Board Book Review: Happy!

Our 21st board book delights parents and toddlers alike.

Happy by Pharrell Williams.
Putnam, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
Board book, 30 pages.
Lexile:  AD410L  ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  1.7 (worth 0.5 points)  .

A board book (also available in picture book format) based on the popular song.

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Happy by Pharrell Williams.

I just love song picture books and board books because they have so many applications.  Toddlers can look at the pictures.  Older children can read the words independently.  And everybody in between can sing the song!  These are nice for allowing children to read at a bit higher level than they are ready for, because they can use prior knowledge of the song lyrics to decode the words.  They can also be helpful for engaging reluctant readers who love music.

However, this type of book is challenging to do well.  Luckily, Williams and his team have done a great job converting this song to board book format.  Now, I will say that if you’ve never heard the song, this book might not make so much sense to you – the lyrics don’t exactly coalesce into a story.  But take a minute and go listen to the song, I’ll wait!

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Review: The Dragon of Ynys

“Of course the dragon would try to distract him if it really was guilty. But Violet wouldn’t let it. He was a professional, specialised in dragon crimes. This dragon’s crimes.” page 15

The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen.
Atthis Arts, Detroit, Michigan, my edition 2020, originally published 2018.
All ages fantasy, 132 pages including back matter.
Not leveled.

Sir Violet’s duties as knight have fallen into a familiar pattern – he goes to the dragon’s cave, and after some banter a missing item is returned. Until instead of his morning cinnamon roll, he finds the baker’s wife distraught – Juniper is missing! This sends Sir Violet on a quest for not only the missing baker, but a few other things he didn’t know he was missing.

The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen.

I bought this book entirely because of a post; I didn’t realize the age level until it crossed my feed. Not that this is only for kids, it’s especially written as All Ages – a rare find!

Much like the dragon, I’m a collector, only my hoard is books. I like the collection to fit together in various pleasing ways and am always looking for new releases that fit categories seldom seen in diverse MG fantasy. Three areas have been elusive -stories set in South America or Australia, LGBTQ+ representation, and indigenous stories. We are finally seeing movement on the latter two, so I have high hopes for more English-language South American MG fantasy in the next five years.

I was initially disappointed at the length. The main story is only 118 pages with generous spacing. MG fantasy novels (which this isn’t, but is the comparative genre I’ve been most heavily immersed in lately) tend to run longer, so on my first reading this was at the back of my mind… until the fairly detailed back matter. Knowing that the $13 list price goes towards fair payment for editors, sensitivity readers, and others made me much happier about the price versus length.

Although the book is smaller, it’s well formatted. The cover, while not especially exciting, conveys the gist and is nicely laid out. Simple works better than wrong! As someone who personally and professionally handles dozens to hundreds of books daily, I can tell it’s not from a mainstream publisher – but nowadays well made titles aren’t obviously POD to most casual readers.

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Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service

“After exchanging goodbye after goodbye, Kiki hung her radio from the front of her broom, sat Jiji on the back, and jumped on.” page 23

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, translated by Emily Balistrieri, illustrated by Yuta Onoda.
Delacorte Press, Penguin Random House, New York, 2020.
MG fantasy, 196 pages.
Lexile: 670L .
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 7.0 points) .
*at the time of this writing, the AR page included both the 2003 and 2020 translations although they are substantially different, so it may change.
NOTE: Reviewing the 2020 translation of a Japanese novel.

Kiki is a young girl coming of age – the only child of a witch and a human folklorist. She’s decided to follow her mother’s traditions and become a witch herself, which means leaving her parents for a witchless town at 13.

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, 2020 edition illustrated by Yuta Onoda and translated from Japanese by Emily Balistieri.

This book is the story of Kiki’s first year and reads almost like interconnected short stories. Most chapters are episodic and self-contained, although they do all build to a final end. I haven’t yet watched the popular animated film of the same title. While the two bear many elements in common, reviews indicate that the movie has significant differences from the book (like many Miyazaki films), so I’ve waited to see the animated version.

Although this story is about a girl going from 12 to 14, it’s incredibly wholesome and would make a lovely family read-aloud. In Kiki’s world, witches and humans live alongside one another peacefully and share similar concerns. Kiki quietly refuses to do anything against her morals, but also isn’t perfect – snooping in a package when her curiosity overcomes her, interrupting an old lady who speaks slowly, and speaking sharply to irritating customers. Kadono balances on a fine line between innocence and realism without ever reminding the reader of this impressive tightrope act.

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Review: Hooray for Anna Hibiscus!

“But the aunties’ heads must be so hard by now, Anna thought. After centuries of pulling and tugging and yanking, their heads must be as hard as concrete.” page 39

Hooray for Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.
Kane Miller, EDC Publishing, Tulsa, OK, 2010.  (First published in London, 2008.)
Elementary chapter book fiction, 112 pages.
Lexile:  660L  .
AR Level:  4.1 (worth 1.0 points)  .
NOTE:  This is the second book in the Anna Hibiscus chapter book series.

The continued adventures of Anna Hibiscus and her family in amazing Africa.

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Hooray for Anna HIbiscus! by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.

I wrote a few years ago about the first book in this series, simply titled Anna Hibiscus.  While I loved the story and one of my older children read it independently, at the time of that review, they hadn’t enjoyed it as a read-aloud.  Well, it was indeed just a moody day, because we have since been loving this series as a whole-family read aloud choice.

Much like the first, this book is actually four interconnected short stories which could be read individually.

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Review: Anna Hibiscus

“Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa. Amazing Africa.” page 7, 35, 65, 83.

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.
Kane Miller, EDC Publishing, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2010.  (First published in London in 2007.)
Elementary chapter book fiction, 112 pages.
Lexile:  670L .
AR Level:  4.1 (worth 1.0 points)  .
NOTE:  This is the first book in the Anna Hibiscus chapter book series.

Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa with her mother and father and baby brothers Double and Trouble.

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Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.

I’d heard about this author for a while but could not get any of her books.  Once I found them on Amazon, it took some time to determine the order.  This is the first chapter book in the Anna Hibiscus series (Atinuke also has other books).

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28 Days Book Review

In short, this book is a must-have for every school library, and highly recommended for home and classroom libraries as well.

28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith Jr., Illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2015. 54 pages.
Non-fiction picture book.

I don’t recall if I purchased this book or was given it as a gift, but it was one of the early books that inspired the 30 day project.  This book features 29 days that chronologically tell the story of Black History.

Each day has either a single page or a two-page spread.  I am quite curious about the process used for this book, because the text and the pictures are perfect matches.  It’s quite clear that a great deal of time and thought was put into the illustrations and the layout.  Besides the gorgeous artwork of Shane Evans, the book has several features which allow it to be used at a variety of age, reading, or interest levels.

First the date is stated month/date/year.  Then one sentence briefly describes the event featured for that day.  The name of the person featured, or event occurring, is in a different font.  Then the poem or writing follows.  This is the most varied part of the book, with rhyming poems, acrostics, free verse, eulogies, or quotation from documents, speeches, or songs incorporated into various pages.  I see this portion as having classroom applications not only for Black History Month, but also in April for National Poetry Month.

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28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith and Shane W. Evans

Finally, each day ends with a paragraph in smaller type that gives additional background about the person or topic for that day.  This means there are four methods of interpretation for each day: the picture, the date and factual sentence, the poem or quotation, and the informative paragraph.  The parent or teacher reading this book aloud could choose to read only one or two sections, or they could read all of them.

One thing to remember when reading this book aloud is that the poetry sections vary quite a bit.  Harriet Tubman’s eulogy fills two pages, while Matthew Henson’s poem is 11 words long.  Some of the poems rely on the reader being able to see the poem, and others are meant for two voices.

Another important consideration is the content.  This book is marketed at ages 4-10, however there are some pages which may worry younger children.  Consider the child or group of children you would be reading this book to.  The kids were rather upset reading about the Dred Scott decision on Day 2.  Even though it is overturned on Day 4, if you are reading it one page each day, that may be too long.  I was able to use this book with older students as an introduction/review.

This book hits all the major court cases and many of the major “names” in Black History, along with others who may not be as familiar.  This was our first introduction to Madam C.J. Walker, although we later read a brief chapter book about her.  Matthew Henson and Robert Smalls might not be as familiar as Malcolm X and Jackie Robinson.  One odd digression is Nelson Mandela on Day 26, as he is not an American (but for some reason often included in African American history).  However, in general we really enjoyed reading a variety of poetic forms and learning about many moments in history and great figures, with vibrant illustrations to match.

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Coloring Book Review: Great African Americans

This coloring book is a win on every front… except including women.

At the spur of the moment, I decided to add coloring pages to the 30 day project, mainly because this Dover Coloring book kept popping up as I added diverse books on my Amazon wish list.  For us the coloring pages were a fun supplement to the main books – we usually didn’t read the text.  However, if you were looking for a easier, cheaper, or simpler alternative to the 30 day project, you could certainly do a 30 day project just coloring these pages and reading them.

The kids colored the pages as I read to them.  Sometimes they would race to finish first, or try to complete the page before we finished reading for the day, other times they would take their time and complete a page more slowly.

Nearly all of the pages corresponded to the “extra” picture book we were reading for the day, however occasionally we had a page that corresponded to one of our core texts, and a picture book that corresponded to the other.  Z found this very confusing, so if I do this project again, I would either avoid that, or explain more clearly who was who.

I think for some of the historical figures it would also have been helpful to have a picture or portrait to look at.  Some had photos or drawings in the books we were reading, but others didn’t.

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Dover Coloring Book: Great African Americans

The first book I purchased was Great African Americans.  This book has 45 different coloring pages representing different figures from African American history.  Pages are arranged according to the person’s last name, and a wide range of people are included.  Some of the poses will be familiar from photographs, and the most dynamic pages were definitely the athlete pages.

Each page has a short paragraph at the bottom giving a brief overview of the person’s life and accomplishments, so one could definitely use this book alone for a 30 day study of African American history.  There were two pages which might bring up some questions parents must be prepared to answer: Marcus Garvey’s page, which discusses black separatism, and Mother Clara Hale’s page, which includes information about drug addiction and AIDs.

Of the coloring pages, there are 5 pages which have colored-in examples.  Frederick Douglas is on the cover, Harriet Tubman on the inside front cover, Elijah McCoy on the inside back cover, and smaller images of W.E.B. Du Bois and George Washington Carver are on the back cover.

Out of the 45 people featured in this book, only 10 are women.  After looking through the book, I quickly realized that if I wanted to include the many African American women who have contributed to American history, I would need to expand.  Luckily, there is another Dover Coloring book called Famous African-American Women.

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