Monthly Archives: April 2015

Saturday Extra! Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


Being a twelve year old girl is hard. Being a twelve year old girl who is a genius is even harder. Being a twelve year old girl who is a genius and suddenly loses both of her parents, the only people who truly understand her, may be near impossible.

But Willow Chance makes it work.

Sloan’s mature middle grade novel Counting by 7s tackles tough topics of identity, coming of age, loss and grief, difference, and more all through the story of twelve-year-old Willow Chance, who loves plants and counting by sevens. The story is comparable to other middle grade novels, like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, that take unique characters in difficult situations and mesmerize readers with the inner strength of these unlikely emotional titans.


So, just who is Willow Chance and what is her story? In true Willow fashion, here are 7 facts (7 is Willow’s favorite number) about the story told in Counting by 7s and the book’s fascinatingly unique main character:

1. Willow Chance is twelve-years-old and she’s adopted. She also happens to be a genius.

2. This year, Willow is starting a new school. She’s decided to wear her gardening outfit for the first day. After all, her garden is her happy place and one true love, and plants are the most interesting part of the world.

3. Willow scored a perfect score at her new school on the state aptitude test. She was the only one in the state. Then she got accused of cheating.

4. She also scored a perfect score on the SAT IIs and the MCAT and every standardized test her school-assigned counselor Dell Duke gave her after she was referred to him for cheating. Dell Duke knows she’s not a cheater. She’s different. Dell Duke knows Willow’s a genius.

5.  Willow’s friends are her plants. And her parents. Until she meets Dell Duke. And then Mai, the sister of Quang-ha, another of Dell Duke’s students. The four become a usual quartet.

6. Willow learns Vietnamese so that she can speak with Mai in her native language. She wants to be Mai’s friend. Mai is impressed my Willow’s level of commitment and is stunned by how quickly Willow learns.

7. When Willow suddenly loses both her parents, her predictable, orderly world comes crashing down. Not even counting by sevens can fix this. The only people left are Dell Duke and Mai. They are now Willow’s world.

This book tackles some of life’s toughest topics through quirky but confident Willow, who will blow readers away not only with her genius, but with her strong sense of emotion that seems to rise almost spontaneously from somewhere deep within her. Willow’s passion will awe readers, as they come to know Willow on a deeply personal level throughout her story. Though strange in her ways, Willow connects with individuals throughout on the story in ways so unique that analyzing her relationships serve pointless and appreciating them for their pure, incomparable value is essential. The affection readers will feel for Willow will take them by surprise somewhere around the one hundred and fiftieth page of the book, but such feeling will be welcomed with an open mind and open arms, I assure you.

Though this is a fantastic read that will have readers laughing, crying, smiling, heartbroken, filled with love, and more, I would take caution when recommending it to young readers. Readers joining in Willow’s story should be mature enough to understand the problems Willow faces in her some, at least in some capacity, independently. This book is a fantastic read for any child who feels like they just don’t quite fit into their world. Willow can help show readers a thing or two about what it’s like to form relationships and redefine oneself in a world that can sometimes be baffling at best.

By Lauren Christopher

Free Friday: What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg


It may be the last Friday of classes for the semester, and having that difficult “birds and bees” discussion with children may be the last thing you want me to bring up for my “free Friday” topic, but What Makes a Baby–written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth–is an absolutely worthwhile book to add to your children’s literature library. As the book states on the front cover, What Makes a Baby really is “a book for every kind of FAMILY and every kind of KID.”

The wonderfully inclusive language works to pare the explanation down to the essentials of what all children really do have in common regarding their origins: the combination of an egg and a sperm, which then grows into a baby in a uterus. The book assumes no more about the reader’s story and, in fact, poses these questions to the readers themselves. This allows adult readers to guide the conversation to talk about an individual child’s origins, such as in-vitro fertilization, adoption, birth with a midwife, cesarean section, or any other part of the child’s story.

The book also contains a great mixture of scientific explanation and beautiful celebration of creating life. In a striking move, Silverberg explains genetic material as a collection of “stories about the body the [egg or sperm] comes from.” This allows for a much easier understanding of these scientific concepts and extends the possible readership to a much younger age.

While the book absolutely needs supplementing with information about the child’s origins and answers to the child’s questions, it provides a strong backbone for an important conversation. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to any parent or guardian looking for a way to have a conversation about reproduction that does not promote rigid understanding of gender, heteronormative definitions of relationships, or privileging of certain types of reproductive practices.

By Elizabeth Wheelock

Traditional Thursday: Me First


I consider this book a classic, because I vividly remember reading it as a child. Published in 1995 by Sandpiper paper backs, Me First by Helen Lester tells a story about a pig named Pinkerton (that is Pinkerton being first below).

VF823574.g01Pinkerton always insists on being first. Whether he has to to “bounce off belies, step on snouts, or tie tails,” Pinkerton is always first. Pinkerton’s scout troop goes to the beach, and he is the first out of the water, first into the picnic basket, but…

Pinkerton hears, “Who wants a sandwich?” Of course, he starts racing to be first in this case. When Pinkerton rushes across the beach, he flies over a sand hill and falls right in front of a sandwitch! Pinkerton thought he was getting a sandwich, but he came face to face with a sandWITCH! The sandwich recruits him to take care of her and do chores for her. VF823574.g10The wise and beautiful Sandwitch taught Pinkerton that being FIRST was not always BEST. Once the sandwitch let Pinkerton go, he sped back to the bus and gladly got on last.

The illustrations in this book are very detailed and expressive. They add to the text very well and extend the story. 9780395720226_p0_v1_s260x420

I loved this book and will definitely share it with my children and students one day. The story is humorous, popular among children, and extremely useful with the lesson it teaches. Students can learn that being first is not always best. This book can be useful as a read-aloud. The book would also be appropriate for a parent to read to his or her child. I would read this story aloud or to my child and have a discussion about greed and character.

I encourage you to go read this book!

Julia Fleming

Winner Wednesday: Balloons Over Broadway


I love learning interesting stories about things I unthinkingly take for granted. Every year while cooking Thanksgiving dinner, like many others, my family watches the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We watch as balloon after balloon goes by, and while I have always loved the show, I never stopped to think about how the tradition was started. Enter the wonderful book Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet. Not only does this book tell a fascinating true story, it has also received numerous recognitions including the 2012 Sibert Medal, making it the perfect choice for the feature of this week’s “Winners Wednesday.”

Tony Sarg circa 1930 SOURCE: AP

Tony Sarg circa 1930 SOURCE: AP

The book tells the story of Ton Sarg who, at a young age, began collecting toys. This passion led to an interest in marionettes, and as an adult Tony became well known for his ability to create puppets with life-like movements. Macy’s approached him about creating a moving puppet holiday window display, and the windows were such a hit, that when Macy’s decided to hold a holiday parade, they asked Tony to help make it remarkable. The first parade in 1924 included floats, costumes, and live animals. As the parade grew, and more exotic animals were included, children began being frightened by the growling lions and tigers.

Early Versions of Sarg's Balloons

Early Versions of Sarg’s Balloons

Tony knew he could come up with a spectacular solution. Inspired by large blimps and an Indonesian rod puppet in his toy collection, Tony invented the first version of the now iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. The book follows Tony through a few more trial and error processes, and eventually he perfects his new creation.

The story behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of ingenuity, persistence and problem solving. It is a story that few people know, but once heard, it captures the imagination. Sweet’s writing style is engaging and very easy to read, making this book a wonderful introduction to the non-fiction genre. The book shows children the importance of creativity and never giving up. Readers see the numerous steps Tony takes to perfect his balloons, and this need for progression and trial-and-error is important for children to see.

IMG_0482 The Illustrations are real works of art. Sweet employs a multimedia technique when Tony is brainstorming ideas that is appropriate for the content and conveys the design process well.IMG_0481For the parade scenes, she employs more classic illustrations, but they are filled with such color and whimsy that they are anything but boring. One page requires readers to flip the book around to read the text and see the illustration of the balloon, and this technique creates a sense of height and floating that a more “normal” illustration would miss.IMG_0483

            This book offers wonderful new insight into a familiar American pastime. The material is engaging and interesting, and the illustrations are varied, bright, and fun to examine. This book is sure to be a hit anytime of the year!

Happy Reading!

Amanda Farenthold

Trendy Tuesdays: The Adventures of Beekle


If you are looking for a fun, adventurous, heartwarming tale, pick up New York Times Best-Seller The Adventures of Beekle today! You will not be disappointed.


This wonderful picture book tells the story of an imaginary friend waiting to be thought of by a child.  After getting tired of waiting for his special friend, Beekle sets out to the real world to find his human and receive his name, which turns out to be Beekle! Unfortunately, the task is not as easy as it seems.  Beekle is a bit scared when reaching the real world because it was so different. People need naps, not everyone is eating cake, and there is so much hustle and bustle.  The real world proves to be a challenge when finding his true friend.

Beekle 5

One day, however,the unimaginable happens- Beekle finds his perfect match! As their friendship develops, Beekle and Alice, his friend, go on many adventures together. Suddenly, the world was not so strange with his friend by his side.


One of the best parts of this book is the illustrations.  There is no doubt that Santat was deserving of his 2015 Caldecott Medal.  Dan Santat, author and illustrator of The Adventures of Beekle created a wholesome and adventurous book through the illustrations.  One technique that Santat used throughout the story was providing a stark contrast between Beekle and the rest of the illustrations.  It was not uncommon to have Beekle’s bright white body stick out from a black and white page spread, or even a page with many bright colors.  This technique was very effective in creating illustrations that “pop.”  The text is intentionally placed to really compliment the breathtaking  illustrations.  The colors are rich and flavorful, offering readers a wholesome experience with the book.  The illustrations are sure to capture the eyes of all.


Beekle 3

Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Dan Santat has outdone himself with this story.  Accompanied with beautiful illustrations and a heartwarming story of friendship and adventure The Adventures of Beekle is the perfect addition into any library.  Children of all ages are sure to absolutely enjoy watching Beekle find his special person.

-Jessica Bloomrosen

Marvelous Mondays: When the Wind Blows


Many books do a stellar job at describing something in detail. Writers carefully choose each word, making sure that readers can envision the image that they have placed before them.

However, a book reaches an entirely new level when the words on the page and the pages within the book actually become the very thing that they are describing.

When the wind blows 

When the Wind Blows by Linda Booth Sweeney has a writing style that makes turning each page feel as if the wind itself is blowing the reader toward the end of the book. Uncommon for a children’s book, the story is written in verse and uses poetic language that describes how things throughout the city move as the wind blows. Conveying how each items moves in the wind only requires that Sweeney use a simple two-word sentence. By the ocean, “water ripples. Buckets tumble. Birds scurry. Castles crumble.” In the park, “strollers stroll. Kites glide. Bells clang. Puppies hide.” Further description of each item is not needed because paired together, one can imagine the setting and envision the images that Sweeney tries to create. The lyrical verse paints an image of how the wind’s movement has various effects, from sails and boats out at sea to swings and wheels at the park. As if the beautifully and carefully-selected words aren’t enough, Christy’s illustrations show items as they move with the wind. White lines fill the page, representing the wind’s every move.


Because there is not much complexity in language to describe the items as they move, I would recommend this book for any elementary-aged child. The story and its language are quite straightforward and don’t require higher-level cognitive processes to understand them while the organizational structure and poetic nature of the book can be explored among older children. This combination of structure and content make it a versatile book that children of all ages can read.

-Danielle McKeiver

Free Fridays: Summer of the Monkeys


The first book I ever read purely for pleasure, not because I had to read 15 minutes and record it in a log, not because my mom made me, not because we had Drop Everything and Read, but because I wanted to, was Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls. I was never the biggest fan of reading, and deplored being forced to read. However, after having Where the Red Fern Grows read to me in the fourth grade, I decided that there was at least one author I could enjoy reading. I found the book on my own, went to Barnes and Noble with my mom, and got it.


In an instance of miraculous coincidence, the story was about a boy who displayed complete independence. He was totally self-reliant. I instantly related to this. I remember being in pre-school and not letting anyone zip my jacket for me, even if I had to struggle for ten minutes to get it done. I always wanted to be independent, and reading about a boy around my age, who went off on his own everyday into the woods to play with a group of monkeys that had escaped a broken down circus train, was incredible.

While this book is not for everyone, and there are some elements that parents or educators might find unsavory, (the boy gets drunk with the monkeys at one point) this story is still one of my all-time favorites. I suppose this post is more about discovering ones own reading identity and less about this particular book. I was proud to find a book on my own volition, and then amazed to discover that the book I chosen, was also easily enjoyable for me. I think it is important for teachers and parents to encourage children to find books on their own. It is very easy to simply suggest books to children, but allowing them to pick a book all on their own, even with the possibility of it not being very good, at least gives the opportunity for a truly independent exploration of literature.

-Jake Lesser