Thursday, October 31, 2019

Before THE SKY WEAVER by Kristen Ciccarelli hits shelves on November 12, 2019, catch up on the first two installments in the Iskari series.

For fans of teen fantasy (and Game of Thrones) comes the Iskari series, with the first two books in the series being The Last Namsara and The Caged Queen. The series follows Asha of Firgaard (who reminds me of Daenerys Targaryen...okay that's the last Thrones reference), who has lost of her love dragons since a dragon almost killed her as a child. She believes in control and keeping everyone in the respective class. Until that becomes a problem for her and the situation she is in where she is engaged to someone she doesn't want to marry. But what would a good teen fantasy book be without conflicted love? Enter the rebel, a handsome boy of slave class who causes Asha to question everything she knows, loves, and trusts.

The Caged Queen is a lot different than the first of the series.  This book follows Dax, Asha, and Roa as we learn more about the characters introduced in the first book. Dax and Asha are siblings, and Roa married Dax so that she could help take care of her own people. There's not a lot of Asha in this book as she's on the run from the first book, but the character development for Dax and Roa is necessary to learn more about their motivations in the first book. Plus, you realize they're not so bad after all, which is important for Asha as well and what holds her fate. Both books promote strong female characters who come to realizations that change their lives forever.

By Kristen Ciccarelli
Publication Date: November 12, 2019

At the end of one world, there always lies another.  Safire, a soldier, knows her role in this world is to serve the King of Firgaard—helping to maintain the peace in her oft-troubled nation.  Eris, a deadly pirate, has no such conviction. Known as the Death Dancer for her ability to evade even the most determined of pursuers, she possesses a superhuman power to move between worlds.  When one can roam from dimension to dimension, can one ever be home? Can love and loyalty truly exist?  
Now Safire and Eris—sworn enemies—find themselves on a common mission: to find Asha, the last Namsara.  From the port city of Darmoor to the fabled faraway Star Isles, their search and their stories become woven ever more tightly together as they discover the uncertain fate they’re hurtling towards may just be a shared one. In this world—and the next.

About Kristen Ciccarelli: Ciccarelli is an internationally bestselling author of fantasy fiction. Her first novel, The Last Namsara, which debuted on the UK’s Children & YA chart, was named one of Indigo’s Best Books for Teens.  It has been translated into 12 languages. Before becoming an author, Ciccarelli was an artisanal baker, an indie bookseller, and a ceramic artist.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review: Roar Like a Dandelion

In a world where there are a lot of alphabet books for kids, along comes Roar Like a Dandelion to give children a new way to look at the letters they are learning. For my two year old who is learning his letters now, Roar Like a Dandelion is a hit!

This book is different than other alphabet books because readers are asked simple commands to help learn what the letters are and how to pronounce them. My favorite line is, "Look under the bed for the poetry." What English teacher mom wouldn't love this beautiful command?

Children ages 2+ will love learning the alphabet while also learning to follow simple commands (which is big in my house right now). The illustrations with muted yellows and greens beautifully accent the page and are exaggerated and cute enough to make my son laugh.

Overall, I would definitely pick up this book off the shelf for my son as he learns to say and recognize the alphabet as well as learn words like "yes" and "look".

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.