Book review #290: Firefly July #bookaday

Firefly July coverselected by Paul B. Janeczko; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Poetry, picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 4.5
4 out of 5 stars

This is a collection of 36 brief poems that are organized into four seasonal categories. These poems make great examples for children of how a few well-chosen words can create vivid images in your mind. The selected poetry includes some well-known poets — William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson. Melissa Sweet has created the collage-style illustrations, and has wonderfully captured the essence of each poem.

Book review #289: The Scraps Book: notes from a colorful life #bookaday

The Scraps Boook coverby Lois Ehlert
Autobiographical picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 3.3
5 out of 5 stars

This amazing book is both an autobiography of Lois Ehlert, as well as a documentary about her vast portfolio of children’s books and the process she undergoes in their creation. She includes images from her books, sketches of the works-in-progress, collages of found and collected materials that were inspiration, and photographs from her life. I loved being let inside her studio and her mind.

This book would be a great start to an examination of the many works of this celebrated artist. Collages are an art form that can be done by everyone, so I love that children can see everyday objects used in the context of her published works. At the end of the book, she claims, “Art chose me,” and she invites anyone who feels the same to “find a spot to work, and begin.”

Book review #288: Julia’s House for Lost Creatures #bookaday

Julia's House for Lost Creatures coverby Ben Hatke
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 1.7
4 out of 5 stars

This is a very creative and original picture book that features a young girl named Julia. You must begin reading this book on the title page, where we see a Victorian-style house perched on the back of a giant tortoise. You can immediately tell this is a work of fantasy! Julia’s house is too quiet, so she hangs a sign welcoming lost creatures. She is joined by a dragon, mermaid, ghost and trolls. As you can imagine, things could get a little out of hand, but Julia is quick-thinking and gets it all under control. I love her strong and independent character.

The illustrations are very sweet and perfectly fit in this younger children’s fantasy picture book.

Book review #287: Here Comes the Easter Cat #bookaday

Here Comes the Easter Cat coverby Deborah Underwood; pictures by Claudia Rueda
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 1.7
4 out of 5 stars

This is a fun and adorable book. Everyone looks forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny, except for Cat, who is a little put out with all the attention that the Bunny gets. He comes up with his own Easter plan, complete with sparkly clothes and a motorcycle. Cat comes to really appreciate the Easter Bunny and hatches an even better plan in the end.

There is tremendously witty banter between the narrator and Cat, who has priceless facial expressions. This is a unique and fun option for holiday reading. I love that this book is different in size compared to most picture books — it is smaller and thicker. Very creative and unique all around!

Book review #286 – Roller Coaster #bookaday

Roller Coaster book coverby Marla Frazee
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.2
4 out of 5 stars

The text of this book uses easily understood language and takes us through all the steps of riding on a roller coaster. Our main character is a young girl, riding for the first time. The author doesn’t focus or even identify her until the very end. We get to live, through the illustrations, all the different experiences that people have. As the ride gets going, the illustrations make you feel part of the ride. Be sure to note the expressions on all the rider’s faces; I love the older couple!

This would be a great book to use to model sequencing and predicting. It’s fun to meet the characters in line, form an idea of who they are, and then follow them throughout the ride to see how they like the experience. You could also read this book to kids before their first trip to the amusement park. It really is a great introduction! This is a well-crafted book all around.

Book review #285 – The Troublemaker #bookaday

The Troublemaker coverby Lauren Castillo
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 2.1
4 out of 5 stars

Take one bored little boy with an active imagination, add a sister with a favorite stuffed animal, and you have the recipe for…trouble. But this is one troublemaker who has met his match! This is a really fun story and I think kids will be able to relate to the boy, and they will definitely enjoy following the antics of the true troublemaker in the story!

Lauren Castillo has published two books in 2014 and both are wonderful. You should also check out Nana in the City.

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.