Picture Book Review ~ Mela and the Elephant

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. 

I spent several months in Thailand teaching English to pre-schoolers at an international school and absolutely fell in love with the country and the people. Reading this sweet story (and the fantastic back matter) made me more than a little homesick. I want nothing more than to go back to wander the streets and wild places before ordering Pad Thai from a street cart and revel in the land of Smiles. Take a step into the wonder that is Thailand and enjoy this great little story.

 Mela and the Elephant book review

Mela and the Elephant

Written by: Dow Phumiruk

Illustrated by: Ziyue Chen

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, 2018

Age Range: 3-9

Rating: 4/5

Mela learns an important lesson when she heads out one day to explore the river near her home. She gets pulled downstream and off course by a big fish and then gets tricked by a crocodile, a leopard, and some monkeys as she tries to make her way home. Finally, a kindly elephant comes to her rescue and reminds her what kindness is all about.

Mela and the Elephant book review1

This book has all the flavor of a folk tale re-telling though it’s an original story. The author (a Thai native) provides a note about the country, its culture and customs in a detailed note in the back. Give it a read and let me know what you think! (And when you’re ready to start planning your trip to Thailand, give me a holler…I’ve got lots of tips and suggestions!)

 

Mela and the Elephant book review2

Picture Book Review ~ Write to Me

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. 

I have a bit of a weak spot for books and stories from World War Two. Both of my grandfathers served in the military (one in Japan, the other primarily in Africa), my uncle and great uncle were both stationed in Japan (one during the war and the other during my childhood and we were treated to Japanese food and the occasional exchange student at family parties), and my grandfather and father both served religious missions in Germany so I grew up seeing their slides and photos, reading letters and journal entries, hearing their stories and imagining how such beautiful countries with rich cultures and warm, generous people could be the settings for such atrocities.

Something I didn’t get into until I was an adult was learning more about what happened here in our own country during the War.  Here in Utah we had an interment camp in Topaz, but I never learned about in school (or at least I don’t remember learning about it). With so much of a similar vibe pulsing through our world these days, these reminders of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come are more and more important (the whole, ‘those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it’ idea sound familiar?) Which brings me to today’s book spotlight.Write to Me book review

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind

Written by: Cynthia Grady

Illustrated by: Amiko Hirao

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Charlesbridge,  2018

Age Range: 5-10

Rating: 4/5

When the Japanese American children of San Diego are relocated to internment camps their faithful children’s librarian encourages them to write her letters and tell her all about their new lives and experiences. She used that information to write newspaper and magazine articles to alert the population to the plight of the children. She visited, delivered packages of soap, books, food and more.

The story focuses on the time from the interment through their release, their letters and correspondence but there’s also an author’s note, multiple time lines in the back that details more of Clara Breed’s life (from birth to death and posthumous awards), the history of the Japanese in America (including events leading up to the war and through to President Obama’s designation of a monument in Hawaii in 2015), bibliography and a list for further reading. The end pages include photographs of the camps, President Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan and more. This book is a great discussion starter appropriate for any age (you can focus on or skim over the cruelties alluded to as much as you need, the crux of the story is the relationship within the circumstances.)

Write to Me book reveiw1

 

For an adult perspective, try Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Any other books on the subject that you’ve read you’d recommend? Tell me about them in the comments!

Happy Reading!

Picture Book Review ~ The Rabbit Listened

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. 

The other day I shared a few books that I qualified as “shelf-esteem” books. Those with stories that help to build or encourage a healthy self-esteem in children. There are also tons of books that would qualify as “lesson” books. Some are very pedantic and preachy but the best show by example how to handle situations that come up in every day life. Today’s spotlight is one of the best of the best.

Taylor builds something wonderful but when it gets ruined his friends come by and offer to help. The chicken just knows Taylor wants to talk about it and clucks non-stop but Taylor doesn’t feel like talking. The bear feels angry and starts shouting, the elephant wants to remember exactly the way things were, and each other animal has their own ideas of how to help Taylor cope but he’s not ready to do any of those things. When the Rabbit comes by Taylor doesn’t notice so he snuggles up close to the boy and soon Taylor opens up. He listens as Taylor talks and shouts moves through all his stages of grief and anger and recovery and dreams of the next great thing he plans to build.

This is absolutely the sweetest little story and a great lesson in friendship. So often we figure that our way of dealing with something is the best way rather than really listening to what our friends need. It’s a great reminder for kids and adults alike.

The Rabbit Listened book review

The Rabbit Listened

Written and Illustrated by: Cori Doerrfeld

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2018

Number of Pages: 40

Age Range: 3-100

Rating: 4.5/5

The Rabbit Listened book review2

Picture Book Review ~ Natsumi!

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. 

I’ve never been one to live by the adage “Never judge a book by its cover.”  In fact, I’ve discovered a ton of favorites that I picked up based solely on the cover. This book is one of those new favorites. Just look at this adorable little face and that fantastic umbrella (where can I buy one of those in a grown-up size?!)

Natsumi does absolutely everything in her life with exuberance and that tends to be a tad much for most of the people around her. She’s constantly being shushed and admonished to not be ‘so’…not so loud, not so fast, not so hard. While her family is loving they just don’t seem to understand her. Enter Grandfather. He knows just what she needs and helps her find the perfect way to shine.

Natsumi’s adorable spunk is infectious and the message is subtle and non-preachy; be true to yourself! This needs to sit on every shelf beside Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, Leo the Late Bloomer, and Amazing Grace.

Natsumi book review

Natsumi!

Written by: Susan Lendroth

Illustrated by: Priscilla Burris

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018

Number of Pages: 32

Age Range: 3-8

Rating: 5/5

I love the tag “shelf-esteem.” There are so many fabulous books that showcase underdog characters who succeed in various ways. Often they grow and progress, learn and achieve their goals all without having to change who they are fundamentally. Or there are the stories that simply celebrate our differences and uniqueness in big ways. (Check out my instagram feed today for a different but just as fabulous example of that.) What are some of your favorites?

Picture Book/Audio Book Review ~ Tolkien

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. 
How many of you have succumbed to the lifestyle trend that is Hygge? (Pronounced “hooga” it’s a Danish word basically meaning coziness…it involves lots of candles or firesides, fuzzy blankets, books, board games, walks on the beach, connecting with people and unplugging.) There are all sorts of books, pins, articles and whatnot to give you ideas on how to do it with kids, during all the seasons, in small spaces etc. I love the idea of slowing down, being more present and aware and any tips to do it are always welcome.
Well, when I picked up this book I hadn’t realized that’s what I would be getting but I was pleasantly surprised. The author walks us through various traditions, cultures, and habits of the characters of Middle Earth (specifically focusing on the Hobbits of the Shire) and tells us how we would benefit from modeling our own lives after theirs. Everything from relishing the drinking and eating we do (emphasis on the relishing, slowing down, while at the same time doing it with gusto and our whole being and attention) to gardening and being close to nature, walking, staying home more often (yet being open to adventure occasionally to help us be more grateful for what we’ve got), singing regularly and taking naps. He also delves into some advice on how to deal with the Gollums that surface in our own lives, advises us to give gifts on our birthdays rather than to focus on receiving them, and keep a full larder (or at least a pot of tea and some cookies) on hand for any visitors.
I listened to this as an audio book which was read by Simon Vance (who has a lovely British accent which always makes things seem more credible and authoritative…plus it’s Tolkien, you need a British accent for Tolkien. No offense to the author who is American. 🙂 )
It’s full of Tolkien quotes, tidbits and explanations about the who and what of Middle Earth. Anyone who is a mega fan will probably be bored by the references but those with a passing knowledge will find something that resonates even if it’s just that simple reminder to slow down.
Wisdom of the Shire book review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life (Audio book)

Written by: Noble Smith

Read by: Simon Vance

Publisher:  Blackstone Audio, 2013

Number of Pages: 222 (4 hours 47 minutes audio)

Age Range: Adult

Rating: 3.5/5

For those of you looking for a little more information on the creator of the aforementioned Shire or if you’ve got a younger audience you’d like to start introducing Hobbits, Ents and elves to, then this next book is for you.

 

This is a fantastic bio of the father of modern fantasy with bits of magic on every page. The text and illustrations effortlessly showcase the magic and devastation of Tolkien’s life. Both pulling from his experiences and trying to escape them, John Ronald created worlds, creatures, languages, and stories that have become a cultural phenomenon with lives of their own opening the door to other phenomenon such as Dungeon’s and Dragons and Harry Potter.

 

There’s some detailed back matter including author’s and illustrator’s notes providing more details about Tolkien’s life and the creation of the book. There’s also a bibliography and catalog of the dragons that influenced and appeared in Tolkien’s stories. A brilliant and beautiful addition to any home or classroom library, particularly for Tolkien or fantasy fans.

John Ronalds Dragons book review

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien

Written by: Caroline McAlister

Illustrated by: Eliza Wheeler

Number of Pages: 48

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Age Range: 6-12

Rating: 4.5/5

Picture Book Review ~ Books for a Rainy 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. 

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

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. 

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 ~ Nature Lovers

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. 

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!

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?