Monday, June 18, 2018

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

By Jeanette Winter
Published September 21, 2008

Why we chose this book:
The local botanic garden had this book on display and we started to read it before T's garden discovery program, but did not have time to finish it. I came across it again in a list of upcoming publications from Harcourt (it is being released in paperback in July), and I requested a review copy.

Mom's Review
A powerful true story about the impact one person can have on the environment.

Wangari leaves Kenya to study in America. She returns to find the trees in her village cut down. Not only locally, but all over Kenya are trees being removed to make way for urban development. Wangari sees the harm this does her neighbors and the harm for the environment. She begins planting trees in her backyard and encourages other women to do so. The reader sees that Wangari is discouraged and even beaten by government officials and the police, but that she has inspired women all over Kenya to take action. In the end, readers see Wangari atop Mount Kenya, surrounded by a valley of trees.

This is a beautiful book with a positive message. It was also a difficult read. T and I talked a lot about why someone would cut down trees, how we use our resources but also ensure that we don't use them up. He is still asking questions about cutting down trees. We talked even more about Wangari being beaten. T didn't understand why police would beat her. It was a hard conversation explaining that sometimes policemen make wrong choices. It was actually a series of conversations spread out over the week after our first reading. He asked me and his dad point blank in the car one day, "But police in our country don't beat people, right?" And we explained that, yes, they do sometimes, that in every group of people there are people who make right and wrong choices. How can you best explain police brutality to a toddler with an all-or-nothing view of the world?

Even with — strike that —  because of the difficult conversations that this book prompted, along with the bold art and the powerful message, I would encourage pretty much anyone to read this. Also, T asks for this a ton. So much so that his dad and I have to ask if we could please read something different for a change.

Son's Review
(age 3)

Mom: What if you went away from your home and came back and all the plants were gone. What would you do?

Son: I...I would plant more plants and even more plants and even more plants and even more plants. And then I would cut down the buildings because I was planting lots of plants.

Mom: Do you know how to take care of a plant? What does it need?

Son: Yeah. Water. Sun.

Mom: Wangari said, "We need a park more than we need an office tower." What do you like better? ... What do you like at parks?

Son: A park...Enclosed swings. I just like swings.

Mom, pointing to image of Wangari being hit: What happened here? Is it okay?

Son: They hit her with clubs. No. We don't hit.

Mom: What do you think should have happened?

Son: If they were about to hit me, I would stop them. Put them in jail.

Mom: Would you want to meet Wangari?

Son: Is she still alive?

Mom: Yes. Would you want to do anything with her?
(Correction: She is no longer living. I will have to tell T tomorrow.)

Son: I'd go somewhere.

Mom: Did you like the book?

Son: I just liked the book.

Mom: What did you think was good in this book?

Son: The thing that wasn't good was that they hit her with clubs.
(This portion has had quite an impact on T.)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Big Book of the Blue

By Yuval Zommer
Published June 5, 2018

Why we chose this book:
To learn about the ocean! The cover art caught my eye and the synopsis sounded like a great fit for my question machine, aka T. Thames and Hudson provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

A  captivating and visually stunning introduction to ocean life for young children.

The cover art set me up with high expectations. You should definitely judge this book by its cover! Not only is the art lovely and fun, but there is a sardine hidden on several pages that the reader must find. T loves playing hidden object games in books, and that has overshadowed the actual reading at times. We still haven't found all the sardines yet! The content is just as fun as the art. Two-page spreads introduce different creatures, such as crabs, seals, and deep-sea fish. Text is brief and interesting, just the right amount of information and just the right kind of information for three-year-old T. Did you know that there is a fish called a blobfish? It's shaped like a blob. T and I both learned some fun facts, and this is a book we can return to time and time again. Sometimes we are in a mood for a long story time, and reading cover to cover works well for that. Sometimes we just want to read a little bit, and picking a few creatures to cover works well for that. There is so much that it offers. Curious kiddos will love it.

Son's Review
(age 3)
While reading:
Son: Look, there's the swimmer! And there's the swimmer on another page. He goes to all spots in the book. I think he snorkels every day. I think he's wearing a blowhole.

Mom: It is kind of like a blowhole. That thing is called a snorkel, and it's how he can breathe.
Son: (pointing to seahorse's coronet): Is that his crown? I have a question. The question was why do you also like sea turtles?

Mom: It is like a crown, it's called a coronet. I like sea turtles because I think they are beautiful, and I think it is neat how they lay their eggs. And I also like seahorses. I think they're cute.
Son: I think that's interesting.

Mom: What do you think is interesting? Something about the jellyfish?

Son: Yeah. About the glowing dinner.
(Some glow to put other fish off their jellyfish-dinner plans.)
Son: Why are they called ogrefish? I think it's 'cuz they have fangs and ogres have fangs, too.

Mom: That's a good guess for why they're called ogrefish.

After reading:
Mom: Have you had a favorite animal?

Son: The favorite creature was this one [a whale].

Mom: Is there something really cool you learned?

Son: Why when the fish come to igvestigate do they [anglerfish] snap them up right away?

Mom: So that they can eat them fast before the fish escapes. If there was not a lot of food and a fish came right up to you, what would you do?

Son: I would run away. First I would eat the food and then I would run away. I would search for more food. Why does this fish have a light?

Mom: To attract fish to come up close so it can eat them. What's the coolest thing you've learned?

Son: I like this one [the angler fish]. What fish are these?

Mom: Those are blobfish. They have a squishy body.

Son: I have a question. The question is this: can they sting? I think they bite.

Mom: It doesn't say, but it doesn't look like they have stingers.

Son: I think they bite humans.

Mom: Oh, they are soooo soooo deep. You won't come into contact with one of those. They live deeper than people swim.

Son: I would like to come down here. I would investigate under the ocean. I would want to meet this one [the blobfish] 'cuz I would want to see what it does. Just the blobfish.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Marvelous Mustard Seed

Written by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Illustrated by Margaux Meganck
Published April 26, 2018

Why we chose this book:

T is interested in the plants in our yard. He has also been asking a lot of questions about God. When I read about this publication from Flyaway Books, which uses the mustard plant to introduce the concept of God's kingdom, I requested a review copy (in case it wasn't obvious, they did provide one).

Mom's Review

Children care for a mustard plant, from seed to tree; a narrator likens the mustard plant's growth to the Kingdom of God at the conclusion of the book.

After reading The Marvelous Mustard Seed, T is super excited about growing a mustard seed. We harvested a foot-tall mustard plant from the middle of the lawn (someone needs to mow that...). His intent is that we grow a tree as large as the one in the book. The natural world component of this book has clearly made a big impact. T understands the life cycle of the mustard plant, he's interested in finding the plant outdoors, and is patiently caring for our little uprooted-and-replanted treasure. The theological aspect of this book was a bit above T's head on first reading. The authors draw on Jesus's parable of the mustard seed. The difference here is that the focus is on children participating in the growth of the plant: they plant it, water it, wait for it to grow, and finally play beneath it. The Christian connection between mustard and God's kingdom is not apparent until the end, where the narrator likens the two. This book prompted more conversations about God and Jesus and religion and what are Christians and what other ways to pray are there and and and...
And, it has us growing a mustard plant in a bucket. Bottom line: Fun book about planting, good starting point to discuss what it means to have faith in God.

Son's Review
(age 3)

Mom: What did the mustard seed turn into? How? What did it need?

Son: A tree. It grew. Water. A kid and his mommy. (pointing) This one's the kid and this one's the mommy.

Mom: I think the artist meant for both to be kids, but I can see why you might think that.

Son: The other one looks like a kid because it's little and that one looks like it's big. So I think it's the mommy.

Mom: That makes sense. That's very observant. I wanted to know if you do any planting...

Son: I do. Marigolds. Dress carefully for ticks. When you come in, do a tick check.
(We do this carefully, and it has clearly made an impact on him. Outside activity=tick warning from him.)

Mom: What was your favorite part of the book?

Son: When it grooooowwwws.

Mom: Did this book make you want to do anything?

Son: It makes me feel like I want to be in the forest.
(We had already planted our mustard plant when we did the "official" review.)

Mom: When is it a good time to read this book?

Son: When it's time to plant. Because it's about planting.

Mom: The authors wanted to teach you something wonderful about God. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed because it starts teeny and grows into something big. What do you think that might mean about God?

Son: *long pause* God is there and you won't miss God.

Mom: Do you have an idea what the Kingdom of God is like?

Son: It's heaven. I think it's unusual. Since you can't see God. Why can't you see God?

Mom: I don't have a good answer for that.

Mom: What do you want people to know about this book?

Son: It was exciting.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow

By Jan Thornhill
Published April 1, 2018

Why we chose this book: 
We received a bird feeder for Christmas and enjoy watching birds in the backyard. We love learning about nature. So when I saw this book about birds we see everywhere, I hoped it would be a good fit for us, and the publisher provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

Readers learn about the evolution of the house sparrow and its relationship to humans.

Visually appealing and informative The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow prompted much conversation over several sittings. This is intended for children in grades 4 through 7, and the vocabulary is appropriate to that age range. We read in small chunks (which was perfectly fine for the way the narrative is organized) and talked about what everything meant. I would strongly recommend this for children in the intended age range, especially if they are interested in nature or birds or the backyard bird feeder. I found the art beautiful and the narrative engaging; I enjoyed reading it and learning about the cute little birds that hop around our yard.

This is much more than just an explanation of the house sparrow's life cycle. The narrative (this really is a story, and T asked for confirmation that this was a true story a few times), explains how the sparrow has evolved from being considered a pest to being protected, its role in the ecosystem, and how it helps farmers. In ancient Egypt, house sparrows were already raiding crops, and that has not changed. Over time, vast extermination efforts have taken place in order to preserve crops; a successful effort initiated by Chairman Mao resulted in an overabundance of insects that ate more grain than the sparrows had. Following the events in China, other countries changed their approach to dealing with the bird. And, with our changing agriculture, the little bird's ability to feast on grain has changed, causing a recent decline in population. It is now protected in the Netherlands.  I found some of the trivia quite fascinating, such as what the Egyptians did with the sparrows they caught and how many sparrows you need for a sparrow pie. Overall, I would say that I have a pretty good knowledge of the house sparrow, and T knows what it eats, where it lives, and why people don't like it sometimes. He is also super eager to set up our bird feeders at the new house!

Son's Questions and Comments
(age 3)

Mom: Would you want to share any of your grain with the house sparrow?

Son: Yes. I would give him oats.

Mom: Do you want to feed house sparrows in your back yard? Let's set up our bird feeder.

Son: I do. House sparrows will come.
Son: Why do they have to keep the eggs warm?

Mom: To keep the babies inside the eggs warm so that they don't die. The babies can't stay warm themselves.

Son: Why do they need to sit on the eggs? I thought they just holded the eggs. They could use their wings.

Mom: That's how the keep the eggs warm because they don't have hands. They can't pick things up with their wings.
Son, pointing to mummies: Are those the ancient Egyptians?

Mom: Those are mummies of falcons. The Egyptians made those.
Mom: Would you want the job of sparrow catcher? What would you do if you caught one?

Son: Yes. I would sell it to the pet store. 

Mom: To feed to the pets or be sold as pets?

Son: To be sold as a pet!
Mom: Would you want to sit on a bench covered in sparrow poop?

Son: No. 

Mom: I wouldn't either. What do you think they might do?

Son: Clean the bench. Lock them [the sparrows] up in cages.
Mom: Do you think we should have sparrows or not have sparrows? Why?

Son: Should have sparrows. Because I like them and I think they look cute. Except when they're a baby one.
Mom: What was your favorite thing you learned about house sparrows?

Son: That they killed them.

Mom: Why did people kill them? What were the house sparrows doing that made people kill them?

Son: Eating their crops!

Mom: What do you think we should do about the house sparrows?

Son: I think we should keep them as pets.

Mom: How would you take care of the house sparrows?

Son: We could feed the house sparrows. You could set out a bird feeder.
Play-Doh house sparrow

The Play-Doh sparrows we made after reading.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Higher! Higher!

By Leslie Patricelli
Published March 24, 2009

Why we chose this book:
Yesterday morning at our Worcester Family Partnership playgroup, we had an amazing and fun guest! David from The Eric Carle Museum led the kids in songs, games, and art, and he read several stories. At the end, each family received a copy of Higher! Higher!, which David had already engaged the children in reading. T paged through his new copy on the way home, telling me what he liked. So, why did we choose this book? We didn't choose to read it that intial time, but T had a lot to say about it, and I wanted to share his (any my) thoughts about it, and send a big "Thank you!" toward WFP and The Eric Carle Museum.

Mom's Review

A little girl flies so high on a swing that she meets an alien in space.

In this darling picture book of few words, what is likely a common childhood fantasy is lived out. The little girl's daddy pushes her on the swing at a park, she constantly cries out, "Higher! Higher!" and higher she goes, all the way to space. Each two-page spread page depicts something tall in the foreground and something even higher in the background (example: giraffe and skyscraper). The illustrations and few words together pave the way for discussion, and that is the true value in this book. It's so easy to speculate about how high she could go or what she might she pass next. It's equally easy to take the discussion in a personal direction, hypothesizing what we would do if we passed a giraffe, a mountain climber, an airplane. Repetition makes it easy for the child to read along. T was reading me the book after I had read it to him a few times, and he was delighted to be able to do so! All in all, Higher! Higher! is a fun, easy way to engage one's child in reading and conversation. Oh, and it prompted a park visit in which T wanted to swing higher on the swings that he has in a long time.

Son's Review
(age 3)

Son: I like the alien who's smiling! Do you think he is cute?

Mom: I do. Do you? What would you do if you met an alien?

Son: Yeah. I would kiss the alien.

Mom: You know what it reminds me of? The little green aliens from Toy Story. But they're not quite the same, are they? How many eyes does the one in your book have?

Son: Why? One eye.

Mom: And what about in Toy Story? 

Son: Threeeeeee.

Mom: Can you find your favorite page?

Son: Where the alien...where they meet each other.

Mom: I think we should go to the park. What do you think? I could push you high like the little girl's daddy pushes her.

Son: Yes. And sit in the enclosure and push me real fast! Just like her daddy did it to her.
(T is referring to the enclosed swing.)

Mom: We'll do it! Do you think we'll see any aliens?

Son: I'd like to meet one, but they aren't real.

Mom: Could we pretend?

Son: We should not.

Mom: What do you think you might see from the swing?

Son: I might see a playground.

Mom: Do you think we might see a giraffe?

Son: No. Giraffes are at the zoo.
(Well, T, no aliens and no giraffes. Way to just shut me down. Humph.)

T yelling "Higher! Higher!"

High Five! Just like in the book!

Almost as high as the airplane!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

I am Birch

By Scott Kelley
Published April 24, 2018

Why we chose this book:
Our shared interest in nature as well as the premise of dealing with panic led me to request this book to review with T. The publisher provided a copy for review.

Mom's Review

A birch stump questions passing animals about a coming time of cold and darkness, and attempts to quell their panic.

What I didn't expect from I Am Birch was the humor. On nearly every page, the birch stump has a little comment about each animal that causes me to smile to myself (T doesn't appreciate the comments like I do). The main focus, illustrations and storyline, is appreciated by him though. First I'd like to address the illustrations. Animals who talk, but live in the wild, wear clothes designed with an eye for detail. According to Islandport Press's website, "Kelley used his portraits of Wabanaki tribal elders as a springboard" for the illustrations. The result is stunning and unique.

I've been trying for a while to figure out exactly what I want to say about the story. Asking T questions for his part of the review helped me pin down the idea that has been floating just out of reach. When I asked him the most important thing to know about this book, T told me that the book is about love. After a few seconds of thought, I saw what he meant: love that the birch has for the animals. The forest animals are panicking in the face of cold and darkness. The birch tries first to discern who started it all. Then it tries to calm the creatures. In the end, everything rights itself and the animals do regain their calm. I Am Birch conveys the ideas that nature will reassert itself after chaos and that trials will not last forever. The maintaining of calm and hope in the face of adversity is the idea, the feeling, that I've been trying to identify. So I ask myself, Why read I Am Birch? My answer: the little comments, the striking illustrations, and, primarily, the feeling of stability in the face of chaos.

Son's Review
(age 3)

Mom: Do you have a favorite animal? ... What did you like about the deer so much?

Son: The deer was my favorite ... liked her hat.

Mom: If you met the beaver, what would you say to him?

Son: I would say, "Don't say the cold and darkness."

Mom: Do you have any advice for the beaver?

Son: Say, "It's warm, sunshiny."

Mom: If you saw this birch stump, would you expect it to grow new leaves?

Son: I would because it grows new leaves.

Mom: I didn't expect it, so I was surprised at the end.

Mom: If you could meet any animals or the birch tree -

Son, interrupting: Or the rock!

Mom: Or the rock. Which one would you meet? What would you say?

Son: The rock. "You are a rock."
(In the book, the rock's comment to the birch is, "I am a rock.")

Mom: What would the rock say to you?

Son: "You're a kid."

Mom: How did the story make you feel?...What part made you happiest?

Son: Happy. This [page where the birch grew all its new leaves].

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

Son: When you're feeling sad. Because it makes me happy. Because it's about love. This part [the birch tree] is about love. I'd like to climb it. Look, it has a bunny on it!

Mom: Does the birch tree get love or give love?

Son: Give love. It's like a parent because because because it so many love in it!

A bit extra:
I would recommend checking out the interview with Scott Kelley found under the News tab on Islandport Press's website. He talks a bit more about how the illustrations and the story came to be.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

tiny, perfect things

Written by M. H. Clark
Illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
Published June 4, 2018

Why we chose this book:
I came across this book while browsing upcoming releases online. The cover first caught my eye, and then the synopsis sounded like us — a discovery of tiny "treasures" while walking outside. Compendium provided an advance copy for review.

Mom's Review

A grandfather and his granddaughter take an evening walk, noticing tiny, special things in their neighborhood.

Tiny, Perfect Things has perfect timing. It is now light out later, and kids love to stay out as late as possible. And that is precisely what the little girl in this book gets to do with her grandfather. They stroll through their neighborhood in the evening, pointing out noteworthy "things" to one another, such as a snail or a flower coming up in the sidewalk. As the moon's light begins to bathe the sidewalk, they head home to the girl's parents. The family joyously greets one another, and the little girl voices her wish to repeat the walk tomorrow. The story itself sets a great example for what to do on a summer evening, but it is Kloepper's illustrations that are the real perfect thing in this book. Each page is rich in detail; the hidden gems in the volume are seemingly endless. The final page folds out (see photo below) with an invitation, "How many tiny, perfect things can you find?" On top of that, the characters exude happiness. It is worth noting that the main character is biracial, her mother depicted with a light skin tone and her father with a noticeably darker skin tone. If you are specifically seeking a portrayal of an interracial family, this is a winner. If you are seeking a portrayal of a happy family, this is a winner. If you are seeking a book filled with endless discovery, this is a winner. In short: this book is a winner!

Son's Review
(age 3)

While reading:
Son: I would fly up and get that apple.

Mom: I see a snail. Do you see anything else?

Son: The bird and flowers.

Mom: What does the bird have?...What might the bird be doing with that wheat?

Son: Wheat...Giving it back to a garden.

Mom: I like that idea. I think maybe the bird is making a nest.

Son: I don't think that. I think that he is giving it back to a garden.

Mom: Okay. Maybe he is.

Son: He is.

After reading:
Mom, pointing: I like that little squirrel.

Son, also pointing: I like this ribbon and I like this leaf and I like this footprint.

Mom: Do you have a favorite page?

Son, pointing to snail page: This one. Let's find our favorite things at the end. Here's what I found! (points to a leaf)

Mom: Could you tell me about the book? How did reading it make you feel?

Son: Happy.

Mom: What made you happiest?

Son: Where they were home.

Mom: There's a lot going on on that page. What is the best part?

Son: The daddy holding brownies!

Mom: Would you want to go on a walk like theirs? What would you want to find?

Son: Yeah. I would find her snail. I wouldn't want to take a grown-up because I'm old enough to take a walk by myself.

Mom thinks: No, you're not.
Mom says gently: Oh, baby. Not quite yet, but soon.

Finding our favorite tiny, perfect things on the fold-out.

Awesome endpaper!

Trying to get the tiny, perfect thing from our yard
 to cooperate for a tiny, perfect Instagram shot.

On Our Street

Written by Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap Illustrated by Jane Heinrichs Published February 13, 2018 Why we chose this book: Liv...