Monthly Archives: April 2017

Chuck and Woodchuck


chuckChuck and Woodchuck is a new picture book by Cece Bell.  Huh.  That name sounds familiar…. OH! She’s the author and illustrator of El Deafo, the Newberry-winning graphic novel! I love this book, and so when I first saw Chuck and Woodchuck, I grabbed it and started reading.  This story follows a boy who brought a woodchuck to school for show and tell.  The woodchuck begins to do incredible and zany things, but is also especially nice to the students in the class.  He is then invited to come to school every day!  It reminds me of an updated Officer Buckle and Gloria, where the woodchuck is unexpectedly extraordinary.

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This is the picture that most reminds me of Officer Buckle and Gloria!  This is the most diverse picture of the class in the whole book… more on this later.

It is told in the perspective of a girl named Caroline in Chuck’s first grade class.  This girl is the archetypical “every-girl”, someone who is a little awkward in her own skin.  There is a cute storyline between the narrator and the pair of Chucks, as woodchuck enables Chuck to perform small acts of kindness to Caroline.  As the story progresses, the acts -become more Chuck-initiated, almost as if it took woodchuck’s acts to prompt Chuck’s acts of kindness.  It seems to me that Chuck has a crush on Caroline, and that it is reciprocated.  It climaxes as Chuck asks Caroline to walk home together, almost with no help from woodchuck.

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This shows one of the adorable ways that woodchuck offers kindness to Caroline, but we can see Chuck’s involvement in the process!

I really loved this book, especially with the awkward young boy-girl relationship.  It almost reminds me of myself, someone who needed an excuse to talk to and interact with someone I was interested in.  It captures elements of my social anxiety associated with interacting with potential romantic partners (which continues much to this day) and it could be a really great book to use with kids to show that it is ok to show acts of kindness to those you are interested in.  It shows a healthy glimpse of a childhood crush, which is a great alternative to phrases such as “if he picks on you, then he likes you!”, which could reinforce unhealthy ideas about relationships.

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The moment that Chuck takes a risk and is kind to Caroline! You can see he still needs the urging of woodchuck, but he accomplishes this one his own.

The illustrations are adorable, and also reinforce this awkward and cute phase in childhood.  It shows kids at various stages of physical development, as young children are bound to be diverse in their developmental period.  The pictures are very much in the style of El Deafo, minus the bunny-people!  The one hesitation that I have is the apparent lack of racial diversity among the class.  There seem to be various shades of white, which offers a very narrow glimpse at the racial diversity in today’s American classrooms.  Even individuals with different skin tones seem to be lacking other racial features, such as different hair types and styles.  This is a small hesitation that I have when reading this book to children, as some children may not feel represented in the illustrations or story of the book.  However, as the focus on this book is between two children and a woodchuck, it may be difficult to include more diversity in the actual plot of the book, but I think that more diverse illustrations would really lend themselves well to the nature of this book about being kind and taking risks to be kind to others.


Hannah Baughn



The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh; Chuck Groenink


Title: The Friend Ship

Author: Kat Yeh

Illustrator: Chuck Groenink

Published: Disney / Hyperion, 2016

Before I even began reading the story, the endpapers in this book immediately caught my attention. They were maps of the ocean/islands that animals in the book travel to in their Friend Ship searching for friends. Cute island names like “sheep island” and “muledeer island” foreshadow the plot of the hedgehog sailing the ship to animal islands in search of friendship.

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This is what the endpapers looked like!

There was also a difference between the cover of the book’s jacket compared to the cover of the book itself. The jacket showed all the animals in the book on a ship heading into the sunset, while the cover illustrated the beginning of the story, with only hedgehog and beaver on the ship. It seems interesting that the publishers would choose to “give the story away” by having all the animals on the ship in the book jacket cover. If I were to choose, I would reverse the order and have the book jacket cover go on the page of the book and put the book cover on the front jacket, just to add some more mystery to the story.

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Book Cover

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Jacket Cover

The 12-page book follows a hedgehog who hears that she can cure her loneliness with friendship that is “out there,” and seeks to sail the seas to find it. Along the way, she runs into a beaver, migrating deer, a rat, a polar bear, a duck, and a myriad of other animals who always say that they haven’t seen the Friend Ship but asks to come along because they too are in need of friends.

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Along the way, hedgehog becomes discouraged because it seems as though she will never find the Friend Ship until a wise elephant pointed out that she was sailing on it. The book ends with all the new friends on the ship sailing into the night.

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Although simple, the plot of this book was creative and drove home a deeper theme to readers: oftentimes the things we search for to bring us happiness (friendship, success, knowledge) are found in the search itself and we just need to be aware of it. The repetition in this book (with hedgehog asking about the Friend Ship and animals climbing onboard) is helpful for young readers especially to learn to anticipate what’ll happen in the text and to carry the momentum of the story. The author was also able to bring creativity in her writing style, using humorous dialogue between characters (ex. having a mouse ask “pretty please with stinky cheese) and describing different areas of the ocean in a simple, yet succinct way (ex. they sailed North into icy seas; south into stormy seas).

The author also used different types of typography to emphasize words such as the word “yes” and the directions of North, East, South, and West. This renders the book very suitable to being read-aloud in classrooms, and to be used when teaching children how to read aloud books in certain voice levels and tones.

The illustrations in the story were sweet and simple, complementing the text without overpowering it. Hand drawn and filled in with colored pencil, the artist drew the animals realistically, while still animating their faces to be able to show a lot of expression. The illustrator also experienced with watercolor and other mediums when drawing the ocean, giving it a surreal, magical feeling, creating to the tone of adventure in the story. I enjoyed the use of various page layouts in this book, with some illustrations spanning full spreads, while others were separated by the gutter or given a frame by surrounding white space.

Overall, this book was a fun, short heartwarming story about friendship that would appeal to young pre-schoolers all the way to late elementary-aged kids. I would recommend this as a read-aloud book for the younger grades and as a book to have on the shelves for free reads in the upper-elementary levels. The meticulous, attractive illustrations make this a good book even for toddlers and those who don’t know how to read. A possible reading activity to do with kids who are a bit older is to have them write a paragraph or two about another intangible thing “love, friendship, kindness” and how one could go about “finding” that thing. Enjoyed reading this book, and I know Neely’s News readers will as well!

By: Abby Wei

Time Now to Dream


Time Now to Dream by Timothy Knapman is a beautiful and intriguing story for children. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury the book is filled with rich watercolors and pencil drawings that draw the reader into the depths of the forest.

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The story follows a young girl and her little brother as they are playing catch in the yard. The siblings then start to hear a strange noise coming from the forest. What could it be?

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Alice decides she must investigate the strange noise by walking into the forest, hand in hand with a less willing Jack. As they enter deeper and deeper into the forest the noises get loader and loader and sound a little more like real words.


Little Jack starts to worry that the sounds come from a mean and scary wolf. Only to find…

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Time Now to Dream is an adorable book about misconceptions and learning what you have in common with those around you. Throughout the book, a small crow shows up on nearly every page. See if you can find him as you flip each page!

Trendy Tuesday: We Are Growing!


We Are Growing by Laurie Keller is a new and trendy book on the shelves. There are so many things to appreciate about this book. First of all, it is an extension of the Elephant & Piggie series. If a child likes the Elephant & Piggie books, they are sure to like this book. It is a book-inside-a-book experience. Elephant and Piggie serve as narrators for We Are Growing by pulling the reader in and getting excited about the story before it even begins. But, readers do not need to know about Elephant & Piggie to love this book.


Keller uses BIG words that cover the whole page and serve as a guide to how this could be read aloud. There are lots of sound effects and words in different fonts that capture the reader’s attention and produce a certain voice either white reading silently or while reading out loud.


Another thing to love about this book are the illustrations and the facial expressions on the blades of grass. They add so much of the humor to this story! Tied in with the expressive text, this book makes for a hilarious read to a class of students. I even took the chance to read this out loud and found it easy to put a lot of expression into my reading without sounding too silly or like I was trying too hard.


We Are Growing appeals to a certain age group because of the easy reading level, the large font size, and the concept of growing. Getting older and growing up is something everybody goes through, so this book covers a universal concept and can be appreciated by any child. I can imagine reading this to a group of three year olds anywhere in the world who are growing up and they would be able to compare their experiences with growing to the blades of grass in the story. Another concept in this book is that we do not all grow the same. Just like some plants grow tall…


…or curly…


…just like we grow tall or not so tall, or have curly hair. I know I had very curly hair growing up that I loved, but my friends would not have curly hair, and that would make us different.

There are also some not-so-secret grammar tools in this book. There is a common theme where the text presents and adjective and then makes it a superlative, to show that the blade of grass is not only growing crunchy, but it is the CRUNCHIEST. This repeats a lot, which makes it easy to remember and really drives the concept home.


This book is definitely a book to have in the classroom, especially with younger children. There are so many good things packed into this simple text, it doesn’t make sense NOT to have it at your dispersal.

Post by Jenna Adamczak


Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: I Just Want to Say Good Night by Rachel Isadora



I Just Want to Say Good Night is Rachel Isadora’s nuanced take on the traditional bedtime tale. This book follows Lala, who lives on the African veld, as she desperately tries to avoid bedtime. Before she goes to bed, she insists, she must say goodnight to the fish, the cat, the bird, the goat, the monkey, the chickens, the ants, and her dog. She finishes out this ritual by saying goodnight to her book: Goodnight Moon.

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Isadora’s writing style uses repetition and short phrases to make the narrative flow with a comfortable, soothing rhythm. This book perfectly captures a curious, energetic and spirited young child’s reluctance to end the day.

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The oil painting illustrations provide a vivid and harmonious backdrop for the story. Isadora uses oil paintings to create the African veld, blending and swirling colors together in a way that audiences both young and old will find compelling and soothing. The images shift throughout the book from bright, warm color tones (yellows, oranges, pinks) to dark, cooler tones, (blues, greens, browns) echoing the story’s transition from daytime to nighttime.

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I Just Want to Say Good Night is a beautifully warm and comforting bedtime tale. Isadora’s striking oil paintings perfectly echo the story’s tone and are captivating without being overstimulating. This book would be perfect for parents and young children to share as an end to the day.

Traditional Thursdays: Chrysanthemum


For this Traditional Thursday, I selected a childhood favorite: Chrysanthemum. Kevin Henkes authored and illustrated this book, along with a number of other favorites of mine, including Owen and Wemberly WorriesChrysanthemum was published in 1991 by Harper Collins.

The book follows the story of a little girl whose parents name her Chrysanthemum. She and her parents absolutely love her name and think it perfect for her. She spends the first part of her life appreciating the name her parents gave her. Chrysanthemum writes her name in as many ways as she can and whispers it to herself throughout the day.

Chrysanthemum loves her name and thinks it perfect…until she starts school. Her classmates begin to pick fun at her for her name. They tell her it’s too long and is the name of a flower, to which Chrysanthemum “wilted.” She goes home to her parents who comfort her and tell her the name they gave her is perfect, but she continues to be made fun of at school and begins to have nightmares of being an actual flower.

What finally makes Chrysanthemum proud of her name is when their music teacher announces her name is also a flower, and tells the class if her baby is a girl, she will name her Chrysanthemum. The tides kind of turn, and now all the students who made fun of her are jealous of Chrysanthemum. The book ends with the class in a play, Chrysanthemum playing a flower. The very last page is unique, as it is a short epilogue of the story, outlining how the play went and what her friends think of her name now.

The illustrations in this book are well done, but nothing extraordinary. However, the colors used are bright and cheerful, and match the whimsy of Chrysanthemum’s name and her upbeat parents. The text is separate from the illustrations, which are outlined in black. The book gives the feeling that you are looking through a photo album of Chrysanthemum growing up. I think this approach was successful, especially when the size and number of illustrations on each page varies.

This is also another book where the main characters are animals. I am not convinced about whether this is a positive choice by the author, but I do believe it allows for children from all different backgrounds to identify with Chrysanthemum. I enjoyed the underlying lesson in the book about being proud of you are, even when your peers are unkind.

Posted by Megan Matthews

Winners Wednesday: Tuesday


Tuesday is the 1992 Caldecott Award Winner, written and illustrated by David Wiesner.

The book contains very little text, with most of what is there being clock times of a particular Tuesday night. The story follows a particularly active weeknight for a group of frogs. When the sun goes down, the frogs arise from the swamp and begin their journey around town. Their chosen method of travel: flight by lily pad.

As their adventure continues, there are a few simple time updates, but without commentary.

The frogs return to the swamp by the time the sun rises again, only to leave a mystery on the hands of local citizens.

Without much text, it was important for the illustrations to do the talking in this book, and they did just that. I enjoyed this book for a number of reasons. I think the variety of illustration layouts added even more interest, especially when there were frog close-ups inlayed in a double-page spread of the larger group of frogs.

The gutter received some attention as well, allowing it to separate the time stamps from illustrations on some pages, while having enough detail away from the gutter on the illustrations that covered two pages. The version of the book I found was paperback, which lent itself well to the gutter, as a hardcover version would have lost details in it.

The reader can easily see the emotion and excitement of each frog, due to such well-done illustrations. The dark color scheme overall allows for a sense of mystery, and the white background of the time-stamped pages adds a nice break between full-color pages.

My favorite part of the book is the final page. It encourages the reader to walk away using their imagination as the next adventure of nighttime flying animals is introduced. If you look closely enough, you can see the back end and shadow of two pigs taking flight.

Posted by Megan Matthews

Traditional Thursdays: The Berenstain Bears Go to School by Stan and Jan Berenstain



For this week’s Traditional Thursday, I thought it might be fun to revisit a childhood favorite: The Berenstain Bears. This series was a staple in my house growing up, and I immediately grew nostalgic upon viewing this book on the shelves of the bookstore.



The Berenstain Bears Go to School chronicles Sister Bear’s entrance into Kindergarten, and the start of Brother Bear’s school year. At first, Sister Bear is quite apprehensive about leaving home and venturing into the classroom. However, Mother Bear takes her to the schoolhouse, where she visits her soon-to-be teacher, Miss Honeybear, and her fear begins to dissipate. She comes to recognize that the school classroom is just her size, and is much less scary than she thought. Come morning, however, she begins to worry again once the big, yellow school bus pulls up. There, she makes friends with a few equally-nervous kindergarteners. At school, she has a marvelous time painting pictures, building cities out of blocks, and looking at books. Once she gets home, she can’t wait to share all she has learned with her parents. Both Sister Bear and Brother Bear come to realize that school can be comfortable and fun.


The book’s illustrations echo the traditional Berenstain Bear style: vibrant illustrations, sharp images, and the classic bear caricature. The text is not especially well incorporated into the images, but is clear and easy to read. The book does a good job of varying full spread and smaller images, and the bears’ detailed facial expressions work to enhance the storyline.


Although the book’s content is not particularly profound or innovative, I think it would be a good book to use with young kids, especially those who are apprehensive about leaving home or attending school for the first time. The story feels comfortable and wholesome, and could jumpstart in children a love for the Berenstain Bears series. The Berenstain Bears Go to School teaches young children that although school may seem scary at first, it is made just for them and can be a very fun and non-intimidating environment. This book would be helpful to use to help children learn about change, transitions, and how to cope with feeling nervous about new situations.


Posted by: Natalie Gustin

Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: Shy by Deborah Freedman


The cover illustration of Shy by Deborah Freedman immediately caught my eye. The use of watercolor that was beautifully blended, and the gradient of warm to cool colors as you make your way up from the bottom of the page were masterfully done. The animals truly felt like they were a part of the page and not just stuck on top after making the background.

This book of friendship begins with a giraffe named Shy who loved to read. His favorite books were about birds, but he had never actually heard a bird sing. One day he finally heard a bird, but was too shy to talk to it. Before he could gain the courage to talk to the bird, it was gone. Shy left home for the first time to find the bird.On his journey, he came across many creatures, and finally a whole chorus of birds! Shy listened for the bird he heard earlier. He heard the bird, but when he finally was prepared to speak to it, it was gone again. Sadly, Sky made his way back home.

Once at home, Shy longingly gazed at the birds in his books. Suddenly, he heard the bird again! Without hesitation this time, Shy sang back to the bird. At last, Shy and Florence the bird became friends and happily read Shy’s books together.

The book began with full pages of warm colors. As it progressed, the pages became more filled with cool colors, like the cover art. This made it feel like a rainbow, which is fitting because the whole story takes place outside in nature. The colors on each page corresponded nicely with what was happening at that point in time (i.e. blues were used when the birds were flying in the sky, reds were used at sunset, etc.) The colors were also blended into the animals, even if the animals weren’t the particular color of the page, which was unique (i.e. an elephant had shades of green since it was on the grass). This technique made the pages fit together perfectly; nothing felt out of place. Finally, the text was also placed in different places on each page (i.e. not always on the bottom of the page), making the book even more interesting to read. 

Post by: Halie Petrich

Harlem by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers


Harlem1Harlem is a poem written by Walter Dean Myers with illustrations by Christopher Myers. This Caldecott Honor book shares the deep culture and history of Harlem through both its poetry and illustrations. The poem first starts by describing the journey to Harlem, mentioning beginnings in Georgia and Goree Island, where many slaves originated. Harlem is described as this place of promise, and Meyers continues by talking about their music, and its origins in African countries. There is a focus on the blues and its beginnings in Harlem and the impact that it makes on the community. Many iconic Black men of the time are mentioned, from Jack Johnson to W.E.B Du Boise. The poem covers many aspects of the culture in Harlem and shares insight on what it was like to be a Black American in the 1920s.

Harlem4The illustrations are vibrant and unique and help the understanding of the poem while sharing Harlem’s story. The people in the book have different shades of skin tones, and many have the same stern facial expressions, showing diversity and unity. The backgrounds on some pages almost seem patched together, representing how all the different aspects of Harlem come together. Some illustrations take up the full page, while others are framed, drawing the reader in. They also represent parts of Harlem’s culture, like the buildings and streets, a woman braiding a young girl’s hair, collared greens, and more.


As the conversation of more diverse representation in books continues, I think this book is wonderful view into black culture and its history. I think this book would be great for older children learning about Harlem to help broaden their understanding.

Posted by Neena Kapoor