9 Perfect picture books for going back to school

It’s that time of year. Kids and parents are doing back-to-school shopping and one thing that should definitely be on the list are books to get kids in that back-to-school mood. There are many picture books that are perfect for just that purpose, and they will motivate and excite readers to begin learning and imagining and creating.

pigeonA book that legions have been anxiously awaiting (at least my 1st grade students who begged me to bring it to school and read it to them) is the ever-popular pigeon in “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!” by the prolific and popular Mo Willems. Pigeon isn’t convinced that he wants to go to school, but by the end of the book, he’s all in. Kids will enjoy hearing about how Pigeon’s argument about not going to school backfires. The end papers are worthy of note, as usual, with empty school desks and chairs at the start of the book while on the end papers, they are populated with pigeon’s new classmates. Kids will definitely want to read this one over and over and over again. And it’s perfect for kids who aren’t quite sure they are ready for school, or who might be — dare I say it — scared to go. They will certainly understand Pigeon’s feelings. Definitely put this title on your back-to-school shopping list! (Hyperion Books for Children)

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‘Heart of Barkness’ by Spencer Quinn: Don’t miss this tail-wagging adventure

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“Heart of Barkness” by Spencer Quinn brings back mystery-lovers’ favorite four-legged detective, Chet, with his sidekick, the two-legged Bernie Little. It’s Bernie Little’s detective agency, but both Chet and Bernie are very aware that it takes two to solve most mysteries. That’s why whenever Bernie introduces himself to someone, he introduces both of them. Chet and Bernie are a team and they are inseparable.

In this mystery, Chet and Bernie meet Lotty Pilgrim, a country singer who seems to have hit rock-bottom. She is playing in dives and lives on a small, run-down ranch. Her manager/boyfriend is much younger than she, and from the start, Bernie is no fan of his.

Bernie has just gotten out of the hospital after a near-death experience (read about it in the last Chet and Bernie book, “Scents and Sensibility”), and Chet is thrilled to be reunited with his other half. In fact, the mystery begins when Chet and Bernie go to hear Lotty sing. Bernie puts a $100 bill in her tip jar, but the money gets stolen by someone at the bar. Chet and Bernie go after the thief, and what happens after that is just one part of what becomes the mystery and history of Lottie’s life and her problems.

Chet’s narration is spot-on doggy, with appropriate distractions (Slim Jims and steak smells) and some canine self-deprecating awareness. After all, when a dog is telling the story, there is definitely some translation needed, but Chet is one sharp dog, and he catches some things mere humans might overlook. Chet explains it beautifully when the thief grabs the money from the tip jar,

“Something sneaky was going down. I knew that in a flash. You might be thinking, Wow Chet, how fast your mind works. But you’d be wrong. My mind had nothing to do with it. My teeth were the smart ones. Sneakiness gives them this powerful urge, the urge to…to do something, let’s leave it at that.”

So they chase the thief, recover the money but not the guy, and consider it done. It’s not. The ties that connect the different characters, the obvious good guys and the obvious and not-so-obvious bad guys are sometimes hard to see. But Chet and Bernie have a special power – the power of the dog and human combination – and they go where others might fail.

Quinn’s narrative, via Chet, is touching but always humorous, too. While reader’s will feel Lottie’s plight and worry about Bernie’s romantic situation, they will chuckle while reading Chet’s wonderfully canine narrative.

Mystery lovers devour the Chet and Bernie series. Dog lovers do, too. No fleas involved.

This review was originally posted on Bookreporter.com.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Forge, for review purposes.

Part I: Volunteers feed and save abandoned, scared dogs — big and small — in Redland, Florida

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Please note: This article was originally published on ShelterMe.tv in 2016.

The Problem:

Redland, Florida; it’s a rural area southwest of Miami. A place that is haunted with the despair from the many animals who are abandoned there every week. Daily, cars and trucks stop on one of the streets or highways, open a door, shove out a confused animal, then drive away quickly.

The Redland area is not a safe place for the animals who are left there. Most are dogs, and while some learn quickly to stay away from humans, others are shot, poisoned, hit (on purpose) by cars, stolen by dog fighters; or they die from starvation and dehydration in the Florida heat. The lucky ones hide during the day, coming out as the sun goes down as a group of dedicated volunteers bring the food and water they need to survive. Join the volunteers, Jessie, Yleana, and Ramsey, on a hot July evening as they bring me along to witness the sad situation.

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Part II: The Solution to “The abandoned, scared dogs — big and small — in Redland, Florida”

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Please note: This article was originally published on ShelterMe.tv in 2016.

The Solution (Part II to “Volunteers feed and save abandoned, scared dogs — big and small — in Redland, Florida”):

It appears that any solutions to the huge problem of stray and abandoned animals in the rural areas of Miami-Dade County, like Redland and the Rock Pit Quarry, will have to be addressed by the volunteers. Rescues have approached the shelter, asking if there is a process for pulling stray dogs from the county (not the shelter, the stray dogs). According to Jennie Nicholas of Pennsylvania, the shelter never responded to her email. She said that when she wrote Miami-Dade Animal Services (MDAS), “I got zero response. I wrote an email asking if I needed any special permission to take the dogs and the email went unanswered.”

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Five animal-themed picture books kids will love

 

Animals and kids go together like hot summer days and ice cream or long sunlit days with reading lots and lots of books to kids before bedtime. And there’s nothing most kids like better than books about animals. Whether it’s a silly book or a book filled with adventure, kids love reading about animal antics.

pinky got outKids will LOVE “Pinky Got Out!” by Michael Portis, about a group of school children visiting the zoo when a flamingo gets out of the flamingo enclosure. The kids keep seeing Pinky, the flamingo, everywhere they go. Kids will love trying to spot Pinky on each page, and they’ll love what happens at the end. They will also learn a few facts about animals while searching each page for sightings of the pink escapee. You can tell them that the real-life Pinky is named Flamingo 492 and escaped from a Wichita, Kansas zoo and ended up in Texas on the coast where, fourteen years later, the bird is living happily. (Crown Books for Young Readers)

“Big Cat” by Emma Lazell is another humorous picture book, this one about a mix-up between a big catdomestic cat and a large cat, in this case a tiger. The action begins on the page before the title page, which features newspapers with partial headings like “missing” and “Mystery sightings” and pictures of tigers. Grandma lost her glasses, and she and her granddaughter are looking for them in a yard filled with cats when the young narrator tells Grandma that she’s found a cat. Grandma goes through all the adorable names of their cats. “Is it Ruby? Gertrude? Twinklywhiskers?Hufflystink?” They take the stray cat to the neighbors to see if she belongs to them, but the neighbors all “were not cat people.” Kids will LOVE identifying all the pets the neighbors do have! Although their new cat does eat a lot of cat food, they love him, but when a couple looking for their missing son find Grandma’s glasses and return them, she realizes that the new cat is not a cat at all! Be assured that no humans are harmed in the reading of this book, and there is a delightful twist (of course) at the end. (Pavilion Books)

In “Nelly Takes New York: A Little Girl’s Adventure in the Big Apple,” authors Allison nelly takes nyPataki and Marya Myers feature an adorable duo as they search the New York determined to find the Big Apple. Nelly and her beagle, Bagel, stop for a bagel (of the edible variety) in West Village, then go to the farmers market at Union Square. Each time they mention their quest, they are sent to another place. New Yorkers will enjoy reading about all the sights to visit as will those planning a trip to NYC. For students reading the book, a great activity would be to have a map of New York City handy to have children plot Nelly and Bagel’s journey across the city. This book could be used as a travel brochure praising the different New York City tourist sites and the “friendly New Yorkers.” The illustrations by  Kristi Valiant are worthy of mention. They are bright and colorful, but Valiant manages to make Nelly the center of attention, with her bright red jacket and curly black hair. (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

In “The Peculiar Pig” by Joy Steuerwald, a dachshund puppy somehow ends up in the pig peculiar pigpen one morning. Mama Pig, like most mothers, loves all her piglets the same, even the new, strange-looking, brown one. But when the other piglets push the little brown “piglet” away, she patiently waits her turn. The babies get bigger and bigger, only Penny, the dachshund, gets longer and longer. Mama Pig just tells her, “It doesn’t matter, Penny. I love all my little piglets the same.” More differences emerge when Penny barks instead of oinking. And while proper pigs dig with their snouts, Penny uses her paws. In spite of her diminutive size, Penny can outrun her piggy brothers and sisters. When danger threatens, though, Penny saves the day, proving that peculiar might just be perfect. Kids will love the idea that while someone might be very different from those around them, they might just be able to save the day sometime. (Nancy Paulsen Books)

one shoe two shoesIn a lovely take-off of Dr. Seuss, “One Shoe Two Shoes” by Caryl Hart is a simple but humorous book that kids will quickly memorize. They will love reciting the rhyming text along with the reader as the dog and the mice and the colorful shoes are enumerated and counted. While there are no cats (remember Thing One and Thing Two?), there is little mouse one and little mouse two. Like any self-respecting mouse, these also multiply. Between the shoes and the mice and the adorable dog, all illustrated by Edward Underwood in bright blocks of mostly primary colors, this one is definitely a treat for both the eye and the ear. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.

Four picture books (2 fiction and 2 nonfiction) about animals and compassion — should not be missed

Summer is a wonderful time to spend outdoors with children, showing them the beauty of nature and the beauty of the animals in nature. It’s a wonderful time to play with dogs and visit forest preserves. At night, reading books about nature and about animals is an excellent way to drive home lessons about respecting nature and treating animals — whether pets or wild animals — with love and compassion.

Two of these books are new releases, and two are simply picture books that deserve to be shared and widely read. Two are about domestic animals, dogs, and the two nonfiction picture books are about wild animals and how two brave, resourceful people became determined to help them. All are fabulous choices for every home and school library.

Two nonfiction picture books that should become classics are “Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears” by Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff and the semi-autobiographical “A Boy and a Jaguar” by Alan Rabinowitz. Both books are about brave people dedicating their lives to helping animals, and both are fascinating to children of all ages. I’ve read these books with first graders and fourth graders, and each child appreciated each book on a different level.

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‘The Yankee Widow’ by Linda Lael Miller is a fabulous historical fiction novel filled with ordinary people who do extraordinary things

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“The Yankee Widow” by Linda Lael Miller takes place during the Civil War and takes readers right through the Battle of Gettysburg in all its horror and death. Caroline Hammond, the main character, becomes a widow at the start of the story when her husband, young Jacob, dies after becoming grievously injured at the Battle of Chancellorsville. She travels to Washington City, as it was known then, and finds him at the point of death.

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‘Our Symphony with Animals: On health, empathy and our shared destinies’ by Aysha Akhtar is filled with science and affirmations about the importance of animals in our lives

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First posted in Bookreporter.com.

“Our Symphony with Animals: On health, empathy, and our shared destinies” by Aysha Akhtar, M.D., is a memoir, an informational text, and a paean to the joys of sharing our lives with animals. Akhtar shares that she was abused as a child. She writes about her childhood dog, Sylvester, whom she loved with all her heart. She also shares that it wasn’t until she finally stood up to a family member who was abusing Sylvester that she was able to stand up to her abuser, as well.

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What does a wonderful shelter director look like? Memphis Animal Services knows.

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Three years ago, the Memphis Animal Services was known as one of the worst city shelters in the country. Now, three years later, things are very different thanks to Alexis Pugh. In three years, she has turned the shelter around. Do they still have to euthanize dogs for space? Yes, but only after a concerted effort has been made to publicize the dogs in danger and try every avenue to save them. Here is what she just posted on Facebook:

Pugh statement on FB copy

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‘Endling: The First’ is the second book in the heartwarming and thoughtful Endling series

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Don’t miss Katherine Applegate’s newest series, “Endling,” consisting of the first book, “Endling: The Last” and this book, “Endling: The First.” Applegate’s genius is her ability to write a book filled with adventure and endearing characters, and at the same time use the beliefs and lessons learned in the stories to teach readers about kindness, compassion, and above all, justice.

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