Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Look and Find: Moana Book Review

Book Review
Look and Find: Disney Moana
Adapted by Emily Skwish
Illustrated by Art Mawhinney
Published September 1, 2016

Why we chose this book:
T loves seek and find books, and we already had an excellent fit with a TMNT one from Phoenix International Publications. A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review

A well-written seek and find book that is an enjoyable read for me and an enjoyable challenge for T.

T and I still have some disagreements about book selections. He gravitates toward certain topics, authors, or characters. It's the latter that can cause minor battles. He wants Turtles, Batman, or Disney characters. I often don't, because I find them to be poorly written. In contrast to many trademarked character books, Look and Find: Moana is one we enthusiastically agree on. Between the elevated vocabulary (amid, emerge, nautical) and complex, varied sentence structure, the language is just what I want for my little one. And Moana is just what my little one wants. Add to that a challenging, but not frustrating, activity that cultivates attention to detail and concentration, and you've got an all around winner.

Each two-page spread features a portion of the story and a prompt to find particular characters or items (pictured) on the page. The seek and find level of difficulty is perfect for T right now, and the format of the book allows for growth. In the back are further items and characters to locate, but the challenge is greater: you have to remember them as you find the page they are on, and then you find them on that page. One needn't have seen Moana to understand the plot; the story is complete and makes sense even if you are unfamiliar with the film. In short, the Hawaiian princess Moana feels drawn to explore. She does so, finds the demigod Maui, has adventures, and rescues her island in the process. Her adventures center around returning the stolen heart of a goddess who has transformed into a lava monster. Also worth noting: here is a Disney princess of color who does the rescuing herself and has no love interest.

T loves Look and Find: Moana, even though he doesn't like the movie Moana. To give you an idea of how much he's had me read it, I'll just say that I've been quoting the book for about a week now.  Although T doesn't like the movie and never wants to see it again because he is afraid of the lava monster, his favorite part of the book is the lava monster!

Son's Review
(Age: 4)

Mom: What do you like about Look and Find: Moana?

Son: I like that it's scary because of the demon Te Ka.

Mom: Is it hard to find the pictures or easy or a bit of both? Tell me more...

Son: A bit of both. Because at first I can't find it, but then I find it.

Mom: What's the best part?

Son: The best part is the best part. That best part is the scary part because I like Moana and I like the scary part where it actually shows you a picture of Te Ka, not just a tattoo or not just a frame of Te Ka.

Mom: Who do you think would like Moana?

Son: Anyone who likes scary things like demons.

Mom: Do you think Moana was brave? Why?

Son: Yeah. Because she was a little bit nervous but feeled like she could do it. Defeat the demon Te Ka.

Mom: Are you ever like Moana? What can you learn from her?

Son: Yeah because sometimes I'm brave to go to farm school. That being brave is a good thing because I like being brave.

Mom: What if you could meet her?

Son: I would say, "I like scary stories too, like Gramma Tala's, and when I'm going to farm school I am brave." That's what I would tell her.

Mom: Tell me what you think of Maui. What would you say to him?

Son: I think he's strange because he has tattoos that move all over him. All except his face, weird. I would say, "I can defeat Kakamora as quick as a flash because I'm brave and I'm bigger than them so I could defeat them if they were real."

Mom: If you could change into an animal, what would it be? Why?

Son: It would be a monster because monsters are hideous and that would be how I would protect myself, by transforming into a monster.

Mom: Do you like the pictures? What do you like? ... Do you have a favorite page? Why?

Son: Yes. I like that it's about a demon Te Ka...Of course. I'll show you it right now. - It's this one. Like to see it? >>>>>>>

Mom: Oh yes! Why do you like that one? Which one is your favorite baby?

Son: Because I think it was weird how they had so many babies...MOANA!

Mom: That's all the babies from the village. Not one family.

Mom: When is it a good time to read Moana?

Son: When I feel brave.

Mom: Who should read it?

Son: Anyone who likes being brave!

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky Book Review

Book Review
We told T to give a "moon smile." The
telescope is to his right, and the moon
is visible over his shoulder.

A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky
Written by Stuart Atkinson
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Published October 8, 2018

Why we chose this book:
To learn more about astronomy and know what to look for with a telescope (which we've wanted to borrow from WPL for a while.) Laurence King provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review
Part informational, part inspirational, and all sensational! A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky is fun and informative for kids and adults.

A cute cat narrating how to stargaze and what to look for immediately sparks the imagination. This cat, inspired by real French cats who went to space, introduces topics that range from what to wear to the history of reading the sky to constellations by season to phases of the moon, with everything an amateur stargazer like myself might imagine, with the Northern Lights and satellites thrown in as well (I wouldn't have thought to look for satellites and I am too far south for the Northern Lights). Each two-page spread is devoted to a different topic, with a basic answer on one page, and more detailed information on the facing page. Fun and informative illustrations accompany all text. The more generalized answer is great for younger kids, and then readers can determine how much more detail they'd like to read. T was less interested in why stars are different colors than he was in comparing the sizes of different colored stars. I, however, was interested in learning about the different types of stars.

I know very little about the night sky, but I love seeing stars and the Milky Way. As a kid, Venus would rise over my best friend's house; her dad pointing it out to us was always incredibly exciting! Since then, and a 6th-grade trip to Catalina Island where we learned the constellations at night, I've been interested in astronomy but have never pursued knowledge. Now, with a little kiddo whose enthusiasm about the world is boundless, we can learn together. Worcester Public Library has a program where you can check out a telescope, which I think is just about the coolest thing. We did that in conjunction with reading this book. You certainly don't need a telescope to look at stars, read this book, or follow the phases of the moon, but it was thrilling for us. We were especially excited to read about "rays" on the moon, because we saw them!

Why I like A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky soooo much is threefold: it covers basic astronomy in a way that is appropriate to a range of ages, it is written with an engaging and entertaining tone, and, because it is so easy to actually put the information to use, it inspires us to look at the night sky. Oh, and we've checked out more night sky books from the library! We need more info on meteors.

This book has sparked stargazing, further reading, telescope use, and what I can only describe as "quality time" with my son and husband. It's an enjoyable read in its own right, but after reading it (or sections of it), it's hard to just stick it on a shelf.

Son's Review
T's favorite planet is the blue one.
(Age: 4)

Mom: What's the best thing about A Cat's Guide?

Son: To the Night Sky!

Mom: Okay. The whole title. What's the best thing? Why?

Son, pointing to winter sky page: This part! The best thing is "extra." Because I like it. I like that it's about snow and winter and I like winter and snow.
(The season pages have "sky extras," such as meteor showers, that you'll see in addition to the constellations during that particular season.)

Mom: What do you want to learn more about? Do you have a specific question?

Son: The sun. Yes. Why do people get burned?

Mom: Because it's soooo hot. Wasn't it so cool to see the moon up close? What did you like about that?
(The heat of the sun is covered in one of the more detailed sections, which is still a bit above T's level right now.)

Son: YEEEES!!! I liked that it was the moon...[I liked] the lines. I liked the moon because it looked kinda like the sun but it just isn't as hot.
(We saw the rays of debris from an impact)

Mom: Is there anything you'd like to look for next time we have the telescope?

Son: That thing is space! It is the sun.

Mom: Oh, we never look at the sun through a telescope. That could make you blind. Is there something else you'd want to look for?

Son: Boulders hitting the Earth! Asteroids!

Mom: What did you think of the cat who told us about the sky?

Son, with a huge grin: Silly!

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

Son: When I'm interested in space.

Mom: Who should read it?

Son: Anyone who likes space. D- He likes space.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Falcon's Feather Book Review

Book Review

The Falcon's Feather (Explorer Academy #2)
By Trudi Trueit
Published March 19, 2019

Why I chose this book:
After The Nebula Secret, I am excited to review this follow up from National Geographic. A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

The Falcon's Feather picks up right where its predecessor left off: Cruz and his fellow students are aboard the Orion for their semester at sea with the Explorer Academy. In addition to the curriculum, Cruz, Emmett, and Sailor are trying to decipher a clue left by Cruz's mom. Each clue will lead to a puzzle piece and the next clue. Once Cruz has found all puzzle pieces, he will have the formula for a powerful drug that can cure some of the worst diseases and injuries. Nebula Pharmaceuticals does not want this formula found, of course. In fact, it is they who caused the death of Cruz's mother and they who are behind the attacks on Cruz himself; this Big Pharma company will stop at nothing to stay obscenely profitable. One of the exciting developments in The Falcon's Feather is that we are given a firsthand glimpse of the villain's plans, and we find out that a student is working for them! The suspense was killing me as I read! Fear not, you can read on with no spoilers.

The groundwork for the series was laid in the first book, and now we get to accompany the youth explorers on their first mission. Cruz's class is asked to help rescue a pod of right whales, several of which have become entangled in fishing nets. The technology is again amazing, with a translator that interprets whale-song and allows Cruz to send a message of assurance and aid to the whales while his teammates cut the nets away. As before, back matter informs the reader about the real-life inspiration for events and gizmos (bycatch is a significant threat to whales, but there are smart buoys that monitor whale presence in shipping corridors). It comes as no surprise that a book put forth by National Geographic would highlight endangered animals, man's impact on them, and man's responsibility. The second adventure for Cruz and his friends features melting glaciers and environmental change. These issues are the backdrop for the adrenaline rush that is Cruz's search for the puzzle piece, which takes him all the way to Iceland!

The diverse preteens are coming into their own as young people do over the course of a school year, developing friendships and crushes, making mistakes, and supporting one another. (But throughout, one can't help but wonder who the traitor is.) And as Trueit introduces animals and locations, she paints such vivid images that you can easily imagine yourself alongside Cruz. Again, the storytelling, the story, and the background message make for a thrilling and timely novel. Definitely a series to follow!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me Book Review

Book Review
There's a blue blanket under T, a pillow and toys
behind the book, and a drink - just like Benji has.
He set this all up and asked me to take the photo.

Benji, the Bad Day, and Me
Written by Sally J. Pla
Illustrated by Ken Min
Published October 9, 2018

Why we chose this book: 
To see how the characters handle bad days (confronting tough feelings is a theme always on my radar). And I think representation of different needs is invaluable. Lee and Low Books provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review:
When Sammy comes home cold, wet, and hungry after a bad day at school, he compares his bad days with his little brother Benji's. Sammy believes that no one cares about his bad like they do for Benji, who receives particular consideration on his bad days. Readers will observe that although Sammy contrasts their situations, there is little animosity; in the end it is Benji who comforts Sammy. The final page shows both boys together, Sammy saying, "Side by side is where we are, and how we'll always be!"

Although we are not told that Benji is a boy with autism, adults and some older children may recognize characteristics and resources associated with autism: Benji visits a down-town clinic each week where the Super-Happy Lady encourages him to play a game or throw a ball, but Benji never does; Benji speaks very little; Benji needs a small, quiet, enclosed space to regain his calm; Benji is soothed by a blanket wrapped tightly around him. Back matter also outlines some autistic tendencies, noting the author's son's experience as inspiration for this book.

Clearly a book featuring neurodiversity and a bit of sibling disgruntlement, Benji, the Bad Day, and Me depicts an understanding and appreciation for differences by both brothers. Each has his own bad days and his own needs; both boys' needs are portrayed as equally valid - neither is right or wrong. Children with younger siblings may feel validated by the portrayal of Sammy's complex feelings about Benji. And children with siblings whose needs differ noticeably from their own can especially identify with Sammy, recognizing their own love and challenges in his.

T has been having me read Benji, the Bad Day, and Me back to back. We've talked about how the boys feel, how they treat each other, and how we handle bad days. T really likes that Benji has a box to play in. He doesn't pick up on the autism-spectrum behaviors Benji exhibits, and I don't point them out. It's all just part of the story and part of who Benji and Sammy are. And that's kind of the point, isn't it?

Son's Review:
(Age: 4)

Mom: What is the most important thing to know? What do you really like about it?

Son: It's a good one because I really like it. Because it is a story with a box and I like that kind of story.

Mom: Both boys had bad days. Do you sometimes feel that way? What makes you feel better?

Son: Uh-huh. Being loved makes me feel better.

Mom: Would you want to be friends with Sammy? What would you want to do with him?

Son: I would say, "Sometimes I have bad days and what I like to do to help myself is do fun things." Well if it were a long time, I would want to have a movie night with popcorn and go to Mohegan Sun and use the telescope. And try to comfort Sammy.

Mom: What about Benji, who has the box and the blanket?

Son: I would also help him. I would take both brothers to Mohegan Sun and in my backyard to do the telescope and watch a movie with popcorn, which I would do with the brothers as the first thing. And then I would have dinner and then I would have dessert and then I would telescope and then I would do Mohegan Sun.

Mom: Benji is in preschool just like you. Does he do anything you also like to do?

Son: Of course! Be in boxes.

Mom: How did it make you feel when Benji came out of his box? And when he rolled up Sammy?

Son: Curious. Then I knew that. That's what Daddy does with my towel.

Mom: How do you think Sammy and Benji felt? ... How do you think they felt at the end?

Son: Mad and sad and bad. ... Happy because their mother maded them a drink.

Mom: How did the ending make you feel?

Son: Happy because they got what they liked.

Mom: What was your favorite part of the book?

Son: The part in the middle. The part with the box.

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

Son: When I'm feeling sad and bad and mad.

Mom: Who else might like this book? People who...

Son: Like to solve problems and have box houses.

My staging...yeah, T's is way better.

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Plan for Pops Book Review

Book Review
A Plan for Pops
Written by Heather Smith
Illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
Published February 19, 2019

Why we chose this book:
We enjoyed Angus All Aglow by Heather Smith, I keep my eyes for any wheelchair-related picture books, and I'm keen on books that feature creative problem solving. Orca Book Publishers provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review:
A little boy, Lou, spends every weekend with his grandfathers. They have an enviable routine that starts with breakfast, moves to the library, continues on to lunch, and proceeds to snuggles and stories, and finally ends with constructing and inventing. One Saturday, however, Lou's Pops falls on the stairs out of the house. That evening, they get the news that Pops will need to use a wheelchair from now on. This is stated simply, with no negative undertones. Pops, however, slides into a depression and is not seen by Lou for weeks. Lou and Granddad are heartbroken at Pops's refusal to leave his room until the day Lou decides to get Pops back into the old swing of things. And this is what I so love about A Plan for Pops: the problem-solving.

Lou sketches out his plan, asks his Granddad for help, and engages the neighbors in his epic construction. He combines skills learned from each of his grandfathers (construction and engineering from Granddad and arts from Pops), to set up a mechanism that will turn on the stereo to Pops's favorite song. When the song ends, Lou arrives with a glass of juice topped with a paper umbrella (a Pops special). Lou has obviously considered what Pops enjoys, what will elicit happiness and remind Pops of his special bond with his grandson (you can see a family portrait by Lou framed over Pops's bed). Pops does indeed feel encouraged enough to make a try for the library, and what awaits him out his front door is nothing short of life-changing. Lou, Granddad, and the neighbors have built a ramp for Pops; now he can enter and exit his home. The joy as Lou pushes Pops to the library is palpable, and all three resume their previous routine with no hindrance from Pops new ride.

The three main takeaways from A Plan for Pops:
1. kids have the power to creatively solve problems
2. a wheelchair isn't bad, it just is
3. engineering and art complement one another

Uplifting and empowering, A Plan for Pops is a great read with inspiring messaging and lovely illustrations.

Son's Review:
(Age: 4)

Mom: What did you like best about this book?

Son: I - what I liked about this book was that they built contraptions.

Mom: I liked how the boy solved the problem. He made a plan and asked for help and did it.

Son: That was also my favorite part.

Mom: Do you like to make plans?

Son: Yes. And the plan I just made right now is, "Read a book!"

Mom: Why do you think the ramp was so important to Pops?

Son: Because he could drive his wheelchair.

Mom: And before the ramp? ... What did that mean for him?

Son: There was stairs... That was a bad thing because he fell.

Mom: How would you feel if you were Lou in this book?

Son: Me? I would feel happy and I would feel sad. Happy that I was written about in a story and sad because Pops fell.

Mom: What do you think the author and illustrator want to tell the audience about wheelchairs?...Walk or get around?

Son: They're very important because they help you to walk...Get around.

Mom: What would you say to Lou if you could meet him?

Son: If I met him when Pops fell, I would try to comfort him.

Mom: Would you want to spend a weekend with Granddad, Pops, and Lou? Why?

Son: Yeah. Because I want to! Building contraptions!

Mom: When is it a good time to read A Plan for Pops?

Son: When I'm problem solving.

Mom: Who else should read this book?

Son: Anyone else who likes to do problem solving!

Mom: And final question: What's the most important thing to know about A Plan for Pops?

Son: That it's a good book.

T added the umbrella to his drink after our
book photo shoot - he couldn't be happier!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Nebula Secret Book Review

Book Review
The Nebula Secret (Explorer Academy #1)
Written by Trudi Trueit
Published August 28, 2018

Why I chose this book:
An adventure novel for middle grade students from National Geographic? I miss reading all my students' book selections, I want to expand my coverage on this blog, and I'm a big fan of National Geographic. How could I resist the offer of a review copy from a representative of National Geographic?


The Nebula Secret follows twelve-year-old Cruz as he enters his first year at the Explorer Academy. He is excited and nervous to train as an explorer; he will live on campus in Washington, D.C., and study a range of topics from anthropology to journalism to survival training. After several weeks, he is supposed to set sail with his classmates on the Orion, where they will spend at least a semester at sea. Of course, things do not go as expected — this is an adventure novel, after all.

Cool tech, close friendships, and a school bully punctuate this heart-pounding adventure-mystery. The twelve-year-olds are completely believable, and the sci-fi aspect is more "just around the corner" than fiction (the series is put out by National Geographic, so that's not surprising). The entire premise of an Academy that trains young explorers to understand the world, conserve resources and cultures, and inform the public is fascinating and appealing. I've no doubt that being accepted at the Academy would be a dream come true (I'm not sure if I'd have rather received my Hogwarts letter or my Explorer Academy letter). Back matter presents a "Truth behind the Fiction" section, introducing real explorers and explaining some of the inspiration for developments in the novel. And finally, Trudi Trueit's writing itself captivates, drawing one so fully into Cruz's first year that you'll feel like you're right there on his team the whole time (and that you hate Nebula with a passion).

Nebula is the mysterious and powerful villain out to get Cruz, though it's not initially clear why (it's related to his mother's medical research at the Academy). At first Cruz doesn't even know if Nebula is a person or a group or what (it's a pharmaceutical company). With help from a couple close classmates and his best friend back home in Hawaii, he is able to successfully navigate the first few weeks of the term. Just before he is to set sail, however, he is expelled and attacked. I will leave it at that, so as not to spoil the whole thing. But I will say that this is a top-notch middle-grade novel. If you know someone who is into exploring, cool advanced tech, and adventure stories — this is a stellar read! I am about to start the next book, which comes out later this month. You can expect a follow-up review soon.

I don't want T to grow up too fast, but this is totally one I'd want to read with him! And if this means anything to you, it reminds me of the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Racism and Intolerance Book Review

Book Review
Racism and Intolerance (Children in our World)
Written by Louise Spilsbury
Illustrated by Hanane Kai
Published in 2018

Why we chose this book:
We've been talking a lot about racism lately for two reasons, one of which is that we recently watched Disney's Peter Pan. I only remembered liking it as a kid; I sure didn't remember the "Indian Camp" and everything related to it in Neverland. I knew the racist stereotypes couldn't go unaddressed as we watched, and as I explained and talked to T, I knew I could use a little help in addressing such an important topic. B.E.S. Publishing provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review

In the same series as Refugees and Migrants, Racism and Intolerance presents a factual explanation of what racism and intolerance are, how they might arise, who helps in difficult situations, and how we can bridge the gap between ourselves and those whom we may consider to be "different." Appropriate to young children and grade-school children alike, the audience will learn that although groups of people may be treated negatively because of race or religion, this is never acceptable. More of an explanation of how racism plays out in different situations, and how it should be addressed, Racism and Intolerance urges readers to consider how they would feel if they were targeted. Children of different skin tones and children wearing various religious attire appear throughout the book, both as victims and allies.

Less is done to explain why people may be racist, which is the question that I have been struggling to answer for T. A section titled "What causes prejudice?" notes that "people can become prejudiced when one person from a group does something bad...they start to believe that everyone from that group is bad." Readers are reminded to respect different ways of life, even if they do not agree with them. I think overall this book can be a really helpful resource for addressing racism. I would have liked more content about why people may be racist and intolerant. I am still struggling to address the squirm-inducing caricatures of Native Americans in Peter Pan with T at the age of 4.

A useful tool that provides a springboard for worthwhile conversations, Racism and Intolerance, is appropriate to children, remaining realistic and ending on an encouraging note.

Son's Review
(Age: 4)

Mom: You and I have been talking about racism and intolerance a lot lately, and I had hoped that this book would help you understand. Was it helpful? What did you learn from the book?

Son: Helpful. Well, let me say. It is "don't be racism."

Mom: Well, we knew racism is wrong...

Son: It's not right to be racist. I want to tell you that.

Mom: That's right! What was helpful in this book?

Son: That it helped me learn about how President Trump treats people. Well I think it is not right to do bad things like President Trump does.

Mom: I agree. A lot of people agree. That's why people have been doing the marches I've been telling you about the marches, and the phone calls and emails to lawmakers.

Son: I'll show you my favorite page...

Mom: What did you like?

Son: I like that the police came, that they're telling the bad boy, "Be nice."

Mom: How did you feel reading this book?

Son: Like "this is not right."

Mom: How did you feel about seeing the same cat from Refugees and Migrants?

Son: Relieved because I thought that was the only one with the cat!

Mom: What is the most important thing to know about this book?

Son: That it's a good book. That it is not right to be unfair.

Mom: When is it a good time to read Racism and Intolerance?

Son: When I see people being bad, I'm gonna read them — I'm gonna show them the pictures in it.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

This Time Book Review

Book Review
This Time (Nadira Holden Book 1)
By Azaaa Davis
Published October 1, 2018

Why I chose this book:
A badass female demon hunter? Hell yes!
A review copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Mom's Review

This Time begins with Nadira Holden regaining consciousness in a confined space, which turns out to be a coffin. She doesn't recall dying, and spends a terrifying few minutes using her superhuman, Child of Orion strength to claw and dig her way out. She makes her way back home, thinking someone has played a horrible prank on her, a demon fighter. When she arrives, she learns that 25 years have elapsed since her death, her father is missing, and demon fighters are illegal. Nadira struggles to accept the this truth; her reactions to challenges, obstacles, and personal crises are what I love about Azaaa Davis's writing. Believable, sometimes weak, but overall resilient, Nadira is portrayed as the type of woman one might aspire to be. Although she has been trained from a young age to vanquish demons and protect the human race, she is no machine: she balances her humanity, compassion, and duty in a way that makes her a compelling character that I want to read more about (when is that next book coming out?).

Without giving spoilers, I can tell you that some surprises await Nadria along the way. The biggest one I started to see coming, and was gratified that I was right. The foreshadowing was just enough for me to remain uncertain until that satisfying discovery. The plot was exciting and unpredictable, though never outlandish (given that we're talking about fighting demons, that is). It really is hard to not give away the ending or the most thrilling developments, but I can tell you that there are some crazy-awesome fight scenes, complicated demon interactions, and characters that I didn't want to stop reading about. I finished This Time in three nights — I didn't want to put it down, but T has been waking at 5, so I had no choice.

The world-building, the plot, the characters, the relationships — everything — is so thoroughly planned and skillfully executed that This Time is a compelling, fantastic urban fantasy.

Son's Review
(Age: 4)

Son: What's your book about?

Mom: See this lady on the cover? She's a demon hunter. She protects people.

Son: *grabs book and runs off, then comes back a few minutes later* Come see my setup!

T had opened The Storyteller of Damascus to his favorite page (the one with the demons) and stood up This Time so that Nadira and the demon were facing off!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Dream Flights on Arctic Nights Book Review

Book Review
Dream Flights on Arctic Nights
Written by Brooke Hartman
Illustrated by Evon Zerbetz
Published February 26, 2019

Why we chose this book:
We're always looking to expand our knowledge of animals and different corners of the globe! Alaska Northwest Books provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

Dream Flights on Arctic Nights is magical. The black pages lit by bright stars, white text, and vivid arctic animals evoke an atmosphere of mystery and fantasy. They are reminiscent of the moons and stars on a wizard's dark robe.

When a child (boy?) makes a bedtime wish to fly, a raven peeks in through the bedroom window and whisks him off on a starlit adventure. (I'm referring to the child as a boy, because T interpreted the child as male, but you could go either way.) Flying high, they visit a different animal or two on each page and swoop beneath the Northern Lights before heading back as dawn breaks. Readers will see the raven flying away with the tassel from the child's hat on the final page, leaving a feather on the pillow. The blanket under which the child is snuggled is now dotted with animal portraits. At the start of night, the blanket was merely blue.

From narwhals and snowy owls to caribou and puffins, the animals and the art are the reason to read this book. As I read, I felt that I was falling into the depths of a beautiful night filled with spectacular animals who greet me from the snow and glaciers. It certainly helps that the story is written in the first person, and that it would be a dream come true for me to see all of the animals up close. Some books I get more into than others when I'm reading to T. This is definitely one that I got really into.

Read it to feel enchanted and meet Arctic animals. I hope you love it as much as we do!

Son's Review
(Age: 4)
Mom: Do you think the boy was really flying or do you think it was all a dream?

Son: It was all a dream.

Mom: I saw the raven carrying something. Why do you think the raven took the string off the hat?

Son: I think the boy gave it to him.

Mom: Look - there are animals on the blanket at the, but no animals at the beginning...I wonder why the artist did that...

Son: Well, maybe just at the starting his blanket was all regular and the raven drew those little pictures on his blanket.

Favorite animal #2
Mom: I just noticed something else. Look at his pillowcase. Why do you think the raven left a feather?

Son: As a present.

Mom: Did you have a favorite animal?

Son: Um-hm. This one! (points to otters)

Mom: That's my favorite animal that I already knew, but I have a new favorite one. Do you have a favorite one that you just learned?

Son: This one [the wolverine] and this one [shrew].

Mom: Hey! We see a shrew at the EcoTarium! How did you feel reading this book?

Son: Happy!

Mom: Me too! What was the best part of Dream Flights?

Son: All of it!
Favorite animal #3

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Storyteller of Damascus Book Review

Book Review
The Storyteller of Damascus
Written by Rafik Schami
Illustrated by Peter Knorr
Translated by Hiltrud Schulz and Michel Moushabeck
US Publication: December 5, 2018

Why we chose this book: 
I try to keep my eye out for German books appearing in our market and came across this before its publication date. It looked a bit advanced for T, and when I told him about it, he wasn't super keen. I was disappointed. However, Crocodile Books included a review copy for our consideration with a book we had requested. I was thrilled, and T has done a 180 now that he's read it and seen the pictures.

Mom's Review

You could read this as a fairy tale, as a critique of consumerism, or as both. It is beautifully narrated and illustrated. The frame is that of a childhood recollection: the narrator remembers a storyteller who visited his or her alley every month, offering free stories and a chance to view the illustrations in a wonder chest for only one piaster (a few cents). The children are always entranced by his tales and enchanted by the images that scroll through the chest. Over time, however, the images become worn, and the storyteller replaces them with images from advertisements and magazines, which change and deform his stories. The children's love turns to disdain until the storyteller returns a few years later, with an empty chest and only his voice. When the children peer into the dark chest and listen to the story, they can see the original images in their minds' eyes and are enchanted once again. Once the bizarre assemblage of images is gone, the children's imaginations blossom and they rediscover the magic of narrative.

The fairytale within is no less entertaining than the frame. A poor young shepherd, Sami, falls in love with a rich farmer's daughter, Leyla. The two care only for each other, but the father intends for her to wed a rich, old sheikh. He sets obstacle after obstacle in Sami's path, from milking a lion to procuring 300 camels as dowry, but the shepherd overcomes them all. After several adventures, the two wed, to their own joy and to that of the entire village.

The frame narrative is set in Damascus; we can infer that the fairy tale is set in Syria as well. T made a comment to me later one evening after we had read it a couple of times earlier in the day. He told me that it reminded him of Aladdin. I asked him why, assuming that it had something to do with the storyline about a poor young man trying to marry a rich young lady, or perhaps that Knorr and the Disney team both draw the hero in the same style of pants. T hadn't picked up on either of those similarities, he told me. Instead, he explained that it was because the artists drew Sami and Aladdin with the same color skin. We talked about where each story was set, and how skin tone can vary by geographical region. It was interesting to me to see how a four-year old picked up on race in this book in particular. We read a pretty diverse cast of characters, so I'm not sure why this one stood out to him. It certainly opened the door to an easy conversation about race and geography. Do your kiddos react to race in their books? What strikes them?

Son's Review
"My favorite page is the one with the demon!"

(Age: 4)

Son: Why are you crying?

Mom: I'm crying because he doesn't have the chest anymore, but, well, are the children looking at the pictures in the chest or in their mind?

Son: In their mind. Dream movies are pictures in your mind with guys talking in the pictures.

Mom: Look at the beginning. See how how the children look through the little windows to see the pictures? But what happened? Did the children like the story anymore?

Son: Replace [the pictures]. No.

Mom: Why do you think the children liked no pictures better than the advertisement pictures?

Son: Because it is magic.

Mom: Is it really magic or did it just feel like magic?

Son: It just felt like magic.

Mom: What happened when he used no pictures? How did the children feel?

Son: Excited!

Mom: That's right. They had missed him. Do you think they remembered the original pictures?...How did the book make you feel?

Son: Yeah. A little bit sad because he [Sami] didn't get a donkey or a white horse anymore and his motorcycle got stolen. And why I felt happy is because he got to marry her.

Mom: Did you like the story with Sami and Leyla or the story with Sami and Colgate better?

Son: This one! [points to Sami and Leyla]

Mom: Would you want to see a picture story like this? Does it remind you of any toy you have?

Son: Yeah...My microscope!
(His microscope talks about what each slide shows.)

Son: Let's read it again!

Mom: Can you tell me what you liked so much?

Son: That it had two stories with Sami in it. Now let's read.

Mom: Let's, but could I ask you another question? If the storyteller came down our street, what would you do?

Son: I'd go and say, "Hi, my name's T. What's your name?"

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