Monday, February 24, 2020

How to Run a Book Club for Preschoolers – Part 1: The Plan

March Book Madness
Part One
For the past two years, T and I have participated in March Book Madness, which is what it sounds like – March Madness, but with books. It's an international event, with the Sweet 16 selected by two teachers in Ohio, and the winners selected by votes from readers worldwide. (Here's the link to March Book Madness: ) This year, instead of reading and voting just the two of us, we've invited a number of T's friends to join us for a March Book Madness book club.

Over the next several weeks, I'll be sharing tips on running a book club for preschoolers, reviews of some of the 2020MBM selections, and reflections on the entire experience. If you do a bookclub with your children or participate in MBM at all, I'd love to hear from you!

A Book Club for Preschoolers
 > more than *just* story time <

My plan for our book club is pretty simple: combine the best parts of story time with a playdate and good friends.

Each meeting we will read one or two pairs and select a winner. We'll do a craft that is related to one of the books. We'll have a snack. The children will have time to play. And the adults can talk with each other over coffee. A perfect world, no? I'll be sharing what worked and what didn't in upcoming posts.

My first two books will be Game Changers and I am Farmer, both non-fiction selections. After reading, each child will have a chance to share what he/she liked, and then we'll vote on a winner. My planned craft relates to I am Farmer this week. Farmer Tantoh helps ensure access to clean water in Cameroon, in part through planting botanical gardens that keep water in the soil. We will make tiny succulent gardens. 

Craft directions:
Adhere moss to a base (we're reusing yogurt cups), decorate the border with glass gems to simulate water, and white-glue tiny succulents to the moss. Add decorations to the gardens – shells, pine cones, or acorns. Last time T and I did this, it was on pumpkins (Grammy's idea), and lasted months with just a tiny bit of water, and the succulents sprouted leaves. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Book of Candlelight Book Review

The Book of Candlelight (Secret, Book, and Scone Society #3)
By Ellery Adams
Published January 28, 2020

Third in the series, but absolutely enjoyable as a standalone, The Book of Candlelight combines a bookshop, a circle of friends, murder, and a hidden historic diary. If that weren’t enough to hold my interest, the subplots certainly would.

The main plot revolves around Nora, a bookshop owner in a small town. She stumbles across the dead body of a local Cherokee potter with whom she recently connected. Then, new acquaintances discover an historic secret diary hidden in a wall and turn to Nora with preservation questions. Nora and her friends become involved in the investigation of the potter’s death, in which the diary plays a role. The exquisitely woven story unfolds organically; suspension of disbelief is immediate. The level of detail with which Adams has designed the web of relationships and actions is incredible. Nothing is missing and everything is perfect! Cozy mystery fans could not wish for better.

Part of the appeal of The Book of Candlelight is each character’s personal subplot. Each member of the Secret, Book, and Scone Society  (Nora’s circle of friends) is facing personal crises. Nora struggles with the repercussions of drunk-driving accident and a fear of commitment. June longs to reconnect with her estranged son and is the victim of a hate crime. And Estella’s authentic but misunderstood public image is hurting her small business.  Adams’ treatment of each woman’s personal troubles is raw, moving, and captivating.

Everything about The Book of Candlelight is exceptional – I cannot recommend it highly enough to cozy mystery lovers. Now it’s time for me to go backwards a bit and read books 1 and 2! The Secret, Book, and Scone Society series is one I am thrilled to have found.

Note: A review copy was provided by Kensington Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 14, 2020

What I Like About Me Book Review

What I Like About Me
By Jenna Guillaume
Expected US publication date: April 1, 2020
(Already out in Australia)

What I Like About Me is the teacher-mandated journal of Maisie, an overweight teen who is on vacation with her mom, sister, best friend, and family friends. This combination proves initially toxic but ultimately supportive. What I Like About Me is as much a novel of self-acceptance as it is a novel of family drama. Struggling to escape her sister's shadow, Maisie enters a beauty pageant. When it is revealed that her acceptance was political in nature – a nod toward acceptance of all body types – Maisie's burdens reach critical mass. (Other burdens include unrequited love, best-friend drama, an absent and secretive father, and a hateful(?) and hypocritical sister.) She makes a number of poor choices, as one might expect of someone in her position, and must decide how to recover from them. It is the raw honesty with which this novel is written that makes it so compelling – the insecurities, heartbreak, revelations, and catharsis.

I do not wish to get into too much detail and spoil it for you, so I will simply say that What I Like About Me is a cringe-worthy, empowering, satisfying read. I expected to enjoy it from the outset (why else read a book?), and it was even better than anticipated!

Parental Advisory: I would recommend this for a mature audience due to sexual content. (Maisie and a young man kiss and make out. She discusses "over the clothes" vs. "under the clothes action." They do not have intercourse.)

Monday, February 10, 2020

6 Books that Help Children Understand Environmentalism

The climate crisis is forefront on the minds of many. Climate strikes. Plastic bag bans. A burning Australia. A rising ocean. There is no denying that our children are facing a different future than we did, and it can be overwhelming to think about, let alone discuss. 

Here are 6 books that can provide a comprehensive look at environmentalism, from its foundations to its importance.

Greta Thunberg's name is everywhere, and you can easily find books about her for any age. I offering a slightly different approach to the topic of climate change here, a more holistic one. I have selected books that, together, present a broad picture of how all life is interconnected, how flora and fauna change over time in reaction to one another, and how we humans are affecting the environment in ways that have unintended consequences. Taken together, readers will have a comprehensive understanding of environmentalism and will likely feel inspired to act (we certainly did after reading each of these). Taken individually, readers will learn about Humboldt, evolution, endangered animals, or extremes in nature (like the tallest, deepest, hottest places, etc.). 

Each of the books below offers something unique and provides a springboard for conversations about conservation. I hope that these prove as fascinating and educational for you as they did for us. 

My Friend Earth
By Patricia MacLachlan and Francesca Sanna
Expected publication by Chronicle Books: February 25, 2020

A magical description of the seasons. "My Friend Earth" wakes from her winter slumber to chirping birds and silent spiders. She then moves gracefully through the world, changing the seasons. She "tends the prairie where sun-dappled wild horses run..," pours rain, blows wind, and settles back to sleep. Pages are laser cut to flow into one another. My Friend Earth is a love letter to forces of nature. Readers will be enchanted. 

The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt
By Andrea Wulf and Lillian Melcher
Published by Pantheon Books, 2019

Many consider Humboldt the father of environmentalism. He introduced to Europeans the idea that all of nature is interconnected. He warned that if we decimate populations, engage in deforestation, or change topography, we will produce far-reaching, detrimental effects. Readers of this exciting graphic novel can accompany him on the explorations that led him to this understanding. T and I reviewed it in more depth here. The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt is a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the foundations of environmentalism.

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution
By Steve Jenkins
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002

The evolution of life on earth is outlined. Fans of Jenkins will be pleased with his artistry and succinct explanations of how microscopic bacteria over 3 million years ago led to plants, dinosaurs, mammals, and us. Jenkins proceeds to explain survival of the fittest, Darwin's theory of evolution. The large print, specific examples, and vivid illustrations will appeal to young readers, setting the stage for the chilling revelation that we are currently living through a mass extinction, brought on by our own actions. If this is not an eye opener, then I don't know what is. 

By Louise McNaught and Anna Claybourne
Published by Running Press Kids, 2018 in conjunction with Tusk

Survival presents us with 20 endangered animals, describing the animals' appearance and habits as well as the causes for their vulnerability. With a foreword from the Tusk charity and an introduction to conservation, this is an excellent introduction for young readers. McNaught's portraits are stunning, full-page animal faces against bright backdrops. It is hard to look away. The final section of Survival outlines concrete steps to help endangered animals.

Extra: Tusk is a charity for the protection of African wildlife. You can visit their website 

A Wild Child's Guide to Endangered Animals
By Millie Marotta
Published by Chronicle Books, 2019

Breathtaking. Literally breathtaking. As I first flipped through this book, my jaw dropped. That's from the artwork. Then I started reading. Lyrical descriptions bring each animal to life, transporting the reader around the globe, from forests to deserts to grassland and beyond. Highlights for us include the pika, the Gobi bear, and the Takahe. We learned about the animals' habitats, habits, and plights. A Wild Child's Guide to Endangered Animals is a remarkable publication. 

Back matter includes a map showing the locations of all animals, a glossary of the threats to each animal, and a "How Can You Help?" list of concrete actions. Don't forget to look at the end paper – it's all extinct species.

FYI: Wild Child's Guide and Survival are not redundant; they complement each other beautifully.

Adventures on Earth
By Simon Tyler
Published by Pavilion Children's Books, 2019
Following explorers from different eras and backgrounds to extreme locations all around the globe, readers will glean a new understanding of the Earth. The book is divided by topic, such as mountains or caves. Tyler introduces the geographical feature, alongside native fauna, and proceeds to outline noteworthy explorations. For example, the section on caves and chasms includes an explanation of how caves are formed and used by people and animals. Readers will meet Edouard-Alfred Martel, who developed "caving" as an activity in the nineteenth century, and explore rock, ice, and underwater caves. Throughout the book, thematic vocabulary is introduced in all caps. The effect of climate change on different regions is noted; an entire section is devoted to the protection of forest ecosystems. In contrast to two books above, Adventures on Earth focuses on the natural environment rather than its inhabitants. This is perfect for readers who are interested in world records or geography or adventures.

Note: Review copies were provided by the publishing houses in exchange for honest reviews.

Friday, February 7, 2020

This Book Thinks You're An Inventor Book Review

This Book Thinks You're An Inventor: Imagine, Experiment, Create
By Science Museum, London
Text by Georgia Amson-Bradshaw
Design by Belinda Webster
Illustrated by Harriet Russell
Expected publication: February 11, 2020

The premise:
Readers are introduced to the process of invention (tweaking the use of objects, solving problems, improving current designs, etc.) and then invited to become inventors themselves. Projects and prompts in different categories such as transportation and saving-the-world guide children through the process of creating bridges, windmills, robot instructions, skyscrapers, and more. My description sounds a bit sterile, but this book is anything but! It is filled with illustrations, speech bubbles, spaces for readers to draw, silly inventions, and even pages to cut out.

SO. MUCH. FUN!!!!!!!!!
Today is another icy-rain stuck-inside day. Yesterday we baked and cooked and read for hours. Today we needed a creative outlet, and This Book Thinks You're An Inventor occupied our entire morning. We built a catapult. We built bridges. We played a spin-the-wheel-and-invent game. We rescued a prince from a fire-breathing dragon. Multiple times. With multiple inventions. Each section of the book had something for T or something I could adapt for him (it's intended for elementary and middle school children). We were busy for hours, and there is still much more to do. For T, who loves to create things out of old junk, this book could not be more inspiring!

I recommend This Book Thinks You're an Inventor for the creative kiddo in your life.
The dragon is coming!


A sturdier bridge – the prince is safe!
Note: Thames and Hudson provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

5 Books That Celebrate and Teach About Ramadan and Eid

It can be a challenge to find books that feature a holy time that is observed by a human character. It's easy to read about a moose searching for a matzoh ball, a llama finding eggs in the spring, or a monkey fasting during Ramadan. It's easy to find non-fiction books explaining practices in different religions. It can be a bit harder to find storybooks in which humans practice their religion. This is the first post in a series that will run through 2020, in which I share with you a handful of books that do depict the religious observances of human characters.


Ramadan is one of the most holy times during the Islamic year. If your family is Muslim, sharing seasonal books can enhance your child(ren)'s enjoyment of the celebrations. If you are non-Muslim like us, these books can help you better understand the holy month. (Books have really helped T learn about different religions. At one point when he was 3, T had a better understanding of Passover than Easter. Once we read and talked more about Easter, though, he understood our holy days too.)

Here are five books about Ramadan and Eid that I recommend for young readers from preschool on up through middle school. Whether you want to celebrate with a book, prepare to be an iftar guest, or learn about the holy month of the world’s second most-practiced religion, these publications can meet those needs.

Under the Ramadan Moon

By Sylvia Whitman and Sue Williams
Published by Albert Whitman and Company, 2008

Under the Ramadan Moon is an excellent introduction to Ramadan for young readers because it explains how the holy month is observed in very simple terms (“We give to the poor…We bake sweet treats…We visit friends.”). The refrain “under the moon” will appeal to young listeners who love repetition; this repetition also emphasizes that celebration takes place after sunset. Back matter provides a more through explanation.

Night of the Moon

By Hena Khan and Julie Pashkis
Published by Chronicle Books, 2008

Yasmeen celebrates Ramadan with her family. She is proud when her class learns about Ramadan at school, she is joyful during the various nighttime parties, she is watchful of the moon’s phases, and she is excited about the Eid presents. Although she and her younger brother do not fast, she talks with her parents about their fasting. Back matter includes a glossary of terms and an author’s note about the significance of Ramadan and Eid. Muslim readers will likely identify with Yasmeen, and non-Muslim readers will learn about the observance and celebration of Ramadan and Eid. Yasmeen’s feelings will resonate with readers of any (or no) religion.

The Gift of Ramadan

By Rabiah York Lumbard and Laura K. Horton
Published by Albert Whitman and Company, 2019

The Gift of Ramadan focuses on young Sophia who wants to participate in the daily fasting with her family after her grandmother explains its purpose. We see the first day of Ramadan through Sophia’s eyes: the struggle to stay awake during predawn breakfast and prayers, the temptation of cookies, the sadness when her hunger overcomes her and she eats, the reassurance from her grandmother that she is not a failure, and the joy she discovers in preparing iftar for her family. Sophia also reflects on how her mother reads the Quran and her father gives to charity during the holy month. The Gift of Ramadan is a story about a little girl’s perseverance to participate in something very special with her family – it is a story any reader could identify with.


By Suhaib Hamid Ghazi and Omar Rayyan
Published by Holiday House, 1996

Ideal for non-Muslim readers, Ramadan is introduced through detailed explanations and beautiful illustrations (just look at that cover!). Ramadan is a frame narrative, with Hakeem celebrating and readers receiving detailed explanations of what he is doing and why. This is information about a religion in the form of a story; it is an enjoyable read. Excellent for older elementary schoolers looking to better understand the holy month. Back matter provides a glossary of terms.

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices

Edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed
Expected publication: May 2020 from Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)

Once Upon an Eid is one book that can span middle grades and middle school because of its variety. Each of the 15 writers shares a different story of Eid, ranging from the perspectives of the cousins whose cake fight ends in laughter to newly converted Makayla to the refugee Baseem ensuring the kids in his community have a fun-filled holiday. Each tale is unique and individually compelling, but all are unified in the love and joy shared with friends and family on Eid. These 15 stories share universal preadolescent and adolescent experiences of insecurity, friendship, celebrations, and perseverance. Muslim or not, readers can see themselves in the characters between the covers.

An Editors’ Introduction says it all: “We hope the joy will resonate with all kids – Muslims or not–and unite us all in celebration!” And I see no reason why it won’t. Keep your eyes out for this in May!

Son’s Highlights


Under the Ramadan Moon
I like the rhyming.

Night of the Moon
T really seemed to identify with Yasmeen and the things she enjoyed:
You know what I like more than toys? Presents. That looks good – all the desserts! I'm thinking about my birthday; I'm going to have balloons.

The Gift of Ramadan
Favorite part: When she solves the problem.

You should read this one, Mom. You'll like it. The pictures are pretty.
For no
Ramadan is the ninth and holy month in the Islamic lunar calendar; it marks the beginning of God's revelation of the Quran to Muhammed through the angel Gabriel. Muslims observe Ramadan through prayer, fasting, charity, and reading the Quran. Before sunrise (when fasting begins), a special breakfast is shared; after sunset (the end of the daily fast), Muslims celebrate with another special meal called iftar. Eid is the three-day long celebration at the end of Ramadan.*

*Sources: Back matter from the books above.

Review copies were provided by Albert Whitman and Company and Abrams Kids in exchange for honest review.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Garden Jungle Book Review

Garden Jungle

By Hélène Druvert
Translated from the French
Expected publication: February 11, 2020

Mom's Review
An ode to imagination and outdoor play, Garden Jungle is one of the most beautiful books I've seen. Laser-cut pages form a rich jungle to explore — we delight in finding new creatures and plants each time we read.

When a boy complains of boredom to his mother, she sends him out to play. He throws himself fully into this suggestion.

He and his cat follow a butterfly into the garden, which quickly transforms into a dense jungle full of life. With his cat, now a leopard, by his side, the boy explores a jungle that "quivers with sound," swims in a stream, climbs a tree, and watches countless animals before "they all disappear" when it is time for him to return home. The pages would be pretty alone, but combined with the poem that meanders across the pages, Garden Jungle is stunning.

P.S. Don't forget to look at both end papers!

Son's Review
(Age: 4)
What it's about:
It's about a kid being bored named Tom, and he igventures [sic.] into the jungle, and pretending his black cat is a leopard.

What he thinks about it:
I think it's weird how Tom and his mother are just outlines. Maybe because it's shadowy and sunny out, and they're just behind the shadows. [My favorite part is] when he comes out of the garden because that's where he's not bored anymore.

Thames and Hudson provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

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