Monthly Archives: January 2016

A Dog’s Way Home

doghomeA Dog’s Way Home
By Bobbie Pyron
Katherine Tegen Books, 2011

Readers meet Abby and her Shetland sheepdog, Tam, on an agility course race.  As expected, they win.  The two are so close, Tam reads all of Abby’s subtle signals and no words pass between them while they race.

On the way home from the race, their vehicle is in an accident and Tam is tossed from the truck and falls down a steep cliff.  Abby is taken to a hospital.  When she is well enough, she demands they look for Tam.  They don’t find him.  Abby begs to stay to look for him, but the tough decision to leave the area is made.  They arrive home, 400 miles away, and Abby knows in her heart, Tam is looking for her.  With raging winter storms, Abby’s parents doubts the dog is still alive after a week.  But Abby’s Meemaw believes her.

Told from both Abby’s and Tam’s point of view, the story moves quickly with roadblocks in every chapter.   While Tam is making his way home, for instance, Abby and her family move!  A vet checks Tam’s microchip and calls and leaves a message—the day after the family leaves.  Each chapter pulls the story forward through spine-chilling or heart-wrenching events.  Although its 321 pages long, the pages fly by.  The story is well written and compelling to its very last word.

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Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music


Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music
by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
2016 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award 

Inspired by a true story of a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, the book clearly encourages children to follow their hearts and dreams.

A young girl who loves drumbeats listens to them in fascination.  She listens to the conga drums, the bongo drums and the timbales and imagines herself playing them.  But on her island, only boys can play drums.  She kept her drum-beating dreams to herself, beating and dancing beats when she could, at home, in the parks, or in her dreams.  One day her older sisters invite her to join their all-girl band and she is elated!  Only her traditional father says only boys should play the drums.  So she continues to drum alone.  But then one day her father offers “to find a music teacher who could decide if her drums deserved to be heard.”  The teacher was amazed at her abilities and the girl practiced and practiced.  One day he suggests she play in public, and soon the traditional ways fell aside.

The bright, contrasting colors depict the many moods the drums elicit and bring the drumbeats and rhythms into the reader’s heart.

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Tulip and Rex Write a Story













Tulip and Rex Write a Story
by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Sarah Massini
Katherine Tegan Books, 2015

Tulip and her dog Rex love to dance.  When Tulip receives a notebook with her name on it, and Rex receives a leash, they head out for a dance in the park.  While hopping down the sidewalk, Tulip calls out that Hop is a happy word.  Rex scratches Tulip’s notebook and Tulip writes ‘hop’ in it.   More words, like feather, float, flutter and splash are added at Rex’s suggestions.   When they collect enough words, Tulips decides to tell Rex a story using the words in her notebook.  Using all the words, she tells of a King and Queen who fight off a dragon.

Wrapped around an idea parents can use to encourage children to create stories, the author writes with an air of happiness, joy and creative imagination following the very active Tulip.  The illustrator highlights the happiness, love and close friendship Tulip has with her dog Rex.  It’s just the kind of book in which readers will explore the happy pictures and savor the clever, yet gentle, story.  A delight to ears and eyes.

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Alyssa Satin Capucilli, Sarah Massini, dog, storytelling

Just Itzy













Just Itzy
By Lana Krumwiede, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli
Candlewick Press, 2015

It is Itzy Bitzy’s first day of spindergarten and today he is a ‘big’ spider.  He no longer wants to be called Itzy Bitzy, just Itzy.

In class Itzy learns how to spin a web.  He learns location is important.  His teacher suggests he ‘keep an eye on the fly’ to find the perfect location.  After trying several locations, all of which failed, he’s about to give up building a web.  Feeling sorry for himself, he lays on the ground, until he hears a voice cry out for help!  Quick as a flea, he spins himself a ladder to the roof.  It’s his brother, who is afraid of heights and can’t get down.  When his brother starts down the ladder Itzy built, he cries out, “Holy horseflies!  You spun a web.”  Itzy starts to insist that it’s just a ladder—when he realizes it is a web!  He did it!  He is now called, just “Itzy.”

Friendly illustrations of a young spiderling that capture both the allure and fear of trying to learn how to live in a big kids world.

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Little Big













Little Big
By Jonathan Bentley
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Jonathan Bentley’s illustrations pulled me into the book, and I was delighted.  A toddler boy knows he’s little when he sees his older brother.  When he tries to be big, it never works.  He thinks of all kinds of things he could do with his brother, if he were only big.  But he soon realizes what life would be like if he didn’t have his big brother to tell him funny stories after dinner, among other things.  Carefully selected words and watercolor/ink illustrations show how being little is perfectly fine, after all.

A story that celebrates imagination, “what if I were bigger”, and accepts that the world is perfect just the way it is.  An endearing, playful story told with both words and illustrations that tell their own story.

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There was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight













There was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight
by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle
Random House, 2015

A hilarious dragon story with fun, read-aloud rhymes.

When an old, greedy dragon swallows a knight, the reader learns, “It’s not polite.”  Then the dragon swallows a steed, then swallows a squire, then swallows a cook.  Soon he has swallowed practically a whole castle of people—and the castle—and the moat!  Like in the story, The House That Jack Built, every time he swallows something, the rhyme grows longer and funnier.  Great repetition and fun.  The illustrations contain dozens of laughable subtleties that add to the humor.

Adults and children who appreciate good rhyme, will love how this story keeps the pages tuning.

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I Yam a Donkey!













I Yam a Donkey!
By Cece Bell
Clarion Books, 2015

A hilarious book that ends up being a lesson on grammar!  It kind of sneaks up on you.  A brilliant (silly) book!

A silly (dare I say illiterate) donkey declares, “I yam a donkey!”  A yam, obviously a true grammarian, corrects the donkey’s use of words, suggesting he say, “I am a donkey.”  The donkey hears the yam declare that he is a donkey and is most confused.  Between the donkey’s bad grammar and the yam’s grammatical corrections, a hilarious dialogue pursues.  When the yam explains how to conjugate “To Be”, the donkey only gets more confused and thinks all the vegetables are the funniest-looking donkeys he has ever seen.  I won’t share the ending, as it comes as a complete surprise!

Just a plain silly story, perfect for kids learning grammar in school!

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When I am Happiest

happiestWhen I am Happiest
by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Ericksson
Gecko Press, 2015
Originally published in Sweden

The third in an early-chapter book series about third-grader Dani.  It’s the second-to-last day of school when Dani is pulled from the classroom and finds out her dad is in the hospital!  She, of course, wants to be with him, but isn’t allowed for he is in a coma.  She keeps insisting and is finally allowed.  She calls out to him and he awakens for a brief moment.  Dani is happy.  The doctors say the activity is a good sign.  Dani’s grandma cares for her and her many friends support her.  Dani moves through the many emotions of happiness, sorrow, and joy.  Like the others in this series, When I am Happiest is a rich, engaging story.

Others in series:  My Heart is Laughing and My Happy Life.

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The Inventor’s Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford

inventors secret












The Inventor’s Secret, What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford
by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Charlesbridge, 2015
NSTA 2016 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12

Who knew that two famous inventors, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, were friends?  And what was Thomas Edison’s secret for his many, many inventions?

This delightful story starts when both were curious boys who spent most of their time running experiments—and getting into trouble!  Thomas made explosions with chemistry experiments and was especially curious about electricity.  Henry was curious about the energy in a river and when he built a dam and waterwheel to catch the river’s energy, he flooded a neighbor’s field.  Mostly he was curious about engines.  When he built his first steam engine, it exploded and set his school’s fence on fire!

Thomas made many inventions, which everyone heard about.  Henry made a quadricycle that everyone laughed at.  What was Thomas’ secret, he wondered.  Then one day he decided to meet Thomas and find out his secret.  He talked his way into a dinner and waited and waited, until finally he had a chance to talk to Thomas.  Thomas lit up like a light blub when Henry told him about his four-cycle engine.  Henry sketched his invention and Thomas asked question after question.  And then it happened.  Thomas banged his fist on the table, and shared his secret!

This book is filled with history nuggets and an afterward sharing Thomas and Henry’s special friendship, how the author came to write the book and the challenges the illustrator had to accurately illustrate the book.  It also includes snippets of information on several inventions of both Thomas and Henry.  A great introduction to two twentieth century men who changed the world.  The Inventor’s Secret was awarded the NSTA 2016 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12.

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Oskar and the Eight Blessings











Oskar and the Eight Blessings
Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel
Roaring Book Press, 2015

I begin 2016 with Oskar and the Eight Blessings, a beautifully illustrated, timeless story with a powerful message.

The story begins before the title page, as did the stories of all the Jewish immigrants who escaped the war horrors of World War II.  As a young boy, Oskar arrives in New York with an address and a picture of an aunt he has never seen.  She lives only 100 blocks away on the avenue called Broadway.  He remembers his father’s last words, “You have to look for the blessings.”  After a long time walking, he meets a lady feeding pigeons.  She gives him a bit of bread to give to the birds, but he eats it.  She gives him a small loaf of bread and he has the strength to keep walking.  He’s introduced to Superman, he meets Mrs. Roosevelt and his first conversation in America is when he whistles with Count Basie.  Along his journey he receives eight blessings.

The author’s note details the American history woven into the fictional story set in 1938 and a map shows the sites at which several of the blessings occurred.  The illustrations are done in relaxed comic book style and highlight the many different fearful sights and loving blessings Oskar encounters on his journey.

A very moving story that stays with the reader.

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