Category Archives: Reviews


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
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.

The Story Circle / El círculo de cuentos by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and Wendy Martin

What happens in a school after a flood? After storms flood a school the children return to empty bookshelves. In this picture book a very creative teacher helps her class cope with the loss of their books by teaching them to use their imaginations to create mental images of the story she is telling them. The teacher allows the class to act out her words as she tells them her story. Then the teacher asks the children to share what they imagined which leads to the children writing about their mental images. The books the children create are filling their empty bookshelves.

Mental Images: Good readers naturally make mental images, but research tells us that this does not come naturally to everyone. It can be taught and with practice, can become automatic. This book is an excellent tool to use when teaching how to make mental images. The children are illustrated with what they are imagining. The illustrator, Wendy Martin, has created excellent illustrations that reflect what each child has imagined in the text.

Wendy Martin’s artistic interpretation of Bertrand’s text features a southwest setting with Hispanic characters. This books will be a perfect additionWendyMartinHiRes to any elementary bilingual collection. The illustrations and text will inspire children to practice making mental images. The illustrator offered a question and answer time about her newest book. I am so excited to include Wendy Martin’s interview:
Q: How did you become interested in illustrating literature for children?
A: I’ve always loved storytelling. And I’ve always loved creating narrative art. After a couple of decades working as a graphic designer and painting fine art on the weekends for gallery shows, I decided I wanted a bigger challenge. Creating a book to showcase a collection of art seemed like a natural progression. Some of my favorite artists were, and are, children’s book illustrators. Fifteen years ago I came up with a plan to be a children’s book illustrator and have been following it ever since.
Q: Do you like to read a lot and, if so, why?
A: I’ve been a voracious reader since I was little. I’d read anything I could get my hands on. I may have slowed down now that I have so many other demands and obligations on my time, but the last thing I do every day is spend time with a good book. My favorite genres are fantasy, magical realism and historical adventures. I’ve read about 45 books so far this year. I’d say a quarter of that figure is from picture books. Part of my job is to keep current on what’s new in the children’s book industry. The rest are either novels or non-fiction books.
Q: Are you interested in speaking to school, library, writer or other groups about your book(s)? If so, how can people get in contact with you?
A: I’ve been giving workshops for all age groups for many years. I do both in-person visits and electronic visits, either via Skype or Google Hangouts. I speak about how an illustrator works, how a picture book is made or guide students through their own book creation. People can find out more about my author visits here.
Find the book on Amazon or the publisher’s website.

A transplanted New Yorker now living in Missouri, Wendy Martin has been working as an illustrator for 25+ years.
Her love affair with art and illustration began at an early age. She never wanted to do anything else. So, she followed her heart and earned a degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, then continued her art education at the School of Visual Arts, earning a B.F.A. in Graphic Design. These disciplines can still be seen in her work as a children’s book illustrator and fantasy artist in the strong lines, textures and detailed patterns. See additional art and find out more author visits at Wendy Martin.

Space Case (Moon Base Alpha) by Stuart Gibbs

Looking for a book for tweens or boys? The protagonist is Dash, a twelve-year-old, living on the moon with his family in the first colony from earth to make the moon their home. In between narrating about the horrendous bathrooms and the tasteless food, Dash reveals that he thinks a death of an older scientist was not an accident. When he approaches the head of the colony and his parents, they tell him that they think he is wrong and that he should drop it. They think the scientist had mental issues and that he caused his own accidental death. Things get more complicated when a Zan, a mysterious woman who says she’s working with the space agency, arrives on the shipment rocket and tells Dash that he is on target and to continue investigating secretly. She can’t be seen with him, but she will make contact with him when she can. Other characters give some good laughs with food flying through the air and fights with moon gravity allowing the victims to literally rise above the bullies. One family is there because they paid billions to be in the first colony. They and their children are obnoxious and create some interesting situations for the other kids and adults.

This is a great science fiction read that is entertaining for all ages. The science parts of the story seem like what it could really be like to live on the moon some day. Nothing is perfect, but the moon colonists must not complain or tell the nitty gritty or funding could be lost. Phone calls to earth can be made, and the kids are required to make video logs to share with the world as everyone is watching the real life reality show set on the moon. I couldn’t put it down. The ending was a surprise and I can’t wait to read the sequel.

Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist by Jewel Kats and Claudia Marie Lenart

This version of Hansel and Gretel is told with a new perspective as Hansel takes the lead in finding his family some food to eat. The parents send the children to look for food. Hansel’s mother has been very protective of him, not allowing him to venture off much on his own. Most of the action occurs when Hansel, who has Down Syndrome, runs away from his sister and discovers the witch’s candy house. He makes a deal with the witch by holding her broom as hostage until his demands are met. Once met, he befriends the witch. His caring gesture of offering to become a friend to her leads to the witch’s spell being broken and she becomes a princess. The author shows Hansel as more than Down Syndrome. The text reveals that he is a child, a brother, a son, and now a friend to Mirella, the witch, and the reader can infer that Hansel is capable of a much richer life and doesn’t need to be protected so much. The interesting artwork is rendered with fibers.

Jenny & Her Dog both Fight Cancer: A Tale of Chemotherapy and Caring by Jewel Kats and Claudia Marie Lenart

The tough topic of cancer is approached from a child’s point of view. The book begins with Jenny finding out that her dog has cancer. They are there for each other as they both fight to live because Jenny also has cancer. Jenny feels like everything’s a blur when she hears about her dog, Dolly. The illustrator depicts the images in a blur as well. Fuzzy illustrations using fibers such as yarn as the medium support the text as the two feel the fuzzy insecurities of what might happen in the future. The vet explains to Jenny that he can only try to make Dolly comfortable and cannot cure the cancer. As the story progresses Jenny’s hair falls out, but in the end, her cancer is cured. Dolly’s movements slow and she sleeps more, and at the end, she passes away as Jenny is with her. This heartbreaking story is realistic, and for children facing cancer or the death of a pet, I think this book will be a supporting tool. Parents can read the book to help children begin to express their own feelings about going through traumatic experiences.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed

Schema: Sharing, friendship

The story is set in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Two girls, age ten, meet as they both get one each of a pair of sandals dropped off by a relief truck. The next day, Lina gives Feroza the sandal. Feroza suggests they share taking turns each day. The girls share their experiences of losing family and the sacrifices of being refugees and develop a caring friendship. They shared their hopes for finding a new home. They recognize the beginning of Ramadan.

Characterization: Lina and Feroza were both compassionate and caring, and both have a desire to learn. Although they were not allowed to go to school with the boys, they would listen by the window and practice writing in the dirt.

Symbolism: The sandals represented hope for finding each other in America some day. Each girl kept one as they parted.

Realistic Fiction: The story is based on real experiences in a refugee camp and can help readers to feel compassion for others who are homeless and immigrating into another country.