Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Be sure to take time during the long Thanksgiving weekend to savor a good book. It's good to slow down and relish the relaxation reading brings. May you have a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach

Written and illustrated by Melanie Watt
Most enjoyed by squirrel lovers of all ages

I am so thankful for Scaredy Squirrel. He can make me laugh no matter how many times I've read his books. If you're not familiar with Scaredy, make sure you check one of the three Scaredy Squirrel titles out. In 'Scaredy Squirrel', we meet our hero of caution and clean living and find out that he is afraid of everything. Really. But he learns to make adjustments and finds life a little more fun with just a tiny bit of adventure. In 'Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend', making a 'safe' friend is all Scaredy wants. But he discovers that his checklist for the perfect friend needs a little adjusting when he meets a dog.

In his newest adventure, 'Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach', Scaredy Squirrel avoids the beach like he avoids door handles and bungee jumping. Beaches are too dangerous what with all the mobs of lobsters and herds of sea monsters. So he builds his own beach in the backyard. But that beach is missing something - the sound of the ocean. And that can only come from a seashell, which can only come from the beach, which means a trip to the beach, which requires an elaborate plan. Scaredy Squirrel arms himself with his best beachwear (you have got to see the picture of him suited up!) and heads to the beach, only to discover it full of people, which was not part of the plan!! Will Scaredy ever get his seashell?

In this week of giving thanks for the many blessings we have, Scaredy Squirrel is definitely on my list. As a matter of fact, he's pretty high on that list, awful close to chocolate. Once you read one of his books, you'll find yourself thankful for the little guy, too! Don't miss this one!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Give Thanks to the Lord

Written by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
Most enjoyed by all Preschoolers through 2nd graders

Our students are excited. Not only is that big feast called Thanksgiving a few days away, but so it a nice long weekend, starting with early dismissal on Wednesday. Time to be thankful! 'Give Thanks to the Lord' by Karma Wilson, based on Psalm 92, is filled with reminders of why we celebrate Thanksgiving.

The image of a travel trailer pulling in front of a young boy's house opens the story. His excitement is evident in his open-handed wave. Family and friends arrive and hugs are shared all around. Some chilly play time follows for the younger set as they smell the yummy smells being prepared by the older set. When the feast is ready, the family holds hands together to pray, creating a wonderful image in both words and pictures. The warmth of food and family end in a bedtime hug with the final declaration that it is 'so good to give thanks to the Lord'.

I love the illustrations created by Amy June Bates. They perfectly capture the excitement, the happiness, the joy of children being together and celebrating. I love the picture of the kids at the Thanksgiving table. See the little one with a black olive on each finger? What family doesn't have at least one child doing the same thing!

'Give Thanks to the Lord' is a perfect reminder of all the blessings we celebrate at this time of year and from whom those blessings flow! And, check out an awesome interview with illustrator Amy June Bates here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Secret of Saying Thanks

Written by Douglas Wood
Illustrated by Greg Shed
Most enjoyed by thankful readers of all ages

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. What are you thankful for? Sometimes, with the gloomy stories we hear on news reports or read in the paper, it's hard to remember that we have so much and are so blessed. 'The Secret of Saying Thanks' is a wonderful reminder of what we have to be thankful for. We don't always count a clear blue sky as a blessing, or the quiet of the woods. What about our reflection in a still pond or the sunset on a fall day? Reading this book will trigger more ideas of things to be thankful for. You'll realize that the things we have to be thankful for the most are the things that cost us the least or are free. The illustrations are beautiful, well worth savoring before turning the page. My favorite part of the whole book is the last two-page spread showing a family holding hands. The words sum up the book and Thanksgiving so well-

"We don't give thanks because we're happy.
We are happy because we give thanks.'

Very true words indeed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig

Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 2nd Graders

Mercy Watson is sunning herself on the back yard patio when she smells something wonderful. Poking her head through the hedge, she spies some freshly planted pansies in the yard of Baby and Eugenia Lincoln. Taking one bite leads to another and another and pretty soon, the pansies that Eugenia has planted to spruce up the house have disappeared. And so has Mercy. A phone call to Animal Control starts a chain of hysterical events until Mercy ends up back home, along with everyone else, enjoying her favorite snack.

Kids love Mercy Watson. Her stories are read over and over and this newest title in the series is sure to delight. The illustrations are a big reason for the fun. Chris Van Dusen has captured the characters' personalities so well that the book has to be read more than once to catch all of the expressions on their faces. 'Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig' is a delight for readers young and old.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rapunzel's Revenge

Written by Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrated by Nathan Hale
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

Howdy pardner! Pull up a chair 'round the campfire and get ready for a rollikin' tale, 'cuz here's the real story 'bout that wild young lady with the really long hair named Rapunzel.

See, a long time ago, Rapunzel was taken away from her mother, all 'cuz her mama wanted some of that yummy green stuff called rapunzel. The little gal has lived in a fancy villa with Mother Gothel as long as she can remember, but she keeps havin' this dream 'bout people that loved her once. She cain't fer the life of her recall who these people are until one day, she scales the wall of the villa and see's just exactly what's beyond it. Turns out, Ma Gothel has been ruinin' the countryside by turnin' it into mines where's she's put everyone to work. Rapunzel gets thirsty as she's explorin' the outside and decides to get a drink of water and wouldn't ya know, she meets her real mama at the drinkin' well! When old Mother Gothel finds out, she locks Rapunzel up in a tower far, far away from everyone. But this young gal ain't down and out yet! No sir, pretty soon that pretty hair of hers is long enough to use as a lasso to escape from the tower. As if that ain't enough adventure for one lifetime, she ventures off with the help of a handsome wrangler to return home and find her mama again for one happy endin'.

As you can tell, this is the story of Rapunzel but told with a bit of a western twist. Loads of fun to read, this graphic novel version will entice any reluctant reader, both guy and gal. While it looks thick and long, don't be fooled; it's a humdinger of a book wrapped up in a hardcover jacket. If only all fairy tales could be this fun!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Baron Von Baddie and the Ice Ray Incident

Written and illustrated by George McClements
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 3rd Graders

Super heroes are awesome. They stop evil in it's tracks and keep bad guys safely locked up. That's the case with Captain Kapow and Baron von Baddie. No matter what the Baron does, the Captain catches him and locks him up to think about his actions. This works for a little bit, at least until the Baron escapes from jail, which he does every time. Their catch-and-escape routine goes on for quite some time until one day, Baron von Baddie is able to capture Captain Kapow. His dreams have come true! Now he can be as evil as he wants to be! But is being evil fun if there's no one to catch you?

That's some food for thought for the Baron and young readers will delight in the conclusion he comes to. I hope this isn't the last adventure of Baron von Baddie and Captain Kapow!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Got Geography?

The Scrambled States of America
The Scrambled States of America Talent Show
Written and illustrated by Laurie Keller
Most enjoyed by geography fans in 4th through 8th grade

If you've got a 4th grader in the house, by now you're well under way with memorizing the U.S. state names, capitals, locations, and spellings. Want to test it out? Check out Laurie Keller's two books about the states, 'The Scrambled States of America' and 'The Scrambled States of America Talent Show'. Both books will be a good test of your geography skills, if you can stop laughing long enough!

In 'The Scrambled States of America', the states are tired of their current positions on the map. Kansas starts it all, and one by one the states agree that it is time for a change. They meet and decide who will go where. All is fun as the states get to know their new neighbors but after a few days, the excitement of the change begins to wear off. Arizona, who had switched places with South Carolina, doesn't like the effect the ocean waves have on her hairdo. Kansas, who was used to being surrounded by company, is feeling all alone and blue after trading places with Hawaii. Is it possible that their original places are the best places to be after all?

After getting to know each other in 'The Scrambled States of America', the states realize they are so much more than just places on a map. They have depth, they have breadth, they have talent galore! And such amazing talent it is. 'The Scrambled States of America Talent Show' highlights the incredible skills these states have, like Michigan's ventriloquist act or Delaware's awe-inspiring attempt to name all 50 states while jumping on a pogo stick. Honestly, you'll be amazed at the talent we have in the states!
Both of these books are funny, goofy and full of little gags galore. Make sure to read everything on every page because they're loaded with silliness. Great tools for practicing your U.S. geography!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Visitor For Bear

Written by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers through 2nd Graders

Bear does not want any visitors. He has a sign right on his front door that says 'NO Visitors Allowed'. He's a bit surprised one day as he's making breakfast when a small mouse shows up at the door asking to come in for tea. Bear tells him 'NO Visitors Allowed' is the rule but the Mouse is not so easily swayed. As a matter of fact, he keeps popping up in the most unlikely places, forcing Bear to take drastic measures to keep him out. When Bear reaches the end of his rope and finally lets Mouse stay, he discovers that having visitors isn't quite as terrible as he thought. When Mouse leaves as he promised, Bear does all he can to make him stay, forever changing his rule about visitors.
This is a great read-aloud because of the anticipation built into each step Bear takes in making his breakfast. Young readers never know around which corner the mouse will appear. The gentle, watercolor illustrations perfectly capture the expressions on both characters' faces. While 'A Visitor for Bear' is about friendship, it sure shows the benefits of perseverance!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hate That Cat

By Sharon Creech
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

Jack is back. Remember him from 'Love That Dog'? In that book, Jack was learning about poetry from his awesome teacher, Miss Stretchberry. Using classic poems, Miss Stretchberry taught Jack to love poetry and encouraged him to try writing it. Not only did Jack discover he was a pretty good poet, but the poems gave him an outlet for sharing the grief he felt over losing his dog, Sky.

In 'Hate That Cat', another year is here and Jack and Miss Stretchberry are back together. They have moved up a grade, but Miss Stretchberry is still teaching poetry using classic poems. Jack keeps a poetry journal again, but this year he has more to ponder. He's tormented by a cat on his way to school which is why he hates cats. At least he thinks he does until Miss Stretchberry brings her new kitten to class. Jack' s uncle has expressed his opinion of what poetry is and isn't, leaving Jack to ponder the question himself. As Jack listens to the poems Miss Stretchberry reads, he hears their rhythm and beat, feels their cadence and pulse. He plays with rhythm in his own poems, but he still wonders about rhythm for those who can't hear. Slowly, poem by poem, Jack reveals why he's concerned and once again, we learn something about someone very close to Jack that he can only share best through his poetry.

Even though 'Hate That Cat' continues where 'Love That Dog' left off, it can be read and enjoyed on its own. More classic poems are included and used as writing models, making 'Hate That Cat' an excellent book to use with poetry units. Jack's confidence in his writing has grown between the two books and it shows, both in what he writes and in his discussions about poetry with his uncle. The questions Jack asks about the hearing and non-hearing worlds are good for classroom discussions and will stay with readers long after the book is finished. Read what inspired Sharon Creech to continue Jack's story on her website here.

Sadly, there is no reference to Miss Stretchberry's brownies in 'Hate That Cat' . I hope she's still bringing them in once in a while for Jack's class to enjoy as she did in 'Love That Dog'. I wonder how many teacher she's inspired to do the same over the years!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Imagine a Place

By Sarah L. Thomson
Illustrated by Rob Gonsalves
Most enjoyed by readers of all ages

This book is hard to describe and yet it has incredible appeal for anyone looking for something thought provoking. 'Imagine a Place' invites readers to imagine places they have been or someday might be. It asks us to let our imaginations soar, from the night sky to the ocean to mountain tops. To help us, illustrator Rob Gonsalves has created illustrations that meld two images into one. Take a look at the cover image above. Your eye sees houses that appear to be floating in boats, a seemingly ridiculous idea. But as your eye follows the houses to the lower right corner, you discover they are anchored to the ground, surrounded by wooden fences, the same wooden fences that become the boats the houses float in. The image gives us the idea that our thoughts and dreams can soar while the accompanying text asks us to image our ships full of what we know but pointed to a horizon of promise.

You'll find more fantastic images like this one inside the pages of 'Imagine a Place'. It's the type of book you can come back to over and over, seeing or imagining something new each time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


By Gary Schmidt
Most enjoyed by 6th through 8th Graders

'Trouble' is one of the best books I read this past summer, hands down. We've added it to the Zion library collection recently so I thought it would be a good time to reprint the review of 'Trouble' I wrote this summer.

This, I can say right now, is the best book I've read this summer. Yes, there's lots of summer left so I suppose some other book might come along to take it's place, but I doubt it. Early buzz on Trouble has it short-listed for an award, like a Newbery or Printz, but whether it wins an award or not, it's still a fantastic book. 7th and 8th grade book club members take note: 'Trouble' is a title we will want to put at the top of our reading list this year.

Henry Smith's father has always said that if you build your house far away from trouble, trouble will never find you. For years, this has been true for the Smith family. They are one of the oldest families in Blythbury-by-the-Sea, their home, wealth and position in town having been secured by generations of Smith's before them. Oldest brother Franklin is a star athlete in the local high school, a senior destined to carry on the Smith family tradition. He has promised Henry that together they will climb Mt Katahdin in Maine. Henry longs to go to prove to Franklin that he has the guts to do it, to earn the respect he seeks from Franklin. Trouble seems to keep it's distance from the family until one night, when Franklin is out running, he is hit by a car, loses an arm and suffers severe brain damage. Trouble has arrived.

The driver of the truck is Chay Chouan, a Cambodian immigrant from the neighboring town of Merton and a fellow student at Franklin's high school. With Chay's arrest, tensions between the two towns come to a head. But for Henry, watching his brother lie motionless in a hospital bed, the trouble he longs for most is to climb Katahdin himself, to accomplish the goal he and his brother set, the goal his brother will no longer be able to meet. As he prepares for the climb, trouble continues to dog his heels, until Henry and his family finally make peace with it.

I don't want to say too much more about the plot because if I do, I'll give quite a bit of the story away. Trust me - read this book. 'Trouble' will give you lots to think about.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Vowel Family

Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by Kevin Luthardt
Most enjoyed by anyone!

Imagine a world without vowels? Hw wld w rd? Hw wld w talk? (Actually, I'll bet you were able to read those two questions!) That's the problem for Pam and Sam Vowel, a couple who have lots of love but a hard time communicating with each other. It seems something is missing from their conversations, but what? The problem begins to get better with the arrival of twins Alan and Ellen, and even better when another pair of twins, Iris and Otto arrive. At last, it seems like they all can understand one another, especially when baby Ursula joins the family.
As each child wants a pet of their own, the Vowel house feels a little tight. Not to worry because Pam is a master builder. One trip to the lumber store and their problems will be solved. The family arrives at the store ready to shop but where's Otto? The poor boy is lost until Aunt Cyndy arrives to save the day.

'The Vowel Family' is great for young readers who can read pretty well on their own, although it can make for a tricky read-aloud! Enjoy lots of laughs if you try it!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Brooklyn Bridge

By Karen Hesse
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

In 1903, within the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Joseph Michtom's parents have created the teddy bear. Inspired by a cartoon showing President Teddy Roosevelt sparing the life of a small bear cub, Joseph's parents begin making the stuffed bears, getting closer to their goal of living the American dream. Immigrants from Russia, they work constantly either in their failing candy store or on the stuffed bears. Joseph works for them, too, but longs to break away and make a trip to Coney Island, the new amusement park everyone is talking about. With Mama and Papa working such long hours, time off to spend on fun is out of the question.

Joseph fills his time with baseball, helping Mama and Papa, and visiting the Queen, one of his favorite aunts. When the Queen dies, Joseph finds himself without the one person he can confide in. He also discovers that she's been hiding a secret, living modestly so that she can use her money to bring Russian Jews to America to escape persecution. One of those immigrants becomes the help Joseph needs to realize his dream of a trip to Coney Island.

In the background stands the Brooklyn Bridge. Joseph and his family must cross it when they visit the Queen, but underneath the bridge is a world very different from theirs. It's a world of broken and abandoned children who have formed a loose family of sorts. Joseph's world and theirs come together in a way most unexpected.

'Brooklyn Bridge' is a wonderful slice of life in New York at the turn of the century. It is really two stories in one, with the focus alternating between Joseph and the children under the bridge. It may seem at first that the two stories have no connection, and for most of the book they don't. The lives and stories of the children under the bridge are in stark contrast to the love and relative success enjoyed by Joseph and his family. But the two stories eventually merge into a satisfying conclusion at the end.
Great for historical fiction fans, 'Brooklyn Bridge' is one to add to your must-read list.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers through 2nd graders

This is a perfect story to read before you take a walk in the woods. A young bear enjoys the world around him until the first leaf falls. One by one, more leaves join the first, causing the bear to worry. He tries putting them back on the tree but it's just not the same. Feeling sleepy, he gathers the leaves and makes a den for himself. He sleeps on as the winter winds howl until spring arrives and the world welcomes him again.

Simple illustrations highlight the colors of the seasons. The short text makes 'Leaves' a great bedtime story, too. Highly recommended for the last days of fall.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Surprising Sharks

By Nicola Davies
Illustrated by James Croft
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 3rd graders

Sharks fascinate us, don't they? From predator killers to tiny critters that can fit in the palm of your hand, sharks thrill and terrify at the same time. 'Surprising Sharks', one of our Monarch award titles this year, is just the right book for sharing with the youngest shark lover in your house.

Sharks come in all shapes and sizes, from the littlest dwarf lantern shark (6 inches) to the whale shark (39 feet, 4 inches). Try measuring those lengths out on your living room floor to get a sense of just how big, or small, sharks can be. Bold, colorful illustrations show the variety of sharks and draw readers into a shark's world. Factual information is presented on two levels, with the simpler, more general information presented in bold letters while the more detailed information is given in paragraphs of smaller text. The two levels makes the book appealing to a wide range of readers.

Young readers will find that our copies of 'Surprising Sharks' have an extra bonus - a CD that includes music and additional facts. Pop the CD in the car stereo on a road trip and everyone can learn about sharks!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Madam President

Written and illustrated by Lane Smith
Most enjoyed by voters of all ages

Today's 3rd grade read-aloud was Madam President by Lane Smith and it couldn't have been a better choice for today. The kids had already cast their own ballots for president so they were in an election frame of mind to enjoy this fun take on the presidency.

Madam President gets up early and starts her day with an executive order for more waffles, please. Then it's on to press conferences, photo opportunities, kissing babies, negotiating peace treaties and countless other presidential duties. Madam President's duties are based on the real-life duties of a president, but with a wacky spin. Take a look at the cabinet of advisers she's chosen. Mr. Potato Head for Secretary of Agriculture? Silly, but it gets the point across. We had fun trying to decide which secretaries were real and which were made up, although we all agreed that a Secretary of Pizza is one position every cabinet should have!

Regardless of whether it's an election year or not, 'Madam President' is a fun read for all voters and a great addition to any civics collection!