Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Farm Friends

Roan, Anna. 2008. Farm Friends. Illustrated by A.M. Stockhill.

I like touch and feel books. I like board books. I like them a lot. This board book has five touch-and-feel friends for young fingers to enjoy: a sheep, a pig, a cat, a cow, and a duck. The story itself is straight forward. It is a day in the life of farm animals--sunrise to sunset. The text isn't spectacular. But it does what it does well.

On the busy little farm
There's so much to do.
Rooster starts the day
With a cock-a-doodle-doo.

Around the barn door
Five friendly faces peep.
Chick, Cat, Cow, Piglet,
And la-a-a-st comes Sheep.

Bright colors. Farm animals. Friendship.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

My Friend the Monster

My Friend the Monster. Taylor, Eleanor. Bloomsbury, 2008

This cute story deals with the monster under the bed that frightens most children. Only this time, the monster is the one afraid and is hiding under the bed. The main character inadvertently scares the monster, but in the end, the two become great friends. This is a wonderful story about friendship, making friends, and accepting one another despite our differences. The text is simple and fun and the watercolor illustrations are vibrant with the text and illustrations combining in a unique way so that the text actually enhances the illustrations rather than the two being completely separate from one another.

Snugglebug is too young to understand the jest of the story, but Ladybug will be keeping this book around to read as Snugglebug gets older and begins to wonder if there is a monster under his bed.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fabulous Fishes

Stockdale, Susan. 2008. Fabulous Fishes.

Simple is beautiful. Simple is wonderful. I loved Fabulous Fishes. In very few words and with bright and colorful illustrations, Susan Stockdale creates a fabulous book. A book all about fishes.
How simple is simple?

I think the text and illustrations speak for themselves.

Round fish,
fish that like to hide.
Striped fish,
spiked fish,
fish that leap and glide.

There we have the first seven pages of the book. See what I mean. Simple. Straightforward. Here are a few examples of the illustrations:

Don't you just love the illustrations? Nothing flashy. Nothing glittery. But somehow just right all the same.

Can a book be both simple and complex? It can when it's fabulous.

Susan Stockdale includes at the end of the book facts about each of the fish mentioned (or rather illustrated) in her book. For example, the pink and purple fish shown above we further learn, "the discus is flat and round like a pancake, allowing it to swim easily among upright reeds. (Amazon basin)."

The picture above that one goes with this text, "The butterfly fish uses its long pointed snout to search the cracks of coral for tiny animals to eat. (Indian, Pacific, and Western and Eastern Central Atlantic oceans)."

I loved this one. Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Santa Paws

Hale, Rachael. 2008. Santa Paws.

Here's another holiday-related board book for you. Santa Paws. A bit gimmicky, yes, but for animal-lovers, it may hold a certain appeal. We've got animals--cats and dogs--all dressed up and posed for the Christmas season. The illustrations are photographs. And the text accompanying the pictures does rhyme. It's not got a great narrative to it. There isn't a cohesive story to the book. But each spread of this board book features a few rhyming lines.

For example,

Let's trim
the tree
string up
lights and
deck the

Or how about this one...

you been
or have
you been

For families who love animals, whose pets are genuinely members of their family along with babies or toddlers, I could see this one maybe working.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Baby Elf's Christmas

Cowen-Fletcher, Jane. 2008. Baby Elf's Christmas.

I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. I really liked the rhymes. True they are a bit sing-song-y. But I think that is what makes them so fun. It's a book that has rhythm. That has rhyme. That has this catchy beat and feel to it.

Here's my favorite bit:

He sees the colors
red and green,
up and down and
in between.

He hears the jolly
Christmas songs
and quickly learns
to sing along.

He likes the fairy-lighted tree.

He's not so sure of Santa's knee.

I just thought it was a fun book. I think the rhythm and rhymes will help make this one that young readers will want to read again and again. And may even find them wanting to join in on the text. (I'm not so sure parents will want to read it again and again and again.)

But a board book all about a baby's first Christmas? There's just something cute and right about it all.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, September 26, 2008

Jungle Gym

Krensky, Stephen. Jungle Gym: A Touch and Feel Counting Book. Illustrated by Marsha Gray Carrington.

Jungle Gym is a sturdy book for toddlers. (I'm not sure if the pages are quite thick enough to be classified as a board book. But the pages are considerably sturdier than the paper found in most picture books.) The book features jungle animals--lions, elephants, giraffes, hippos, etc. working out at the gym. These jungle animals know the importance of exercise being a part of a healthy life style. As I mentioned, the concept of this one is counting. Counting from one to ten. And it's a touch-and-feel book as well. So we get to feel the scales of the snake and the lion's mane, etc.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Lord Is My Shepherd

The Lord is My Shepherd: The Twenty-Third Psalm. Illustrated by Gennady Spirin.

The text should be familiar to most Christians. Perhaps even outside the Christian realm is this one known. The 23rd Psalm has such a poetical flow about it that is very evocative. This is probably *horrible* to admit, but when I read these words, it brings to mind the scene in Gone With The Wind (where Scarlett is nursing the soldiers in the army hospital) right before the seige of Atlanta begins. I believe the shot is of a stained glass window. You can hear the sounds of cannons in the background. Anyway, my confession time is over!

The text is the King James Version of the Bible.

So let's say you know the text, what would make you want this book in your collection? The artwork perhaps. Each two page spread has an incredibly detailed and most often exquisite artistic rendering. These spreads will appeal to some more than others. (There is something very old-fashioned and traditional about the art. Not that it isn't beautiful. But I fail to find it breath-takingly beautiful. The art didn't wow me.) Or perhaps this might make an ideal way to aid memorization of the 23rd Psalm. (That I could understand completely. I attended a Christian school that was big on memorization.)

Rereading my review, it might seem I'm a harsh critic. That isn't at all the case. It's not that I disliked this one at all. I think the Scripture speaks for itself. And in many ways the art does as well. You'll either be drawn to it, or you won't. Nothing that I say--one way or the other--will persuade you.

The LORD Is My Shepherd
A Psalm of David.

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

he leadeth me beside the still waters. Rev. 7.17
3 He restoreth my soul:

he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Lonesome Puppy

Nara, Yoshitomo. 2008. The Lonesome Puppy.

What can I say about The Lonesome Puppy? It's published by Chronicle Books. It was originally published in Japan in 1999. Its first American publication was this year, 2008. The flap reads, "Yoshitomo Nara is one of the most popular and influential contemporary artists in Japan, whose work--often featuring little girls and dogs--has attracted a dedicated worldwide following. This is his first book for children. He lives in Tochigi, Japan."

The story itself is odd. Quite odd in my opinion. That's not saying this sort of "odd" is good or bad. Here is what it is about. It is about a little girl and a great, big, enormous dog. (This dog is not big and red, however. Nor is our heroine named Elizabeth. No, this dog is much much bigger than Clifford.) The illustrations show the dog straddling continents. Two paws in Russia and two paws in the U.S. The dog is very lonely and sad until one day this little girl notices him--or I should say notices one of his paws--and decided to climb up (and up and up and up) to discover a new friend.

The book has a good (and affirming) message. And the illustrations are interesting. (Read that unique.) But it didn't necessarily work for me as a reader. It fell into the odd category. But if you come across this one, don't be afraid to try it, to read it. You might like it. You might even love it.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

You can watch Jonah online!

Today I discovered that you can watch Jonah The Veggie Tales movie online at Hulu for free. How awesome is that!!!

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sara Dobie Shares Tips on Reading...

A love of literacy begins at birth

Award-winning children's book publisher offers reading and literacy tips for families with small children

Mt. Pleasant, SC (Sept. 22, 2008) - Adults who love to read begin as kids with supportive families. A passion for the written word starts in the crib, but how can parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles keep their footing on the slippery slope of kids who'd rather watch Sesame Street than read a book? Donna German, editor and co-founder of Sylvan Dell Publishing--and homeschooling mother of three--offers the following reading and literacy tips to help you navigate unfamiliar terrain.

General Tips for Reading with Children:

  • Read with feeling and emotion.
  • Pause in areas for children to guess what might come next. (How will the blackberry feast be interrupted in Sylvan Dell's Blackberry Banquet?)
  • Have books available--always! It doesn't matter if they are your books or library books.
  • Make library trips a regular event--every time you go to the grocery store or each week on a particular day.
  • Go to story times at local libraries or bookstores.
  • Be silly--relate meals or things you do to books you are reading. (A "Comet Cookie" recipe is in the For Creative Minds section of Sylvan Dell's Pieces of Another World.)
  • Going to the zoo? Read a book about going to the zoo before going. Ask the child(ren) what animals they remember from the book that they see at the zoo. (New release 'Twas the Day Before Zoo Day works like a charm!)
  • After reading the book, go back and look at the illustrations. Often illustrators have things hidden in the art for children to find! (Karen lee's illustrations in One Odd Day, My Even Day, and My Half Day are filled with hidden pictures.)
  • Older children? Have them read to younger children--even if it's just a wordless book and they "tell" the story.
  • Set an example! Be a reader yourself, and let your child see you reading. Maybe even have quiet family reading time instead of watching TV.
  • With older children, read books together. Go back and read the classics (Lord of the Rings, etc.), novels that have been made into films (Star Wars, Harry Potter), or the newest young adult novels.

Tips for Reading with Infants & Toddlers:

  • Start when they are just born (or even while pregnant...). Select fun-to-read, rhythmic stories. They won't understand the words, but they'll feel the rhythm. You could even read a book or magazine aloud while holding an infant! (Try rhythmic Sylvan Dell release A Day in the Salt Marsh.)
  • Board books should be in the toy box.
  • Have toddlers help turn pages.
  • Wordless books are great for toddlers and preschoolers to make up their own stories about what's happening. Let them "read" to you.

Tips for Slightly Older Children Learning to Read:

  • Start to follow words with your finger as you read so children begin to understand that the words say something, that we read from left to right, and how to turn pages.
  • Books with repetitive phrases are good for children to chime in and repeat with you; they'll begin to anticipate the phrase. (Multi-award-winning The Rainforest Grew All Around will become a fast favorite.)

Tips for Older Children Already Starting to Read:

  • Don't give up on the nightly routine of reading--have child read one page, and you read the next.
  • As they become stronger readers, have them read to you, but save the longer, chapter books for you to read to them.
  • Use closed captioning when kids are watching TV and use subtitles on DVDs.

Tips for Developing Early Math Skills:

  • Count--constantly. Ask "how many" or use numbers. (For example: "Here is one scoop of ice cream for you and one for mommy. That's two scoops of ice cream!" Sylvan Dell's In My Backyard is perfect for these kinds of activities.)
  • After reading a book, go back and count things in the illustrations. How many animals are there or how many times do you see the main character?
  • Baking is a great math activity:
    • count items that go into the recipe (Ex: "two eggs")
    • use the phrases of 1/2 or 3/4 teaspoon or cup
    • let the children measure items and put them into the bowl (oh, and definitely accept that there may be messes....)
  • Sorting--have children sort items (New release Sort It Out! is just what the math teacher ordered!)
    • By types of toys
    • By colors
    • Have older children sort money (helps them learn coins)
    • Sort Halloween candy by type
    • Sort M&Ms by color
General Parenting Tips for Educating Children:
  • Talk to your children constantly--even infants.
  • Explain what you are doing (Ex: "I am changing your diaper").
  • Relate things to what the children understand. For example, if something will take an hour and they like watching a half-hour TV show, explain that it will take as long as "two Dora the Explorer shows."

# # #

About Sylvan Dell Publishing

Sylvan Dell Publishing, based in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., is on a mission to create picture books that excite children's imaginations, are artistically spectacular and have educational value. The company specializes in "Science and Math Through Literature" and provides free supplemental parent/teacher resources for every title, along with their newly announced educational resource grant. Founded in 2004, Sylvan Dell's family has grown to include more than 55 authors and illustrators in the U.S. and Canada, and 35 titles--honored as nominees, finalists, or winners of more than 50 book awards. For more information about Sylvan Dell's books, free parent/teacher resources, and their educational resource grant, visit www.SylvanDellPublishing.com.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Thong, Roseanne. 2008. Wish: Wishing Traditions Around The World.

Fifteen countries/cultures are explored in this colorful picture book that focuses on wishing traditions and celebrations: Australia, Brazil, China, Guatemala, India, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, and the United States. Each two-page spread focuses on a country/culture. Through a quick four-line rhyme and an explanatory paragraph, readers are presented with interesting facts about the world.

For example, Italy reads something like this:

We toss our coins and make a wish whenever we're in Rome. Three for marriage, two for love, and one to come back home! In Italy, people toss coins into Rome's famous Trevi Fountain and make wishes. An old legend says that if you throw three coins over your left shoulder, you'll get married. If you throw two coins, you'll fall in love, and if you throw one, you'll return to Rome.

The illustrations are bright and colorful. The art is by Elisa Kleven.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, September 19, 2008

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears

Gravett, Emily. 2008. Emily Gravett's Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears.

Everyone's scared of something, right? Well, Little Mouse has a special journal where she records her fears. This "journal" says, "it has been put together by an expert in worrying, who draws on a lifetime's experience of managing her fears through the medium of doodle." This book is an illustration masterpiece. Very clever. Very fun. It just works really well in evoking mood. From the cover to the end papers, to everything in between. You really MUST hold this one in your hands and read it yourself to see how wonderful it is.

Little Mouse's fears range from fear of accidents, sharp knives, birds, cats, dogs, shadows, loud noises, heights, etc. The art is just amazing. Amazingly fun and clever. This book is artistically as good as it gets...in my very humble opinion. There's just much too adore here. The amount of detail and design.

Here is one of the interior spreads:

The text reads, "I'm frightened I may get sucked down the drain or flushed down the toilet."

Here's another of my favorites,

The text reads, "Birds make me feel twitchy." I like how even the feathers are vicious with menacing eyes and pointy teeth.

This is a very smart book. And while Mouse uses simple words and phrases to express her fears, The top corners of each page use the correct terminology for those fears...

Ornithophobia (fear of birds); phagophobia (fear of being eaten).

I loved this one so much. Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Little Green Books

So Little Simon of Simon & Schuster has a new line of books for young readers. The Little Green Books series. You can read the press release here. You can see all the lines in that series here.

Today I'll be highlighting two of their picture books. Both books are made from 100% recycled paper. And that's good and all. But...

I'm a big believer in stories. I'm a believer in good messages. But I'm not such a good believer in stories weighed down with good messages. In library school, you're taught (and wisely at that) to frown upon didactic reading materials. So, for example, there could be a message that you believe in--support--100% (or 90% of whatever) and still not want to see that message spun into a "story" for children. (If you ask me, if parents want their children to grow up green, then modeling green behavior is the first and most important way to convey that message. Not reading them "story" books about the subject.)

The fact that these two books in the series do not feature an author's name on the cover...says something in my opinion. These books are all message, little story. What story there is in the books is weak and flimsy.

The books in question: The Polar Bears' Home: A Story About Global Warming and I Can Save The Earth! One Little Monster Learns To Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

What does the text look like? Obvious and not-so-subtle messaging about humans' bad behavior and bad habits.

Max the Little Monster liked to fling candy wrappers. He left a trail of trash wherever he went. "Whee!" said Max. Max the Little Monster did not like to give away his old toys--even when he'd outgrown them. "Mine!" cried Max. Max the Little Monster like to overflow the sink...and the bathtub...and clog the toilet. "Hungry toilet!'" said Max. Max the Little Monster left the lights on and blared the TV--even when he wasn't in the room. "No big whoop," said Max.

But all this changes when Max experiences a black out which leads to a change of heart....and behavior.

With The Polar Bears' Home we've got a message-as-dialogue between father and daughter about the plight of the polar bear and the world at large due to global warming. It's very message-heavy. Even more so than the out-of-control monster who learns his lesson. There are better books out there about polar bears (ones with the author's name on the cover and everything) that include this subject within a larger context. So this one isn't all that great in my opinion.

Good message? Mostly. Good literature? Not really. Not the "quality" type you'd want to read with your littles unless you wanted to preach to them about reducing, reusing, and recycling. Goodnight Moon, Curious George, or Knuffle Bunny this is not.

Here is what I'd like to see. Good old regular stories about anything and everything being printed and published in an eco-friendly way. I'm all for publishers taking steps to go green. Using recycled paper, etc. But I'd like the stories printed on that paper to merit it.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Our Library

Bunting, Eve. 2008. Our Library.

Typically I love almost everything Eve Bunting writes. She's a prolific writer, and last year some of her books were among my favorites. But I must say that my impression of Our Library was...well, let's just say all aboard for dinkyville. I hope that doesn't sound too harsh. I do think *some* readers will read it and appreciate it for what it is...an enthusiastic message-oriented book exclaiming the praises of books, reading, and libraries. And community activism. I do think, however, that there will be a few critics that think it crosses the line into both didacticism and dinkiness.

I love reading. I love books. I love libraries. So what's the problem? It's a bit silly, a bit unrealistic, a bit too gung-ho maybe.

Here's how it starts off,
Miss Goose stamped my library book. She leaned across her desk. "Our library is going to close forever," she whispered.
"Oh, no!" I said. "Why?"
"It's too old. It needs a new roof. And new paint," Miss Goose said sadly.
"Hmm," I said.
We turn the page...
We checked out two books. [How to Lay A Perfect Roof. Library Painting for Beginners.]
We read by day, and we read by night.
Turn the page...
The next morning, we got started.
We laid a perfect roof.
We painted the library buttercup-yellow, with sky-blue trim and a grass-green door.
But the library's problems don't end there. For each and every problem, there is a book that fixes it in no time at all. It takes complex issues--real-life problems--and simplifies them too much. It gives cutesy answers to actual problems. It's all about wish-fulfillment.

The library needs money to operate? Read "How To Make Money Fast." The land the library is built on is owned by a mean old goat who wants it back so he can do something else with it... Read "How to Move From One Place To Another." Find the perfect place for the library's new home...only it's owned by a grumpy beaver who just became a grandpa? Read "Read to Your Grandkids" and "How To Speak Wisely and Well To Grumpy Old Beavers."

The message of this one is that for every problem, you can read your way to a solution. And furthermore, not only will reading provide you with the answers and solutions...it will guarantee success. Guaranteeing success and solving all of life's problem by picking up a book or two may be just fine in this fictional world where animals wear clothes, but it doesn't translate well into the real world. Life isn't that simple.

Not that I'm one of those party-poopers that demands realism in all books, I can suspend my disbelief a good bit of the time.

But it seemed a bit too sweet, too cute, too simple, too dinky for my own tastes. The book has its own logic. And it's cute enough. I'll admit some of the book titles the library has are cute and a bit funny. And some people earnestly do like simple and sweet and cute and good. So it's not that the book is badly written. It just didn't work for me personally. Though as I said earlier, her previous books often do. And the strange thing is that they some of them use cute clothes-wearing animals being sweet and lovey-dovey too. So I don't know why this one didn't work for me.

I did enjoy the illustrations by Maggie Smith. I thought they complimented the text well. And they were very charmingly done.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Please Don't Tease Tootsie

Chamberlain, Margaret. 2008. Please Don't Tease Tootsie.

This one is "a cautionary tale about looking after your furry friends." Here's how the jacket flap reads, "Tootsie cat and Poochie are furry friends. They don't like to be teased or poked. No... Our pets like to be doted on, stroked! Furry or slimy, scaly or silly, the playmates we love come in every size, shape, and hue. So please make the effort, everyone... be kind to our four-legged friends."

While Margaret Chamberlain has illustrated many books for children, this is her first to write and illustrate. Good message, a teeny tiny bit didactic, but a good message to impart nonetheless. The illustrations are interesting. The writing is straight forward.

Please don't tease
or provoke
Don't madden
or disturb Dixie.

You get the idea. After a long list of things to don't do...the reader then gets a list of things to do with their pets. And it ends on a happy note,

We will stroke you,
never poke you.
We love you Tootsie Cat!

How do I feel on this one? Well. I realize the message was that all pets--cats, dogs, lizards, birds, etc--deserve to be treated well by their young owners...there wasn't much story. I initially picked up Please Don't Tease Tootsie because Tootsie looked like an interesting character, a cat with personality, a cat with attitude. So I was slightly disappointed that this wasn't the story of one pet and her family. But I know it's not fair to judge a book based on what it's not. So there you have it. I liked it well enough. It won't be making my top ten list of books to avoid by any means. But I didn't love, love, love it either. It probably won't be making my top ten list for best books either. So it's safely in the middle.

It was originally published with the title, Please Don't Torment Tootsie.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, September 15, 2008

Be Gentle With The Dog, Dear!

Matthew J. 2008. Be Gentle With The Dog, Dear! (Penguin)

I loved this one. I just loved it. I loved Tag. I loved Elisa. I loved the illustrations and story. It just worked for me pure and simple. It had me from hello. Look at the end papers. Look at the title page.
Elisa is a baby--a toddler really--and she's precious most of the time....well, some of the time anyway. The dog, Tag, thinks she's cute and adorable when she's asleep. But when she's awake, she's a terror...at least to him. She loves to chase him. She loves to squeeze him. She loves to sit on him. She loves to pull his tail. She loves to "play" with him. But Tag's the kind of dog that is good and patient and enduring...most of the time. But some things can't be endured.

This is a fun book with an important message. The text just works for me. It is simple and to the point, but it is fun and true to life as well. My favorite line is without a doubt..."There she is...and here she comes." The illustrations are just perfect.

I love EVERYTHING about this book. And it's highly recommended.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Best Book To Read

Bertram, Debbie & Susan Bloom. 2008. The Best Book To Read. Illustrated by Michael Garland.

This book is the follow up to two previous books: The Best Place to Read and The Best Time to Read. I haven't read those books. However, I did enjoy this one. While it flirts with the idea of being didactic, I think it works to a certain extent. In other words, it's a message book that everyone can generally agree is a message book, yet it has a few charming qualities about it that make you okay with the fact that it's all about the message. If that makes any sense.

The writing. I was on the fence with this one to be honest. At least in the very beginning. There are places where it seems to have rhythm, to really flow, and then there are a few places where it doesn't quite make it. Still, there are no awkward places.

Hooray! It's a trip to the library today.
We line up as we get off the bus.
We've been specially invited. Our class is excited!
The librarian is welcoming us.

See, maybe it's not the *best* poetry out there (Adam Rex comes to mind), but it's far from awkward.

"Hello, boys and girls," the librarian says.
"I see faces I've seen here before.
Finding books can be fun!
You may choose more than one.
And my job is to help you explore--

This is the kind of text that had to grow on me. I had to read it (in my head) several times, but then it clicked and I found the beat. (Which is just one of *many* reasons, adults should practice before they read aloud--well, if it's part of their job--teacher, librarian, etc.)

Picture books, chapter books, books that pop up,
nonfiction, and fairy tales, too.
You may look by yourselves.
Take some books from the shelves.
Then check out the best book for you."

The librarian character then proceeds to highlight certain books--certain types of books really--from her collection to show kids that there are many different books for many different kinds of readers.

It's a message that is close to my heart. I do believe that every book has the potential to be *the book* (a.k.a. the best book ever) for some reader out there. One person's "best book" is another person's worst. And librarians do have the joy of potentially matching readers with their "best book ever" and changing a life or two along the way. Sometimes all it takes is one magic book to turn a non-reader or a struggling reader or a reluctant reader into someone who loves reading.

That being said, the message is clearly good. The only question is will readers (adults and children alike) feel that they're being preached at? Is the message hitting you over the head with a hammer, in other words? That's something every person will have to decide for themselves. I liked this one. I don't know that I loved it as much as say The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians. But it is infinitely better than Born to Read.

I love how perfectly the illustrations match the text. On one side of the spread, the librarian is holding up a book and describing it. And the other half of the spread, is an action spread. For example, when the librarian talks about bug books--entomology--then the next page, the second half of the spread, shows kids actually out gathering and collecting bugs. When the librarian is talking about dog books--dog training books to be exact, the next page shows a little boy trying to control his dog from jumping on the bed. So some of the pages illustrate the fact that reading is practical, is useful, is applicable to daily life. That you can read to learn. But at the same time, there are examples the librarian gives of people (children) reading for pleasure, to escape. So both types of reading are applauded. And I really loved that aspect of it. I'm sure it was intentional on the author's part, yet I'm not sure it is as obvious to readers--at least not the first time round.

If you ask a roomful of people--kids, preteens, teens, adults--to name what they think "the best book to read" is you'll hear many different answers, responses, books. Everyone has their own personal idea of what "the best book to read" is. And this book reflects that in a way that is clear and concise and fun.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Big Little Monkey

Schaefer, Carole Lexa. 2008. Big Little Monkey. Illustrated by Pierre Pratt. Candlewick.

I loved this one. I just loved it. This is what the jacket flap says,
"Early one morning, Little Monkey wakes up and looks around. His whole family is still asleep. Is Little Monkey brave enough and big enough to go find someone else to play with? He thinks so! And he swings away, bim-ba-lah, bim-ba-lah, hand over hand--until he finds just the right playmates in just the right place.
Carole Lexa Schaefer and Pierre Pratt have crafted a sweet and funny story about our first attempts to be independent--and about how we still need home and family most of all."
The text is wonderful. It's rhythmic. It's fun. It's just a great story. The author captures what it's like to be small and full of energy and impatient. I could immediately identify with Little Monkey.

Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Sara Dobie speaks on publicity...

Don’t Be a Couch Potato….

Publicity for Your New Release

Guess what? You’re a published author. Sitting on your couch, it’s hard to believe. Publishing is what happens to other people—people who wear black, smoke cigarettes and talk about Kerouac. It doesn’t happen to people like YOU, who have day jobs, families, and car loans. Obviously, you’re excited. You can already see yourself on the cover of People magazine, Pulitzer in hand. You pat yourself on the back—job well done. You can finally relax and wait to become a millionaire. Right?


Your work has just begun, and it’s the work of “publicity.”

If there is no publicity, no one knows your name. If no one knows your name, no one knows your book. If no one knows your book, it doesn’t sell, and it dies on the shelves faster than you can say “backlist.” So as an author, what can you do to beat the competition? And no, you should not start harassing managers at Barnes and Noble.

1) The Review

Getting your book reviewed is mainly in the hands of your publisher. However, there are plenty of things that you, as an author, can do to assist in the process and make it more effective. Publishers know about the big dogs. They know Publishers Weekly, the New York Times, the LA Times, etc. However, they don’t know the specialists in your field. If your book is about birds, your publisher isn’t going to know the most famous ornithologist who just has to endorse your book. So think—what contacts do you have? Which of these contacts could be used to the advantage of your book? Pass this on to your publisher, and they will thank you for it! If you are willing to help your publisher, it will pay off. They will be much more willing to focus on you, because you’ve done your research. You have the names and organizations; all your publisher has to do is send the emails. Think alumni associations, your local media contacts, state reading associations and national topic-specific magazines that would want to know about your book. The opportunities are endless, and it will keep you ahead of the pack.

2) What’s your pitch?

In other words, what are you selling? Is your book about a new diet that promises Michael Phelps abs? What about a children’s book that can teach kids about ADD? Can you explain the entire theme/mission/importance of your book in five words or less? You need to, because that’s about as much time you’ll have to impress the random Oprah intern who just happens to give you a call. The real question is, can you sell yourself?

Let’s face it—in the media and in stores, no one is booking your novel. They are booking you. If you are lacking in passion for your product, they’ll know, and your book will suffer. You have to be willing to go out there and get those interviews. Get those events. I suggest selling yourself as a package. Any author can just sit there and sign a book. What about an author who can use her book to teach kids about bullies? What about a different author who can show math teachers a better way to interest students in fractions? You have to make bookstores believe you have something to offer. Make them believe you are the one doing the favor, as opposed to vice versa. You are the main attraction. People will come to see you because you are worthy of seeing. If you don’t think so, who will?

3) The Launch

I cannot emphasize how important your book launch is. I have said it over and over and over to authors all over the country. Some believe me, and some don’t. Who do you suppose has the better book sales? If you said the ones who don’t believe me, I’m glad I’m not your publicist.

Okay, in the publishing world, there is a “publication date.” This is when your book is available for purchase to the public. Your launch date should be scheduled around this time. A specific scheduled event should be referred to as your “launch date,” in fact, because a definite date makes it tangible to the media, meaning more likely to be covered. The media likes tangible events, as opposed to vague announcements, as in “People can buy my book now! Cool, huh?” No. They don’t care. They care, however, when you have a cluster of events coming up where people can actually meet you.

What does a cluster entail? I’m talking fifteen to twenty scheduled events, clustered around a two-week period, with your launch right at the beginning. I realize you probably don’t have fifteen to twenty individual bookstores in your hometown. It helps to travel, making it more of an official Author Tour. If your funds require you to stay close to home, no problem! Start with bookstores. Now, what about gift shops and specialty stores whose clientele would relate to your book? What about libraries? If your book is about astronomy, what about planetariums or museums? If it’s about salt marshes, what about national parks? The opportunities are endless. You just have to be ready to work. Events sell books. Yes, authors are artists, and your books do mean a lot to you. However, a book—no matter how good it is—dies without sales. Get out there and schedule events. It’s the way to turn your book into your career.

Don’t mean to be pushy….

The publishing industry is cutthroat. If you’re not careful, your book is old news before you’ve even unwrapped your complimentary copies. You have to retain the passion you had while writing your book through the entire process. Do not let yourself think that once your book is on the shelf, you’re done. You cannot sit back and collect royalty checks. Work with your publisher. Give your input, and use your contacts to encourage word of mouth. Believe in yourself, and bookstores will believe in you, too. Finally, always keep those events coming. Stay in the public eye, and your book will, as well. It feels good to be recognized for your work, but it won’t happen until you get off the couch and show ‘em what you got.

Sara Dobie is the Public Relations Coordinator for Sylvan Dell Publishing in South Carolina. Learn more about Sara and Sylvan Dell Publishing at http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Little Green Books: Little Panda

So Little Simon of Simon & Schuster has a new line of books for young readers. The Little Green Books series. You can read the press release here. You can see all the lines in that series here.

Two of the books in the series are books for babies. Little Monkey and Little Panda. Yesterday, I reviewed Little Monkey. Today it is Little Panda's turn.

Meet Little Panda. Like Little Monkey, his packaging is made of 100% recycled materials, and the book itself is made from Polartec fleece which is made of 50% recycled materials. Again like Little Monkey, he is washable.

Simple text. Cute pictures. A short and sweet little book about friendship.

Roly-poly Little Panda
loves to eat bamboo.
He climbs up trees
with his friend Little Monkey, too.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Little Green Books: Little Monkey

So Little Simon of Simon & Schuster has a new line of books for young readers. The Little Green Books series. You can read the press release here. You can see all the lines in that series here.

Two of the books in the series are books for babies. Little Monkey and Little Panda. Up for review today, Little Monkey. Little Panda will have a turn tomorrow.

What makes "The Little Green Books" eco-friendly? The packaging is made of 100% recycled materials. And the book is made of 50% recycled materials. The book itself is fabric--Polartec fleece made with recycled material.

Little Monkey is soft and cuddly. The text is simple. It rhymes.

Singing, swinging Little Monkey
lives high above the ground.
Fast and spunky,
Little Monkey
makes a happy sound!

Overall, I liked it. I think it is baby friendly. It is washable. And I think little fingers and mouths will enjoy this hands-on book.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, September 8, 2008

Contest opportunity for blog readers

As part of BBAW week (Book Bloggers Appreciation Week), there is a contest going on at Literate Housewife Review. The below is from her website.

Book bloggers would be no where without our readers. Many readers also happen to have their own blogs, but not all do. During Book Blogger Appreciation Week, we would like to take time to honor those who do not. You are so special to us and we want to recognize you for all that you do for us. If you are a loyal reader to one or many book blogs but do not blog yourself, this is the contest for you!

To enter, simply fill out the following sentence in 200 words or less and email them to me (Jennifer) at literatehousewife (at) gmail (dot)com:

“I read book blogs because…”

It’s that simple.

All of the entries received by end of the day (EST) on Saturday, September 13 will be considered. Of those entries, the top 10. What happens to the top 10? First, they will be posted on The Literate Housewife Review on Monday, September 15 to help kick off BBAW on my blog. But it gets even better!

Those entries will also be sent to Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony! Josh has been a great supporter of book clubs and book blogs and I couldn’t be more thrilled that he was ready, willing, and able to help us honor you. He has graciously agreed to read them all and select the first, second and third place winners. The winners will be announced here at noon on Friday, September 19th.

Other than to have your writing be singled out by such a wonderful author, what what are the prizes?

  • The first place winner will receive a signed copy of the new paperback edition of Matrimony and a book grab bag containing 6 books!
  • The second place winner will receive a book grab bag containing 4 books!
  • The third place winner will receive a book grab bag containing 3 books!

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

My New Best Friend

Bowe, Julie. 2008. My New Best Friend.

As much as I enjoyed the first one, I do believe I loved this one just that much more. I loved it. It just felt right, felt natural, felt good. These books really capture what it feels like to be in fourth grade. Clubs. Fourth grade can be (and often is) all about the clubs. Including and excluding. Creating a hierarchy. Ida May is our narrator once again. And this time she is starting out the book with a best friend. A certain girl we first met in My Last Best Friend, a girl prone to lying at times: Stacey Merriweather. Jenna Drews is the "enemy" of sorts to our heroine. Though not so much as in the first book.

Here's the jacket description: "Ida May and her new best friend, Stacey Merriweather, are two peas in a pod. And when they discover a magical mermaid night-light that seems to grant wishes, they start a secret club--just the two of them. But before long, Ida suspects that Stacey is using the mermaid to tell some big lies...and to cause some big trouble at home. How will Ida set the record straight while still keeping her new best friend."

First paragraph:

"I'm Ida May and I have a lot to be thankful for.
  • I have not dropped my lunch tray once since the start of fourth grade.
  • I have only tripped twice in public.
  • Dodgeball season is almost over.
  • So is our science unit on dissecting worms.
I'm thankful for my teacher, Mr. Crow, even though he makes us slice open worms and pin back their skin. Because he doesn't make us touch their insides if we don't want to. And he always comes us with new ways to keep us from getting too bored with school. For example, he makes us learn how to spell big words like influenza, which is what you get if you breathe in too many bad germs, and catastrophe, which is what you get if things don't go the way you planned. Also, he reads to us every day. Not baby books, either. Lately, he's been reading us Greek stories about gods and goddesses and the creatures that work for them. Actually, they're Greek myths. Myth is a Greek word for made-up story. Like the one about the god Apollo driving a chariot across the sky when really it's just the sun. And other myths about pretty nymphs and singing muses who aren't as powerful as goddesses but, still, they can get you to do things that you don't exactly want to do. Mr. Crow says a myth is true if you believe it's true." (1-2)
I loved this one. I loved the mermaid night-light. Loved the secret club. Loved the story. It was funny in all the right places, yet it wasn't just a few pieced together laughs either. It had heart.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, September 5, 2008

Voting Time

The finalists have been announced over at My Friend Amy for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week. You can vote here. Only one vote per category, so you might want to take a few minutes to consider all the nominees before you commit to choosing "the best." Unsure of who you want to vote for? Never heard of any of the nominees? The links to all the finalists' sites are here. Three of my sites have made it to this finalist stage--but the competition is so tough--I'm not even cheering for myself.

Best Kidlit Blog
A Patchwork of Books
Christian Children's Book Review
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Well Read Child
Young Readers *(that's me!!!)

Best Christian/Inspirational Blog
A Peek at My Bookshelf
Becky's Christian Reviews
Books, Movies, Chinese Food
Free Spirit Blogs
Relz Reviewz

Most Eclectic Taste
Becky's Book Reviews
Books on the Nightstand
Mary's Library
OCD, vampires, and amusing rants, oh my!

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

Jonell, Lynne. 2007. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat. Art by Jonathan Bean.

"Emmy was a good girl. At least she tried very hard to be good."

It continues, "She did her homework without being told. She ate all her vegetables, even the slimy ones. And she never talked back to her nanny, Miss Barmy, although it was almost impossible to keep quiet, some days. Of course no one can keep this kind of thing up forever. But Miss Barmy had told Emmy that if she were a good girl, her parents would probably want to see her more often: so Emmy kept on bravely trying. So far it hadn't helped." (1)

This might have been a very dull story. Really. If Emmy had kept on being good. Kept on trying. Kept on striving. Fortunately, for the reader. Emmy chose to listen to a Rat. Not just any rat, mind you, though appearances can be deceiving. She met The Rat in school; he was the class pet. One day he tells her, "Try being bad for once. You might like it." (4) (Yes, he tells her. A talking rat. That shouldn't really surprise anyone, right?)

This book is most unusual. But it's fun. It's smart. It's funny. It's magical. This is just a fun little fantasy for anyone and everyone who's a kid at heart. And there's a sequel. I'll be getting to that one soon I hope!

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, September 4, 2008

My Last Best Friend

Bowe, Julie. 2007. My Last Best Friend.

I enjoyed My Last Best Friend right from the start:

"I'm Ida May, and there's one thing I know. Fourth grade isn't fourth at all. Fourth means you've done something at least three times before. But fourth grade is nothing like third grade. Or second grade. Or first grade.
In fourth grade there is no more printing There is only cursive. I hate cursive.
In fourth grade you are not allowed to add and subtract. You are only allowed to multiply and divide.
In fourth grade you're a baby if you still want to play with Barbies. Or if the Tooth Fairy still comes to your house. Or if you want your mother to walk you to the bus stop. Third grade is the last grade you can get by with any of that. Trust me." (1)

Our narrator, Ida May, is great. I found her voice to be believable. And I cared for her almost immediately. Ida May's "problems" are authentic ones. Her best friend has moved away. She's starting a new school year, and she doesn't have--make that doesn't want--another best friend. She's a bit intimidated by some of the other kids in her class. Especially by the mean, bully Jenna Drews. And she just wishes it would all go away. Her parents just don't understand. (As an adult, I can see that they just want their child to be "happy." And sometimes to get to that happy place later--further on in the future--you've got to be pushed into doing some things you just don't like in the here and now.) But Ida May feels her parents are always pushing and prodding and picking on her when it comes to the "friends" issue. (They want her to have friends and to be popular and part of the crowd instead of isolated on her own.)

What she finds is a friend through a pen pal. Stacey Merriweather is the new girl. On the surface, she's best pals with the "evil" Jenna Drews. But Ida May feels that maybe just maybe Stacey isn't what she seems. That beneath the surface, there's someone there that would be her friend. Ida knows Stacey is a liar. That she's not telling the truth. That she's keeping secrets. And before Ida risks revealing herself, she wants a few reassurances, promises. Thus a correspondence begins between Anastasia (Stacey) and Cordelia (Ida). She's able to be herself, her true self, on paper and really begins to open up again to the possibility of friendship and happiness.

Life. School. Friendship. Bullies. Family.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dodger and Me

Sonnenblick, Jordan. 2008. Dodger and Me.

Dodger and Me is a gem of a book and the beginning of a new series by Jordan Sonnenblick. The book stars Willie Ryan and his mostly-always best friend, Dodger. Here's how the flap reads, "What would you do if your best friend was: 1) imaginary, 2) an oversize blue chimp in surfer shorts (Potentially embarrassiiing, but, hey, no one else can see him, right?, 3) Proposing a plan to help you improve your life, 4) Did we say imaginary?, 5) Driving you crazy?!?!" And the back reads, "Okay, I was unpopular. But was I so amazingly unpopular that I needed a magical blue chimp for a best friend? Quite possibly."

Here's how the book itself begins, "Look, if I'm going to tell you everything that happened between me and Dodger, you have to promise you won't tell. And you won't laugh. And you won't mention any of this to dumb old Lizzie from England. I have a weird feeling she wouldn't appreciate it. Not that I care what she thinks. Anyway, I guess I'll have to trust you on this, right? Plus, I'm busting to tell somebody about it. So here goes."

Willie Ryan is a baseball loving kid. Of course it's a slight problem that baseball doesn't quite love him as much as he loves it. He's not all that great a player. He wants to be, no doubt about it, he wants it more than anything. But he has a tendency to goof up when he's up to bat. And this is how we first meet him. And how Willie first meets Dodger.

After losing the game, Willie is off on his own. Ignoring his mom's warnings, he is daring enough to take a shortcut through the woods. While there, he picks up a piece of litter. Not something you'd think was life-changing, right? But this piece of trash isn't ordinary. For out springs Dodger--the blue chimp that isn't quite a genie, but passes for one in an emergency. And the powers that be have deemed Willie an emergency. His friendless condition that is. That and the fact that his mom is the most overprotective mom on the planet--or so Willie thinks.

Once Dodger makes his appearance, there is no doubt about it...Willie's life will change. But will it be for better or for worse?

The book is enjoyable. And it's funny. It's the right blend of what a book is supposed to be.
© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hip Hop Speaks to Children

Giovanni, Nikki, editor. 2008. Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat. (Includes 1 Audio CD) Sourcebooks. For more information on the book, see here. (Also includes video of Nikki Giovanni talking about the book.)

I really enjoyed this poetry collection. There are 51 selections from 42 poets and performers; the CD contains 30 performances--many featuring the poets themselves reading their work. The poems, the artwork, the CD...all complement each other to create a wonderful experience. What can you find? Well, here's just a sampling: "Aloneness" by Gwendolyn Brooks, "Oh, Words" by Eloise Greenfield, "Harlem Night Song" by Langston Hughes, "Harlem Hopscotch" by Maya Angelou, "The Creation" by James Weldon Johnson*, "Rapper's Delight" by Sugarhill Gang*, "Everything is Everything" by Lauryn Hill, "The Rose That Grew From The Concrete" by Tupac Shakur, and many many more.

My favorite poem--well, the poem I'm getting ready to share for Poetry Friday--is...

Books by Eloise Greenfield

I've got
books on the bunk bed
books on the chair
books on the couch
And every old where
But I want more books
just can't get enough
want more books about
all kinds of stuff, like
Jackie's troubles, Raymond's joys
Rabbits, kangaroos, girls and boys
Mountains, valleys, winter, spring
Camp fires, vampires
Every old thing
I want to
Lie down on my bunk bed!
Lean back in
my chair
Curl up on the couch
And every old

*Some selections are "From...."
© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, September 1, 2008

Frankenstein Takes the Cake

Rex, Adam. 2008. Frankenstein Takes the Cake Which Is Full of Of Funny Stuff Like Rotting Heads and Giant Gorillas and Zombies Dressed As Little Girls and Edgar Allan Poe. The Book We Mean--Not The Cake.

This book, Frankenstein Takes the Cake, is the follow up to Adam Rex's Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. (A book which sadly I haven't read yet though I have heard wonderful stuff about it.) The book is a collection of semi-related poems--funny poems about the lighter side of the dark and spooky. The illustrations are perfectly paired with the text.

Here's one of my favorites:
New Glasses
In her classes, without glasses,
she could barely see the board.
With her specs she checks the teachers,
sees their frightened, frozen features--

Oh so that's why,
when she raised her hand,
Medusa was ignored.
My other favorite from the book was "E.T. Mail."
We assumed it was the case
that in a place as big as space
we'd find some trace of other races
with our scientific bases.

When a signal was detected,
it was not what we expected.
In the subject line it pleaded,
Please reply--
Assistance needed
We gasped--a message from the stars!
And then another came from Mars:
We were noticing a pattern,
when a bunch arrived from Saturn:
we disabled our detector.
Then we emptied out the cache
and dragged the letters to the trash.
So that's the fact we had to face:
There's no intelligence in space.
But that's okay--for what it's worth,
there isn't much of it on Earth.
Anyway, this was a fun book. A really fun book. I can't really compare it to the first book (better, worse, bout the same) but I can say that I enjoyed it all on its own.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers