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The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame
My book club decided to read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a children’s classic written in the early 1900’s by a British author. As a retired educator, I felt like this is one of those books I should have read. I downloaded a free copy from Project Gutenberg. It has some illustrations, but I found I would have liked more. The other readers in my group had various ways of reading this classic tale. One had a particularly beautifully illustrated version that I adore. Another friend listened to an audio version recorded on YouTube. At least one group member expressed disappointment that her version was an adaptation. Regardless of the version, however, we all enjoyed reading it.
The Wind in the Willows is a charming tale of a water rat, mole, badger, otter, and toad. With its exquisite language and intricate descriptions, this book is perfect for reading as a family. It was a staple in A.A. Milne’s family which I consider high praise indeed. The pace moves back and forth between quiet reflection and raucous adventure. The tale has themes of home, friendship and satisfaction. The characters move through life together with commonalities and differences that serve to make the story even more interesting.
Toad is a favorite character with moods ranging from manic to subdued and intentions to reform that often seem genuine, but sometimes are quite insincere. He has a passion for the latest and greatest “toys” and is always on the lookout for a new adventure. Fortunately, he has supportive friends who will do anything for him. He is a source of humor for the reader.
If you have never read The Wind in the Willows, I strongly recommend it, especially if you enjoy beautiful word pictures. I like researching unfamiliar words, but those who don’t will have no problems as the general meaning of words of a botanic nature, Britishisms, and words no longer in common usage are certainly easily understood from context. The Wind in the Willows is a great read, and I am so glad to have added it as part my literary heritage.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Ages 7-14
Publication: 1908 & 1913—Charles Scribner’s Sons
Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk.
He increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.
Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.
The Snow Bear
by Holly Webb
Illustrated by Artful Doodlers
Do you want to share information about the Arctic with the children in your life in an engaging way? The Snow Bear by Holly Webb is a great way to do it. Sara goes to visit her grandfather who lives on a cliffside in Canada. As it snows, he talks with Sara about going to the Arctic when he was a boy with his father to record the life and customs of the Inuits living in the Arctic as Sara’s great-grandfather could already see the old ways disappearing.
When Sara goes to bed that night, she dreams herself into the stories Grandpa told her and has her own experiences which bring the Arctic to life for her. She rescues a cub, falls into a crevasse, and shares a warming Inuit soup.
The Snow Bear is a chapter book. I think children would benefit from reading this with an adult as they look at a map of the Arctic and discuss the terms used. An Internet search of corresponding images for items such as “Arctic tern” and “quilliq” would be helpful too. Although the story is fictional, there is much information included.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Myrick Books/Tiger Tales for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: 1. The illustrations did not show up well in my Advanced Reader Copy, but the sample line drawings shown on Amazon were perfect for this story.
2. This is the first book I have read by Holly Webb, but I discovered she is a prolific children’s author with books suitable for all the various ages.
3. I also learned that Artful Doodlers is responsible for many of the illustrations that children’s book lovers cherish.
4. This book is part of a Wintry Tales Series.
Publication: October 1, 2019— Myrick Books/Tiger Tales
“That’s why we went. We wanted to record it all, before it changed forever.”
…the nearest dog, who was curled up in the snow, with his tail wrapped tightly around his nose and his paws. Sara had never seen a dog curl up so small—he looked almost like a cat. “They can sleep through a blizzard like that. And they have to stay out—they’re our guard dogs, too. They let us know if there’s a polar bear around.”
“We always share what we have,” Alignak said, sounding almost surprised. “Food belongs to everyone who needs it.”
The Dog Who Lost His Bark
by Eoin Colder
illustrated by P.J. Lynch
Oz is a sweet puppy traumatized by a bad experience with a mean family. He ends up in a dog shelter where Patrick discovers and adopts him. Patrick comes from a musical family, and music emerges as the key to socializing Oz who has remarkable pitch when he whines. He starts with “Ode to Joy,” but expands his repertoire quickly. After Patrick’s breakthrough with Oz, he decides he needs to teach him to bark.
In the background of the puppy drama, we can tell, as can Patrick, that something is wrong with his father who is supposedly in Australia playing with his band. Patrick decides that if he gets rid of Oz, his father, who is allergic to dogs, will return to be a part of the family again. Oz goes back to the pound, but Patrick is no happier and Oz is very sad. Patrick learns that his mother and father are separating, but that his dog loves him and will always be his best friend.
The Dog Who Lost His Bark is a sweet story, especially for dog lovers. It could be helpful for children whose family structure is in transition, providing opportunities for discussions of the feelings the various characters have. I would encourage parents to read this book to their child or for a child to read it independently. Sharing with a group is probably not the best choice. The issues could be a trigger for sensitive children and problematic depending on the family situations of the children in a group.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Candlewick Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: This chapter book is intended for children:
Publication: September 10, 2019—Candlewick Press
This boy seemed kind right now, but that was people’s CLEVER TRICK, to be happy until it was time to be ANGRY. Dog was not going to fall for that one again.
“…teach your dog to bark. Because when a dog barks at something, that dog isn’t so afraid of that thing anymore.”
“You have a friend, Patrick. You have the best friend a boy could ever have. And he loves you even when it looks like you don’t love him anymore.”
Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas
I had a blast reading Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas. Author and illustrator Juana Medina, like the main character in her book, is from Bogotá, Columbia. I know some bilingual teachers who would be uncomfortable with the code switching in this book; I love it. For me, inserting some Spanish words in places where the context or illustrations make the word meanings plain adds color and flavor to this chapter book written mainly in English.
Juana, her Mami, and her dog Lucas have an almost perfect life together. They have a routine and a support group of family and friends that keep them happy. Things start to change when Mami gets a new hairstyle and starts wearing more perfume. The new man in Mami’s life is Luis, an architect. Juana likes him but she doesn’t want things to change, and she doesn’t want Mami and Luis to get married. We learn about Juana’s dad who passed away and about the sadness of not having a father. We share in the characters’ preparations for the wedding and the move. All of this is portrayed sensitively, but also with humor. The illustrations fit the book well.
I learned about a favorite Columbian soup, ajiaco. It is creamy and made of several types of potatoes that cook to various consistencies. It has corn on the cob, capers, chicken, sour cream, and herbs, and is topped with a slice of avocado. The other unfamiliar food to me is chocolate con queso. This special treat consists of hot chocolate with chunks of cheese—chihuahua, queso fresco, or mozzarella. Evidently it is a delight of sweet and salty and is served with bread. I’m ready for a trip to Columbia!
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Candlewick for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Age Range: 5 – 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
Publication: May 14, 2019—Candlewick
The Eye of the North
by Sinéad O’Hart
The Eye of the North is a fantasy adventure tale intended for children in grades three through seven. The interest level would be appropriate for that range and maybe a little higher, but the reading level is too high for most third graders as it contains some fairly advanced vocabulary. It would make a good read aloud with a parent. The chapters are short. Within each chapter, when the two main characters are apart, the story jumps from one character to the other in a well-defined fashion which keeps the plot moving and the reader involved in the action of both characters.
The main character is Emmeline Widget whose parents are immersed in secret scientific research which endangers both them and their daughter. The storyline follows Emmeline’s adventures through apparent abandonment, solo sea travel, kidnapping, attacks and rescues by extraordinary creatures, and near death experiences. Along the way she meets Thing, a most unusual and self-sufficient boy. She saves his life and he repays her by following her north to lands of snow and ice to rescue her.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Knopf Books for Young Readers) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Age Range: 8-12 years
Grade Level: 3-7
Publication: August 22, 2017— Random House (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Even worse, a roaring river ran right at the end of their property, sweeping past with all the haughtiness of a diamond-encrusted duchess.
…her gaze was caught by a dusty head emerging from a grating in the wall. This head—the color of whose hair was impossible to determine—was swiftly followed by a grubby body dressed in overalls. The fingernails of this creature were clotted with dirt and oil, and his—its?—face was smeared with grease. As Emmeline watched, he slithered out of the hole he’d been hiding in, until all of him—and there wasn’t much—was standing in front of Emmeline with a hand held out in greeting.
“Mornin’,” he said “M’names’s Thing. Who’re you?”
The wind was rummaging through his clothing like a pickpocket looking for a payday.
Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport
by Emma Carlson Berne
Many books have been written for middle school students about the Jews in Nazi Germany. In Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport, Emma Carlson Berne shares a piece of their story with children aged 8-12. As a teacher I could certainly see this book also being used as a resource for older students who are reading below grade level as it has an interest level appropriate to them as well.
The physical book is designed with the look and feel of an aging family picture album. There are seven chapters that focus on individual children who were part of the 10,000 children rescued from Nazi controlled areas and relocated to the United Kingdom prior to the beginning of World War II. Their story is told in the third person but from the child’s perspective.
The first chapter begins with a poem “The Leather Suitcase” written by Tom Berman who was saved as a 5 year old child by a Kindertransport. Some background is given as it describes what it must have been like for such a young boy to be separated from his parents for a long trip to an unfamiliar country with a different language, not knowing if he would ever see them again. This chapter captures the reader’s interest immediately.
The next chapter, “From Kristallnacht to Kindertransport,” gives more historical details about the increasing persecution of the Jews and their limited options for survival. Then the book returns to the stories of individual children, ending with a chapter that briefly recounts what happened to each child after the Kindertransport. It might be specifics of their time living with another family, further emigration, or an ultimate career, depending on their circumstances and the source documents available. There is also general statistical information about the 10,000 children of the Kindertransport.
There are study resources at the end of the book. The “Timeline” integrates important historical dates of the war with major events related to the Kindertransport and the seven children whose rescues are detailed in the book. The “Glossary,” of course, defines unfamiliar terms such as “haftarah” and “pogrom” which are used in the book. Next is a page which explains The Kindertransport Association (KTA), whose president was a consultant for the book. The KTA is comprised of the rescued Kinders, as they call themselves, and their descendants. “Read More” lists three more books on the topic for young readers. There is a page of discussion questions to evoke higher level thinking and several pages devoted to bibliography, source notes, and an index.
Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport is a valuable teaching resource, drawing from original sources. The length of the chapters is appropriate for this age level as well as for typical time periods in the school day. It could be used for independent reading or group study, but because of the difficult nature of the subject matter and the age of the intended reader, I definitely suggest adult support. The author handles the ugly reality of Nazi Germany with restraint without hiding the brutal truths of beatings, interments, and death. Being drawn into their stories will be troubling for some youngsters, especially those for whom this is their introduction to Holocaust studies.
I highly recommend Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport as an integrative teaching tool combining reading with social studies, especially history and geography. It abounds with possibilities for discussions to stretch young thinkers to make make new connections and offers opportunities for deep enrichment of vocabulary. Even as an adult, I found the book well written, interesting, and a source of new learning.
This book is scheduled for publication on February 1, 2017.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Capstone Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
As a teacher of early learners, K-2 in particular, I was always on the lookout for useful books for the classroom. I have found one that is great for students to read at home and at school. I am not a fan of the “guided reading” programs currently pushed in many school districts. A large number of the book selections are frankly boring. Reading should be fun! Pedro, First Grade Hero is a book young readers will enjoy. Its anticipated release date by Capstone Press is September 1, 2016, and I highly recommend it! I personally would use it in reading groups and then send it home for kids to enjoy there as well.
Pedro, First Grade Hero
by Fran Manuskin
Pedro, First Grade Hero, is a delightful “chapter book” for early readers. Children usually want to read chapter books like their teacher models for them. Unfortunately most chapter books are just too difficult for them to read independently. Pedro, First Grade Hero, however, comes to the rescue for the beginning reader. It is actually a collection of four stories, all about Pedro. The readability level, length of the stories, and interest level is perfect for first graders as is the focus of each story.
Pedro is a very likable little boy. In the first story, “Pedro Goes Buggy,” Pedro has to find a bug to write about in school. Discussions about the best bug ensue in the classroom and at home. Even his little brother Paco gets involved in the fun. The story has a nice resolution and ends on a humorous note. For the teacher who likes to integrate learning strands, language arts, math and science provide easy tie-ins.
“Pedro’s Big Goal” draws in boys and girls who love soccer. This chapter has “bigger is not always better” as well as “keep trying” as its themes. Children will enjoy the ending and teachers can help them appreciate the play on words.
Most people love a good mystery as do Pedro and his friends who form a mystery club in the third story, trying to find a missing locket and cell phone. Good vocabulary words include sparkle, locket, and chirping.
The final story, “Pedro for President,” teaches Pedro and his friend Katie Woo what is involved in being class president. As they ponder what they have to offer the class, little brother Paco “helps” with the election poster and Pedro creatively turns that effort into a positive. Pedro, who always encourages his classmates and promotes fairness in the election, is the obvious favorite for president.
The illustrations by Tammie Lyon are colorful, appealing, and depict well the characters’ emotions and reactions. Teachers interested in promoting multi-cultural cohesiveness in their classrooms will appreciate the inclusion of children of various backgrounds. At the end of this book are four pages of jokes in the riddle format that will delight first graders.
I would like to thank netgalley.com and the publisher, Capstone Press, for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.