Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Pocket Full of Kisses, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara Leonard Gibson)


A follow up to The Kissing Hand, Audrey Penn's A Pocket Full of Kisses has Chester Raccoon working through feelings of jealousy when he becomes a big brother. My two-year-old demographic of one, Magda, didn't like this one quite as much as The Kissing Hand, but that may be because she has her own opinions about whether or not she'd like to be a big sister!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories
Author: Audrey Penn
Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson
Publisher: Tanglewood
Publication Date: August 15, 2009
I know that Audrey Penn's Chester the Raccoon series is best known for its gentle messages about helping children deal with life's big changes (going to school, moving, having a new sibling) and The Kissing Hand is one of my favourite books for children ever. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that this book was another "dealing with big changes" book. I just wasn't expecting it to be so sad (SO sad!). In Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories, Chester must deal with the death of a loved one. I realize this is something every child has to deal with at some point, whether it's the death of a grandparent or a family pet or some one else close to them. It's a sad, confusing time and it's good to have books available to help comfort children through this difficult time. But, having said that...

The death Chester must deal with in this book is the death of a classmate, which is WAY sadder than I expected from a children's book. He comes home and explains that the teacher said Skiddel Squirrel had "an accident" and wouldn't be coming back to school. I know it's a squirrel and not a person, but within the logic of the book it would be the equivalent of a child dying. I admit, I was quite traumatized. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully
Author: Audrey Penn 
Illustrator: Barbara L. Gibson 
Publisher: Tanglewood 
Publication Date: August 14, 2008 
Audrey Penn and Barbara L. Gibson's series of books are lovely and (deservedly) very popular, but perhaps they can't all be as magical as The Kissing HandChester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully has some good points, but it's not the "instant classic" that The Kissing Hand was. The basic premise is that Chester and his friends are terrified of a mean badger at school who has been bullying them, to the point that event the teacher can't control his behaviour. Chester's mom tells them all a story about a prickly blue stone that is beautiful but painful to touch, a metaphor for the prickly badger. She encourages the forest children to "smooth out the prickly edges" of the badger's mean disposition with kindness. In the end, the children confront the bully and ask him to play, at which point the entire problem is instantly resolved.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Kiss Goodbye, by Audrey Penn (illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson)

Poor Chester Raccoon. First he had to deal with starting school. Then he had to get used to a new baby in the family. Now he must prepare to move to a new tree before his current home gets demolished. His mother is there to help him with all of these changes, even if Chester isn't so sure. A beautiful book, sure to take its place next to The Kissing Hand as a preschool classic.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn (illustrations by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak)

Audrey Penn's classic children's book is a favourite among children, parents, daycare teachers and two-year-olds named Magda who live in my house (a small but mighty demographic). Although there are many in the series, this one is by far the best. Also, it's the only one illustrated by Nancy M. Leak and Ruth E. Harper, which I think makes all the difference. The illustrations are beautiful, painterly and soulful. LOVE LOVE LOVE!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Leah's Voice, by Lori DeMonia (illustrations by Monique Turchan)

Leah's Voice
Author: Lori DeMonia
Illustrator: Monique Turchan
Publisher: Halo Publishing
Publication Date: October 9, 2012

A few months ago I wrote a review for a book called My Brother is Different: A parents' guide to help children cope with an Autistic sibling. Although the book had good intentions, I did not give it a glowing review because I didn't think it was very successful as a children's book. Despite the title, it was written and illustrated like a book to be read to--or read by--children (rather than just as a resource for parents or educators) and I didn't feel it held up well as a story book. I've been both a writer and a daycare teacher for many years (including several years as a Special Needs teacher) and I appreciate those children's books that try to tackle difficult subjects, but ultimately they still need to be good children's literature. Lori DeMonia clearly agrees. 

Her book, Leah's Voice, isn't just a "difficult subject" book. It isn't just about Autism. And her goal isn't just to help kids "cope with" an Autistic sibling. She knows first hand that there are many challenges that the sibling of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder faces--their sibling's behavior may sometimes be confusing or frustrating, their friends may not be as understanding about why their sibling is different--but she also knows that having a sibling with ASD isn't some constant burden that kids need to "deal with." Siblings love each other! And siblings fight. And they misunderstand and get frustrated. Just like...well...SIBLINGS.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Spaceheadz: Book #3!, by Jon Scieszka

This is definitely not a stand alone book. The convoluted plot laid out in the first two books is only somewhat resolved in the last one, but is complete nonsense if you only read the third book by itself. I learned that first hand when I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and attempted to review it without being familiar with the series.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Spaceheadz: Book #2!, by Jon Scieszka

I thought by the second book things would start making a little more sense, but not really. And the different fonts all over the place are just manic. Do kids like that?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Spaceheadz: Book #1!, by Jon Scieszka

What can I say? You win some, you lose some. Jon Scieszka has done some fine (and hilarious) children's books over the years, but this one has more holes than Swiss cheese. I only read it because I received a free copy of Spaceheadz: Book #3! from the publisher and couldn't make heads nor tails of it without at least reading the rest of the series. It didn't help that much.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch

The Paper Bag Princess

(Read-Aloud Edition) 
Author: Robert Munsch 
Illustrator: Michael Martchenko 
Publisher: Open Road Media (Read-Aloud Edition enhanced e-book) 
(Originally published by Annick Press, 1992) 
Publication Date: June 26, 2012 
Buy Now on (original paperback) 
Buy Now on (board book) 
Available as enhanced e-book from Open Road Media 
Well, try as I might, I wasn't actually able to fully appreciate the "enhanced e-book experience." I think I just don't have the hang of it. The publishers sent me several digital copies of this book and finally sent me separate text and audio files for me to read and listen to on my computer. They were nice enough, with music and sound effects to accompany the narration by Robert Munsch, but to my taste they weren't so much better than all the other versions of this book available that it made it worth the effort. This is probably Munsch's most adapted book, with numerous print, digital, audio, and even animated cartoon versions available already. I'm not sure I quite see the point of this new edition. But I suspect I'm not quite as tech-savvy as some. Perhaps on an iPad it's a smoother experience to enjoy e-books with enhanced content. 

Although I did quite enjoy the variation on the "Mission: Impossible" theme song as it Princess Elizabeth went off in search of the dragon. Perhaps that moment was worth at least some of the hassle I went through to hear it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Monkey of the Month, by Adam Kramer (illustrated by David Kramer)

Monkey of the Month
Author: Adam Kramer
Illustrator: David Kramer
Publisher: Schiffer Books
Publication Date: August 31, 2012
I love the concept of this book--a boy receives a membership in a "monkey of the month" club for his birthday--but my love ends there. Even my daughter Magda didn't like this book, and she usually responds with at least a polite "it's fine." Maybe it's the mediocre writing, the completely unnecessary sexism (there's a lazy monkey that the mom in the book calls the "dad") or the oddly-overdone illustrations. It just wasn't a hit for me (or Magda). To be honest, it seemed like some people with great ideas of a children's book, but not nearly enough editing. 

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more pictures from inside the book...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Creating Children's Artwork Quilts, by Shannon Gingrich Shirley

Creating Children's Artwork Quilts
Author: Shannon Gingrich Shirley
Publisher: Schiffer Books 
Publication Date: November 30, 2012 
What a lovely idea! Like most parents, I have stacks and stacks of artwork from my child and big plans to DO something with them, but...well, there they sit in stacks. I've tried putting them into spiral-bound book (the book quickly expands beyond closing due to the thickness of all the construction paper and collage pieces, plus the tempera paint flakes off everywhere). I've made plans to scan them all and have them printed in a photo book (an excellent idea that I just have to make time to actually DO). My utility closet doors look like a mini art gallery (the fridge couldn't handle all the 'masterpieces'). I know I have to start throwing them away, but I want to keep SOME. But maybe I could do something special with the more memorable ones? Enter Shannon Gingrich Shirley.

Creating Children's Artwork Quilts is full of ideas for transforming children's art into long-lasting keepsakes. The instructions are easy enough to follow that I feel I could probably do most of the projects described, even though I've never made a quilt and I'm not that "crafty." But crafty, well-organized people would probably do a much better job with these projects. I think what it would really be perfect for is a project for my very talented mom to make a keepsake with her granddaughter's art. Hmmm...I could give her the book for Christmas and then GET an artwork quilt from her next year. Perfect!

Hit the jump for images from inside the book!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland

How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum:
The story of a 145-million-year journey from the Jurassic Plains of Utah to the halls of the Smithsonian Institution
Author: Jessie Hartland
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: October 11, 2011

I wish I could go back in time and have Jessie Hartland write an entire series of "How the..." books that I could enjoy throughout my childhood. I would have absolutely loved this book as a child! It's like a cumulative poem (think "The House That Jack Built") about dinosaur bones. It starts with how the dinosaur lived, how it probably died, who discovered the bones, who excavated, cleaned, shipped, assembled and displayed the bones in a museum, etc. It includes all the steps along the way, which is not only interesting and entertaining, it's very informative as well! It's also great to see all of the different jobs there are for people interested in paleontology or museums, beyond just the museum curator or the paleontologist. Plus, there's a bonus page at the end that explains a bit more about the actual dinosaur hunter and paleontologist featured in the book.

I hope Jessie Hartland writes a dozen more of these, like "How the Hamburger Got to Your Plate" (okay, that one might be a bit gruesome) or "How the Diamond Got on the Ring" (hmm...gruesome as well?) or maybe "How the Book Got to the Library." Hmm...maybe those aren't the best ideas, but I'll still be eagerly looking out for any more books that Jessie Hartland might do!

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Monday, January 14, 2013

What's New at the Zoo? by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (introduction by Phyllis Newman) (illustrated by Travis Foster)

What's New at the Zoo?
Authors: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
(based on song lyrics)
Introduction by: Phyllis Newman
Illustrator: Travis Foster
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Well I barely feel like I can review this book since the review copy I received from Edelweiss was missing pages and the pages it did have were improperly numbered which meant they didn't line up properly on my desktop reader. I contacted the publisher about it, but never heard back. I must say, I was surprised I didn't hear back since my experience with publishers since I started book blogging has been overwhelmingly positive. I don't think I've ever had a publisher not return my emails. Never. Even the large publishing houses have people who answer inquiries that are emailed to them, usually within a day or two, especially if it's about a review copy of a book. So let's just say this isn't even a real review. I will say one thing, though. If you're thinking about buying the e-book edition of What's New at the Zoo? I'd think twice. If it's as poorly laid out as the review copy I received, you'll be disappointed and you may have a hard time getting it fixed. Stick to the print edition.

I couldn't even get Magda's Take on this because part of the book was missing...

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius, by Harriet Ziefert (illustrated by Barroux)

My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius
Author: Harriet Ziefert
Illustrator: Barroux
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: September 13, 2011
Barroux's paintings are lush and lovely and are sure to capture the imaginations of readers young and old. In My Dog Thinks I'm a Genius, a young boy who loves to paint comes home to find his dog has been trying out some painting of his own. Barroux's illustrations for this book were inspired by the artwork of Paul Cezanne, and the book includes end notes about Cezanne's life and art. Fabulous! 

One note about the e-book edition, however. I'm not sure if this book is widely available as an e-book but the review copy I received was digital and there were problems with the page numbering. The pages were not lined up, so I was not able to simultaneously view pages that would be facing each other in the print edition, meaning that I saw half of one double page and half of the next double page, instead of being able to view facing pages together. This made the digital copy I received very hard to read to its intended full effect. I contacted the publisher (a few times) about it but never heard back, so I can only assume that any e-book edition in the future may have the same problems. Stick with print. 

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cozy Classics: Moby Dick, by Jack Wang and Holman Wang (inspired by the classic by Herman Melville)

Cozy Classics: Moby Dick
Authors: Jack Wang and Holman Wang
Based on the book by Herman Melville
Publisher: Simply Read Books
Publication Date: November 5, 2012
The illustrations for this simple board book were created with possibly the cutest little felt creatures I've ever seen. I want them all and I want to play with them and snuggle them and make them talk. Having said that, it's not like your child will really learn anything about Moby Dick and some of the single word text that accompanies each picture are fairly abstract (the word 'leg' next to a felt peg leg, the word 'find' next to a sailor in a crow's nest, etc.). On the other hand, who cares? These classics-as-board-books are really more for the adults anyway (my daughter has received several "baby versions" of friends' favourite books and from an adult perspective, it's thrillingly adorable! If you have a young child and a friend who loves Moby Dick, expect to see this book under your tree at Christmas.

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more pictures from the book!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Balloon Toons: Pooltime, by Ethan Long

Balloon Toons: Pooltime
Author: Ethan Long
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
This cute, inoffensive comic book style story would be perfect for an elementary school aged child during the summer break. It's a day in the life of three friends--an elephant, an alligator and a bird--as they try to stay cool at the pool. Only the bird should probably watch her back in case that alligator gets hungry... There's not much to say about this book. It's a solid B-. Nothing life-changing or even that challenging for an early reader, but it's cute and funny. Plus, there's even a little bit of word play at the end.

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Balloon Toons: Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies, by Daniel Cleary

Balloon Toons:
Prickles vs. The Dust Bunnies
Author: Daniel Cleary
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: October 25, 2011
You know how sometimes when you go to a family restaurant and the kids' place mats have little games and comics on them, and they're always really lame but it doesn't matter because they're just going to get covered in ketchup in a minute anyway? This book reminds me of those 
comics. It's cute, but not that cute. It's funny, but not really. And honestly, considering it's about dust bunnies under the couch uniting to try to take over, it's more than a little disgusting. Ick.

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice, by Jack Wang and Holman Wang (based on the book by Jane Austen)

Cozy Classics: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Authors: Jack Wang and Holman Wang
Based on the book by Jane Austen 
Publisher: Simply Read Books 
Publication Date: November 15, 2012 
Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat. Some of you are huge Jane Austen fans. You know who you are. Of course you do, you're not ashamed of it. There are millions of you. And among you Jane Austen fans, many of you have a child in your life. Maybe it's not your own child, but a niece or a nephew, a friend's baby, a neighbourhood kid who waves at you on the way to work. Whatever. The point is, you will buy them this book. It's just a scientific fact. There's no way around it, really. It's freaking adorable, for one thing. Look at that felt doll on the cover! She has mud on her skirt and everything! You'd be crazy to think you can resist the charm of that. It's like weapons-grade cute right there.

Now parents: be prepared. If you have a friend or a relative or a chatty co-worker who loves Jane Austen, even ironically (whatever that means), you will most likely be receiving this book at some point. Don't be alarmed. It's cute and harmless...although I will admit that it's a little disconcerting to see a felt doll with cleavage.

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more pictures from the book!

Changing Tomorrow 2: Leadership Curriculum for High-Ability Middle School Students Grades 6-8, by Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Ed.D. and Linda D. Avery, Ph.D.

Changing Tomorrow 2:

Leadership Curriculum for High-Ability Middle School Students
Grades 6-8
Authors: Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Ed.D. and Linda D. Avery, Ph.D.
Editor: Jennifer Robins
Publisher: Prufrock Press
Publication date: November 1, 2012
Buy Now on
Changing Tomorrow 2 outlines an entire unit plan for teachers on the theme of leadership, with lesson plans that include in-depth study of several famous leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Pablo Picasso, Charles Darwin and more. Students are asked, through a series of lessons and projects, to learn more about each person and assess the ways in which each does or does not exemplify the qualities of leadership. This leaves a lot of room for class discussion and critical thinking because even though all of the people included in the book are exemplary in many ways, even great humans have their flaws and their detractors. The lesson plans in the book encourage students to ponder whether a person's positive contributions to society outweigh their bad decisions, or whether it is even necessary for them to do so in order for us to rightly admire them as great leaders.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Countdown with Milo and Mouse, by Mike Austin

Countdown with Milo and Mouse
(The Adventures of Milo and Mouse)

Author: Mike Austin
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: May 22, 2012
Buy Now on
Buy Now on

This spaceship-themed counting book is cute and fun, though the illustrations are a bit busy at times, making it a bit hard to read. Other than that, it's fantastic. I particularly liked how the counting was used in two different practical ways--first, as a countdown for the rocket ship, and then again as a number of steps the rocket ship takes (first they visit the moon, etc.). So many counting books for preschoolers simply showcase quantitative numbering (one duck, two dogs, three glasses of milk, etc.) which is fine, but it's nice to see other uses for numbers and counting in a picture book. After I read this with my three-year-old, I noticed her going around the house saying, "First, I'm going to get a book. Two, I'm going to read the book. Three, I'm gonna put the book away. Four, I'm gonna get another book!" Awesome!

Differentiating Instruction with Menus for the Inclusive Classroom: Language Arts Grades 6-8, by Laurie E. Westphal

Differentiating Instruction with Menus for the Inclusive Classroom:
Language Arts Grades 6-8
Author: Laurie E. Westphal
Editor: Sean Redmond
Publisher: Prufrock Press
Publication date: November 1, 2012

I can't say enough great things about this series. On the other hand, I'm a preschool teacher, so my lesson planning looks a lot different than that described in this book, so why should you believe me? Because I'm an awesome book reviewer, that's why!

And also because my partner Mike teaches middle school English and Social Studies (junior high, as it's known here in Canada) and this is what he had to say:
"I particularly liked the way the choice boards were set up with 'free choice' options. Like in the bingo or tic-tac-toe menus, the whole board may have different things like "write a newspaper article" or "create a children's book" but then in the centre there'll  be "free choice." Of course the kid is going to choose that. But the trick is for 'free choice' they actually have to come up with their own project idea and write a proposal explaining it and get it approved before they even start. But writing a proposal is something you can grade them on! So it's like getting them to do a bonus assignment before they even do the real assignment. And the whole time the student is thinking he's getting away with something because he chose the 'free choice' square. Genius."
I couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Differentiating Instruction With Menus for the Inclusive Classroom: Social Studies Grades 6-8, by Laurie E. Westphal

Differentiating Instruction With Menus for the Inclusive Classroom: 

Social Studies Grades 6-8
Author: Laurie E. Westphal
Editor: Sean Redmond
Publisher: Prufrock Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2012
Oh these books make me excited! The entire series is filled with such enthusiasm for teaching and so many great ideas for teachers that I actually get a little tingly when I read them.

First of all, I love the idea of creating choice boards (or menus) for students' assignments. It's such a great way to incorporate different means to a common end. This is good for a classroom in which many students may have IPPs (individualized program plans) so they have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways.  (A student with dyslexia may choose to do an oral or a visual presentation instead of a written assignment, for example.) More importantly, it empowers the students to make the choice themselves, so they can decide which assignments best play to their strengths (The student with dyslexia may prefer the written assignment because it allows more time for proofreading and revision as needed.) And, of course, it allows all of the students to have a variety of assignments to choose from, not just those with identified special needs.

And, as Westphal points out, having an inclusive classroom doesn't just mean taking students' different learning abilities into consideration It also means paying attention to things like socioeconomic differences. One thing she suggests is the "$1.00 contract," in which students and their parents verify that no more than $1.00 was spent on additional materials for a project. This encourages students to be more resourceful with materials available in the classroom or to re-purpose things they have at home, and evens the playing field for students who may not be able to afford expensive presentation materials or props.

There Were Dinosaurs Everywhere! A Rhyming Romp Through Dinosaur History

There Were Dinosaurs Everywhere!
A Rhyming Romp Through Dinosaur History
Author: Howard Temperley 
Illustrator: Michael Kline 
Publisher: KWS Publishers 
Publication Date: October 26, 2012 
What a fantastic book! It's eighty pages of funny and informative poems about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures (my resident dino-geek, Mike, insisted that I make the distinction since not all prehistoric creatures that we think of as 'dinosaurs' were, in fact, classified as dinosaurs). The illustrations are cute and charming, showing dinosaurs in silly situations, like pterosaurs with aviator glasses and a triceratops curled up in bed with insomnia. My three-year-old also enjoyed reading it with me, though it is intended for an older child and would be perfect for any elementary school aged dinosaur lover.

Normally I don't make reference to books being "girl" books or "boy" books. Actually, it's a pet peeve of mine that there even ARE books that are only meant for one gender or the other, especially with books for children. As a mother of a young child, I'm constantly irritated with how much genderizing the world seems to want to do to my daughter, even in books. But one thing I did love about this book is that it does not appear gender biased. Sometimes dinosaur things are subtly (or not so subtly) geared toward boys, but this book shows illustrations of girls and boys both, and refers to the dinosaurs mostly as "it" or "they" (instead of always "he"). It's a small thing, but I appreciated it.
Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Friday, January 4, 2013

How to Handle Difficult Parents: Proven Solutions for Teachers (2nd edition), by Suzanne Capek Tingley

How to Handle Difficult Parents: 

Proven Solutions for Teachers
(2nd edition)
Author: Suzanne Capek Tingley
Editor: Lacy Compton
Publisher: Prufrock Press
Publication Date: August 1, 2012
I've been a preschool teacher for about a decade now, and my partner Mike is in his first few years as a middle school teacher, so we've both had reason to be concerned about "difficult parents." It's important to stay professional and focused, but some parents can drive you around the bend! Most of the time, parent interactions are smooth and easy, but for those other times, there's this book. 

Mike and I agreed that we had never encountered a resource for educators about dealing with parents that was so, well, readable. We both read this book cover-to-cover almost as soon as we got it, often waiting impatiently for one to be finished a chapter so the other could keep reading. We skipped back and forth between sections, saying things like, "Did you read that part about the helicopter parents? I wish I'd read that before parent-teacher night!" This book was the subject of frequent conversations for several weeks.

And it's written to be conversational. Suzanne Capek Tingley is speaking directly to educators, almost as though she were in the room. She gets that we work hard, we do our best and we genuinely care about our students, BUT that there are times we just wish we could throw a coffee mug right at sweet little Johnny's blowhard dads (But don't do it, she cautions!) She also gets that we all want to be professional and not let difficult situations escalate if we can help it. In other words, she's on our side.