‘Giraffe Problems’ by Jory John & Illustrated by Lane Smith: A Picture Book Kids LOVE!

giraffe

Don’t just take my word for it, get a copy of “Giraffe Problems” by Jory John with chuckle-inducing illustrations by the talented Lane Smith. Read it to any child between three and thirteen. All will love it: guaranteed.

But don’t get the book only for the laughs. It’s much more than just another humorous picture book for entertaining children. The story of the giraffe with the really, really long neck, who doesn’t like his neck at all, will resonate with kids. Edward, the giraffe, laments his misfortune and wishes he had a neck like a zebra, an elephant, or a lion.

Continue reading

Five Nonfiction Picture Books for Kids of Many Ages — From Monsters and Animals to Historical Figures and the Flight to the Moon

“Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky” by Barb Rosenstock and Mary Grandpré  shares with young readers the lonely, often tormented life of Vincent Van vincentGogh. Each page begins with “Vincent can’t sleep…” and begins with his childhood when at the age of nine or ten he once walked at night six miles from his home in the Netherlands to Belgium where he was “found with torn clothes and muddy shoes.” The author includes that he was moody, “Excited. Bored. Eager. Lazy. Explosive. Shy. His many-colored moods scare the customers — and he’s forced to go.” This is a wonderful book for encouraging discussion about being different. Van Gogh was different. He’s described as “A sensitive boy. A hidden genius. A brilliant artist.” But according to the Author’s Note, he may have only sold five paintings while he was alive. Questions to discuss can include what makes someone successful? Was Van Gogh successful? Was he crazy? Why are his paintings so revered and so valuable? A beautiful book about a brilliant — and tormented — artist. (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Continue reading

‘My Father’s Words’ by Patricia MacLachlan: A Simple Children’s Book with Not-So-Simple Thoughts

fathers words

“My Father’s Words” by Patricia MacLachlan is a beautifully written, emotionally wrenching story that had me crying through my lunch as I finished it. It’s a small, 133-page book set in large type with wide spacing. It’s easy to read, but much harder to really appreciate.

This is not a book that one should skim to just get the plot and then move on. MacLachlan includes phrases so thoughtful that the reader is compelled to reread them and think about them. It’s a perfect book for a classroom teacher to use as a read aloud, so that those special paragraphs and moments can be shared and discussed. But be warned, finishing this book without shedding a tear is an almost insurmountable feat.

The story, on its face, is simple. Fiona and Finn’s father, a psychologist and a wonderful dad, dies in a car accident. He swerves to avoid a child who has run into the street and is himself killed. The whole family is bereft.

At the suggestion of Luke, a close friend and neighbor, Fiona and Finn begin to volunteer at the local animal shelter, where they learn that while you comfort a shelter dog (or any dog, for that matter), the dog is also comforting you.

The ending of the book is perfect — so perfect that even if a reader sees the ending coming, it doesn’t matter. It’s beautifully written and extremely touching.

While it’s a simple story that third grade students could read and comprehend, older students will find it easier to understand the underlying truths that MacLachlan shares about life, death, memories, love, healing, and, of course, dogs. MacLachlan knows what most dog lovers know — that to have a dog companion is to never feel alone. Another truth my students know? To pet a dog is magic — it comforts and heals wounds and makes the sun shine on the darkest rainy day.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s edition provided by Katherine Tegen Books, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘Little Do We Know’ by Tamara Ireland Stone

little do we know

“Little Do We Know” by Tamara Ireland Stone begins as a typical young adult story about two formerly best friends who are no longer speaking to each other. Emory and Hannah have lived next door to each other practically since they were in diapers, and they have been best friends all that time.

But now, in their senior year of high school, they are not speaking. And the reader doesn’t know why. The story is told in first person narrative through Hannah and Emory’s voices, and it’s riveting. While the girls have been best friends, they are very different.

Continue reading

‘The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody’ by Matthew Landis

private nobody

“The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody” by Matthew Landis is a lovely story about a seventh-grade-boy learning what is important about life, war, and love. The book might ignite a passion for history in the heart of its readers. It’s obvious that the author has that passion, and he communicates it in each and every page. It’s also obvious that Landis really “gets” middle grade students, especially those who don’t always fit in.

Continue reading

Great Giveaway of Picture Book ‘Fiona the Hippo’ by Richard Cowdrey

fiona

Hey, folks! Zonderkidz is partnering with me for a fabulous giveaway!

Here’s a chance to win a copy of Richard Cowdrey’s fabulous picture book, “Fiona the Hippo,” about the plucky premature hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo. (Read my glowing review here.) In addition to the picture book, you’ll receive an adorable Fiona stuffed animal, and a Fiona sippy cup! All courtesy of partner Zonderkidz.

prize package

“Fiona the Hippo, by New York Times bestselling artist Richard Cowdrey of Bad Dog, Marley fame, tells the story of Fiona, the adorable internet sensation from the Cincinnati Zoo who captured hearts around the world with her inspiring story and plucky personality.

Born prematurely, at only 29 pounds, Fiona was not expected to live. But her spunk and determination helped her thrive and become a happy, healthy hippopotamus. With every challenge she faced, Fiona let out a snort, wiggled her ears, and said “I’ve got this.” And she did! In this delightful story, inspired by the real adventure of this heroic hippo, join Fiona and her lovable animal friends at the zoo as she is introduced to the world in this whimsical and inspiring tale of perseverance and friendship.”

During a very recent trip to Kenya, I had the opportunity to see many hippos at Masai Mara. Most were in the Masai Mara river, but we caught sight of one walking along the dirt road. She was huge and pink and grey, and we loved getting to see her!

Be sure to enter to win your own “Fiona the Hippo” book and more!

Fiona’s fabulous giveaway! 

‘Fiona the Hippo’ by Richard Cowdrey Is a Picture Book About Not Giving up (and It’s Adorable!)

fiona

In “Fiona the Hippo,” a picture book by Richard Cowdrey, readers who didn’t know about the baby hippo who was born six weeks early will get to see how the staff at the Cincinnati Zoo cared for her and helped keep her safe. The story is lovely, and Cowdrey cleverly has Fiona say, “I’ve got this!” for each new accomplishment.

That’s a great catch-phrase for kids. Fiona’s story teaches that all new skills take practice — sometimes lots of practice — but if a child is taught determination and perseverance and says, “I’ve got this!” the chances of success are multiplied tenfold.

Fiona got it, and she was reunited with her parents. Cowdrey’s story of Fiona’s start is a picture book that kids will want to read over and over. They will know when to chime in for Fiona, “I’ve got this!” and one might hope that it becomes the new mantra for a generation.

Learn more at Fiona the Hippo. Watch her adorable video on YouTube.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Big Honcho Media for review purposes.

Six Picture Books for Older Kids: Books to Think About

Picture books aren’t just for babies. There are many thoughtful, informational picture books that are wonderful reads for children of all ages. Here are just a few.

god bless america“God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin” is a very timely nonfiction picture book by Adah Nuchi and illustrated by Rob Polivka. The author is the daughter of immigrants, and this book is chock-full of references to the contributions of immigrants to our country. And the man who wrote such American classics as “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” to mention just a few, was an immigrant. In fact, Izzy Baline, more famously known as Irving Berlin, was a prolific, brilliant songwriter. Yet his family escaped from Russia where Jews were being persecuted, and they came to America with their children, their work ethic, and nothing else. When Berlin’s father died, the family was even more in need. So young Berlin went to work, kept writing songs, and eventually sold one, which led to more work. As much as this story is about Irving Berlin, it’s also very much a story about the contributions that immigrants make to our great country. Nuchi writes, “And while some people didn’t like that the voice of America belonged to an immigrant and a Jew, most people felt that a refugee was just the right person to celebrate the hope America held.” Ain’t that the truth. (Disney-Hyperion)

Continue reading