Monthly Archives: September 2014

Trendy Tuesday: I Am Otter


For today’s second trendy Tuesday post, I will be reviewing I Am Otter, illustrated and written by Sam Garton.


I Am Otter follows the story of Otter, who lives with his two best friends Otter Keeper and Teddy.  The story begins with Otter explaining that no one knows where he came from, but that Otter Keeper found Otter as a baby in a box on his doorstep one day.  While it took a little while for Otter to warm up to his new surroundings, he soon befriended Otter Keeper and Teddy, a stuffed animal bear.  Otter grows quite comfortable in his new home, and soon he, Otter Keeper, and Teddy are inseparable.  However, Otter Keeper must start going to work.  Otter does all he can to keep Otter Keeper from going to work, but it was a lost cause.  Once understanding that there was nothing Otter could do about Otter Keeper going to work, Otter decided to open a toast restaurant with Teddy that catered to all of the other stuffed animals and toys in the house.  However, things with the toast restaurant certainly did not go as planed because Teddy made mistakes such as not taking reservations and messing up the toast orders, and Otter got so mad that he ultimately fired Teddy and replaced him with Giraffe.  Otter Keeper soon arrived home, and was not happy with Otter about the fact that his kitchen was an absolute mess.  That night, Otter realized that he had not seen Teddy since he had fired him.  Otter got very worried that because he was mean to Teddy, Teddy had run off with someone else to start a new toast restaurant.  Otter woke up Otter Keeper, and the two of them spent the night searching for their friend.  They finally found Teddy in the toy box.  The story ends with Otter recognizing that he doesn’t mind Otter Keeper going to work as much since he is still able to spend the day with Teddy.

i am otter2

I Am Otter is a very humorous story that would be fitting to be read aloud to students who are pre-kindergarten through second grade.  I recommend it for this age group because it is simple to understand and does not feature too many advanced words.  However, Garton does a wonderful job of telling the story in a way that would be entertaining to children of all ages.  Additionally, Garton has beautiful illustrations throughout the book.  While there is a good amount of white space on his pages, I do not think that this takes away from the story.  Instead, his illustrations are so detailed and carefully drawn that the white space helps to highlight his wonderful pictures.

As an additional fun fact, Garton’s stories about Otter actually began on a blog he started in 2009, titled “I Am Otter: The Unheard Ramblings of a Modern Day Domestic Otter.”  You can visit Garton’s blog here.


Overall, I would definitely recommend I Am Otter by Sam Garton to someone on the market for a picture book for this age group.

Trendy Tuesday: Not Your Typical Dragon


Today I decided to review Not Your Typical Dragon. This book was published in 2013, but I believe it can still be considered “trendy”. notyourtypicaldragon

Not Your Typical Dragon is written by Dan Bar-el and illustrated by Tim Bowers. It is the story of a young dragon named Crispin. The story opens with him anticipating his birthday and being able to finally breathe fire. He soon realizes that he is unable to breathe fire and instead seems to breathe the thing most necessary at the time. For instance, when his father takes him to the doctor to try and figure out what is wrong with him he breathes bandaids instead of fire. The nurse quickly says how they have been in need of bandaids. Crispin continues to find himself unable to breathe fire and eventually decides that because of this he will disappoint everyone and so he needs to run away. When he runs away he encounters and knight named Sir George. Sir George and Crispin soon become friends because Sir George has to fight a fire breathing dragon but is afraid to and Crispin is unable to breathe fire. Sir George and Crispin try many different things to see if they can teach Crispin to breathe fire but ultimately fail. However, these attempts are humorous and would be entertaining to young children. Crispin brings his new friend, Sir George, home with him. Crispin’s father gets very upset and begins to breathe fire over everything and cannot stop. Crispin is able to stop the fire because he breathes what is most needed at the time, water. The story ends with Cripsin’s next birthday and his father saying that Crispin is not your typical dragon, he is something special.


This book is a humorous story that could also be helpful to children who are struggling in school or at home because they feel different. It does a good job of using a silly situation to help young readers see that it is okay to be different and have unique talents. Ultimately, Crispin learns that his talents are helpful and that he is needed. The illustrations are colorful and humorous. The characters emotions are very well expressed and I believe that young children would be very amused with this book. I think that it could be helpful to parents or teachers in explaining that it is okay to be different and stand out from other people. It uses a good balance of humor and real emotions to allow for young children to connect with Crispin. I think this book should be used with younger children, pre-k to first graders. The writing style would agree with this, however some vocabulary may have to be explained. Overall, it is an enjoyable book with a good ending moral message.

-Becca Jacques

Free Friday: Breathe


Breathe written and illustrated by Scott Magoon (2014) is a delightful and beautiful children’s book about a young whale learning how to be a whale. Each page of Breathe contains a colorful and perceptive illustration with a simple instruction for the whale calf (who is never named, but who is described as “little whale” on the first page). The instructions are presumably given by the calf’s mother, who is featured throughout the book as a consistent and loving presence around the young whale. The instructions given by the mother whale range from “Play all day” to “love” to, of course, “Breathe.” Based on these instructions and others, Breathe features advice to human children learning to explore the earth on two or four limbs as much as it comments on the life of a whale learning to swim through the ocean depths.

Breathe is simplistic yet extraordinary, and this unlikely combination is best demonstrated through the interaction of text and illustration. The book’s text is appropriate for young children because it features a minimal amount of words and straightforward instructions without shying away from words that may seem mildly out of reach for a baby, toddler, or preschooler. On each page we see the “little whale” smile, fearless, as he fulfills the wishes set forth in the text. The result is a positive yet subtle theme of exploration and living a life of joy.

The illustrations in Breathe are sure to captivate the attention of young children. Toddlers and preschoolers will love following along with the story through the illustrations, and children just learning how to read may find that Breathe makes a good starting point. Children of all backgrounds will love diving right into a new world with the “little whale,” while youngsters familiar with the Arctic will love seeing their beloved animals come to life on a page. Yet, as much as Breathe captivates, it also soothes, making it a perfect bedtime story. I suspect Scott Magoon had the bedtime setting in mind when he wrote the last lines: “Sleep deep tonight,” and “Breathe.”

— Lauren Heyano


Traditional Thursdays: Angelina Ballerina

Traditional Thursdays: Angelina Ballerina

Most little girls (and some boys too!) dream of being a ballet dancer at some point while growing up. Whether it be the beautifully ornate costumes, graceful movements, or the thrill of performing on stage, ballet dancing always seems to capture the hearts and imagination of children. As a dancer of fifteen years myself, I fell in love with this book at a very young age and was overwhelmed with warm memories upon rereading. This week’s Traditional Thursday selection, Angelina Ballerina written by Katharine Holabird and illustrated by Helen Craig (1983), tells the story of little white mouse named Angelina who dreams of becoming a ballerina.

The book opens with the simple statement, “More than anything else in the world, Angelina loved to dance.” Whether in her room, on the playground, in the kitchen, or in her dreams at night, Angelina dances wherever she is. She spends so much time dancing, however, that she often neglects her chores and is late to school. As is easy to do when exploring the realms of your imagination, Angelina is oblivious of the world around her. She upsets the boys in her class by not letting them catch her during recess, knocks over her mother’s Cheddar cheese pies, and even squashes Mrs. Hodgepodge’s pansies!

Angelina-imageAngelina’s mother and father finally decide that it’s time to enroll Angelina in dance classes. They even buy her a pink ballet dress and shoes. Angelina is overjoyed! She takes lessons at Miss Lilly’s Ballet School with nine other little girls. Miss Lilly encourages Angelina that if she works hard enough, she might grow up to be a ballerina! At home, Angelina now helps with the chores and is no longer late to school; she even lets the boys catch her on the playground!

The book ends concludes with,

“She went every day to her ballet lessons and worked very hard for many years…until at last she became the famous ballerina mademoiselle Angelina, and people came from far and wide to enjoy her lovely dancing.”

The exquisitely detailed illustrations by Helen Craig remind me of a ballerina. They are light, effortlessly beautiful, and extremely nuanced, with each line perfectly placed. The plain white backdrop of the pages focuses the reader on the illustrations and the story. My favorite part of the book though is the ending. Too often, I feel, children have their early dreams of becoming a firefighter, astronaut, garbage man, or ballerina dismissed too early by adults. Angelina Ballerina is a wonderful resource for teaching that with enough dedication, hard work, and passion, achieving your dreams is possible. And for the aspiring ballerinas (or dance lovers in general) out there, this book is perfect. Holabird’s use of proper ballet terminology, such as plié and arabesque, add a sophisticated authenticity to the book. Overall, Angelina Ballerina is a classic children’s book that incites the imaginations and wildest dreams of children everywhere. ballet-group

Author and Illustrator Info and Related Books

  • Katharine Holabird grew up in Chicago, Illinois but moved to Italy after college to write. She now lives in London, which is where she authored Angelina Ballerina (at her kitchen table!). The story and characters in the Angelina Ballerina series are based off her children. Her two daughters loved to dance, and their younger brother was the inspiration behind the character of Henry, who is introduced in subsequent Angelina Ballerina books. She is also the author of a new picture book series Twinkle.
  • Helen Craig is a native of England and still lives there today with her family. She is a member of the Terry family, who were famously talented members of the theatrical community in the 1800s. Other than Angelina Ballerina, Craig has also illustrated the Bear books (This is the Bear, This is the Bear and the Picnic Lunch, This is the Bear and the Scary Night) as well as authoring The Night of the Paper Bag Monsters and the Mouse House series of picture books.
  • There are thirteen Angelina Ballerina picture books, two Angelina Ballerina early readers, and four Angelina Ballerina chapter books (see below). So…as young readers progress, they can follow Angelina’s love of ballet and fun adventures in stories that match their level of reading ability.

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Fun Facts

  • In 2006, Katharine and Angelina were invited to attend the Queen of England’s 80th Birthday celebration!
  • Katharine Holabird is fluent in three languages: English, French, and Italian
  • The Angelina Ballerina books were turned into an actual ballet performed by The English National Ballet in 2007

Winner Wednesday: Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Brigitta Sif


On this very steamy Winner Wednesday on campus, I will be reviewing Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance, written and illustrated by Birgitta Sif. This watercolor illustrated book captures the idea of appreciating ones individuality and the power of freedom of expression.


Frances Dean is a shy little girl who loves to dance; she is the best example of someone who has caught the dancing bug. She realizes that it is not “appropriate” to dance around town, but she can hardly keep still in class and finds her fingers tapping along to the beat in her head. One day as Frances is exploring the forest, the only place she feels comfortable enough to dance, she comes across a girl younger than herself who is singing with the birds without a care in the world. Her observations of the younger girl cause Frances to realize the importance of self-worth. The next day, Frances finally lets her dancing feet do their magic and is delighted by the appreciation other people in the town have for her moves. Frances Dean finally found the confidence to dance as her heart desired and it was all because of the younger girl who was singing with the birds.

I think that this book serves as a great platform or segway into a discussion about appreciation for others talents and self-assurance in one’s own hobbies. This book could serve as a read aloud to younger children who are having a problem with bullying in the classroom or even an individual read that would help the children with creating their own stories. This is possible because the illustrations are so brilliant. The illustrator demonstrates a deep understanding of the use of space by varying the amount of negative space on the pages.

This draws the reader’s eyes to the importance of the illustration and accents the story ever so perfectly. The illustrations have a life-like demeanor to them that will captivate the audience and maintain their attention. I believe that another classroom use of this book would be to have the children share their hobbies with the class and reinforce the no-judgment mentality that Frances Dean lives by in this book. This will demonstrate to the children that it is acceptable to act and do the things that you enjoy doing because everyone is unique in their own way.

As I have protested above, I believe that this is a great representation of Winner Wednesday, but no book is perfect. I think that there could be a little more depth within the plotline. I feel as if Frances does not struggle with her desire to dance as much as I would have hoped. If Frances overcame more hurdles having to do with her dancing, I think that this book could encapsulate a whole life skills curriculum, but seeing as Frances finds herself fairly easily, I believe that complimentary resources would be necessary to fully get the idea across to children.

Melissa Hunt



This week on Winning Wednesday I will be reviewing Locomotive, the 2014 Caldecott Award winner, by Brian Floca. Locomotive allows readers to enter a time long ago when the transcontinental railroad had just finished being built. Children learn about how the first trains looked and worked in this narrative nonfiction story. With its amazing illustrations and captivating text, readers will be on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens on the next page.

The book starts by illustrating how difficult it was to create a railroad that stretched across the country. The text has an interesting rhythm:

“Here is how this road was built,

with a grunt and a heave and a swing,

with the ring of shovels on stone,

the ring of hammers on spikes:


The entire book is written in this style. The book follows a family as they journey west to the pacific ocean to meet their father/husband. While the family is traveling on the train, readers get to explore the different rooms in the train and see how things work. For example, we get to see inside the cab of the train, where the fireman does his job:

It’s hard work, hot work,

smoke and cinders,

ash and sweat,

hard work, hot work-

but that’s a fireman’s life!

He tends the fire

that boils the water,

that turns the water into steam.

The book goes on like this, following the train through the flat and grassy midwest to the west, filled with rocks and canyons. It stops at a few towns and readers can learn about the kinds of things that might have been on the menu at a restaurant in one of these towns (buffalo steak and antelope chops!) Readers even get to see how people would sleep and use the restroom on the trains! How exciting! By the end of the book, the family has made it to the west coast and has reunited with their father/husband.

Throughout the journey, the author makes excellent use of onomatopoeia. Not only does he have onomatopoeia as a part of the text, he has also incorporated almost an illustrative aspect to it. The words are larger than the normal text and are usually a different color and font as well. Here are a few wonderful examples: “…through the Great Basin, a bleak and silent land – silent except for the HUFF and the BANG and the CLICK and the CLACK of the cars,” and “Up, up, over stone… and under, through the mountain’s summit, where granite was drilled and blasted. Here black powder and nitroglycerin BOOMED! Now in the dark the engines echo: CHUG-CHUG CHUG-CHUG CHUG-CHUG!” This use of onomatopoeia makes for a very, very exciting story!

Of course, as this story is a Caldecott Award winner, the illustrations are especially spectacular. Floca used so much detail in his paintings, allowing readers to really feel like they are in the train with the family. Very rarely do we ever get to see this time period portrayed in anything but black and white.

I feel that this book would not be the best choice for preschoolers or kindergarteners. It is longer than the average picture book and uses language that is much too sophisticated to be understood by that age group. However, I am confident that older children will get endless amounts of enjoyment and insight from this exciting and educational book. Bravo, Brian!

Trendy Tuesday: Draw!


This wordless picture by Raul Colon allows children is beyond captivating. I was captured by Aaron Becker’s Journey, so when I saw this book I knew I had to read it. Much like Becker, Colon’s illustrations are beautiful, but nothing like the story behind it.

A young boy who has just read about Africa decides to explore Africa with a pen, a pad, and his imagination. Young kids will enjoy going along with this young boy on his adventure. They might also question, the inhaler and medicine bottle by his bedside. However, this child is far from bedridden shown by the binoculars and umbrella on the other-side of the table.

The young boy starts by drawing an elephant to carry him off on an adventure. After he’s ridden the elephant to his desire, he draws a zebras and then a snack because after a long adventure you need a sandwich to recharge with. But what’s the point of a sandwich if you can’t share it with a gorilla? The young boy finds adventure in his very bedroom and Colon does an incredible job of capturing the story with beautiful watercolors.

I would highly suggest this book to children ages 4-8, but more specifically bedridden children. This would be great to read to children who might be down with the flu or even a more serious condition. It shows children that your illnesses do not have to limit you. Everyone should read this. It has great illustrations and an even better message; imagination trumps illness.

Reviewed by Muniro Dini