Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna

Written by Marianne Berkes
Illustrated by Jill Dubin

The latest installment of the Marianne Berkes series has a lot going on. It is a counting book, reinforced by both the numbers of baby animals and the lineup of African gourd rattles. It is poetry, set to the rhythm of the traditional song “Over in the Meadow.” It is for learning about the African savanna and the animals that inhabit that area. It is hunting for nearly hidden animals in the pictures. It teaches about the song itself and about the techniques used by the illustrator.

Over in the grasslands
Where the acacia trees grew
Lived a tall mother giraffe
And her little calves two.

Altogether, first or second graders get to learn about twenty animals. Some of them may seem familiar from the zoo, – zebra, giraffe, elephant – but many are probably animals the readers have never seen – redbilled oxpeckers, naked mole rats, leopard tortoises. And none of them live your backyard. In the last pages, Berkes writes about the many themes used, including the ten different adjectives and the different baby names used. She also mentions many places to learn more, and she was careful to expalin that the numbers of babies each animal can have is fictional. Dubin writes about her collage technique, how important the different papers are, and what inspired the details.

A great addition to the counting library.

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  • over-in-the-grasslandsTitle: Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna
  • Author: Marianne Berkes
  • Illustrator: Jill Dubin
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nature, Geography, Counting, Poetry, Music
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-568-4
  • Extras: Fact or Fiction?, Life on the African Savanna, Who Are the “Hidden” Animals in the Grasslands?, About the Animals, Tips from the Author, Tips from the Illustrator, Over in the Grasslands [music]

A Moon of My Own

Written by Jennifer Rustgi
Illustrated by Ashley White

Inspired by the notion that the moon follows us wherever we go, this new book would work well as a read alone or as a part of a unit on the Moon or the seven continents. Each two-page spread shows a child near a famous landmark, shown in silhouette, with the moon in the sky. This gives the book a mysterious quality kids will love. The landmarks are scattered across all seven continents: the Eiffel Tower in Europe; the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal in Asia; Serengeti National Park in Africa; Sequoia National Park in North America; the Amazon Rainforest in South America; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; a penguin colony in Antarctica; and the Aurora Borealis above the Arctic Circle. The Moon is shown in progressive phases. The gorgeous illustrations are accompanied by simple questions and observations, such as “And when I’m tired, you’re there to guide me home.”

The end material suggests many ways to learn more about the Moon and its phases. It includes facts and activities, such as creating a Moon journal and demonstrating how Moon phases happen.  The resources included are both websites and books. Great for learning about the world around you.

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  • a-moon-of-my-ownTitle: A Moon of My Own
  • Author: Jennifer Rustgi
  • Illustrator: Ashley White
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nature, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-572-1
  • Extras: Wonderful Places Around the World, Seven Continents of the World, Explore More – For Teachers and Parents, Recommended Resources

I Love Lemonade

Written by Mark Sommerset
Illustrated by Rowan Sommerset

Baa Baa Sheep returns with even more mischief this time. Given, adults really need to talk to kids about not pulling any of his pranks in real life.

In the previous story, Baa Baa Smart Sheep, Baa Baa knowingly tricked Quirky Turkey into consuming smart pills, which were actually poop. In this tale, Quirky seeks revenge. He wants to convince Baa Baa that a glass of pee is actually delicious lemonade. Naturally, Baa Baa is way too smart for Quirky. All he needs to do is the classic misdirect ala Bugs Bunny.

 

So, you’re sure it’s lemonade?
Yes, it’s lemonade.
That’s fresh.
And squeezed.

You’re a turkey.
I AM a turkey.
Who likes lemonade?
Who LOVES lemonade.
Then … why don’t you help yourself?
Don’t mind if I do!

 

This is very funny, especially for first and second graders, but, again, maybe giving them new ideas is not the best thing to do. You decide.

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  • I Love LemonadeTitle: I Love Lemonade
  • Author: Mark Sommerset
  • Illustrator: Rowan Sommerset
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Picture Book, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8067-1

 

Never Follow a Dinosaur

Written and Illustrated by Alex Latimer

In the best traditions of The House that Jack Built and I Met a Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, this cute and funny tale considers what could happen if the tracks two kids find belong to a dinosaur. With each clue Joe and Sally find, they add details about what the dinosaur is up to. An empty cat food bowl suggests a hungry dinosaur. Deep tracks suggest a hungry, heavy dinosaur. Tracks across the swimming pool must mean a hungry, heavy, swimming dinosaur. By the time they find the dinosaur, it has become a hungry, heavy, swimming, dancing dinosaur with a headache and a sore foot and wings. They plan a dinosaur trap, but the reader knows that won’t work. Anyway, the one thing the kids don’t discern from the clues is that it’s also a friendly dinosaur who needs help to bake cakes.

Latimer’s colorful illustrations make the story even more amusing. Willoughby, the cat, follows them on every page. Each child hangs onto a favorite toy throughout.

Second graders can read much of this book independently, but it’s a very entertaining read aloud and would be great with a whole classroom of even younger kids.

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  • Never Follow a DinosaurTitle: Never Follow a Dinosaur
  • Author/Illustrator: Alex Latimer
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, September 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Picture Book, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-704-5

 

Return

Written and Illustrated by Aaron Becker

As in his fantastic Caldecott Honor Journey and sequel, Quest, Becker has no problem telling a beautiful story with no words. His rich and detailed illustrations really need no words.

Most of the characters carry a single crayon and add to the color of the world with that single crayon. Whatever they draw becomes a reality and can take them to castles in faraway lands. This book begins with the girl drawing a red door and entering. Her father finds her missing and follows her into the other realm. There they find the boy from the other books, a king, a huge castle, and also some danger. The boy draws purple birds and other creatures. As the father and daughter continue to explore, they discover cave drawings that look suspiciously like the story being told in the book. With the father’s help, the girl overcomes an evil man capturing all the different colors.

As an innovative picture book, Return encourages the reader to use imagination and observation to learn about the world and make inferences, very important to solving problems. Of course, the reader should also give this book a try if only for the pure enjoyment of the reading. With or without a teacher or parent, kids will love this book.

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  • ReturnTitle: Return
  • Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Picture book, Fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7730-5

 

About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children

Written by Cathryn Sill
Illustrated by John Sill

After reading this book, the reader will have a good handle on the variety of mammals that live in the oceans, as well as what makes an animal a mammal. All mammals need to come to the surface to breathe. They all give birth to live young, whether in the ocean or on shore. They all nurse their young. All are warm blooded. Some live in warm water, while some live in arctic zones. Some are predators, while some eat plants. Some are small, while some are huge.

John Sill’s vibrant yet subtle watercolors let the reader know exactly how these animals look in their natural environments. Especially instructive is the plate with the blue whale. He includes short-beaked common dolphins for scale.

The afterword and resources give second graders a great place to begin further learning. This and all the books in the “A Guide for Children” are valuable tools for elementary school classrooms.

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 About Marine Mammals

  • About Marine Mammals: A Guide for Children
  • Author: Cathryn Sill
  • Illustrator: John Sill
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, August 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Animals, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-906-3
  • Extras: Afterword, Glossary, Suggestions for Further Reading, Resources

Little Red

Written and Illustrated by Bethan Woollvin

What if Little Red Riding Hood outsmarted the Big, Bad Wolf even before she entered Grandma’s house? Would she still be scared? And what would happen then? How could any smart little girl be fooled by a wolf in Grandma’s clothing? With stark and simple illustrations, this empowering retelling answers these and other questions. Red is completely aware of the dangers in the forest and in Grandma’s house. In fact, she seems aware of everything. But she surges ahead, unafraid. As a result, she has a brand new wolf coat to wear home.

This would be a great opportunity for a teacher or parent to discuss the original story, how this version differs, and which one is better. Also, it would encourage kids to be aware of their surroundings and be proactive. Don’t miss the scary, toothy wolf on the un-jacketed book cover.

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  • Little RedTitle: Little Red
  • Author/ Illustrator: Bethan Woollvin
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, Retold fairy tale, Literature
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-917-9

 

 

The Sound of All Things

Written by Myron Uhlberg
Illustrated by Ted Papoulas

Based on the author’s true story, this beautiful picture book follows a deaf man and woman and their hearing son as they venture out for a day at Coney Island. The man has a vague memory of sounds, and wants his son to describe all sounds vividly. The rollercoaster, the crash of ocean waves, a thunderstorm, the roar of the fireworks. But the young boy lacks the vocabulary for adequate descriptions. The library! What a great idea.

Papoulas does an amazing job of capturing the fun, excitement, and flavor of Coney Island in the 1930s. His vibrant and detailed illustrations make the reader part of the scene. The Brooklyn Bridge at both day and night and depictions of Coney Island are great.

This is a wonderful tool for learning about just how disabilities affect everyday life. The use of the library at the end is a sneaky, yet effective way to work on literacy skills and introduce a reading activity.

I tried to imagine what it was like to be deaf. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine being blind. But there was no way I could ever know what it was like being deaf.

This book and the one the boy finds help.

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  • Sound of All ThingsTitle: The Sound of All Things
  • Author: Myron Uhlberg
  • Illustrator: Ted Papoulas
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, Disabilities, Words, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-833-2

A Place for Frogs

Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Higgins Bond

Five thousand different species of frogs have been identified by scientists around the world. Several of the best known species of frogs are mentioned or illustrated in this book. However, the purpose of the book, and the series it belongs to, (A Place For…) is conservation.

The main story line is about how farm chemicals might harm frogs, changing plants in a natural habitat and even walking your dog can harm frogs. Because of the heavy preachy type of writing in this book, it should not be shelved with the true nonfiction books about frogs, but rather with the environmental conservation books.

Text insert boxes give true information as far as the life cycle of frogs and kinds of places or conditions where they lay their eggs. Several suggestions are made for helping frogs to survive, such as, watching out for them when you see them in a road. However, other suggestions are made without scientific basis. Statements like “scientists think…” are not the same as definitive research.

Teachers, parents and librarians might want to use this text in the lower grades of two and three for information about community and personal responsibility. However, it should not be used in the higher grades of four and five as the selected bibliography offers no actual scientific studies nor proof. This book will not meet any core curriculum standards aside from differentiating factual writing from persuasive writing. It should also be noted that this is an updated version of a book from 2009, and is not a new book.

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  • A Place for FrogsTitle: A Place for Frogs
  • Author: Melissa Stewart
  • Illustrator: Higgins Bond
  • Publisher: Peachtree Books, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-902-5
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Grade level: 2 to 5
  • Extras: Frog Facts, inside front and back covers are maps showing regions of the world that are home to various frog species, bibliography, other books for recommended reading

Emma and Julia Love Ballet

Written and Illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Ballet is the star of this story so beautifully done by award winning-illustrator Barbara McClintock. Emma is a little girl who lives in the country and takes ballet lessons. Julia is a grown-up ballerina. The story is beautifully told in parallel fashion as we see each girl get breakfast and go through their day. Besides the comparison between how they do things because of their age, is the comparison of rural versus city life. It is a fascinating dance within the story itself.

The diversity factor also plays in this story as Julia is of African American descent, reflecting the realities of our current prima-ballerina in the United States. A marvelous conclusion to the story has Emma asking for Julia’s autograph with Julia answering, how she once shared Emma’s dream of becoming a ballerina. So this is a different kind of circle story. Where the mouse ends up wanting another cookie, in this instance, the book clearly tells little girls who love ballet their dream can be realized.

Stretches and poses were carefully studied thus beautifully illustrated. Current and former ballet students will recognize the positions. Other types of dances are also represented and encouraged.

This book is a delight and should be part of every school and public library. Teachers will fulfill many core curriculum standards in literacy such as picture clues, sequencing, comparing and contrasting, as well as, main idea.  An all-around winner!

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  • Emma and JuliaTitle: Emma and Julia Love Ballet
  • Author/Illustrator: Barbara McClintock
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-439-89401-2
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2

 

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