Rosie’s Magic Horse

Written by Russell Hoban

Illustrated by Quentin Blake

Buy on Amazon

An ice-pop stick thinks there is more for him than to be thrown away.  And he is right.  A girl named Rosie picks him up and adds him to her ice-pop stick collection.  The old sticks feel like there is nothing left for them but to live in Rosie’s old cigar box.  But the new stick dares them to dream, to try something different.  “What,” they challenge him.  Be a horse is the first thing the stick thinks of.  Meanwhile, back at Rosie’s house, her parents are worried about paying their bills and that makes Rosie worry, too.  She fashions her sticks into a horse shape and, at the stroke of midnight, the horse comes alive.  She asks the horse to help her get some treasure.  They ride off on an adventure that involves a mountain of ice-pops and pirates.  After a harrowing (and delicious) escape, Rosie brings home a chest of gold to help Mum and Dad pays the bills.  And the sticks take a well-deserved nap.

Well-known collaborators Russell Hoban, author, and Quentin Blake, illustrator, successfully team up again with this unique picture book.  There are so many metaphors that this is one of those picture books that could be used with older students to teach literary devices.  The pen and watercolor illustrations are filled with Blake’s trademark humor.  The text could be adapted to a skit or reader’s theatre as a literacy activity, but the illustrations make it an ideal class read aloud.  This seems to be Hoban’s last book because he died in 2011, making Rosie’s Magic Horse even more a treasure.

  • Rosies Magic HorseTITLE: Rosie’s Magic Horse
  • AUTHOR: Russell Hoban
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Quentin Blake
  • PUBLISHER: Candlewick
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6400-8
  • GENRE: Picture book, magic realism, adventure

Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever-or Snack time?

Written by Tammi Sauer 

Illustrated by Micheal Slack

Buy on Amazon

Nugget is a minnow and Fang is a shark…. And how in the world can they be friends? This delightful story for younger readers is a tale of fear and of friendship. Minnow thinks Fang is the very best until he goes to school and learns that minnows are food for sharks. Now what in the world will he do without his best friend? And why do the others think he should be afraid?

The author does a wonderful job with few words introducing both math concepts for first and second grade readers and fun science facts too. Younger children will enjoy the story if read aloud and will quickly learn to read this fun story independently.

The bright and colorful illustrations make this story an exciting book to add to the classroom library. With both science and math concepts along with some life lessons on friendship and being different, this book gives teachers many opportunities to use this book as a springboard for other discussions and activities in the first grade classroom.

Teachers and parents will love the way the book makes reading comprehension a breeze for first and second grade readers. The simple words, diagrams, and illustrations lend themselves to fun and engaging the reader from the first page.  Students may even want to try their hand at writing and illustrating their own stories of friendship using math and science to make their story shine.

You can find more about this author at   Visit Michael Slack at

  • NuggetTitle: Nugget & Fang:  Friends Forever-or Snack time?
  • Author: Tammi Sauer
  • Illustrator: Michael Slack
  • Picture Book
  • Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Pages: 32

Two Shy Pandas

Written by Julia Jarman
Illustrated by Susan Varley

Buy on Amazon

A sweet rhyming picture book with endearing characters, Two Shy Pandas addresses a common fear for young children: making friends. Two young pandas live next door to one another. Each saw the other out playing by themselves. Each wanted to ask the other to play. Each could not get the courage to approach the other. But each was very aware of the other one especially when Pandora wanted to seesaw or to bounce her ball. Then one day it snowed and Panda made lots of snowballs. He saw that he couldn’t play with snowballs by himself so he tossed one over the fence. But Pandora wasn’t there! He began to worry if she was sick or if she had gone away. After being inside for a while, Pandora worried too that she hadn’t seen Panda. As they worried about each other, they both decided to find out what was going on and bumped into each other. After learning that each panda was still there and not sick, they became the best of friends, playing together long after the snow was gone.
The text is very kid-friendly, having an easy enough reading level that second graders can read it themselves, perhaps making their own audio book as a literacy activity or a book to read to a younger book buddy. It would be a valuable class read aloud as part of a Character Counts unit, touching on most of the pillars of character. Students will be drawn in by the panda characters because they are so likeable and easy to relate to due to both the illustrations and the storytelling.

  • Two Shy PandasTITLE: Two Shy Pandas
  • AUTHOR: Julia Jarman
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Susan Varley
  • PUBLISHER: Andersen/Lerner, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 32 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-4677-1141-8
  • GENRE: Picture Book

Till Death Do Us Bark

Written by Kate Klise

Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

Buy on Amazon

This is book three in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series. Book one introduced the readers to the main characters – a family that is two-thirds human (Iggy and Seymour) and one-third ghost (Olive). This book adds a perpetually barking dog named Secret to the mix. Does Secret hold the secret to the mystery of the vanished fortune?

We’ll find out. The author has strewn puns along the way for a fun-filled ride. It starts with the  names of the characters:  M. Balm, Fay Tality, Shirley U. Jest, Mac Awbrah, Mike Ondolences, Kay Daver – in this list of ghastly names Seymor is the only ray of hope! The editor is Cliff Hangar, Rita O’Bitt is the Attorney-at-Law (what a hit that is). Grown-ups will enjoy the book as much as second grade readers will.

The story is told through a series of letters and newspaper articles lavishly illustrated with black-and-white line drawings that add to the fun, and enrich the reading experience.

Noah Breth’s will is poetry in the form of three limericks that point to where his fortune now resides.

And that’s when this very rich man

Decided he needed a plan

To make sense of his wealth

While still in good health

Now go find it if you can.

How readers will enjoy solving the mystery! Of course some of the clues may require deciphering the pun, reading the word in all its meanings. A great opportunity to improve reading skills.

Noah knows his children well and his lesson to them is gently delivered. No spoiler here, but small coins keep turning up all over town. “I wanted to remind people that sometimes small change can be extremely valuable.”

Enough with the puns already! Let us scatter Noah Breth’s ashes over County Limerick, Ireland, (as he desires) and wait with baited breath for the next book in this punny, funny, groan-inducing, roll-your-eyes-till you almost lose them series. Happy Reading.

Additional Resources:

Interview with Kate and M. Sarah Klise:


Kate Klise’s Top Ten Tips for Becoming a Bestselling Writer:

Sarah Klise’s Top Seven Drawing and Writing Tips:

  • Till DeathTitle: Till Death Do Us Bark
  • Author: Kate Klise
  • Illustrator: M. Sarah Klise
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback:  123 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-85081-8
  • Genre: Fiction/Humor

Cheer Up, Mouse!

Written and Illustrated by Jed Henry

Buy on Amazon

This book is about Mouse, who appears to be very sad.  Animals from all over the forest decide that they will go to great lengths to cheer him up.  Bird decides to cheer him up by picking him up in the air, dipping and diving with him, while Frog splashes and paddles in the water with him.  The other animals in the story also go out of their way to try to make Mouse happy, finally eliciting a hug at the end of the story from Mouse to all his friends.

What a great story for teachers to use as a read aloud for second graders to encourage friendship and helping one another!  It would be great for character education for the classroom, as this story is full of compassion and the illustrations definitely highlight this.  Children will love the adorable pictures of the animals.  Looking at the illustrations can’t help but make you smile as you read the story.  This is sure to be an uplifting mood elevator for all who read this.

This story would also be great to use in the classroom to teach adjectives, as it talks about the animals in the story flapping, fluttering, dipping, and diving.

This book is written by Jed Henry, who is a New York Times best-selling illustrator as well, and has written and illustrated this book.  Jed has always had a passion for animals, which is the inspiration behind the book.  He lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Provo, Utah.

  • Cheer Up MouseTitle:  Cheer Up, Mouse!
  • Author and illustrator:  Jed Henry
  • Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin
  • Reviewer:  Rebecca L. Wagner
  • Hardback:  29 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-547-68107-8
  • Genre:  Fiction/Animals/Character education

Sleep Like a Tiger

Written by Mary Logue
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Buy on Amazon

One thing most children do not like is bedtime and most will avoid bedtime at all costs. The little girl in Sleep Like a Tiger is no different. She finds herself still wide awake even though the sun has set. She tells her parents she is not tired nor is she sleepy. The parents are typical parents who tell her that it is alright if she doesn’t go to sleep, but for her to just get her pajamas on and do her usual bedtime routines. Instead of the usual drink of water, or hunger pangs most children are preoccupied with, the little girl proceeds to ask her parents about various animals and if they sleep.

The story focuses on animals from the family dog to colossal whales in the ocean with wonderful, vibrant illustrations of the animals and their sleeping habits. Second graders will relate to the young girl not wanting to go to bed. They will be thoroughly entertained and enchanted with the author’s way of introducing the world to the reader and will love the way the darkness and bedtime routines are depicted in the story. This would be a great read aloud when introducing connections to children. Children can share their bedtime rituals and see how they relate to the experiences that the young girl experienced in the story.

This book is written by poet, Mary Logue, who has written several books for both young readers and adults. This is her first picture book.

The illustrator, Pamela Zagarenski, is not only an illustrator for this book, but has been awarded the Caldecott Honor medal for her book Red Sings from Treetops. She also creates large paintings, which can be viewed at

  • Sleep Like a TigerTitle: Sleep Like a Tiger
  • Author: Mary Logue
  • Illustrator: Pamela Zagarenski
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Reviewer: Rebecca L. Wagner
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-64102-7
  • Genre: Fiction

Those Darn Squirrels Fly South

Written by Adam Rubin
Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Buy on Amazon

Old Man Fookwire is a grump! Even though he lives near a beautiful forest full of birds and amazing nature animals, he always finds something to grumble about. From clouds being too fluffy to blossoms smelling too sweet, there always seems to be something wrong with even the most perfect days. However, he does find himself enjoying summertime, spending most of his time painting the colorful birds who often visit his backyard. Sometimes, however, the squirrels get in the way of his paintings and ruin his pictures by painting themselves to which Old Man Fookwire will shout, “those darn squirrels!”.
» Read more

Grover and Big Bird’s Passover Celebration

Written by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer
Illustrated by Tom Leigh

Buy on Amazon

Passover is a holiday that many students may have heard of in church or from their Jewish friends, but without instruction, it is impossible to understand the very rich historical significance of this ancient celebration. Grover and Big Bird’s Passover Celebration is a nice way for students to dip into learning about the Passover Feast called seder.

Follow familiar friends Big Bird and Grover on their way to seder at a Jewish friend’s home. Along the way, readers learn Hebrew greetings and other vocabulary relevant to Passover, such as boker tov, shalom, and mitzvot. Though this book does not delve into the meaning of the traditions of “The Four Questions” or “finding the afikomen,” simply by reading about familiar characters participating in these activities, students will want to dive into some research to better understand the story.

As a follow-up activity, a second or third grade class may brainstorm a list of twenty questions they have after reading this book and visit the library where each student researches a different question. This activity not only supports comprehension, but also encourages investigation and skill development in using the media center. This illustrated book is only a small portion of the resources available in the Shalom Sesame series of books. These books are great tools for introducing young readers to Jewish celebrations throughout the year as part of a broad scope of social studies. After reading Grover and Big Bird’s Passover Celebration, students will surely echo Big Bird’s final sentiment, “Whew! My brain is full of new words.” And this is a very good way to feel, indeed.

  • GroverTitle: Grover and Big Bird’s Passover Celebration
  • Author: Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer
  • Illustrator: Tom Leigh
  • Publisher: Kar-Ben
  • Reviewer: Sharon Schulte
Hardback, 24 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7613-8491-5
  • Genre: fiction/Passover/Shalom Sesame

The Adventures of Jo Schmo: Wyatt Burp Rides Again

Written by Greg Trine
Illustrated by Frank W. Dormer

Buy on Amazon

Jo Schmo loves her superhero powers that came with a cape she inherited from her uncle. After a successful round of crime fighting, Jo is bored with ordinary life. She wants to be fighting crime, but there isn’t anything going on in her hometown of San Francisco. When she hears about Wyatt Burp, a criminal who terrorized San Francisco in the gold rush days with his stinky burps, Jo decides to build a time machine and fight crime in the past. She doesn’t see the crime right in her own classroom! Two mean girls, Gertrude and Betty, decide to stop Jo with, of all things, a wrecking ball. They don’t realize that the reason Jo didn’t come to school that day is because she’s in the past. Jo and her drooling dog Raymond track down Wyatt, who thinks the girl and her dog are mini-vampires. What follows is a chase of the hilarious kind.
» Read more

That Cat Can’t Stay

Written by Thad Krasnesky

Illustrated by David Parkins

Buy on Amazon

Dad attempts to put a stop to Mom bringing home stray cats, but somehow Mom keeps them anyway. The first cat Mom brings home is in the pouring rain.  Dad says “No way!” until he realizes how miserable the cat would be in the rain.  He relents, saying no one can pet him or play with him.  Don’t become attached because the cat is going.  Then Mom finds a calico that is too skinny and pathetic.  Mom finds a cat lost in a parking lot where it could get run over.  And worst of all, Mom finds a cat with a broken leg!  With every cat, Dad repeats his reasons why the cats can’t stay ending with “I’m sure EVERYONE agrees: we can’t have ANY more of these!”  Finally, when the oldest daughter brings home a lost kitten, Dad reaches his breaking point.  He comes home with…a dog!
» Read more

« Older Entries Recent Entries »