Upside Down Babies by Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds. Book Review.

 
The Illustrations in this book are engaging and adorable. The animal’s expressions are priceless.
It begins, “Once when the world jturned upside down”. We see animal babies and human babies spinning through the air wearing concerned expressions. On the next page, piglet lands in a parrot’s nest. On the following, the baby tortoise lands in an otter’s home, the lion cub lands beside a cow, and it continues. The expressions on the faces of the mothers and babies are priceless.
The foster mothers try their best but there are insurmountable odds. The cow cannot provide meat for the lion. The baby elephant can’t jump like the monther kangaroo. This sloth baby cannot keep up with the cheetah.
But then the world goes upside down again and everything returns to as it was. The families are happy to be reunited except for two. My granddaughter and I were disconcerted that the gorilla keeps the human baby and the mother keeps the gorilla baby. There seems to be no reason for this and most children will probably find it funny but there is a undertone of discomfort with the idea. However, children who don’t think too deeply on the subject will just just think it’s silly.
The follow-up to this could be a discussion of new pairings of mothers and babies. Which ones could work and what ones could never be compatible?

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Silly Scientists Take a Peeky at the Solar System by Lindsey Craig. Illustrated by Marianella Aguirre and Ying Hui Tan. Book Review.

This is the second in the silly scientists series wherein Lindsey Craig uses humor to teach children about nature and science. This time the aliens travels through our planetary system. The illustrations are a mixture of wacky drawings and photography from NASA.
The text is written in rhyme such as “Uranus is an ice giant that has a wonky ride. Its seasons last forever since it orbits on its side.” The beat is quite musical.
There is humor in the text as well as the illustrations. For example Jupiter’s red spot is compared to a zit.
The last two pages contain information for parents and older students on our solar system. The best part about this book is that you can also go online and listen to a catchy song with highly professional animation that reinforces learning the planets. It enriches and supplements the text.
Kids who like space and aliens will enjoy this picture book.

Laura Monster Crusher by Wesley King. Book Review.

This book is suitable for middle-grade to early young adult. This will be a favorite with readers who love fantasy and unusual female heroes.

Laura is a big girl who has been bullied since childhood about her size. Her family moves to a new town and enrolls her in a different school to give her a fresh start. Unfortunately the bullying begins again but this time two other victims befriend her. When Laura fails to stand up for one of them, her new relationship is at risk.

But the real challenge is navigating the secret world Laura can only access through a hidden elevator in her closet. She discovers she is destined to be a monster crusher and without her rising to the challenge, her family, friends, and world are in great danger. Laura, however, is neither athletic nor nimble. Night after night, for this is when she can secretly train, Laura fails to acquire the necessary skills of a monster crusher.

The danger rises to the point of crisis when her beloved blind little brother is kidnapped by the monsters. Betrayed and vastly outnumbered, Laura must pull off a miracle in order to save her family.

The affectionate relationship between Laura and her humorous little brother, her struggle with self-identity and confidence, her desire for friends, and her reluctant courage make her an endearing and interesting hero. An enjoyable read that picks up pace and increases in suspense as it progresses. Although it has a satisfying ending, the danger is still imminent and a sequel or series is possible.

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Bonjour! Let’s Learn French by Judy Martialay. Book Review.

This part textbook part picture book would be an excellent addition to a French Immersion or Core French classroom. It would also be wonderful for a parent to share with a child who is learning French.

While it tells the story a group of children building a sandcastle and a little snail declaring himself king of Le Chateau, the child is exposed to basic French vocabulary.  It employs humor and a bit of drama to old a child’s interest. Also included are list of common words, a skit, information on French culture, a song, and even a section on Monet the artist and a follow-up activity. There is enough information and plenty of activities to make this book a favorite.

The best thing about this book is the site that goes along with it. http://www.Polyglotkidz.Com expands on the information in the textbook. For those of us whose French is less than bilingual, an hour long download is available that gives the correct pronunciation for everything in the book.

I was dismayed to learn “only 25% of public and private elementary schools in the US offer any form of language instruction.” Because Canada is a dual-language country, French instruction begins generally in grade 4 unless you enroll your child in immersion which begins in senior kindergarten. The cultural, mental, social, and economic benefits of second languages are irrefutable. This book would be valuable in any situation working with children 10 years old and under.

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Blackflies by Robert Munsch. Illustrated by Jay Odjick. Book Review.

This book follows the typical style for Robert Munsch of silliness and repetitive phrases. The thing I loved about it was that it takes place in the  Canadian North, in a community similar to many around Thunder Bay. It starts off in such a familiar way that it made me laugh out loud.

Helen gets up one morning and is thrilled to find the snow is gone and it is finally spring. But when she opens the door the black flies and mosquitoes drive her back inside. While it usually doesn’t all happen on the same day, this is a sadly repetitive scenario for those of us who live in the North. Children who live in this area, and similar locations across Canada, will completely identify with the protagonist. Although the family is of Aboriginal descent, the insect attacks will connect with everyone  who has had similar experiences.

I was happy to see that the family in this book was First Nations and the artist was from the Kitigin Zibi Anishinabeg Algonquin community. While Aboriginal children are used to seeing native artists, it is inspiring to see someone using their talent to create picture books for the very young.

It would make a great gift for anyone who’s been driven indoors by mosquitoes and blackflies. Northern blackflies are not what you might be thinking. They are tiny insects that can get through needle size holes. In spite of their tininess, they take a good chunk out of your skin when they bite.

It is also terrific that Helen is the hero who saves her family from being overcome by the blood-sucking bugs of the North. I’m gratified to see more books with female heroes.

It is very difficult to find funny, picture books that feature First Nations families but connect with everyone. This is sure to become a classroom or camp favorite.

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Sunny Days by Jesse Byrd. Illustrated by Anastasia Ku. Book Teview.

This large 8 by 10 inch picture book is printed on sturdy glossy paper. The large format would make it ideal to share with children. The illustrations are double-page spreads featuring an expressive and lovable little girl named Martine.

Martine is a shouter. She is so happy that she inadvertently startles her neighbors with herenthusiasm. In spite of this, she is well-liked. She loves her neighborhood and the people in it. One day disaster strikes when a terrible rain storm damages much of the neighborhood. It loses its beauty and sense of community. People become depressed and isolated.

Martine refuses to succumb to despair. She walks around naming the sunny days the way the meteorologists named the storm. When she tells the barber this, he talks to others and people’s  attitude slowly changes. They begin to prepare their community. Martine helps whenever possible. Then they throw a neighborhood party to celebrate.

Although this is a story of great loss and recovery, the tone is upbeat and funny. There are so many things to discuss especially with regard to attitude, support, and rebuilding. In an era where climate change is bringing wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, ice storms, and more, this is a timely book to share with children and to remind adults that we are only as strong as we think we are.

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Backyard Fairies by Phoebe Wahl. Book review.

This is a delightful picture book for the imaginative child. There are only a few words on each page; the detailed and intriguing gardens filled with secretive hidden fairies dominate.

If I remember my grammar lessons correctly, the book is written in present perfect tense thereby pulling the reader into the story and engaging them in imaginative response. It is also written in a gentle pattern of rhyming couplets. It begins, ” Have you ever found, while out on your own…/A tiny, magical somebody’s home?”  The illustration shows a little girl examining a tree stump with an opening perfect for habitation.

As the story continues, the little girl searches everywhere for fairies who unknown to her, are within Arm’s Reach. There are also other magical creatures like a rock gnome. The child leaves a gift for the fairies. It vanishes overnight and they give something to her. My granddaughter and I were so delighted to read this part. We have made fairy doors in her garden and done exactly that.

The reader  empathizes with the little girl who, despite her thoroughness and determination, is unable to spot a fairy. She goes to bed wondering if they really exist. During her sleep, fairies fly in with flowers and create a wreath for her head. She wakes up in the morning wearing it.

Phoebe Wahl not only writes her own text but does her own illustrations. They are incredibly detailed and intriguing. This is a special book that your child will ask to hear over and over and never tire of finding all the fairies.

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When by Daniel H. Pink. Book Review.

I am blown away by this book. If you like Malcolm Gladwell’s books such as The Tipping Point, you will love this one. Infinitely readable, insightful, valuable, relevant, and current. It isn’t just about time in the way you’re probably thinking.

Pink examines high and low productive periods in the day, the importance of beginnings, the mid-point slump, the secrets of group timing, and more. The text is relevant to people who work alone or in a group. It has helpful information for educators, executives, students, athletes, lawyers, industrial workers, entrepreneurs, basically everyone. It can show you how to be at your most successful and creative level.

I keep very few books. When I do I tend to dog-ear the pages (gasp) and even occasionally scribble in the margins. I do this because I want to read more about the topic. Pink often refers to specific studies that I would like to research. I folded over 27 pages in this one book. I may use some of these topics in a future blog post as they are relevant to educators and parents.

Needless to say, this is a five-star plus book.

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Don’t Ask a Dinosaur by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Deborah Bruss. Illustrated by Louie Chin. Book Review.

This humorous picture book imagines what would happen if you asked for help with birthday party preparations and participation from dinosaurs. Although this scenario is obviously totally imaginary, the names and illustrations of the dinosaurs are up-to-date and informative. The children’s favorites, like tyrannosaurus rex, iguanadon, and stegosaurus are there, but some may be new to the reader such as deinocheirus, argentinosaurus, and aliopleurodon.

I like the fact that a brother and sister are having a birthday together. They look as though they could be twins. Hopefully this will entice boys to read the book as much as girls. When the children solicit the dinosaurs’ help, they discover that the rezinosaurus cannot blow up balloons without popping them with his long claws and a tanystropheus will become entangled in the decorations due to his long neck. Each page is filled with humorous situations featuring dinosaurs trying to do the impossible.

I was pleased to find a small glossary at the back with an interesting fact or two about each of the dinosaurs. For example, the argentinosaurus was probably the heaviest of all weighing as much as 1500 people.

What makes this a cut above similar books is the tight and inventive rhyming. The reader cannot help but be impressed at Esenwine’s mastery of rhyme and rhythm using long and complex dinosaur names. “Don’t ask an ankylosaurus to come in through the gate or a tanystropheus to help you decorate.”

The illustrations effectively portray the children’s frustration and  laughter at the unfolding disaster. The text is seamlessly superimposed over the full page spreads.

Kids who like Robert Munsch, dinosaurs, or books about party disasters will love Don’t Ask a Dinosaur.

The authors will be interviewed April 25, 2018.

Monsters on my Mind by Lauren Tortora. Book Review.

This picture book is a hardcover 8 by 10 . The illustrations grab the reader’s attention. They’re made with acrylic paint and black ink and fill the pages with bright colors. The cover shows a child frightened and hiding below a blanket. From the title and picture, it seemed the book would mostly be about monsters but they actually play a fairly small part.

I had mixed feelings about this book so I decided to solicit my granddaughter’s opinion. She’s almost 5 years old but listens to a wide variety of books, some for much older children. The book held her interest throughout.

Lily is a child who loves imagining. She practices making pictures with her mind. She snaps an imaginary shot like a camera but she also has a camera hanging around her neck in several of the pictures.  From the author’s note at the back, I figured out this was a cardboard camera. My granddaughter and I were unsure whether she was literally taking pictures.

The line between reality and imagining is difficult to discern in this book. Lily starts to make excuses for the disappearance of her mother’s silver mirror and her dad’s deck of cards by blaming it on the monsters in her room. Has her imagination taken over to the point where she is using it to excuse things she’s not supposed to do? We weren’t sure what was happening. She even blames the monsters for eating her homework. She throws away her camera.

But then she has a magical dream where in, “I didn’t remember seeing any more scary monsters! I just remembered all the fun I had with my camera by my side.” She decides to reconnect with her imagination and from that point on, she controls what she dreams. The monsters are no longer scary and she doesn’t let them get her into trouble.

We decided that the story was telling us to use our imagination but to not let it run away with us. We had an interesting discussion about whether we could really control our dreams.

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