Saturday, April 30, 2011

Board book extravaganza!

In the past year or so, I've had 10 friends and family members give birth. Seriously people, 10! And in the next 6 months, I know of at least 3 more that will be having babies of their own. SO, instead of a Picture Book Saturday post, I thought I'd do a board book extravaganza, because, as a book person, I obviously go straight for the bookstore when I need to pick up a baby shower gift. 

If you're looking for books to give a new mom-to-be or even a mom that has other children, these are great choices. Some nostalgic, some fun and silly, each would make a nice choice for a gift or to add to an outfit or one of those other baby essentials.

I got a box of baby awesome from Random House:

The famous "Little Golden Books" series has started putting some of their more popular titles into padded board book form, which makes them great for little hands. There's The Poky Little Puppy (one of my personal favorites from childhood), Home for a Bunny, Baby's First Book, and Baby Farm Animals, and each is just as sweet as I remembered from so long ago. I also like that they are a bit thicker than the original Golden Books and therefore you can read the title on the spine.

The latest edition to the "Busy" series by John Schindel and Martin Harvey, which features books with beautiful photographs of a specific animal with minimal text. Great for babies that love looking at pictures! This one features of my favorite animals. Lots of great books in this series! I love the dog one and the gorillas...such great photos.

Grandma Calls Me Gigglepie by J.D. Lester and illustrator Hiroe Nakata is another cute book for babies and toddlers that is all about silly nicknames. It all started with the books Daddy Calls Me Doodlebug and Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants. All of the books, including this new one, have nicely flowing rhymes and show animals doing their thing to illustrate the nickname. Fun!

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Salina Yoon is a fun, modern take on the classic nursery rhyme.

Wiggle Like an Octopus and Swing Like a Monkey are both by Harriet Ziefert and Simms Taback and are SO adorable! The monkey and the octopus on the covers move depending on which way you turn the book and the text is interactive, asking the reader if they can "leap like a tiger," "kangaroo jump," etc. Lots of fun for older siblings!

Baby Says "Moo" by JoAnn Early Macken and illustrator David Walker is really cute for babies learning their animal sounds. This particular baby thinks everything from people to birds to cats say "moo!" Kids will find it silly as the baby answers "moo" to everything, until the baby falls asleep! 

A super sweet read for toddlers expecting a younger sibling or for those learning their animal sounds! 

Thanks to Disney for the review copy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Between Shades of Gray review

Lina is a 15-year-old girl, living in Lithuania in 1941. She has a nice house, a lovely family, and is fairly content with her life exactly as it is, spending time with friends and crushing on boys. One night, Soviet soldiers burst into her home, forcing Lina, her younger brother, and her mother into the back of a truck, along with several of her neighbors. Lina is confused and scared about what is happening to her family...what they've done wrong...and most of all, where her father has been taken to.

Lina's family ends up being deported to Siberia, forced to suffer through horrific conditions, including starvation, lack of clothing and proper shelter, hard labor, and constant humiliation and physical abuse. Considered political criminals by Stalin for being anti-Soviet, they, along with hundreds of thousands of other people across Eastern Europe, are no longer given any control over their own lives. They are slaves.

Despite the life that Lina now leads, she still shows the spunk of a 15-year-old girl. She takes risks, determined to continue her art and find a way to locate her father, and she finds herself interested in a mysterious boy. Her spirit, though darkened, has not been lost, which is essential to her survival. Sepetys wrote Lina as a girl who must work through a horrible experience, rather than a historical novel that happens to feature a girl. I loved that aspect.

I also learned SO much about what happened in Eastern Europe during the 1940's. As many other reviewers have stated, in school we're taught so much about Hitler and Germany, that Stalin and the Siberian labor camps are often overlooked or simply not mentioned at all. It's not only our responsibility to know that this really happened to people, but to continue the conversation forever. It's our history. Maybe this book can open up a line of communication in homes and schools, not just about these particular labor camps, but also about what's happening around the world RIGHT NOW. Bad things are still happening friends.

The writing was beautiful, simple, yet incredibly emotional. You'll easily be able to connect with Lina and feel what she feels, through the manner in which Sepetys writes. It's a tender book, filled with physical and emotional pain, but such an important read.

A great crossover novel too...I've had a lot of adults pick it up and report back that they really loved the writing. Beautiful, beautiful cover too.

Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys
338 pages
Young Adult
March 2011


Monday, April 25, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday: Into the Unknown

If you're looking for a fantastic book about explorers for a social studies unit or even just for kids interested in history run out and grab this one! It's filled up with unfolding cross sections of ships, rockets, and caravans, illustrating how explorers traveled in amazing detail. I learned so much!

We get a great visualization into the journey Christopher Columbus made across the ocean in 1492 and Tenzing Norgay's trek up Mt.Everest in 1953. Everything from back stories regarding how each exploration began to different fact boxes explaining more details of specific equipment are also included and presented in a readable manner that is SO cool to look at. 

I honestly think I learned more about certain explorers and the ways in which they traveled just by flipping through this book than I did in all my years of school. The illustrations are super detailed and the text long enough to inform, but short enough to avoid the reader being bored to tears. A great addition to a classroom or homeschool. 

Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land, Sea, and Air
Stewart Ross
96 pages
Middle Grade
April 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wither review

So much has already been written about the loveliness that is Wither, that I almost didn't bother writing up a review! However, I at least wanted to gush a little bit, so the few of you out there that haven't picked it up yet will hopefully be convinced to run out and do so. It's that good!

I'm definitely a dystopian freak, but I love a good "quiet" book with great characters and Lauren DeStefano acheived a pretty fabulous balance in Wither. The writing is done beautifully, allowing the reader to actually connect with Rhine, despite her strange situation and doomed destiny and, for mWie at least, with each of the other characters in turn. And even with the bleak topic, you're going to want to keep reading to find out what happens next. A fairly impressive combo, I think.

On the back cover, Lisa McMann (another fabulous author) is quoted saying this "Creepy and elegant, shocking and romantic, dreadful and rewarding, delivers unexpected twists." I couldn't agree more. Creepy AND elegant all in the same book!

I was thrilled to find out it would be the first in a trilogy, not only because I loved the actual book, but the cover is awesome as well. I can't wait to see what they come up with for the next book. It's just like Anna Godberson's Luxe series...those dresses!  

Lauren DeStefano
368 pages
Young Adult
Simon and Schuster
March 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I feel baseball in the air...

Ok, so I'm not a baseball fan. I tried to be for a few years (blame it on a guy), but I could never totally get into it. Just too slow for my liking I suppose! It is definitely the season now and fans all over the country are thrilled to get out to the ballpark again and experience America's favorite sport...and if you have a young baseball fan in your house, you may just want to check out these cool new books.

I Spy with My Little Eye Baseball by Brad Herzog and photographer David Milne

What kid doesn't love an I Spy book? This one places two photos next to each other, all baseball related of course, and has the reader pick out the differences in the photos. There's a specific number of changes for each photo, so the finding process could easily be turned into a timed game. Fun!

Little Baseball by Brad Herzog and illustrator Doug Bowles

I've already handed this one off to my 3-year-old nephew who loves it! Easy riddles reveal simple baseball facts for toddlers. Very basic, but that's perfect for the age level and works as a great introduction to the sport. There's a football one too, but since it's baseball season and all... :)

Lipman Pike: America's First Home Run King by Richard Michelson and illustrator Zachary Pullen

The illustrations in this one are fantastic! Telling the story of how Lipman Pike joined a local baseball club in Brooklyn in the mid-1800's and soon became a professional, much to the dismay of his parents. Over the years he made history for his home runs!

A really nice non-fiction picture book with exceptional illustrations. 

SO, if you're family loves baseball, these would all be great choices to check out!

Thanks, Sleeping Bear Press, for the review copies!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Guest Post! Melissa Stewart

As one of the stops on the Fins, Wings, and Other Things blog tour, I am honored to have Melissa Stewart, author of the new A Place for Fish, here at the blog to talk about her muse for writing. Check out this AMAZING statue:

When writers talk about their “muse,” most are speaking figuratively. They are referring to a mysterious form of inspiration that occasionally strikes out of the blue. But when I talk about my muse, I’m referring to something physical, literal, and, yes, deeply inspirational.

I visit my muse each Earth Day and any time I’m feeling creatively drained. Her name is Venusvine and she resides at the deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA.

The photo here doesn’t do the 16-foot-tall cast bronze sculpture justice. She is so much more beautiful in person. Even up close, she appears to be a forest nymph with branches for limbs and roots for hair. The first time I saw her, I thought she was made of organic materials. I didn’t realize she was bronzed until I read her plaque.

I have photos of Venusvine on the wall of my office. Sometimes I point them out to students during Skype visits. But sometimes I don’t. On those days, I need to keep her for myself.

Does Venusvine really give me creative energy? Who knows. But I still like having her around. Staring at her sometimes helps me focus my thoughts as I write books about the natural world. And she always reminds me of why I do what I do. If something I write in a book or say during a school visit inspires a child to take a closer look at a rock or chase after a butterfly just to see where it’s going, then my job is done.

Do all authors have a specific muse they look to when needing creative energy? I think that would be a pretty cool interview question to ask. 

One of my favorite bloggers Abby the Librarian is also participating in the tour and has a review up of Bring on the Birds Jenn of Jenn's Bookshelf has a review of Melissa Stewart's A Place for Fish. Head over to her blog and check it out! You can also visit the Peachtree Publishing blog to check out all the other stops on the tour. Lots of fun things going on!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Non-Fiction Monday: While You Are Sleeping

Teaching children about different time zones could be a lot of fun, as this book illustrates. I mean, how cool is it to imagine that while you're sitting at a desk in school, another child may be fast asleep at home or vice versa? 

Using bright illustrations and very simple text, the reader is able to get a look into what life is like in different parts of the world. At 10pm in Alaska, a child is reading a bedtime story, while all the way in Nigeria, it is 9am and a child is getting dressed for their day. While you are waving goodbye to friends in Japan at 5pm, someone in Mexico is fast asleep at 2am. Fun!

Each page features a small map featuring the first country mentioned and the time of day, as well as a lift-the-flap of a visual and a clock featuring the time in the other country. The very last pages include a world map and a small block of text explaining time zones and how they work. Interactive and beautifully illustrated! 

Great for classroom or homeschooling!

While You Are Sleeping: A Lift-the-Flap Book of Time Around the World
Durga Bernhard
24 pages
February 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Picture Book Saturday

Yeah, so it's Sunday. I've been complaining on Twitter about how crazy life has been lately and though I was good for awhile, setting up posts in advance and all that smart stuff, I definitely fell behind in the last couple of weeks. As I'm attempting to get back on track, here's a Picture Book Saturday...on Sunday.

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrator Wendy Anderson Halerin

It's that time of year! Gardens are being planned and units are being taught on how to make things grow. This book would make a really nice companion to teaching your kids about seeds and how nature is pretty awesome at taking care of itself.

The author combines bits about weather, people, animals, and plants and how they all flow together to create beautiful things. Even the sound of nature are included, which could be a fun, interactive element for younger children.

Soft, yet detailed illustrations add to the mix, making a great classroom book!

Planting the Wild Garden
Kathryn O. Galbraith
32 pages
Picture Book
Peachtree Publishers
April 2011

Big Bouffant by Kate Hosford and illustrator Holly Clifton-Brown

I had so much fun reading this book! A young girl doesn't want to be like everyone else in her class, so she decides to take her hairstyle into her own hands, resulting in a huge, super-fun bouffant! The message of not being afraid to be yourself is definitely prominent, but is fantastic for opening up a discussion on how we can each be an individual. 

The illustrations are fabulous and definitely unique (perfect for the story premise). The flow of the rhyming text is spot-on, making this great for a read aloud, and again, the message is just awesome. I'm usually happier with quieter messages, but this one was loud and proud and pulled it off very well. 

Big Bouffant
Kate Hosford
32 pages
Picture Book
Carolrhoda Books
April 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

A Pet for Miss Wright by Judy Young and illustrator Andrea Wesson

Miss Wright is an author, but is finding writing to be a very lonely job, sending her on the search for the perfect pet. She tries out a fish, a cat, a monkey, a mynah bird, and lots of others before settling on the perfect pet to keep her company while writing. A dog. 

LOVE! A book about an author AND a dog? I'm sold. The text is simple and sweet, working well for reading aloud and the illustrations are a lot of fun. You could even turn this into a discussion on how a child could choose a perfect pet for themselves (though some of you may not be ready to open up that can of worms). 

A Pet for Miss Wright
Judy Young
32 pages
Picture Book
Sleeping Bear Press
April 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Across the Universe review

I've mentioned several times on this blog that science fiction just isn't my thing. I love a good fantasy, but when we start talking space, planets, alien beings, you'll lose me. So, when the book club I run at work chose Across the Universe as their pick this month, I was pretty much dreading the read, but ended up pretty surprised as how much I enjoyed reading it. 

Just as a quick synopsis...Amy and her parents are frozen, riding out a 300 year journey on the ship Godspeed, headed for a new planet and new life. When someone unfreezes Amy 50 years too early, she's obviously confused, heart broken that she will have to live aboard this ship for 50 years without her parents, and is treated as the outcast that she is.

Ender is next in line to rule the ship. He was born into a line of leaders and though he isn't quite sure he can live up to the tyrannical rule of Eldest, the current leader, he knows he doesn't have a choice. And then he meets Amy, who forces him to question every lesson he has ever been taught about Earth, the people from Earth, and the past of Godspeed.

Combine all that with the fact that someone is unplugging more and more people and ultimately killing them, makes for quite the exciting adventure. Told alternately between Amy's and Ender's perspectives, we get a pretty in-depth look at the emotions of both. The story was definitely intriguing and much more action-packed than I had expected.

I was fairly disappointed in both the level of character development (definitely lacking) and the overall lack of depth to the story as a whole, however, I was definitely entertained and read the entire book wanting to know what was going to happen aboard the ship. No absolute shocking moments though and I could tell the author was attempting a few of them. 

A whole lot of detail went into describing the ship, the science aspects, the society that had been created on Godspeed, and other setting/imagery type descriptions, yet the characters fell totally flat for me. Well, except Harley. I loved Harley and he ended up being the only character I actually became invested in. 

Now, this is set up to be a trilogy and I'll probably be reading the next one simply because I need to know what happens next. I'm hoping that in the second book we'll get some additional background on Amy and Ender. I'm begging for it!

Across the Universe
Beth Revis
416 pages
Young Adult
January 2011
Library copy

Monday, April 4, 2011

What I've been up to...

I am so ready for a vacation. Work has been absolutely crazy lately...lots of events and not enough staff, and of course the weather is getting nicer, bringing tourists out and about. Add that to the husband getting a new job (and needing an entire wardrobe of nice suits), and I've been doing every except blogging! 

I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks to try to get back in the swing of things and posting regularly, but for now I just wanted to make sure you knew about some exciting things coming up.

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon is taking place this coming Saturday, April 9th. This is the first time I haven't been able to participate in awhile and I'm definitely bummed! If you've never participated before, you'll have a blast...lots of fun! 

On May 1st I'm walking in the annual March of Dimes March for Babies in honor of my son Jacob. Many of you know that he was born at 27 weeks, weighing only 1lb 5oz, and passed away when he was 4 months and 3 days old. We are so proud to help an organization whose mission is to help "all babies be born healthy." If you would like to sponsor me, click here!

Hoping to be posting regularly again soon!