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Dragon and Captain

Written by P.R. Allabach
Illustrated by Lucas Turnbloom

Dragon (aka a young boy) is eating his oatmeal when he spies a possible pirate on the beach (aka another boy in the sand box). Of course, Captain is not a pirate. He’s a ship captain who’s been separated from his ship. Dragon and Captain set out to find Captain’s ship and re-capture it from the real pirates. First, they need things from Dragon’s cave (er, bedroom). They trek through the dark forest (bushes) and stop at a waterfall (sprinkler). They spot the ship and defeat the pirates. Then it’s snack time. All the while, the grownups lurk in the background abut never interfere. The interaction between imagination and reality is brilliant. It will show kids that anything is possible. The illustrations are vivid and colorful clearly show how each boy resembles his alter ego.

First graders will be able to tell the story from the pictures while still working on their literacy skills through the sparse text. The way the boys immediately get caught up in each other’s fantasies shows how easy friendship can be.

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  • Dragon and CaptainTitle: Dragon and Captain
  • Author: P.R. Allabach
  • Illustrator: Lucas Turnbloom
  • Publisher: Flashlight Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 2
  • Genre: Fiction, simple graphic novel, friendship
  • ISBN: 978-1-9362613-3-8

Peace is an Offering

Written by Annette LeBox
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

Peace might be a difficult concept to explain to the very young child. But not if you have this beautiful rhythmic, sometimes rhyming book. It is an explanation in poetry that meets children where they are every day. They will recognize the settings and characters. This book tells them what to do to make their friend or sibling feel better.

It is a calming book that still offers movement. The illustrations are colorful and show diversity of characters. They also offer dozens of details for children and adults to notice and discuss.

Timeless questions are included that will challenge the librarians, teachers and parents reading aloud to stop and think about their own busy lives.

Grade one students and younger will love hearing this book read aloud time and again.

Teachers can use this to fulfill core curriculum standards in the area of social studies, understanding others and solving problems with peers.

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  • Peace is an offeringTitle: Peace is an Offering
  • Author: Annette LeBox
  • Illustrator:  Stephanie Graegin
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-4091-4
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: Preschool to 1

Spectacular Spots

Written and Illustrated by Susan Stockdale

Beautiful yet sparse language, both rhythmic and rhyming tells the story of how spots on the outside of some animals helps to protect them.

In the area of creative nonfiction, this book is an excellent example. First grade readers will enjoy hearing or reading this book repeatedly because of the musical quality of the poetry like text. The font is large and dark making it stand out from the beautiful illustrations. Her choice of words also helps hint at additional attributes, such as the “gliding snail”, and the “clinging frogs”.

Well-designed back matter increases the ability for this book to fulfill common core standards in science, for animal study, camouflage, biology and how animals adapt to the environment. Librarians and teachers will also use the book for literacy skills such as rhyming and use of descriptive language.

Children will be on the look-out for animals with spots after reading this book and when they find them, it won’t be any mystery why those spots are so important. It’s got nothing to do with fashion!

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  • Spectacular SpotsTitle: Spectacular Spots
  • Author/Illustrator: Susan Stockdale
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-817-2
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Animals, Camouflage, Biology
  • Grade level: PreK to 3
  • Extras: In the back are two pages with small squares showing each of the patterned spots for children to enjoy matching with the appropriate animal in the front of the book. There are also two pages that show mini-pictures of each animal accompanied by an explanation of how the spots protect those animals. The particular class that each animals belongs to and where to find it in the world are provided.

Bird & Diz

Written by Gary Golio
Illustrated by Ed Young

The look and set up for this fun book are perfect to give the feel for the music called bebop. When Charlie “Bird” Parker and John “Dizzy” Gillespie performed “Salt Peanuts” and their many other creations, they were more concerned about the mood than the form. The never-ending fold out of these pages gives the reader impression they are there when Diz plays his trumpet and Bird wails on his sax. Bebop is a heartbeat with fireworks, a roller coaster where the musicians chase each other. The illustrations make you want the music to go on forever.

First graders will want to review the pages many times, increasing their literacy skills and comprehension. Noting that bebop was about innovation and having fun makes the music history come alive. The back matter in the Afterword gives a good start for further exploration and encourages artistic expression in all its forms.

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  • Bird & DizTitle: Bird & Diz
  • Author: Gary Golio
  • Illustrator: Ed Young
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 26 pages, novelty
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, history, music
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6660-6

Rodeo Red

Written by Maripat Perkins

Illustrated by Molly Idle

Cowgirl Rodeo Red and her trusty sidekick Rusty (aka a stuffed dog) were perfectly happy until Sideswiping Slim (aka her new baby brother) came to town. Rodeo Red knew he was trouble the first time she laid eyes on him, but the Sheriff and Deputy (aka her parents) seemed to love the little varmint. As Slim grows he becomes more of a nuisance and begins to encroach on Red’s territory. When Rusty goes missing, Red knows there can be only one culprit. She tries to grab Rusty out of Slim’s clutches, but his loud cries get her into trouble. “Wouldn’t you know Slim would have the law on his side?” she thinks as she lands in the holding cell (aka the Time Out chair). When Red’s city slicker aunt sends her a new fluffy stuffed animal for her birthday, she comes up with an idea to settle the score. She gives Slim the new toy and gets Rusty back in exchange.

Parents and teachers, get ready to drum up a serious twang when reading this story aloud, which is chock full of entertaining similes and old west slang (“He looked as slippery as a snake’s belly in a mudslide.”) The soft pastel illustrations have a sweet, old-fashioned quality to them and are cleverly drawn to create a young cowgirl’s fantasy world. First grade readers can learn from Red’s example of coming up with a solution to a problem on her own.

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  • Rodeo RedTitle: Rodeo Red
  • Author: Maripat Perkins
  • Illustrator: Molly Idle
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2105
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-816-5
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Sibling Rivalry

Stanley the Farmer

Written and Illustrated by William Bee

Stanley the hamster has a busy day ahead on the farm. He needs to plow the fields and plant wheat. Luckily his mole friends, Shamus and Little Woo, will help him out. They spread manure (“smelly work”), pour seeds into the hopper and water the fields twice a day until a blanket of golden wheat appears. But their work isn’t done. They must cut it down with a combine and clean up the remaining straw with a baler. Stanley is grateful for his friends’ help, and he rewards himself in the evening with a meal, a bath, and a good night’s sleep.

Recommended for the machine obsessed (pre-k through first grade), this cheerful book introduces young children to the concepts of farming and planting and gives exposure to agricultural terms. Readers will love Bee’s digital art, created with chunky shapes, thick lines, and bold primary and secondary colors against a clean, white background. Bee also includes visual cues within the text to assist with comprehension (“pulls the green plow with his red tractor”). The concept of time is a bit confusing, though, as the story alludes that everything took place over the course of a day (“Well! What a busy day!”) instead of months.

Visit www.peachtree-online.com to view other titles in the Stanley series.

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  • Stanley the FarmerTitle: Stanley the Farmer
  • Author/Illustrator: William Bee
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2015
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-803-5
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Farming, Machines

Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry

Written and illustrated by Vern Kousky

Children will love Otto’s great big eyes as he looks straight at them from his perch on the crescent moon. Otto doesn’t like to roost in trees or hunt at night like the other owls. So the others all make fun of him. He likes to read books, make friends and recite poetry.

When the other owls continue to tease him, Otto decides to run away. On his way, he sees the moon and makes up his own poem about the moon. What he doesn’t realize is that there were dozens of mice listening to him recite the poem. When he finished they all cried, “More, more!”

What Otto, and eventually the other owls, learn is that poetry is to be shared aloud with others to be best enjoyed.

First grade readers being introduced to poetry will enjoy hearing this read aloud and becoming able to read it themselves. The contrasting colors of art work make it a stunning book with font that is clear and easy to read.

This book can be used to meet the common core standards of literacy in the areas of poetry as well as discriminating between fact and fiction.

The fact that the owls pick on Otto for being different can open a discussion between parents, teachers or librarians and children about how we treat one another. It is also an interesting twist to realize that the part of Otto that is different, his love of poetry, becomes understandable to all the other owls by the end of the book.  It is a very good thing that Otto didn’t run away, but stayed long enough to share his poetry with the others.

This beautifully well done book is Vern Kousky’s first, but hopefully not his last.

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  • Otto the OwlTitle: Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry
  • Author/Illustrator:  Vern Kousky
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-399-16440-8
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Grade level: K to 3
  • Extras: The famous poem excerpts are included in the back of the book along with their citations.

Lovey Bunny

Written and illustrated by Kristine A. Lombardi 

Lovey Bunny is full of love for just about everything. Her family, reading a good book, a bright sunny day – all of it makes Lovey Bunny super happy. She also enjoys arts and crafts and playing dress up. One day, she sees a sparkly dress hanging in Mama’s closet. Wanting to be just like her mama, she tries it on without asking and preens in the mirror. She feels so glamorous and grown up! Lovey bunny gets carried away and wears the dress outside, so she can wave to all her “admirers” on her scooter. But when she gets home she realizes she has dirtied and ripped the dress. Mama’s upset – she was supposed to wear it to a party that night. Lovey’s upset. Will she still be Mama’s Lovey Bunny? She takes matters into her own hands and patches up the dress the best she can with her arts and crafts skills. Mama forgives her and, instead of going out that evening, she wears the patched-up dress and cooks dinner for the family.

First graders will grasp the message of forgiveness, although parent readers may raise eyebrows at the unrealistic ending (a world where there are no consequences). The book’s strength lies in the illustrations. Lombardi uses an appealing pink and brown color scheme for her gouache and ink drawings and has created a main character that exudes sweetness and loads of personality.

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  • Lovey BunnyTitle: Lovey Bunny
  • Author/Illustrator: Kristine A. Lombardi
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1485-6
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Mother’s Day

Nobody’s Perfect

Written by David Elliot
Illustrated by Sam Zuppardi

So often we say, or hear this phrase as do our children. They strive to be perfect but it just isn’t always possible. This book helps readers understand how hard it is to be perfect in everyday fun ways.

Young readers will love the pencil drawings painted with acrylics on water-colored paper especially because they are reminiscent of how children draw with extra lines. The colors are realistic, vibrant, and smooth. The basketball looks ready to bounce and the blanket ready to snuggle under. The main character’s huge smile on the cover instantly wins you over.

This book uses only a few instances of misbehavior which helps to keep the story line simple and straightforward. The main character points out how sometimes it is someone else who is less than perfect: sister, pet, friend, even Mom. That distance from the reader allows the story to be told without becoming threatening or preachy. Actually, the illustrations allow readers to find humor in falling short of perfection. The conclusion is satisfying in every way.

The front and end papers of the book would make wonderful drawing lesson practice for the youngest artists as they make a drawing of all their own favorite toys, pets, and friends.

The words are sparse and easy as well as in bold, larger than normal font. First grade readers will enjoy reading this story over and over on their own. Literacy skills can be fulfilled in the classroom, the library, or the home. Discussions about mistakes can be begun or continued making use of this fun book.

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  • Nobodys PerfectTitle: Nobody’s Perfect
  • Author:  David Elliot
  • Illustrator: Sam Zuppardi
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-6699-6
  • Genre: picture book
  • Grade level: Preschool to 3

Noisy Bird: Sing Along

Written and Illustrated by John Himmelman

Different kinds of birds sing different songs. The sounds, habitats and diets of a few birds are told in simple direct sentences. The contrasting colors used by John Himmelman make each page an individual beauty. Correct details of each habitat and every bird described will provide young readers with things to find and study in each picture for a long time. This entertaining book will also draw teachers and librarians to seek out other books by the same author.

Second grade readers will be able to read the text independently, in many cases, but much younger children will enjoy having it read to them. Older children may use it for science reports or for ideas to use in building dioramas.

Children who love to draw or paint might be encouraged to try illustrating things from their own backyard after studying these realistic illustrations.

The sounds included provide teachers, parents and readers an opportunity to practice the literacy skill of onomatopoeia while learning about birds.  What fun it would be to have different children assigned to make the call of a particular bird.

This is a good introduction to reading nonfiction books and picking out important details. After reading it, students might write a nonfiction sentence of their own.

The activities and facts at the end of the book will encourage and aid young readers to broaden their knowledge of birds and birding.

This book will be a great addition to classroom, school, and home libraries for children ages 3 -8.

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  • Noisy BirdTitle: Noisy Bird: Sing Along
  • Author/Illustrator:  John Himmelman
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, March 1, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-58469-514-1
  • Genre: Nonfiction, animals
  • Grade level: Preschool to 3
  • Extras: Fun facts, birding activities, resources and related information
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