Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Ballet Stars by Joan Holub

Ballet Stars
by Joan Holub
illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Random House | 2012
Step Into Reading | Step 1: Ready to Read

"Ballet show today - hooray!"  Follow along as a group of young dancers prepares for and executes a performance.  Their excitement is contagious, and for a short book, Ballet Stars covers a surprising scope of information.  From tutus and turns to the audience and applause, there is much here for young ballet enthusiasts to explore and discuss.

True to the publishers description, this Step Into Reading Step 1: Ready to Read book has big type, rhyme and rhythm, and plenty of picture clues to aid beginning readers.  A few of the words might be difficult to sound out (ballet, hooray), but overall new readers, especially those with an interest in dance, will find this a motivating read.

This book has been nominated for the 2012 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Ballet Stars was borrowed from my local public library.

Early Readers: Pets Edition

Dixie Wins the Race
story by Grace Gilman
pictures by Jacqueline Rogers
HarperCollinsPublishers | 2012
I Can Read! 1: Beginning Reading

Emma and her dog, Dixie love to run together, but when Emma participates in a relay race, Dixie is given a difficult task. Sit. Stay. Cheer.
Dixie demonstrates great self control. She sits, she stays, but when she cheers, the race takes a turn for the worse.  Dixie comes to the rescue and... you guessed it... she wins the race!

Simple sentences, a bit of repetition, and a faithful canine hero make this a great book for new readers.  

Mittens at School
by Lola M. Schaefer
pictures by Susan Kathleen Hartung
HarperCollinsPublishers | 2012
I Can Read! My First Shared Reading 

When she is taken to school for show-and-tell, Mittens is also asked to sit and wait, but she is not so patient.  When the students leave the room for gym class, Mittens lets herself out of her cage (talented cat!) and explores the classroom.  Of course, she makes a bit of a mess and is caught, but quickly forgiven.

A sweet read, with just a sentence or two per page, this book is ideal for a beginning reader.

These books have been nominated for the 2012 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Both books were borrowed from my local public library.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Beyond Nemo: An Ocean Animals Booklist

  Beyond Nemo
“Look, Mom!  It’s Nemo!”  If I had a nickel for every time I heard a child say this while pointing at the zoo or library aquarium, I’d be well on my way to rich.  And I have to admit, every time I hear it, I cringe.  I just find it incredibly sad that children can look at a beautiful, real, live creature and immediately associate it with a singular, fictional, animated character.  Have they never seen fish in real life?  Read a book about fish?  Watched a television show or movie (other than Finding Nemo) starring fish?  There is so much more to aquatic life than Nemo and Dory, but these kids have missed it. 
This has put a bad taste in my mouth for the film, which is unfortunate because it’s actually a very enjoyable movie.  I reminded myself of this a couple weeks ago when my five-year-old and I were contemplating a mother-son date.  I set aside my qualms with Nemo, and took my son to see him in 3D.  We had a good time, and I found a renewed appreciation for Nemo (although I was tempted to get my son to point and yell, “Look, Mom! It’s a Clownfish!” when Nemo first came onscreen).
Finding Nemo really is an entertaining movie, and it provides a glimpse into sea life that might inspire families to learn more about these fascinating creatures. We chose Turtle: The Incredible Journey as our next at-home family movie night pick, and of course we loaded up a grey tub with books from our local library.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Down Down Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea
by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children | 2009
Starting at the surface of the ocean, readers travel down to the bottom of the sea, learning about a variety of creatures along the way.  A key along the right side of each 2-page spread provides a visual perspective of the ocean’s depth, and additional information about each creature is found in the back of the book.

I Spy Under the Sea
by Edward Gibbs
Templar Books | An Imprint of Candlewick Press 2011
A game of I Spy comes to life in the ocean through stunning digitally created illustrations, circular cut-outs on every other page, and a clue provided by the spied creature.  Part counting book, part guessing game, part informational text, this book is a pure delight.

Wow! Ocean!
by Robert Neubecker
Disney | Hyperion Books 2011
Bold, colorful, full-page illustrations take the reader into the busy and exciting world of the sea.  Each 2-page spread highlights one aspect of ocean life and includes a simple phrase – Wow! Sharks! or Wow! Coral Reef!  Readers who carefully inspect the illustrations can also follow two children on an ocean exploration.

Into the A, B, Sea: An Ocean Alphabet
by Deborah Lee Rose with pictures by Steve Jenkins
Scholastic Press | 2000
Learn about sea creatures, A to Z, and how they move and live through Jenkins’ cut paper collage illustrations.  The back matter of the book provides a short explanation about each animal and could serve as a great jumping-off place for further study.

Somewhere in the Ocean
by Jennifer Ward & T.J. Marsh and illustrated by Kenneth J. Spengler
Rising Moon | 2000
“Somewhere in the ocean where the warm waters run lived a mother manatee and her little calf one…” so begins this ocean-life adaptation of the sing-able children’s classic.

In the Sea
by David Elliott and illustrated by Holly Meade
Candlewick Press | 2012
Meade’s beautiful woodblock print and watercolor illustrations are full of movement and accompany a short poem for each creature featured in this book.

Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems
by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Meilo So
Chronicle Books | 2012
Watercolor illustrations and delightfully insightful poems explore the creatures and features of the sea.


Mister Seahorse
by Eric Carle
Philomel Books | 2004
Mister Seahorse cares for his young ones as he meets and greets other ocean fathers doing the same.  Eric Carle’s painted tissue paper collages and a few special peek-a-boo pages make this book engaging for children of all ages.

by Leo Lionni
Scholastic | 1963
This is the timeless tale of a single fish who loses everything, explores the ocean, and makes a way for other fish to overcome their greatest fear. (Sounds a bit like the inspiration for Finding Nemo, if you ask me.)

Shark in the Dark
by Peter Bently and illustrated by Ben Cort
Walker & Company | 2008
A new take on the classic big fish versus small fish solution, this story relies on the same solution as that of Swimmy.  The rhyming text and bright illustrations make this one a fun read aloud.

I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean
by Kevin Sherry
Dial Books for Young Readers | 2007
The star of this story, a giant squid, barely fits on the pages of the book.  He is, after all, the biggest thing in the ocean…and proud of it!  Even when he stumbles into unfortunate circumstances, the ever-optimistic, overly-enthusiastic giant squid doesn’t relinquish his claim to fame.

Barry the Fish with Fingers
by Sue Hendra
Alfred A. Knopf | 2010
The ocean is full of interesting creatures, and Sea Slug is sure he’s seen them all, until he meets Barry – the fish with fingers! Barry is happy to demonstrate how fingers are the cure for fishy boredom and soon all the fish in the sea are longing for fingers of their own.

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.  All books were borrowed from our local public library.

Monday, October 1, 2012

2012 Cybils Nominations are Open

Today is the day - nominations are open for the 2012 Cybils Awards. The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles. KidLit bloggers serve as panelists and judges for the awards, but the cool part is that anyone (Yes - even you!) can nominate titles.

You can nominate one title in each of the following categories:
Have you read and enjoyed a particular children's or young adult book in the past year? If so, don't hesitate, hop on over to the Cybils site and nominate it for an award!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Brownie & Pearl books by Cynthia Rylant


Brownie & Pearl book series
by Cynthia Rylant
pictures by Brian Biggs
Beach Lane Books

Shy, sweet Brownie and her playful cat, Pearl are new favorite friends in our house.  We’ve been enjoying the six books pictured above (there are a total of 8 books in the series) – my two-year-old in particular brings them to me to read over and over again.  The stories are short, the text is simple, and the illustrations are bold, which makes these books perfect for toddlers.  I appreciate the realistic nature of Brownie and Pearl’s adventures.  For the most part, they engage in activities with which toddlers are familiar.  Also, there is something to be said for Rylant’s ability to create a non-anthropomorphic pet with personality. 


Vocabulary:  The Brownie & Pearl books provide a great introduction to the idea of idioms.  With titles like Hit the Hay and Go for a Spin, grown ups have the opportunity to discuss the meanings of such phrases within the context of the book.  After reading the book, point out the title again and ask the child what she thinks it might mean.  Look for clues together in the story.

Narrative Skills: Toddlers and preschoolers can relate to the activities in each Brownie & Pearl book.  Make some text-to-life connections by asking the child about a time when he had a similar experience (got a snack for himself, went shopping, etc.).  Recall the sequence of events in a particular story and then compare it to a similar routine the child follows (Brownie & Pearl Hit the Hay is a great one for this: notice their bedtime routine, then have the child tell you about how he gets ready for bed).

Print Motivation:  Brownie & Pearl are great friends to have and chances are once your child has read one of their books, he’ll be interested in the rest.  Check them all out at once and have a Brownie & Pearl reading party, or pick up a new one each time you visit the library.

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.  All books were borrowed from my local public library.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Cybils 2012

Cybils Logo-large

I’m super excited to be a round 1 panelist for this year’s Cybils Awards!  I’ll be reading lots of easy readers and short chapter books and discussing them with these folks:

Jeff Barger, NC Teacher Stuff

Katie Fitzgerald, Secrets & Sharing Soda

Teri Lesesne, Professor Nana and LS5385 

Colby Sharp, sharpread and Nerdy Book Club

Amanda Snow, A Patchwork of Books 

Katherine Sokolowski, Read, Write, Reflect

Then we’ll compile a short list of the very best books in these categories and send them on to the round 2 judges to pick a winner.

Our category chair, Terry Doherty, Family Bookshelf has the big job of keeping us all organized and on track.  I can’t wait to get started!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chapter Books Recently Read

Liar & Spy
Liar & Spy
by Rebecca Stead
Wendy Lamb Books

Newbery Award-winning When You Reach Me is one of my all-time favorite reads, so I was excited to see that Rebecca Stead had a new book on the shelves.  While it didn’t capture me as When You Reach Me did, Liar & Spy certainly did not disappoint. 

Georges is dealing with a myriad of issues: bullies at school, moving to a new home, parents who are away more often than not, and even more than he lets on.  He meets Safer, a homeschooled kid who lives upstairs, and becomes involved in a spy club that pushes the limits of their new friendship.  In the process, truths and lies are revealed, both to Georges and to the reader.  As always, Stead’s writing is engaging and the hint of mystery pulls the reader along. Although, the mystery that appears to be there is not the real mystery at all.  This is what makes the book so interesting. 

The ending is a bit quick and almost too neatly wrapped-up for my taste, and I felt that the characters and their relationships could have been stronger.  However, I love the way Stead gets at the heart of what it feels like to be a middle-schooler.  The school scenes are my favorite and the ones that will stick with me when I recall this book.

a boy and a bear in a boat
 A Boy and a Bear in a Boat
by Dave Shelton
David Flicking Books

The title says it all.  I’m not sure how an almost 300-page story about a boy and a bear in a boat can be so captivating.  I don’t know who they are, where they’ve come from, or where they are heading, but I’ve come to love them and understand them thanks to some brilliant writing and beautiful illustrations.

Honestly, I can’t do A Boy and A Bear in a Boat justice, but this poignant review at A Fuse #8 Production is exactly what I would want you to know about it.  Please take the time to read it…and pick up a copy of the book, too.

lady lollipop
 Lady Lollipop
by Dick King-Smith
Illustrated by Jill Barton
Candlewick Press

Recently, What Do We Do All Day? had a fabulous post highlighting 50+ Chapter Books for Preschoolers and 3 Year Olds.  I got right to work adding many of these titles to our to-read list.

The first one we chose was Lady Lollipop: the story of a perfectly spoiled princess, an unusually intelligent pig, and a down-to-earth pig-(and princess)-trainer.  We thoroughly enjoyed this sweet chapter book.  It seemed to be just the right length for us to get through in a few days, kept both the 5-year-old and I interested and gave us lots to talk about.  We’re looking forward to reading further adventures of Lady Lollipop.

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.  All books were borrowed from my local public library.