Book review #265: Leonardo the Terrible Monster

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willemsby Mo Willems
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Independent reading level: 1.9
4 out of 5 stars

This is an older book by Mo Willems, but just as delightful as always! Leonardo the monster has a terrible problem — he isn’t scary. So he searches for the perfect child to scare. I love all the research he does before he finds Sam, the perfect scare candidate. Sam ends up being a lot more to Leonardo than just a child to scare, and I love the turning point in their relationship.

The illustrations and text are a little more detailed than Mo’s other books, but the backgrounds are plain pages and you can definitely see Mo’s style. This story has a great message about friendship and being comfortable with who you are.

Book review #264: Flashlight

Flashlight by Lizi Boydby Lizi Boyd
Wordless picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: everyone
4 out of 5 stars

There is a lot going on in this wordless picture book, and it will keep you enchanted for read after read. The basic story involves a young child sleeping overnight in a tent in the woods. The child starts exploring the forest with a flashlight. You really can’t discern if the child is a boy or girl, which I like because it makes it easier for both sexes to relate to the main character.

The majority of the page is done is black and gray tones and there isn’t a lot of detail, because we can’t see that in the dark. What is special though, is that the reader can see all of the creatures that are hiding in the darkness, just outside of the flashlight beam. As the beam of light lands on an area, we get bright colors. Each page also features a cut-out, which begs further exploration and flipping back and forth.

The ending is humorous and fun, and this book will really delight young readers who are willing to explore the darkness with the main character.

Book review #263: Three Bears in a Boat

by David SomaThree Bears in a Boat by David Somann
Picture book
Interest level: K-3
Reading level: 3.4
4 out of 5 stars

The illustrations in this book are absolutely amazing! You could take any one of the pages, frame it, and hang it on the wall. The story features Dash, Charlie, and Theo, three bear siblings who break their mother’s prized blue seashell. They set out on an adventure to find a replacement before Mama finds out — I loved the line, “Afraid of their mama, who, after all, was a bear…” The three set out in their boat on a grand adventure that reminds me of some of the more classic stories in older picture books. I won’t give away the story, but the ending is perfect!

This is a longer story, but it would make a great read-aloud.

Book review #262: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamilloby Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.

Beginning chapter book
Interest level: K-3
Independent reading level: 4.2
5 out of 5 stars

There are so many things that I love about this book! This is the first book in a new Deckawoo Drive series that Kate DiCamillo is creating to follow up her wonderful Mercy Watson series. This new series features longer books and a higher reading level, and acts as the stepping stone for young independent readers as they venture from picture books into chapter books. I also love that Kate never underestimates young readers, and throws in challenging and less-known words that can expand vocabularies.

Kate’s characters are always colorful and have unique personalities, and such wonderful names — Leroy Ninker, Beatrice Leapaleoni, Patty LeMarque, and Maybelline, for example. Overall, this is a truly charming story about a cowboy and his horse, and I think kids will love it!

Book Review #259: Planet Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt; illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Picture book
Interest level: grades K-3
Reading level: 3.7
3 out of 5 stars

This is a fun story about a young boy who is preparing for his first day of kindergarten. He is a huge space fan, and he envisions all of his preparations as if he is an astronaut preparing for outer space. This would be a great story to share with a youngster on the first day of kindergarten, but it could definitely use extra time and discussion to help young children make the space connections. A reference to NASA would probably be meaningless to most kindergarteners. The illustrations are vibrant and engaging.

Book review: Breaking Stalin’s Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene YelchinBreaking Stalin’s Nose
written and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
140 pages
Historical fiction
Newbery Honor award: 2012
Young Hoosier Book Award nominee: 2014-2015
Interest level: grades 4-8
Reading level: 4.6
5 out of 5 stars

This is one of the only books for youth that is set during the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, 1923 to 1953, which makes this a very important work. When I polled 3rd and 4th grade classes, no one had heard of Stalin, nor could they tell me what communism was. This historical fiction work, appropriate for grades 4-8, lets us enter the life of 10-year-old Sasha, a boy who loves Stalin and communism and prides himself on having a father who is in Stalin’s State Security. Suddenly, all he knows is turned on its head when his father is arrested and he is alone on the streets.

Kids don’t need to have an understanding of communism or Soviet history to get pulled into the story. Concern for the main character will grip them, and it reads like dystopian fiction — think The Giver, Divergent, Hunger Games. My hope would be that after reading the story, they also read the author’s note at the end. Yelchin has crafted this story after his own experience growing up in Russia.

Additional material
The book has a website that accompanies it, and provides further experiences into communist life and the Soviet Union.

A special, personal message from Eugene Yelchin about Breaking Stalin’s Nose.

The professional benefits of social networking

Mention social networks to someone and, for most people, their first thoughts will go to Facebook and Twitter, and how those sites are used for personal interaction. Unless you specifically mention LinkedIn, there isn’t much perceived professional value to social networking.  At one time, I might have felt the same, but as I started to really embrace the idea of returning to college to get the credentials needed to be a school media specialist, I began to use social networks for professional development purposes.

I was made aware of a group called the Nerdy Book Club. This club is an online group of educators who strongly believes in the value of reading and developing that love in children. They have a blog, and they also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Many individual members have their own blogs, and are avid Tweeters. Membership in this group has meant as much to me as a membership to the American Library Association or Indiana Library Federation — the professional development I have received has been priceless.

The Nerdy Book Club provides information on authors, recently released books for youth, using technology in school libraries, and educational practices that they have found to be successful in encouraging a love of reading in students. Many of the members have served on book award committees, such as Caldecott and Newbery, and they have usually earned awards and citations that target them as the best and brightest in the fields of reading education and school media specialists. By following these amazing individuals on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and Pinterest, I have increased my knowledge of best practices in my intended library field.

I also use Facebook to provide reviews to my elementary school colleagues. Many times, teachers have used my reviews to select read-alouds for their classroom or to supplement another curriculum area, such as social studies. I once shared a video that featured Kate DiCamillo talking about never giving up on your writing, and a friend I went to high school with used it in her 4th-grade classroom in Georgia.facebook

While I love to keep in touch with family and friends using social media, I equally value the professional networking and sharing that is possible.

This screenshot captures the professional networking opportunities on Twitter. Someone needed book suggestions and the group members responded with many ideas.