Swirl By Swirl

March 9, 2015 at 4:42 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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Title: Swirl By Swirl

Authors: Beth Krommes & Joyce Sidman

Genre: Picture Book / Educational

We actually read this one quite a bit ago, I was hoping to review it when I finally got around to purchasing it, but I can’t wait any longer.  It’s too wonderful to keep under wraps any longer and it has been an inspiration to my kiddo who now draws swirls and “round ups” into all her artwork.

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The book is all about finding math in nature.  About how snails, flowers, and everything have mathematical patterns that create functional things we can see.  It first page by page identifies all these things… spider webs, tendrils on foliage, the curls of animals’ tails, etc.

Then, it explains the how and why of it all.

Kiddo’s eye lit up at the end of the book every time (we had to read it over and over again before we turned it back into the library).  My four year old’s mind was blown.

P1000956 I want to have this book on hand when she’s older as well, to revisit and enjoy the beautiful illustrations again and again through out her studies.  It’s so lovely.

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Teaching Life and Liberty

February 3, 2015 at 11:17 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000701Title: Thomas Jefferson

Author/Illustrator: Maira Kalman

Publisher: Penguin

If you want to teach about the founders of America via biographical picture books, Maira Kalman is a great place to start.  With spunky pictures and fonts, Kalman introduces children to Jefferson (and in another book she tackles Lincoln), his love for books, language, and gardening.

Kids can discover in Thomas Jefferson quirky details about how Jefferson got out of bed in the morning, his obsession for peas, and learn the quote he told his wife:

“Determine never to be idle.  No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.”

There’s a few pages dedicated to Jefferson’s friends: John Adam, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, and the ideals the team struggled for.

Kalman doesn’t pull any punches.  She talks about slavery and addresses the truth of Sally Hemings.  Jefferson had so many wise quotes that adults praise and sharing them with a four year old is especially wise:

“When you are angry, count TEN before you speak; if very angry, to ONE HUNDRED.”

The book ends with a visit to his burial grounds and notes regarding his epitaph.

As a whole it’s lovely and educational.  When I told kiddo I was finally posting the review and asked her what she wanted to say about it, she said, “I think we should read it again.”

President’s Day is fast approaching.  This one is worth having in your hands on that day.

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Goodnight Goon

January 27, 2015 at 1:28 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

*A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books*

P1000703Title: Goodnight Goon

Author: Michael Rex

Every parent I know can recite or nearly recite Goodnight Moon. It’s a timeless favorite. I’m not sure why, kiddo loves it, but it has never really moved me personally.

“In the great green room, there was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of a cat jumping over the moon…”
― Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon

It’s probably the cadence, the familiarity, the simplicity.  It’s a lot of things.  For kiddo, it’s also because she has the hallmark version that her out of state grandparents was able to record into… so she can flip through the pages and hear the story at her own leisure and will, the most exciting thing for a kid when they can’t read yet.

But to be fair, it’s boring.  It’s appropriately sleepy, but I already have a hard enough time staying awake while I read bedtime stories.

I saw Goodnight Goon and took a risk.  She loves Goodnight Moon, but she’s also wonderfully weird and gets very excited about monsters.  I know my child, though, and sometimes she can be a bit of a purist.  I wondered if a parody would be up her alley if it was just up mine.

In a cold gray tomb
There was a gravestone
And a black lagoon
And a picture of –
Martians taking over the moon

She laughed her butt off!  She loved every page.  Especially the end where the monster is cast under the bed for the night, “Goodnight Monsters Everywhere.”

“He’s under the bed!” she laughs.

“Maybe other kids will like it,” she says.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because they’re little. And the monsters. I like the bat.  That’s the kind of monster I like.”  Of course, she watches me type the review and also insists that I “put an L in it.”

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I should have known all would be well.  After all, this is a kiddo that adored the The Swamps of Sleethe.

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A Boy Called Dickens

January 21, 2015 at 12:56 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

* A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books *

P1000704Title: A Boy Called Dickens

Author: Deborah Hopkinson

Illustrator: John Hendrix

As a homeschool family, we’re suckers for the educational picture book.  Especially biographies.

A Boy Called Dickens tells the life of Charles Dickens.  Obviously there are some creative liberties taken with Dickens’ boyhood thoughts and how he might have come to write certain stories, but that happens with any piece of biographical fiction.

As an adult Dickens fan, you recognize characters peeking around corners and haunting the boy’s subconscious as he works at the factory, tells stories to his friend, helps get his family out of debtor’s prison, and finally returns to school.

When I finished read the book, kiddo said, “Let’s read it again.”

I was out of breath from my strained fake British accent.  I’m not an actress, but I like to make story time fun.  It takes more effort than I’d care to admit.  “No, I’m not reading it again right now.”

“Well, I think we should do the same thing with this one – let other kids read it!”

“You mean you recommend it?”

“Yes.” She gave it a literal thumbs up, with a tongue half sticking out the side of her mouth in thought.

Any biographical picture books you can find are great teaching tools, and you might as well fill them with as much information as you can while they’re sponges.  History is easiest to remember as a tale, Dickens world and era becomes one you can touch and taste.  Telling it from his boyhood makes it more relatable to a tiny one.  Whether you’re a homeschool mom, or just someone who reads to your kids when you can, this book is a great resource; it’s colorful, factual, and engrossing.

(If you’re a seasonal reader, this one is perfectly wintery.)

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Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime

November 12, 2014 at 7:30 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

thumb_charlottejanebattlesbedtimeTitle: Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime

Author: Myra Wolfe

Illustrator: Maria Monescillo

Since I’ve been back to working in a bookstore full time (for the holidays), kiddo has had a love/hate relationship with her bed.  She’s tired, exhausted even, by the end of her days romping at Grandmom’s house.  But she wants to see me, she wants to chat.  She wants to stay up and play with her Jake & the Neverland Pirate Lego set that isn’t allowed to travel with her on day trips.  She loves Grandmom’s house, but a life in transition is stressful no matter how much fun you’re having.

We love rich colors.  Dark greens, deep turquoises, night time blues… these are the colors that move us.  The complimentary oranges, reds, and purples spark our attention.

Plus, we’ve got a thing for pirates, we two girls.

I couldn’t pass up Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime.  There was a glorious pile of them at the store that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of, and despite having boxes of books in storage, I grabbed this.  After all, kiddo just had a birthday and I didn’t get her a birthday book.  It was picture book fate.

Charlotte Jane belongs on every kiddo’s bookshelf.  Every kid, at some point in their lives, will think it’s a great idea to stay up all night playing.  But every kid will then discover that the next day – they have lost their oomph.  And Charlotte Jane had a lot of oomph to lose.

Pirate lingo, swashbuckling imagination, and true blue sentiments of the realm of childhood, Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime is a classic in its own time… or it should be.  We’ve read it every night since I’ve brought it home.  Sometimes twice.

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Pamphlet disguised as a “book”

October 28, 2014 at 1:56 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

pamphletTitle: Ultimate Money Management Guide for Kids (I have specifically NOT included the link here, because I am not promoting the purchase of this “book.”)

Author: Gregory O.

*TAKE NOTE* Length: 17 pages

It’s my fault, really.  I never noticed the page length section on the Amazon.com site.  I especially didn’t notice that ebooks state a page length equivalent in that section.  In fact, I’m so blind, I had to LOOK for it after someone told me it was there.  Somehow my eyes have always skipped over it.  Amazon places it there, clear as day.  I just never saw it.

I will never miss it again.  I will always look now.

Ultimate Money Management Guide for Kids is little more than a pamphlet, and is far from “ultimate” or a “guide.”  After all, it is only SEVENTEEN pages long.

It takes about ten to twenty minutes to read (depending on your reading rate – took me roughly 8 minutes total, a good 2 minutes of that was spent trying to figure out where the rest of the book was), and though there are five chapters, they are each short enough to be included in a brochure. The kind you see at seminars or conventions. Instead of being an ultimate guide, I’d consider it a solid introduction to themes you would like to teach.

There are few steps or how-to lists, mostly just conjecture and opinion. Good opinions, mind you, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable promoting this as a personal finance or parenting guide of any kind. Instead it’s a nice conversation starter.

Free ebooks of this title were being passed around several homeschool sites a few weeks back. I consider this an appropriate way to acquire this book. But the kindle format sells on Amazon for $2.99 and I can’t help but wonder how many people have been disappointed by the lack of substance and length for their money.  Not many because the reviews on Amazon are mostly positive.  This surprises me.

In addition to it’s lack of length, there were a few editing hiccups that I urge the author to review. As a writer, I understand all too well the frequency of errant typos (my own first edition has many of them), but in a document that could be considered little more than a lengthy blog post, I’m surprised the errors slipped through.  I’m sure typos appear in my blog as well.  There might be some in this very post because I rarely go through an edit – I’m not an editor.  But I’m also not charging you to read this, so I feel in that regard I have a right to be a little lazy about punctuation placement and grammar choices.  When I start charging $2.99 for you to read my blog, I promise to edit better.  Then again, I’d never do that.

Early in the introduction of the title, the author writes, “Empowering children with good financial education will ensure that they are better prepared for life and all matter finance. It is the responsibility of parents to teach their children about money.” Indeed.  But he spent little time explaining how one should do so.

Gregory O. has some great ideas and on many points I agree with him. The book as a whole would make a marvelous opening speech for a seminar on teaching parents to teach their children about money matters, but it doesn’t stand well alone. I wish O. would have developed the topic more before releasing it as a “book” for sale at $2.99. (I know, I keep repeating this information, but it just hasn’t stopped baffling me.  $2.99 for 17 pages! What?) Lower the price to 99 cents or keep it free and I have little to fuss about, because it serves as a positive starting point for parents to encourage economic intelligence in their children. It simply falls short of what else is being produced in the industry on the same topic.

I’ll take my 8 minutes back, please.

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FRANK!

September 30, 2014 at 9:29 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , )

frankTitle: Frank

Author/Illustrator: Connah Brecon

Publisher: Running Press Kids

Available for Purchase: October 2014

“Frank was late.  Frank was always late,” Brecon’s book begins.

Frank! is full of dance parties, lizard king invasions, and a school teacher that won’t quit.  It’s a lot of fun and a great way to discuss timeliness, pocket watches, and working together with your kiddo.

We read this over the summer for kid’s story time at Half Price Books Humble and one of our favorite features of the story are the three pigeons who follow Frank the Bear everywhere.  We enjoying scoping them out and finding them napping against a tree trunk on one page and lurking on a fence board on another.

Cabin and FrankBrecon has other picture books, but this is his first to be published in the United States.  He lives in Australia, and we were pretty excited to get a chance to review his debut book.  Kiddo thought Frank! was pretty exciting and she can be seen “reading” the book here on the left (she’s not yet four in this picture).  The other kiddo at story time that day was looking through another title we received earlier that month.  We’re pleased with our first experience with Running Press Kids and look forward to more of their publications in the future.

 

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Fizz and Peppers Got a New Cover!

September 27, 2014 at 2:12 am (Fan Art) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Remember my obsession for Fizz and Peppers? Do you also recall my adoration for Bryan Collins?

You can imagine my squeals of joy when this happened:

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This second is my favorite. Munk really POPS!
fizz newest cover

Just thought I’d share and send two of my favorite people to promote some online love.

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Interview with J.L. Powers

September 7, 2014 at 6:10 am (Interviews) (, , , , , , , )

BraniganlibraryRecently I had the great joy of reading Colors of the Wind by J.L. Powers.  Even more recently, I had the chance to do an interview with her! (I just can’t get enough interviews these days!)

1. How did you find out about George Mendoza? When did you first meet in person?

I met George a dozen years ago when I was asked to write a feature story about his life as an artist. I had no idea what I was getting into—and I suppose that’s a good thing.  I have to be honest and say that I’d never thought a lot about what it was like to be blind before I met him, except to sort of assume that it was like being in the dark and then to realize that this couldn’t be exactly true either. But when I heard him describe that being blind, for him, meant seeing things that weren’t there—floating eyes, brilliant sunbursts, squiggly colors flashing by—and also like looking into a kaleidoscope, with images multiplied and reflected back, I was fascinated. The artwork speaks for itself but when you know the story behind the artwork, it’s even more amazing.

2. Did you do much research to tell George’s story, or did you let him tell his story to you?

George told me his story, several times, on different occasions and I kept getting more detail over time. We were initially working on a glossy, coffee-table style artbook, but couldn’t sell the concept to any publisher. Admittedly, it took me awhile to put two and two together and realize that this would make an amazing picture book, but finally I did, and here we are.

3. You have written award-winning novels for young adults and you’ve edited two collections of essays. What made you decide to branch out into the picture book arena?

I’ve always loved picture books but it’s an astonishingly difficult genre to write and to break into. George’s story seemed perfect for it—a story of perseverance, a story where his disability becomes the literal source of inspiration for him as an artist.

It is clearly a picture book but I’ve had several high school librarians tell me that this is also a good book for reluctant readers at the middle-grade to high-school level because it isn’t a cutesy story and it doesn’t have illustrations that are clearly aimed at the younger crowd. So it seems like a picture book for all ages, if that’s possible.

Amina4. Can you tell us a bit about your young adult novels? (Which one do you recommend my daughter and I read together first?)

I have 3 young adult novels, though one of them (Amina) is currently only available in Australia.

The Confessional, my first novel, is a gritty novel about a young man getting murdered and it explores the problem of violence among young men and their friends. I’d recommend you wait until your daughter is late teens just because it is so gritty. But that all depends on the kid, right? It explores important questions about friendship and loyalty and faith so there’s lots to talk about when you do read it.

This Thing Called the Future is a great novel for 12 & up, an entertaining read about a young woman growing up in post-apartheid South Africa. Just as Khosi starts falling in love for the first time, a loved one starts dying of a mysterious disease, a witch curses her family, and she is being stalked by a man with shape-shifting powers. The book deals with the HIV-AIDS epidemic as well as the very real problem of young girls being preyed upon by older men, and it introduces American readers to the clash between traditional Zulu culture and the so-called modern world.

Amina is for 10-14 year olds, if you can get ahold of a copy here in the U.S. It tells the story of a young girl, Amina, an artist growing up in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her father is taken captive by al-Shabaab, and her brother is abducted to be a soldier. She is left to fend for her pregnant and ill mother and her elderly grandmother in a dangerous, violent city where young women are vulnerable. Will her artwork save her—or be her demise?

I would recommend Amina to start with (again, if you can find it—it just came out last year but isn’t available in the U.S.), then This Thing Called the Future, and last, The Confessional.

5. Will you and George work together to tell more stories? (We love his illustrations and your storytelling and would love to see more.)

Well, that’s an interesting idea, one I hadn’t really thought of. This book really required the publisher to have a vision for using George’s paintings as the main illustrations, so I’m grateful that Jill, our editor at Purple House Press, had that vision. I’ll have to explore the possibility, obviously with George. Thanks for the idea!

braniganlibrary106. Colors of the Wind doesn’t just feature your writing and George’s paintings, there are also drawings by Hayley Morgan-Sanders. Did you work closely with Sanders as well, or was she hired separately by the publishing company?

She was hired separately by the publishing company. It worked out well, didn’t it? I’m grateful for Jill’s hard work designing this book as well; she did a fabulous job.

7. I review children’s books and conduct interviews with my three year old daughter. She wants to know how a female author could write about a man’s life so well. (She is convinced that you must be a man because the story is about George and he is a man!)

My first novel, The Confessional, was first-person view point multiple narrators, all young men. I spent lots of time observing young men to write that. My second novel, This Thing Called the Future, features a young modern South African woman as the protagonist. And my third, Amina, features a young modern Somalian woman as the protagonist. So far, none of my novels have featured protagonists exactly like me—a white woman who grew up as a minority in a blue-collar Mexican and Mexican-American neighborhood along the U.S.-Mexico Border. It’s not that I’m uninterested in my own story, only that I have had compelling stories I wanted to tell about people who are not exactly like me and I believe that any novelist can and must explore the lives and stories of people who are, in some way, different than themselves. But often, it turns out that our differences are more surface than people think—but we focus on those surface differences until they seem really important. So I guess in the end, I feel like I write about people, and since I’m a person, I’m writing about people who are basically similar to me. Having said all that, I am a very careful researcher; I invest a lot of time and money into travel, friendships, and research so that I can write with as much accuracy and authenticity as possible. And I always have people from the group in question read and vet my manuscripts for possible errors. If one of them says there is a problem, no matter how minor or how major, I change it.

8. In your bio it says you teach English at Skyline College in California. Has teaching English helped you write better, or hindered your ability to produce more work?

Teaching writing and literature has helped me become more intelligent about how the writing process works and to talk about the elements of any kind of written work. This, in turn, has definitely made me a better writer. I used to write and sort of hope everything would come together. I didn’t understand the elements of a story and I really really didn’t understand the process of revision. I was afraid to truly change things because I was afraid I would ruin things. Now I just go at it. Nothing is sacred. Teaching definitely did that for me. Being able to see the problems in another person’s writing allows you to begin to see the problems in your own.

braniganlibrary89. Have you done any book tours yet? Presented Colors of the Wind at Elementary Schools or Festival Events?

We did two events in El Paso, Texas and one in Las Cruces, New Mexico, all with children in attendance who did artwork after the event. It was great fun. We have an upcoming event in September in Santa Ana, California and I hope we have a good showing there. We haven’t YET gone into schools but I hope this book will lead the way.

10. What is one thing you’d like your readers and fans to know about you?

I travel as much as possible. The world is a fascinating place. Travel expands your ability to understand other people, to love the world, and to see how complex problems are so that you can never again offer facile solutions to the problems that plague the world. Literature—from picture books to novels—is a form of travel without ever leaving the safety of your own home. So encourage reading for people of all ages, and encourage people to read as much and as widely as possible!

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Grandmother’s Cabin

July 23, 2014 at 5:31 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Grandmother's CabinTitle: Grandmother’s Cabin
Author & Illustrator: Angela Rout (@mamacomic on twitter)
Genre: Children’s Picture Book

We received this book in the mail from the author right before I left on my book signing tour to San Antonio.  I was mean, I was so excited about it, I made kiddo wait until I got back from my trip.  Daddy was under strict orders that this book was not to be read while I was away.

I thought about it while I was away a lot.  All the colors of the front cover kept coming to mind while I was faced with all the colors of San Antonio.

It was worth the waP1020726it.  Grandmother’s Cabin lived up to my own mental hype.  Kiddo snuggled up in my lap last night and settled in for the new book to review, ready with opinions.

It seems to be a snugly sort of book in general, my favorite kind, as during story time today everyone was reaching for their mothers and trying to get into laps.  That’s not typically the case with other stories.  Instinctively, children know: this book is for families and heritage, and appreciation of the good things that calm our souls.

The front cover is simply one of many exciting illustrations.  The further into the story you get, the richer the images, and more vibrant the colors – or maybe it’s the story that makes me feel like they’re richer and more vibrant…

Rout maintains a splash of color on the right side of the page and ornate pencil sketches on the left side along with the text.

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It’s whimsical, magical, and even won a “Moonbeam” award.  If that doesn’t sound mysteriously romantic, I don’t know what does.

P1020722Dedicated to all things grandmothery and cozy, the book is about spiritual healing found by looking back to your ancestors, finding comfort in tea, and relaxing with a good book and favorite activity.

“I like to paint too!” My kiddo squealed when Grandmother revealed an easel and paint tray among the tropical forest.

When Grandmother did her super hero pose, Kiddo did hers too.  Later when we went over the discussion questions Rout provides on the last page, Kiddo answered that she wants to be like Grandmother.  “I can heal like Grandmother – by licking – like Helo.”  Helo is the dog.  Clearly, my child needs more grandmother interaction and less puppy play.

“When I’m happy I don’t fly high in the sky,” Kiddo lamented.  “And I get sad when I’m sick.  And I get upset when Dad plays with MY frisbees.”  Well, then.

Finally, I read the last question to my daughter:

Grandmother’s love makes Mother feel happy. How can we connect with our ancestors and our loved ones who have lived before us?  What can we do to help them be of service to us? As an example some people tell stories, remember them, pray for them, learn about them, or celebrate their accomplishments.  What does your family do?

“Walk in the woods.  I like to walk in the woods,” my child responded wisely.  Yes, my darling, we do.  And that’s why this book spoke to us from the front cover alone.  Coffee and Tea Cups, Books, Paint Brush, Foliage… what more could a gal need to feel restful and restored?

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Grandmother’s Cabin is lovely and enriching.  It opens up a topic of discussion many people believe to be beyond what children can handle, but it’s perfect, and the children I’ve read this book to today handled it with grace and curiosity.

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I read children’s books at the Half Price Books in Humble every Wednesday throughout the summer, starting at 10:30 am.  Many of these titles are plucked from the shelf and are available for purchase right then and there.  Some of what I read and share come from a publisher or an author and might not otherwise be readily discovered.  Like today, Grandmother’s Cabin was sent to me from an author in Calgary, Alberta.  If you have kiddos, live in the area and wish to join us, please do.

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