Picture Book Review ~ Books for a Rainy Day

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April is notorious for being wet and dreary (April Showers, sound familiar?!) But it’s also on the cusp of the season changes so things begin to warm up and bloom and it’s definitely an invitation to head outside and soak up the moments of sunshine when they appear. But the rain has a beauty of its own, especially when you’ve got littles to entertain. So pull on the wellies and see who can make the biggest puddle splash! Then warm up some cocoa and enjoy a few of these rainy day stories. (And by the way, littles are not a pre-requisite for this day of fun! 😉 )

Raccoon isn’t eager to be alone on such a stormy night so he heads out into the forest, splish-splashing his way to seek shelter with one of his friends. But alas, he’s too big to join any of them in their homes. His last hope is Rabbit’s den, full to overflowing with ten little rabbits all hopping and bopping off the walls. But Rabbit welcomes him warmly and he feels cozy and safe. Soon the other friends appear at the door and they are all welcomed in as well because there’s always room for friends! A fun read aloud for pre-school age.
May I Come In book review
Written by: Marsha Diane Arnold
Illustrated by: Jennie Poh
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, 2018
Number of Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5
Rating: 3/5
One of my absolute all-time favorite rain books, this was always a hit in my pre-school/kindergarten read-alouds. This builds in a “House That Jack Built” sort of way with each character succumbing to the gloomy spirit of the rainy day and falling asleep on the big bed. Until a pesky flea sets off a chain reaction that finds everyone awake and laughing. Take a look at the progress of the stormy skies outside the window as you read, and see if you can read it without giggling.
The Napping House book review
Written by: Audrey Wood
Illustrated by: Don Wood
Publisher: Harcourt Publishing, 1984
Number of Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-6
Rating: 5/5
After a rainstorm Ava is eager to look for the rainbow and quickly wishes that the one she finds could stay around forever. Magically, it does! Night and day the rainbow soars above the town and becomes the center of attention…until he becomes so commonplace that the townspeople forget he’s even there. Ava despairs that they could ignore something so special and he vanishes. Thankfully he returns again after another storm and both he and Ava realize the importance of appreciating the beauty of the fleeting and temporary.
Ava and the Rainbow book review
Written and Illustrated by: Ged Adamson
Number of Pages: 32
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2018
Age Range: 4-9
Rating: 4/5
By the door is a big, friendly umbrella. When it ventures out during a rainstorm it invites all to take shelter and it’s miraculously always big enough for everyone, no matter who you are. Told in simple, spare text it’s a beautiful little metaphor for older readers of the way our world can work. And for younger, more literal readers it’s a cheerful tale to brighten a rainy day.
Big Umbrella book review
Written and Illustrated by: Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates
Number of Pages: 40
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2018
Age Range: 3-8
Rating: 4/5
Need more rainy day books? Here are a few favorites both old and new:
Did I miss any of your favorites? Please share them in the comments!

Picture Book Review ~ They Say Blue

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Concept books were always a hot commodity when I worked at the library. And there was a plethora to choose from, though the quality could be vastly different. Alphabet, counting, shape and color books are essential for helping children learn and while those that go prosaically through the basics have their place it’s always great to find one that goes above and beyond.

This one is sort of an anti-color book, the text moves beyond the simple response of ‘what color is the sky?’ to explore how colors and other things in life can shift subtly (or not so subtly) when our perspective shifts. The ocean is not only blue but clear and sparkling like diamonds. Fields of grass can look like golden oceans or plain old grass. And the greatest shift of all comes when the girl making the observations  not only looks but stretches, listens, and feels.

The text is poetic but simple and the watercolor illustrations are vibrant and playful, pulling you in alongside the girl to experience everything she does. It makes for a connective reading experience for kids of all ages (and the adults doing the reading!)

They Say Blue book review2

They Say Blue

Written and illustrated by: Jillian Tamaki

Number of Pages: 40

Publisher: Abrams Books, 2018

Age Range: 4-9

Rating: 4/5

They Say Blue book review

Picture Book Review ~ Astronaut Annie

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

With the weather warming up its the perfect time to head outside and look up at the stars. And if you’ve got a budding astronomer/astronaut in your midst then this book is for you!

Career Day is coming up but Annie is keeping her dream a secret until the big day. Everyone in Annie’s family has a guess as to what she’d like to be. They’re each sure she wants to be what they were (reporters, cooks, explorers etc.) and give her something to help out with her costume. She counters each response with gratitude but keeps everything under her hat until the big day. Once up on stage she reveals her choice, honoring her family members and the traits she inherited and learned from each of them. This spunky girl uses the things she’s been given to dream big.

This book packs a two-for-one punch with some non-fiction facts along with Annie’s inspiring story. The rhyming text is perfect for a read-aloud and will inspire listeners to dream their own dreams. There’s some fantastic back matter including mini-bios and photos of some of the best-known women from the space program, some information on the moon’s orbit and phases, and additional resources.

Astronaut Annie book review

Astronaut Annie

Written by: Suzanne Slade

Illustrated by: Nicole Tadgell

Publisher: Tilbury House, 2018

Number of Pages: 36

Age Range: 4-8

Rating: 4/5

 

 

Picture Book Review ~ Books About Music

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April is National Poetry Month. As a teacher I always pulled out the anthologies and did poet profiles and had my students create poems of their own based on popular styles and forms. But it wasn’t until I was working as a librarian that I made the connection between poetry and music (I know, duh!) So, when April rolls around now I try to make an effort to at least point out the connection especially since so many people think of poetry as being either indecipherable or too academic or in some other way un-relatable. So, here are a few books about music (some with lyrics that can be appreciated as poetry and one without lyrics at all.) And I’d love for you to share your favorites with me in the comments below!

When The Rite of Spring ballet was first presented to audiences in 1913 it was so different from anything people had heard or seen an actual riot broke out in the theater. Some people loved it and some people hated it and it continues to be divisive to this day. This book tells the story of how it all came to be.

Igor Stravinsky was a successful composer who had already revolutionized music with his unusual uses of rhythms and dissonance. Vaslav Nijinsky was a highly celebrated ballet dancer. But when the two met, their individual talents seemed to expand. Nijinsky choreographed the dancing to Stravinsky’s music, both using heavy Russian influences in honor of their home country.

I’ve never been a huge fan of The Rite of Spring though I love some of Stravinsky’s other work and I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear it (and see it) all for the first time. I loved learning about these two men and can definitely appreciate their influence on musical history. There’s some great back matter here too including photos of the men and the dancers in their costumes. There’s also a great note on the illustrations which are bright and a little unconventional, a perfect fit for the text.

 

When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky: Two Artists, Their Ballet and One Extraordinary Riot

Written and Illustrated by: Lauren Stringer

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013

Age Range: 7-11

Rating: 4/5

 

Simon and Garfunkel have long been one of my musical inspirations. I grew up listening to my parent’s vinyl copies of Sounds of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Waters over and over, watching their Central Park concert on TV and even seeing them in concert in person when they toured a few years ago. So I was beyond thrilled to hear about this book and wasn’t disappointed.

Each spread gives the reader a rich illustration accompanying a free verse mini-chapter titled after one of their songs. Starting with the Central Park concert it then flashes back thirty years to when the boys’ childhoods growing up in the same neighborhood in Queens. Their paths don’t really cross until Artie (Garfunkel) sings at a school talent show and Paul (Simon) is struck by the hypnotic voice and decides he’s going to learn to sing like that too.  They become friends who spend the bulk of their time studying music, imitating the sounds of new comers like Elvis, and honing their own sounds after a few misses.

As they grow they become increasingly influenced by the folk music scene and Bob Dylan in particular who not only sings but spreads messages of change and revolution with his music. They spend time away from music, time apart and eventually join forces again, this time finding success. And the rest is history.

There’s a lot of depth here, a lot of information covered. And tons of great back matter including a discography, afterword and bibliography detailing the writing process, a list of musical connections and influences…in essence, something for everyone.

When Paul Met Artie

Written by: G. Neri

Illustrated by: David Litchfield

Number of Pages: 48

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2018

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Clive was born in Jamaica but moved to NYC when he was thirteen.  He loved all kinds of music and imagined himself a DJ creating sounds and experiences for the people who showed up at the clubs and house parties to dance. He soon started hosting his own parties in their Bronx housing project and when they got too big and crowded to be contained inside they spilled out into the streets. He revolutionized the music world and influenced the rappers, break dancers, and other DJs that were just starting to find their footing in the late 70s and early 80s.

I know absolutely nothing about hip hop music so everything in this book was a revelation for me. Filled with vibrant colors, tons of information and fantastic back matter (including an author’s note, timeline, and bibliography). This is a fabulous resource for music lovers and those, like me, who might have little knowledge of the evolution of an entire subculture.

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop

Written by: Laban Carrick Hill

Illustrated by: Theodore Taylor III

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Roaring Book Press, 2013

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

 

Happy reading/listening!

Picture Book Review ~ Nature Lovers

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Spring is in the air (finally!) and with the warmer weather all I want to do is ditch all of my responsibilities and go outside to enjoy the blossoms and buds and freshly sprouting grass. But I have to do things like dishes and go to work and so mostly I’m enjoying things vicariously. Today I’m featuring two books that celebrate nature and its advocates in an urban setting.

Jane Jacobs spent her whole life struggling and against conventions and exploring the great outdoors. She wanted to know how things worked, she found patterns in seemingly ordinary places and discovered that cities have their own ecosystems. Parks, sidewalks, buildings, stores, people are all part of what makes a city tick and when they work together everything is healthier and happier.

When her favorite parks and neighborhoods came under attack from city planners looking to build expressways and skyscrapers she used her love of the ecosystem and her journalism background to rally the neighbors and bring about changes to all the places she lived (including NYC and Toronto). She worked until her death to encourage people to get out and walk around their city streets learning about their neighborhoods and being a part of the great “sidewalk ballet.”

Walking in the City with Jane Book Review

Walking in the City with Jane

Written by: Susan Hughes

Illustrated by: Valerie Boivin

Number of Pages: 36

Publisher: Kids Can Press

Age Range: 6-10

Rating: 3/5

 

Bob Redman grew up in NYC but didn’t love the bustle, busyness and endless concrete. He spent as much of his time as possible in Central Park climbing the trees and enjoying the cool and quiet. He began building tree houses out of scavenged wood and spending hours watching the city from above. As he grew, his tree houses grew with him becoming larger and more elaborate but the city eventually intervened. Bob wasn’t allowed to live in the trees but he was offered a job to take care of the trees he loved so much.

Up in the Leaves Book Review

 

Up In The Leaves

Written by: Shira Boss

Illustrated by:  Jamey Christoph

Number of Pages: 40

Publisher: Stirling Children’s Books

Age Range: 6-10

Rating: 4/5

Both books are fascinating looks at what people can accomplish when they put their minds to something. Each has a bit of back matter talking about the real people behind the stories but I would have loved just a little more information. (You can never give me too much back matter!) But if you’re looking to inspire some future naturalists, give these books a look!

Middle Grade Favorites ~ Book Reviews

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I have a great love of middle grade books. (Ok, ok, I have a great love of all books!) But seriously, middle grade books are fantastic. They make me feel super accomplished cause I can plow through them pretty quickly, but they often have great messages, heart, and depth. Here are a few I’ve particularly loved lately.

 

Mustaches for Maddie

Written by: Chad Morris and Shelly Brown

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Number of Pages: 245

Age Range: 7-11

Rating: 3.5/5

Maddie has an overactive imagination and some trouble with the other girls in her class. As she tries to navigate the mean girl situation and figure out her feelings about boys, things get even more complicated when she learns she has a brain tumor and will have to go through surgery. Full of heart and humor readers will fall in love with Maddie and cheer for her success. Based on a true story.

 

Walking With Miss Millie

Written by: Tamara Bundy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Number of Pages: 227

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4.5/5

This one is my favorite of the lot. Alice and her family have moved in with her Grandma who’s begun suffering from dementia. She is not happy to be there and even less happy to have to walk the next-door neighbor’s dog as penance for listening in on her conversation on the party line. Clarence is having none of it so Miss Millie is forced to go too and she and Alice strike up a multi-generational, inter-racial friendship that changes their whole town. This one had all the feels and made me want to hand it to everyone who keeps showing up on the news lobbing slurs and spouting intolerance.

 

Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

Written by: Kate Beasley

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

Number of Pages: 250

Age Range: 8-12

Rating: 4/5

Gertie’s mom abandoned her when she was a baby and now the home she lives in across town is for sale. Gertie is determined to become the best, most awesome fifth-grader in the universe to convince her mom to stay. But the new girl in class is going to ruin everything with her seat stealing and movie star friends. Gertie is spunky and a tad awkward, like my childhood favorite Ramona Quimby. She deals with some tough stuff in a realistic and charming way. Another favorite.

Here are a few more pretty recent releases worth tracking down:

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home

Nightmares!

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls

Wishtree

The Van Gogh Deception

And if you aren’t already following me on Instagram, hop on over and check out the two other MG reads I’ve shared today.

What have you been reading recently? Tell me in the comments below!

Picture Book Review ~ Women’s History Month And Jane Austen

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

It would be almost criminal to celebrate books and women’s history without acknowledging a woman who has done more to revolutionize books and literature than nearly any other in history. Born in 1775, Jane Austen lived a relatively simple life, the daughter of a rector/teacher, seventh of eight children, and a keen observer of the world around her.

She had some education but her family was never well-enough off to consistently provide a full education. But as a woman she was expected to learn more of the arts of needlepoint than how to make her way in the world. Instead she learned from books and experience. Using what she saw and wished for her own life she invented a new kind of story, focusing on the daily exploits of real people. In her short life she saw three of her six books published and found a bit of fame and fortune despite being a woman. Over 200 years later she is widely regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time.
Each of these fantastic books takes a slightly different tack in telling Jane’s story but both emphasize the subtle rebellion Austen displayed in writing how and what she did. Pliscou’s book has a more historical tone with lots of dates and details, while Hopkinson’s book is more story-like, echoing some of Austen’s famous lines throughout the text. Both have excellent back matter including timelines, brief synopses of her books, quotes about her from authors she inspired and sources for further study. (I have been known to judge a non-fiction book, particularly a biography, solely on the back matter…these ladies have done it right!) Both are excellent resources for getting a beginner’s look at Austen’s life.
 Jane Austen Picture Book Review
Written by: Lisa Pliscou
Illustrated by: Jen Corage
Number of Pages: 48
Age Range: 6-10
Rating: 5/5
Written by: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by: Qin Leng
Number of Pages: 40
Age Range: 6-10
Rating: 5/5
I’d wager she’s been adapted nearly as often, if not more often than Shakespeare. There are the faithful adaptations (like the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice) and the countless variations (like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). And then the whole category of acknowledging the almost absurdity that is Austen fanaticism and fan-fiction (like Jane Austen Ruined My Life or Austenland). What’s your favorite take on the great lady’s work? Tell us in the comments!*
*I confess I absolutely love Persuasion, but who can pick just one?

Picture Book Review ~ Women Architects

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

up my brothers and sister and I would spend hours playing architect. We designed floor plans for our dream homes (including pools in our basement, giant walk-in closets, and lofts in our bedrooms (mine was a reading nook/library, my brothers both had dreams of gaming and displaying their various collections and my sister always kept hers a secret—probably her plans to take over the world.)

I never followed that dream to fruition but I have a fascination with design and architecture to this day. I love to walk through model homes and critique the layouts and use of space. I’ve taken architecture tours in various cities around the world marveling at the things humans can imagine and create. I’m featuring two of those remarkable creators today.

Maya Lin Architect Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines

Written by: Jeanne Walker Harvey

Illustrated by: Dow Phumiruk

Number of Pages: 32

Age Range: 4-9

Rating: 4/5

Maya had always been fascinated and surrounded by art. As an architectural student she entered a contest to design a new memorial honoring the soldiers killed during the Vietnam War. Her idea was chosen but she received much ridicule for being so young, being a girl, being an amateur. But she refused to back down and was rewarded with seeing her work come to life (and be greatly honored and respected by all who see it.) She continued to design works of art and architecture, combining the two with an element of interaction inviting people to not only look but touch, walk around, sit by and be a part of it.

I lived just outside of Washington, D.C. for many years and visited the “Wall” often. It’s an incredible experience to see and trace the names etched in the stone and see it stretching out almost eternally in both directions. It’s an amazing piece and I was inspired to learn it was created by a young girl with a dream! For a little more information there’s also an author’s note that gives a bit more background on the monument and what it represents.

The World is Not a Rectangle Book Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The World is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid

Written and Illustrated by: Jeanette Winter

Number of Pages: 56

Age Range: 4-9

Rating: 4/5

Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad. She was able to study architecture in London but as a Muslim woman she faced more obstacles than most. Her designs were revolutionary, based on patterns, colors, textures she observed in nature and the world around her from waving grasses, windswept dunes, wandering rivers, shells and cocoons. Her non-linear designs (and thinking) won her awards and respect in a male-dominated field.

I’d never heard Hadid’s name before but looking at the final spread of the book showing many of her designs I recognized her work. She has a fantastical touch, many of her buildings looking like they shouldn’t be able to stand or should be gracing the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Because of her background as both a woman and a Muslim I’m dying to know more about how she made it. The book gives an overview appropriate for young readers and they’ll be fascinated by the illustrations of her buildings and older readers will appreciate the direct quotes from Hadid, and additional information in the back matter.

I’ve mentioned a million times how much I appreciate a great biography about a little known person and both of these books are fantastic examples; fascinating women, well-presented, and oh, how I love in-depth, useful back matter! Give these to the Lego/drawing/art obsessed girls in your life and watch their imaginations take flight!

Picture Book Review ~ Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 
Alabama Spitfire Book Review

 

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird

Written by: Bethany Hegedus

Illustrated by: Erin McGuire

Number of Pages: 40

Age Range: 5-9

Rating: 4/5

One of my absolute favorite books is To Kill A Mockingbird (I know, it sounds a little cliché but it’s true. It’s one of those rare books I’ll re-read every couple of years, interspersed with viewings of the equally fantastic movie version.)

This new picture book gives a brief biography of Harper Lee, the author of the classic book. Those familiar with the story will recognize scenes and characters taken from her actual life, which was the basis for the book. You’ll meet Truman Capote, her father Amasa, the citizens of Monroeville, Alabama, as well as a small cast of characters from New York City that help influence young Nelle and help bring Mockingbird to life.

Although she only published the one book during her lifetime, Harper Lee became an almost overnight sensation and then became shrouded in mystery as she shied more and more away from the spotlight. There’s a lot of controversy over her second book that some say was published without her consent and even more recently her will was made public which only added to the confusion of everything. But she’s a fabulously intriguing character and even those who’ve never read her books will appreciate her own story of perseverance and being true to herself.

Want to know more about Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird?

Children’s Books

Tru & Nelle

Adult Books

The Mockingbird Next Door

I Am Scout

Picture Book Reviews ~ International Women’s Day

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Today’s a two-fer, overlapping last month’s Black History theme with this month’s theme of Women’s History. I’ve got two great little books about two amazing women who’ve spent a good deal of their lives in the spotlight and have used that light to illuminate the world around them. (And in a happy coincidence they are both authored by the same prolific author who has used her talent to bring to light the lives of many amazing people. For more info visit https://cbweatherford.com/)

 

Legendary Miss Lena Horne Book Review

The Legendary Miss Lena Horne

Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by: Elizabeth Zunon

Number of Pages: 48

Age Range: 5-9

Rating: 4/5

Born in New York in 1917, Lena was raised primarily by her grandmother who taught her the importance of education and manners. Her parents, both show people, had other ideas and Lena felt the draw of the stage during the Depression working at the Cotton Club to help make ends meet. She was later able to make inroads in Hollywood for other black performers, contribute to the war effort and even perform at President Truman’s inaugural ball despite being blacklisted during the Red Scare. She advocated for racial equality and women’s rights all her life and was honored not only for her work but for her remarkable talent. Take a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJvYo5pZEfE

Oprah The Little Speaker Book Review

Oprah: The Little Speaker

Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by: London Ladd

Number of Pages: 34

Age Range: 4-8

Rating: 4/5

I’d be surprised if there was anyone on the planet who didn’t know the name “Oprah Winfrey.” She’s won over audiences for years with her vulnerability, honesty, generosity and charm. I knew she had humble beginnings but I didn’t realize just how humble until reading this book.

Oprah grew up in on a small run-down farm in Mississippi where she hauled water every day (no indoor plumbing), tended to the animals, and learned to read from the Bible. Like Lena, she was raised by her grandparents. Her first public speaking appearance was in church and it sparked a fire that couldn’t be put out despite being teased by the other kids and reprimanded (“children should be seen and not heard”) by her grandma. Her tenacity in school helped her to skip a grade and make real friends for the first time.

The story ends with her still in childhood, showing the spunk and determination of spirit adult readers will recognize as the tools that got her where she is today but other than a brief mention of that in an author’s note there are no other details about her commercial success as an adult. I think this is a rather interesting choice by the author to focus on what those traits got her as a child, while leaving the door open to learn more about her later life from other sources. She’s a “normal” kid with “normal” struggles who worked hard to do her best, regardless of the adult she became.

We’ll have more amazing women to spotlight as the month goes on but today I want to give an extra-loud shout-out to all the amazing women in my own life. My incredible mom, sister, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, friends that have personally influenced who I’ve become; thanks for being strong and beautiful and smart and powerful and for urging me to be the same.

Share your own shout-out in the comments below. I’d love to hear about the amazing women in your life!