Monday, October 22, 2018


By Yuyi Morales
Published September 4, 2018

Why we chose this book:
To better understand what it might be like for someone to immigrate to the United States without being able to speak English. And we love libraries! Holiday House provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

A beautiful, personal story of how finding the local library helped Morales and her young son adjust to life in the United States and learn English together.

Dreamers is an autobiographical work of art and a testament to the indispensability of public libraries, not to mention a humanizing depiction of immigrants. Morales shows a few of the difficulties that she and her little one encountered as a result of their lack of English, followed by her support at the local library, and finally the fruit her visits there bore. She describes herself and her son as dreamers when they imagine themselves undertaking fantastic adventures based on the books they read together.

When I told T that we were going to read a book about a little boy and his mom who love going to the library, he asked, "It is about you and me?" I explained that it is not, and asked why he thought so. His response: "Because we love going to the library!" Children (or adults for that matter) can identify with Morales's and her son's love of the library, enjoyment of books, and imaginations. At its most basic, this colorful creation shows that despite outward differences, people from all over have the same dreams and hopes, and same love for sharing stories. I would also like to add that there is a bit of Spanish in the book (only a few words total). I don't speak Spanish, and did not know what the words meant, but it didn't matter. The spirit of the story is clear, and I feel like the incorporation of Spanish underscores the point for non-Spanish speakers that lacking a language, while challenging, does not diminish one's ability to imagine.

I highly recommend Dreamers, for the beautiful artwork, message, and prose.

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)
Before reading, we discussed the questions on the inside of the jacket flap:
Mom: What if you dreamed of a new life and it came to you?

Son: Then what I would do is I would examine it.

Mom: And what if that new life led you to a new country?

Son: Then I would speak their language.

Mom: What if you felt alone and ignored?

Son: What does that mean?

Mom: What if nobody gave you any attention, nobody talked to you?

Son: I would speak their language.

Mom: But what if you didn't? Have you ever been somewhere you didn't speak their language?

Son: Yes, Germany.

Mom: Did that make things hard or easy for you? What was hard?

Son: Hard. Since I don't really speak their language and I don't really understand it.

Mom: What if you had to make that new place your home?

Son: I don't know. Then I would just not do anything with the people who weren't my friends. I would do something with my friends.

Mom: What if you found your home in a world of books?

Son: Then I would read all day and night!

After reading:
Mom: How do you think they learned English?

Son: By reading.

Mom: Do you learn new words from reading?

Son: Yes.

Mom: Me too.

Mom: How did this book make you feel?

Son: Happy. It was exciting at the beginning. Then it was intense in the story. Then it was all friends at the end.

Mom: And if you met the little kid at the library, what would you say?

Son: I would say, "What's your name?" Then I would make friends with him.

Mom: And what if that little kid couldn't understand your words?

Son: Then I would find out his language. Then I would speak his language.

Mom: What if you didn't know his language? Is there a way to make friends without using words?

Son: Yes, by

Mom: If you were at the library together, what might you share?

Son: I would share books.

Mom: Who should read this book? Why?

Son: All of my friends. Because they love me.

Mom: What is the greatest part of the book?

Son: When they go to the library!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Eye Spy

By Guillaume Duprat
Published October 1, 2018

Why we chose this book:
T and I both loved Dinosaurs! and Bugs! from What On Earth Books, so we were thrilled to be able to review this newest publication when the publisher sent us a review copy.

Mom's Review

An engaging look at how different animals' vision functions.

Why weren't these books around when I was a kid? Or a teacher? Eye Spy is an oversized picture book with flaps on most pages. The book is divided by types of animals, and then a different animal is featured on each page. You lift a flap over each creature's eyes to see how they would view a particular scene (it is the same scene for each animal, which makes it super easy to compare animals for even a 3 year old). The text on each page, including on the inside of the flap, gives an overview that interested T, and then goes into more detail about the specifics of each animals' vision and eyes. Because of how the text is set up, it is appropriate to any age. The youngest audience can lift flaps and simply see what the cat or the snake or the bee sees. Older children can use this as a reference on mammal, bird, reptile, or insect senses.  The versatility, the ease with which T and I both could use this book, and the information combine to make this a book I loved. It also increases my regard when I learn something new from T's books, and this was filled with new knowledge for me. I particularly liked learning how scientists tested a snake's infrared vision. Spoiler: They offered it a lightbulb, and it attacked it as it would warm-blooded prey. If your kiddo is at all interested in the animal kingdom, then I bet this would be a winner.

I really do suggest this for any age — young kids can do the flaps and listen to an adult read the basic information, while older kids or children interested in more technical details can dive in as deeply as they like. This is a winner and one that will always leave you and your child with new knowledge. And it's one you can pick up and flip through, reading wherever your fancy takes you. I actually got into a little bit of trouble with T. While he was looking under one of the flaps, I started to read silently to myself; I became engrossed so quickly that I didn't even notice he was ready for me to read the text to him! Fascinating enough to make me tune out my son? How's that for a kid's picture book for you?

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)

Son: Birds!!!! Spread it open!

Mom, whose mind is on a totally different track: I think I like the horse. Do you have a favorite?

Son: This pigeon. Squawk!

Mom: That's actually a woodcock. This other one is the pigeon.

Son: I like the pigeon.

Mom: What do you like about the book? ... Tell me more.

Son: The flaps! ... How you can see what the animal sees.

Mom: And what is the coolest thing you learned?

Son: That the chameleon can look in two directions at once.

Mom: If you could look in two directions at once, where would you look?

Son: I'd look over there [at the door] and into the playroom.

Mom: Is there an animal you wish you could see like?

Son: The chameleon!

Mom: Not the snake?

Son: No. It's all dark!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Peace Dragon

Written by Linda Ragsdale
Illustrated by Marco Furlotti
Published September 12, 2018

Why we chose this book:
Dragons? Promoting peace? How could we not choose this book? Flowerpot Press provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

A message to look past initial impressions to understand who another person really is.

Omani is a dragon whose mission it is to spread peace and love, but Sherwyn is terrified when he first meets her. Because he is also curious, he allows Omani to introduce herself before he flees. He quickly comes to know that she is kindhearted, and a friendship is born. When he tries to introduce her to his friends in the village, however, they react in fear. Sherwyn stands between the armed mob and Omani, stopping their assault and entreating them to accept Omani's friendship. One person pauses to listen to Omani's pleas, starting a domino effect that finally ends with Omani's acceptance.

I have read several books with T that promote peace or encourage effecting positive change in one's community (like Wangari's Trees of Peace), and I think that The Peace Dragon is a worthy addition to the genre. The optimistic tale explicitly encourages readers to look beyond a first impression and remain open to knowing others who may be different. The tone remains lighthearted, appropriate to the fanciful plot of a boy and dragon becoming friends. The final lines of the story express a hope for the world to turn toward peace without a judgement rendered against today's people. And the dragon is, quite frankly, lovely. T asks for this book, and wants it read back to back. Sherwyn and Omani are enjoyable to know, whether you are a kiddo listening or the one reading aloud.

The author's reason for writing this book is explained in the back: Friends of hers were killed in a terrorist attack (she was wounded) in 2008. Since then, she has made it her mission to promote peace and help people view the world without pre-judging others.

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)

Mom: Have you ever been scared of something at first, but then found it was okay?

Son: Nose Frida.
(It's a tool for sucking congestion out of a little one's nose.)

Mom: What would you do if you met a giant dragon?

Son: I would see if its heart was turned to love or death.

Mom: What would you do if you saw a dragon running into the middle of Worcester?

Son: I would see if its heart was turned to love.

Mom: Is your heart turned to love? How do you show people?

Son: Yes. By being friendly.

Mom: What would say to a crowd of people if they were afraid of something new?

Son: Like if I brought a dragon to my house, then my mommy would be scared so I would shield my dragon.

Mom: Actually, I would think that would be really awesome. I would love it if you brought a dragon to the house, T.

Mom: If you were playing with a friend, what might you say if he or she were afraid of meeting a new person?

Son: "Don't be afraid of meeting new persons."

Mom: Why not?

Son: Because there's nothing to be afraid of in meeting a new person.

Mom: When it might be helpful to read about Omani, about not being afraid of something or someone new?

Son: Like when I'm about to meet a new person.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

How To Knit A Monster

By Annemarie Van Haeringen
Published August 7, 2018

Why we chose this book:
T is super into monsters, and the synopsis sounded like the protagonist engaged in creative problem solving. I thought this was a good fit, so requested a review copy, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt provided one.

Mom's Review

Greta Goat is inattentive while knitting and inadvertently creates a wolf that gobbles up an unkind visitor, Mrs. Sheep. She knits increasingly ferocious creatures until she has a monster, which she keeps on her needles so that she can unravel it after it eats the last fearsome creation. Mrs. Sheep is freed and repentant of her treatment of Greta.

I have mixed feelings about this book because it was not quite what I expected. I like the premise of having to knit a monster to protect yourself from your other monstrous knitting mistakes. I like how Greta Goat thinks on the fly and works toward a solution to her problem; at first she makes the problem worse, but eventually fixes things. Perseverance and resourcefulness are admirable traits, and it's good for kids to see that success doesn't always happen with the first attempt. I also like that Greta's knitting takes on a life of its own, as sometimes it feels like projects do. The art is cute, and I like the different knitting details I notice each time I read it to T. All these things sound great, and they are.

The two things that I didn't like were how scary the monster looks and how mean the visitor is. T likes spooky things, as I may have mentioned once or twice...But this monster scared him. On the cover the monster looks kinda cute, but inside it does look creepy with its empty white eyes and terrible expression. If you are reading to someone who isn't three years old, then you would probably be fine, but if you have a young one, I want to give you a heads up. This is minor, as it is a matter of perception. The visitor, however, is labeled as "mean Mrs. Sheep, " and she comes to Greta's home solely to castigate Greta for her knitting abilities. Why is she so mean? And then Mrs. Sheep apologizes and praises Greta's knitting in superlative terms after being eaten by the wolf Greta knit. This doesn't seem to me to be a very good example of reconciliation: one person verbally attacks another, is submitted to a terrifying experience from which she luckily escapes with her life, and then praises her earlier victim to the moon. What lesson is the reader supposed to take away from this?

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)
Before reading:
Mom: What do you want to read?

Son: I choose How to Knit a Monster.

Mom: Why do you choose this one right now?

Son, playing with a little vampire, a witch, and a black cat: Because those are all Halloween stuff.

After reading:
Mom: Do you like Mrs. Sheep? Why not? How is she mean?

Son: No. Because she is mean. She used mean words.

Mom: And how did that make Greta feel?

Son: Annoyed.

Mom: Do you think Greta's feelings were hurt?

Son: Yeah. Why do you think she wasn't watching her knitting?

Mom: I think she was so upset that she was only thinking about her feelings and not her knitting. Do you get upset sometimes?

Son: Yeah. When it's bedtime.

Mom: And is it hard to think about other things? What do you do?

Son: Yeah. I calm my feelings.

Mom: How do you calm your feelings?

Son: So I just walk away from the person who is aggravating me. And then I say, "Why were you aggravating me?"

Mom: Taking time to calm down and then talking out your feelings are healthy ways to deal with upsetness. Those are good things to do. What would you tell Greta?

Son: I would say, "Maybe you could walk away from the person who is being mean."

Mom: And what would you tell Mrs. Sheep?

Son: I would tell her,  "Don't be mean to Greta. Be friendly." That's what I would say to mean Mrs. Sheep.
Mom: What did this book make you feel?

Son: Kinda angry that the Mrs. Sheep made Greta feel sad.

Mom: And what do you learn from this book?

Son: That you shouldn't make people feel sad.

Mom: And did you learn anything about solving problems?

Son: Yeah. To express your feelings.

Mom: And when is it a good time to read this book? Why?

Son: When I'm feeling mad. To teach me how to solve my mad feelings.

Mom: How will it help you to solve your mad feelings?

Son: I don't know.
(Me neither, to be honest.)

Mom: And who might like this book?

Son: My friend, G. I mean my cousin.

Mom: And what's the most important thing to know about this book?

Son: That it's a great book.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Little Shop of Found Things

The Little Shop of Found Things
By Paula Brackston
Published October 2, 2018

Why I chose this book:
I like mysteries. I like historical fiction. I like a bit of magic. When I read the synopsis of this time-travel mystery, I was interested. St. Martin's Press provided a review copy. 


Xanthe and her mother are opening an antique shop after being left by Xanthe's father. As part of their preparations, Xanthe comes into contact with a chatelaine that induces visions of its past and transports her to the 17th century. Visions are nothing new to her; she has previously experienced psychometry while working with antiques. The time travel is new, as is contact with a ghost inhabiting the shop premises. The ghost causes Xanthe to enter a blind house (an ancient jail that also happens to be on the property) with the chatelaine. Somehow the combination pushes her back hundreds of years. The how doesn't matter. The why does. Xanthe must rescue the ghost's daughter, who is accused of stealing a needle and scissors from the chatelaine; if Xanthe fails, the ghost will effect the death of Xanthe's mother. Xanthe travels between past and present, investigates the location of the missing items, and begins to fall in love with an architect working for the local lord. No spoilers here, just an encouragement to read the book if you like mysteries or historical fiction. 

I stayed up late for a couple of long nights to finish reading this. It was hard to put down, and when I finally closed the book for the last time, my heart was pounding. Throughout, I held my breath, I cried, and then I had one hell of a book hangover! I think what sets this book apart was how the time-travel and mystery complemented each other. There is no way that the mystery could have been solved in the seventeenth century, so Xanthe's back-and-forth between time periods is necessary. She struggles to blend in with seventeenth century women in ways that I could see myself struggling, and this is another aspect of the book that I enjoyed. Brackston makes the time-travel seem so believable, and Xanthe's actions and reactions so natural. In fact, whenever I would start to wonder, "What about xyz?" that point was addressed. By no means does Xanthe fit in completely, but she is able to cover up her mistakes well enough that no one looks closely enough into her story to discover the truth. 

When I read a mystery, I like to attempt solving it. With The Little Shop of Found Things, I couldn't figure it out what had happened to the missing chatelain attachments until Xanthe did. This was not because the story was so befuddling, but rather because it was so well crafted. And the love story? It developed slowly and hesitantly, as one might, given the circumstances and was heartwarming and heartbreaking to read. And finally, a word about Xanthe herself: she is authentic, resourceful, and kind. I often ask T if he would want to be friends with the characters in his books. I would be happy to have Xanthe as a friend.

Hope you read it and enjoy it as much as I did!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

On The News

Written by Dr. Jillian Roberts
Illustrated by Jane Heinrichs
Published April 9, 2018

Why we chose this book:
T responded very well to On Our Street by the same author; it was helpful in answering his questions about impoverished people in our city. T has also overheard his dad and me discussing news and asked about it, starting with the Thai boys who were trapped in the cave. Given these circumstances, I thought this this would not only be a good fit for our blog, but also a timely read for T. Orca Book Publishers provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

Direct and honest while remaining age-appropriate, On The News explains what tragic news events are, why they occur, and how people react and respond to them.

Where do you start, what do you say when your child asks about tough topics like death tolls, assaults, or emergencies on the news? We have been talking to T about political events and news since the presidential election, but have tried to shield him from violent news and news of natural disasters. As I mentioned in the "why we chose this" section, he heard us discussing the trapped Thai boys and asked about it. We explained what happened, trying to focus on how sometimes people have problems and need lots of help and it's on the news. More recently we've been talking about weather, which led to a conversation about flooding in the south. While we've tackled tragic/devastating news already with him, it has not been easy. This picture book about tragedies on the news has been a support and a resource in talking about what is going on in our country and in the world. When I've read this with T, I skip the section on terrorist attacks (which he doesn't notice), and focus on the content explaining natural disasters, the emotional reactions of those involved and us, how aid is provided, and how we can help. Sidebars and back matter provide more information for older readers and for parents. T and I chat as we read it (about the flooding, the boys, and upsetting political news), but he didn't have much to say for his portion of the review; I know that this will be drawn on for future conversations, reference points, and selected reading to answer T's questions. 

If you have a curious kiddo who hears more than you might expect — and who doesn't? — I recommend On the News.

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)

Mom: Do you know about any bad things happening, T?

Son: Flooding and wars - those are. And killing, and sick. And like torn-down buildings, like in real life.
(A local cathedral is in the process of being torn down. It's been controversial.)
Son: Look at that.

Mom: That is a child collecting clean water.

Son: Wow! He had to walk really far. Why did he?

Mom: He couldn't get clean water from the faucet. The earthquake shook the ground really hard so that lots of stuff was broken, like the water pipes.
Mom: How do you feel when you hear about things like floods?

Son: I feel very annoyed.

Mom: What can you do if there is a tragedy in the world?

Son: I can share my feelings.
(One section of the book addresses how to handle your feelings when you hear about tragedies.)

Mom: What did this book help you understand?

Son: Tragedy is something that is a BAD thing.

Mom: Does any good come after tragedies?...Let's turn back to the end... What kind of good?

Son: Yes. That they are rebuilding buildings.

Mom: What would you tell a friend that this book is about?

Son: I would tell him that there was bad things on it. And I would tell him that bad things are called tragedies.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Melia and Jo

By Billy Aronson and Jennifer Oxley
Published August 21, 2018

Why we chose this book:
Always one for the women-in-science genre, I saw this and wanted to check it out. A review copy was provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Mom's Review

A creative dancer and a backyard inventor overcome their differences to see that they are better together.

The purpose of Melia and Jo is clear: to show that art and science can be combined and that girls belong in all fields. The quality of the story, however, is not sacrificed on the altar of message. The girls do not get along at first. Jo fiddles with all of Melia's inventions without asking, but after she leaves, Melia sees that Jo's misunderstandings actually lead to better uses of her creations. Melia invites Jo to work with her, but Jo has no interest until she gets stuck in a tree. One of Melia's inventions facilitates Jo's escape, and the two are inseparable by the end of the story. In addition to the main messages, the underlying idea of giving new acquaintances a second chance is also a good springboard for conversations about friendship. T recently began a preschool program, so we have been talking about friendships and getting to know different children, and I find it helpful (and T likes it too) to reference characters from books he likes.

I'm sure that by now we all agree on the value of girls being represented as scientists, independent thinkers, and wearers of colors other than pink. The value of this particular book lies in the fact that it depicts not only the new order of female characters, but also the traditional: one girl wears pearls and a pink tutu and develops new dances and songs in her backyard while the other girl wears red boots and a cape, an aviator hat, and follows the scientific process in her backyard. As they team up, the results show that one does not have to narrowly define oneself. A person could enjoy the arts or the sciences or both while wearing pink or blue or a dress or boots. And that is the beauty of Melia and Jo.

An addition to the growing genre of STE(A)M girl-books, Melia and Jo is worth reading.

Son's Review
(Age: 3 and 1/2 years)

Son: On the back of it, it shows how to make the airplane!

Mom, looking at the directions for making Melia and Jo's airplane: That's sooooo cool!

Mom: Were Melia and Jo friends at the beginning? What did they do that wasn't friendly?

Son: No. Sticking a licorice-eating candy into a robot.

Mom: How did they get to be friends? ... Like what?

Son: By doing good doing art.

Mom: And why do you think that they are such good friend?

Son: Because they did art and art can make you very good friends.

Mom: It seems like they were different in some ways. What were some ways they were different?

Son: Because one girl was wearing a hat and one girl wasn't wearing a hat.

Mom: Does this remind you of your friends at all?

Son: No.

Mom: Would you want to be friends with Melia or Jo or both? Why?

Son: Both of them because they are both really nice.

Mom: What would you do with them?

Son: I would do crafts with them.

Mom: If you could pick one page to read again and again, what would it be?

Son: I would pick the one where they were doing good stuff, where they held the head on with the licorice stick.

Mom: How do they solve their problems in this book?

Son: With words.

Mom: What would you say to them if you could meet them? Would you say anything else?

Son: I would say, "Hi." Just hi because hi is a really nice word.

Mom: What can we learn from this book?

Son: That it's a good thing to be friends.

The Odyssey

Retold from the Epic by Homer Illustrated by Manuela Adreani Published October 18, 2016 Why we chose this book/Mom's Review: T...