Meet Burt, he’s a ten-lined June (or watermelon) beetle. Burt has feathered antennae, a large body, a sticky abdomen, and can flail his legs when he falls on his back (but needs assistance flipping over). He notices that other insects have special or “super” abilities. A bumblebee is a “super hard worker” and ants can carry heavy loads. So what makes Burt special? Well, he’s trying to figure this out. As Burt meets more insects and learns about their amazing features, he wonders what his “super” ability is. Would winking count? How about hanging out around porch lights? Trying to imitate other insects’ super abilities doesn’t work either and Burt continually ends up on his back.
When Burt discovers a spider web with insects trapped in it, he’s amazed to find that their super abilities cannot free them from the web. As the venomous spider taunts Burt, he realizes he does have some super abilities. Burt’s a hugger and he happens to be sticky, too. Furthermore, he’s big and heavy enough to tear up the spider’s web when he falls on it, saving the other insects–and landing on his back once again. This time he has very grateful friends to help him flip over!
Cheerful and upbeat humor shines in this book. Commenting on his feathery antennae, Burt notes “it’s a style choice.” Gentle quips are exchanged between characters. When the spider, firmly stuck to Burt’s abdomen, asks “is this ever going to end?” Burt replies “I guess you’re stuck with me. Get it?” Exaggerated bodies and expressive faces, especially “bug” eyes, add to the enjoyment.
Spires has created a graphic novel designed for younger readers, especially those new to the graphic novel format. The panels are clean and well organized, without a lot of distractions. The number of characters and speech bubbles in a panel are kept to a minimum and the print is bold and slightly larger than usual. This book is appropriate for independent readers or as a read-aloud for emerging readers.
The book includes some themes which could be used to invite children to discuss character and friendship. Burt’s search for what makes him unique is something children also explore for themselves. Perseverance is a challenge for children, but Burt’s positive “can do” type of behavior in the face of repeated failures may encourage them to keep trying. He takes care of his friends and “doesn’t bite because that’s not how you make friends.”
Lastly, this graphic novel engages children in the natural world around them, weaving in factual information about insects and including “awesome insect super facts” in the back matter. Hopefully, it will inspire children to continue exploring the world of insects and their “super” abilities.
There are over a dozen terrific books in the Citizen Kid series and the latest, Walking for Waterby award-winning author Susan Hughes, is no exception. This story, inspired by “the recent experience of a thoughtful and fair-minded 13-year-old Malawian boy” takes readers to the landlocked country in southeastern Africa to meet eight-year-old twins Victor and his sister, Linesi.
Readers know right from the start that the pair are close. On this day, however, the two who usually do so many things together, including attending school, will now be apart. In Victor and Linesi’s community when girls turn eight they are expected to leave school and help with chores. That includes fetching water five times a day, water used for “drinking, cooking and washing.” Victor enjoys school so he feels bad that his sister has to miss out on the learning just because she’s a girl.
When a new teacher asks the students to think about gender equality in their own lives, Victor doesn’t have to look far to find an example. And when he tries to share what he learned in school with his sister, Victor sees she is too exhausted from her day’s work to concentrate on math. This realization prompts Victor to propose a plan to his mama and sister, one that involves taking turns doing the chores enabling Linesi to alternate days at school with him. Yes!! I cheered when I discovered the selfless gesture of Victor.
This caring approach to gender equality is not only welcomed by Victor’s teacher but it’s emulated by Victor’s best friend, Chikondi who takes over for his sister, Enifa, on alternate days. The friends can now share what they learn with their sisters who are less tired and in turn, the sisters can do the same.
IllustratorNicole Milesbrings warmth, heart, and simplicity to her illustrations. The book, described by the publisher as a graphic novel/picture book hybrid format, allows Miles to not only have fun with her art but to add more activity to the spreads. A particular favorite, with its rich earthy tones, is of Victor joining the girls and women on their way to collect water.
This hopeful, engaging, and educational story will be an eye-opener for children on many levels. It not only demonstrates the power of one innovative individual to effect change, in this case for gender equality, but it also presents traditions and lifestyles different from ours. Additionally, it shows how important the need still is for access to clean water in the 21st century. Hughes’s Author’s Note and resources as well as a glossary of Chichewa words in the back matter (which are peppered throughout the story) provide additional avenues to further explore topics raised in Walking for Water. I’m glad that Hughes chose to use the twins as her focus for this story because of the sharp contrasts between the siblings that readers will understand immediately. Hughes mentions in the back matter that change is coming to Malawi and hopefully more opportunities for girls to pursue their aspirations will follow.
The dill-ightful title of this new picture book, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle by Cathy Ballou Mealey with adorable art by Kelly Collier, will immediately grab you even if it doesn’t immediately grab sloth whose slow motion throughout the story is one of the recurring elements that make it hysterical to read-aloud. I’m talking Lucy and Ethel hysterical. You may not see my smile as I’m writing this, but trust me it’s here now and was for every page as I was eager to see how things played out for the pair of pickle-packing pals.
This humorous friendship tale begins with Squirrel deciding he’d like to get a bike to go FAST!, but after seeing the price tag at the bike shop, realizes it’s too costly. Sloth points out that the pickle company next door is seeking pickle packers. If they work hard, together the two should be able to earn enough to afford the bike.
In their interview, the friends meet Mr. Peacock who Collier has imagined with bushy eyebrows, a stern face, and office accessories all in a pickle green palette. Perfect! This character cracked me up. I could even hear his voice as he preps his new employees to start working. It doesn’t take long for Squirrel and Pickle to discover that the packing process is slippery hence much breakage. By noon they haven’t packed more than six jars. More comical chaos ensues when, given a second chance, Sloth unknowingly makes a major LOL mess of labeling and the new hires are fired.
With the money earned from the six successfully packed pickle jars, and lots of free, unsellable jars of pickles now in their possession, the friends are nowhere closer to buying the bike. That is until a melting ice pop incident—it simply cannot be eaten fast enough by a sloth—leads to the invention of a cool new, no-brain-freeze alternative to ice pops. Suddenly the money comes pouring in and the pals purchase the bike. Sadly, Sloth’s lethargy makes going fast on the bike as Squirrel had previously envisioned a non-starter. Sloth, however, has a better idea that even at his pace will bring them up to speed.
Between Cathy’s witty plot, prose, and characters and Collier’s creative illustrations that must be carefully studied for all the added touches readers might not see at first, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle beautifully addresses the “What if” question many authors ask themselves when developing a story: What if a slow animal and a fast animal became friends? In this case, the friendship endures despite the differences and it flourishes as the pals persevere in their pursuit of a bike. This well-crafted and extremely funny picture book is a great way to discuss cause and effect and determination. It also shows kids that money doesn’t grow on trees even if Sloth hangs out in one. Money has to be earned and then the joy of having bought something with the fruit (or pickle) of one’s labor tastes especially sweet or in this funny case maybe salty too!
Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom (or anywhere) read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.
Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.
What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!
There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this year—with or without a power outage.
I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?
Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.
OUTDOOR MATH: FUN ACTIVITIES FOR EVERY SEASON Written and illustrated by Emma AdBåge (Kids Can Press; $15.95, Ages 5-8)
I am so glad I had the chance to read Outdoor Mathand have only positive things to say about it. This delightfully illustrated book is super fun and packed with hands-on activities that focus on going outdoors and playing. The bookstarts off with an introduction to numbers 0-10 with real world examples, then there are numerous math activities for each season of the year, followed by a brief explanation and examples of plus and minus, then multiply and divide. There’s even some science that can be learned especially when engaging in the seasonal-themed activities.
The majority of the book is divided into the four seasons, each with five to seven outdoor math activities so the book provides year round entertainment and education. All of the activities listed looked interesting so of course I had to try a few. My daughter and I enjoyed bouncing a ball for a minute. She was so good at bouncing the ball it was hard to keep track, but we managed to count 135 bounces in one minute. Then we played Tic-Tac-Toe from the book’s Autumn section. We had such a good time playing with our placeholders–seedpods and bits of mulch. After three tied games, I was the lucky winner!
The counting and tossing outdoor activities are sure to be a hit with kids even as young as three years old. I felt the rest of the activities could work for almost any age. There are timed activities with counting, as well as activities with maps and shapes, and some games that require coordination. What I love about the book is how many of the activities have kids exercising while they’re doing a math skill. Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season gives great examples of educational play with simple rules for young kids.
Although I live in sunny southern California where it’s summer almost all year long, the activities can be done anywhere. The book is a wonderful STEM resource because it’s easy to substitute objects depending on the time of year and where you live. For example, Pine Cone Math where you collect pine cones can be substituted with shells, rocks or toys instead. I feel confident recommending Outdoor Math as it’s a terrific book for kids and their parents/teachers/grandparents that’s certain to get everyone moving outside while doing math activities. It goes to show that math is all around us and almost any activity can be a math activity! Thank you Emma AdBåge for making a playful and hands-on book for kids.
After playing Outdoor Math, your kids might just find other ways to incorporate math into play too. I was surprised and happy to see my kids making designs from the objects we used. In fact, as you can see below, there is even math to be found in neat designs!
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Ronna Mandel discusses the love of words and language with San Francisco Bay Area debut author Sandra V. Feder.
Whoever said there are no new ideas has not spent time blogging about kids’ books!
One of my favorite things about writing on Good Reads With Ronna is getting to meet first time authors and I did just that in Larchmont Village one Saturday earlier this month, when I sat down to speak with Sandra V. Feder, author of Daisy’s Perfect Word from Kids Can Press. After spending a delightful time discussing our mutual love of language, I can honestly say I would read anything Sandra wrote because her enthusiasm was not only contagious, but refreshing and totally genuine! Find out more about Sandra on her website, www.sandravfeder.com. There’s also some information about how parents can continue the discussion about words with their children after they read Daisy’s Perfect Word. Sandra’s also included useful information for teachers and librarians about how to use the book in a school setting.
Daisy is a girl who loves words. She compiles lists of words, and using the right words for the right situations makes all the difference in the world to her. Her best friend Emma appreciates Daisy’s love of language and they both adore Miss Goldner, their teacher. What happens when Daisy and Emma learn that Miss Goldner is going to get married? Will Daisy be able to find just the perfect present that will have meaning for Miss Goldner long after her wedding day? Daisy is determined to give a gift that will bring smiles to her teacher while being both unique and something money cannot buy. Share the delight that Feder’s wonderful words can bring by reading a copy of Daisy’s Perfect Word today!
When did the seed of this story begin growing?
The seed began growing from watching my own children and other people’s children have fun with language. I think a lot of kids go through a phase of experimenting with words. They like the way some of the words feel in their mouth. One of my daughters went through a phase of using the word actually a lot. For example she would say, “actually, mother, I’d like some orange juice,” because it made her sound more grown up than the usual kid language. And I noticed a lot of other children having fun learning new words and putting words together, so the idea of a character that enjoyed words and language was born.
Is this an early reader/chapter book or an MG (middle grade) novel? I ask because the different categories can be confusing for parents. So what is it exactly and what age group do you see it for?
I see it for ages 7-10 and it’s called, by me and the publisher, an early chapter book. It is not an MG novel, which tends to be a bit older and to deal with more mature themes. The early chapter book is not a first reader. It does have some bigger words than kids might find in a first reader. Mine has 11 short chapters. It’s meant for kids ages 7-10 but also is a fun book for parents to read with their kids when they are 5 or 6 years-old. There’s nothing in it that is not age-appropriate.
It’s a nice read. Kids will feel good about themselves after they complete it. It’s nothing too daunting at first glance.
Yes, and the type is a little bigger, and there are a lot of illustrations, more illustrations than typical MG chapter books. There are fun, big illustrations in almost every chapter and then lots of smaller ones as you go along.
And the illustrations were good, too. I really like them. You were lucky.
I am so grateful that the publisher paired me with a wonderful Canadian illustrator, Susan Mitchell. She really created the world that I imagined, and she did it so beautifully. I am very grateful.
The cover, with the purple polka dots, is simply perfect. It’s appealing.
That’s the art director from Kids Can Press, who did the cover design. They are a terrific Canadian publishing group. They are one of the top places to go for early chapter books. They are really interested in this market right now. They put so much care and love into Daisy’s Perfect Word. You can tell by the way it looks and how it was put together. They really did a beautiful job.
So were you a lot like Daisy growing up?
That’s a good question. I definitely have curly hair! I have always enjoyed words and language. I was interested in becoming a children’s book author from about age 9. And the reason is that I had a wonderful elementary school librarian who not only loved introducing us to books but also would bring authors to the school to talk to us. I think when you are a kid and you meet somebody who has created this world that you love and enjoy so much, it’s a magical thing. And I thought, wouldn’t that be about the most wonderful thing in the world to create a world and characters that children would love? And so it was always a part of me, that seed, and I ended up going into journalism as a career and was a newspaper reporter for many years. I had the opportunity to work as a news assistant for the New York Times in Washington, D.C. when I got out of college. And when you write for The New York Timesyou really do see the power words have. This was something that always resonated with me, and I finally have the opportunity to bring that passion of mine to a new generation.
Is this your first book?
It’s my first book, and it’s a series so there will be at least four Daisy books and they all have to do with how we use words and language. In Book 2, Daisy discovers alliteration and has fun putting words together in new ways and in Book 3 she’s going to discover poetry. And Book 4, I haven’t decided on yet, but it will be something fun having to do with words.
Everybody has a Samantha in their life as a classmate, a snooty know-it-all kind of girl or boy in many cases. Do you recommend ignoring girls like that as Daisy did quite successfully?
Sometimes Daisy doesn’t like to be around Samantha because of the way Samantha talks and the words Samantha chooses. Samantha uses words such as “Stop!” “Follow me” and “Mine.” I think it’s an interesting lesson for kids to think about the language they use and how other kids hear them. So I wanted to include this character, Samantha, who uses words in a way that isn’t the way that Daisy likes using words. Daisy doesn’t want to have Samantha’s words stuck in her head. She wants to have happier, more pleasant words in her head.
Daisy is a good role model for girls and is empowering. I like the story because it’s not about purchasing anything. It had nothing to do with electronics. It just had to do with what came inside from Daisy as a person.
Thank you for recognizing that!
Daisy spends a good portion of the book searching for the right gift for her favorite teacher Miss Goldner. And then she decides it’s got to be the perfect word, something Miss Goldner will always remember. What is your perfect word?
One of my favorite words is sunshine because I think sunshine is both something we need in our lives, and I think there are people who spread sunshine, like Daisy. And I really appreciate those people in my own life. I’ve also always loved the word delicious because I have a sweet tooth like Daisy, and I also like the word delicious because I think when you apply it to children it’s cute: “What a delicious little baby!”
Daisy and her best friend Emma are really sweet girls, what do you think are the qualities that make them so appealing?
I think that they are girls who value each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I think Emma appreciates Daisy’s fondness for words and Daisy appreciates Emma’s kindness and her sense of fun. They share a lot together. To me what I like about the friendship is that I don’t see them as having the same personality, I see them as having complementary personalities. And as the series goes along, we’ll see different things in their relationship that come up where they diverge a little bit on at least one thing. Daisy wants to do it one way and Emma, who is equally strong, says, “this is what I want.” I think they complement and balance one another.
Talking about Daisy’s love of words – as a writer you had to come up with this story that grew out of your love of words, yet I wonder, who has the better imagination, you or Daisy?
I like to think we both have good imaginations!
I thought Daisy coming up with the idea of a gift in the form of a word and Samantha even approving was huge!
I think it does happen that writers have a concept for a story, which for me was this idea of playing with words and language, but then you need a real storyline to go with it. So I came up with idea of Daisy wanting to give her teacher a gift and then making that gift a word. That’s what moves the story forward. And I also, as you mentioned, wanted something that wasn’t about going out and buying but was something that a child, any child, could come up with. It’s been so wonderful to see the reactions of children to the book; one little girl in Canada wrote a review in the National Post and she said that she loves that Daisy likes making up words because she likes making up words, too. And she included one of her favorite made up words. We made a little book trailer for Daisy’s Perfect Word and went out and asked children, “What’s your favorite word?” and basically, without missing a beat, every child came up with a word. Some had a particular reason they liked the word, and some just said, “I like the way it sounds.” The video trailer is on my website. I think the idea of having fun with words really does touch a chord with children.
You mentioned earlier that you had written right out of college for The NYT. Do you have a full time job, Sandra?
I am committed now to writing children’s books. I am very excited about this new phase for me and feel very fortunate that Kids Can has put their faith in me for four books. As a new children’s book author, to have a series is really exciting and fun. Once I started expanding the Daisy story and really getting to know Daisy in her world, I felt there were so many great places that I could continue to go with her. And the fact that Kids Can saw that as well and believed in me and Daisy is really wonderful. I am also working on some other children’s book projects that I hope will come to fruition.
Will you go on tour?
Right now it’s meeting interviewers like you when I am in a particular city or over the phone, and I’m doing a lot of speaking around the Bay Area where I live, as well as school visits.
Thank you so much Sandra for sharing your time, experience and love of the English language. I cannot wait to read more of your wonderful words! It’s been belotzi (my son’s made up word for fantastic) spending time with you and learning about Daisy’s Perfect Word.
Hocus Pocus ($15.95, Kids Can Press, ages 3 -7), written by Sylvie Desrosiers and illustrated by Rémy Simard, is a young child’s version of a graphic novel. Told through pictures, it is a story about a rabbit that appears from a magic hat in the house of a man and his dog. The dog and the rabbit engage in a classic feud as the man, wearing headphones, is sound asleep in his easy chair. (The rivalry pleasantly reminds me a little bit of Sylvester and Tweety Bird.) The only words in this book are essentially sound effects, as the story cleverly comes to life one frame at a time. The illustrations are crisp and colorful and pretty darn adorable. What I love about this story is that the youngest readers can really savor the book and take their time to uncover the plot using their own detective work and interpretations. It’s a really cute story, and parents will love it too. There’s sure to be a few audible giggles when you read it together and talk about what’s going on in the pictures. The true magic of this story is that you don’t have to own a dog (or a rabbit) to appreciate the humor.