The Princess and the Warrior

Duncan Tonatiuh crafts his own version of the origin story of the two volcanoes that are located just outside of Mexico City.

Picture book, folktale
Interest level: K-5; Reading level: 2.9
Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor, 2017
5 out of 5 stars

Outside of Mexico City there are two majestic volcanoes, Iztaccihautl and Popcatepetl. Duncan Tonatiuh tells the legend of their origin in a well-crafted picture book that pays tribute to the images found in the ancient Mixtec codices. In the Author’s Note in the back of the book, Tonatiuh outlines the research behind the creation of the book, and a bibliography is included.

The story focuses on the love between a beautiful and kind princess named Izta and a brave soldier named Popoca. Many suitors traveled from far away trying to woo Izta with expensive and rare gifts, but she was not interested in them. Even though she was a princess, she preferred to spend her time with people in the field, teaching them poetry.

Popoca comes to see her and promises to love her for who she is and to always stay by her side no matter what. They fall in love, but the king wants Popoca to prove himself worthy to marry his daughter. So Popoca goes off to battle an enemy tribe. As the enemy is about to be defeated, they hatch a plan to defeat Popoca’s spirit and send word to Izta that he has died in battle. Believing this lie, she drinks a potion and falls into a sleep that she cannot be awoken from.

When Popoca returns victorious, he is distraught to find his love could not wake up, so he carries her to the top of a mountain believing that the cool air will revive her. As he laid her on the mountaintop, he knelt beside her and refused to move, even when the snows came and covered them both.

In time, where once there was a princess with her true love by her side, two volcanoes emerged. One is known as Iztaccihuatl, or sleeping woman. The other one is known as Popocatepetl, or smoky mountain. Iztaccihuatl continues to sleep. But Popocateptl spews ashes and smoke from time to time, as if attempting to wake his sleeping princess.

Throughout the story, Tonatiuh has included some foreign words in the Nahuatl language, since that is the language that Popoca and Izta would have spoken. A glossary is in the back to provide translations.

This is a well-done origin story that should be included with any lesson on stories in the oral tradition. Tonatiuh’s attention to detail with regard to the illustrations and language make this book stand above others.

The Princess and the Warrior
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4197-2130-4

The Bear Who Wasn’t There

This is a laugh out loud story that is missing its main character! Will bear every show up?

Picture book, fiction, humorous
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.5
5 out of 5 stars

Spoiler alert! The duck on the cover tips off readers to the whole problem in this story — the bear, who is the main character, never shows up. So how can this book be successful? LeUyen Pham has crafted an adorable menagerie of characters that help the reader look for the elusive bear.

The story begins on the cover with the title, The Bear Who Wasn’t There, and a duck announcing that the bear never shows up. Then the story is carried through on every page that follows, including the endpapers inside the covers, and the title page.

The reader and characters in the story break through the fourth wall and work together (most of the time) to try to find the bear. A jealous duck has recently written his own book, The Duck Who Showed Up and works very hard to convince the reader that his story is the one to read…who needs a bear anyway?!

The story abounds in word play and humorous situations. As the reader turns the page and enters a room with a sign guaranteeing the bear is inside, we discover instead that a prankster mouse is playing a trick on a giraffe on the toilet, who happens to be reading the duck’s book.
The author/illustrator herself even makes an appearance and tries to find bear. The story follows the bear’s footprints all the way to the back endpapers.

This book is delightful and would make an excellent and fun read-aloud.

The Bear Who Wasn’t There
by LeUyen Pham
Roaring Brook Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-59643-970-2

Goodnight Everyone

Stunning colors illustrate this brilliant goodnight story. It is an excellent choice to read at bedtime!

Picture book, fiction
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.1
5 out of 5 stars

Chris Haughton’s illustrations really carry the weight of this story about a little bear who isn’t quite ready to go to bed when the other forest animals are.


With rich shades of blues, reds, and purples, Haughton has us follow Little Bear at bedtime. I love this illustration as it shows the contrast between the text, “everyone is sleepy” and the wide eyes of Little Bear that just peek through a bush. At this point, the story begins to follow a pattern. First, all the animals are sleepy and yawn. We see the same repeated pattern of words as we witness the mice, rabbits, deer, and finally Great Big Bear take settling breaths and all yawn. Except for Little Bear. Then the same type of pattern repeats, this time with little bear visiting each group to see if they want to play, only to be told “we’re too tired.” Finally, sleep, and the deepening darkness of night catch of to Little Bear and he mimics the stretch and yawn pattern of Great Big Bear from earlier. The final pattern that the reader goes through shows each family asleep and tells them goodnight. The recurring patterns and order of animals is a calming aspect of the story, and lends itself well to bedtime reading. Alert readers of picture books will notice other details of Haughton’s illustrations that make this story truly brilliant.


When we say goodnight to the mice, we see how the soft snore of one of the mice blows a fluffy dandelion seed into the night sky. Alert readers can follow the path of that seed in each of the following illustrations. But that isn’t where the brilliance stops.

Make sure to pay special attention to the endpapers inside the book cover. The front endpaper shows the constellations when the night sky is in the southern hemisphere. If you look closely at the illustration of the earth and location of the moon, you can see the shapes of the animals in the story and see that they appear to be awake. The back endpaper illustrates the opposite — the night sky in the northern hemisphere, and the animals on the earth appear to be asleep. Haughton has also highlighted the Little Bear and Great Bear where the constellation appears in the night sky. I love the idea that the reader has put Little Bear and Great Big Bear to sleep in the story, and now we can see them sleeping in the night sky.

Look very, very closely at the endpapers and you can also see that dandelion seed! The path it takes as it floats into the night sky can be traced from the back endpaper right back around to the front endpaper, where it can be seen floating to earth. Those tiny details, and the fact that every part of the book is used to complete the story make this a masterpiece.

Goodnight Everyone
by Chris Haughton
Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-9079-3

I Am A Story

This picture book tells the basic evolution of stories beginning with ancient oral traditions up through modern digital reading.

I am a Story
by Dan Yaccarino
Harper, 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-241106-8
Picture book, fiction
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 3.2
5 out of 5 stars

On the surface, this book tracks the evolution of storytelling from the beginning oral traditions to modern times. Dan Yaccarino covers cave painting, tapestries, invention of the printing press, and digital reading on tables and smart phones. I can see this book being a nice opening read for a lesson on ancient storytelling traditions like folktales and fairy tales.

For me, what makes the story stand out as a 5 star read are some of the extras that Yaccarino has included. He has included the tradition of weaving stories into tapestries, which is not something that is known by most children. I also like how he shows that private libraries preceded public libraries, which opened up reading and education to everyone. He even includes bookmobiles and Free Little Libraries. He mentions censorship, book banning, and book burning, which leads up to his main theme — that stories will live forever.

Using a colorful palette, Yaccarino’s ink on vellum illustrations include some images that are woven throughout the pages and are fun to search for as you read. Children will enjoy finding the red bird that can be found on each page. Stars and the moon are also a constant recurring image. In fact, the story comes full-circle as you compare the constellations that are the subject of the stories around the first campfire with the constellations in the story the modern family is telling around the fire at the end of the story.

This is a great book to read to children in lower elementary grades. It is basic enough to entertain young children, but introduces some interesting times in history that could be explored further with older children. Because it mentions censorship, this would make a good introduction to Banned Books Week in September.

I am a Story book trailer:

For more information on Banned Books Week:

For more information on Little Free Libraries:

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbably Life of Paul Erdos

A fascinating story about a quirky mathematician whose collaborations changed the world of mathematics.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbably Life of Paul Erdos
by Deborah Heiligman, pictures by LeUyen Pham
Roaring Brook Press, 2013
ISBN 978-1-59643-307-6
Picture book, biography, nonfiction, narrative
Dewey: 510.92, biography
Description: 37 pages : color illustrations ; 26 cm
YHBA intermediate nominee, 2015-2016
Interest level: K-3; Reading level: 1.8
4 out of 5 stars

I feel dual purpose books are very effective and are appropriate for many different genres. The idea of entertaining several different levels of maturity at once is something that children’s cartoons have been doing forever. If you’ve ever sat through a Disney movie as an adult, you will notice that young children laugh at different things than the adults do.

In a similar way, a book can also appeal to multiple audiences. The Boy Who Loved Math: the improbably life of Paul Erdos is a picture book that has a first/second grade reading level and is meant to appeal to lower elementary age children. The text and style of illustrations tell the story of a quirky boy who loved math, but had difficulties in most other areas of life. Children will love the part of the story where he learns to butter his bread as an adult.

The author and illustrator haven’t just created a picture book for elementary age readers, however. The many pages of author and illustrator notes in the back add depth to the book and make it usable up through high school. It is almost like solving a puzzle to go back through the illustrations and locate all the different types of prime numbers that have been included.

By appealing to multiple age levels, The Boy Who Loved Math is a book that can be used to share interests between adults and children. I feel that the wider a book can be read and shared, the longer life and greater impact that book will have. What is impressive about The Boy Who Loved Math is that there are not many books about famous mathematicians. Most don’t make for very interesting stories.

The Boy Who Loved Math was nominated for a 2015-2016 Young Hoosier Book Award. I am guessing that this book was probably nominated by an adult who felt this was a worthwhile book for children. Most children would not seek this book out on their own. By appealing to a wide audience, this book was nominated for an award and was seen by a larger audience than it would have if the illustrations and back notes were not as extensive.

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled
by Lynne Rae Perkins
Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-237345-8
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 26 cm
Interest Level: K-5; Reading Level: 2.7
Lexile measure: 660
4 out of 5 stars

At the end of an absolutely horrible day, Frank’s parents take him to the animal shelter where he meets his new best friend, Lucky, who was also having a pretty bad day. Thus begins a beautiful friendship between a boy and his dog.

What makes this book unique is how Lynne Rae Perkins takes this basic story and manages to tie in lessons about how learning isn’t just something you do in school, but it takes place all around us. For example, when Lucky wants to learn about skunks, Frank had to learn about chemistry in order to change Lucky from “smelly” to “not-so-smelly.” The two friends explore the concept of fractions as we see how much of the bed at night is Frank’s and how much is Lucky’s. Art is explored by discovering that “every picture can be better with a dog in it.”

The concepts introduced in the book sometimes might be above the heads of younger readers, but I can see children in grades 3-5 really enjoying the lessons explored in the wild. Children who like dogs will really love this story, because the friendship between Frank and Lucky is the most important lesson of all.

Before Morning

The magic of a snow day is enjoyed by a busy family. This boook is a reminder to slow down and enjoy the beauty of the world.

Before Morning
by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Picture book, fiction
Description: 1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 27 cm
Interest Level: K-3; Read Level: 3.8
5 out of 5 stars

The author’s note in the back of the book call this story an invocation, “a poem that invites something to happen, often asking for help or support.” Starting with the image on the endpaper inside the front cover, Beth Krommes scratchboard and watercolor illustrations depict the bustle of a busy city, and we follow one family as night begins to fall.

Before Morning features very little text, so the intricate cross-hatched illustrations carry most of the story. A child is sad as her mother tucks her in to bed at night. We see that the mother is dressed in her pilot’s uniform and must leave her sleeping family behind to catch the train and go to work.

Readers are carried through a magical transformation as snowflakes fall and interrupt the busy cross-hatch illustrations, just as the blanket of snow transforms the city and interrupts the busy cycle of life.
Anyone who has enjoyed a day off from work or school will enjoy this nearly wordless book. It is a magical story about wishes, dreams, and the beauty and peace of a loving family.