‘The Invisible Alphabet’ by Joshua David Stein and Ron Barrett is a clever and thought-provoking picture book

With “The Invisible Alphabet,” author and illustrator Joshua David Stein and Ron Barrett have created a really unusual and thoughtful picture book that is perfect for engaging children’s creativity and thinking-outside-the box skills. Even the cover, with the word “invisible” barely seen because it’s white-on-white but in shiny print gives a clue to the brilliant art inside. The black ink with white paper and just a hint of orange is the theme throughout the book. That orange provides the only actual color in the illustrations.

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‘I Found a Kitty!’ by Troy Cummings — Touching and brilliant sequel to ‘Can I Be Your Dog?’

In the adorable picture book “I Found a Kitty!” by Troy Cummings, there’s a new cat in town, and he needs a home. And Arfy, the pooch who charmed everyone in “Can I Be Your Dog?” is determined to help. The sweet kitty can’t live with Arfy and his friend who delivers the mail because she’s allergic to cats, but surely someone wants a many-talented, sweet, playful kitty for their very own?

Cleverly, before we even get to the title page, there’s a little narration by Arfy about how he found his new friend, the kitty. After the title page, as in Arfy’s own book, there are letters he writes to neighbors asking if they want a kitty of their own. Cummings brilliantly combines visuals with plays on words to make each letter that Arfy crafts match the visually revealing prospective home.

For example, the first prospective home is the residence of a music teacher. Even my four-year-old grandson recognized that the house looks like a piano with the treble clef symbol in both front windows. Even the mailbox has a musical motif. The letter introduces Scamper and shares that “He also likes to sing! I know he would make beautiful music with your students.” The response from the music teacher is negative, but also peppered with clever musical play on words — some that only an adult will get. “I was hoping for more harmony in my household. But with Scamper here, I can hardly find a single measure of rest.

With each house, Scamper gamely delivers Arfy’s letter. But each time there is something that doesn’t work out. Three babies and a cat don’t make for gentle petting, and a cat who plays with mice instead of eating them won’t help a mechanic with a rodent problem. Even the cat-loving neighbor, whose house looks like a cat, seems to appreciate inanimate cats more than the real, moving, sometimes-clumsy ones.

Finally, Scamper sends Arfy a message. He really wants a home where he can do all the things that each house offered. He wants to get cuddled, play, get brushed, sing. And yet again, Cummings’ ending brought this reviewer (and lover of my three black cats) to tears with the all-too-clever, all-too-touching twist at the end. 

As Cummings  shares on the endpaper at the end of the book, there are many ways to help homeless kittens and puppies (and grown-up dog and cats). Donate to your local rescue. Get to know them and how the money is used. Adopt a pet instead of buying one.  At the shelter, meet all the cats and dogs before you pick one to adopt. Some might be shy or scared at the shelter. A dog or cat missing a leg or even an eye will be a fabulous pet with lots of love to share. And don’t overlook the senior pets. They have years to show their gratitude to you for giving them a second chance! 

If you don’t have Arfy’s book, buy it along with “I Found a Kitty!” and your classroom or library or bookshelf will be better for it. And your children will love them. Guaranteed.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Random House, for review purposes. 

 

Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Five: Nonfiction (mostly) picture books

 

Some of these picture books are completely nonfiction while others skirt the line between fiction and nonfiction. I’ve included a few that are really fiction but that include enough nonfiction information that I think they impart content that merits inclusion in this collection. I hope you enjoy reading about these and share a few with your favorite young reader!

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Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Four: Books about feelings and self-care

 

Being at home during the pandemic is difficult for adults, and for many children, it’s a confusing time. They aren’t going to preschool or school, they aren’t seeing their friends, they aren’t getting to go to the playground to expend energy. And some may not understand why. These picture books will address a range of needs from acting out, feeling inadequate, and making a mistake, to enjoying this new slowed-down life. Some will teach important lessons and others will just be enjoyed as lovely, clever reads.

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Pandemic-perfect picture books Part Two: We’ve gone to the dogs

As many have discovered during this pandemic, adopting or fostering a dog (or cat) is a lovely way to have a furry, loving companion who gives nothing but love (and fur). There’s nothing quite like an animal’s unconditional love. Here are some reading choices that will share some training tips you may (or may not) want to take note of, as well as some doggy quirks (like digging in dirt), and two picture books about dogs and reading.

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‘The NOT Bad Animals’ by Sophie Corrigan is the perfect book for an online lesson in critical thinking

not bad animals

It’s stay-at-home time in Illinois with COVID 19 everywhere. We left school on a Thursday afternoon expecting to return on Friday. But after an emergency school board meeting, our superintendent (rightly) decided to close school that night. School as usual was cancelled, and we have not been allowed to go back.

For me, it’s presenting a problem because all of my treasured personal picture books, a collection built up over years of reviewing superb books, are in my classroom. But a few new picture books have arrived in the mail, and one, in particular, is going to make for an excellent lesson with my first and second (and maybe third) grade students. Continue reading

Five nonfiction picture books about animals that are perfect to welcome Spring

Spring is here and it’s time to enjoy the outdoors — while safely keeping social distance, of course. And for those shut inside on rainy, gloomy days, what could be more enjoyable than reading about animals in nature while at the same time learning fascinating and important facts about the world around us? These five picture books are perfect for reading and will become favorites at bedtime. Continue reading

‘The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t’ is a refreshing tale for our times

zippy chippy

“The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse that Couldn’t” is by Artie Bennett and Dave Szalay. This clever picture book is the result of a small newspaper article that Bennett read about a race horse whose only win was for the most number of races lost. Zippy Chippy ran 100 races and lost every one! Ironically, Zippy Chippy makes more money now, as the biggest loser, than he ever did racing. Continue reading

‘Olympig’ by Victoria Jamieson is a fabulous picture book with an important lesson

olympig

“Olympig!” by Victoria Jamieson is the story of Boomer the pig. It’s also a story of determination and desire. And hard work and practice. And it’s a story about reality.

Boomer is determined to win at the Animal Olympic Games. When the newsman, Mr. Hamstring, interviews Boomer, he asks, “The other animals in the Olympics will be faster and stronger than you. Tell me, Boomer, how can you possibly win a gold medal tomorrow?” Continue reading

“Do not miss” nonfiction picture books: three books for children about RBG, an iconic figure, plus the stories of two other important women in history

3 RBG books

There’s a pandemic going on, and now more than ever, children need to read about inspirational figures. Few women have motivated more young girls than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Three recent releases celebrate her life; each is appropriate for a different age group of children and all three are books that are worthy to be read to children and by children right now. All of them cover the amazing life of Ginsburg, but each is special in a different way. Additionally, two other new picture books feature the lives of two relatively unknown women, Mother Jones and Febb Burn, both of whom changed the lives of women in our country. Continue reading