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Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dreams of Don Quixote

Written by Margarita Engle
Illustrated by Raúl Colón

Although most people know about Don Quixote, few know much about the author behind the icon. In this fictionalized account of Miguel Cervantes’ early life, the reader learns that Miguel had a very tough life indeed. Escape into his fantasies about Don Quixote was often the only happiness in his world.

In simple language easily accessible to early grades, the author tells of Miguel’s father who lost most of his earnings to gambling and ended up in debtors’ prison for a time. So the family moved around a lot. Miguel found refuge in the stories his teachers read from books so precious only the teachers were allowed to touch them. Miguel witnessed burning of some of the books considered subversive due to use of imagination. The plague hit Europe, causing more suffering for the Cervantes family. Eventually, Miguel learned enough about writing that one of his teachers asks to publish some of his poems.

Fantastic pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations accompany every page of the manuscript. Realistic and authentic, they are certainly as enjoyable as the text.

In the Notes, the reader learns of Miguel’s later life. Nothing got easier. He was taken as a slave, was freed, and spent time in prison himself.

  • Miguels Brave KnightTitle: Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dreams of Don Quixote
  • Author: Margarita Engle
  • Illustrator: Raúl Colón
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, October 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Creative Nonfiction, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-856-1
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Historical Note, Biographical Note, Don Quixote: A Cultural Icon

Can an Aardvark Bark?

Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Getting to know wild animals is easier if you know how they are like you and the domesticated animals you are familiar with. In the area of sounds we make, the author first explores which animals make the noise known as a grunt, because aardvarks do not bark. Who would have thought this included aardvarks, river otters, Hamadryas baboons, white-tailed deer, and oyster toadfish? Animals that do bark include New Zealand fur seals, common barking geckos, capybaras, barking tree frogs, and woodchucks. Animals that squeal include European hedgehogs, Atlantic spotted dolphins, Abert’s towhees, margays, and you. Other sounds explored are whines, growls, bellows, and laughs.

The main text is written in simple language that can be read independently. The sidebars are also very simple, straightforward, and relatable. Kids will learn a ton and enjoy doing it.

The fun and lively illustrations bring the animals right into the reader’s world. Many of the animals discussed are unfamiliar, so the accuracy of the illustrations is important.

Recommended for classroom and home.

  • Can an Aardvark BarkTitle: Can an Aardvark Bark?
  • Author: Melissa Stewart
  • Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
  • Published: Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Nature, Animals
  • ISBN: 978-1-4814-5852-8
  • Extras: Selected Sources, For Further Reading

Claude on the Big Screen

Written and Illustrated by Alex T. Smith

Another installment in the “Claude” series sees Claude and Sir Bobblysock participating in the film industry. In a way, this story is custom made for Claude, a dog, and his sockly friend. It’s silly and imaginative and defines suspension of disbelief.

Claude attempts to keep all manner of paraphernalia in his beret, including a clothesline full of costumes. This becomes important, as the line itself keeps snaking its way out of the hat. When Claude notices a giant gorilla in a dressing gown drinking a cup of tea, he and Sir Bobbly sock feel compelled to investigate. They find a film company shooting a movie. They immediately immerse themselves in all things cinema, helping with wigs, makeup, costumes, sound, and lighting. Claude’s clothesline causes a disaster that sends the lead actors to hospital, so Claude and Sir Bobblysock also try acting.

Much of the humor is very subtle, but kids will no doubt look for the signs on the buildings (e.g., Miss Reed’s Read-A-Lot Bookshop: We like big books and we cannot lie) and names such as Waggy Avenue. Of course, some of the jokes are beyond young kids (Gloria Swoon), but they will still get that there is humor there.

There is a lot here to encourage kids to keep reading. Also, a lot of fun.

  • Claude on the Big ScreenTitle: Claude on the Big Screen
  • Author/Illustrator: Alex T. Smith
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, October 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 4
  • Genre: Humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-009-9

Daytime Nighttime All Through the Year

Written by Diane Lang
Illustrated by Andrea Gabriel

The author chose fun rhyme and relatable actions for each page of this informative new book. Each month, she highlights both a diurnal and nocturnal animal and what each animal might be doing in that month. The reader sees a bald eagle catching fish and a coyote pack howling and prowling in January. To a tortoise eating cactus flowers and an opossum carrying her young in May. And a snake sunning and a cougar tracking prey in December.

The illustrator brings obvious knowledge of the animals and their habitats. The illustrations are simple yet educational and always accurate.

This is a wonderful addition to a nature library and a good place to start for studying these animals.

So while you are sleeping,

And when you arise,

Animals everywhere

Lead busy lives.

  • Daytime and NighttimeTitle: Daytime Nighttime All Through the Year
  • Author: Diane Lang
  • Illustrator: Andrea Gabriel
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Creative Nonfiction, Nature
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-607-0
  • Extras: Explore More for Kids: Busy Day and Night; Explore More for Teachers and Parents: More About the Animals, Teachable Moments

Tall Tall Tree

Written by Anthony D. Fredericks
Illustrated by Chad Wallace

High above the forest floor is a world few people know about. It’s home to hundreds of species and is only present where the coast redwoods grow. If the redwoods go, this environment goes.

The author presents the story as a counting book with gentle rhyme highlighting ten different animals.

A single soaring eagle

Against a sky of blue

Up through “ten spotted Ladybugs.” In the Explore More sections, detailed descriptions and fun activities make this an extremely educational experience.

The realistic illustrations show kids a world they might never see otherwise. He includes in each illustration an extra animal so kids will have something extra to spot after counting the stars of the show.

As with most books from this publisher, this is a great text to include in a classroom. In this case, one learning about nature, the environment, or redwoods in particular. Of course, parents might also enjoy reading the fun text and discussing the environment with their kids.

This is a wonderful addition to any nature library.

  • Tall Tall TreeTitle: Tall Tall Tree
  • Author: Anthony D. Fredericks
  • Illustrator: Chad Wallace
  • Published: Dawn Publications, September 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Nature, Counting
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-602-5
  • Extras: Explore More for Kids, Explore More for Teachers and Parents, Activities on publisher’s website: dawnpub.com

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song

Written by Debbie Levy
Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

More than ever, children need something positive to hold onto. If they can sing some of their troubles away, maybe that will clear their heads so they can come up with solutions. This book was published a few years ago, but has even more relevance to today.

The author, Debbie Levy, has written about many subjects that qualify as consciousness-raising, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, and Richard Wright. In this story of the civil rights movement, she treats the topic with her usual sensitivity. From slavery to the lunch counter sit ins to the Freedom Singers, this one song held the people together. The March on Washington and the fight for the Voting Rights Act featured the song. It spread throughout the world to inspire struggles in other countries. The song evolved over the years, but the sentiment remained the same.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton is also no stranger to working with sensitive issues nor to illustrations about songs. Her images perfectly show how the singers have incorporated the song into their lives.

Highly recommended for early grade school discussions of current events.

  • We Shall OvercomeTitle: We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song
  • Author: Debbie Levy
  • Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
  • Published: Disney: Jump at the Sun, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 3
  • Genre: Creative nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-142311954
  • Extras: The Life of “We Shall Overcome,” a timeline; bibliography

Don’t Call Me Turtle

Written by Elaine A. Powers
Illustrated by Nicholas Thorpe

Written in rhyme to hold a kid’s interest, this is a cute story about a tortoise that keeps getting mistaken for a turtle. So the author explains many of the differences between the two. This is most important for those who might encounter one of these creatures and are wondering how best to help it. Readers don’t want to be responsible for drowning a tortoise. The shape and consistency of the shell and the different feet and claws are dead giveaways.

The detailed illustrations also aid with tortoise/turtle identification.

This short book is perfect for a nature unit on reptiles. Back matter is lacking, but the story is compelling enough to urge kids to look for more information.

  • Dont Call Me TurtleTitle: Don’t Call Me Turtle
  • Author: Elaine A. Powers
  • Illustrator: Nicholas Thorpe
  • Published: Lyric Power Publishing LLC, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 26 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Creative nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-1517509576

Super Rooster and Wonder Cat

Written by Alma Hammond
Illustrated by Hugh Keiser

Based on the author’s observation of an unlikely pair of friends while on honeymoon in Bora Bora, this imaginative story speculates about what a rooster and a cat might encounter as they venture forth. They decide they have super powers, namely an ability to cockadoodle dazzle or to run up a coconut palm quickly and knock down a coconut. They meet a crab whose power is to break open the coconut, a spotted eagle ray who can fly through the air, and a black tip reef shark that can leap through the air for a distance. At first, the rooster and cat are frightened of the other creatures. Then they learn not to be threatening themselves.

Keiser’s illustrations provide a perfect backdrop to this fun story in which kids can explore what their super powers might be.

This is also a great opportunity for readers to learn about an area of the world they may never have heard of, or maybe only in Hollywood movies. They can explore who might be an unusual friend for them.

  • Super RoosterTitle: Super Rooster and Wonder Cat
  • Author: Alma Hammond
  • Illustrator: Hugh Keiser
  • Published: Sweetbeet Books, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Creative nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-0-9985362-0-0
  • Extras: Study questions, Fun facts about the creatures on Bora Bora

Fergus and Zeke

Written by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Heather Ross

Fergus is a mouse. A well-behaved mouse that just happens to be the classroom pet for Miss Maxwell’s class. He follows all the rules, so why shouldn’t he go on the class field trip? Consequently, he sees no problem with stowing away in Emma’s backpack. He befriends a nice banana so he will follow the rule of having a buddy. But when the kids are required to leave their backpacks in the cloak room, Fergus has to find another buddy. And he does – Zeke, a museum mouse. Zeke, not quite believing in rules, shows him all the fun places humans cannot go. They have so much fun, Fergus almost misses the bus home. Of course, Zeke must come with him, much to the surprise of the entire classroom.

Fergus is so likeable that young readers will surely want to know what happens to him. They will probably want to see more from Fergus and Zeke also. Kids will learn a lot about friendship about the importance of rules. They might also learn about how field trips work and about what goes on at natural history museums. The sweet illustrations give a realistic view of this imaginative story.

Buy on Amazon

  • Fergus and ZekeTitle: Fergus and Zeke
  • Author: Kate Messner
  • Illustrator: Heather Ross
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 56 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Chapter book, Friendship
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7846-3

Annie and Simon: Banana Muffins and Other Stories

Written by Catherine O’Neill

In three sweet stories, the reader is invited to get to know Annie and her big, big brother, Simon.

First up, Annie is hungry and Simon suggests making banana muffins. The recipe goes smoothly until Annie insists on counting the nuts and the cranberries. Simon’s interest waivers enough so that Annie slips in chocolate chips, which are not in the recipe. Naturally, the muffins are delicious.

Next, Simon finds himself babysitting with the neighbor’s baby. That goes well until the child’s favorite toy gets misplaced. Turns out, the family dog is burying all sorts of useful items.

Last, Annie and Simon are enjoying treasures from Annie’s past – a pacifier and a book about butterflies. Meanwhile, the dog needs to be distracted away from a porcupine.

Delightful watercolors adorn nearly every page and show how much Annie and Simon enjoy each other. Lovely details will be fun for kids to spot. The book is short enough for early readers to tackle on their own. It can also be enjoyed as a read aloud, especially at bedtime.

Buy on Amazon

  • Annie and SimonTitle:  Annie and Simon: Banana Muffins and Other Stories
  • Author:  Catherine O’Neill
  • Publisher:  Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format:  Hardcover, 64 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-7498-4
  • Genre: Early Reader Fiction
  • Grade level: K to 3
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