolling in the rough sea further demonstrates the ocean’s frightening power and the hardships the crew and passengers faced on their way to the new world.

An excellent and colorful read aloud to introduce younger children to the origins of our Thanksgiving celebration.

Visit Australian author Mark Greenwood’s website for more information about his books.

Illustrator Frané Lessac’s website is a must-see for her artwork and a video about how the illustrator works.

Click here for Holiday House’s Educator’s Guide for this book.

Enjoy this dramatic book trailer for The Mayflower.


– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Share this:

Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford

Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford
with illustrations by Stacey Schuett
(Creston Books, 2014. $16.95, Ages 4-11)

“What do you do when your celebration needs a candle, but yours are all gone?”

winter-candle-cvr.jpgNana Clover needs a candle for her Thanksgiving meal. The Danziger family forgot to get a havdalah candle. The fifth candle on Kirsten’s St. Lucia crown broke. Donte’s baby brother, Jamila cheerfully eats the Faith candle for the Kwanzaa kinara. How will Faruq and Nasreen’s father find their new apartment during a power outage?

A ” … bumpy, drooping candle” is passed from one neighbor to the next in a close knit and supportive apartment community. At first, the candle is seen as quite ugly. Kirsten worries that everyone will laugh at her if she uses it in her crown. Donte wonders how his family will be able to “… talk about faith with that sorry thing…” The Danziger children complain that it is not braided and only has one wick. Grandpa Danziger, hushing his grandchildren, tells them ” … a candle is blessed by what it does, not by how it looks. It’ll shine.”

Winter-Candle-int-spread.jpg

Interior artwork from Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford with illustrations by Stacey Schuett, Creston Books, ©2014.

Sure enough, when lit, the “frumpy” little candle glows more brightly and seems to last longer than other candles. All the celebrations go through without a hitch. Nasreen and Faruq are able to use it to guide their father to their new apartment where all the neighbors have gathered to welcome the family.

A lovely and heartwarming story for the holidays (and everyday) about sharing, caring, and supporting others’ needs and traditions.

Schuett’s rich illustrations glow as warmly and as brightly as the story’s candle.

Author Ashford concludes with a brief note about the holidays mentioned in her story.

Visit Creston Books to read more about the award-winning author and illustrator. This story has many wonderful curriculum connections: research, writing, crafts and more. Please see the excellent curriculum and activity guide the publisher created for this book.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

Share this:

Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez

Today We’ve Got a Throwback Thursday Picture Book! Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez and illustrated by Elwood Smith (Holiday House, 2013, $16.95) and highly recommended for children ages 3-7.

“Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O … Señor Pancho had a rancho, cha cha cha cha cha …”

Senor-Pancho-Had-Rancho-cvr.jpgNow if twelve children chanting “cha cha cha cha cha” to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm doesn’t get your body wiggling and your toes tapping, then nothing will.

Old MacDonald and his neighbor, Señor Pancho, have the same animals on their farms who, while they look similar, speak different “languages.” While Old MacDonald’s dog barks “woof, woof,” Señor Pancho’s pero yaps “guau, guau” (wow, wow). A rooster on Old MacDonald’s farm crows “cock-a-doodle-doo,” while Señor Pancho’s gallo (GAH-yoh) squawks out “quiquiriquí” (kee-kee-ree-KEE), and so on. Finally, a cow and una (OON-ah) vaca (VAH-kah) are introduced. Both happily understand each other’s “moo” and “muu” (moo). Soon, ignoring the fence that divides the two properties, all the farm animals and the two farmers join the cow and the vaca for a rollicking dance.

Each double page spreads shows an illustration of Old MacDonald’s farm on one page with the English verse and Señor Pacho’s rancho on the opposite page with the same verse in a blend of Spanish and English.

Elwood Smith’s multimedia illustrations use subtle colors and small touches to distinguish the characters, but overall, each animal (and human) looks and behaves the same way. The illustrations are hilarious, lively and wonderfully convey the energy, joy, and silliness of the song.

Laínez notes “This book is a celebration of languages. In every celebration, we need music and dance (author’s note).” Lainez and Smith capture the idea that the joy we experience from music, dance, and companionship is universal.

This book was a 2014 International Latino Book Award finalist in the Best Children’s Fiction Picture Book – Bilingual category.

A helpful glossary of the Spanish words used in the book and how to pronounce them is included.

I shared this book with my K-1 classes and the timing was perfect as they were learning animal names in Spanish class. Reading (and singing) this book helped reinforce the children’s learning and introduced the Spanish words for the animal sounds. We had a ball.

Visit Salvadoran René Colato Laínez’s website for more information about the author, his books, awards, activities and more.

Learn more about illustrator Elwood Smith at his website and at Elwood’s World; the Art and Animations of Elwood H. Smith, a pdf of an engaging catalog prepared for a 2011 exhibition of his work at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

The publisher, Holiday House, has information on Common Core State Standards, reviews, and an activity sheet. Find those here.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Share this:

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods
Written by Rick Riordan
Illustrated by John Rocco
(Disney-Hyperion, 2014; $24.99. Ages 9-12)

percy-jacksons-greek-gods

 

When approached by a New York publisher to “tell all” about the gods, Percy Jackson asks:

“Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again (Percy Jackson, p.ix).”

Despite his understandable concerns (irking the gods can be dangerous to your health), Percy, in typical teen fashion, humorously narrates nineteen stories about the Greek gods, weaving in snarky comments and observations. Surprisingly, blending these dark and grim stories with irreverent humor makes the myths (a little) less horrific. Here’s Percy’s interpretation of an exchange between Kronos and Rhea concerning their children and …um…. Kronos’ food choices:

“He [Kronos] stuffed Hestia in his mouth and swallowed her whole.
Just like: GULP. She was gone.
As you can imagine Reha completely freaked.
“My baby!” she screamed …”
“Oh wow,” Kronos belched. “My bad …(p. 23).”

Percy’s title for each myth, not only reflects his wit and humor, but lets the reader know how Percy will interpret that myth. Demeter Turns Into Grainzilla puts a spin on a pop culture monster (Godzilla) when Demeter becomes a monster and daughter, Persephone, is abducted by Hades.

I’m ashamed to admit that I laughed while reading stories about kidnapping, infanticide, and cannibalism. Good gods! What kind of mother does that make me?

John Rocco, who has illustrated three of Rick Riordan’s series, is the 2012 Caldecott honor for Blackout. Rocco’s dramatic illustrations depict robust and muscular gods (recalling Classical Greek statuary), powerfully pulsing with light and energy. His strange and grotesque monsters should satisfy horror fans without overly frightening gentler souls. Visit Rocco’s website to learn more about the books he’s illustrated. Also check out his  blog which includes his artwork and sketches and links to painters who have influenced him (including Frank Frazetta and N.C. Wyeth).

At my school library, this middle grade book is already a big hit with Percy Jackson fans, as well as those who love Greek mythology. As both the 5th/6th grade classes are studying Greek mythology, one of the resources I used (in addition to this book) was the publisher’s excellent event kit. Activities include Percy’s Snarky Word Search, Get Your Greek On (trivia), party games, and more. Such a fun-and funny-way to learn about Greek mythology!

Click here to download the teachers’ guide.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Share this:

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes by Juan Felipe Herrera

Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month With This Book!

Portraits of Hispanic American HeroesPortraits-Hispanic-American-Heroes-cvr.jpg by Juan Felipe Herrera with paintings by Raúl Colón (Dial Books for Young Readers 2014, $19.99, Ages 8-12) is reviewed today by Dornel Cerro.

“Although there have been incredible contributions by Hispanic Americans since the beginnings of this nation, their pioneering roles often have been overshadowed and their identities besmirched by terms such as ‘alien’ and ‘illegal.” (p. 7).

Many people have heard about the achievements of famous Hispanic Americans such as Roberto Clemente, Sonia Sotomayor, and César Chavez. However, how many people know …

1. which Hispanic American won a Nobel Prize in Physics?

2. who defeated the British at the Siege of Pensacola (Florida) in 1781?

3. who was the first Latina astronaut?

Don’t know? Find out by reading and relishing this book! Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes is an eye-opening and inspirational celebration of people whose achievements and accomplishments are just begging to be shared with children.

California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera reveals the voices of those heroes and heroines – some whose contributions are unacknowledged or have been forgotten in this collection of 19 biographical sketches of Hispanic Americans plus Hero Street USA. The breadth and scope of the people represented here is extraordinary: migrant workers, military officers, teachers, scientists, activists, musicians, and more. Each is placed in the context of his or her times and Herrera demonstrates how all refused to let inequities and other challenges prevent them from realizing their dreams.

Herrera’s engaging narrative weaves unfamiliar terms and Spanish words into the text, making it more authentic and accessible for children:

“The National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) … a powerful organization to help migrant workers make a better life for themselves in the United States (César Chavez, p. 42).”

“…I gnacio E. Lozano escaped from Mexico with his family to El Norte, the United States (p. 21).”

Controversial details are touched upon in a straightforward, non-judgmental way, and, if needed, explained in the context of the time:

“But people got wind that Adelina had been divorced from a military officer … During these times, women were looked down upon for not staying married. Her opponents used this against her and she lost the election (Adelina Otero-Warren, p. 19).”

The collection concludes with two compelling accounts. The first is about Hero Street in Silvis, Illinois, where eight fallen heroes, Mexican American soldiers killed in WWII battles, once lived. The final entry is a complex sestina for Victoria Leigh Soto, the teacher who died protecting her students during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on Dec 14, 2012

Artist Raúl Colón’s “portraits,” made up of watercolor washes, etchings, and litho pencils, seem to catch the inner nobility of each person, perfectly complementing the narrative.

Use this with students as an inspirational introduction to biography or a nonfiction read aloud. Give this to children who are looking for real superheroes. Hopefully it will encourage all children to: “See further and dream larger.” Judith F. Baca, UCLA professor and artist (p. 75).

For those of you who made to this point, here’s the answers to the above questions:

1. Luis Alvarez
2. Bernardo de Galvez
3. Ellen Ochoa

Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes features stunning portraits and biographies of the following: Adelina Otero-Warren, Bernardo de Galvez, César Chavez, David Farragut, Dennis Chavez, Desi Arnaz, Dolores Huerta, Ellen Ochoa, Helen Rodríguez Trías, Hero Street USA, Ignacio Lozano, Jaime Escalante, Joan Baez, Judy Baca, Julia de Burgos, Luis Alvarez, Rita Moreno, Roberte Clemente, Sonia Sotomayor, and Tomas Rivera.

Share this:

Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories by Catharine O’Neill

Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories by Catharine O’Neill is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Starred Review – Kirkus
Annie-Simon-Sneeze-cvr.jpg

Cheerful and talkative Annie, and her big brother Simon are back for another adventure in Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories written and illustrated by Catharine O’Neill (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-8). Each of the four short stories in this second volume focuses on the two very different, yet loving, siblings, delivering gentle messages about relationships, perspective, caring, and sharing.

“Living Things” is a perfect introduction to both characters. The wise-beyond-his years Simon uses his binoculars to observe nature at the lake, while Annie draws what she sees – or thinks she sees. Her scribbly drawings are not always accurate and what she believes she knows isn’t necessarily true. An exchange about frogs is humorous and telling:

“Knees? Frogs with knees? Oh, Simon. Tee-hee.  Tee-hee.  Tee-hee.”

“Good grief,” said Simon. (p. 5).

Under Simon’s patient tutelage, Annie begins to understand more of the world around her than just what she sees or thinks she knows.

In “The Sneeze,” Annie wants to take care of a sick Simon, but needs his help to do so.

Annie loves cats because they purr and tries to teach her dog Hazel to purr in “Hazel, Hazel, Hazel.” However, when she spies something dangling from a cat’s mouth, a horrified Annie decides that Hazel should just be a dog.

In “Horse Chestnuts,” Annie and Simon find a squirrel has taken made off with their chestnuts. When Annie learns from Simon that the squirrel will need the chestnuts for the winter, she agrees to share.

The quietly-paced stories reveal the strong bond between Annie and Simon despite their differences. O’Neill’s soft and colorful watercolor illustrations are endearing and perfectly complement the warm and inviting stories. Use this as a read aloud for preschoolers, share it with siblings who don’t get along, and give it to beginning readers who are fans of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series and James Howe’s Houndsley and Catina series (also published by Candlewick). Visit the publisher’s page for more information on this book and links to other books by Catharine O’Neill.

Share this:

A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker

A NEW BEAR AND MOUSE BOOK!

A Library Book for Bear, (Candlewick Press, 2014, $16.99, Ages 3-7) by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton, is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“QUIET VOICES IN THE LIBRARY!”

A-Library-Book-for-Bear-cvr.jpgThat grumpy old bear and his faithful friend, Mouse, are off to my favorite place, the library.

Bear believes the trip is “… completely unnecessary…” and points to his fireplace mantle where he has seven books, including one on pickles. Still … he did promise Mouse he’d go.

At the library, Mouse unsuccessfully attempts to find Bear a book he’ll enjoy. After being shushed for being too loud, the increasingly irritable Bear is about to go when he hears the librarian reading a story. When Mouse suggests they leave, Bear hollers, “QUIET VOICES IN THE LIBRARY!” The librarian invites them to the story time. Enthralled, both stay and they return home with seven books including The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island.

As with her early Bear and Mouse books, Becker’s story is humorous, well paced, and rich in vocabulary.  It makes a rollicking read-aloud and can be used by adults to engage and inspire both young readers and older writers with word choices like bellowed, squished, tucked-away, and extravagant.

With colorful watercolor, ink, and gouache illustrations, Denton wonderfully captures Bear and Mouse’s contrasting personalities and creates reassuring settings with brief and expressive strokes.

My K-3 classes all had a ball with this picture book and were engaged throughout the story. The K-1 classes, able to “read” the characters’ facial expressions and body language, discussed feelings. The 1st-2nd graders decided that this book teaches people that they can find great books in libraries and that it’s important to use “quiet voices” in the library.

Visit award winning Bonny Becker’s and Katy MacDonald Denton’s websites for more information about their lives and work. Candlewick Press has information on the author, illustrator, and titles in the Bear and Mouse series.

Share this:

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (Candlewick Press, 2014, $12.99, Ages 8-12), written and illustrated by Liz Pichon, is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

The British are coming, the British are coming …

… with the brilliant and hilarious world of Tom Gates.

 

TheBrilliantWorldofTomGates

 

It’s the first day of a new school year and 5th year student Tom Gates writes in his journal:

“Woke up-listened to music
Played my guitar
Rolled out of bed (slowly) …
Played some more guitar
Realized I hadn’t done my ‘summer reading homework’
PANICKED … (p. 3).”

Alongside the words “woke up,” Tom draws a pair of sleepy eyes. This wonderfully chatty middle grade fiction book is accompanied by a multitude of extremely funny doodles and eye catching font types that will draw kids in.

At school, Tom’s teacher, Mr. Fullerman has moved him to the front of class. In his journal Tom wails:

“This is a DISASTER. How am I going to draw my pictures and read my comics? Sitting at the back of the class, I could avoid the teacher’s glares. But I am SO close to Mr. Fullerman now I can see up his nose (p. 6).”

Guess what Tom doodles in after “nose?”

For Tom, forgotten homework assignments, playing tricks on annoying students, and other antics keep him in perpetual trouble – and coming up with convincing excuses for his behavior. Tom’s attempt to get out of an assignment by claiming he spilled water on it is hysterically rendered in a smeared doodle (p. 47).

At home, Tom must also deal with his moody teenage sister, Delia, and his eccentric grandparents, “The Fossils,” who love to experiment with such unsavory food combinations such as pizza with banana topping.

When Tom finds that Dude3, his favorite band, will perform in concert locally, he’s determined to attend. However, things go sour (and get really funny) when his best mate’s dog eats the tickets.

The comic doodles and varying fonts, while creating a busy page, make the story more visual for reluctant readers. This book will be a big hit with children who enjoy the humorous diary/journal formats of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Ruth McNally Barshaw’s Ellie McDoodle series.

Unfamiliar with “British?” Check out Tom’s glossary in the back and learn that a “climbing frame” is British for “jungle gym” (p. 243). Despite the differences in languages, Pichon demonstrates that 5th year kids are the same on both sides of the pond.

British author Liz Pichon won England’s Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize (2011). Visit the author at her blog and sneak a peek into Tom’s world by watching the book trailer below.

Click here to download a sample chapter.

Share this:

Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell

Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell, (Abrams Books for Young Readers 2014, $24.95, Ages 12 and up), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“I wondered if I would die and how I would die. I hoped to be quiet and brave.” – Nurse Maude “Denny” Williams as U.S. Troops surrendered to the Japanese (p. 67).1386116620

Pure Grit  is the gripping story about the 101 U. S. Army and Navy nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Farrell demonstrates that while women’s military service has been basically ignored by historians, their contributions have been enormous. These unsung heroes faced the same dangers of war that the male soldiers did, while caring for the wounded and comforting the dying.

In the early 1940s, the U.S military assignments in the Philippines were pretty routine and included a swinging night life. That quickly changed following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Nurses, inexperienced with treating battlefield wounds, rose to the occasion and assisted huge numbers of wounded and dying soldiers under grueling and frightening conditions. Malnutrition, due to severe rationing, and unsanitary conditions became very serious issues. One nurse wrote:

“This morning I sat down to “breakfast” which consisted of a tablespoon of cold beef hash on a dirty plate (no water for washing dishes) … and nothing more available until 6pm …” (p. 65).

The American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. Although some of the 101 nurses were safely evacuated, 77 were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Despite horrific conditions and declining health, the nurses cared for each other and civilian prisoners incarcerated with them. By October, 1944, Farrell notes the prisoners at St. Tomas Internment camp were down to six ounces of food per day.

After their February, 1945 liberation, the nurses faced other obstacles. When the nurses sought compensation for medical conditions resulting from their internment, the Veterans Administration often refused or limited much needed health care. When some official recognition for their sacrifice finally came it was too late for many. Farrell notes that a lot of the nurses whose stories she included in this book were already dead by the early 1980s. Thanks to Farrell’s meticulous research and compelling narrative based on first person accounts, the nurses’ stories now have a chance to be heard.

This nonfiction book includes an excellent page layout with fairly wide margins and spacing, abundant period photographs, illustrations, and other primary source documents, making the dynamic text easier to read. End materials include a glossary, timeline, list of nurses, an extensive bibliography which references many first person accounts including the Oral History Program of the Army Nurse Corps.

Visit Farrell’s web site to see a book trailer, read an excerpt, and download a teacher’s guide with project ideas that relate this book to Common Core Standards.  A highly recommended read.

Share this:

A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper

From the Suffrage Movement to the Senate

A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country written by Ilene Cooper and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. Today’s review is by Dornel Cerro.

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014, $24.95, Ages 8-14)

☆starred review, Kirkus Reviews

“This woman’s place is in the house – the House of Representatives!” (Bella Abzug, p. 69).

9781419710360

A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Cooper is a former librarian (hooray!), editor for Booklist, author of over thirty books and the winner of the National Jewish Book Award for  Jewish Holidays All Year Round (Abrams, 2002). Her latest book is an excellent resource for teachers, librarians, and parents who wish to help children understand and celebrate the 94th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote (August 26, 1920) and how that impacted herstory and history.

Following an introductory essay on the role and duties of Congress, the book is divided into several chronological eras, such as “Flash and Crash, 1920-1930”. Each era is introduced with a brief historical overview of major events and how women were impacted. For example, World War II created more jobs than there were men to fill them. This led to an unprecedented number of women joining the workforce. Two page spreads preceding each overview show iconic period photos of women.

After the era overview, women who served during that era are presented in short biographical sketches, focusing on how or why these women entered politics, challenges, accomplishments and their legacy. In addition to small formal photographs of each woman, Baddeley includes gently humorous comic-style illustrations of significant moment in the women’s political careers.

Many of these women were “firsts,” including:
Jeanette Rankin: Representative from Montana – the first woman to serve in Congress, elected in 1916, even before women had the right to vote nationwide.

Patsy Takemoto Mink (elected in 1964), Representative from Hawaii, became the first Asian- American to serve in Congress.

Anecdotal facts and stories, such as no women’s restroom off the Senate floor until 1992, are often fascinating and eye opening, giving readers additional insight and points for discussion. The final chapter, introduced by a wonderful color spread of all the female members of the 113th Congress, includes results of the 2012 election “ … a record breaking year for women candidates” (p. 108).

Despite gains made, women, making up about 50% of the nation’s population, are still woefully underrepresented in Congress (20% or less in each house). Back matter includes an appendix of defined political terms, institutions and procedures (such as Equal Rights Amendment, Democrats and Republicans, and How a Bill is passed), an alpha list of all women who have served in Congress, a bibliography, and recommended websites.

Cooper’s engaging writing and meticulous research make this a highly recommended addition for classrooms and libraries serving ages 8-14. The oversized format and liberal use of illustrations make this a great gift as well.

Visit Cooper’s website to learn more about the author and her books.

Share this:
Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: