Monthly Archives: October 2015

Free Fridays – Is There Really a Human Race?


Is There Really a Human Race? 

Written by Jamie Lee Curtis and Illustrated by Laura Cornell


While most up-to-date people in the world know the actress, Jamie Lee Curtis, a much smaller population is familiar with Jamie Lee Curtis the children’s author. She and her illustrating partner, Laura Cornell, have been publishing children’s picture books for the past decade or so, with titles ranging from It’s Hard to be Five to my personal favorite, Is There Really a Human Race?

In this heartwarming and thoroughly entertaining story, Curtis and Cornell portray a young boy’s journey to learn about the confusing concept of a ‘human race.’ The story has an almost Seuss-like rhyming pattern to it, with lilting and smooth writing that begs to be read aloud.

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Cornell’s illustrations are absolutely beautiful, with bold, rich colors filling the book from cover to cover. The detail is incredible, right down to the label of the gummy snacks the little boy is eating on the first and last pages. The text placement and font is also fun and exciting, both the print and images large and perfectly suited to classroom read alouds. Children will no doubt love pointing out the wacky details decorating each page, and following the main character’s pet lizard from spread to spread.

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Aside from the excellent writing and illustration, the story is one with a surprisingly grown up moral which suggests that life is in fact not a race, that it is easy to get caught up in our own lives, and sometimes we must slow down and remember those around us. Curtis is extremely respectful and trusting of young readers with this important subject matter, presenting this hopeful and heartwarming topic through such a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Traditional Thursdays: Miss Rumphius


Time for a traditional Thursday! I love being given the opportunity to go back and appreciate an oldie-but-a-goodie. I stumbled across Miss Rumphius while perusing Amazon booklists and was immediately transported back to my childhood, where I spent hours poring over the story of the “The Lupine Lady” and the gorgeous watercolors that accompanied it.


Miss Rumphius was first published in 1982 and was written and illustrated by two-time Caldecott winner, Barbara Cooney. It is her most well-known piece of work and won the American Book Award in the year it was published. The story depicts the tale of Miss Rumphius, following her life from the time she was “a little girl named Alice,” to her years known as “Miss Rumphius,” mentioning her duration as “That Crazy Old Lady,” and finally resting on her era as “The Lupine Lady.”

The narrative is told from the perspective of Alice, Miss Rumphius’ great-niece. She proudly shares the story of her great-aunt, beginning with when she was a child living by the sea with her grandfather who immigrated to America. Miss Rumphius would listen to his stories about faraway places and then would say, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” Her grandfather was pleased, but added one more goal to her list: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

Miss Rumphius as a librarian.

Miss Rumphius as a librarian.

The picture book follows Miss Rumphius’ story through her time as a librarian, reading about faraway places, to her time traveling the world and making friends she would never forget, to her growing old by the sea and still questioning how to make the world more beautiful.


Cooney’s illustrations are a key piece to the picture book, a central part of why I loved this book so much as a child. Immediately, the paintings draw you into the story and are a perfect complement to Cooney’s lovely words. The introductory line is a perfect example of this, with a painting of little Alice welcoming you into the story by hanging on the “T” and stretching her arm wide open, accompanying the text, “The Lupine Lady lives in a small house overlooking the sea.” As a child, I was mesmerized by the detailed paintings and completely intrigued by the charming language describing Miss Rumphius. Cooney has a way of painting beautiful mental images as well as wonderful illustrations.

Miss Rumphius sick in bed.

Miss Rumphius sick in bed.

Each page transports the reader to a different world, a different period of Miss Rumphius’ life. Every picture is meticulously created, with its own color schemes surrounding an aging Miss Rumphius. The illustrations are mostly one page creations, until the story reaches its climax and shows how Miss Rumphius has decided to make the world a more beautiful place. This illustration fills the double page, enveloping the reader in Miss Rumphius’ more beautiful world.

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This story is truly a work of art. I loved everything about reading it as a child, from treasuring every painting, to savoring the thoughts it evoked in my imagination. It inspired me to think about my family history and my life, and I would picture myself traveling and living by the sea. The book filled me with warmth and joy and I’m sure it will continue to do so for children today and in the future.

-Julie Schwab

Winner Wednesdays: Tales for Very Picky Eaters



One thing anyone who has dealt with children during meal times can relate to is how difficult it can be to get some children to eat. For me, the worst was a 7 year old boy who would refuse to eat anything all day but one small carton of milk. This was at a fairly active outdoor summer camp and it’s a wonder he never passed out. Today’s Winner Wednesday brings us a book just for those picky eaters (although any child can find amusement between its pages). Josh Schneider’s Theodore Seuss Geisel Award winning book Tales for Picky Eaters brings us a new perspective on picky eating which both children and parents can enjoy. The book is told in 5 chapters (or stories) each focused on a different food the main character, James, refuses to eat. James’ father takes a fresh approach to this problem and instead of yelling, he convinces his son through the use of extremely imaginative tales. Children will be delighted with the humor of each outlandish situation.


The father’s strategies range from listing other alternatives such as eating socks soaked in the apple cinnamon flavored sweat of a runner and some very special dirt to explaining the sad story of a troll in their basement. This troll is their lasagna chef and is used to guilt James into eating his dinner for the sake of its livelihood.


Each story Schneider includes is nicely unique and despite the repeated theme does not feel overdone. His father character tells of an ever growing glob of oatmeal which threatens the family as it eats everything in sight and later of a boy with bones that can bend like rubber.


In the last story, the son catches onto his father’s game and begins to create his own stories basing them off of what his father has said as well as adding his own twists.

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Each story is nicely complemented by colorful cartoons of expressive characters and the odd imaginings of father and son. Schneider’s illustrations do a wonderful job of bringing the unique stories to life and making the book a desirable read. Whether these tales will help change your child’s view on food or not, they will surely entertain.

Trendy Tuesdays: Mixed Me!


Published earlier this month, Mixed Me! is a charming, light-hearted story by actor Taye Diggs about what it’s like growing up with parents that “don’t match.” 51IevJVjS8LMike is a biracial child with “super-crazy-fresh-cool” hair who likes “to go FAST!” He exudes coolness at every turn, even when he has to deal with people staring and asking questions about his mixed family.


His nonstop energy and cheerful confidence are conveyed through Diggs’s flowing rhymes and brief rhythmic verses. Paired with Shane Evans’s mixed-media pencil and watercolor drawings, the story perfectly embodies the bright, optimistic, and joyful spirit of childhood. Evans’s illustrations strengthen this story of acceptance and love. Some drawings take over the page, while others are split up to show multiple pictures. The variety makes it easy to stay engaged in the story, leaving the reader eager to turn the page and see where Mike’s crazy hair is next.


The text and illustrations make this a perfect book to read in any situation, to any child. It works as a read-aloud with its upbeat rhythm, or as a one-on-one sharing book, where a child can appreciate all of the details in the artwork. As one amazon rater shared, “My daughter is biracial and it’s so refreshing to find a book she can relate to.” Diverse books are crucial to include in every child’s library, and this book not only portrays diversity, but embraces it. It is a great book to introduce the conversation of diversity, or just to enjoy its rhymes. Children of every background can learn not only acceptance of others, but of themselves, and to cherish the differences they see in themselves and others.

Mixed Me! is a wonderful, current, trendy book that parents and children can share delight in reading.

-Julie Schwab

Leo A Ghost Story…is anything but invisible!!


Leo A Ghost Story

by Marc Barnett

pictures by Christian Robinson

Leo A Ghost Story
Blog Review by Hallie McQueeny

With Halloween less than a week away, I thought it seemed timely to share the ghost story of Leo. Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson have created something truly special. It was only published in August of this year but already it has been recognized as “One of the Most Anticipated Children’s Books of the Fall” by Publishers Weekly. Perhaps their chemistry as an author illustrator duo can be attributed to their friendship of four years prior to publishing this book together.

At the time, Mac had the outline of Leo’s story but hoped that one day Christopher might be able to complete his story with his unique illustrations. The pair really seems to understand that the story cannot rely on either the text or illustrations alone; they both understand the mark of a successful story is in the collaboration between author and illustrator, and in this case friends.

Leo layout

When I first picked up Leo’s story, I was reminded of Caspar the Friendly Ghost or Harold and the Purple Crayon. Christian Robinson’s artistic style is very similar to the personal style in Harold and the Purple Crayon. The blue color scheme is very appropriate for the story of a ghost and especially for Leo’s mood at the beginning of the story. I really appreciated how the colors lightened, specifically Leo’s coloring to match the changing mood of Leo and the story overall. Robinson made great use of the end-papers including visuals that expand the story and play to a child’s imagination. Robinson’s colors and characters are very iconic and memorable, lending the book to be very marketable and interactive.

Leo exploring

Mac’s story itself is very interactive and lends itself to great classroom discussions and use. Leo and Jane’s friendship is a great story of acceptance trumping difference. Their relationship could be great for facilitating a discussion on what it means to be a good friend and as a springboard for what true acceptance looks like.

While many other decorations, costumes, and discussions may begin to get a little spooky this week, this book would be great to pull out in classrooms to lighten the mood and teach a few important lessons. Who knows? It could even be the inspiration for a great Halloween costume! Leo may be invisible to some, but you can be sure that his story is destined to be on display in bookstores across the country!

Pick up a copy today and get a trick-or-treating tote to go with it!

Pick up a copy today and get a trick-or-treating tote to go with it!

Free Fridays: Weasels by Elys Dolan

Free Fridays: Weasels by Elys Dolan

IMG_1458“Weasels, what do you think they do all day?” Probably, sleep, eat, and frolic in the leaves, right? Wrong! Elys Dolan reveals the truth about these furry critters in her book, Weasels, which was released in February of 2014.  Whether you know a lot about weasels or nothing at all, you’re sure to be shocked by these weasels’ thirst for world domination.

The weasels’ plot to take over the world is going along swimmingly until the machine that is the key to their global takeover breaks down.  Not giving up on their dream of ruling the world, they do everything they can to fix the machine. Zany chaos ensues as one weasel insists all they need is drill, while another swears by the turn-it-off-and-back-on method.  The only thing they can seem to agree on is that they need another cup of coffee, WHERE’S THE INTERN WHEN YOU NEED HIM!? Eventually the problem is solved and the countdown continues: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… 

With Weasel’s elaborate two page spreads, young readers will love looking at everything going on in the cartoonish illustrations. Dolan gives each weasel their own personality by adding certain outfits and props.  For example, the

IMG_1461weasel’s ring leader sports a monocle and carries around a pet mouse, while the lowly intern wears a scarf and is forever delivering coffee to other workers. However, my favorite character is the IT weasel who prides himself on being a level 72 bager in World of Woodcraft.  In addition to the story’s text there’s a ton of dialogue within the illustrations, that create dozens of little subplots so readers can make the story what they want it to be by picking and choosing what dialogue they read.
Although this book is recommended for Kindergarten through 3rd Grade I think a lot of the content is geared towards older kids.  While the text is not difficult to read, the story itself requires a good bit of reading between the lines, which may be more difficult for the lower end of that age range.  Also some of the funny references, like the weasel that ordered a “frothuccino,” might be over their heads.  That being said, this book could be used in the classroom to teach kids about reading between the lines, making inferences, and using illustrations to enhance the story.

Overall I give this book two thumbs up.  Dolan’s unique style certainly grabs the reader’s attention and holds it. Both kids and adults will be tickled by her witty humor from beginning to end. Grab a friend and join these loveable, caffeine addicted weasels, on their quest for WORLD DOMINATION in Weasels by Elys Dolan.


-Michaela Royer

Traditional Thursdays- A House for Hermit Crab


When discussing great children’s literature, Eric Carle is certainly an author who comes to mind.

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While everybody has read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, there are so many other amazing Eric Carle books out there! I picked Carle’s A House for Hermit Crab for today’s “Traditional Thursday” because it was one of my favorite books growing up. A House for Hermit Crab is a classic example of how Carle is able to use his distinct, bright collage-style illustrations to entertain children while also educating them.

The story starts with a hermit crab who has outgrown his shell and needs a new one. He finds a shell but thinks it’s too plain. He plans to try to spruce it up a bit to make it feel more like a home.

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The next month he stumbles upon some beautiful sea anemone and asks if one of them would like to live on his shell. A sea anemone agrees to and he gently picks it up and places it on his shell. This pattern of interaction repeats every month throughout the year with other sea creatures including sea urchins, coral, lantern fish, star fish, snails, and pebbles until his shell is full and beautiful.

However, by November he realizes that he has grown throughout the year and his house is now getting too small for him again! The sea creatures on his shell have become like family to him and he doesn’t want to leave them. He then meets a smaller hermit crab who says he would love to live in and take care of hermit crab’s shell. Hermit crab agrees to give his home to him and finds a larger, plain shell for himself that he plans to decorate all over again.

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I think A House for Hermit Crab is a wonderful book to read to early elementary school students, especially when they’re going through some sort of major change. Hermit crab shows children that change can be a positive thing and you can do your best to make the most of the necessary changes in your life. Hermit crab also demonstrates that when you are kind to others, they will help you out and you can create friendships for life.

Additionally, this book is a fantastic educational resource. The text includes lots of sea-life vocabulary words, including a glossary of terms at the end of the book. This book would fit wonderfully in a curriculum that includes learning about the ocean and aquatic animals and would help reinforce a lot of terminology. It is also useful for teaching kids about the sequencing of months and passage of time. The story unfolds throughout a full calendar year, and having a repetitive pattern every month makes the timeline easy to follow for children.

Although the color scheme of the illustrations can be kind of plain and boring, it just makes it that much more pronounced when color is added as the shell gets increasingly more decorated with each page.

Overall, I would say that A House for Hermit Crab is a wonderful picturenew doc 12_1 book that can be utilized for both entertainment and education in an elementary school classroom. The themes of accepting change and creating friendships are powerful sentiments that help make learning facts about sea life more accessible and engaging. In Eric Carle’s vast collection of children’s books, A House for Hermit Crab is a hidden gem that the children of today should definitely get a chance to read.

-Jenna Ravasio

Winner Wednesdays: The Adventures of Beekle


When I was a child, I had an imaginary friend named Bob. He was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, and he came with me wherever I went. Bob also had a wife named Pam who would come play with us on the playground of my elementary school. I’ll never forget those days with Bob and Pam by my side. Just as I loved Bob and Pam, in The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, Beekle longs for a child to love him.

This 2015 Caldecott Award Winner, written and illustrated by Dan Santat, portrays the story of an “unimaginary” friend who is looking for a companion in the real world. Beekle and other imaginary friends are born on an “island far away where imaginary friends (are) created.” As the story progresses, the creatures around him are “imagined by a real child” and they leave the island to join that child in the real world. However, as Beekle waits and waits for a child to imagine him, the days go by and nothing happens.

One day, Beekle finally decides to take matters into his own hands. He begins to journey to the real world by himself in order to find his perfect match.

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When Beekle arrives at the big city, he starts to explore, searching far and wide for his friend. He finds adults bustling about, children running around playgrounds with their own imaginary friends, but no child waiting for him.

Discouraged, Beekle climbs into a tree to see if someone will find him there, and he begins to feel sad that no one wants him. However, moments later, a young girl shows up with a picture she drew of her with Beekle. She had imagined him!


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“There was something about her that felt just right.”

Beekle and the girl are unsure at first of how to be friends with each other, but as time passes, they begin to do everything together. “The world began to feel a little less strange….and together they did the unimaginable.”

It is evident why The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend won the Caldecott award in 2015, as each page carefully integrates the illustrations with the text in order to portray the overall themes of the book: friendship, imagination, and adventure.image copy 7Santat uses pencil, crayon, watercolor, ink, and Adobe Photoshop to create vibrant pictures of a child’s imagination. Because each illustration is spread out over two pages, the scenes seem larger than life, and are really able to capture the minds of the readers.

Even the endpages of The Adventures of Beekle contribute to the overall themes of the book, with different illustrations of children and their imaginary friends surrounding a lonesome Beekle who has not found his friend (yet).image copy 8

Through the use of this one simple character that travels through elaborately detailed environments to find his friend, Santat is able to appropriately and effectively tackle the themes of friendship, imagination, and adventure. The book is especially relatable for young children who are just beginning to make friends at school; however, it is also relatable for anyone who feels like they are trying to find their place in the world. In The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, Santat illustrates how having friends can make you feel invincible. With a true friend by your side, the world can begin to feel a little less strange, and together, you can do the unimaginable.



-Angel Rajendran

Trendy Tuesdays: Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues


Pete the Cat cover

Pete the Cat has taken over the world, infiltrating preschool and early elementary classrooms and bookstores alike. My first introduction was to Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. It had a very repetitive story line: Pete kept losing buttons off of his jacket, but he never cried and still continued his song. Even though it was repetitive, the attentive preschoolers begged me to reread it at least five times. So I asked myself: what is the huge appeal for children?

The newest book in the series, which was released just earlier this month, is called Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues. Kimberly and James Dean continue the rhythm and artistic creativity of the rest of the Pete the Cat books. Pete and his friends have been at the beach all day, but now they don’t want the fun to end so they have a sleepover. Unfortunately, Pete’s friends are not as ready to go to sleep as Pete is, so they make noise that keeps them up longer. Every time Pete is awakened, his friends say “I don’t want to go to bed, I want to (do something else) instead.” Finally, Pete solves his friends’ problem by pulling out his favorite bedtime story (a fictional Pete the Cat book, according to the illustration), which calms them down and gets them to bed.

Pete the Cat Spread
I think the appeal of this book and other Pete the Cat books for children is the repetition, allowing them to chant along even if they are unable to read the words yet. It makes them feel more comfortable and familiar with the material. It’s also easy to catch on since most of the book is in verse or close rhyme. Children hear the similarities in endings of words and are able to predict the next word with little difficulty.

New Doc 1_4The illustrations are also very accessible: each and every one of them include bright and vibrant colors that attract children’s attention. The characters are very cartoon-like, but they are doing activities that any child would do like coloring, playing with toys, or riding a bike. These activities make it more relatable for children and allows them to put themselves into the book: would they be like Pete, who wants to get to bed pretty quickly, or would they be like his friends, who create distractions before finally falling asleep?

I think that the entire Pete the Cat series is relatable and entertaining for young children so they are hooked from the very beginning, making it terrifically trendy. To hear some of the songs from the books, watch videos, download free activities, and learn more about Pete the Cat, check out:

By: Mary Smith

Marvelous New Picture Books Mondays: Flowers are Calling by Rita Gray


Need a new informational picture book?

Flowers are Calling by Rita Gray & illustrated by Kenard Pak is a lovely book that aims to inform children about various types of flowers and their pollinators.

A captivating front cover!

This book is a nonfiction disguised as a children’s rhyming book. It introduces concepts like flower colors, patterns, shapes, smell, and times of blooming for children to learn about. At the end of the book, it encourages readers to visit to follow up and learn more about how flowers/plants they can plant to attract pollinators. (What a fun way to apply the information in the book after reading!)

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Distinguishing the relationship between a magnolia and a beetle vs. a magnolia and a moose.

Gray has a unique way of narrating and explaining such concepts to children. To elaborate, she first gives an example of a flower that attracts a mammal, but ultimately that mammal does not have much to do with that flower. But on the next page, that flower attracts an insect, who helps pollinate that flower (ie. moose versus a beetle). After three repetitions of this pattern, there is a two-page spread about three different flower varieties the book mentions. This pattern continues throughout the book. I think this is noteworthy in particular because it makes sense psychologically. Young children (to whom this book is targeted towards) can typically hold up to 3-5 items in their head at a time. Rather than just putting a comprehensive list of all the flowers mentioned in the back of the book, talking about three flowers and then reviewing them in chunks of three can help in their overall remembrance of this text.

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A beautiful two page spread by Pak!

Pak’s illustrations are absolutely breathtaking. Each spread covers the entire two pages, and is a medley of various colors and textures made with computer illustrations. The spreads are in no way overwhelming, but are full of visual stimuli that portray the beauty of each flower. All of the animals are also on the spread, which help connect the print to the pictures. What is more interesting is that the spread focuses a lot on the flower’s environment, which can help children have a better understanding of each flower’s habitat. Any reader, young or old, can easily spend a nice long moment to appreciate Pak’s work.

This book is a great nonfiction book to read to emerging readers who may find the rhymes helpful in increasing their phonological awareness. The scientific vocabulary used throughout the book is also a great way to increase children’s lexicon. A recommended read for budding scientists!

by Sunny Kim