Archive | May, 2014

Monster Needs His Sleep

28 May

18342452Monster Needs His Sleep written by Paul Czajak and illustrations by Wendy Grieb (2014)

First of all, read the Dedications page… hilarious! “To my mom, and to the child who refuses to go to sleep when it’s bedtime. You in the feet pajamas, that’s right, I’m talking to you. Read this book, then go to bed.” OK, now you have a clear idea how this story is going to amuse and entertain you, and hopefully make that little one sleepy enough to go to bed.

Monster and the boy battle bedtime. The boy tries to convince Monster to do the right thing – put the toys away, brush his teeth, put on pj’s – and Monster appears to acquiesce but then he delays bedtime with snacks, books, and TV.  Finally the truth comes out that Monster is afraid of the dark. The boy gives him a night-light and a kiss good-night. Monster falls asleep before the boy leaves the room.

Paul Czajak delivers this wonderful bedtime tale in rhyme and humor. It’s fun to read the story from the boy’s point of view as he has to convince the Monster to go to bed. Preschoolers will see that as empowering. Instead of being the one to be put to bed by a parent, they get to put the Monster to bed. This is the third of Paul Czajak’s Monster books.

Watch the book trailer here.


20578689-2Wendy Grieb has done an amazing job bringing the Monster to life. He is a character you will love to read about again and again. Her details into Monster’s character and the setting are delightful. While Monster invokes scary images of ogres or beasts by his name alone, Wendy Grieb helps the reader see that Monster is simply a big, sweet, goof who also happens to be afraid of the dark. When you’ve seen one of the monster books, you’ll definitely want to see them all!

I love Monster and the little boy. It is so endearing to see a child face his own fears by way of helping the Monster within to overcome the fear with a simple fix. I can see children identifying with both the boy and the monster, because after all, don’t we all have a little monster within us?


The Three Ninja Pigs

27 May

13586798The Three Ninja Pigs written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat (2012)

This is a new twist on an old classic. That bully, the big bad wolf, is at it again… this time in a fractured fairy tale rhyme written by Corey Rosen Schwartz. The characters are three simple pigs who have had enough of that old bully. They decide to take aikido, jujitsu, and karate. As expected, the first two pigs give up easily but the third little pig ‘persisted in ernest’ until she earned her last belt. Then when the wolf came back, the first little pig wished he had prepared more and ran to his brother’s house; the second little pig got his foot lodged in the wall when he tried his best flying kick and had to be carried by his brother to the third little pig’s house; and the third little pig bowed to the wolf and gave him a warning before she demonstrated her skills. The surprised wolf took off running while the brothers ‘high-fived their sister’ and cheered.  The brothers decided to go back to school and trained until they earned their degrees. “Three pigs full of mojo then ran their own dojo, and life was forever wolf-free.”

Corey Rosen Schwartz weaves the story with fast-paced action and humor and lots of ‘ninja’ terms to entertain the youngest ninja readers. She says she got her idea for the story when her own son told someone that he spoke a little ‘karate’. For anyone not familiar with the vocabulary used in the book, there is a glossary of terms at the end.

Dan Santat, creator of Disney’s ‘The Replacements’ and holder of a black belt himself, filled the pages of this book with funny and authentic illustrations.

I love reading fractured fairy tales and this is one of my new favorites. The rhyme and illustrations are ninja-perfect! And I’m also particularly pleased with the characterization of the third little pig being a smart, funny, and strong sister. Go Girl Power!

Yankee Doodle Dandy

23 May

17290903Yankee Doodle Dandy written by Callista Gingrich and illustrated by Susan Arciero (2013)

Don’t be deceived by this cute little elephant marching on the cover. This is not a funny-silly sing-along, this picture book is a history lesson of the American Revolution told in rhyme by Callista Gingrich, as Ellis the Elephant learns a little bit about America’s fight for freedom and independence. It’s written and illustrated for early primary students. Ellis, whose name immediately makes you think of Ellis Island, imagines himself in daily situations both pre- and post- revolutionary times. He sweeps the floor as the British soldiers come to a storefront, he wears a native headdress as the Sons of Liberty dump tea into Boston Harbor, he stands with Patrick Henry as he quotes ‘give me liberty or give me death’, and he looks out a bedroom window as Paul Revere rides through the town. Each page is an introduction to a much larger historical account. Reading it cover to cover only takes a few minutes, but it can easily be a springboard to learn more about each or any of the individual events.

Susan Arciero’s illustrations draw the reader into each scene with rich details not given in the verse, yet are simple enough to give a young reader a basic understanding of each event. Ellis the Elephant is a bystander. This gives the impression that a child is getting a glimpse of history unfolding. She is true to the dress and nature of the participants as well as details of the era, candlesticks, bonnets, quill pens, muskets, sewing needles, carts with wooden wheels, etc. And one little detail I came to look for on each page was a baby bald eagle perched somewhere in each scene.

I enjoyed the book and I think young children will enjoy reading it, or having it read to them. The rhyming verses and the cute little elephant and eagle make history fun to learn. And really at this age, kids should be having fun while they learn. Time for in-depth study of the American Revolution will come soon enough.  I imagine a little Yankee Doodle Dandy will go a long way in getting kids interested in learning more about history.

Number One Sam

22 May

18453190-2Number One Sam written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (2014)

Yesterday I got the chance to spend the day with my #1 toddler. We went to Story Hour at our public library and got the chance to hear the children’s librarian read Number One Sam. The little ones loved it, the toddlers as much as the preschoolers, so did the adults! Greg Pizzoli has done it again with a clear and simple story that everyone can enjoy.

Sam is number one at everything. He just knows he going to win the big race, until he loses a race to his friend Maggie. Oh, no! Everyone is cheering except Sam. Sam cannot even look at Maggie on the day of the big race. He was so distracted he missed the starting flag and everyone sped off leaving him in a cloud of dust. Maggie was first in line. Then Sam caught up and passed everyone, including Maggie. He would be number one again…until something terrible happened. Sam saw a brood of chicks crossing the track! He slammed on his brakes and rescued the chicks while the other racers sped past him. Sam finished last. As he approached the finish line he heard everyone cheering… for him! ‘And even though he lost another race…his friends still thought he was number one.’

How could you not love this story? It teaches so many valuable lessons about friendship, winning, and doing the right thing. Greg Pizzoli is a genius at choosing just the right words to tell a story. He doesn’t talk down to kids or adults and uses vocabulary that is rich in meaning. And the illustrations are simple and vintage in the way that makes me think of cartoons I watched in the 60’s and 70’s. Sam reminds me of a cross between Underdog and Speed Racer, but then again that may just be me! So with the Indy 500 just around the corner… I’ll be rooting for Sam!

PS. If you remember Greg Pizzoli’s Watermelon Seed, you’ll recognize the alligator in the race.



Early Bird

20 May

18005275Early Bird written and illustrated by Toni Yuly (2014)

This is Toni Yuly’s first picture book. It is a very simple story for preschool readers with a funny and heartwarming twist at the end. Early Bird gets up early. She hurries on her way to find the Early Worm. After her long journey, picks him up with her beak and lays him across the top of a big ripe strawberry so they can have breakfast together!

The story and the illustrations are pure and clean. Bright colors follow the Early Bird as she begins her day, and lead the reader into a wonderful expression of friendship.

Toni Yuly is an artist who must have the heart of a child. I hope to see more of her work to share with my grandchildren.


20 May


Maple written and illustrated by Lori Nichols (2014)

This story is quiet and funny and honors children and their families. Maple’s parents planted a tree ‘while she was still a whisper’. And as Maple grew so did her tree. She played with her tree, she pretended to be a tree, and she took care of her tree. But sometimes Maple wished she had someone else to play with and she wondered if her tree felt the same way. Then one day Maple notices a seedling growing near her tree and soon she became a big sister to Willow. Maple and Willow played together under the shade of their trees.

Lori Nichols tells a story of growing families with the natural analogy of growing trees. The text is short and simple, but the ideas are deep and powerful. And like her text, her illustrations are also pure and simple. The innocence of the child is a wonder!

This is Lori Nichols first picture book, and I hope she has many more to come. I would love to see Maple and Willow grow up and experience lots of life’s little ups and downs.

When a Dragon Moves In

20 May


When a Dragon Moves In written by Jodi Moore and illustrated by Howard McWilliam (2011)

This is an imaginative story of a young boy and his dragon. As he tells us the story, the narrator guides the reader down the path of possibilities. It all begins with building the perfect sandcastle, because ‘If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in.’ This of course has its advantages… the dragon will undoubtably be an asset on the beach. However, the downside is that your family is unlikely to believe you. The more they ignore your dragon, the more mayhem the dragon causes, and the more trouble you will be in until your parents insist that they’ve ‘had enough of this dragon business’. So you ‘vow never to build a perfect sandcastle again’ until tomorrow!

This is Jodi Moore’s debut picture book, but not her last. As a matter of fact, her second book When a Dragon Moves In Again is scheduled for release in the fall 2015. Jodi Moore’s lyrical language and magical story will have you wishing you had your own dragon adventure this summer.

The illustrations by Howard McWilliam are enchanting. There’s no place you’d rather be than on the beach with a dragon while reading this story, and Howard McWilliam makes sure you are transported there instantaneously. Every little detail is perfectly placed for a fun-filled day at the beach.

My advice… pick up a copy today and take a mini-vacation with your little readers. I guarantee you’ll love it and I’m pretty sure you’ll be tempted to build your own sandcastle, even if it’s just in a sandbox, because you know ‘if you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in’.

Note about me: I adore the beach! And my husband, who is an artist with sand can spend hours creating sculptures in the sand. While I’m busy trying to read or watch the people go by, he is attracting a crowd with his artwork. Here’s a photo of one of his sculptures, a little more crocodile than dragon, but it’s the closest I could find to one that matches the book selection today.


Lost Cat

19 May


Lost Cat written and illustrated by C.Roger Mader (2013)

This is a simple loving story about a little cat named Slipper. The story is told through Slipper’s eyes and therefore the reader only gets a glimpse of what the cat sees, mostly footwear. Slipper lives with a little old lady named Mrs. Fluffy Slippers. But when Mrs. Fluffy Slippers moves to live with her daughter, Slippers gets left behind. She tries following the moving van but it soon disappears from sight and by the time Mrs. Fluffy Slippers and her daughter realize they forgot the cat and turn around to go back, Slippers is lost. She travels alone looking for a new home. All of the potential adoptees are identified by their footwear. She meets Ms. Muddy Boots, Mrs. Iron Shoes, Mr. Cowboy Boots, and many others, but none of them is just right for the cat. Then on a crowded sidewalk, she notices Miss Shiny Shoes and decides to follow her home. When Miss Shiny Shoes gets home she announces, “Grandma, look who followed me home!”.  It was Mrs. Fluffy Slippers. Slippers is not a lost cat anymore.

This is a sweet sweet story! C.Roger Mader shows us exactly what the world would look like through the eyes of the cat. And in the cat’s dark eyes, the readers sees love, despair, hope, and contentment. It is truly a journey children and adults will identify with, whether they have ever been a cat or not.  Purrrfect!

Joy in Mudville

17 May

Grab some peanuts and cracker jacks and a great picture book.


Joy in Mudville written by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Glin Dibley (2014)

A new take on an old poem, Bob Raczka tells the story of a female player for the Mudville Nine who saves the day after Casey struck out at bat. And how she did it will surprise and astound readers and ball lovers across the country. Joy has a unique pitch, three in fact, and an even more unique throw. The final out and winning play went like this: “The ball arrived. The runner slid. A dust cloud filled the air. The umpire took his time, then yelled at last,’Yer outta there!’ So as the Mudville players swarmed the mound like buzzing bees, the humbled fans applauded Joy’s originality.”

Makes you want to find out how she did it, doesn’t it? Well, I ain’t telling! You’ll have to pick up your own copy and read it for yourself. But I will tell you this…”there was joy in Mudville once again”.

And for anyone who wants to reread the original ‘Casey at the Bat’ by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, it is printed in full on the last page.

As for the illustrations… you’ve just got to see them to believe that you are right there in a bygone era of baseball. Glin Dibley is a master of caricature. His illustrations are exciting and dramatic. They take you from the stands to the field the minute Joy takes the mound.

Play Ball!

Our Granny

16 May

Last week I was doing a little picture book research, and I ran across a forgotten favorite. We used to read it when I taught first and second grades, and oh how the children loved it!


Our Granny written by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Julie Vivas (1993)

Our Granny is a sweet and very funny book about the many different kinds of grandmothers we have and how each one is loved by her grandchildren for their unique traits. The grannies are compared to the narrator’s granny on separate pages. The first lines immediately lets the reader know that not all grannies are the same. ‘Some grannies live in… apartments, big old houses, old people’s homes, little rooms in the city, trailers, farmhouses, cottages by the ocean, nursing homes, or nowhere at all. Our granny lives with us in our house.’ (I added the commas because it is written in free verse with each fragment on a separate line. It’s much more beautiful in print.) The many different grannies have fat knees, crinkly eyes, big soft laps… our granny as a wobbly bottom.  Some grannies  wear silky dresses, big bras, sensible shoes…our granny wears a funny bathing suit. Some grannies baby-sit, go to college, write books, play in a band… our granny marches in demonstrations. The last line, of course, is ‘We love our granny.’

The illustrations are beautiful, funny, and heartwarming. Children can really see how the grannies (and people in general) can be loved for their differences.

After reading this book, my classes always had the opportunity to write about their own grandmothers and draw a picture of them. This work was displayed and then added to their writing portfolios to share with family members at our end of the year Author’s Tea. Regardless of what other masterpieces their children wrote throughout the year, this one always brought at least one person in the room to tears and laughter. Do yourself a favor, and read it with someone you love!

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

12 May

457762Slyvester and the Magic Pebble written and illustrated by William Steig

Caldecott Award Winner – 1970


Sylvester and the Magic Pebble written and illustrated by William Steig and Caldecott Award Winner in 1970, tells the story of a family of donkeys who go on a picnic where Sylvester finds a magic pebble, unfortunately he is surprised by lion and Sylvester wishes he was a rock so the lion won’t notice him. His parents don’t realize what has happened and they spend months looking for him. In the meantime, Sylvester feels only rain, snow, and sunshine on his back and eventually falls into a deep sleep on the hill. He is only awakened when one day his parents go on another picnic and remark that they don’t remember seeing that rock before. Then they find the same magic pebble and wish they had their son back. All the while, Sylvester doesn’t realize that the pebble is on his back, but he can hear his parents talking and wishing that Sylvester were there to enjoy the beautiful day with them. Sylvester wishes the same thing. Suddenly the rock wakes up and turns into Sylvester right before their very eyes. They are so astonished and overjoyed, but they hide the pebble away so that no one can accidentally make another wish.

This is a wonderful story of love and family. Young readers are enchanted with the magic pebble. My students used to write down their wishes before we read the story and then we talked about what wishes were really important and how Sylvester probably could have made some smarter wishes when he was facing the dangerous lion.


10 May


written and illustrated by Brian Floca

Caldecott Medal winner (2014)

 This year’s Caldecott Medal winner was Locomotive by Brian Floca. This picture book takes the reader on a realistic adventure on a train from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California in 1869 at the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The end pages of this masterpiece are educational bits of history and engineering. The story within the end pages is factual and engaging. It begins with the building of the railroad then quickly has the reader standing on a platform looking for the train that will take a small family west to see their father. The artwork transports the reader into the mid 1800’s. Even the text becomes art incorporated onto each page. Readers are treated to a close-up look at the workings of a train as they huff and puff along the tracks. Looking out a window, the reader see the landscape changes as the train chugs full steam ahead. But you might not want to look when the train is crossing the trestle over Dale Creek! The reader experiences train stops in different cities and gets a taste of the menu offered at the railway stations. Not a single detail is left out, sleeping cars are explored for those who could afford it, the 1000 mile tree marks the distance traveled, and there is even a view of the toilet used on the trip. Just before the train arrives at the halfway point in its trip, it goes through dark mountain tunnels blasted away by black powder and nitroglycerin. From there it’s all downhill to the end of the line.

A Mom for Umande

9 May

17072246A Mom for Umande written by Maria Faulconer and illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung (2014)

This is a lovely true story of a baby gorilla, Umande, who was abandoned at birth. This often happens when animals in captivity reproduce. They just don’t know what to do with an infant. Umande’s mother left him on the floor of the gorilla habitat in the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She had never seen a baby gorilla and didn’t know what to do. Luckily for Umande, the zoo keepers took him to a nursery where they took care of him. They taught him how to behave like a gorilla so that he could be adopted back into gorilla society. At seven months old, the zookeepers try again to reintroduce him to his family, but when that doesn’t work they take him by plane to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio. There Umande meets Lulu, a female gorilla and very experienced mother. After several weeks of being near each other but not living in the same habitat, they are united. Lulu picks him up carefully, plays games with him,and carries him everywhere she goes. At night Lulu takes Umande up to her nest and they fall asleep together. Finally, Umande has a mom.

The illustrations in this book are so gentle and endearing, you would swear you were really seeing the actual gorillas learning to live together.

This story took place many years ago, and sadly Umande’s surrogate mom, Lulu died in 2011. In 2012 Umande was moved to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. You can learn more about these zoos and the good work they do at their websites.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Lincoln Park Zoo

This is a current picture of Umande, now a bachelor at the Lincoln Park Zoo.


What can I say? I LOVE THIS BOOK!  It is exactly the type of book I was writing myself this summer based on a similar story of an infant lowland Gorilla who was abandoned at birth and being raised in our zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. I’m happy to report that our baby gorilla has also found a permanent home here with her adoptive mother and extended family this year.

Here’s a picture of Gladys, the baby gorilla adopted by M’Linzi at the Cincinnati Zoo.


This is a video of Gladys celebrating her first birthday with a special cake made just for her!

You can also learn more about Gladys and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens at their website.

Welcome to the Cincinnati Zoo

Thank You Mr. Falker

6 May


Thank You, Mr. Falker written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco (2001)

This is one of my favorite stories about teachers and learning to read. It’s actually a true story about the author, Patricia Polacco. As a young girl, Tricia didn’t learn to read like the other kids in her class. Whenever she tried, the letters and words would wiggle and squiggle on the page. School got harder and harder for her. Reading and Math became torture. When her family moved across the country, Tricia hoped that she would do better in school and that nobody would notice that she couldn’t read. By the time she was in third grade, Tricia was teased and bullied by the other students. This made her hate school. But in fifth grade she met a teacher who changed her life. Mr. Falker appreciated Tricia’s talents for drawing. He was able to stop the students from teasing her in the classroom, but he couldn’t do anything to help her when she wasn’t in his classroom. Mr. Falker understood Tricia. He worked with her after school and taught her to read in a way that she could understand. Finally, she read! And she understood the whole thing!  When she got home she grabbed a jar of honey and spooned honey on its cover just as her grandfather had taught her when she was a little girl.

Because of Mr. Falker, Patricia Polacco learned to love school. Years later she was met Mr. Falker again and thanked him in person for the gift of reading. The same gift she uses now to write books for children. This book is a tribute to him and to teachers everywhere who help children learn to read.

Below is a wonderful reading of the story, Thank You Mr. Falker, by actress Jane Kaczmarek. It is part of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation Book Pals. Even if you have read the book, you owe yourself the favor of listening to it read and savoring the richness and the sweetness of the language and the story. If you have never read it, you must watch. I guarantee it is a treat for the eyes and ears.

The Watermelon Seed

6 May

16650268The Watermelon Seed written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (2013)

Winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, The Watermelon Seed is bound to be an instant classic. There’s nothing more this crocodile loves more than watermelon. He eats it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Then one day he accidentally swallows a seed. Yikes! He imagines what might happen if the seed starts to grow inside his stomach. Just when he thinks he might end up in someone’s fruit salad, he expels the seed with a very long and loud BUUUUUURRRRRRPPPPP!!!! He vows to give up watermelon forever… well, maybe after just one more teeny tiny bite. CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP!  Uh-oh….

Greg Pizzoli has written a simple and funny story that will leave kids and adults alike craving watermelon, but not the seeds! I especially love the picture spread where the crocodile imagines he will turn into a watermelon, his green stomach will stretch and be all pink and juicy inside!

This is Greg Pizzoli’s first picture book. It’s a great summertime – anytime read!

Look for his next book too. Number One Sam


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