Sunday, January 30, 2011

Saturday Snapshopt - a little late

Saturday Snapshot is a weekly meme hosted by Alyce, At Home With BooksAll we have to do is post a favorite we’ve snapped, or one captured by family or friends.

I had postponed posting my Saturday snapshot because I was attending a book signing and thought I would use one of those photos.  We went to dinner after the signing and then I took a nap - and well you get the picture.

This is my son and I having books signed by Mike Thaler, author of the From the Black Lagoon series.  My son purchased The Dentist From The Black Lagoon because he has been spending more time with his dentist than he would like. And of course, I had to have The Librarian from the Black Lagoon.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Into the Gauntlet by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Amazon Product Description: 

Throughout the hunt for the 39 Clues, Amy and Dan Cahill have uncovered history's greatest mysteries and their family's deadliest secrets. But are they ready to face the truth about the Cahills and the key to their unmatched power? After a whirlwind race that's taken them across five continents, Amy and Dan face the most the difficult challenge yet- a task no Cahill dared to imagine. When faced with a choice that could change the future of the world, can two kids succeed where 500 years worth of famous ancestors failed?

This is one series I have truly enjoyed from the beginning to the latest book.  When I first heard that each book in the series would be written by a different author, I was not too sure how that would work. I wondered if they would follow a plan or would each author just take off on their own tangent. Did they get together on Skype to discuss the next adventure? Did they have conference calls?  I don't know. What I do know is that for me, whatever they did worked.

I've often referred to this series as National Treasure for kids. It's fiction, pure and simple, but it does introduce children to famous historical events and people. I've had students ask for books about those famous people after reading one of The 39 Clues books.

Into the Gauntlet is my favorite of all the books (sorry, Rick, Maze of Bones was my favorite until I read this one.)  I've always liked Haddix's writing style. It's generally full of adventure and excitement. This book is no exception, but that's not why I liked this one so much. When I read Into The Guantlet, I truly felt we were seeing all the characters grow. Dan and Amy were not just the good-goody two shoes  underdog team.  The other teams were not just clones of their evil, self centered parents. In this installment we see the young team members begin to think for themselves and to make a choice between good and bad.

I also thought that by the time we reached book ten, I would be ready for the story to end. However, as I neared the end of this book, I found myself wishing there would be more books. I must not have been the only one, because there is indeed another book scheduled to be released in April: Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan, Perter Lerangis, Gordon Korman and Jude Watson.  I'm looking forward to reading about Dan, Amy and the rest of the Cahill's adventures.

Recommended for 3rd Grade and up.

Mrs. Archer's rating: 5 of 5

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chalk vs A Sick Day for Amos McGee

If you ask anyone at Chinook Trail Elementary, chances are they will be able to tell you which book Mrs. Archer felt should have won the Caldecott over the one that did. However, in my defense, I did not share my choice with the students until after I had given them an opportunity to look at the illustrations in three books: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead, Art & Max by David Wiesner, and Chalk by Bill Thomson. Once they had a chance to take a good look I asked each class to vote for their favorite book.  Chalk, won by a landslide.

I didn't do this to pick on A Sick Day for Amos McGee. I like this story. The illustrations are pleasant, but I just didn't feel that the pulled the reader into the magic of the story. As an adult that reads an incredible amount of books written for children, I am aware of the fact that I'm not always going to like books that the children just love (Junie B. Jones and Captain Underpants to name just two.)  However, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what constitutes a magical illustration. My polling my students about which of the three books had the best illustrations was just my way checking to see if  I was off base. I was pleased to find that even though I'm new at Chinook Trail, my students and I were in sync on this.  Now, there were hundreds of picture books published in 2010 and in the interest of fairness, there is no way my students saw even a fraction of the books that the committee reviewed.  Yet, I'm pretty sure the committee was aware of Chalk and Max & Art.  Some of the committee members are librarians and book sellers. These two books were a hot topic among some members of those communities. Yet neither even made it to Honor status.  I can't help but wonder if this not another case of lets pick a book that we as adults think children should just love and read. I'm a firm believer that just because a book has children in it or is supposedly written for children does not automatically mean it is a children's book.  I understand that the quality of writing is important, but if a book doesn't appeal to children, the intended audience, is really a children's book, especially an award winning children's book? (I find this to be more of a problem with Newbery and Battle of the Books titles than I do Caldecott titles.)

That's why I am big fan of book awards that are voted on by children.  Prior to winter break I spent some time sharing with the Chinook students some of the books nominated for the Colorado Children's Book Award.  Check back in February when I will post the titles selected by Chinook students.  And who knows, maybe Chalk and Art & Max will be nominated for the 2012 Colorado Children's Book Awards. I hope so, especially Chalk.

And just in case you were going to suggest I serve on the Caldecott Committee some time in the future, that is already on my Wish List of things to do.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Little Rabbit's New Baby by Harry Horse

Product Description
Mama is expecting a baby and Little Rabbit is going to be a big brother!

He s full of plans; he will teach the baby to play all sorts of games and be the best big brother ever. And when Mama has triplets, it looks like there will be three times the fun.

But having babies around might not be as much fun as Little Rabbit thought. They sleep and cry a lot. They are too young to throw a ball and they get their sticky paws on all his toys. They take up all of Mama s and Papa s time. It s not fair! cries Little Rabbit.

As it turns out, the new babies adore Little Rabbit. And one night when a tired Mama and Papa are at their wit s end, Little Rabbit comes to the rescue, consoling his siblings and rocking them to sleep. Now Little Rabbit understands what an important job it is to be a big brother.

I have challenged myself to become more familiar with the books on the shelves in the Chinook Trail Elementary library (The Tiger Den).  My goal is to read at least three pictures books from the shelves each week.  Friday’s random pull was Little Rabbit’s New Baby by Harry Horse.

This is a delightful story about what it means to be the older sibling. Horse takes us through Little Rabbit anxiously awaiting the birth of his new sibling (turns out to be three new siblings), wanting to play with them right away, being annoyed that they get all the attention and finally learning just how important it is to be “the big brother.”  Horse is also the illustrator. His beautiful pictures will delight young readers.  If you know of a young child expecting an addition to their family, this is a perfect gift.

Recommended for Pre-K to 2nd Grade.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 5 of 5!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Martha Speaks: Thief of Hearts adapted by Karen Barrs.

Martha  Speaks: Thief of Hearts based on the characters created by Sesuan Meddaugh and adapted by Karen Barrs.

Product Description
Helen and friends decide to make homemade valentines for each other. But when everybody’s art supplies begin disappearing, they start to suspect each other. Can Martha sniff out the culprit of the stolen supplies before their sweet holiday mood goes sour?

I am a big fan of the original Martha books by Susan Meddaugh. When I requested this from the library, I didn’t realize that the books had been turned into a TV show. (First Max & Ruby, then Olivia and now Martha.)   I won’t comment on the shows, since I’ve not watched them (though I do feel the urge to grab my bowl of cheerios and plop down in front of the TV on Saturday morning.)

I was pleased to find that Martha looks the same as the original books.  Sometimes, once a book character becomes a TV cartoon star they get a little commercialized.  As is almost always the case, I do prefer Meddaugh’s originals to this TV tie-in.  Meddaugh’s original books are more fleshed out and the story doesn’t feel quite as rushed as this one.  However, as a Getting Ready to Read book, Thief of Hearts works fine.   Beginning readers will need some assistance, but reading with your child is a great experience!  The TV show tie-in might encourage a reluctant reader to check it out. 

I hope Meddaugh will write more in the original series of books, but in the mean time I hope to add this to my library’s collection.

Recommended for Kindergarten to 2nd Grade.

Mrs. Archer’s Rating: 4 of 5

Thursday, January 20, 2011

All In A Day by Cynthia Rylant

This picture book by Cynthia Rylant illuminates all the possibilities a day offers—the opportunities and chances that won’t ever come again—and also delivers a gentle message of good stewardship of our planet.

Nikki McClure’s illustrations of meticulously crafted cut-paper make this a very visually appealing book.  Though I’m a big fan of Cynthia Rylant, I didn’t find this book to be among her best.  It’s a little too highbrow for the children’s audience for which it is intended.

The illustrations make it worth adding to your collection, but I’m not sure it would be among a child’s “Read It Again, Mommy!” collection.

Recommended for Kindergarten to 2nd Grade.

Mrs. Archer’s rating 5 of 5 for the illustrations, 3 of 5 for the text.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems and Illustrated by John Muth

In spring, when City Dog runs free in the country for the first time, he spots Country Frog sitting on a rock, waiting for a friend. "You'll do," Frog says, and together they play Country Frog games. In summer, they meet again and play City Dog games. Through the seasons, whenever City Dog visits the country he runs straight for Country Frog's rock. In winter, things change for City Dog and Country Frog. Come spring, friendship blooms again, a little different
this time.

I’m used to Willems being both the author and illustrator.  However in this book he provides the text and John Muth provides the beautifully expressive watercolors.  Willems provides a touching heart warming story of two unlikely friends.  Readers, both children and adults will feel City Dog’s dismay when winter arrives and Country Frog is nowhere to be found and his delight when he discovers another new friend.   Just what happened to Country Frog is up to interpretation and adults reading to very young children might wish to tread carefully at this point.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I’m used to Williems' quirky, goofy stories about Knuffle Bunny and Pigeon.  This was a good reminder for me that just because you think you “know” an author they can still surprise you.

Recommended for 1st Grade and up.

Mrs. Archer’s Rating: 4 of 5.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

First Grade Jitters by Robert Quakenbush

Good Reads description:
Here is the story of a young boy who is about to enter first grade and doesn't know quite what to expect. Will his friends be there? Will he have to know how to read and spell? What if he can't understand anything his teacher says? Looks like a case of first grade jitters! Robert Quackenbush and Yan Nascimbene tell a reassuring story that is sure to chase away those jitters for any soon-to-be first grader.

Just because a child made it through kindergarten, doesn’t mean they are comfortable about moving on to first grade.  The full-page illustrations highlight this common anxiety felt by many soon to be first graders. I especially liked how Aidan’s dog and teddy bear mirror his worries throughout the book.  And like all good first day jitters type books, this one has an easy happy ending.  This is a great gift for the new first grader in your life and a good addition to any collection on first day jitters.

Recommended for Kindergarten through 1st Grade.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 4 of 5

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier


The close relationship of a pair of biracial twins is tested when their grandmother enters them in a pageant for African American girls in this new story from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner Sundee T. Frazier.
When Minerva and Keira King were born, they made headlines: Keira is black like Mama, but Minni is white like Daddy. Together the family might look like part of a chessboard row, but they are first and foremost the close-knit Kings. Then Grandmother Johnson calls, to invite the twins down South to compete for the title of Miss Black Pearl Preteen of America. 
Minni dreads the spotlight, but Keira assures her that together they'll get through their stay with Grandmother Johnson. But when grandmother's bias against Keira reveals itself, Keira pulls away from her twin. Minni has always believed that no matter how different she and Keira are, they share a deep bond of the heart. Now she'll find out the truth.

I truly enjoyed this book. It is one of those books that I would recommend to my 5th graders as well as to teens and adults.  

This contemporary book is a serious look at racial issues (and for those who may think we have moved beyond those issues, this book will make you rethink that). It also has many light hearted moments.  Grandmother Johnson provides quite a bit of comic relief.

Two things could have made this book better.  One is a better cover.  It just doesn’t do the story justice. It looks so serious some readers may pass it by.  Second is to have had some of the story told from Keira’s view. We do get some insight to her feelings, but the story is basically Minni’s. It would have been interesting to have the chapters switch back and forth between the girls – comparing and contrasting how the various events in book impact them.

In addition to exploring race issues, the story shows the struggle of being yourself and being accepted for who you are.  It also covers the bond between sisters, especially twins.  Even though the girls do experience different feelings and challenges which does cause some tension between them, Frazier created a strong bond between the girls, one that can stand up to a little strain and tension.  Keira truly is the other half of Minni’s heart.

This is an excellent book.  Though I didn’t plan this, it turned out to be an excellent book to read around Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. (Dr. King is Minni’s  hero and is mentioned frequently in the book.)

Recommended for Third Grade and up.

Mrs. Archer’s Rating:  5 of 5

ARC Review - Little Croc's Purse by Lizzie Finlay

Amazon Product Description:

When Little Croc finds a purse full of money, he and his friends have all sorts of ideas about what they could spend it on. Should Little Croc keep the money for himself, or try to find the owner? When he decides to return the purse, Little Croc learns important lessons about sharing, saving, and spending. Lizzie Finlay pairs charming and humorous illustrations with this light-hearted tale that will have readers rooting for the resolute Little Croc as he overcomes pressure and does what he knows is right.

This is a delightful story about doing the right thing.  Finlay does an excellent job of communicating about sharing, saving, and spending without lecturing.  The illustrations are colorful and will appeal to young children.
A must for an collection on character education.

Recommended for Pre-school to 2nd grade.

Mrs. Archer's rating: 5 o 5

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Snapshot - January 15th

To participate in Saturday Snapshot meme (hosted by Alyce over At Home With Books)  post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken. Photos can be old or new, and can be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. All Alyce asks is that you don't post random photos that you find online.

I thought I would share some of the Read posters I've been working on - what do you think?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Blogger Hop - Jan 14, 2011

Book Blogger Hop

Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Crazy For Books to see a complete list of participants hop on over to her blog and check it out.  If you are a student, be sure you have your parents' permission to surf the internet before checking out the other book blogs.

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING through the list of blogs that are posted in the Linky at Crazy for Books!

The Hop lasts Friday-Monday every week, so if you don't have time to Hop today, come back later and join the fun!  This is a weekly event!  And stop back throughout the weekend to see all the new blogs that are added!  We get over 200 links every week!! 

This week's question comes from Barb who blogs at Sugarbeat's Books:
 "Why do you read the genre that you do?  What draws you to it?"
I read mostly mysteries, young adult and children's books. I enjoy mysteries because I like solving a puzzle. I've been a fan of mysteries ever since I read my first Agatha Christie when I was a kid.  As for young adult books - I enjoy them because I find most of them to be very well written and very engaging. I'm drawn to children's books because I'm a children's librarian. I love a really good picture book, because in a previous life I wanted to be an artist. I appreciate illustrations that are vibrant and magical - ones that contribute as much to the story as the words.
What genres do you like? 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2011 Caldecott Winner - A Sick Day for Amos McGee

GoodReads Description:
“THE BEST SICK DAY EVER and the animals in the zoo feature in this striking picture book debut.
Friends come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In Amos McGee’s case, all sorts of species, too! Every day he spends a little bit of time with each of his friends at the zoo, running races with the tortoise, keeping the shy penguin company, and even reading bedtime stories to the owl. But when Amos is too sick to make it to the zoo, his animal friends decide it’s time they returned the favor.”

To say that I was taken by surprise by the winners of the Caldecott and Newbery this year would be a big understatement. As someone who 291 books in 2011, many of them young adult and picture books, one would think that I would have at least heard of the winners before now.  Apparently, I was not the only caught unaware about the Newbery.  My local library does not even own a copy (yet) and Amazon will not be able to get my copy to me until the end of January.  I suspect this one might be another Higher Power of Lucky type book.  I hope not.

I was able to get a copy of the Caldecott winner: A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip Christian Stead and illustrated by Erin Stead. It’s a cute story and very well written.  As for the illustrations: they are NICE, but they are not MAGICAL and quite frankly, I expect Caldecott illustrations to be MAGICAL, to evoke something within the reader. It’s wonderful when they play an integral part in the story as in Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman.  Bill Thomson’s illustrations in Chalk are MAGICAL.  Art & Max by David Wiesner has MAGICAL illustrations.  To be honest though, I figured Wiesner’s book would be bypassed because he’s already won the award three times.  That shouldn’t be a factor in considering whether or not a book is worthy of the award, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it does factor in, if subconsciously.

Of course I’m just one reader in a sea of millions. And I’m an adult. The book was after all intended for children.  I will be sharing it with my students.  I’ll update you on their opinion of the illustrations. (And yes, I will ask them to compare A Sick Day for Amos McGee with Chalk and Art & Max.)

Recommended for Pre-school to 3rd Grade.

Mrs. Archer’s Rating: 3 of 5

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gabe's Gifts

Gabe's Gifts

I have friend (and fellow educator) who has a wonderful blog Jenbug's Story. Grabbing a cup of coffee and reading her posts is part of my morning ritual (even on Saturdays when I could be sleeping late).  Today her blog talked about Gabe's Gifts which is sponsored by Amanda at Today's Top 20. You should check out Amanda's amazing story - it takes a strong and beautiful person to take a personal tragedy and turn it into gifts for others.  Amanda is sponsoring a blanket drive.  I'm going to try to make six this year (hopefully, more but I am in the process of coming up with my own charity project. That might take away some of my crafting time. I'll have more on that later.)  I hope you will join me.  It's a wonderful way to explore your creative outlet and help others at the same time.

Thanks Jen for letting me know about this wonderful project.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Big Nate From The Top by Lincoln Pierce

Amazon Product Description:
Big Nate, a.k.a. middle schooler Nate Wright, is eleven years old, four-and-a-half feet tall, and the wunderkind creation of cartoonist Lincoln Peirce. Nate is also the star of six novelized books to be published by HarperCollins, the first of which debuted on the New York Times children's best-seller list. This Big Nate Collection collects Peirce's Big Nate strips, originally published only in newspapers.

For those not familiar with Big Nate, think Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Calvin and Hobbes. Nate is a self-described genius and a sixth-grade Renaissance man equipped with only a #2 pencil and the unshakable belief that he is destined for greatness (a fortune cookie told him so). He fights a daily battle against overzealous teachers, undercooked cafeteria food, and all-around conventionality. He's the original rebel without a clue, alternately abrasive and endearing to classmates and teachers alike. Throughout Peirce's Big Nate Collection, Nate blazes an unforgettable trail through the sixth grade at P.S. 38, earning straight As in laughs (and numerous detentions) along the way. 

This is the third book I have read about Nate and his adventures. This is a funny and entertaining series. It has appeal for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and parents will feel better about Nate than they do Greg.  Nate is a lovable and redeeming character. I like Greg Hefley, but as a parent, he is certainly not someone I would want my child to hang out with.

A must for any library's graphic novel collection.
Recommended for 3rd Grade and up.

Mrs. Archer's rating: 5 of 5.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lon Po Po by Ed Young


Lon Po Po is a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood.  Shang, Tao and Paotze’s stay at home while their mother visits their  Po Po (grandmother).  She warns them to not let anyone in the house.  As soon as she leaves the big bad wolf appears, pretending to be Po Po.  Despite their mother’s warnings the girl let “Po Po” into the house and soon find themselves in bed with a wolf.  They escape danger through the cleverness of Shang, who is the eldest.

Unlike the Grimm story, there are three heroines, instead of one, the mother goes off to visit grandmother, and the girls rescue themselves rather than waiting for a wood -cutter.  And, as one of my students pointed out – in this version the wolf does not eat grandma.

Ed Young’s beautifully dramatic illustrations won him the Caldecott award.  Readers who enjoy fairytales will enjoy this different spin on a old favorite.

Recommended for 2nd Grade and up.

Mrs. Archer’s rating 5 of 5.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Petunia Pepper's Picture Day by Cathy Breisacher

I received an e-copy of this book for review.  I did not receive any compensation for my review.

Petunia Pepper is prone to disaster on picture day.  She has suffered through poofy hair, scraggly smiles and pink eye, resulting in pictures only a mother would love.  This year Petunia is sure things are going to be different.  Despite her careful plans, things go wrong. Missing the bus begins a series of misadventures that lead to Petunia saving a runaway poodle, but creates a disaster for picture day.  Disappointed about missing the class picture, Petunia’s day takes an upswing when the front page of the local paper features a picture of Petunia rescuing the poodle.  Finally, a picture everyone will love!

Girls (and their moms) will identify with this cute story with a happy ending.  As an amateur photographer  (and a mom) I like that it gives the message that perfection doesn’t always make the perfect photo. Kids will sympathize with Petunia’s anxiety of getting a good picture. The author and illustrator do a wonderful job of showing Petunia’s feelings throughout the story.  The bright, colorful illustrations compliment the story.  The author includes a “Take Time Out for God’s Word” at the end of the book. Personally, I found this to be an added bonus to the story.  Placing it at the end of the book allows educators who may be uncomfortable using such an addition in a public school setting, to choose to include the addition or not.

The one problem I had with the story was the idea that a teacher would prevent a student from being in the class picture.  I understand that having Petunia not be in the picture was a necessary part of the story line, but perhaps there was a better way of accomplishing this than making the teacher the bad guy.

Overall, this is a wonderful book. A great addition to any elementary or classroom library.

Recommended for Kindergarten through 2nd grade.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 4 of 5

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Late For School by Steve Martin

Late for School by Steve Martin is a funny rendering of the classic yarn about waking up thinking you are late for school.  In the rush to get to school on time, the young boy, jumps a fence, encounters a swimming pool and catches a ride on a kite, making it to school with just a few minutes to spare only to discover that there is no school because it’s SATURDAY!   Martin’s trademark humor translates well to children. 

The illustrations by C. F. Payne are a great companion to the story.  Also included is a CD of Martin playing the banjo and singing the story.   Both the book and the CD are perfect “read alouds” that students and adults alike will love.

Recommended for Kindergarten and up.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 5 of 5

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Colorado Children's Book Award Nominee - The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

Amazon Product Description:
Deep in the water,
Mr. Fish swims about
With his fish face stuck
In a permanent pout.
Can his pals cheer him up?
Will his pout ever end?
Is there something he can learn
From an unexpected friend?
Swim along with the pout-pout fish as he discovers that being glum and spreading “dreary wearies” isn’t really his destiny. Bright ocean colors and playful rhyme come together in this fun fish story that’s sure to turn even the poutiest of frowns upside down.

This is a funny little book with delightful illustrations. Kids of all ages will enjoy the humour.

Recommended for Kindergarten through 2nd Grade.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 5 of 5

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 Youth Media Awards Reading Challenge

On my other blog (Booklady's Booknotes) which covers genres of all kinds (be warned, even though the content is clean, I do review books on this blog that are geared for older readers - middle school and high school. As always, I encourage you to be aware of what your elementary reader is reading.) I am hosting a reading challenge.

On January 10th, ALA will announce the winners of their Youth Media Awards. The top three are the Caldecott Award (given for best illustrations in a children's book), Newbery Award (for the best writing) and Printz Award (given for the best young adult/teen book.)  With that in mind, I'd like to encourage people to read more of this books in 2011.

For complete details on how to participate in the challenge click here.