Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Review: How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander

First, How to Read a Book, written by Kwame Alexander with art by Melissa Sweet, is breathtakingly gorgeous. Sweet's collage-style art is a perfect complement to Alexander's instructions on how to read, no, how to devour a book, any book.

As a high school English teacher, I am not often afforded the opportunity to read/utilize children's books in my classes. Though I do try my best to incorporate one for every unit, there's not a lot of time set in the curriculum to read and teach everything that I want. But this book doesn't need a unit to accompany; it stands alone. For the 2019-2020 school year, How to Read a Book will be introduced to my tenth graders on the first day of school.

When you first open the book, you are hit by neon pink overlaying a sketch of bookshelves (I was already hooked) followed by Sweet's initial color artwork of a collage of words and illustrations taking the reader through the alphabet--educational and beautiful. Then we begin the story with Alexander's initial instructions for how to read a book: "First, find a tree--a black tupelo or dawn redwood will do-and plant yourself in it. (It's okay if you prefer a stoop, like Langston Hughes)". As a reader, I am already transported through Alexander and Sweet's imagery into a world where books, imagination, learning grow. The non pinks and oranges juxtaposed with watercolor blues and tans only enhance the experience.

As the story progresses, the art becomes more complex and begins to intertwine even more with the words. For a sweet surprise (pun intended), pages unfold into artwork and words that I wish I could frame, and I'm left at the end of the book anxious to start all over again and study each page.

That is the magic of How to Read a Book. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Read These Four Scholastic Children's Books to Celebrate SHARK WEEK

There Was an Old Mermaid Who Swallowed a Shark! (written by Lucille Colandro and illustrated by Jared Lee) is a new part of bestselling There Was an Old Lady Series.

Here the old mermaid swallows a great white shark for no reason apparently, but by swallowing the shark, young readers find out some cool facts about the shark, like how much a shark can weigh and the rows and rows of teeth that sharks have in their mouths. Along with the shark, the old mermaid swallows a squid, a tropical fish, an eel, a crab, a sea star, and a clam! That way, the shark she swallowed won't be lonely. Even though the old mermaid is just playing pretend like little kids do, she learns a lot about these underwater creatures and how they're our friends. At the end of the book are some awesome extra features of facts about the underwater friends readers make.

A part of another bestselling series, Fly Guy Presents, Fly Guy Presents: Sharks (written by Ted Arnold) takes young readers through a colorful animated and real photo adventure to learn about all kinds of sharks.

A little boy, Buzz, and his pet, Fly Guy, visit the aquarium to see and learn about sharks. There they see the Gray Reef Shark and Leopard Shark just for starters. Buzz and Fly Guy share cool photos of sharks' gills and teeth in a collage style layout, much like a scrapbook of awesome shark facts. Kids who may be afraid of sharks can learn more about them and maybe not be so scared anymore. Kids who love sharks can learn even more about the big fish they love so much, including how and what they eat. To be honest, my thirty-five year old husband has read through the book several times. My one and half year old loves looking at the photos, and the book helped him not be so scared when we saw sharks at the aquarium this year.

I don't know about you, but I can't go one day without hearing the Baby Shark song on YouTube Kids or getting the song stuck in my head. The popular song comes to life in Baby Shark.

What is cool about the book is that young learners can see the words to the song up close and stop and see the illustrations that go along with the words, which is awesome for young learners. For kids who know the song, they can learn to spell the words and learn the motions to the videos. At the end of the book is a visual guide to the hand (dance) steps to the song. If you thought the song was being played everywhere, you were right, and now the hit song can be enjoyed by readers too!

In the follow-up to last year's Misunderstood Shark, Misunderstood Shark: Friends Don't Eat Friends (written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Scott Magoon) looks at what it takes to be a good friend, an important lesson for young children.

On the previous episode of the book's show Underwater World with Bob, Shark ATE Bob--that's right, Shark at the host of the show, and once Shark burps up Bob in this book, Bob is not happy with how Shark treated his friend. Because friends don't eat friends. While Bob is upset and ranting at Shark, other friendly creatures are trying to keep Bob on script, which makes the book even more hilarious. Reading the book feels like you're a part of a comedy. All the while, young readers are learning about sharks, like how sharks don't have any bones! In the end, both Shark and Bob realize what it means to be true friends and forgive each other--what a lesson for kids and readers of all ages!

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Monday's Not Coming and Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

I'm a little late to the Tiffany D. Jackson party, but let me tell you that I am here for Jackson's storytelling and plot twists. This past school year, I was hanging out in the school library trying to find something new to read. Our wonderful librarians both suggested Tiffany D. Jackson, and I can't thank them enough for turning me onto this author. I've been tired of the dystopian YA novel for awhile now, and I'm always attracted to realistic fiction or fiction that deals with what's happening in the world right now. Jackson is able to take issues that people try not to think about and put them in your face. You can't look away, and you can't stop reading. Both of these books are page-turners, while I read them with my classes during silent reading, I would constantly talk under my breath or much so that my students were constantly asking what was happening in my book. No English teacher can be upset with that. Often our brief but sweet ten minutes of reading time would turn into much longer periods as I asked them to keep reading...just a few more minutes for Mrs. G. They giggled but obliged. I have never read two books back to back so quickly--not even the Twilight series or Harry Potter.

Without going into spoilers, if I had to choose my favorite of the two, I would choose Monday's Not Coming since I am educator and see similar scenarios every school year. Not quite at the extreme level that Jackson presents, but there are kids who go overlooked more often than not. Plus, what I thought was a twist turned out not to be THE twist, so Jackson keeps you on your toes until the very end. I loved Allegedly as well, just as much even as Monday's Not Coming, though I was very upset at the ending (but in a good way!). With both female protagonists, Jackson presents young girls who struggle with identity, confidence, and mental health, and she doesn't hide behind anything to portray characters who are fragile. That's what we need more of in this world--to see fragility and to become educated on how to cope. There are a couple of authors out there who are trying to write about the real world (Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Elizabeth Acevedo), and I'm happy to say that the world is finally starting to listen. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Bundle Up by Jennifer Sattler

Following the success of Dirty Birdies and Jungle Gym, Bundle UP uses humor and visual cues to help toddlers identify primary and secondary colors. Starting with a pair of yellow mittens an adorable purple hippo prepares to go outside and play in the snow. 

You can nurture early literacy skills, create positive interactions, and just have fun with this series! The books also include fun activity pages!
Overall Thoughts

Even though my son is already ten months old (!!!), I am pretty new to teaching him colors and numbers, the basics that he will need for learning and development. I am now always on the lookout for books that will teach him those new skills and words as he begins to recognize and remember things every day. Bundle Up is the perfect introduction to primary and secondary colors for infants and toddlers. The colors used in the book are vivid, and the cute hippo displays the yellow mittens, green scarf, red coat, and blue hat with adorable pride. The font size is large enough for young children, and the clean pages on the left effectively display the colors, allowing for the contrasting colorful pages on the right. At ten months old, my son loves to flip through the pages, and while he can't quite read the words, he recognizes the images and colors on the pages. This book will definitely be a daily read for us.

About the author

Jennifer Sattler didn't always want to be an author and illustrator. When she was in third grade her teacher, Teacher Marty, mentioned that she was 40 and had never had a cavity. Jennifer thought that Teacher Marty was “ the bees knees” so she decided that she would be a dentist when she grew up and vowed never to have a cavity. Jennifer went on to become an artist. She pretended to be a grown up for several years, teaching college students how to paint and draw. But when her kids were born, her inner goofball could be contained no longer!  Her passion was making kids laugh and making picture books. She’s not a dentist. But… still no cavities! (

Other Books in the Series

Thursday, August 3, 2017

(Best of 2017 So Far) Nemesis by Brendan Reichs

Orphan Black meets Lord of the Flies in this riveting new thriller from the co-author of the Virals series. 

It's been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, a strange man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later, she wakes up in a clearing just outside her tiny Idaho hometown—alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the horrifying crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him, though he does his best to hide the signs. But when the world around him begins to spiral toward panic and destruction, Noah discovers that people have been lying to him his whole life. Everything changes in an eye blink.

For the planet has a bigger problem. The Anvil, an enormous asteroid threatening all life on Earth, leaves little room for two troubled teens. Yet on her sixteenth birthday, as she cowers in her bedroom, hoping not to die for the fifth time, Min has had enough. She vows to discover what is happening in Fire Lake and uncovers a lifetime of lies: a vast conspiracy involving the sixty-four students of her sophomore class, one that may be even more sinister than the murders.
Overall Thoughts

This definitely isn't your average YA book and borderlines on horror (which is great, in my opinion). The premise that Min is murdered every two years on her birthday (and comes back) is a pretty original YA plot these days. The frightening part isn't necessarily that she knows it's going to happen so much as she can do absolutely nothing to stop the man in black. As if the plot wasn't unique enough, there's also an impending asteroid heading toward Earth, which makes Min's anxiety surrounding her "death" even more imminent (and also helps to keep the pace of the novel at a fever pitch). The structure of the novel varies between Min's narrative (including flashbacks that serve as pieces to the overall puzzle) and switching points of view with Noah (who has issues all his own but that are more connected to Min than either of them realize). In the end, and knowing there's a sequel coming next year, Nemesis becomes part of one of the YA series that you can't wait to re-read while waiting on the next journey.

About the author

Brendan Reichs was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He graduated from Wake Forest University in 2000 and The George Washington University School of Law in 2006. After three long years working as a litigation attorney, he abandoned the trade to write full time. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Nemesis, and co-author of the Virals series, written with Kathy Reichs. Brendan lives in Charlotte with his wife, son, daughter, and a herd of animals that tear up everything.

Click to Pre-Order Book 2!

"Prepare yourselves for greatness." -James Dashner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maze Runner series.

Can the Fire Lake sophomore class survive in a world without consequences?

Noah Livingston knows he is destined to survive. 

The 64 members of Fire Lake's sophomore class are trapped in a place where morals have no meaning and zero rules apply. But Noah's deaths have trained him-hardened him-to lead the strongest into the future ... whatever that may be. And at any cost. 

Min Wilder knows that survival alone isn't enough. 

In a violent world where brute force passes for leadership, it's tempting to lay back and let everyone else battle it out. But Min's instincts rebel against allowing others to decide who lives and who dies. She's ready to fight for what she believes in. And against whomever might stand in her way.

Lord of the Flies meets The Matrix in Brendan Reichs's follow-up to the instant New York Timesbestseller Nemesis.