Category Archives: Reviews

Solve for Happy: Engineer You Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat

Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to JoySolve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mo has some great ideas to help others focus on the happy and joy in our lives. He uses a lot of graphics which makes it easy to read and find the parts that pertain to you. He touches on all aspects of our thoughts about being happy and searching for joy that make us unable to let go and Live In Peace. Live in peace everyday, let go of the negative, give, express gratitude, love, love, and love! Do not fear death because God has planned this wonderful universe with an afterlife in mind. Our loved ones who have passed on are still near and we will see them again. Throughout the book, Mo uses logic and mathematics to frame his thinking. This logical presentation was much more interesting than I expected. After some passages Mo tells the reader to think about what he has just said for a while before reading on. In some parts Mo tells the reader to get a pencil and some paper and make a list of things such as what truly makes you happy. He gets down to simplifying things and to reflect more on our current state of being. Toward the end Mo writes about belief in a higher power. He talks about evolution and intelligent design and doesn’t want to commit to one or the other, but he does say he knows he will see his son, Ali, again, and that he believes there’s too much to our universe for it to be unplanned by a brilliant designer. For me, I take away that he does believe God is our creator and gives us the promise of living on after our time on this old world is over. I really enjoyed his book, and I do think reading it has made me happier. In times when I’m not happy, I will remember what Mo has written and search for my default state of joy. Thank you for this great book, Mo Gawdat!

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Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was such a thought-provoking book and I couldn’t put it down. He talks about “Adverse Childhood Experiences” that kids cannot overcome without a stable home and an adult that they know who puts them first and cares for them. I recommend this book to all teachers and admins looking for ways to reach some of the tough kids we deal with. I don’t think as a school teacher that we can make the difference these kids need, but it does give understanding. We have to protect our children from these adverse experiences because it changes the way they process their own lives, making some have a give up attitude which means that they think no matter what they do, they’ll never make it. Life is too against them. But for JD Vance, his grandmother saved him. He had a few teachers he connected with, and most importantly, he was lucky in that he was very intelligent. He says he was very lucky with some of the connections he made throughout his life. He has a great TED talk if you are interested. His story just resonated with my own hillbilly roots.

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Old Wolf by Avi

Schema: hunting, playing video games
Text-to-text Connections: other books where the main characters are animals and the story is told from their point of view such as Charlotte’s Web.
Old Wolf, Nashoba, is challenged as pack leader to find food for his hungry pack.

Casey, a thirteen-year-old boy, loves his video game where he kills animals, and is so excited to receive a bow for his birthday.

The two characters’ stories run parallel to each other and converge at the end of the book.

Merla, a raven, is old like Nashoba, and tries to help him find a herd of elk, and ultimately gives her life to save him from Casey’s bow. When Casey sees that he hit Merla, it changes his way of thinking about killing. He is so changed that afterwards, he never played his animal kill game again. The reader concludes that his bow will be used as a sport in target shooting.

Avi tells the story in a very Zen fashion. Merla asks questions of Nashoba to get him to think about his goals. Merla tells Nashoba, “The bigger you think you are, the smaller you are.” p. 107 Then Nashoba shares with Merla, “There’s a old wolf expression: the smaller you think you are, the bigger you are.” p. 113 Both quotes would lend to an interesting expository paragraph assignment.

Characterization: Nashoba goes through such pain and pushes forward to serve his pack and to save his pride. We read that he is eight years old which is toward the end of his life expectancy. At the end, after he is helped by both Merla and Casey, he is able to push on and to accept what he is, an old wolf.

Theme: Respect life at all times and in all forms, both human and animal. The world is one and kindness can be found in the least likely places.

I enjoyed Avi’s book so much. The feelings that Nashoba feels are shared by leaders everywhere as our time to lead comes to an end.

Philip & Phoebe by Anne Brandt


Schema: Brothers and Sisters

Text-to-Text Connections: wishing

Concept: In this story Philip has a new baby sister. As he feels the focus shift from himself to his new sibling, Philip begins to wish Phoebe would be something else. He wishes she were a horse, an ice cream cone, and a fire truck, but none fulfill his wish. Finally, he wishes she were herself again. In the illustration, Phoebe is missing in her bed while Philip is wishing her to be the other things. The idea that wishing makes things come true can be frightening to some children. This book could begin a great discussion with a four or five-year old about what happens when we wish. Does wishing make things come true? What was Philip really wishing for about his new sister?

Parents expecting a second child would enjoy reading and discussing this book with their current children. Sibling rivalry can last for years so anything to prepare a child for a brother or a sister that could help them cope with this big change in their lives would be very beneficial. I don’t think we give enough time and attention to this topic at a young age, and if not handled correctly, sibling rivalry can last a lifetime!

Annie Poon has done a marvelous job of creating happy illustrations with black, gray, and red. The illustrations are interesting. The floor plan of the room is pictured from an aerial view. The idea of a map could be discussed with these views. An unmentioned character, a cat, is included in the illustrations and adds humor to the story.

The size of the book is appropriate for little hands at 7.25″ X 7.25″.

Literary Nonfiction texts

Biographies, autobiographies, journals, memoirs, articles or picture books about true events, and diaries written in the form of a fictional story are part of the genre, literary nonfiction. The text should include story elements such as rising action, reaching a goal or high point and falling action. Years ago, I remember the librarians were told to update their biography sections by weeding all the biographies with dialogue that the author created to make the story seem more interesting. Now, in Texas, one of the genres on the STAAR is “Literary Nonfiction,” and we are having to hunt for elementary texts to fill this genre that are very much like the old style of biographies that were written in the form of a story.
Karen Barbour knew Mr. Williams as one of her grandmother’s friends. She interviewed him about what his life was like growing up on a farm in Arcadia, Louisana and has written his story in first person narrative as if he were telling it. This book is a good selection for African American History month as well as Mr. Williams is African American. He was born in 1929 and died in 2000.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
The author includes a historical note about the real Chinese-African-Cuban girl from Cuba, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who at the age of ten-years-old, was the first female to play drums publicly in a band. Before, the drums had been an instrument only for boys. An author’s note explains the history behind this story.

The Book Itch Freedom, Truth, & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
This book is based on the life of Lewis Henri Michaux (1895-1976). He opened the first African-American book store in Harlem in the late 1930’s. The action in the story takes place in the 1960’s. His story not told as a true biography is a good one to use as literary nonfiction since the story has elements of a fiction story. Michaux had the grit and drive to sell books from a cart until he had enough to open a book store. The bank told him that they would loan him money for a food service business, but not for a book store because black people didn’t read. Micheaux believed knowledge is power and made his dream come true. One of his visitors to the store was Muhammad Ali. Michaux made up lots of verses and rhymes similar to the ones Ali was known for creating but they were all about reading and the power of words. Another of his visitors was Malcolm X. In the story, Malcolm X was planned to speak, and Michaux was supposed to sit right beside him. He was late and was not there when Malcolm X was shot and killed. This is a very good historical fiction picture book and a great read aloud. An author’s note explains the nonfiction inspiration of the story.

In this true book, we see a great plot, rising action, climax, and falling action. Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg in Canada, rescues a bear cub from a hunter who has killed it’s mother. As he tames the bear, he lovingly decides he can no longer safely care for her while he is in the military service in WWI. It’s written in picture book format and works great as a read aloud.

Here’s another true story with the elements of literary nonfiction. The details are not provided about exactly how it came about, but an accountant discovered gum that would make bubbles.

In this story about how a school was built in a remote village of Pakistan The procedures are mentioned in the form of paragraphs. The story does have a beginning, middle, and end and fits the characteristics of literary nonfiction.

Friendship

The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea: This books guides young readers in this easy reader format book on how to get along with friends. Sparkles, the horse, is not completely fond of ballet and he finds a way to tell Ballet Cat without hurting her feelings.

The Curvy Tree by Chris Colfer: A lonely girl tells the tree her troubles. A sad little girl runs to the forest to cry under a tree which turns out to be the Curvy Tree. The tree talks to her. She tells the tree that children make fun of her glasses and her curly hair. The tree then tells her his story about how other trees made fun of his curvy trunk and loopy branches. Because he was different, the wood cutters left him alone. They didn’t see the beauty in him or how he could be used to make anything. He tells her that after he grew up, he was able to see lots of other curvy trees in the forest. The little girl climbs up and sees other children like her in the other curvy trees. The story is a good example of an extended metaphor comparing the girl to the tree, and how after they mature, they see the value in themselves and others.

Revenge of the Dinotrux by Chris Gall: This book shows how angry the mechanical dinosaur exhibit got after being mistreated by kindergartners on a field trip. They break out, but find their way to the school where the children teach them to read and to thank them, they build a playground for the children. They learn to help each other and become friends.

Finders Keepers by Will and Nicolas: When two dogs can’t get along and share a big bone, they ask the advise of several people and animals who make them decide that sharing is the best advice of all.

Hello, My Name is Ruby by Philip C. Stead: Ruby has never seen another bird like herself, but she does want to have friends. She sets out to introduce herself to every bird she meets. She gets to try things she has never tried before. This pattern book will delight young readers. There’s a text-to-text connection with Leo Lionni’s Swimmy when a flock of birds for themselves into the shape of an elephant to appear large. The last bird she meets takes her to a tree where a flock of birds like her are roosting. Friendship takes us places we may have never gone to alone.

Whose Shoe? by Eve Bunting


Told in rhyming text, a little mouse sets out to ask all of his animal friends if they have lost their shoe that he found in the bamboo. Elephant only wears heels to make her ankles look slim, and hippopotamus hates the mud between his toes, but hasn’t lost any of his shoes. The illustrations by Sergio Ruzzier are very cheerful and support the text well. The story is a great read aloud and will keep your children’s attention. I love the introduction of words in context such as catastrophe, dainty, pursue, and rare.

Schema: finding or losing something

Idiom: Finders Keepers Losers Weepers

Text-to-Self Connections: finding or losing something, throwing things away

Questioning: The main character, a little mouse, asks many animals in his community if the shoe he found belongs to them. Many examples of using the question mark.

Earth Day: The idea of the kangaroo throwing the shoe into the bamboo because it hurt his feet provides a great introduction to a conversation about littering, donating, re-purposing, and making good choices about how to get rid of something we don’t want. The shoe was used by the mouse as a wonderful king size bed.

Story Elements: Problem: The mouse finds a shoe and has been taught that finders keepers is not polite so he sets off to find its owner

Character Development: The main character, a mouse, has a good character in that he wants to do the right thing when he finds the lost shoe.

My Big Tree by Maria Ashworth

Everyone has their own special place and sometimes it’s hard to share! In this concept book a little blue bird has a favorite tree that gets taken over by lots of other tree critters. He finally finds a new tree, but readers will have to decide how he feels about that. Maybe having friends near is something to think about. Young readers will enjoy looking at the different animals that inhabit the tree. The reader could create his or her own story about what the dog is doing.

Maria’s favorite children’s books:

Tikki Tikki Tembo
Too Much Noise
Runaway Bunny
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
If You Give A Mouse A Cookie
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
Captain Underpants
Ferdinand
Mike Mulligan
Brown Bear, Brown Bear

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Art Parts: A Child’s Introduction to the Elements of Art by Kim Bogren Owen

What a beautiful book to introduce the elements of art to young children! The author explains and illustrates shapes then asks the reader to make similar drawings on the blank page provided. Next, the author demonstrates shading in colors and shows a dark green, a lighter green, a bright green, and a muted green. Following this, two blank pages are provided for exploration of colors. Texture, space, and feeling are explained in a similar way with pages to practice. This book is drawing book or workbook for beginning artists. I would recommend it for children ages 3-8. The drawings and comments that they make would be a wonderful keepsake for parents and grandparents. The child could also write some stories or captions to go with their art that could be given as a gift to loved ones. I would definitely read it with younger children, but I would hold off on the drawing part of the book until the child is able to make shapes and drawings that they could enjoy later on. Parents might enjoy using this book along with baby books and other memory type books that children write in. This book would be a wonderful gift book as well. After using this book as a tool to learn about art, children could then model their own books on its example.

Text-to-Text Connections: drawing

Genre: Expository text

Orchids by Kim Bogren Owen Photographs by: Amber Owen, Hanko, and Pearson

Have you ever wondered how vanilla ice cream gets that wonderful vanilla flavor? Vanilla seed pods grow from the Vanilla Orchid flowering plant. This book includes beautiful full color photographs of several different types of orchids including the Vanilla Orchid. Teachers and parents could use this book as an introduction to many concepts such as color, taste, and a more complicated concept of symmetry. Simple text paired with factual information create a perfect expository book for the youngest reader. The author includes ideas for further exploration with young children at the end of the book.

Four blank pages are included at the end of the book for young art students to make a symmetrical drawing or to make their own shapes like those seen in the orchids.

The hardback book has a very sturdy binding and will hold up to many readings and circulations.

Schema: flowers

Text-to-Text connection: vanilla flavorings

Main Idea: Orchid flowers are colorful and filled with elements of art.

Genre: Informational text or expository text are terms for nonfiction books that young children need to be familiar with and know the difference between this and other genres such as fiction.