Archive for 2013

The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story

Written by Natasha Rafi
Illustrated by Abdul Malik Channa

Complete with a recipe for parathas, this story about an eight-year-old enjoying the best parts of Ramadan is a great introduction to the people and culture surrounding Islam. The whimsical illustrations help make this a kid-friendly story.

Little Raza can’t wait to have parathas, a sort of pancake or flatbread, for sehri, the morning meal eaten before the daily fast begins. He climbs to the roof and plays a trick on his grandmother’s cook, Amina, who is already hard at work in the dark morning hours. He knows that if he calls down the chimney, she can hear him. He frightens her into thinking she is talking to a jinni, a fiery creature mentioned in the Quran. Raza is quite pleased with himself until Amina gets Grandmother involved. The jig is up. Raza must help Amina until the end of Ramadan.

First graders will want this read aloud the first time so they can master the terms introduced and learn about the traditions of Muslims and their religion. After that, they will be able to read this again and again. Rafi explains all the traditions surrounding Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan festival.

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  • JinniTitle: The Jinni on the Roof: A Ramadan Story
  • Author: Natasha Rafi
  • Illustrator: Abdul Malik Channa
  • Published: Pamir LLC, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: Pre-K to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, culture, family
  • ISBN: 9780988864900




Written and illustrated by Aaron Becker

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A Caldecott Honor book for the gorgeous, vivid, and detailed illustrations, this book is worth a look just for the pictures, but it has so much more to offer. A young girl’s sepia world is punctuated only by her red scooter, red kite, a red ball, and a red crayon. When she uses the crayon to draw a door, a whole new and colorful world opens up. With castles, windmills, numerous waterways, and various flying contraptions, it’s indeed a fascinating world. The girl finds the crayon can also create a boat, a hot air balloon, and a magic carpet. The magic carpet and a purple bird lead her to a boy with a purple crayon. Together, she and the boy create a bicycle and ride off to more adventures.

This wordless picture book is easily followed by first graders just beginning their reading journey, but would be great as a read aloud so that kids can be encouraged to use imagination about what will come next. Kids could even lead the discussion and practice their speaking and leadership skills. The publisher provides a great “Guide to Reading a Wordless Book” on their website,, with many reading activities.

  • JourneyTitle: Journey
  • Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Genre: Picture book, Art, Imagination, Friendship
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6053-6


Eye: How It Works

Written and Illustrated by David Macauley

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David Macaulay has added to his huge and magnificent set of nonfiction work with this fascinating look at eyes. There are two stories in one here. While a team is playing soccer parallels are drawn between how the game is going to how the eye works. Both stories will keep the young reader interested and involved.

As always Macaulay’s illustrations are clear and stunning. His use of diagrams insures that children will know exactly how all the parts come together. In particular, his diagrams of how glasses actually correct vision will enlighten many adult readers as well.

This book is one in a series called: My Readers and belongs to level 4, which is particularly created for the proficient first grade reader. However, it will be enjoyed by students in all the elementary grades and can easily be used to fulfill science requirements in middle grades. The core curriculum would place this book at various levels in the sciences as well as the health standards. Literacy skills teachers will use it to teach reading a non-fiction text as well as, in how to decipher diagrams.

Macaulay’s use of a soccer game will help to draw in the reluctant readers in the classroom. Because this book is also available in paperback, it is particularly affordable for classroom and home libraries.

This is so well done that as soon as you finish reading it, you will go and look for the rest of the set.

  • EyeTitle: Eye: How It Works
  • Author/Illustrator: David Macaulay
  • Publisher: Macmillan, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-15-96437821
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Lexile: AD640L, Grade Level K-2
  • Extras: Glossary, List of Related Websites and videos

Snowflakes Fall

Written by Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Steven Kellogg

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This beautiful picture book brings back all the joy and excitement of snowflakes. The wonderful illustrations by Steven Kellogg show children sledding, making snow angels and leaving tracks with their little red boots.

The sparse, poetic language by Patricia MacLachlan sings the story of all the wonderful places and ways that snowflakes fall. She talks of the snow quilted meadows and covered evergreens. But mostly she talks about how beautiful each one is and how unique that no two are alike. Just like children.

This wonderful book is a project by two people who were deeply hurt by the tragedy that took the lives of so many beautiful children in Sandy Hook, CT. It is their gift to the hurting community and a gift to all who read it. Enjoying these pages helps adults to relive past snowy fun, children to expect snowy fun and all of us to appreciate each other as the beautiful, unique creatures we are.

It is a wonderful read aloud for any age.

First grade readers will enjoy seeing poetic Patricia MacLachlan’s text is and how perfectly the illustrations match it. Literacy skills abound beginning with the parts to whole relationship as she talks about the fur on the dog and the tongues of laughing children. The story contains many beautiful similes for readers of all ages to admire. This book will be a treasure to read year after year after year and will always bring a smile to everyone’s face.

  • Snowflakes FallTitle: Snowflakes Fall
  • Author: Patricia MacLachlan
  • Illustrator: Steven Kellogg
  • Publisher: Random House, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-385-37693-8
  • Genre: Picture Book Realistic Fiction
  • Grade level: First up
  • Extras: Teaching Tools Available at

Kangaroo’s Out of This World Restaurant

Written & Illustrated by Eva M. Sakmar-Sullivan

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In the Australian Outback, Kangaroo wallows in misery and complains she’s worthless. Why Kangaroo feels this way is unclear, but wise old Koala hobbles into the picture with his cane and gives Kangaroo advice: “Everyone has something to offer. You just have to find it.” All Kangaroo can do is jump, so she does, higher and higher until she reaches the moon. When she lands on the moon’s surface, she’s delighted to discover it’s made of cheese and tastes great, too. She loads up her pouch with cheese and brings it back to Earth to share. Her furry friends love the moon cheese so much that Kangaroo bounces them back to the moon for more, and she opens up a restaurant (hence the title). She also becomes a taxi service, transporting her friends whenever they have a hankering for this out-of-world snack. Kangaroo has found her calling and her true happiness.

This didactic tale relays a positive message for the first grade and under crowd, but Sakmar-Sullivan’s strengths really lie in her art: big shapes and bright, bold colors that pop off the page. Inside the back cover, there’s a full-page spread, which identifies all featured creatures as native to Australia, and the author suggests a reading activity (i.e. find the platypus, the dingo, the numbat, etc.) I do think her impressionable audience could have benefited from another extra, though, explaining that the moon is actually made of rock, not cheese.

Author’s website:

  • Kangaroos RestaurantTitle: Kangaroo’s Out of This World Restaurant
  • Author/Illustrator: Eva M. Sakmar-Sullivan
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4519-7
  • Genre: Picture Book, fantasy, animals

Pirates on the Farm

Written by Denette Fretz
Illustrated by Gene Barretta

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What a dream come true!  Pirates moving in NEXT DOOR! Joey was thrilled.  Mother, not so much.  Fortunately, Dad was one of those people who could see past the outside and straight to the heart.  Oh the adventures that were had by the pirates and their neighbors.  Dad kept on loving and accepting those pirates and eventually Mother came around and saw their good hearts for herself.

Written from the viewpoint of Joey’s sister, this story is sure to appeal to young girls, especially girls with younger brothers.  Due to the swashbuckling, plank walking and other shenanigans, just about every boy will find this story appealing.

This is a great story for all children and would make a great read aloud for a first grade class.  The illustrations make comprehension a breeze. It teaches the importance of acceptance.  People who are different have value and can often teach us new things, just like the pirates did for Joey and his family.  It helps us see the potential for good in others. Toward the end of the story the pirates prove to be great farmers and have even been putting “offerings” (gold teeth) in the church offering plate.  This book would be an excellent resource for the beginning of the school year or even for Sunday School when there are new “friends” coming together for the first time.

All kinds of fun information can be found at Denette Fretz’s website  This includes Joey’s journal entries, fun to read and added value for the book.


If you fell in love with the illustrations like I did then you will not want to miss Gene Barretta’s website .  So many precious illustrations and more information on Mr. Barretta.

  • PiratesTitle:  Pirates on the Farm
  • Author:  Denette Fretz
  • Illustrator:  Gene Barretta
  • Publisher: Zonderkidz, 2013
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-310-72348-6
  • Genre:  Fantasy, Humor

When Lions Roar

Written by Robie H. Harris
Illustrated by Chris Raschka

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Simple sentences, broad-stroked watercolors and everyday fears speak directly to beginning readers in this beautiful book illustrated by two-time Caldecott Winner, Chris Raschka.

The story is one of solving problems as the child, which can be seen as either a young boy or girl, gets scared by loud frightening noises and then just sits right down, closes his eyes and yells, “Go away! Scary! Go Away!”

First grade readers as well as second grade readers will feel empowered by learning to take control of their own fears. The everyday fears include scary animals, thunder and lightning as well as Daddies who yell and Mommies who holler.  With only three or four words per page the author has captured childhood fears in the natural world, animal world and the child’s family circle.

Literacy skills such as identifying nouns and verbs, sequencing, using picture clues and predicting outcomes can be strengthened using this book. As a read aloud it will also open the doors of dialogue with children about other things that scare them and how they overcome those fears. In like manner, it can become a springboard for art and writing activities for young students.


  • When Lions RoarTitle: When Lions Roar
  • Author: Robie H. Harris
  • Illustrator: Chris Raschka
  • Publisher: Orchard Books/Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-11283-3
  • Genre: Picture Book

In the Tree House

Written by Andrew Larsen

Illustrated by Dušan Petričić

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In the Tree House is a wonderful, engaging picture book that succeeds at taking the reader out of her own world and transporting her into the world of an unnamed narrator; a boy who loves summer, his tree house, and his older brother.

Right from the beginning, we are welcomed into his tree house on a really hot day – hot enough to crunch ice cubes – and treated to a view of his neighborhood.  From here we are told the story of how the tree house had been built the year before.  Like many tree houses, it grew through the collaboration of a father and his sons.  In this case, it was inspired by the narrator who started making tree house plans to help him adjust to a move and a new house where he no longer shared a room with his brother.

From the tree house, Dad and his sons watched the twinkling lights of their sleepy neighborhood because the city sky is too bright for them to see the stars shine.  It was the best summer ever – full of comics, cards, flashlights, and endless hours shared between brothers in the tree house.

But this summer is different because the narrator’s brother is growing up and no longer has time for the tree house.  His brother is busy with friends and he is alone – the King of the Castle with no one to share it with – until one night when everything goes dark and a black out brings everyone together.

In the Tree House is a simple story about growing pains and the bond between brothers.  The text is plain and straightforward, relying on illustration to portray much of the emotion behind the words.  The pictures are purposefully stark, leaving lots of room for readers of all ages to fill in the blanks.  Together, the illustrator and author have succeeded in making this book both poignant and timeless.

Everyone in first grade will want to spend their summer in a tree house after having this book read aloud to the class.  Some readers will want to savor the book privately and then make plans to build their own tree house.  Older readers will be forced to reflect upon changes in their own relationships with siblings and other family members.  Still others will be touched by the notion that turning off the lights for a while can put everything into perspective.

  • In the Tree HouseTitle: In the Tree House
  • Author: Andrew Larsen
  • Illustrator: Dušan Petričić
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press, 2013
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • Book Length: 36  pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-55453-635-1
  • Genre: Contemporary, fiction
  • Lexile Score: 60

Tiger in My Soup

Written by Kashmira Sheth
Illustrated by Jefferey Ebbeler

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Take a simple story, simply told. Add to it colorful illustrations that parallel the imagination of the characters and you will get the delightful Tiger In My Soup. Sibling interaction, a love of books, and the power of imagination populate this light and frothy tale. In just 300 words the author creates a world where imagination reigns supreme and tigers roam free. Beware though. It’s such a wonderful read aloud that your voice may beg for a rest after the third, or tenth, thirtieth request to ‘read it one more time please’.

Older sister is in charge for the day. “Will you read to me?” younger brother, who is also the narrator, asks. Sister doesn’t deign to reply. Well then, brother demands lunch. She is in charge, after all. Super-efficient sister opens a can of soup, heats it, warns him that it is hot, and is back to her reading before brother can put in another plea. Hmm. That trick didn’t work either. But it is an ALPHABET soup that sister has served.

Brother, and the illustrator, are off and running. The letters R O A R are visible floating in the bowl. Maybe there is a tiger in the soup rising out of the steam…..Brother arms himself, and oh how he arms himself! a colander helmet, a spoon sword and a tray for a shield. First graders will enjoy figuring out the all kitchen gadgets that make up the weaponry.  Brother’s imaginary war is cleverly juxtaposed with sister’s nonchalance. The world may be coming to an end but I shall read on, sister seems to say.

The illustrations don’t just complement the text, they add layers to it. The cover of the book brother is holding out, and the double-page spread which begins “I hand it to her and she begins to read,” are reminiscent of the Madhubani paintings of India. Such a wonderful combination of an ancient art form and a modern sensibility: cars and boats and music and books.

Brother wages war. Sister reads on.  Does she read to him? Read the book to find out. Here’s a clue: he  does wonder where tiger will show up next. A thoroughly enjoyable addition to any reading list.
Additional Resources:

Author bio:

Illustrator bio:

Madhubani paintings:

  • Tiger in My SoupTitle: Tiger in My Soup
  • Author: Kashmira Sheth
  • Illustrator: Jefferey Ebbeler
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2013
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback:   32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-696-9
  • Genre: Picture Book/ Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 180

Bug Patrol

Written by  Denise Dowling Mortensen
Illustrated by  Cece Bell

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Captain Bob of the Bug Patrol starts his day with coffee and cruller (aka donut) as he cruises around his district.  His first call takes him to the site of “urban ants, acting rude”.  Not only does he stop those “rowdy ants” from fighting, he helps them change their selfish ways.

After a few more calls, it is finally time for some lunch.  While he eats, Captain Bob visits with the locals.  Before he can finish his lunch, Captain Bob gets another call.  This time he is needed at the Roach Motel.  The residents are protesting outside, demanding better living conditions.  Lucky for everyone that Captain Bob knows just the place for them, the local landfill, “Paradise Estates”.

It is late, nearly the end of his shift, when Captain Bob gets one last call.  Those party crickets are having a very loud party and the neighbors cannot sleep.  Captain Bob, being the wise patrol officer that he is, knows that the best way to deal with disorderly partying crickets is to drive by slowly, playing a cricket lullaby.  Sure enough they settle down almost immediately.

Finally, his shift is over and Captain Bob is able to go home to “…the bugs that I love BEST!”

What first grade boy has not at some time thought about becoming a police officer?  Can you imagine the excitement if a real policeman came to read this book to the class during read aloud time?  This would be an easy way to integrate social studies (government/civics) into a language arts lesson.

Ms. Mortensen most certainly used a thesaurus when writing this fun-to-read book.  Her word choices give many opportunities to build growing vocabularies as well as teach the meanings of phrases such as “shoot the breeze” (CCSS 1.L.4.a).

Teaching sequence would be a snap with Captain Bob.  The time stamps on each call show how Captain Bob is moving through time.  This would make a great introduction to writing narratives that show sequenced events (CCSS 1.W.3)

The illustrations are fun and make for an easy picture walk since they match the text so perfectly.  Even struggling readers can improve their reading skills by taking cues from the pictures (CCSS 1.L.4.a).

Information about Denise Dowling Mortensen can be found at her website   ( ).  Cece Bell’s website ( ) also offers more information about her and her other work.

  • Bug PatrolTitle:  Bug Patrol
  • Author:  Denise Dowling Mortensen
  • Illustrator:  Cece Bell
  • Publisher: Clarion Books, 2013
  • Reviewer:  Sandi Waymire
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-618-79024-1
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