Book review #284: A Dance Like Starlight: one ballerina’s dream #bookaday

A Dance Like Starlight coverby Kristy Dempsey; illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Picture book
Interest level: K-5
Reading level: 6.0


This picture book is like an amazing ballet that combines beautifully descriptive lyrical text with stunning illustrations. The story is set in New York City in the 1950s and features a young girl who dreams of becoming a prima ballerina. She is African American and, at that time, this dream seems unattainable, but she has two amazing role models in her life that bring it within her reach — her mother, and Janet Collins, who became the first African American prima ballerina to dance with the Met. The girl learns that you can’t trust wishing on stars to make dreams come true (especially in the big city where you can’t see the stars), but hard work and hope can take you where you want to go.young ballerina image from A Dance Like Starlight

The illustrations are stunning and perfectly fit the tone of the story. The text is narrative verse that is emotionally descriptive:

It’s like Miss Collins is dancing for me,
only for me,
showing me who I can be.
All my hoping
wells up and spills over,
dripping all my dreams onto my Sunday dress.

This would be a great book to include with studies on discrimination and civil rights in the United States. It reminds me of JOSEPHINE: THE DAZZLING LIFE OF JOSEPHINE BAKER, another wonderful title that was published this year.

Book review #283: Ivan: the remarkable true story of the shopping mall gorilla #bookaday

Ivan: the remarkable true story of the shopping mall gorilla by Katherine Applegateby Katherine Applegate; illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Non-fiction picture book (599.884)
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 3.9
5 out of 5 stars


I am so grateful that Katherine Applegate and G. Brian Karas created this wonderful non-fiction picture book companion to the Newbery winning The One and Only Ivan! Most students who experience The One and Only Ivan immediately want to know more information about the “real Ivan.” There are some videos and photographs of Ivan online, but this non-fiction book contains some really special features.

The picture book format makes Ivan’s story accessible to a younger audience. The One and Only Ivan boasts an intimidating 305 pages, and because it is told in free form verse, it is a more difficult read. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla features minimal text and sweet, but not cutesy, illustrations. The emotional wallop has also been toned down, so younger readers will not feel overwhelmed.

Ivan's thumbprint signature
Ivan’s thumbprint signature

There is an informative message from Katherine Applegate at the end of the book, which includes some photographs of Ivan and suggestions about where to go to find more information about gorillas. The best part is the final page in which Ivan’s main keeper for the last 10 years of his life shares her memories and a painting that Ivan created. The back cover includes a photograph of Ivan in his cage at the Tacoma shopping mall.

Overall, if you have read The One and Only Ivan you won’t learn much new information, but the additional photographs and note from the Atlanta Zoo keeper make this book a treasure.

Ivan: the remarkable true story of the shopping mall gorilla Book Trailer

The “real Ivan”

The One and Only Ivan Book Trailer

Book review #282: Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads #bookaday

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea and Lane Smithby Bob Shea; illustrated by Lane Smith
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.4
4 out of 5 stars


This was a tough picture book to rate. This is a humorous story that features an ingenious kid sheriff. I found the main part of the story, that dealt with the problem of the outlaw Toad Brothers, to be slightly confusing. I couldn’t really see where the storyline was going, and some references, such as “cumin-scented town” would probably go right over the heads of young readers (or anyone who isn’t familiar with the ingredients in chili). However, the story’s resolution and final pages are pure genius and really upped my overall appreciation of the book.

Because of the deceiving plot, and some references and language that might not be understandable to kids, I would recommend this book for a read-aloud. Plus, it’s a western and the dialogue lends itself to really bad Texan accents!! How fun!

The illustrations by Lane Smith are perfect. They have a real old-time western feel to them that enhances the story. You can read more about Lane Smith and how he approached illustrating this book by visiting Watch. Connect. Read. : The Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads Trifecta.

Bob Shea also made a visit to the Nerdy Book Club and provides some wonderful advice on how to tell if a picture book is any good. He is an absolutely hilarious individual! Stop what you are doing right now, and burn all your books. (or how to tell if a picture book is good simply by reading it) by Bob Shea.

Book review #281: Maple #bookaday

Maple by Lori Nicholsby Lori Nichols
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.2
5 out of 5 stars

This is a really sweet book about a girl who loves nature. Her parents plant a maple tree when she is born, and name her after the tree. This young Maple looking through the leavesgirl loves spending time outside with her tree, and develops such a compassionate nature under its calming leaves. The illustrations, especially of Maple laying on the ground gazing up through the leaves, are just beautiful.

A second book, Maple and Willow Together, has just been released.  Here is the book trailer:

Book review #280: The Book with No Pictures #bookaday

The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novakby B.J. Novak
Picture book?????
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 1.6
4 out of 5 stars

WARNING TO ADULTS: Do NOT attempt to read this book alone! Serious stuff will happen to you if you do, like…you might not really get the wonderful appeal of a picture book with NO pictures. Yep, zilch, zero, nada, not a one! The key ingredient needed to make this book come to life is a child. Or better yet, a group of children.

You might recognize the name B.J. Novak, he was a writer and actor on The Office. He was interested in writing a book for children and had an amazing realization one day wheCast photo of The Officen reading to a friend’s two-year-old child — you MUST read every word written. He told the audience at the American Library Association conference, “The adult is supposed to be in charge, but also, a reader has to read every word in a book. I thought, what if I could design a book that introduced kids to the power of the written word by showing them how to abuse that power? A book that a kid could hand to an adult, knowing it was going to force the adult to say silly things?”

This book will absolutely delight young listeners and it guarantees giggles and guffaws galore! You can read this book with great drama or in a totally serious tone, and either one will be hysterical, because who can not laugh at a robot monkey voice or when someone says, “Boo Boo Butt?!”

B.J. Novak’s keynote address to the American Library Association

He discusses what inspired the idea and his very unique writing process.

B.J. Novak reading parts of the book to children

Book review #279: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole #bookaday

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassenby Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 1.5 (but every age will love this story!)
5 of 5 stars


This is by far my favorite picture book for 2014…Caldecott Committee are you listening??!! Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen teamed up previously on EXTRA YARN, which won a Caldecott Honor. These two really are picture book geniuses, who come up with original and challenging stories. The seemingly boring title humorously hides a story that will leave you gasping at the end and searching for someone to talk to about, “What does it all mean?!”

Klassen uses a limited sepia-toned color palette to perfectly illustrate a story about two boys and a dog digging a hole. What he can do with the character’s eyes though is amazing! This story can really be as deep as the hole the boys are digging. It can spark conversations about not giving up, that feeling of just missing out on something big, and overall it will spark imaginations and create many “I wonder” moments.

Take time to really examine the illustrations and ponder the text. You have found a gem when you read this book!

Book trailer

Book review #278: Waiting is Not Easy! #bookaday

Waiting is Not Easy! by Mo Willlemsby Mo Willems
Beginning reader
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 0.7
5 out of 5 stars


Yet another awesome book from Mo Willems. Everybody has a hard time having to wait for something that they want, and Piggie tortures poor Gerald by telling him he has a surprise coming. I love the pages where Gerald’s “groans” overwhelm Piggie! Kids will laugh out loud to this story, while at the same time really understanding what Gerald is feeling. The ending is awesome, and don’t forget to look for Pigeon!