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donnaodonnellfigurski.com - Teacher/Book Reviewer
Teacher/Book Reviewer
Pick a book.
Go ahead! Pick a book. Any book. AND read.

Hi, my name is Donna O'Donnell Figurski.
                                      I love children's books,
                                                               all kinds.
                  BUT, I especially love picture books.
                                      I love to read them.
                                                                    I love to write them.
                      AND now . . . 
                                               I love to review them.


I have authored the column, TEACHER'S PETS on              
SmartWriters.com since 2002.

My reviews have a different twist than do most book reviews I read. I work with a team of elementary-aged school children, called KIDDLE CRITers, who review books with me. We meet about once a month after school to read and discuss newly published children's picture books. The KIDDLE CRITers team consists of about seven to fifteen children ranging in ages from 6 to 12 years old. They
are enthusiastic critics and one section of my online review, called FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers, includes the insightful and sometimes hilarious comments by the children.

             Donna O'Donnell Figurski

    Author, Educator and Book Reviewer

Since I am also a first grade teacher, I design lessons for teachers to use with the books I review. This section is called, TEACHER TALK. I also suggest additional books, as well as two or three websites, which teachers may use to compliment the reviewed book. Of course, there is also my review.

The complete review can be found at SMARTWRITERS.com. Look for TEACHER'S PETS in the sidebar under FOR EDUCATORS. See you there.


If you would like to have your book considered for review by the KIDDLE CRITers review team, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

Although I cannot promise that every book will be reviewed, I will try my best to feature as many books as possible.





Just hopping by to tell you that the new Teacher's Pets Frog logo was created by my friend, Sheryl Lloyd.

OK! so I'm not hopping -- just sitting here absorbing these good books and you can too. There's plenty of good reading where these came from. Keep on scrolling to find a lot of "ribbetting" tales.

Hoppy Reading!

Surrounded with books.
Surround me with books and I'm happy.

Did I say that I loved children's books?

                     I do!

If you look behind me, you will see part of my library. I own more than 2,000 books. AND . . . yes, I have read almost all of them, many, many times.

If you look closely, you will see some of my favorite books from some of my favorite friends.

Let's see . . . there's the GUINNESS RECORD BREAKERS by Karen Romano Young on the floor next to me. If you want to find out about the biggest bubble gum bubble or the tallest sand castle, just open the pages of Karen's book and have fun.

Buried under OLIVIA by Ian Falconer and WHERE DOES THE TRAIL LEAD by Burton Albert and illustrated by Brian Pinkney is my friend, Linda Taylor's book, called THE LETTUCE LEAF BIRTHDAY LETTER. Julie Durrell illustrated the book and the pictures are gorgeous. I love this story about a misunderstanding on Goose's birthday. Shortly after the book was published, Linda visited my classroom. She brought silk lettuce leaves for each of my students. The students gave Linda a gift, too. To Linda's surprise the children had been practicing her story for weeks as a play -- complete with costumes, scenery, and props. It was a great day! I'll never forget it. I don't think the students will either.

Can you tell which book I am reading? I'll give you a hint. She's not a crayon. Yep! It's an Amber Brown book written by Paula Danziger, illustrated by Tony Ross. This book is called GET READY FOR SECOND GRADE, AMBER BROWN and it's just perfect for my first grade students. I love all of Paula's books, and I own a lot . . . not all of them, but those shelves behind me are sagging in the "D" section. Now, Paula is writing books for early readers. My class loves them. I love them. AND . . . Paula, Dear, I love you for it.
book errol 9780823422623

Errol and His Extraordinary Nose
Written by David Conway
Illustrated by Roberta Angarama

Publisher: Holiday House
ISBN: 0823422623
Ages 4-8

Review and Lessons Plans by Donna O'Donnell Figurski

Talent shows can be fun … especially, if you have a talent. But if you are “talentless” as Daisy mentioned in the KIDDLE review, then a talent show can make you lose sleep. It can definitely be stressful. When the principal announced a school-wide talent show, Errol was at a loss. What could an elephant do for a talent? His classmates hopped right in to choose their talents. It was easy for the chameleon. Changing colors and blending into the environment is pretty neat. Birds just naturally sing and of course, singing is a great talent. Errol tried many things. He tried to juggle and to dance, but both of those talents were not suited to Errol. Can you even picture an elephant dancing … or juggling for that matter? There is something to the adage – What doesn’t beat you, makes you stronger. Errol did not let being “talentless” get him down. He would not be defeated. Errol set out to find a talent. And find one, he did! Just perfect for an elephant like Errol.

FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“There once was an animal named Errol,” said Tala.

“Errol is an Elephant,” said Colin.

“One day Errol’s school announced a talent show,” said Daisy.

“The principal announced it,” announced Lucy.

“All the animals in the school had a talent,” explained Colin.

“Except for Errol,” reminded Daisy.

“Then it was recess and everybody was bragging about what they could do,” Tala said.

“Except for Errol,” Daisy said again.

“I think Errol’s classmates were too braggy,” stated Colin with dislike.

Callie nodded and said, “Errol was glum because he didn’t have any talent.”

“That means sad,” explained Abby.

“Errol was terrified, too,” said Colleen.

“So, he tried to find a talent for the talent show,” said Brayden.

“But he could not find it,’ said Abby.

“It was awful,” Kiko said.

“He tried juggling,” said Jimmy, “but his nose was in the way.”

“Everyone teased Errol,” said Colleen.

“Because they thought he was ‘talentless,’” exclaimed Daisy.

“And all the animals thought that Errol’s nose was silly,” said Kiko.

 “That made Errol very, very sad,” said Abby. As an afterthought she said, “When I was in a talent show, I was nervous.”

“If I were in a talent show, I would ride my bike,” said Michelle.

“My best talent would be playing my violin or maybe singing a song that I made up,” decided Callie.

Lucy began to laugh. “If I were in a contest, I would be … flabbergasted,” she said.

“Flabbergasted!” Mikaela repeated with a laugh.

“I like the way the author makes the words sound excited,” said Colin.

Then Mikaela flipped through the pages and pointed at the word. “I think the book about Errol uses very interesting language,” she said, “… like flabbergasted.”

Colin laughed, too, and then said, “When Errol went home his dad gave him a book … a book called Elephants.”

“His dad told him that everybody has a talent,” said Caden.

“So Errol read the book all about elephants,” said Tala.

“And he learned facts like an elephant can live to a long age, his nose can reach far, and it can even spray,” said Abby.

“Errol noticed that his trunk was extraordinary,” said Lucy.

Daisy’s head bobbed up and down. “The most interesting part was about the nose of an elephant,” she said. “Errol found out that his nose was very versatile. Versatile means really useful,” she explained.

“That night he felt better,” said Jimmy with a smile.

“Then he drifted to sleep … along with his black cloud,” said Caden.

Colin was smiling, too. “Because Errol found out what he could do,” he said.

“That’s why the dark cloud moved away,” said Caden and seemed relieved.

“Then it was the day of the talent show,” said Kiko.

“At last it was Errol’s turn,” said Jimmy.

“When Errol went on stage, everybody loved him,” said Tala.

“And the cloud over Errol was gone,” said Colleen. “All gone!” She was smiling. “Errol found out his nose was handy.”

“Errol surprised everyone,” said Brayden, “because he did have a talent. He had a nose like no other.”

“The crowd went wild,” said Lucy. “Errol won and it was obvious that he was the best.”

“First place!” said Caden.

“I think his dad was proud of him,” said Brayden.

“I’m sure he was happy that Errol took his advice and showed everyone how talented he was,” explained Callie.

“I bet you Errol was proud of himself, too,” said Brayden.

“He was happy,” Mikaela said with a nod, “because he discovered he had lots of talents.”

Lucy started to giggle. “I wish I were an elephant,” she said. Everyone giggled with her.


Everyone Loves Elephants: Language Arts/Writing/Science

Everyone loves elephants. They are amazing creatures. They are fascinating to watch at the zoo. I expect they would be even more interesting to watch in their native habitat. Though they are large, cumbersome animals, their size is deceiving. Elephants are fast and very, very smart. After visiting several of the fact sites included below, have your class list as many elephant facts on paper. They can work individually, in teams, or in small groups. When they have gathered enough facts, have them meet as a group to consolidate and record as many elephant facts on chart paper as possible.

Give each child a paper with the letters E L E P H A N T listed vertically. (one letter per line) Have them list an elephant fact that begins with the initial letter one each line to make an acrostic poem.










Eat grass, branches and bark from trees

Live in the grasslands of Africa

Elongated nose searches for food.

Poaching hunters endangers elephants

Herd - a group of about ten or more elephants

Always protect their young from danger

Natural foods like bark and branches are its diet

Tusks and teeth are very strong


Everyone Has a Talent! Language Arts/Self-Esteem

Kids love to act out and I don’t mean in a naughty way. When I was a kid I loved to build a tent stage with chairs and blankets. It was fun to perform all kinds of silly antics for my parents. I called it acting. I’m not sure what they called it, but at least they laughed in the funny places.

Have a talent show in your own classroom. Ask the children to think about what they may be good at. Some will know immediately – the precocious, outgoing kids. It may take some urging for the shyer bunch. And you may have some children who will be like Errol and insist that they have no talent. But everyone has talent. I had one child in my class, who was also a KIDDLE CRITer at one time; who could stick his tongue out so far it reached the tip of his tongue. True! I made him do it lots of times. Now that’s a talent! Encourage the children to think about their special attributes. Then set up some chairs in the front of your room, drape them with a blanket, and you have your own special stage. Break A Leg!


(Although I examined these websites and found them to be very helpful, please use them at your own discretion.)

African Elephants: Photos, Video, Facts, E-card, Map …

Science Kids: Elephant Facts – African, Asian, Wild, Food, Interesting Information

Facts About Elephants

Kids Talent Show Ideas


Ella Sets the Stage by Carmela and Steven D’Amico

Chicken Dance written by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Dan Santat

The Scrambled States of America written and illustrated by Laurie Keller

Elephants of Africa written by Gail Gibbons

Baby Elephants written by Bobbie Kalman


book 3 travelineye_jkt-261x300

My Travelin’ Eye
Written and Illustrated by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 0805081690
Ages: 4 to 8

Review and Lessons Plans by Donna O'Donnell Figurski

Each year thousands of children are prescribed eyeglasses. Nearly every year a child in my class gets them. For many it’s a crisis. Children want to fit in and be like their friends. Many times glasses set them apart. So the kids do the only things possible. They lose their glasses or they break them. My brother, Jack, had about two pairs of glasses before my mother gave up. He didn’t care that his eyesight was fuzzy and blurry. He simply didn’t want to wear glasses. He’d stash them in a tree when he was playing football and forget to take them home.

Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, author of My Travelin’ Eye, did not want to wear glasses either. She was afraid to go to the doctor with the very long name - ophthalmologist. I would be too. But Jenny Sue’s mother took her anyway. After many eye tests, Doctor Dave told Jenny Sue that she had a L-A-Z-Y eye and it needed to be awakened. He gave her B-I-G red glasses and an eye patch to wear on her good eye. He said it would strengthen the muscles of her lazy eye. Jenny Sue still did not want glasses. She did not want an eye patch either. She was so sad she cried herself to sleep.

But Jenny Sue’s mom had an idea. Jenny Sue and her mom set to making “fashion patches” for Jenny Sue’s eye. How creative! They made a pumpkin patch and a rainbow patch. They made a ladybug patch, a target patch, a flower patch, and an underwater patch with fish and floating kelp. Jenny Sue’s school friends thought her patches were awesome. They even wanted to wear eye patches, too, but too bad. They did not have a note from Doctor Dave.

Jenny Sue finally got rid of the eye patch. Her eye muscles strengthened and her eye wasn’t lazy anymore, but she still had to wear her B-I-G red glasses. So what do you think she did?

FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“Once upon a time there was somebody named Jenny,” said Daisy.

“She was a girl with a lazy eye,” explained Juliana.

“I think it would be weird having a lazy eye,” proclaimed Caden.

Daisy nodded. “When Jenny was born, someone whispered, “She’s got a wandering eye.”

Diego tried to roll his eyes. “It looks everywhere,” he said.

“Right!” said Mikaela. “Jenny can look two ways at the same time.”

“Jenny called it her traveling eye,” said Daisy.

“Hmmm, when I was born I had a traveling eye,” Caden said. “When one eye was looking one way, my other eye was looking the other way. Or one was looking up and the other eye was looking down,” he explained.

“When Jenny went to school, the teacher thought that she was not looking,” said Colin.
“Maybe she was. Maybe she wasn’t,” he rationalized.

“And some kids made fun of Jenny,” said Tala.

“I feel bad for Jenny because she was called names” said Callie. “I would feel really unhappy if that happened to me,” she added.

“The teacher sent a note home saying that Jenny had to go to the doctor,” said Caden. “But, Jenny Sue didn’t want to go to the doctor.”

“If that happened to me,” said Lucy. “I would go to the ophthalmologist.”

“But Jenny was nervous,” said Colleen.

 Jimmy agreed. “She cried herself to sleep,” he said.

“Jenny’s eye had no control,” said Abby. “So … she went to the ophthalmologist.”

“To get a checkup,” explained Colin.

“ And he gave her glasses,” said Juliana.

“Big glasses – red ones,” said Caden. “And she got a patch,” he added.

“But Jenny didn’t like the idea of covering her good eye,” said Tala. “It was really hard to see the board and the words on it. It would be hard to read.”

“And also if they had reading time – a read-a-loud thing - she might say the words wrong,” said Daisy.

“So Jenny made a fashion patch,” said Juliana. “Her mom told her to make it.”

“Her mom was smart,” said Jimmy.

“Yeah!” said Callie.  “I think that Jenny Sue and her mom are creative because they created the fashion patch … and the fashion glasses.”

“So that Jenny Sue didn’t have to feel bad,” said Juliana.

“Jenny was very creative about the fashion patches,” said Callie. “She showed everybody at school.”

“They were cool,” said Lucy.

“All the kids wanted one,” said Caden. “If I needed a patch, I would want a cookie one.”

“I would want a Brownie patch,” announced Callie.

“If I had a fashion patch, it would be flames,” said Diego.

“I have glasses,” said Juliana.  “And it feels good to have them because they are new.”

“I don’t want to wear glasses. I think the kids would make fun of me,” said Caden.

 “No one makes fun of me,” said Juliana and I could make a design on my glasses,” she added.

“I would be sad if I had a lazy eye,” said Callie. “But it would be awesome to make a fashion patch and have fashion glasses.”

“I think if I had a traveling eye, I would like it because I would have something that practically no one else has,” said Abby.

“It’s like a gift,” explained Juliana.

“I would be different from everyone else,” continued Abby. “I would be unique and I would like that.”

Daisy had a big grin on her face. She really got it! “What makes you really different,” she said. “… is what makes you special too.”


Fashion Glasses or Fashion Patches: Language Arts/Writing/ Self-Esteem/ Social-Awareness

More than half of all Americans use some form of vision correction. Maybe we aren’t eating enough carrots. Maybe technology has become better honed to diagnose and correct eye problems more swiftly. Whatever the reason, it’s a fact that children are a large portion of that statistic. Even though, it can be traumatic for a child getting his or her first pair of glasses. To raise awareness with your students about peoples’ differences and to make them more accepting and sensitive of these differences, try the following activities with your class.
  • Before reading My Travelin’ Eye by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, have children write a short paragraph about how they would feel if they had to wear eyeglasses or an eye patch.
  • Meet as a group and have children read their pieces to the class.
Read My Travelin’ Eye by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw to the class.

Fashion Glasses:

  • Have children make Fashion Glasses. Set out a variety of pipe cleaners of many colors.
  • Have children use as many as they need to design a pair of fashion glasses.
  • With a little glue add feathers, gems, or glitter to decorate your glasses.
  • Use this site to get ideas. How To Make Kids' Glasses  
  • Have them wear their glasses in school for about a week
Fashion Patches:
  • Have children make Fashion Patches:
  • Precut circles out of cardboard, construction paper, or blank index cards into two-inch diameters. (Using fleece or felt fabric will make more permanent eye patches.)
  • Paper punch a hole on each side of the patch.
  • Children may decorate their patches using crayons, feathers, gems, or glitter.
  • Attach enough pipe cleaners to each side of the patch to circumnavigate the child’s head.
  • Use this site to get ideas. MYI Occlusion Eye Patches
  • (For safety reasons, it is best to have the children not wear the patches for an extended period of time.)
  • After children have worn the glasses for about a week, have them write a short paragraph about how they NOW feel if they had to wear glasses or an eye patch.
  • Again meet as a group.
  • After the children read their paragraphs, lead them in a discussion about how their views may have changed.
(Although I examined these websites and found them to be very helpful, please use them at your own discretion.)

Four Eyes Can Be Fabulous
Twinkle and Eyenstein: How to take care of your eyes
Kids’ Health – Topics 0- Eyes – Wearing Glasses
How Do I Stop Teasing?


The Patch written by Justina Chen Headley; illustrated by Mitch Vane
Arthur’s Eyes written and illustrated by Marc Brown
Princess Peepers written by Pam Calvert; illustrated by Tuesday Mourning
I Need Glasses: My Visit to the Optometrist written by Virginia Dooley; illustrated by Stephanie Roth
Paul Needs Specs written by Bernard Cohen; illustrated by Geoff Kelly (See previously reviewed book at http://donnaodonnellfigurski.com/content/view/125/10/)

Special Note: You can visit Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw at her website Dancing Elephant Studio .
listen to the wind72324379

Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea
Written by Greg Mortenson
Illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
ISBN: 0803730586
Ages: 4 to 8

Review and Lessons Plans by Donna O'Donnell Figurski

If folks took time to listen to the wind, imagine what they might hear. When Haji Ali told Greg Mortenson to listen to the wind, Greg was confused. All he wanted to do was help the people of Korphe. After all they helped to heal him when he stumbled off the mountain he was climbing in northeastern Pakistan into their tiny village. Greg didn’t understand how listening to wind could help them. But, he took Haji Ali’s advice anyway and soon he heard the voices of young children.

Greg knew the children of Korphe had no school. Korphe was a small village and could not afford a school or to pay a teacher full time. A teacher came to their village only three times a week.
The children studied outside, under the trees and used sticks to write in the dirt. Hearing the happy, learning voices of the children on the wind gave Greg an idea.

He vowed to build a school for the children of Korphe.

For me, sitting in the canyon surrounded by the Taos, New Mexico mountains and watching clouds flit through the blue sky, the wind brings the sound of swishing leaves, chirping crickets and the hum and the buzz of hummingbirds. I hear the footfalls of my granddaughter as she runs through the gravel - destination unknown. As I sit quietly, I wonder if I truly take the time to listen to the wind what messages it might bring to me.

Many times our busy lives … grocery shopping, carpools, doctor appointments, and everyday errands stop us from appreciating the simple things in life. The shape of a cloud, the smell of a sunflower, the erratic behavior of a lizard can all bring such joy, but too often we don’t even notice them. Haji Ali’s idea was a good one and I’m going to try to do as Greg did. No, I am not going to build fifty-seven schools, but I am going to listen to the wind. Who knows what it may bring!

FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“There once was a poor village,” said Daisy.

 “Korphe,” said Caden, “… in the mountains of Pakistan.”

“A stranger came,” said Juliana.
“He was cold and thirsty,” said Caden.

“He was sick,” explained Daisy.

“The villagers gave him tea. He was from America,” said Juliana.

“Dr. Greg,” said Tala wanting to tell his name. “He climbed a mountain and almost died - but he didn’t.”

“He looked very, very sick,” said Lucy. “So the people helped him to get better.”

“After he got stronger, he wanted to help the people of Korphe,” said Caden.

“He asked what he could do for them,” said Tala.

Juliana nodded. “He wanted to pay them,” she said.

“Greg found a man named Haji Ali,” said Diego. “Haji Ali said, “Listen to the wind.”

“At first Greg didn’t understand what Haji Ali meant,” said Mikaela.
“Dr. Greg thought Haji Ali was crazy,” said Juliana with a giggle. “But he did listen to the wind.”

“He closed his eyes,” explained Tala.

“Then Greg heard children,” said Diego.

“There were a lot of kids in Korphe,” said Abby.

“And there was no school there,” said Juliana.

 “Korphe needed a school,” exclaimed Lucy.

“Before the school was built,” said Abby, “Children learned by drawing in the dirt.”

Lucy nodded. “They used dirt as paper and sticks as pencils,” she said.

“Can you imagine writing on the ground?” asked Brayden. “It wasn’t fair for the Pakistan kids because they could only learn a little each day. We have five days of school, so we have more time for education,” he added

Lucy’s eyes widened. “It’s a true story!” she said.

“But I can’t believe that the teacher only stayed there for three days a week,” said Brayden.

“I don’t think it was the teacher’s fault,” said Mikaela. “I don’t think it was anybody’s fault. They didn’t have enough money to pay the teacher,” she explained.

“So Dr. Greg went back to America to get tools,” said Juliana.

“And he came with loads of wood,” said Abby.

“Then all the kids helped him to make the school,” said Lucy.

“He built the school for the children to learn,” said Abby.
“It was generous of Dr. Greg to build a school for the people of Korphe. He knew how they felt without a school,” said Lucy.

“If I were a kid in Pakistan and I was writing in the dirt, I would be sad not to have my own school to learn in,” said Callie.

“It would be a really hard way to learn,” interrupted Mikaela.

“… And I really like to learn,” said Callie.

“But now they have a new school and they have paper and pencils,” said Mikaela. “So they can learn much more.”

“Dr. Greg made more than fifty-seven schools,” announced Juliana.

“Can you believe that?” asked Brayden. “That’s amazing – isn’t it?”

“Greg is a person who really cared about the people,” said Mikaela.

Tala agreed. “I think that Greg was really helpful to the Pakistan people,” she said.

“Greg helped all of those people,” said Juliana. “I think the lesson of this story is to be thankful for what you have,” she added.

Abby nodded. “The children in Korphe were really lucky that Greg was climbing a mountain that day.”


It’s Just a Penny: Social Studies/Math

What is a penny worth? Not much in today’s standards unless you live in a country like Pakistan. Then a penny can buy a pencil. A collection of pennies can pay a teacher’s wages. Pennies can provide education for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Dr. Greg Mortenson began a program called Pennies for Peace. He wanted to help children in Central Asia. Some schools in the United States heard of Dr. Mortenson’s project and they wanted to help. You can help too.

  • Read and discuss Listen to the Wind with your class.
  • Tell them about the Pennies for Peace Program.
  • Have children brainstorm how they could earn pennies to donate to the children of Central Asia. (earn money doing chores around the house – setting table, take out trash, baby-sit)
  • Be sure to send home a letter to parents to explain why the children will be attempting to earn money (or breaking into their piggy banks).
  • Then put out a big jug in the classroom and start collecting.
  • When all pennies are collected, have children count the coins in groups of ten.  Then have them make groups of fifty. Next roll the pennies into penny wrappers before taking them to the bank to trade for bills.
  • Write a class letter about what activities the children engaged in to help earn money for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • Send the donation and the letter to Dr. Mortenson at the Pennies for Peace organization.
  • Feel good about helping children less fortunate than you.

Dream On: Language Arts

Most people have dreams. They want to help the homeless, find a cure for cancer, or lose five extra pounds. Some may wish to walk on the moon, win an Academy Award, or write a best selling novel. Others may want to get married, have children, and live happily ever after. All are good dreams. All are goals to obtain. Some are harder than others. Greg Mortenson had a dream. He wanted to build a school for the children of Korphe. It was a huge dream. It seemed near impossible, but he put his mind to it and he made it happen.

Most of the time we turn our backs on our dreams because they seem hard and unattainable. But step-by-step and with fortitude, patience, and persistence most dreams can be found.

  • After reading and discussing Listen to the Wind with your class ask the children to identify Greg’s dream.
  • Then have them name all the problems that Greg encountered while trying to build a school.
        No money
        No lumber, tool, or building supplies
        Had to build a bridge to bring building supplies to Korphe
        People had to carry the lumber across the bridge
  • Next have children work in small groups to dream up dreams. They can be real or hypothetical. (get an A on the spelling test; hike across America}
  • Have each group make a plan explaining how it can accomplish its dream.
  • Have the children plot their ideas on paper.
  • Give each group time to share their plan with the class.

(Although I examined these websites and found them to be very helpful, please use them at your own discretion.)

Pennies for Peace
NEA - Students Build Schools for Kids in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Listen to the Wind 2 Minute Statement by Greg Mortenson


Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan written by Jeanette Winter
Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan written by Tony O'Brien and Mike Sullivan; photographs by Tony O'Brien
P Is for Pakistan written by Shazia Razzak; photographs by Prodeepta Das
Nadia's Hands written by Karen English; illustrated by Jonathan Weiner


That Cat Can’t Stay
Written by Thad Krasnesky
Illustrated by David Parkins

Publisher: Flashlight Press
ISBN: 0979974658
Ages: 5 to 7

Review and Lessons Plans by Donna O'Donnell Figurski

I can totally understand the father in That Cat Can’t Stay. That would be my view too. I am not a cat lover. I do admit, however, that the cats were cute … on paper … within the confines of the pages of this book, but no cats for me … thank you. No dogs for that matter either or rabbits or mice or birds. Well, I did have a bird when I was a child and a turtle, too, but those days are over.

I admired Mom’s wily and crafty ways as she perfected her skill of wrapping Dad around her finger. That mom tugged on his heartstrings. How could Dad possible put a cat out in the rain? And that poor calico – it was going to starve to death, wasn’t it? Surely, Dad couldn’t send it to the hereafter on an empty stomach. And anyone would help a cat that was hit by a car … like the ginger kitty was. Even I would do that.

So what was Dad supposed to do? Of course, he did what any good dad would … he allowed the cats to stay until the rain stopped, until the kitty was properly fed, and until ginger kitty’s leg mended. That Mom … she was a clever one! She sure was! She knew what she was doing. And those cats just stayed and stayed and stayed even though they scratched Dad’s knees, carried fleas, and ate his cheese. Poor Dad!

Thad Krasnesky and David Parkins team up to make a very funny book, which will have children cheering Mom on. Kids will have fun joining in on the repetitive, rhyming parts, too. And they just might learn a little about using reverse psychology … on their own parents.

FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“There’s a family and Mom found a cat,” said Tala.

“It was a broken cat,” said Caden.
“Then she found one cat in the rain,” said Daisy.

“And Dad said, ‘Well, we’ll let that cat stay, but not for long,’” explained Juliana.

“Mom was bringing cats back every single day,” said Caden.

“But Dad did not like cats,” said Abby.

“They carry fleas,” said Caden sticking up for Dad.

“And they scratch his knees,” explained Brayden.

Juliana nodded. “Dad probably got hurt from cats,” she said. “Then Mom would rescue another cat and Dad would say, ‘That cat can’t stay, but Mom brought the cat home anyway,’” said Juliana.

“Maybe she just took the cats because she had no one to talk to,” said Lucy.

Callie shook her head.  “What Mom really wanted was to have a cat – lots of them,” said Callie. “But I bet she was just making Dad crazy for all the cats she was finding and saving,” she added with a giggle.

“Dad always said, “Well, we’ll let that cat stay, but not for long,” said Juliana.

“But … Dad, said, “Well!” said Diego as he drew out the word to sound like this, w-e-e-e-e-l-l-l. (And then the cats always stayed.)

“Mom was trying to trick Dad to keep the cats – as many as she could find. She would give him a reason so she could keep the cat, but he said, ‘No’ and she still kept them,” said Tala.

Brayden nodded, “Mom got all the cats by using psychology,” he said.

“Reverse psychology,” proclaimed Daisy.

“Reverse Psychology is like … you can trick someone,” said Tala.

“To get what you want,” said Juliana. “There was a lot of reverse psychology in this book.”

“I think the Mom was pretty smart,” said Mikaela.  “She kept going with what the father said so he would feel guilty and then she could keep the cat,” she explained.

“Mom was trying to convince Dad,” said Lucy.

Caden shook his head. “But Dad wants the cats outside,” he said.

“I like how the mother uses reverse psychology to get what she wants,” said Juliana. “The mother is really, really good at doing that.”

“I wish my mom would do reverse psychology … on my dad,” said Lucy with a smile and a giggle.


A Cat Is: Language Arts/Science

Cats are cute. They can be loving and mysterious. Their fur, soft and downy, makes you want to tickle them. They can be sneaky, too, and pesky; and they are definitely finicky eaters. There are so many words to describe cats. Make an A to Z list with your class to list all the words they can think of to describe them. I’ve listed a lot below to help you. (Sorry, I couldn’t think of descriptions that begin with X. If you think of any, let me know.)

A    active, affectionate, alert, athletic, almond-shaped eyes,
B    black, brown, bushy-tailed,
C    calm, curly hair, curious, cuddly, claws
D    domestic, downy-coat
E    ears, energetic, even-tempered, eyes, easy-going,
F    furry, friendly, fluffy, feline, fussy, finicky
G    green-eyed, glossy, golden, gentle, graceful,
H    hardy,
I    inquisitive, independent
J    jumpy
K    kitten
L    long-haired, lively, loving, litter box, lazy
M    mellow, mysterious, meow
N    nervous
O    orange eyes,
P    playful, plush, proud, purr, pets, pesky, picky
Q    quiet, queenly
R    ruddy, racy, restless
S    soft, spotted, short-haired, scary, silky, sleek, sweet, slinky, sneaky
T    tail, temperament, tan, tufted ears, tufted toes,
U    ugly, upbeat
V    velvety
W    wild, whiskers, white,
Y    yellow, yawning
Z    zesty, zippy, zappy, zany

Name a Cat: Language Arts/Writing/Science

First have children name as many cats as they can think of.  Start with the ones from the book That Cat Can’t Stay. List them on a chart.


Add others.

Main Coon

Then have the children use the list from the lesson above to construct Acrostic Poems. Acrostic poems use each letter in the topic word as the beginning letter of a new word to describe the topic. See examples below.

Use this site for more information on writing acrostic poems.
Acrostics for Children

C ats can be
A thletic
L oveable,
I nquisitive, and
C ute with
O range eyes

C ats are
A ffectionate and
L ively. They can be
I ndependent and
C uddly and sometimes
O rnery

P layful
E nergetic
R are
S hort-haired
I nquisitive
A ffectionate
N ervous

(Although I examined these websites and found them to be very helpful, please use them at your own discretion.)

CFA: For Kids About Cats
Math Cats
Cats and Kids
Cat Breed Descriptions


I Always, ALWAYS Get My Way written by Thad Krasnesky; illustrated by David Parkins
Dewey: There's a Cat in the Library! written by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter; illustrated by Steve James
How Many Cats? written by Lauren Thompson; illustrated by Robin Eley
The Best Cat written and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev
If You Give a Cat a Cupcake written and illustrated by Laura Numeroff

Bullies Never Win
Written by Margery Cuyler
Illustrated by Arthur Howard

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
ISBN: 0689861877
Ages: 4 to 8

Review and Lessons Plans by Donna O'Donnell Figurski

You know them. We all do. Those kids who like to boss other kids around. The ones who like to scare little kids and take their toys. The kids who exclude other kids from their games and make them feel unwanted, insecure, and sad. I guess it makes them feel tough. But, really, those kids are the ones who are insecure. They are the ones who are afraid. They are … the bullies.

Bullies may be in your neighborhood. They may try to run your school. You might even have a bully in your classroom. The boy who accidentally-on-purpose knocks into your desk making your books and pencils and crayons scatter along the floor. He’s a bully. Quickly he’ll say, “Sorry,” but you know he doesn’t mean it. And before he turns away, you can see his grin. Or maybe it’s the group of cool-looking girls who giggle every time you walk to the water fountain or get on line or answer in class. They are bullies too. They pretend to be your friend, but whom are they kidding? They think they are so sly. Then there are the kids who won’t let you join in their games or call you names or make fun of the way you look, talk, or dress. They are bullies. They all are!

Brenda Bailey was the bully in Jessica’s life in the book, Bullies Never Win written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Arthur Howard. Brenda seemed to be everywhere. For sure, she was in Jessica’s head. Brenda turned Jessica into a constant worrier. Jessica worried about her own knobby knees and her mismatched socks. She worried about making a goal on the kickball team and even doing her homework right. Simply put - Jessica was afraid.

That’s what bullies do! They instill fear in their victims. They want them to be afraid. Jessica was afraid that Brenda would make fun of her, that she would embarrass her. Bullies make you feel insecure. They like to call other kids nasty names too. Somehow that makes them feel better about themselves. Who knows why! Brenda called Jessica – Toothpick. That name made Jessica miserable. Jessica sat in her bedroom. She couldn’t sleep at night. She had a stomachache and didn’t want to go to school. Not good!

Jessica was afraid to tell her parents. She was afraid to tell her teacher, Mr. Martin. Finally, though, Jessica took her teacher’s advice. She tried to ignore Brenda but that didn’t work. Jessica’s friends told her to stand up to Brenda. But would you want to stand up to a bully? Not me! I’d run the other way. In the end, though, Jessica had no choice. She had to face Brenda and that was not easy. One day Jessica looked Brenda in the eye and said, “Bullies never win!” And you know something … Jessica is right! In the end they never do win.

I think Jessica was brave. What would you do?

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters .

The King's Taster
Written by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson
Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 0060753722
Ages: 4 to 8

Review and Lessons Plans by Donna O'Donnell Figurski      

There are so many jobs in the world. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, mail carriers, firefighters and police officers are most common. Ask any six year old child and chances are one of these jobs will pop up. So will nurses, football players, and astronauts. I've never heard of any child, though, aspiring to become the king's taster. Most have never heard of this desirable profession, I'm sure. I know I never had until I read The King's Taster written by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.

Being the king's taster sounds enticing, though, doesn't it? Everyone knows the king eats the best food - cheese pies and rose puddings and syllabub, whatever that is  - all fit for a king. So being the king's taster seems like a yummy kind of job. Who wouldn't want to get paid to eat?

Max, the chef's dog, was the king's taster and he loved his job. Max ate the best food in the kingdom. But there is a drawback to every good job and the downside to Max's job was life threatening. Max tasted the king's food before the king ate it to be sure that it was not poisoned.

When the new “boy” king was enthroned, something went wrong … terribly wrong! The new king refused to eat the chef's masterpieces. Of course, Max didn't mind; he still ate his share and more. But what if his owner, the chef, lost his job? In desperation Max and the chef searched the world for new recipes - pizza, tacos, French fries. No king could resist those - could he? He could … and he did until his secret was discovered. Peek into the king's crown.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters .

Baby, Baby Blah Blah Blah!
Written by Jonathan Shipton
Illustrated by Francesca Chessa

Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
ISBN: 0823422135
Ages: 4 to 8
Review and Lessons Plans by Donna O’Donnell Figurski

When Emily learned that she was no longer going to be the only child, she started making lists. That’s what Emily does. She makes lists for everything … especially when her life turns upside down. I totally understand. I am the queen of list-making. It helps to keep my life in order. I guess it helps Emily too.

Emily’s lists showed the pro and cons of having a baby brother or sister. Babies are soft and “snuffly.” That’s good. You can feed babies mushy foods. Yum! Yum! You can tickle them and swoosh them through puddles. Fun! But what about when they cry? Everyone knows that babies cry for everything. They cry when they are hungry, when they are tired, and when the unthinkable happens … diapers. They really bawl then.  Peeeew!

It wasn’t, though, until Emily thought about the baby taking her place in her family that she got really worried. What would happen to her world when it was baby this and baby that; when everyone went gaga for the new baby? What happened when they forgot about her?  It was bound to happen. She knew it! It would be baby, baby blah, blah, blah -- all the time.

Baby Baby blah, blah, blah! written by Jonathan Shipton and illustrated by Francesca Chessa is a fun book that will help to ease the fears and anxieties of many youngsters who find themselves in Emily’s place. (And many of us did at one time in our lives. It happend to me four times.) It will help reassure children that they will always be special in their parents’ lives, even though there may be new “babies” on the way. No … that was not a slip. Twins! Emily’s worries just doubled.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters.

Sand to Stone and Back Again
Written by Nancy Bo Flood
Illustrated by Tony Kuyper

Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing
ISBN 1555916570
Ages: 4 to 8
Review and Lessons Plans
Donna O'Donnell Figurski

Our world is in constant change. Sometimes it is obvious as hurricane winds rip trees from their roots or lava slides down the side of a mountain, or an earthquake sends gigantic tsunami waves to flood and engulf entire villages. But much of the time the earth’s changes are not visible, though we know with the passage of time that they have occurred.

Sand To Stone And Back Again written by Nancy Bo Flood and illustrated by Tony Kuyper shows how the earth is changing and it all starts with a grain of sand. One tiny grain of sand joins with one more and more and yet another and over time a majestic mountain is formed. Minerals in the rocks bring out their stunning colors. Pinks, oranges, and vivid purples drape the rocks in beauty as depicted in Slot Canyons in Page Arizona, the beautifully, photographed book by Andy McDonough.

Weird and, sometimes, eerie rock formations can be formed, too, as the sand crystals join together. The giant mittens in Monument Valley in northern Arizona are one example of this. Wind and water can carve rocks into mesas, buttes, or spires. It was water that formed the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Tony Kuyper’s illustrations are engaging, while Nancy Bo Flood draws readers in with her poetic words. The two mesh together to form this very informative book, which may change your way of looking at sand and stone.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters .

I Need My Monster
Written by Amanda Noll
Illustrated by Howard McWilliam

Publisher: Flashlight Press
ISBN 9780979974625
Ages 4 to 8

 Review and Lessons Plans
Donna O'Donnell Figurski

Every kid has had a monster under his bed at some time or another, or maybe it was a monster hiding in the closet or stuck in a drawer or trapped under the blankets. But it was there – somewhere – and it was scary. No doubt!

Monsters aren’t real – or are they? In the mind of a small child, monsters can be very real. I remember a long, white, flowing monster in my bedroom when I was about eight. It didn’t help that I lived across the street from a funeral home. I thought a ghost escaped. But it was only my curtains flapping in the night breeze. My mother tried to reassure me. My father said that monsters weren’t real.  But I knew ... it was a monster.

Ethan had a monster too – a long-clawed, ragged-breathing monster that oozed green slime. His monster was perfect. Ethan and his monster lived in harmony, until one day his monster went fishing leaving Ethan all alone. How was Ethan to live without his monster? How was he going to sleep? Ethan did what he had to do. He searched for another monster.

Ethan found monsters with names like Herbert and Ralph. He found a blue monster with a purple tongue. He found monsters with nail polish and pink bows. He even found a yellow-spotted, girl monster. But none of these monsters were Ethan’s monster. He needed his monster! The rest simply were not scary enough.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters.

Stanley’s Beauty Contest
Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Bill Slavin

Publisher: Kids Can Press
ISBN-10: 978-1554533183
Ages: 4 to 8

Review and Lessons Plans
Donna O'Donnell Figurski

There’s the Miss America contest and the Miss World contest. There’s even a Mr. Universe contest for all those bodybuilding men out there. There are beauty competitions for children, too, but did you know that there are beauty contests for dogs?  Well, actually there are. In fact, Porterhouse recently won the title in the bulldog contest. The judges weren’t looking for the most beautiful dog. No! They were looking for the dog that drooled the most or had the biggest bowed legs or the most bloodshot eyes. Now that’s something to aspire to! I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are also beauty contests for Chihuahuas . . . dogs with names like CoCo or Kiki or Pepito who, adorned in ribbons and bows, strut down the platform to the delight of their owners. Seems like wearing a pink tutu might be a little embarrassing . . . even for a dog.

In Stanley’s Beauty Contest, written by Linda Bailey and illustrated by Bill Slavin, Stanley is just an ordinary dog -- a mutt really. But to his owners, he’s special. When Stanley’s people entered him in a beauty contest, Stanley was out of his element. No amount of bubbles or baths or banana shampoo could transform this dog into a beauty queen.

Stanley didn’t place in the other contests either. It’s not because he didn’t try . . . he did. But Stanley was not fast enough. His best tricks weren’t good enough and his puffed-up fur and best doggy grin simply couldn’t win him the prize. But, how could he resist the delicious smell of the dog-bone cookies wafting through the air? He only wanted a nibble. So what was Stanley to do?

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters.

The Day Leo Said I Hate You!
Written by Robie Harris
Illustrated by Molly Bang

Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
ISBN-10: 0316065803
Ages: 4 to 8

Review and Lessons Plans by
Donna O'Donnell Figurski

As a kid I hated when my mom said, “NO!” “Can I go outside to play?” I’d ask. “No!” she’d reply. “Can I stay up to watch King Kong on the late night movie?” Again, “No!” she’d answer.  “Can I have ice cream? Please! Please! Please!”  “No! No! No!” That was always her answer. Why did she always have to say, “NO?”

I remember thinking when I grow up and have a little girl or a little boy, I will never, ever, ever tell them, “NO!” Well, I did have a girl and a boy, too, and . . . it didn’t take long to break that promise. When my daughter wanted to invite every one of her twenty-four classmates to her birthday celebration, I had to say, “NO! Didn’t I?” And when my son wanted to keep the stray field mouse he found, in a five-gallon fish aquarium on the kitchen counter. I had to say, “No!” again. (To tell the truth, though, I did let him keep it for about a week before we transferred it to the other side of the reservoir.) I knew my kids hated when I said, “No!” But what’s a mother to do?

It’s no wonder Leo’s mom said, “No!” She didn’t want him to feed string beans to the goldfish or squeeze toothpaste down the toilet or draw on his bedroom wall. What mom would? She had to say, “NO!” And, of course, I’m not surprised that that made Leo mad. That’s the way kids are.

The Day Leo Said, I HATE YOU! by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Molly Bang rings true for both kids and their parents . . . who, by the way, were once kids, too. I’m sure memory lane will open, as parents read this book to their children and remember some of their silly requests, which were, of course, denied by their parents.

My little girl has children of her own and now she says, “No!” And I bet that when her daughters have their children, they will, too. It’s a never-ending cycle.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
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The Worst Best Friend
Written by  Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Publisher: Scholastic Press
ISBN-10: 0545010233
ISBN-13: 978-0545010238
Ages: 4 to 8

Review and lesson plans by
Donna O'Donnell Figurski

A best friend is someone special. He is someone you can always count on. She is someone you can share your most private secrets with and know that they are safe. Your best friend is the person who is always there for you, no matter how bad things may be. So when your best friend finds another best friend, he or she becomes your worst, best friend. That’s what happened to Mike in Alexis O’Neill’s new book entitled, The Worst Best Friend.

Mike and Conrad did everything together. It was Mike and Conrad, Conrad and Mike all the time. They loved to read together. They had lunch together and played all sorts of games together. They were inseparable friends until the new kid came to school. Then the equation changed. Then it was Conrad and Victor! Mike was left out -- alone and unhappy.

It’s happened to me. I bet it’s happened to you, too.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters

Smelly Stink Bugs
Written by Meish Goldish

Publisher: Bearport Publishing Company
ISBN-13: 9781597165808
Ages: 5 - 9

Review and lesson plans by
Donna O'Donnell Figurski

Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!  They are just about everywhere. There’s one crawling up my arm. Another just flew by my nose. Some bite. Some sting. Some pinch. Some look downright disgusting. Of course, to be fair, I am not looking at it from a fellow bug’s perspective. One bug may look beautiful to another bug. And . . . some even look beautiful to me.

The delicateness of a praying mantis is exquisite. The colorful, patterned wings on a butterfly look dainty. Ladybugs look like they are ready for a ball dressed in their red, black, or orange shiny, spotted gowns. And the firefly, the light of the night, is enchanting. It’s probably my favorite. I remember trying to count fireflies, as they flickered in the hot summer evenings, when I was just nine. There were tons of them in Erie, Pennsylvania where I grew up. Oh the magic!

They are more than a million species of bugs in the world. Now that is a lot of bugs! Some scientists even think there are a lot more. Take the smelly stink bug for example . . . can you believe there are more than 4,000 kinds of stink bugs? And . . . they all smell bad. But, there’s a very good reason for it. Their bad smell keeps them safe. They not only smell bad, but they taste bad too. Predators stay away from stink bugs.

Meish Goldish, author of Smelly Stink Bugs, shares all kinds of interesting facts about stink bugs with his readers. Did you know that stink bug moms can have five hundred babies at one time? Did you know they use their long beaks to eat? They suck juice from fruits or dead bugs. Yum! I mean . . . Yuck! I think it’s really strange though that stink bugs have no noses. I wonder if that is so they don’t have to smell themselves. Meish signed my book, “Stink bugs stink, but good books . . . don’t!”  So, go ahead. Pick up Smelly Stink Bugs . . . the book, I mean.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters

Little by Little
Written by Amber Stewart
Illustrated by  Layn Marlow

Publisher: Orchard Books
ISBN-10: 0545061636
Ages: 4 to 8

Review and lesson plans by
Donna O'Donnell Figurski

Did you ever want to get something done quickly?

Little by little by little . . . that’s how to accomplish something BIG. Well, that’s a reasonable way to think about it. Of course, I am always too impatient. I want results . . . yesterday. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

I want to be fluent in Spanish. I bought the books and listened to the tapes. I practiced for a week or two, so why can’t I understand my neighborhood grocer? I remember when I was about eight years old; my parents gave me a beautiful, blue two-wheeler bike. I also remember my skinned knees, my tears, and wishing I could ride like my best friend. She never got scraped knees. Why does everything take so long to get? Why is it so hard to accomplish? I guess the key is patience and persistence and a lot of hard work . . . one step at a time, or in Otto’s case . . . one stroke at a time.

Otto wanted to swim. That’s what otters do. All his friends were swimming. They were having fun. It looked easy . . . but not for Otto. He tried. He really did! He even pretended to swim by running quickly on the riverbed floor. His mother told him not to worry, he would learn. His sister encouraged him, too. But when his sister told him to start small, that’s when big things happened. Otto hopped. He kicked. He floated. He practiced and practiced and practiced and to his surprise he was able to swim from riverbed to riverbed. Soon Otto was jumping off the highest-ever rock into the deepest-ever pool just like his friends. Hmmm, maybe I need to take a lesson from Otto. I better hit the Spanish books again and take it one chapter at a time. And little by little, with patience and persistence, I just may be able to talk to the grocer on the corner.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters

Rosie and Buttercup
Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch

Publisher: Kids Can Press
ISBN-10: 1553379977
Ages: 3 to 7

Review and lesson plans by
Donna O'Donnell Figurski

It’s as old as time. It’s happened to me and I’m sure it’s happened to you . . . unless, of course, you are an only child. Sibling rivalry rears its ugly head in almost all families. Oh, Rosie, no doubt, loved her little sister, Buttercup. She couldn’t wait for her to be born. She couldn’t wait to have her as a playmate. She wrote songs for her and played the silly sock game with her. But, as Buttercup grew older, Rosie’s sisterly loved waned. She grew tired of Buttercup’s demands, her noise, her “stuff” strewn all over the room. Sometimes Rosie just wanted to be alone. Rosie was furious when Buttercup almost freed Eenie and Meenie, Rosie’s prize crickets, from their cage. What was Buttercup thinking? So, it was no surprise when Rosie decided to give her little sister, Buttercup away. Wouldn’t you?

But Rosie didn’t expect a funny squeezy feeling to fill her chest as she left Buttercup with Oxford, the babysitter, who lived down the street. And that squeezy feeling just wouldn’t go away . . . no matter how hard Rosie tried to squeeze it out. Rosie didn’t expect to miss Buttercup, but she did! The talcum powder scent reminded her of her pesky little sister. So did the silly socks hanging out of the dresser drawer. Rosie knew what she had to do. She filled her pillowcase with her sun-dried dandelion puffs and set Eeenie and Meenie’s cage on top of Buttercup’s stroller and trudged off to Oxford’s house. She had to get Buttercup back even if it meant giving away her favorite things in the entire world. Rosie hoped that her treasures would be a good trade for her little sister.

Well, I never gave my sisters away, nor my brothers for that matter, but I can relate to how Rosie felt. Little siblings can be pests sometimes. But, if you can wait . . . long enough for them to grow up, you may just have a friend for life . . . and you won’t have to give away your stash of sun-dried dandelion puffs.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters

seeing red 9781404839533

Seeing Red: The Planet Mars
Written by Nancy Loewen
Illustrated by Jeff Yesh

Publisher: Picture Window Books
ISBN: 978-1-4048-3953-3
Ages: 7-12

Seeing red, makes me think of strawberry licorice, a fire engine racing down the street, a ladybug, a plump, juicy tomato, and, of course, Mars. Mars the fourth planet from the sun is called the “red” planet.  And there’s a good reason for that. Its soil contains the reddish metal called iron. Mars can be seen in the night sky from Earth with the naked eye. It’s our neighbor.

Mar’s landscape is similar to that of Earth. It has rolling hills, canyons, and mountains. It has north and south poles and they are cold, really cold. But, then most of the planet, Mars, is cold. It is pretty far from the sun, you know. Its temperature can be as cold as minus eighty degrees. Brrr! I’m not packing my swimsuit for a vacation there anytime soon. And even if I did, it would be a pretty lonely time. Scientists believe there is no life on Mars—at least they haven’t found any yet. So, all those stories you might have heard about aliens or Martians . . . well don’t believe them.

But, you can believe the cold, hard facts that you read in Seeing Red The Planet Mars written by Nancy Loewen and illustrated by Jeff Yesh. You can believe that Mars has many dust storms and that it is a very bright light in the night sky. You can believe that two moons, called Deimos and Phobos orbit Mars. You can believe that a Martian day is just thirty-seven minutes longer than an Earth day, but a Martian year is nearly twice as long as an Earth year. Go ahead believe!

And if you ever hear about Marslings or Earthtians . . . well, that’s a different story. Keep an open mind and ask any of Mrs. Figurski’s Kiddles.

This review can also be seen on: Smartwriters .


A Day With No Crayons
Written by Elizabeth Rusch,
Illustrated by Chad Cameron

Publisher: Rising Moon
ISBN: 0873589106
Ages: 4-8

What do wild watermelon, tropical rain forest, dandelion, and neon carrot have in common?

Think pink . . . and green and yellow and orange. Think colors! When I think of colors, I think of fruit and vegetables. I think of the hundreds of color strips in the paint store. I think of bundles of yarn balls nestled on craft store shelves. And . . . I think of crayons.

The thought of crayons hurtles me back to memories of being six again. I think of the little yellow box filled with eight crayon colors, standing so tall. I remember their warm, waxy smell, and the soft and shiny feel of those slender sticks of magic. And, when I tug at the edges of my mind, I can uncover the utter disbelief of a day with no crayons. Truly unbearable! So, it’s not hard to understand Liza’s despair when her mother takes away her bucket of crayons . . . all because she drew a beautiful mural on her bedroom wall. Imagine!

But, Liza was not thwarted for long. Color was the essence of her being, and she soon realized that her world was as colorful as her crayons.

As Liza wandered through her neighborhood, she discovered the hues of brilliant orange tiger lilies, deep purple blackberries, laser-yellow dandelions, jungle-green blades of grass. Somehow each color smears itself on her pant legs, making them a rainbow delight. Hmmm!

Liza also discovered that a muddy, brown stick and an old, red brick could color her world, too. She used gray-green pebbles to make an ocean and pink rhododendron petals to create a glowing sunset.

As Liza crawled into bed that night, she surrounded herself with even more color . . . outrageous orchid and magic maize pillows. Her pink and blue blanket on her purple bed, her red skis and striped scarf and black and white soccer ball all flooded Liza’s world with color. What a world of color Liza discovered the day her mother took her crayons away!

Look for a complete review of this book at SmartWriters .
farmer cap 9781404831391

Farmer Cap
Written by Jill Kalz
Illustrated by Sahin Erkocak

Publisher: Picture Window Books
ISBN: -13: 9781404831391
Ages: 5 to 7

Farmer Cap . . . to say he is a little strange, a little off-center, and a lot eccentric is being kind. He is like no farmer I have ever met. Of course, you can count on half a hand the number of farmers I know. But, I’ve read the Farmer in the Dell and he seemed kind of normal, except, of course, for letting the cheese stand alone, but that is a whole other issue.

Actually, Farmer Cap’s weirdness is what makes him stand out among farmers. It’s what makes him so funny and so interesting and so, so lovable. While other farmers plant corn and tomatoes, green beans and potatoes, or pumpkins and watermelon, Farmer Cap plants Popsicles and spaghetti. Now if he could only grow chocolate chip cookie-dough ice cream or malted-crunch chocolate bars . . . YUM!

What I love about Farmer Cap is not his green flip-flops or the funny feather poking out of his cap, his knobby knees, or his silly grin, but his innovative, curious, quirky mind . . . and his strength. I love his strength and his confidence--his belief in himself. When all his farmer friends looked on with skepticism and doubt, Farmer Cap stood his ground! He didn’t let his fellow farmers dissuade him. He didn’t let his fellow farmers discourage him or stand in his way. Farmer Cap had conviction! Farmer Cap reminds me of two other characters, named Suki and Monique, whose books are also reviewed in my column called, Teacher’s Pets. (See below) Farmer Cap also reminds me of a character named, Kanona Prattsby, (my book, not yet published) who with her gumption, strength, and determination changes a whole town to make it a brighter and more fun place to live. She and Farmer Cap would make a great couple. Put their minds together and who knows what to expect. They just could make the world a nicer place.

Farmer Cap, Suki, and Monique (and hopefully someday Kanona) are gifts to young readers. They shout be yourself. Stand up for what you believe. Don’t be afraid to think for yourself. Be strong!

And so, hats off to you--I mean . . . Caps off to you, Farmer Cap! And if you ever feel like growing jelly beans or chocolate mint cookies or sour cream/onion potato chips or grape soda pop, or piping hot buttered popcorn, or . . . well, you get the message . . . call me!

Look for a complete review of this book at SmartWriters .

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A Little Peace
Written by Barbara Kerley
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Book
ISBN-13: 978-1426300868
Ages: all ages

Peace—a simple word that packs a lot of wallop. For me peace is a comfortable place, a quiet space, the absence of car motors, the hum of air conditioners, or the whir of the refrigerator. Peace is being curled up by the fireplace with a good book or lying in the sand at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, California. Peace is feeling the warmth of the sun or marveling at the millions of stars twinkling in the night sky of Taos, New Mexico. Peace is stilling my mind.

For many war-torn countries, peace is an illusion, a memory of times gone by. Fighter planes fill their skies, landmines explode with an unexpected step, bombs whistle by night or day. The heart can’t find peace when the mind is filled with fear. In the mid sixties, Jackie De Shannon sang “What the World Needs Now.” She sang of love. She could have been singing of peace. And, the world does need peace! It saddens and horrifies me to know of all the children born under the bomb, who have never known peace in their lives.

Peace, so hard to achieve and so illusive can start with just a smile, a nod, a wave of the hand, says Barbara Kerley in her new book entitled, A Little Peace. Signs of peace can be found anywhere . . . in the marketplace, at the beach, at school or at play. The pictures from around the world . . . Albuquerque, New Mexico, Fengdu, China, and Kabul, Afghanistan were some of the more touching photos depicting peace. My favorite was the four-year-old girl with face uplifted in song from a neighbor state of Ohio.

Give a smile. Get a smile. Wave a wave. Reach out and spread a little PEACE!

Look for a complete review of this book at Smartwriters

Fix-It Duck (Board book)
Written and illustrated by Jez Alborough

Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers
ISBN-13: 978-1933605302
Ages: 1-8

Fix-It Duck is no ordinary duck. He means well, but whenever he is near—LOOK OUT! Bad luck seems to follow this duck. When a drop of water falls into Duck’s tea—that’s bad luck. When Sheep’s window won’t close—that’s bad luck. Sheep’s jeep’s flat tire is bad luck, too. But, when Sheep’s house rolls into the pond, that’s the toughest luck of all.

Fix-It Duck doesn’t seem to mind, though. He’s oblivious of the havoc he leaves in his wake. He’s a jolly guy and only wants to be of help to his pals. But a friend like Fix-It Duck can be a little hard on a friendship. Sheep, Goat, and Frog sit on the shore of the pond looking devastated as Fix-It Duck, with hammer in one hand and tool kit in the other, plunges into the water to fix Sheep’s upended, soggy mobile home, which is mobile no more! Thanks to Fix-It Duck!

With a simple drip of water in a teacup, a lot of duck bad luck, some funny rhyme and a brilliant palette, Jez Alborough created a very funny book. And though I love Fix-It Duck, if I ever see him heading to my house, I am going to pull my blinds and lock my door tight. Sorry Fix-It Duck! I’m calling Handy Andy, my favorite fixer-upper.

Look for a complete review of this book at Smartwriters


Written by Meish Goldish

Publisher: Bearport Publishing Company
ISBN 13: 978-1-59716-369-9
ISBN 10: 1-59716-369-4
Ages: 6-12

When I think of gorillas, I think of wild, jungle beasts. My guess is that most folks do, too. Gorillas are massive animals. Some males stand as high as six feet and weigh as much as six hundred pounds. That’s a lot of gorilla! Though gorillas are intimidatingly huge and look rather fierce, most gorillas are peaceful, non-aggressive animals, unless provoked, of course.

They live in the lowland rain forests or mountain cloud forests of central Africa. Gorillas live in family groupings much like humans and they are very social creatures. In Meish Goldish’s book, entitled Gorillas, you can learn so many facts. He tells how Diane Fossey, an American zoologist, studied gorillas for nearly eighteen years. She went right into the jungle and did just what the gorillas did. She scratched her head, beat her chest, made their sounds and even ate the same foods they ate . . . like leaves and twigs. Gorillas also eat rotten wood and small animals, but I bet that Fossey didn’t go that far. I know I wouldn’t . . . even in the name of science. But, she did gain their confidence, which allowed her to study these giant mammals.

Goldish tells how Binti Jua, a gorilla who lives in the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, saved a three-year old child who fell into her cage. He tells how Bongo, a Columbus Ohio Zoo gorilla, grieved when his partner, Bridgette, died and how he cared for their young son, making the infant’s bed of hay each night. Goldish also writes about how Koko, a gorilla who lives in the San Francisco Zoo, learned sign language using (ASL) American Sign Language. She can sign more than 1,000 words and understands more than 2,000 words.

Say no more, Meish Goldish has convinced me that gorillas are intelligent, sensitive, and caring animals. But, he also frightened me. No, not of six hundred pounds of gorilla, but that the gorilla species has become endangered. There are only about 740 gorillas alive today. Now, that’s a scary thought! Poachers encroach upon gorilla habitats and capture and kill them for their meat, called bushmeat, and they use their body parts for souvenirs. That’s an even scarier thought.

You can see these gentle beasts in their natural habitat in the Bwindi Forest National Park in Uganda by booking one of their many safaris. If you can’t go in person, then click on Gorillas to view a video by Tanya Petersen to see gorillas doing what gorillas do. Me? I’ll be going to the Erie Zoo in a few weeks and heading straight to the gorilla exhibit to see Samantha—the Queen of the Zoo.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters

written by Steven L. Layne
illustrated by Ard Hoyt

Publisher: Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.
ISBN: 1-58980-392-
Ages: 0-5

                                       “Help me love the baby!” “Help me love the baby!”  Everybody said it. Mama said it. Papa said it. Even Nana said it. Can you believe Nana said it too? Little Rabbit was happy when Baby came home from the hospital. Who wouldn’t be? Little babies are pretty exciting, especially when you’ve waited for nine months for that little brother or sister to arrive. Most children think  - instant playmate! But when Baby came home from the hospital on that day that the flowers were blooming, Little Rabbit realized that the Baby was no playmate – no playmate at all! He couldn’t do anything - unless you counted crying. He did that plenty well. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Mama and Papa and Nana, yes, even Nana, gave Baby all of their attention. So what would you expect? How could Little Rabbit love the baby? Jealousy abounded! Frustration swelled! Anger overwhelmed! His world turned upside down when his new baby brother arrived.

I’m the oldest of four younger siblings, so I am an expert on sibling rivalry. My world turned upside down four times, so I understand exactly how Little Rabbit was feeling. You would think I would have gotten used to it, but I didn’t – well . . . not until the last baby arrived. I was a lot older too, already thirteen, when my youngest sister, Sanner, came home from the hospital. I think my maternal instincts were in place by then and I loved having her around – still do! I think Little Rabbit’s tender instincts were aroused when late one night no one heard Baby crying – but he did. When he tiptoed into Baby’s room and tummy-tickled him just like Mama had tummy-tickled him when he was a baby, and when he sang the scrub-a-dub song to Baby and Baby sang along, and when Little Rabbit read his very favorite book to Baby and Baby fell softly to sleep, Little Rabbit knew he didn’t have to pretend anymore. Little Rabbit knew that he really did love the Baby! And what’s more – he knew Baby loved him, too.

Look for a complete review of this book at Smartwriters.com


written by Dotti Enderle and Vicki Sansum
illustrated by T. Kyle Gentry

Publisher: Flashlight Press
ISBN-13 9780972922586
ISBN-10 097292258X
Ages 4-8

For five hundred dollars, Lizzie imagined the exquisite tree house she could buy. For one thousand dollars, she could buy a small boat with her own name engraved on both the front and the sides. Imagine -- the S. S. Lizzie!

As Mrs. Bradley Larchmont the Third raised her offer to buy Lizzie’s Grandpa, who was sleeping peacefully and unaware (or maybe not so unaware) on the old Louis XVI settee in Oldman’s Antique Store, Lizzie’s mind went crazy -- a new Lavender Dream Bedroom Set for five thousand dollars, her very own ice cream shop, with every flavor ever made, with chocolate chips, and sprinkles and hot fudge for ten thousand dollars. It was mighty tempting, but Lizzie said, “No Deal!”

As Mrs. Larchmont raised the money for Lizzie’s Grandpa, her offers became more and more difficult for Lizzie to refuse. Lizzie was torn as she imagined all she could buy with that money. But when, through gritted teeth, Mrs. Larchmont said her final offer was fifty thousand dollars, Lizzie dug in her heels and insisted that Grandpa was not for sale. After all, what fun would a tree house, a boat, or even an amusement park be without Grandpa there to enjoy it with her. I have to agree with Lizzie. There is no amount of money to replace a grandpa.

I remember when I was in college; I lived with my grandparents in McKeesport, Pennsylvania for two months, while I waited for a dorm room to open up. Although the commute was fifteen miles to Pittsburgh every day -- each way, via walking, bus, train, and then more walking, I loved it! It was a great time! Living with my grandparents was the best!  My grandpa, I called him Poppy, treated me like a princess. (So did my Gram!) There is nothing like a grandpa . . . and I have to say it again, “There is no amount of money to replace a grandpa,” . . . or a Poppy either.

In Grandpa For Sale written by authors, Dotti Enderle and Vicki Sansum and illustrated by T. Kyle Gentry, Mrs. Larchmont certainly figured out that Lizzie’s Grandpa was not for sale, but I can’t help but wonder if she ever realized that money cannot buy everything. It can’t buy health or friends. It can’t buy which way the wind blows, or when the sun shines. And as Paul McCartney and John Lennon and the Beatles sang so many years ago, “Money can't buy me love!” But the even greater music in Grandpa For Sale was the sound of the cash register on the last page when Lizzie pushed the big red button– Ding!  NO SALE!

HEY, did I see a twinkle in Grandpa’s eye?

Look for a complete review of this book at Smartwriters.com


Harriet Tubman Hero of the Underground Railroad
written by Lori Mortensen
illustrated by Frances Moore

Picture Window Books
Ages 5-9

Everyone loves a hero! Someone to look up to! Someone who can do superhuman things! Someone who accomplishes deeds that you wish you could!

Superman was a hero, a comic book hero, created by Siegel and Schuster in 1938. Mighty Mouse came on the scene only four years later, in 1942, with the imagination of I. Klein. Mighty Mouse’s refrain, "Here I come to save the day," brought hope to many a distressed cartoon character. As a child I loved Nancy Drew. She was my hero. I couldn’t get enough of her. She was self-confident. She was feisty. She was courageous and brave and honest and independent and strong. She wandered haunted mansions and traveled deep, dark tunnels to find truth; and I read every book I could l lay hand to. Rosa Parks was a hero in 1955. She changed the way our country viewed black people. Her refusal to give up her seat on a bus resulted in a Supreme Court ruling, which said that segregation on buses was unconstitutional.

Harriet Tubman was a hero, too, and Lori Mortensen and Frances Moore give readers a glimpse into her world as they depict the timeline of Harriet Tubman’s life in their very touching, yet poignant book titled, Harriet Tubman Hero of the Underground Railroad.

Imagine being whipped because a baby in your care cried! Imagine yourself as the caregiver and you, only five years old. Imagine life as virtually a prisoner, without bars, living on a plantation in the Deep South! Harriet Tubman didn’t have to imagine. That was her reality! That was her life. But when Harriet was about thirty years old, she escaped from her life of slavery - on the Underground Railroad.

You might imagine that Harriet would be happy enough to be free of the South, but she couldn’t forget the horrors of life as a slave. She also couldn’t forget her family, still enslaved by the masters of the great plantation. So Harriet returned to the south nineteen times more to lead 300 slaves to freedom, including members of her family.

Yes, Harriet was a hero. She was a super woman. She “came to save the day” for many black people. She was strong and brave and courageous as she traipsed through the darkness of night, mile after mile, leading - guiding her passengers (slaves) to freedom on the Underground Railroad. She paved the way for Rosa Parks, too. Yes, Harriet Tubman is a hero, but she is not only a hero of the Underground Railroad, she is a hero for all people all over the world. She made a difference!

Look for a complete review of this book at Smartwriters.com


written by Nancy Loewen
illustrated by Sara Gray

Picture Window Books
Ages 7-10

Conjunctions may seem like pretty insignificant words. You can’t get an image of them like you can with other words, like . . . baby OR teddy bear OR a warm summer day at the beach, BUT conjunctions play a very important role in our language.

They NOT ONLY join single words together, like . . . liver AND onions, BUT ALSO connect two sentences together. They join clauses, too, BECAUSE it sometimes makes a sentence sound better. NEITHER nouns NOR verbs could ever take the place of a conjunction, ALTHOUGH I’m sure they would like to. Conjunctions are like glue. They hold thoughts in sentences together.

You might think conjunctions are mighty helpful words AND you would be right. Though they are usually pretty small words, they are busy words with very long names -- Connector, Coordinating, Correlative, Subordinating. BUT, don’t let their names scare you. Just pick up If You Were A Conjunction written by Nancy Loewen and illustrated by Sara Gray. Ms. Loewen, with her fun sentences AND Ms. Gray, with her silly illustrations will make learning conjunctions fun.

Look for a complete review of this book at SmartWriters.com.

written by Etta Kaner
illustrated by  Marie Lafrance

Kids Can Press
ISBN: 978-1-55337-842-6
ISBN: 1-55337-842-3
Ages 4 – 7

Snow tumbling from the sky
Flakes big and small.
I wonder why they’re whirling by?
I wonder where they’ll fall?

Snow flakes, snowballs, snow angels, snow forts and snowmen, or to be politically correct snow people, make up the wonderful world of snow. When snow falls, it can turn the most drab looking neighborhood into a magical place – a winter wonderland. But what is snow? Fluffy white stuff that tumbles out of the sky . . . Yes! Slippery, "slidey" stuff that blankets the ground and makes it hard to walk . . . Yes!  But, it’s oh so much fun for children to play in. Oh so much fun for them to toss in the air and feel its wetness, its coldness on their faces, to feel it melt on their tongues. Snow can light up a night or it can turn the world silent, as flakes gently glide to the ground. It can rage - only as a blizzard can rage - and shut your world down.

Who likes the snow? That’s a good question. It can be answered in so many ways. Children like it. Skiers and snowboarders like it. Sometimes I like it, too, as I watch the flakes drift, swirl, dance through the air as they make their way from cloud to earth. As long as I can stay toasty warm behind double-paned windows with a fire dancing in the hearth behind me, then I like it. Some folks are not so fond of snow, and why would they be, as they inch along the highway at ten miles an hour or as they rub their aching backs after shoveling pounds of the heavy white stuff from their walks and driveways. That’s no fun.

WHO LIKES THE SNOW, written by Etta Kaner and illustrated by Marie LaFrance, examines all good reasons to like snow, but Ms. Kaner adds an extra dimension to her story by asking the “I wonder” questions. Questions that children everywhere are always wondering about. I wonder why it snows? I wonder what a snowflake looks like? I wonder where the snow goes when it melts? These are just some of the questions that are answered in this book. Lift the flap to find the answers to all kinds of snow mysteries and maybe you can think up a few  “I wonder” questions of your own. Go ahead try it. On the next snowfall, sprawl out in the snow, sweep your arms and legs back and forth and create your own personal snow angel. Then let your mind drift to the wonders of snow.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters

Tudley Didn't Know
Tudley Didn't Know

written and illustrated by John Himmelman
Sylvan Dell Publishing
ISBN: 0976494361
Ages 3 – 8

Peter Pan believed he could fly. The Little Engine believed that she could pull the toy train over the mountain. Many people believe in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and some folks believe in fairies. (If you believe in fairies, then clap your hands. I’m clapping and I hear a lot of other clapping hands, too.) Believe!

Tudley believed! Well not in fairies or the pot of gold, but he did believe in himself . . . or was he just naïve? Either way, his belief or his naiveté opened a whole new world to him.

Sometimes if you think you can’t do something – you can’t. BUT, put a positive spin on it, and you may find you can do just about anything you set your mind to. Tudley didn’t know that turtles couldn’t fly or hop or sing or make their tails glow. It never crossed his mind. And so he did fly and hop and sing and he made his tail glow, too, though his turtle friends shook their heads in amazement and disbelief.

Tudley made a lot of interesting friends – ones you might think a turtle wouldn’t have . . . I mean if a turtle really does have friends. There was a hummingbird, I have a particular fondness for hummingbirds, and so I was glad to see her in the story. There was a firefly and a tadpole and a frog, and even a katydid. Tudley helped them all when they found themselves in trouble. So it was no wonder that when Tudley found his world suddenly turned upside down, literally upside down, as he was trapped on top of a rock pile and didn’t know what to do, his friends were there to help him. Tudley knew how to help his friends, but he was at a loss to help himself, until his friends showed him how. He just had to believe in himself . . . and that’s what Tudley does best.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
written by Daphne Skinner
illustrated by Jerry Smath
Kane Press
ISBN: 1-57565-163-7
Ages 5 - 7

You’re a pal! or What a pal! – two great sayings – comforting sounds. Having a pal IS a comfort. It means having a special friend -- someone that really likes you. It means not being alone, though there’s nothing wrong with being alone, and I even enjoy it at times. But, for most Kiddles there is safety and comfort when being with a pal. It means being one of the gang, the group. It means having someone to do something with. It doesn’t matter what . . . climb a tree, swing on a vine, read a book together. It doesn’t matter what; it’s the “being” together part that feels good.

The kids in Palapalooza, written by Daphne Skinner and illustrated by Jerry Smath, knew that, too. They liked being together, but when January came around and all the holiday fun was over, it got boring. So, Carter and his friends decided to find something to perk up their days. They tried to invent a new holiday. They tried Pet Awareness Day and that was great fun . . . until it wasn’t – when the pets did not cooperate. Slobfest had great potential, too – eating with your hands, wearing dirty clothes, sleeping to noon, yep, great potential . . . until the moms brought it to a halt before it even began. Chocolate Fest! Now that’s my kind of holiday, but you can just imagine what went wrong there.

So, when Eva thought up Friendship Day – a day to honor her friends, Carter, Denzel, Meg, and George agreed. What a great idea to celebrate “Friendship” each year. Those friends really stayed connected. High Schools celebrate friendship with reunions every few years and I go to mine as often as I can, but wouldn’t it be fun to have grade school reunions, too -- or how about nursery school reunions? Can you imagine seeing your four year old friends all grown up and, well . . . acting like grown ups?

Friends are like your favorite childhood teddy bear. They may get old and raggedy, a little worn around the edges, but they are always there to love. My best friend and I met in Colorado just last month. It was like I had seen her yesterday, and we acted it, too – all giggly and talky, talky, talky. So, I’m all for a holiday called Friendship Day, and I think we should celebrate it every month.
“Where should we meet next month, Trish?”

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Camilla Chameleon
									written by Colleen Sydor
									illustrated by Pascale Constantin
Camilla Chameleon
written by Colleen Sydor
illustrated by Pascale Constantin
written by Colleen Sydor
illustrated by Pascale Constantin
Kids Can Press
ISBN: 1553374827
Ages 4 – 8

Cream of Tomato Soup, Cream of Broccoli Soup. . . Yum! Yum! M-a-a-a-ay-b-e Cream of Leek Soup, BUT, come on! Cream of Chameleon Soup or Cream of Pterodactyl Soup? You’ve got to be kidding. That’s a stretch . . . a playful stretch, a delightful stretch, a weird and wacky stretch. Yes, Camilla Chameleon written by Colleen Sydor and illustrated by Pascale Constantin is a fanciful stretch all the way to Camilla’s long . . . very, long hopscotch-playing tongue to her favorite soft drink, Fizzy Fizzy Make Ya Dizzy Rootin’ Tootin’ Root Beer.

What Kiddle wouldn’t give their best lucky marble or their favorite hairclip or cherry lip gloss . . . or anything, for that matter to have Camilla’s characteristics . . . even for a day? I know I would have loved to be Camilla when my Mom called me to clean my brother’s room. YUCK! “Hmm, where’d Donna go?” my mother’d ask. “She was here a moment ago.” “Ha! Still am, Mom!” and I’d stifle a giggle. OR being Camilla would have been really cool on the nights my Dad announced we were having Stew, Bugs, and Onions for dinner. Double YUCK! We never did, but he always threatened. I wonder what kind of bugs he was going to cook. Poor bugs! Poor me!

Anyway, this book should be a warning to any Kiddle whose mother is going to have a baby. Beware! Keep an eye on the soup cans and . . . maybe add a little influence, if you can. Check the corner store. Look on the bottom shelf way, way in the back and maybe, just maybe, you might find Cream of Teddy Bear Soup or Cream of Kitty Soup or Cream of Whatever Soup. But, if you EVER find Cream of Frog Soup, please let me know. That’s my favorite. You can even see a collection of my favorite frogs at my website under tag label Phrogs FROGS Phrogs index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=18&Itemid=16

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Water Beds
									Sleeping in the Ocean
Water Beds
Sleeping in the Ocean
written by Gail Langer Karwoski
illustrated by Conne McLennan
Sylvan Dell Publishing
ISBN: 0-9764943-1-0
Ages 3-8

Water Beds - Sleeping in the Ocean, written by Gail Langer Karwoski and illustrated by Connie McLennan is a bedtime story. It’s a scientific book filled with information about the sea and how animals sleep in the depths of the ocean. It’s a book that children will love to hear over and over again, and it’s a book that parents will love to read, as they lull their “little person” to sleep on the gentle waves of his dreams.

The ocean is a magical place – an underwater world so unknown to most people that it almost seems surreal. Yes, we play at its shore and we ride upon its waves on surfboards or motorboats. We skim across its blue surface on water skis and even dive below flipping our flippers pretending to be fish. But not many really experience the depths of the ocean – the beauty of the ocean far below the reaches of the sun. It is home to thousands and thousands of species of fish and plant life. Fish with names like Lanternfish, John Dory, and the Clown Anemonefish. Plants called kelp, there are whole forests of kelp, and phytoplankton and algae, which thrive in the oceans and are a crucial source of food for ocean creatures.

The ocean is a wild and peaceful habitat. It can be brutal with waves reaching a deadly force of more than 65 feet and speeds of 500 mph. It can be gentle and calming with its rhythmic ebb and flow as its waves lap against the shore. It can be downright serene if you don a wet suit and oxygen tank and flip off the side of a boat and push your life into the life of the ocean. The child in Water Beds does just that. He pushes his life into that of the ocean and he rocks gently in the tide, like a jug handle . . . just like the Northern fur seals. He bobs like a buoy next to walruses as they snooze in the briny sea. He floats with dolphins and glides next to orcas and yet he never leaves his bed. Then soon he is drifting on the gentle waves of his dreams – oh such sweet, peaceful dreams . . . and he sleeps in his own special way . . . in his own special bed.

NOTE: For full effect this book is best read in a warm, cozy, undulating, waterbed, but if you don’t have easy access to a waterbed – just pretend.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo
written by Marc Tyler Nobleman
pictures by a variety of contributors
Compass Point Books: Let’s See Series
ISBN: 0-7565-0768-5
Ages 6-9

The whole world has one – each year it comes around again and again and again. In Poland they call it Piàtego Maja. In Germany it is known as Fünfter Mai. The French say Cinquième de Mai and the Italians say Cinque di Maggio. Here in the United States, we call it the Fifth of May. For many countries it is just another day, but in Mexico, it’s called Cinco de Mayo and it’s a very important day in their history books. Marc Tyler Nobleman provides us with a glimpse into this festive holiday in his book entitled, none other than, CINCO de MAYO.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the battle of Puebla in 1862. The Mexican Army was small with little experience and few weapons, but they showed their true colors, green, white, and red, and their bravery when they defeated the French in an attempt to save their country from invasion.

Now Mexicans all over Mexico, and even those living in the United States, join in the festivities of Cinco de Mayo. Dancers twirl in vibrant native costumes. Mariachi bands stroll the Zócalos, (the town squares), playing their guitars, violins, and trumpets with sounds of mambo, cha-cha, and salsa. They croon love ballads and folk ballads. Children delight in watching or marching in parades. It’s a time for all to enjoy the festivities and foods such as tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. It’s a time for all Mexicans to remember what it means to be Mexican. It’s a time for people to shout, “VIVA MEXICO!”

Reviewer’s Note:
Puebla holds a very special place in my heart, so it was really fun to review this book. In the summer of 2004, I was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Grant to study in Puebla, Mexico. For five weeks I was immersed in Mexican culture and language. I visited pyramids and historical archaeological ruins and I lived among the Mexican people and loved every minute of it. Before I learned of the grant, I had never heard of Puebla, but now, I can’t wait to go back. “VIVA MEXICO!”

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
JOSÉ! Born To Dance
JOSÉ! Born To Dance

JOSÉ! Born To Dance
written by Susanna Reich
illustrated by Raúl Colón
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
ISBN: 0-689-86576-7
Ages 5-8

José Limón was born to dance and like the CHIC recording of the late 1970s, DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, José did! Of course, Limón, born in Mexico in 1908 wasn't dancing the latest disco craze nor was he swaying to the more recent country song by Lee Ann Womack, I HOPE YOU DANCE. His dream wasn't realized until many years later when dance, dance, dance, became José's life, love, and passion.

As a child José dreamt of bullfighting. He dreamt of drawing and painting. His spirits soared as his fingers flew over the keys of his piano, yet his dreams remained out of reach and wanting. As a young man José left his childhood home in Los Angeles and set off for New York City, a city of hope and opportunity. He was filled with dreams of becoming a great artist. But night after day José scooped ashes and he hauled garbage and day after night he wandered museums studying the masters, Manet, Renoir, and Picasso, and he wondered what he could offer and again his dreams went unfulfilled. Then, José found himself at a dance concert and the fire in his soul was unleashed as he watched the dancers twirl on the stage, twisting and leaping through the air. José's passion for dance was unleashed, too and he went on to become one of the twentieth centuries greatest dancers and choreographers. Still today, José Limón's dream lives on in the dance studio that he founded, The José Limón Institute, located in New York City, which welcomes other dancers with dreams and passions of their own . . . yet to be fulfilled.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
The Only One Club
The Only One Club
written by Jane Naliboff
illustrated by Jeff Hopkins
Flashlight Press
ISBN: 0-972-92253-9
Ages 4-8

It’s scary feeling different . . . not monster scary, or falling out of bed scary. Not darn! I forgot my homework scary either. Feeling different can set you apart . . . maybe the rest of the kids won’t like you kind-of-scary or they’ll make fun of you kind-of-scary. But in The Only One Club, Jennifer uses her “different-ness” to her advantage and soon all of her classmates are looking for ways to show how they are different, too.

Together, author, Jane Nabiloff and illustrator, Jeff Hopkins provide a fun and comical vehicle for young readers to realize and acknowledge the differences of others, while they are encouraged to examine their own differences. Look at Niki and Nina. They are the “only” identical twins in Jennifer’s first grade . . . and no one has a gazillion freckles like Jonah McBride! Then, don’t forget Steven Whittier and his humongous teeth! Now, who can match that? Each of us is different, each in his or her own way, and so, in so many aspects, we all belong to an “only one club.” So, take a look at your own self and join a club, even if it is an Only One Club.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Flusi, the Sock Monster
Flusi, the Sock Monster
written and illustrated by Bine Brändle
Kane/Miller Book Publishers
ISBN: 1-929132-69-7
Ages 5-6

Kiddles love monsters – any kind of monsters. Well, maybe they don’t exactly love them, but they are fascinated by them. There are the creepy monsters that hide under the bed and the scary ones in the closet. The best monsters are the ones that slip and slither across the wall in the moonlight. My mother tried to pass them off as the shadows of my drapes blowing in the wind. Yeah right, MOM!!!!

German born author/illustrator, Bine Brändle, creates not only with her words, but also with her illustrations, a very special monster in her new book, FLUSI, the Sock Monster. Flusi, a fuzzy, blue fur ball, is just about the cutest monster I know. Every KIDDLE, both boy and girl, should have a monster like Flusi. Hey, they probably already do!

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written by Debbie Herman
illustrated by Shelia Bailey
Flashlight Press
ISBN: 0972922520
Ages 4-8

Whole wheat, rye, croissant, wrap, toast, bagel – all yummy sandwich covers. Turkey, peanut butter, jelly, liverwurst, cow’s tongue – all yummy sandwich fillings. Uhh . . . well, maybe not cow’s tongue – I’ll pass on that. But there are endless combinations and varieties of sandwiches to fulfill just about anyone’s desire.

In CARLA’S SANDWICH, author, Debbie Herman dreams up sandwiches all green and slimy and some with yellow and white stuff oozing from their sides and Carla just loves them all. BUT, did you notice not a sandwich could be found with onions? Could it be that Ms. Herman is not an onion fan?

Illustrator, Sheila Bailey must have had a ball painting the variety of sandwiches. I particularly liked the sardine and mustard one with sunflower seeds, though I would probably “hold” the sardines if it were my sandwich.

Together Debbie Herman and Sheila Bailey created not only weird sandwiches, but an original and fun book, which will certainly have children experimenting with all kinds of sandwich ingredients . . . Let’s see, how about gummy worms and popcorn covered with marshmallow fluff and stuffed into a pita bread? YUM! Check out your local school lunchroom for more sandwich varieties after teachers read this book to their classes.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
No Money? No Problem!
No Money? No Problem!
written by Lori Haskins
illustrated by John Nez
Kane Press
ISBN: 1575651416
Ages 4-8

Don’t you just hate it when you don’t have enough money to buy what you want? You know -- that dress with the pink and orange umbrellas in the store window downtown, or the complete set of square marbles, the one-of-a-kind, kind, or maybe it’s the dyed-purple alligator purse that you have been dying for. Okay . . . so maybe you never wanted a dyed-purple alligator purse. Well, neither did I, but you know what I mean.

When Amy saw Super Cowboy Dinosaurs From Space 1, she had to have it, no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, the cost was prohibitive, but Amy’s ideas were not. Amy solved her problem of not having enough money in a very creative way and she had a lot of fun doing it.

Lori Haskins and John Nez combined their talents to produce NO MONEY? NO PROBLEM! in their new SOCIAL STUDIES CONNECTS book, which also “connects” to math. It sort of takes you back to the “old” days when money could be just about anything . . . a chicken, a sack of flour, or helping to raise the barn. So, the next time you find yourself with NO MONEY, just think of something that you have that someone else just might be dying for. Then barter away! Hmmm . . . anyone have an old, sneaker?

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Circle Unbroken
Circle Unbroken
written by Margaret Theis Raven
illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 0-374-31289-3
Ages 6-9

Life goes on and on and on like a circle unbroken. Traditions pass from family to family, from generation to generation. Traditions that define what a family or a culture is, are invaluable and must be treasured and cherished. Margot Theis Raven’s new book, CIRCLE UNBROKEN demonstrates this concept as she weaves and intertwines a story of how a young boy was stolen from his village in Africa and brought to the New World . . . a world that for many showed promise, but for this young boy brought only the loss of his freedom. “But long night after long day, he (the boy) sewed baskets in the old way . . . preserving the traditions and memories of those who were plucked from their homes and villages in Africa and thrust into slavery in America. As years and years have passed, the tradition of the sweetgrass baskets is still being weaved in South Carolina and the Georgia Lowcountry . . . proof that the tradition remains alive.

E. B. Lewis’ life-like illustrations nearly draw you into the book and set you on the pages of this history-filled story. I could almost feel the ripples of the water as the old-timey grandfather straddled his canoe and told his tales of long, long ago.

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Big Week for Little Mouse
Big Week for Little Mouse
written by Eugenie Fernandes
illustrated by Kim Fernandes
ISBN: 1-55337-665-X
Ages: 2-5

Birthdays come and birthdays go,
Some come fast and some come slow.
Birthdays are a time of fun . . .
For you, for me, for everyone.
Little Mouse can hardly wait.
For her it’s time to celebrate.

. . . and celebrate she did, but not before she finished her chores. Preparing for her birthday party was lots of work. Little Mouse had to mop and scrub and pick flowers and hang up balloons. Yes, it was a busy week for Little Mouse.

Then award winning mother/daughter, author/illustrator team, Eugenie and Kim Fernandes combine rhyming words, antonyms, and days of the week with colorful 3D illustrations, which makes Big Week for Little Mouse chock-full of skills for the creative teacher. It’s brimming with fun for young readers, too. Kiddles love word-play and this book offers such fun, which will have not only Kiddles, but parents and teachers rattling off all kinds of words. Try it . . . it’s fun.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Paul Needs Specs
Paul Needs Specs
written by Bernard Cohen
illustrated by Geoff Kelly
Kane/Miller Book Publisher
ISBN: 192913261
Ages 5-9

Paul asked, “Has the world gone fuzzy, . . .?” What a scary feeling to have your world blur in front of your eyes, especially when you are a child no bigger than Paul. The world hadn’t gone fuzzy or blurry or misty or foggy . . . well not really. But, Paul’s eyesight did. Author, Bernard Cohen takes us on a trip to the eye doctor. What a strange place that is! Paul tries many different lenses. Some make him see fat and some make him see tall and I wonder if some do nothing at all. Then Goeff Kelly adds his zany, very psychedelic illustrations, which will make readers howl. This book should definitely allay the fears of any child who needs to get glasses. PAUL NEEDS SPECS is a real eye-opener.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
written by Tracey Campbell Pearson
illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson
Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 0-374-35157-0
Ages: 3-6

There are bullies everywhere, but don’t you hate it when you find them in your own back yard? Once at the grocery store checkout as I waited patiently, grasping a bunch of broccoli, a woman pushed her overflowing cart right in front of me. Every day on my 20 mile commute to school, there are cars that bully their way into the line exiting the highway. Can’t they see the 50 cars waiting, patiently? HOW RUDE! That’s what Myrtle would say and I fully agree with her. “RUDE! RUDE! RUDE!” These are the bullies in my back yard.

When Frances moved in, Myrtle found a bully in her back yard, too. Frances was downright mean and Myrtle was downright scared. Snakes and monsters and mean songs would scare me, too. No one deserves to be bullied. So, when Aunt Tizzy told Myrtle of the nasty lions she met in Africa and their mean lion roars, Myrtle got to thinking. She grabbed her brother’s hand and set off to face her fears. She felt bigger! She felt stronger! And, she was ready to stand up for herself . . . a very liberating feeling! I think I’ll take a lesson from Myrtle. Just wait . . . the next time someone tries to push her overflowing grocery cart in front of me, I’ll just bop her on the head . . . with my broccoli. Well . . . maybe not.

Tracey Campbell Pearson hit on a very timely topic . . . one that visits and revisits children in every age and at every stage. It seems, unfortunately, that there will always be bullies. I remember them when I was a child. Definitely, not fun! Ms. Pearson’s whimsical illustrations add a welcome lightness to a serious problem. Young readers will gain confidence as Myrtle did, as they realize that they are not alone in the “BULLY” world and they CAN do something about it.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Whose House?
Whose House?
Written by Barbara Seuling
Illustrated by Kay Chorao
Gulliver Books Harcourt Children’s Books
ISBN: 0-15-216347-6
Ages: 3-7

Houses come in so many colors and sizes and shapes. Some are tall and skinny and rise high into the sky. Some are kind of fat and have acres of land around them. That’s called s-p-r-a-w-l-i-n-g. Some are in big buildings called apartments and some are tiny, little cottages or bungalows. Houses are made of wood, brick, stone, or mud, and some are even made of ice. There are castles and palaces and mansions. There are igloos, and houses made of grass, which have thatched roofs. I’ve seen purple houses and bright yellow and green houses. Once, I even saw a pink house with blue shutters. That was pretty scary unless, of course, pink and blue are your favorite colors. So, with so many different kinds of houses, how can you ever choose which house is exactly right for you?

Well, you could try them out just like the young boy in WHOSE HOUSE did. On his journey to find just the right house, he visited a beaver’s lodge and a bee’s hive. They weren’t right for him. He tried out a hollow log, too, but he learned that that was better for a frog. This rhyming picture book written by Barbara Seuling and illustrated by Kay Chorao will have young readers testing out all kinds of houses . . . until they find the one just right for them. And . . . maybe . . . just maybe, it’s the one they are already living in.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Out and About at the Supermarket
Written by Kitty Shea
Illustrated by Becky Shipe
Picture Window Books
ISBN: 1-4048-0295-9W
Ages: 4-9

This is a selection of non-fiction titles from Picture Window Books. Featured is OUT AND ABOUT AT THE SUPERMARKET by Kitty Shea, illustrated by Becky Shipe.

Kiddles love to learn facts. They love to spout them off in the least expected places. It makes them sound so smart and . . . oh so worldly. You’ve heard of name-droppers, well you can just think of them as fact-droppers. This sample of Picture Window Books will have KIDDLES dropping facts all over the place.
In Snack Time Around the World they may drop a fact about lumpia or merienda. In Think, Think, Think Learning About Your Brain, you may overhear them talking about something wrinkled and gray. Don’t worry. They’re not talking about you -- even if you are wrinkled and gray. They’re describing their brain, complete with cerebellum, cerebrum, and brain stem.
And anyone knows that in Do Ducks Live in the Desert? – that -- they DON’T! But, if you listen carefully, you might be able to find out where musk oxen, or periwinkles, or markhors live. What’s a markhor, anyway? Well, you may think that none of this really matters, but don’t let a KIDDLE hear you say that, especially after they have read Matter See It, Touch It, Taste It, Smell It. They’ll probably tell you that the universe is made up of billions of atoms and molecules. And . . . you know what, they’ll be right. So anytime you hear a fact–dropper, listen up! You are sure to learn something.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
The Giant Jelly Bean Jar
The Giant Jelly Bean Jar
written by Marcie Aboff
illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye
Dutton Children's Books
ISBN: 0525472363
Ages 5-8

Beans! Beans! Beans! There are lima beans, coffee beans, kidney beans and refried beans. I love them all! But my favorite kinds of beans are jelly beans – and every flavor, too. Cherry, grape, lemon-lime, licorice . . . YUM! Double yum for strawberry and banana.

I bet Marcie Aboff loves jelly beans, too. After all, she did write The Giant Jelly Bean Jar. But I wonder if she really likes pizza jelly beans. I mean, whoever heard of pizza jelly beans? Next she’ll probably think of spinach or olive, or liver jelly beans. Arrrghhh!
I bet Marcie loves contests, too. Well, who doesn’t? Everyone loves to be a winner. Look at Ben. He really wanted to win that giant jelly bean jar. So every week Ben and his sister, Jill, went to Jo-Jo’s Jelly Bean Shop to try to guess the jelly bean riddle. Can you imagine having a whole jar of jelly beans all to yourself? Mmmm!

Then illustrator, Paige Billin-Frye dabs her color onto the pages to make those jelly beans look so yummy and so inviting. Who can help but want to eat them all up?
I think that Marcie and Paige took riddles and contests and jelly beans and rolled them all up into one delicious book. It makes me hungry just looking at it . . . not only for jelly beans, but for the good reading, too.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Blueberry Mouse
Blueberry Mouse
written by Alice Low
illustrated by David Michael Friend
Mondo Publishing
ISBN: 1-59336-111-4
Ages 3--7

I’ve heard of a greenhouse, the Whitehouse, and even a house of cards. I’ve heard of a townhouse. I live in one. But, who ever heard of a blueberry house? Well, Blueberry Mouse, of course! Blueberry Mouse, written by Alice Low and illustrated by David Michael Friend, tells of a mouse as sweet as she can be. And, why not? She nibbles the whole day long . . . on sweet, juicy blueberries inside her blueberry house.

Blueberry Mouse’s house is made of blueberry pie and everything inside is made of . . . you guessed it . . . blueberries. Blueberry Mouse nibbles her blueberry table and blueberry cups. Her blanket and bedclothes and even her bed are not spared when Blueberry Mouse gets hungry. It is no wonder Blueberry Mouse is a lovely shade of blueberry. And it sounds like a lovely existence, too, until Blueberry Mouse begins to nibble her window and wall and her floor and her door. That’s when the roof comes crumbling down.

You might think Blueberry Mouse a rather foolish mouse for eating so many blueberries. But, did you know that many scientists believe that blueberries are a “super” food containing high contents of antioxidants, which help to prevent aging and many common diseases? So maybe Blueberry Mouse and her creator, Alice Low, are onto something. Now, I’m going to scoop up a big dish of blueberry ice cream, dribble warm blueberry sauce over it, and put a cherr. . . I mean a blueberry on top. It’s important to stay healthy, you know. (grin)

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
by Margaret Hall
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2063-9W
Grades PreK-2
by Patricia J. Murphy
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2072-8W
Grades PreK-2
by Helen Frost
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2093-0W
Grades PreK-2
Emily Rose Townsend
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2357-3W
Grades PreK-2
Sitting Bull
by Lisa Trumbauer
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2371-9W
Grades PreK-2
by Emily Rose Townsend
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2070-1W
Grades PreK-2
CAPSTONE PRESS produces a vast range of non-fiction titles for Pre-K through 12th grade. These easy to read fact-filled, photo-illustrated books are a great addition to your personal library, but they are also especially valuable for teachers and students as a resource tool in any classroom. High interest topics combined with reading ease make these books fun to read. Pebble Books are written for beginning readers in grades Pre-K to 2nd grade.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
The Dirty Cowboy
The Dirty Cowboy
written by Amy Timberlake
illustrated by Adam Rex
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 0-374-31791-7
Ages 4—8

You know, there’s something to be said about loyalty and obedience, but Eustace Shackleford Montana may have gone too far the day his cowboy took a bath. When the Cowboy said, “Dawg! No one touches these clothes but me. Hear?”, Eustace took the Cowboy at his word. What good dog wouldn’t? On that fateful day under the New Mexico sky, Eustace demonstrated his dedication to his Cowboy . . . to the limit. That’s definitely an A+ dog and THE DIRTY COWBOY written by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Adam Rex is an A+ book.

Ms. Timberlake writes a very funny and engaging tale of a cowboy who takes a bath only once a year. Bet kids would love that! She tells a story of a cowboy who sings of rivers flowin’, cattle lowin’, and cowboys crowin’ a combination that will surely have KIDDLES howlin’. (Okay so it doesn’t rhyme, but you get the gist.)

Then illustrator, Adam Rex, steps in to complete the package -- and he does it in such a clever way. The hilarious images he paints of the cowboy cavorting “nearly nekkid” across the pages present a very funny picture -- one that will capture readers, both young and old, city-slickers and prairie-dwellers, and maybe even a doodlebug or two.

This review, unlike my regular reviews written from my home in the New York City metropolitan area, was written under the clear New Mexico sky with no dust devil or smudgy rainbow in sight, but I did see a small gray spider scurry by a few moments ago.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
written and illustrated by Jutta Bauer
Kane/Miller Book Publishers
ISBN: 1-929132-50-6
All Ages

It’s a “quiet” story. But quiet and gentle are what children yearn for. In their fast - paced lives of soccer games, dance classes, and play dates a quiet book is a welcome respite.

SELMA, written and illustrated by Jutta Bauer is no bigger than an index card, yet it packs a whopping, powerful punch. How can a tiny sheep know about happiness?

What is happiness anyway? It’s an age – old question. Is it having a million dollars, or two, or three? Is it traveling to far off exotic islands? Or maybe it’s being able to eat all the ice cream you want, chocolate, of course, and never, ever gaining an ounce?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not so different from most people.

It seems that everyone, in his or her quest for happiness, is always searching . . . searching around every corner. But maybe happiness is not as far away as we think. We can take a lesson from Selma. Selma is content. She is happy with the simple pleasures of life. She eats a little, plays with her children, eats a little more, exercises, visits with a friend, and then gets a good night’s sleep. What more could anyone want?

In our hustle bustle world of always wanting more and bigger and better, Selma leaves us with some whopping, powerful thoughts to ponder.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
The Case of Vivian Vampire
By Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Amy Wummer
ISBN: 1-57565-127-0
Ages 5 – 8 years

Well, she is sort of weird -- that new girl who just moved in -- her hair all sticking out like bat wings. How can you ignore thatbat shirt she’s wearing and those bat stickers on her notebook and what about her bat earrings? Now isn’t that a “bat” much? Who can blame Molly for thinking Vivian is a vampire? Wouldn’t you?

Molly and her friends, Frank and Louis, turn into detectives and scientists all rolled into one as they try to solve the mystery of THE CASE OF VAMPIRE VIVIAN written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Amy Wummer. Ms. Knudsen mixes fact with fiction as she weaves an interesting tale about bats and vampires, while Ms. Wummer’s paintbrush teases the reader into thinking Vivian may actually be a vampire. I mean just look at Vivian’s hair. Looks like bats to me!

So of course, young readers, armed with Knudsen’s “bat” facts and Wummer’s perky illustrations, will eagerly join Molly and her friends to try to discover if Vivian is really a vampire. BUT . . . WAIT! If she’s a “real” vampire, then why is she awake during the day? And why did she eat garlic-mashed potatoes? Anyone knows vampires hate garlic. It’s a real mystery all right, but don’t let it drive you “batty”!

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
An Ant's Day Off
by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Nina Laden
Simon & Schuster Children's
ISBN: 0-689-82274-X
Ages 4 – 8 years

Working! Working! Always working! That sums up Bart’s life in AN ANT’S DAY OFF written by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Nina Laden. Moving sand from one tunnel to the next, day after day -- hey, that’s the life of a sand ant!

But it’s been said, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” So would that make Bart a dull ant? Everybody needs a day off once in a while . . . doesn’t he? A day to take in the wonders of the world . . . a day to pull the covers up over your head and dream.

It seemed that Bart was content with his life in the sand tunnel . . . until one day . . . the day he looked up and saw a glimmer of blue. That’s all it took. Bart threw down his shovel. He flung off his hard hat. Nothing, not even his friend, Floyd’s warning, “No ant has ever taken a day off – never in the history of antdom,” could stop Bart from scrambling toward the sun. Well, sometimes an ant just needs to look at the sky, now doesn’t he? I’m sure that children will scramble for this book when they want to escape from their busy worlds.

P. S.
I’m glad Bonny Becker and Nina Laden didn’t take a day off or this delightful book may never have been produced. What fun!

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Fossil Tales
by Meish Goldish
Chelsea House Publishers
ISBN: 1-7910-7411-0
Ages 9 - 12

Did you know that the word, “dinosaur” was not even a word before the 1800s? Nowadays that word tumbles off the lips of most children, even as young as preschoolers. Children are fascinated with dinosaurs. They are in awe of their size and their strange looks, so it was no wonder that there was an audible buzz from the KIDDLE CRITers as I prepared to read FOSSIL TALES to them.

When they learned of the feud between the leading scientists in the field, Marsh and Cope, they were outraged. It’s crazy!” “Why couldn’t they cooperate?” “Didn’t they know they were damaging history?” These were some statements made by the insightful CRITers.

Meish Goldish examines the time line of fossils in his new book entitled, FOSSIL TALES. He traces dinosaur research from their discovery in the early 1800s until present day. Mr. Goldish also explores a range of topics including the discovery of prehistoric shark’s teeth, reconstruction of found dinosaur bones, and the “goofs” scientists made in naming and renaming the dinosaurs.

Children love just about anything dinosaur-related, and FOSSIL TALES is packed full of fascinating details that capture their interest.

Its array of photos of paleontologists at work and reconstructed dinosaur skeletons nicely complements the text. Judging from the CRITers’ reaction, I can guarantee that the pages of this book will become very well worn as children return to them over and over again. What a DINO-mite job, Mr. Goldish!

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Picture Window Books
ISBN: 1-4048-0240-1W
12 Book Set $167.40
(Single Titles $13.95)
Ages 4 to 9

Do you ever want to believe something; I mean really, truly want to believe, even though you know it can’t possibly be true? Maybe you just want to believe because everyone else does. Or have you ever decided that you didn’t like someone because of how they look? These story concepts are as old as time, and there are many lessons to be learned from them.

You may have recognized the themes above as the, THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES and THE UGLY DUCKLING. These classic titles, and more, are published by Picture Window Books in their fairytale series. Teachers will love these books because they are specially designed for early readers. The varying degrees of difficulty, allows children to choose books that are just right for them.

Since many of the stories such as, THE THREE BILLY GOAT’S GRUFF, THE THREE LITTLE PIGS, and THE THREE BEARS are familiar to children, they are easier to read because children can predict what is coming next in the story. For example, when the wolf threatens to blow down the pig’s house, most children quickly repeat the wolf’s refrain, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in.” These predictable parts of the story make it easy for children to decode the text. Teachers love this early reading success; so do parents. And of course, the children revel in the fact that they are readers. These books are very “kiddle” friendly from their texts to their perky illustrations.

Although the books can be sold in the complete package from the publisher at picturewindowbooks.com, single titles can also be purchased at competitive prices from your local bookstore. This collection of much loved stories would be a wonderful addition to any classroom library, or for that matter any child’s favorite bookshelf.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Suki's Kimono
by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch
Kids Can Press, Limited
Ages 5 to 8

The first day of school is special. Hey, every school day is, but I have to admit that the first day holds a bit of extra magic. It’s a day of newness . . . new classroom, new teacher, new backpack, maybe even a new outfit or a pair of new shoes. Yes, it’s a very important day.

So, it was no wonder that Suki wanted to wear something special on her first day in first grade. But when she decided to wear her kimono, her sisters, Mari and Yumi, thought she was weird. They wanted Suki to wear something new . . . something cool, but Suki didn’t care for new or cool. She was determined to wear the blue kimono and her shiny red geta. Suki didn’t listen when Yumi and Mari warned her that everyone would laugh. She simply didn’t care.

It takes a special person . . . a spunky person to dare to be different, to step out of the box, to think her own thoughts and chase her own dreams. How simple it is to follow the crowd or let others do your thinking. How easy it is to blend into mediocrity . . . BUT not Suki. Suki makes me wish I had my very own kimono and geta.

SUKI’S KIMONO is a beautifully written story by first time picture book author, Chieri Uegaki. Ms. Uegaki, through her main character, Suki, celebrates the courage to be different, while offering the reader a glimpse into Japanese culture. Then, illustrator, Stephane Jorisch steps up to add his flair with his fanciful watercolors. His paintings simply capture the essence of Suki. You know . . . they say to never judge a book by its cover, but this time I can’t help it. One look at Suki and she danced right off the cover and into my heart. I have no doubt she’ll capture yours, too.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Unique Monique
by Maria Rousaki, illustrated by Polina Papanikolaou
Kane/Miller Book Publishers
Ages 4-8

At the shopping mall today I saw a boy with blue hair, a girl with five rings in her nose, and another with hair standing straight up. I think they call it “spiked.” Some might call it weird. It does look a bit strange, but I think it’s creative. It’s a statement. It says, “Look at me! I am unique!”

I encourage my first graders to think for themselves. “Use your own ‘noodle’,” I say. So, when I discovered UNIQUE MONIQUE written by Maria Rousaki and illustrated by Polina Papanikolaou, I was delighted. What a great book to emphasize my point. Be yourself! Think for yourself! Make a statement! Maria and Polina did, when they teamed up to produce this “unique” book.

Monique is a great example of a youngster who is not afraid to let the world, and her teachers, know exactly who she is! I particularly loved Monique’s giant red hat. . the one that looked like a tomato. Anyone who knows me, knows I love hats, too. But, I’ve never dared to wear a tomato hat. Maybe I will . . . some day.

I also loved when Monique strolled across the schoolyard, totally confident in herself, with every eye glued to her. She was proud of that new hat. I admired her doggedness and her determination to find something . . . anything that would set her apart from the rest of her uniform-clad classmates. I applaud Monique’s courage . . . the courage to be different. What guts!

And I applaud Maria Rousaki and Polina Papanikolaou for a work well done . . . or should I say a “unique” work . . . well done.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
by Rainy Dohaney
Anne Schwartz Book
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Ages 3-7

Sure you’ve heard of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina . . . each no bigger than your thumb. But have you ever heard of Tinka? No? Then, you are in for a treat. Tinka is a sheep. She’s soft and cuddly and absolutely adorable. But, Tinka is no ordinary sheep. She’s as small as a cupcake. She can fit in your hand or you can easily tuck her away in your pocket. Sounds fun, huh?

But, it’s not always easy being small. For that matter, it’s not easy being too tall, too fat, or too thin. It’s not easy being too young or too old, and if you are like Kermit the Frog from Sesame Street, “It’s not easy being green.” Extremes are most always difficult.

Poor Tinka is too small. She’s too small to make enough wool. She’s too small to sleep with the other sheep. She’s too small to see over the fence . . . even standing on her tippytoes. Tinka is so small that she can’t even see the purple spider creeping across the hillside in the far distance and that is what all the other sheep are baaa-ing about. The purple spider is a sure sign of spring. But, when Tinka’s friend, Sooty, flies by, Tinka crawls on his back and for once she is grateful for her smallness.

Children will delight with Tinka as she flies higher than any sheep ever could. They will cheer her on and soar with her over the farms and fields to the “baah-aah-aah-eeootiful” home of the purple spider. And, together they will return to the farmyard with a secret . . . a secret you can be privy to by reading TINKA, written and illustrated by Rainy Dohaney.

Ms. Dohaney paints a gentle story with both her words and her art. With watercolors and colored pencils, she crafts “baah-aah-aah-eeootiful” illustrations, which create a mood of serenity and peacefulness. This would make a wonderful bedtime story. Children will want to hear it over and over again . . . probably a “schmillion” times.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
by Thomas Streissguth
Bridgestone Books an imprint of Capstone Press
Ages 5 to 9

Have you ever wanted to be a hero? Ever thought you might grow up to do something you were really passionate about? I think we all hope to make our mark on the world. With me . . . it’s teaching and writing. John Glenn pursued his passion and made history. In 1962 he became the first person to orbit the earth. Thirty-six years later, Glenn again put his stamp on history when he became the oldest person to travel in space. Author, Thomas Streissguth takes us on a historical timeline of John Glenn’s life in his new book, entitled most aptly, JOHN GLENN. Streissguth, very succinctly outlines Glenn’s life from birth to current time. He shows how Glenn’s love of fast cars and airplanes led him to become a fighter pilot, and then a test pilot for the United States government. John liked to break speed records, so it was only natural that when NASA began their new space program in 1958, John Glenn applied and was accepted. This led to his becoming one of the first U.S. astronauts. Since childhood Glenn dreamed of flying. His hero was Charles Lindbergh. By pursuing his passion, John Glenn exceeded his dream. What child doesn’t wonder what is beyond our seeable sky? Dreams! The universe is filled with dreams. John Glenn’s life inspires children to be brave, to believe in themselves, to take chances, and to follow their dreams.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Ange Zhang
Ages 5 to 8

When Gong Gong arrived, Helen’s life turned upside down. I mean, he couldn’t even speak English. How was Helen going to communicate with him? Sure, he was her grandfather, but why did mom have to give him Helen’s bedroom? Why couldn’t Gong Gong sleep in Cece’s room . . . or Henry’s? Helen loved standing at her bedroom window to watch the trains hurry down the tracks. She loved counting the cars from engine to caboose. Now Gong Gong was in her room with only Chinese in his head.

Andrea Chen tackles a wide range of emotions in her book entitled, GRANDFATHER COUNTS. Children will easily relate to Helen’s feelings of anger and confusion, her feelings of guilt and fear, as they recount incidents in their lives when they have felt just like Helen. Then they will finally heave a sigh of relief when, at the end of the book, Helen and Gong Gong become friends. Who would think it could be numbers and counting that would bring them together . . . one, two, three . . . yi, er, san.

The illustrations by Ange Zhang are gentle, yet very expressive. Notice Helen and Gong Gong’s faces. They tell an emotional story in themselves.

In our American society, which is so culturally diverse, teachers will find GRANDFATHER COUNTS a great book for initiating class discussions about the differences and sameness of their students. Children will want to read or hear this book again and again.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
by Steven L. Layne, illustrated by Chuck Galey
Pelican Publishing Company
Ages 6 and Up

“Monster Fear!” We’ve all had it. Come on. Admit it. Remember shadows drifting across your bedroom walls, curtains flapping in the night, or spooky noises bumping behind your closet door? “Quick!” you yell. “Shut it!” Then you jump into bed and dive under the covers. Remember the last time a monster visited you?

Take a memory trip back to when you were eight years old. Remember those especially dark nights when you stayed home alone? You convinced your mom or dad that you were old enough. You even convinced them that you didn’t need a baby sitter. But once the sun went down and the stars came out, remember how hard it was to convince yourself? I know, I do. A little “monster fear” goes a long way for a youngster. Children will definitely empathize with eight year old Joey in MY BROTHER DAN’S DELICIOUS written by Steven L. Layne and illustrated by Chuck Galey. As children turn each page, they will cheer Joey on as he tries to control and outwit his MONSTER . . . or his imagination. What do you think?

Children will love how illustrator, Chuck Galey reveals the “monster’s” presence on every page. They’ll delight in yelling, “Look out! There it is!” Then watch as Mr.Galey paints subtle hints of danger. They are everywhere. No wonder Joey is afraid. Look in the mirror. What do you see? And hey, what’s that under the rug? Are the pictures on the wall trying to give warning? There seem to be eyes everywhere . . . the window on the front door, the bannister, even on Joey’s backpack. Can you find more? So, before you turn off the light tonight, be sure to look under your bed.

 This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
by Stuart J. Murphy, illustrated by Cynthia Jabar
HarperCollins Publishers
Ages 6 and Up

Most kids love ice cream. They love as it drips down their fingers and smears their noses and they love to swirl their tongues around its creamy flavor. So what could be more fun than making ice cream sundaes for the school picnic? In THE SUNDAE SCOOP written by Stuart J. Murphy, Emily, Lauren, and James decide to do just that.

They take chocolate and vanilla ice cream, add caramel and hot fudge sauces and two toppings to make a variety of different sundae combinations But when Emily wonders exactly how many combinations they can make, Winnie, the cafeteria lady, pulls out her chalkboard to demonstrate. The use of the chalkboard, as a graphic organizer, makes this difficult math concept easy for youngsters to understand. What a clever technique by Murphy to combine reading fun with math skills.

Cynthia Jabar’s bright, perky illustrations combined with Murphy’s yummy story make this a very inviting book.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
by Jennifer Thermes
Henry Holt and Company
ISBN 0-8050-6532-6

Ages 4-8

“Who’s been eating my porridge?” Just about everyone recognizes those words from GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS. But, really, have you ever wondered who has taken a bath in your bathtub, or sprawled in front of your fireplace, cooked dinner on your stove or climbed the stairs to your bedroom . . . before you moved into your house?

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
by Katy S. Duffield, illustrated by Steve Gray
Rising Moon
ISBN 0-87358-825-8
Ages 4-8

The milk cows on Farmer McPeepers’ farm are simply up to NO good. I mean, have you ever seen milk cows fishing from a row boat, jumping double Dutch rope, skateboarding, or flying kites? “Outrageous!” you say. “Ridiculous! Impossible!” Well then, would you believe milk cows playing a fiddle, do-si-do-ing, or waiting in line at the local movie house? Yep! Down by Farmer McPeepers’ farm you’ll see all this and more. So go on. Open Farmer McPeepers and His Missing Milk Cows. But try not to laugh. I dare you!

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
Mud Pie for Mother
Mud Pie for Mother
by Scott Beck
Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers
Ages 3 to 6

Shop! Shop! Shop ‘til you drop! Race from store to store. Search for the “perfect” gift. Sound familiar? We all do it. In MUD PIE FOR MOTHER, written and illustrated by Scott Beck, Little Pig searches the farm for the perfect birthday present for his mother.

When I was Little Pig’s age, I searched for the perfect gift, too. I dashed through the dime store aisles, two quarters, (my whole allowance) clutched in my hand, hunting for the best gift for Mother’s Day. I found it . . . an orange paisley accordion-pleated apron. It was beautiful!

Little Pig found beautiful presents too, a little flower, a bit of hay, a few seeds, even a clump of dirt . . . all perfect gifts! His mother would love them. But when Little Pig realized that they belonged to his farm friends, he wouldn’t take them. It just wouldn’t be right. Imagine Little Pig’s sadness as he headed home empty-handed. But to his surprise Little Pig’s friends each gave him a special gift for his mother. Children will delight in this story as Little Pig is rewarded for his kindness. They will see that although doing the right thing is not always easy, it is best.

Scott Beck’s simple illustrations nearly “pop” off the page. Then they draw you right back onto the farm. Beck presents a sweet and gentle story, which children will easily identify with. I mean . . . what child has not searched for the perfect present? Remember macaroni-studded picture frames and yarn-covered, frozen-orange-juice pencil holders . . . made and presented with love. PERFECT!

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters
KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group
KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group


I read tons of books to my class. We love to discuss them. As soon as I finish reading a book and the clapping has ceased, I ask. "Well, what did you notice?" Marc Brown hides his children's names, Tolen, Tucker, and Elisa in the illustrations of his "ARTHUR" books. Tomie DePaola usually places a little pink heart or a small white dove on every page of his books, example STREGA NONA. In THE NAPPING HOUSE by Audrey & Don Wood, it's fun to watch the circular movement of the mouse as each character naps, then awakes. But without an observing eye, these nuances would be left unnoticed. It's my job to spark student's interest to look between the lines and between the pictures.


I write every day with my students and they get to write too. It is such fun to watch them grow as writers. Many begin only able to write a few letters, perhaps their names or the words mom or dad, or maybe a brother or sister's name. But within a few months, they can string several sentences together to make short paragraphs.


This is the best!

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