Toby

Written and Illustrated by Hazel Mitchell

Fall in love with this heartwarming tale almost as quickly as the boy falls in love with his new dog.

When a young boy and his father move into a new home, the boy asks for a dog. At the local animal shelter, they disagree briefly on which dog is right for them, but the dad lets the son choose, since it will be his responsibility. The first days with Toby are rough, as he is afraid of everything and does not know his doggie manners. But, gradually, as Toby and his boy learn from each other and form a bond, life gets better. They play together, go on walks, and even hunt for shoes. They learn to sit and stay and make friends.

Mitchell’s beautiful illustrations capture the emotions of all three characters. She shows all the actions involved in adjusting to their new life together. The end pages are especially delightful.

The author’s note about the Toby who inspired this story should encourage people to visit shelters and be as loving as the boy in the story. Parents and teachers should be prepared to discuss puppy mills and how they affect different animals differently. Also, discussions about responsibility and training animals may be incorporated.

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  • tobyTitle: Toby
  • Author/Illustrator: Hazel Mitchell
  • Published: Candlewick, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 1
  • Genre: Fiction, Animals
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8093-0

 

Fiona’s Little Lie (Felix and Fiona)

Written and Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Six-year-old Fiona’s heart is in the right place, but she’s so easily distracted. She is so excited when she is chosen by Miss B to be her best friend Felix’s Birthday Elf. This means she can make a fuss over him and provide the treats to celebrate his birthday the next day. Miss B writes her a nice note for her mother to ask for cupcakes, but she loses the note in the car when she sees a caterpillar. Naturally, there are no cupcakes. To cover her blunder, Fiona makes up a story about being robbed of the treats. Quickly caught in her lie, Fiona must apologize not only to Felix, but to Miss B, the class, and those accused of stealing. Fiona feels even worse when Felix describes how much he was looking forward to the cupcakes. Having found the note in the car, Fiona’s mom saves the birthday party. Anything but bran bars!

This sweet little book has a lot to say not only about the consequences of lying, but also about the true roles of friendship. Lessons taught, lessons learned.

The cute, fuzzy creatures that are Fiona, Felix, and the others add to the fun.

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  • fionas-little-lieTitle: Fiona’s Little Lie (Felix and Fiona)
  • Author/Illustrator: Rosemary Wells
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Picture Book, Friendship
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7312-3

 

 

Octopus Escapes Again!

Written and Illustrated by Laurie Ellen Angus

How talented is an octopus? As talented as it needs to be to survive all the predators that would love to eat it. In this informative picture book, the author follows an unnamed octopus as she works to find a meal of her own. First, her quest for shrimp is interrupted by a sea turtle. She hides inside an empty shell. When she spots some small fish, an eel is on the prowl. She escapes due to her ink. Next, a shark closes in, and she shoots away quickly. A large fish grabs one arm. The arm breaks off, and the octopus escapes again. The arm will grow back. A gull tries to get her. She uses her natural camouflage. Finally, she catches some clams for dinner.

The many animals highlighted in this tale are discussed in much more detail in the Explore More sections. In addition, the author suggests several interesting activities where kids can learn more – both about the octopus and the other animals present. Some great online videos are also mentioned.

The writing is fun and the illustrations give the “being there” feel for underwater adventures. Recommended as the focus for a stand-alone unit or as further exploration related to food chains or sea creatures.

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  • octopus-escapes-againTitle: Octopus Escapes Again!
  • Author/Illustrator: Laurie Ellen Angus
  • Publisher: Dawn Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nature, Animals
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-578-3
  • Extras: Explore More – For Kids, Explore More – For Teachers and Parents

Stanley’s Colors

Written and Illustrated by William Bee

Stanley continues his adventures by exploring the world of color. Again, Stanley’s latest exploits are meant mostly for younger children, but the concepts are can also important for children old enough to read the simple text on their own. The theme centers around modes of transportation this time. Each two-page spread highlights one color and where it might appear in the real world. Stanley fixes his red car. He delivers flowers in an orange truck. He rides on his yellow motorcycle. Stanley and Little Woo ride in a green airplane. Stanley fishes from a blue motorboat. His choo choo train is purple. Their hot air balloon is pink. His earth-flattening steamroller is brown. The last very colorful spread combines all the colors, encouraging the reader to explore for colors and combinations. The simple illustrations help make it easier to look for the colors.
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  • Stanleys ColorsTitle: Stanley’s Color
  • Author/Illustrator: William Bee
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, September 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Board Book, 20 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 1
  • Genre: Basic concepts
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-948-3

Stanley’s Shapes

Written and Illustrated by William Bee

Stanley has been many places and done many jobs, but now he’s getting down to the nitty gritty. Although Stanley’s exploration of shapes is wonderful for younger children, he can also reinforce concepts for children old enough to read the simple text on their own. Each two-page spread highlights one shape and shows how it’s represented in the real world. Stanley and Little Woo’s suitcases are rectangles. Their tent is a triangle. Hattie’s window is a square. Bicycle wheels are circles. Kites are diamonds. Watermelons are ovals. A starfish is shaped like a star. Cars on a ride are semicircles. The last spread encourages the reader to find the jumbled shapes, which could easily extend to finding those shapes in the world around the reader. Bee’s simple illustrations provide a great and non-distracting backdrop to the idea of exploring simple shapes.

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  • Stanleys ShapesTitle: Stanley’s Shapes
  • Author/Illustrator: William Bee
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, September 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Board Book, 20 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 1
  • Genre: Basic concepts
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-949-0

Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum in a Dish

Written and Illustrated by Tracey M. Cox

In a world where people still question what good math is, this brand new counting book brings counting and color recognition right into the real world. All the children in the text has access to a bowl of bubble gum balls. In turn, each child picks out the balls of the color he or she wants. Cox shows the bowl and lets the reader count the balls of that color in the bowl, among the other colors. The child then blows a bubble matching the ball color and growing progressively bigger with each new number. The highly repetitive text is perfect for younger children and makes independent reading a strong possibility, especially for first graders. Reading activities can definitely include more counting in dishes. Coins, colored blocks, or jelly beans.

The simple style of the illustrations enhances the simple concepts presented in the text. These are concepts that provide a solid foundation for future learning. Even the amusing author photo at the end has a great big bubble the author presumably blew. Do we know how many gum balls she chewed?

  • Bubble Gum Bubble Gum in a DishTitle: Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum in a Dish
  • Author/Illustrator: Tracey M. Cox
  • Published: Guardian Angel Publishing, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 1
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Counting, Colors
  • ISBN: 9781616337711

 

 

Little One

Written and Illustrated by Jo Weaver

Mother Bear comes out of her cave in the spring with a sleepy, staggering cub by her side. It is a quiet story of looking around our huge wonderful world to see all the wonderful things the world has to offer. But this book offers very little. It is just about a walk in the woods, being gentle with friends then returning to the cave for another long sleep.

Nothing happens as far as plot. The cub is just a follow along character except for his one try at catching a fish. While it is as comfortable as a quiet walk with a friend, it is a very slow book for young, energetic readers. Save this one for right before nap or bedtime.

There is a tiny reference to the changing seasons, but the book is done entirely in black and white so only the words convey any passage of time. The artist used black charcoal to make interesting images, and stunning backgrounds. They almost look stamped upon the rough textured background. The book does have very heavy paper which probably adds to its high price.

While this is an interesting book to peruse, it is not recommended for school or library purchase due to its high price and low expectancy for being reread. It really would not satisfy any core curriculum standards for teachers or librarians. Parents might be able to use it for a quieting down kind of story.

  • Little OneTitle: Little One
  • Author/Illustrator: Jo Weaver
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 24 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-924-7
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 1

 

 

Playing from the Heart

Written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

A lot of themes swirl around in this touching tale of a father and son. Raj was attracted to the piano even before he could reach the pedals.

Raj noticed that he could mix the notes the way he mixed his watercolors.

His father loved the sound of his song so much that he got Raj a teacher and encouraged practice. The song changed so much that the piano eventually fell silent. Raj went to live and work in the city but returned when his father fell ill. All the father wanted was the song that Raj had lost as a boy.

Raj’s father closed his eyes and savored the lingering notes.

Beautifully and lovingly illustrated, this book almost plays the song for the reader. It speaks to the love between father and son and of music coming from the heart. First graders will love being shown that they can create unfettered.

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  • Playing from the HeartTitle: Playing from the Heart
  • Author/Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K up
  • Genre: Picture book, Family
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7892-0

Grandad’s Island

Written and Illustrated by Benji Davies

Beautifully and lavishly illustrated, this great new book takes the reader on a journey to a distant island. When young Syd lets himself into his grandfather’s house, he finds Grandad in the attic amongst the old boxes. Grandad shows Syd a steel door that leads them onto a large ship headed for a tropical island. There, they find cool breezes, shelter, and friendly animals. They discover many wonders, including pools and waterfalls. Syd and Grandad hug for the last time. Grandad remains on the island, and Syd steers the ship home. The next day, Syd discovers that Grandad has not returned but has sent him a picture of the island and his new friends. And the big metal door they used to get to the ship is gone.

Whether enjoyed with an adult or independently, the story stimulates the imagination and highlights how to share stories and good times with others. With deeper meaning, it is an allegory of loss, eloquently handled.

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  • Grandads IslandTitle: Grandad’s Island
  • Author/Illustrator: Benji Davies
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Picture book, Imagination, Loss
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9005-2

 

In the Wind

Written by Elizabeth Spurr
Illustrated by Manelle Oliphant

This is the first in a series for youngsters about the weather. The first thing kids think of related to wind is a kite and the fun they can have. In soft water colors, the reader sees a typical middle class neighborhood on a beautiful day. A little girl, along with her dog and mom, set out on a windy, sunny day for the park. We see her tie on the string and the tail as she begins to fly the kite. The trees show a stiff wind in the park. The kite swoops and loops until it catches in a tree, which horrifies the girl. She gets the kite loose, but the kite breaks free and the wind dies unexpectedly. The girl is obviously disappointed. The girl finds the kite again near home, and, with her mother’s help, she gets it down. But the wind will be back some day. Oliphant’s illustrations help the story along at every turn.

Kindergartners and first graders can practice their literacy skills through independent reading. This is also a fun read aloud for even younger kids.

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  • In the WindTitle: In the Wind
  • Author: Elizabeth Spurr
  • Illustrator: Manelle Oliphant
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 22 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Board book, Weather
  • ISBN: 978-1-56143-854-7
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