Saturday, January 20, 2018

Pizza! An Interactive Recipe Book by Lotta Nieminen

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My review of this book may be found here: SLJ Picture Books November 2017 Xpress Reviews. It is the 21st review as you scroll down the page, so please be patient.

Nieminen, LOtta. Pizza!: An Interactive Recipe Book. illus. by Lotta Nieminen. 16p. (Cook in a Book). Phaidon. May 2017. Board $14.95. ISBN 9780714874098.

Hello, Ruby: Journey Inside the Computer by Linda Liukas

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Grades 1- 3 Liukas combines the picture book format with an activity book to introduce young readers to computers and programming. In the first half, main character Ruby shrinks and enters her dad’s computer to see why the cursor isn’t responding, tumbling into an Alice in Wonderland-esque adventure. In her quest, Ruby encounters bits, logic gates, the CPU and GPU, RAM, ROM, and software; she learns what part each of them play in the operation of the computer, and a little about their nature (the fact that bits “only talk in ones and zeroes”). Illustrations, done in Adobe Photoshop, depict the scenes inside the computer. Backgrounds in the areas Ruby explores resemble circuit boards or rows of binary code. Processors, memory cards and other hardware scurry about on stick legs following CPU’s orders. Activities in the book’s second half  prompt readers to assemble a paper model of a computer, go on a safari to identify computers, and even design their own operating system. An introduction to the characters at the front of the book explains basic functions and a glossary in the back defines useful terms.Sidebars offer advice for parents and educators. VERDICT: A gentle introduction to the world of computers and associated vocabulary. Recommended for elementary libraries, STEM programs, and computer labs.

My review of this book was first printed in the October 2017 issue of School Library Journal, p. 124.

Liukas, Linda. Hello, Ruby: Journey Inside the Computer. 96p. chart. diag. glossary. Feiwel & Friends. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250065322.

You Should Meet Katherine Johnson by Thea Feldman

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Feldman, Thea. Katherine Johnson. illus. by Alyssa Petersen. 48p. S. & S./Simon Spotlight. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781534403413. 

King & Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse by Dori Hillestad Butler

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PreK -Gr. 3 King and Kayla return in a new mystery for the early elementary crowd. This time King’s ball goes over the fence, but it is not in the neighbor’s backyard when they look for it. Can this clever dog and his human find the missing ball? The author has a knack for writing humorous stories from a canine perspective. Youngsters will laugh at King’s enthusiasm as each new thing becomes his favorite - playing fetch, running after his ball, eating grilled cheese, and making new friends. Young puppy Thor provides more laughs as he is constantly distracted by butterflies and birds. The digitally-colored and pencil illustrations have a lightness that matches the tone of the story, while the expressive faces of the characters add depth. Readers can see King’s disgusted look as he smells something “BAD.” The illustration make it clear what King means when he says that “Kayla makes mad eyes at” him. Budding detectives will have the benefit of both King’s discoveries and Kayla’s reasoning as they piece together the clues. VERDICT: A welcome addition to collections supporting the transition from picture books to chapter books; this title will appeal to both dog lovers and mystery buffs.

My review for this book was originally printed in the August 2017 issue of School Library Journal, p. 78.

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King & Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse. illus. by Nancy Meyers. 48p. (King and Kayla). Peachtree. Sept. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781561458790.

The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi


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K - Gr. 3 From the cover, readers get a sense that all is not as idyllic as the teacher’s face suggests. The children wear concerned expressions and there are large bites missing from furniture and a math book. What is going on? Rissi’s story of a class science project seems ordinary enough, until we notice that Bruno the tadpole looks a lot like a hippopotamus. Suddenly the problem becomes clear. “Everyone could see that Bruno was trouble. Everyone except Mr. Stricter.” Ohora’s acrylic  illustrations work seamlessly with the text to juxtapose the teacher’s blind adoration of his pet with the students’ increasing alarm. “Bruno wouldn’t hurt a ---” Mr. Stricter is saying, and readers turn the page to see a single sneaker dangling from Bruno’s mouth and a large mustard yellow "GULP!" appears over Bruno’s head. Obviously the class was not overreacting when they said Bruno was trouble, but how will they get their teacher back? Fans of stories like Steven Kellogg’s The Mysterious Tadpole or Mike Thaler’s A Hippopotamus Ate the Teacher will appreciate the saga of a beloved small pet growing out of control. Readers will feel the growing frustration of the class as the teacher dismisses all their concerns about Bruno and says, “Isn’t he adorable?” And those who enjoy some gross humor will love the result of Bruno’s sneeze. VERDICT: Highly recommended. Perfect for classroom read-alouds and lessons on problem-solving or pets.

My review of this books was originally printed in the August 2017 issue of School Library Journal, pp. 63-64.

Rissi, Anica Mrose. The Teacher's Pet. illus. by Zachariah OHora. 40p. Disney-Hyperion. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484743645.

Vampirina at the Beach by Anne Marie Pace

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My review for this book may be found online here: Picture Books July 2017 SLJ Xpress Reviews. It is the 23rd review as you scroll down the page, so please be patient.

Pace, Anne Marie. Vampirina at the Beach. illus. by LeUyen Pham. 40p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 97814847773420.

Middle Bear by Susanna Iserne

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K - Gr. 3 Middle Bear has a middle-sized problem. “He was not big, but he was not small, either.” Any middle child will recognize the situation right away. Middle Bear isn't the oldest or the youngest, or the biggest or the smallest. “He was the middle one.” Depressed Middle Bear is convinced that there is nothing special about being number two. Isern introduces several synonyms such as "medium," "middling," and "middle-size" to describe Middle Bear’s possessions and actions. Everything in his life is in the middle, from the size of his toys to his bedtime. Readers will sympathize with his complaint, “I don’t want to be the middle one.”  But when Middle Bear's parents need willow bark and the brothers set off to fetch it, being the middle one may just be what saves the day. Gauthier’s illustrations of cut-paper collage, pencil and mixed media depict the experiences of the protagonist. When it rains, Middle Bear has a “middle-sized umbrella” and readers can see he is being rained on by a medium-sized cloud. While fishing with his brothers, Middle Bear “manage[s] to catch the most middle-sized fish in the lake” and fish of a variety of sizes are shown. Young readers will probably want to create some collage art themselves and make their own “middle-sized story, like this one.” VERDICT: A solid tale about birth order and finding one's own strengths rather than worrying about measuring up when compared with others. Recommended.

My review of this book was originally published in the July 217 issue of School Library Journal, p. 60.

Iserne, Susanna. Middle Bear. illus. by Manon Gauthier. 34p. Kids Can. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781771388429

Toad Has Talent by Richard Smythe




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K - Gr. 2 The forest animals gather for the Moonlight Pond talent contest, but Toad feels he doesn’t “have any amazing
skills or tricks." Digital and watercolor spreads capture the energy of the crowd of creatures that have congregated under
the full moon while Toad finds "the loneliest, most secret corner of the pond" from which to watch the competition. Close-ups
pop from the white page and highlight the animals and their abilities: for instance, Snake’s agility and Duck and her little
ones' teamwork. The text is comprised of a few sentences per page with a delightful variety of verbs. For example, during
their performance, the mice “wiggled, jiggled, bounced and...jumped!” A predictable pattern emerges; Toad admires the other animals, then thinks of all the reasons he can’t do what they have just done. The pacing is perfect as Toad becomes more and more despondent, until he is suddenly noticed. In contrast to the other animals, who are portrayed with color and movement, Toad sits spotlighted in a moonbeam amid blackness. Vignettes depicting Toad as he “slipped and tripped, stumbled and fumbled” adroitly capture the action. This story conveys the message that we all have something to contribute, even if our talents are not the same as others'. It will doubtless be a favorite that is requested often. VERDICT A great choice for a read-aloud, mentor text on action verbs, or guidance lesson on self-esteem and trying new things. Highly recommended.

My review of this book was originally published in the July 2017 issue of School Library Journal, p. 65

Smythe, Richard. Toad Has Talent. illus. by Richard Smythe. 32p. Frances Lincoln. Sept. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781786030115

Imagine the Moon by Gerald Fierst

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K - Gr.5 Ink and watercolor illustrations and a lyrical text invite readers to think about the moon in new ways. A smiling man in the moon looks out in welcome on the cover, glowing white moon flowers adorn the endpapers, and the turn of each page offers a new view of the orb shining down on spring peepers or lighting the way for Greek goddesses such as Artemis. This book functions on multiple levels: the main text and illustrations are accessible very accessible to younger readers, while the more factual sidebars share details about the formation of the moon, how it inspires artists, and signs of the changing seasons. Agriculture, wildlife, mythology, and astronauts all make their way into the explanations of how the full moon from each month of the year earned its name and other lunar facts. With its rhyming text, this title would be a good read-aloud or bedtime story, yet would also fit into a unit on the moon or outer space and might even lure those who don’t usually choose to read about science topics. VERDICT: A well done picture book that captures the allure of the moon for all ages, while also providing upper elementary students with solid material.

My review of this book was originally published in the June 2017 issue of School Library Journal, p. 120.

Fierst, Gerald. Imagine the Moon: A Primer of Full Moon Names. illus. by Leslie Stall Widener. 32p. Plum Street. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781945268021

The Bad Seed by Jory John

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K - Gr.3 Corn kernels, pistachios, peanuts and other seeds gasp and point as a “baaaaaaaaaaad seed” goes by. When others mumble about him, he can hear them because he has “good hearing for a seed.” The bad seed tells “long jokes with no punch lines,” lies “about pointless stuff,” and never puts things back where they belong. But he did not start that way; it was only after a traumatic experience that he became “a different seed entirely.” Through a mixture of watercolor textures and digital paint, Oswald creates a faded cityscape background. The seeds, on the other hand, have stronger colors and expressive faces. (Their sticklike arms and legs and large eyes make them reminiscent of the California Raisins.) The contrast of the bright, sunlit field and the dark interior of the sunflower seed bag highlights the protagonist's downturn in fortune. Young readers will find the list of all the seed’s offenses amusing, and the illustration of the flies and stench surrounding him (he never washes his hands or feet) is sure to produce laughter. Even the very youngest can follow along as the pictures provide evidence of his bad behavior and the reactions of those around him. This is a story that opens up dialogue about our reactions to life experiences, the consequences of our choices, and the chance to make a change for the better. VERDICT: This charmingly illustrated book would be a comical read-aloud and useful for class or family discussions about manners, behavior, and reputation.

My review of this title was originally published in the June 2017 issue of School Library Journal, pp. 73-74.

John, Jory. The Bad Seed. illus. by Pete Oswald. 40p. Harper Collins/Harper. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062467768

Fearless Women and Unsung Heroes by Reynolds & Calver


   
Fearless Women: Courageous Females Who Refused to Be Denied
Unsung Heroes: Fearless Men and Women Who Changed the World


Grades 5 - 8 A series dedicated to men and women who have shown courage in their convictions. Each volume introduces 28 such individuals, who represent a mix of ages, nationalities, and areas of influence. Eight additional short profiles can be found in the back matter of each volume and offer a few more examples. Scientists, sports stars, activists, and artists each have a one-page profile and an accompanying full-page portrait. The entries describe any lasting legacies such as foundations, initiatives, or charities begun by or named after the individuals. The portraits are stylized representations taken from photos or other recognizable images. The authors include negative facts along with the positive accomplishments. For instance, the text mentions that some people believe Margaret Thatcher’s policies "cost millions of workers their livelihoods,” and that the work of Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards (developers of in vitro fertilization) was viewed as “meddling with nature” by religious groups.  The profiles are not arranged in any discernible order. VERDICT: An additional purchase for libraries looking for more collected biographies.

My review of these titles (from the Real Lives collection by Barron's Educational Series), was originally published in the May 2017 issue of School Library Journal, pp. 123-124.

Reynolds, Toby & Paul Calver. Fearless Women: Courageous Females Who Refused To Be Denied. ISBN 9780764168864
----------. Unsung Heroes: Fearless Men and Women Who Changed the World. ISBN 9780764168871.
ea vol: 64 p. (Real Lives). illus. index. Barron's. Apr. 2017. Tr $8.99.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Aru Shah and the End of Time

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Fans of Rick Riordan's books and their take on mythology will be delighted to learn that he now has an imprint that shares the works of other authors. Roshani Chokshi has taken the complex tales of Indian mythology and created a new series. This first book introduces readers to Aru Shah, whose mother runs a museum in Atlanta. When Aru lights a cursed lamp, she sets off events that could mean the end of time. And what do the gods of India give her to help prevent this? A pigeon. Yup, you read that correctly. A pigeon. Okay, she also finds out that she has a sister of sorts; they are both related by the soul rather than biologically. So Aru, her new sister Mini, and the pigeon that they nickname Boo, set out to find some celestial weapons that can defeat the fierce demon that escaped from the lamp. 

Although there is plenty of danger and even some painful self-discovery in the story, there is plenty of humor to keep things from becoming too depressing. Mini is a germophobic good girl, who comes on the quest with her own epi-pen and a backpack of supplies. Aru comes empty-handed and wearing her Spider-Man pajamas. Boo comes complete with attitude and seems convinced that guiding the girls is punishment for past misdeeds. He can be found beating his head against things in frustration, calling the girls "ungrateful," or longing for the good old days when heroes came properly trained.

Many points of the story seem very similar to the Percy Jackson books. There is a claiming, where the girls need to find out which of the gods will endorse them. They receive gifts that are deceptively innocent looking, like Percy's "pen" Riptide. Their quest takes them to several spots around the country and even into the Otherworld. But these elements were borrowed by Riordan from the earlier myths, so it's all traditional really. 

The amazing variety of gods, goddesses, and creatures will keep readers feeling gobsmacked - especially if they have never heard of naga, rakshasa, or devas before. And while folks have probably heard of chai if they've been to a grocery store or Starbucks, other cultural elements may have them flipping to the glossary for a quick explanation. 

This is aimed at the middle grade audience, and has appropriate language and levels of violence for that group, but it can be enjoyed by readers of that age and up. 

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Winter Reading 2018 Marabel and the Book of Fate

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Imagine being a princess with a twin brother. Doesn't sound so bad, right? But what if your brother was the Chosen One and your parents treated you as an afterthought? That has been Marabel's life so far. But when her brother Marco is kidnapped from their 13th birthday celebration, Mara decides that she has to be the one to rescue him. It doesn't help that her father and the entire kingdom of Magikos depend on the Book of Fate to make all major decisions, or that the book is written in such archaic language that it must be interpreted by special priests and priestesses during a Consultation. When the court decides to sit and wait for the book's prophecy to come true, Mara takes matters into her own hands.

There are many fairy tale tropes present - the prince destined for greatness, the kingdom steeped in tradition, the neighboring kingdom filled with evil/magical creatures and ruled by an evil queen, a quest, a faithful friend, etc. But many of the elements are different than expected. The princess sets out to rescue the prince. Her trusty weapon is a wooden training sword. Her faithful sidekick is her maid. You get the idea. And there are some very obvious references to our world like a magical game called "Angry Phoenixes," a network called WizFi, and something called Flitter. 

For middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy stories with danger, humor, friendship, loyalty, and problem-solving, this is an entertaining tale.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Winter Reading 2018 Bonjour ! Let's Learn French

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When I was a Latin student in high school, my teacher had a favorite coffee mug with the slogan, "Monolingualism can be cured" on the side. It always made me laugh, the idea that only being able to speak one language was some sort of illness that could be cured. But the idea is true, especially with tools like Martialay's book. 

Written for elementary school students, the book takes readers on an imaginary trip to France. The characters Pete the Pilot and Louis l'escargot help bring the story to life and make the learning fun. Each section of the book has a different focus, with phrases that fit the situation provided. Helpful words to introduce oneself and meet new people are followed by words one might use on a trip to one of France's lovely beaches. After the story are lists of colors, days of the week, and people and things.

To help practice, there is a play that young readers can perform. Instructions for using pastels to create an impressionistic picture, the music and lyrics to the song "Ah! Mon beau chateau!" and even a "Coin de culture" with details of French culture all work to present words and phrases in ways that capture the imagination and give them a context. At the back is a list of all the words, organized in order of their appearance in the book. There is also extended support from the website, http://www.polyglotkidz.com, which offers an audio version of the book, advice for parents, articles on learning foreign languages, activity sheets, recipes, a video to go with the art activity, and a game.

Whether you are a parent hoping to broaden your child's linguistic skills, or a teacher studying other cultures with your class - you will find Bonjour! Let's Learn French (and it's companion book, Hola! Let's Learn Spanish) a painless way to begin your journey. 

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2018 The Pants Project

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Anyone who has ever felt as if they didn't fit in or couldn't be themselves will empathize with Liv right away. Liv's parents are very concerned with education and want Liv to attend the best middle school in town. That's understandable, but the dress code that means Liv will have to wear a skirt for the next three years is not. Why is Bankbridge Middle the only school in town that requires girls to wear a skirt to school? It's bad enough for girls who prefer pants, or would like a choice, but are stuck in them five days a week (we won't even go into the awful itchy tights). But what about kids like Liv who may have a female body, but know that on the inside they are really a boy? The dress code doesn't take transgender students into account at all.

Liv has slowly come to the realization that he is trans, and has been feeling more and more stressed about hiding this knowledge from everyone. It isn't that his moms wouldn't understand. Mom and Mamma know all about being outside what others call "normal." Mamma's entire family in Italy disowned her for marrying Mom, and they both would support Liv. But as anyone who has survived middle school knows, it is a gauntlet of bullies, spoiled kids, ridiculous social expectations, and other forms of adolescent torture. Liv is already teased for having a different hairstyle and for having two mothers. What would they do if they knew the whole truth?

The good news is that there are also nice kids, the kind that become friends and make life a little more bearable. And Liv's family is awesome - Mom, Mamma, little brother Enzo, Gram, and their dog Garibaldi. Readers will see Liv come to appreciate those positive relationships, and find ways to fight against the system that garner support and admiration. As Liv says to his friend Jacob, "You were right last night. When you said there's nothing to be ashamed of. No one should ever be ashamed of who they are."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 One Day a Dot

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Anyone who says that the Big Bang can't be explained simply, hasn't seen this book yet. Portraying the beginning of the universe as a simple dot that explodes from excitement, the tale traces history from that one event to the present day. Along the way the concepts of evolution, adaptation, and even the extinction of the dinosaurs are all explained. The illustrations are full of dots that slowly change their shapes from amoebas to fishes, reptiles, mammals, and finally humans. Scenes show small green dots playing "a game called Catch the Light," which is followed by "Eat or Be Eaten" -
otherwise known as a food chain. The first little mammal is shown as a tiny mouse-like critter who manages to survive the ELE that wipes out the dinosaurs.

At the end of the book is a timeline showing everything from the formation of the first stars, to photosynthesis, homo sapiens, and the current epoch. For teachers looking for a way to introduce all these concepts, this is a great new title to add to their collections. The amazingly simple text does a wonderful job of explaining the concepts covered, while the images offer great support to make everything visually clear. Highly recommended for elementary school libraries and classrooms.

I received an advance copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Strong as Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth

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Biographies often focus on world leaders, inventors, or great artists. But young readers are interested in other types of personalities, too. Don Tate has researched the life of Friedrich Muller, who became known later Eugen Sandow - the strongest man on Earth. Sandow's early life is like something out of a Charles Atlas infomercial; he was a weakling as a child, but yearned to become as buff as the Olympic athletes of old. Later, during his university days, he actually ran off and joined a circus. Who wouldn't want to read about someone like that? Friedrich's desire for a better physique motivated him to exercise, pay attention in anatomy classes, and work out with weights until he achieved his goal. His story is one that shows what someone can accomplish with perseverance while working for a dream.

Don's illustrations show the contrast between Sandow's puny young body and his later, sculpted and defined form. Details of period fashions, including the enormous handlebar mustaches, show readers what the world looked like back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The costumes of the body-building contestants will cause great amusement. Back matter includes an afterword, an historical photo of Sandow, suggestions on some exercises readers might like to try, and even a note from the author - who happens to have experience of his own in bodybuilding. 

Picture book biographies are a fun way to explore different periods of history and to learn about role models of all sorts. Readers are lucky to have author/illustrators like Don Tate who create books about historical figures besides the usual few seen on library shelves.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Winter Reading 2018 Black Panther: The Young Prince

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Those eagerly awaiting the release of the Black Panther movie will be glad to have this title to read in the meantime. Focusing on a T'Challa still middle-school age, The Young Prince introduces several of the key players in the story of Wakanda; T'Chaka (king of Wakanda), Nick Fury, and the enemy of the kingdom, Ulysses Klaw all play a part in the events that lead to the prince's first adventure as a young Black Panther.

T'Challa and M'Baku travel to Chicago and attend school with other teens and pre-teens while hiding their true identities. When M'Baku falls in with a group of kids up to no good, T'Challa knows that he has to rescue his friend. Luckily for him, he also has new American friends to help out - and the vibranium enhanced suit that his father gave him. But can some physical enhancements and a couple of nerdy teenagers give him enough strength to defeat the plot hatched up by the gang?

Although it is a chapter book rather than a graphic novel, the descriptions make it easy to imagine the setting and action. The prince is shown as a young man still trying to figure out the world and how he will approach life. The conflicts with his adopted brother Hunter are very similar to disagreements between siblings anywhere, although the dynamic between Thor and Loki does come to mind. As T'Challa tries to become a man who will be worthy to take the throne one day, he wrestles with anger, pride, and jealousy just like any other teen, all while studying for tests and preparing for a chess tournament. Life goes on, no matter what the teenage drama or threats to his identity.

Highly recommended for middle grade readers who are interested in the Marvel universe, particularly Black Panther and the Avengers. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.