Archive for 2014

Noodle Magic

Written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

Illustrated by Meilo So

Written in the tradition of a folktale this story tells of a Chinese Grandfather who is well known for his marvelous noodles. When his granddaughter asks for magic to help her make some noodles, he assures her that she has all the magic she needs already. By the time her story is complete it will be proven that all the magic she needs is right inside of her. It is a positive message for every child to hear.

As it becomes time for Mei to try making her own noodles, the birthday of the Emperor draws near. What a great opportunity to make something special. The emperor will need a perfect, magical long-life strand for his birthday celebration.

Grandfather and Mei slap and knead the bread. Then it becomes time to stretch and pull the noodles long and thin. Readers will enjoy the karate and kung fu language employed as well as the delightful illustrations of the pulling out process. The noodles seem endlessly long on some pages while on others they are rolled up as nicely as a neat ball of yarn.

Bright colors and swirling paint adds to the attractiveness and playfulness of the book. By the time readers finish this story, they will be anxious to make, or, at least, eat a nice big pile of noodles.

Near the end of the story when all the noodles are raining down from the sky, young children will delight in being able to find their own favorite type of pasta in the picture as well as the outline of some basic farmyard animals made from noodles.

A fun follow up activity for this book would be to have some already boiled spaghetti noodles ready for children to use to make designs or letters with on a piece of construction paper.

This book can be used in fulfilling make core curriculum standards for literacy, geography, cultures and nutrition.

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  • Noodle MagicTitle: Noodle Magic
  • Author: Roseanne Greenfield Thong
  • Illustrator: Meilo So
  • Publisher: Orchard Books
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-52167-3
  • Genre: Fiction PB
  • Grade Level: Preschool to grade 2

I’m Gonna Climb a Mountain in My Patent Leather Shoes

Written by Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Lynne Avril

Determination and attitude rule the day for the heroine of this cute little rhyming book. Sadie loves her clothes almost as much as she loves camping with her family. The title gives a good feel for the theme of the book. On the way to the campsite, her sparkly new suitcase takes up too much space to suit her brother. Later, she says she’s “helping pitch our pup tent in my fancy ruffled pants.” She does many other activities in favorite clothes. The colorful and sparkling illustrations go right along with Sadie’s seemingly boundless energy, holding the reader’s attention. Bigfoot, magic wands of gold, silver crowns. They’re all here. What more could the reader want?

Fun rhymes highlight the many literacy skills enhanced by the text. First graders should be able to tackle the text on their own. Or just get the story from the pictures. This also a fun read aloud.

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  • Climb a MountainTitle: I’m Gonna Climb a Mountain in My Patent Leather Shoes
  • Authors: Marilyn Singer
  • Illustrator: Lynne Avril
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Genre: Fiction, humor, family
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-0336-2

Full Speed Ahead! How Fast Things Go

Written and Illustrated by Cruschiform

Admit it. You’ve always wondered what IS faster than a speeding bullet. This book will answer that crucial question. Also, what is slower and what goes at the same speed as the bullet. This unique approach allows the reader to learn about the world without really reading. Each two-page spread depicts several objects that travel at approximately the same speed. A legend tells what each object is. The reader can then learn more about each object in the “Glossary” at the back of the book. The approach is multilayered, allowing the reader to come back and learn more later. Colorful illustrations make the process easier.

First graders will have fun picking up this book and comprehending that a peregrine falcon moves at the same speed as a high-speed train. They may be curious why the illustration are not to scale, however. A hornet looks bigger than a skydiver.

By the way, a shooting star is faster than a speeding bullet.

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  • Full Speed AheadTitle: Full Speed Ahead! How Fast Things Go
  • Author/Illustrator: Cruschiform
  • Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4197-1338-5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, numbers, speed
  • Grade level: 1st and up
  • Extras: Ten-page Glossary that discusses each object depicted

Someday I’ll Fly

Written and Illustrated by Rebecca Evans

In this poignant story directly out of World War II, the author employs many themes to show the good hearts of the people surrounding Pam. Pam is fascinated by the airplanes that inhabit her father’s air field, but girls aren’t allowed to fly or even work on airplanes. When Pam encounters the pilots of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), the prohibitions go out the window. With the help of the WASPs, Pam works on an old plane and studies the math and physics involved. One of the WASPs is stricken with polio and needs an iron lung to breathe. Since it’s wartime and mechanical parts are hard to find, Pam sacrifices parts from her beloved airplane to help complete the breathing machine, saving her friend’s life. Pam knows she has time and that someday she will fly.

The illustrations by Evans have the look and feel of the 1940s. Details such as the wooden-sided red wagon, the mom’s house dress, and the realistic iron lung help that feel. The kitchen cabinets and appliances look right for the time. And the airplanes are certainly right. Even the names are right for the time.

First graders and older can learn about the WWII era, women’s roles, and polio. Literacy and comprehension are enhanced by the lively illustrations.

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  • SomedayTitle: Someday I’ll Fly
  • Author/Illustrator: Rebecca Evans
  • Original Author: Joyce Faulkner
  • Publisher: Red Engine Press, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 34 pages
  • Genre: Picture book, fiction, history, flying
  • ISBN: 978-1-937958-66-4


Ten Thank-You Letters

Written by Daniel Kirk

Rabbit comes over to see if Pig can play catch, but finds Pig working hard on a thank you letter for his grandma. This starts Rabbit wondering who he should write to and say thank you.

It is a charming collection of short, but appropriate thank you notes to folks like the crossing guard, the bus driver and the librarian. Grade one and grade two readers will delight in the notes as well as in the subtle way they see Rabbit using up all of Pig’s envelopes and stamps. They will also feel the frustration build in Pig as he keeps getting interrupted from writing his own letter.

Core curriculum standards will be met for literacy skills as well as for letter writing skills by sharing this book in the classroom or the library. The one missing part of each letter is the date, and kids will pick up on that. However, it will make them feel smarter than either Pig or Rabbit and will help to build confidence in their own knowledge. A good classroom or home follow-up to this story will be writing a thank you note to someone.

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  • Ten Thank You LettersTitle: Ten Thank – You Letters
  • Author/Illustrator: Daniel Kirk
  • Publisher: Nancy Paulson Books/Penguin, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 24 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-16937-3
  • Genre: Picture book
  • Grade level: 1 and up

Stanley’s Garage

Written and illustrated by William Bee

Stanley is an adorable golden hamster who has his own garage. The front pages are filled with colorful tools. They will be easily identifiable to children who have seen these things hanging on the wall in their own garages.

The art is completed in bold blank outlines and filled in with bright beautiful colors. Kindergarten readers and first grade readers will follow this story of fun characters while also practicing color words. There are also several great examples of cause and effect for children to think about. One car has a flat tire, another is smoking from an over-heated radiator, and one won’t work at all.

Literacy skills of sequencing, picture clues, possessives and cause and effect are easily strengthened throughout this book. The progression of time from morning to night is easy to follow and Stanley predictably gets ready for supper, a bath and bed after his busy day at the garage. Readers will relate to the comfortable ending of the day.

This is only one of the books about this delightful hamster.

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  • Stanleys GarageTitle: Stanley’s Garage
  • Author/Illustrator: William Bee
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-804-2
  • Genre: Fiction/Picture Book
  • Lexile: 200

Stanley the Builder

Written and illustrated by William Bee

Stanley is a golden hamster. He is drawn with large, bold black lines and colored with a smile on his face. He is asked to build a house for his friend. While it is unrealistic for the house to be built in a day, young readers will believe it. The front pages are filled with brightly colored tools used by builders and painters. Children will love spending time with these two pages to identify each piece and figure out what it is used for in the building process.

Stanley has a bulldozer, digger and crane of his own. His friend Charlie comes with a cement mixer to help. They lay the bricks together even though, “it is very tricky work.”  The book is filled with simple humor, good work and real friendship.

Kindergarten readers and first grade readers will see the correlation between color words and the objects in the pictures. Other literacy skills that can be practiced are sequencing, parts to whole, and picture clues.

At the end of his busy day, Stanley is ready for supper, a bath, and bedtime. It makes for a satisfying read and a fulfilling ending for any reader.

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  • StanleyTitle: Stanley the Builder
  • Author/Illustrator: William Bee
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-801-1
  • Genre: Picture Book/Animal Fiction/Building
  • Lexile: 200L


Written and illustrated by John Rocco

Caldecott honoree John Rocco does detailed and realistic illustrations for this new and fun book about a real event in the author’s life. Given the rough and long winter of 2013-2014, it’s a timely reminder that sometimes Mother Nature has ideas of her own. February 1978 saw forty inches of snow in New England in two days, a record event for the area. Rocco and his family “survived.” As a frequent survivor of Iowa winters, I can tell you he hits the nail on the head with the emotions and with the magnitude of the conditions. At first, it’s fun trying to wade through huge drifts. You can make snow caves in some areas. But the sled won’t go through the worst parts, and the family runs out of milk and other supplies. The snowplows appear five days after the snow stopped, but not before John straps tennis racquets to his ten-year-old feet and walks to the grocery store for supplies. He brings a whimsical touch in many illustrations. John staring out the window at the falling snow with a penguin lampshade, a poster of snowy Mount Everest, and an Arctic Survival guide at his side speaks volumes. And the numerous side trips on the way to the store are typical ten-year-old antics.

First grades will love the theme and the idea of a whole week of snow days. They can handle much of the text on their own. Literacy skills and comprehension will be enhanced. Gentle reminders from adults may be in order, though. Tennis racquets only make good snowshoes in an emergency. And don’t take off for the store in a blizzard without an adult’s permission. For teachers, this book makes a good jumping off place for learning about winter around the world and extreme weather of all kinds.

The author’s website,, brings the reader to Rocco’s world, including his Caldecott Honor title, Blackout, and numerous Rick Riordan books. The publisher’s website,, has wonderful teacher guides.

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  • BlizzardTitle: Blizzard
  • Author: John Rocco
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Genre: Memoir, winter, helping out
  • ISBN: 978-142317865-1
  • Release date: October 28, 2014


Fine Life for a Country Mouse

Written and illustrated by Susan Detwiler

Really? Another Aesop re-telling? Yes, and it’s worth every second spent with it. The illustrations are beautiful and memorable. The text is simple, yet informative. Tillie is a country mouse who lives in a tree trunk and makes everything she needs. After her city cousin, Oliver, visits, Tillie decides to check out the posh world he describes to her. Of course, Tillie decides the country life is for her, while Oliver sticks with the city life. The author is careful not to anthropomorphize the characters too much. The food, furniture, and other items the mice use would actually be available to mice. The clothing maybe not as much. But the mouse paws look like mouse paws. Details in the illustrations add to the modern feel of this ancient tale. A modern car nearly runs over the mice. The trucks, a train, the lay out of the street, and even the straight rows of corn are obviously modern.

This book is part of Penguin’s “Core Concepts” program. First graders and up will have a chance to practice literacy skills. This would be a great read aloud. The illustrations are richly detailed and lend themselves to actively spotting the lady bug and looking for other sneaky details. In the meantime, the reader is learning to appreciate what they have and that others may want to live differently. Even within a family, not everyone has to want the same things.

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  • Fine LifeAuthor/Illustrator: Susan Detwiler
  • Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin Random House Company, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48154-8
  • Genre: Fable, Diversity, Family

The Magic School Bus Presents: Our Solar System: A Nonfiction Companion

Finally, Scholastic is helping to clear up the debate about the validity of calling the “Magic School Bus” books nonfiction. For so many children and adults, the magic ability of the school bus to change size and function caused confusion about whether or not the information in the book was true. Here scholastic has come out with a paperback set of nonfiction companions to the popular series. This is one of many of their new nonfiction companion books.

The use of photographs from NASA and others, makes this a truly believable set. There are occasional throwbacks to the original series with Frizzle Facts and some questions and answers on the familiar yellow notebook paper, but none of that distracts from the science validity. Purists might still quiver at the interjected comic graphics of Arnold and his pals as well as the sketches of Liz the lizard in her space ship. However, this set of books is much more likely to be used to support the common core standards than the previous ones.

In teaching literacy skills, there are the requirements for nonfiction writing, such as: the use of real dates, proper names of explorers and space crafts, and actual photographs. The text of the book is nonfiction. While that will be explainable to the second and third grade readers, for preschoolers, kindergarteners and first graders the discrepancy between the truth of the text and the fiction of the illustrations will continue to cause confusion. Therefore, it could be a valuable book for teaching and sorting out the differences between fact and fiction.

Librarians and parents can use these books to engage reluctant readers into the realm of science, but then should move rapidly into solely nonfiction texts.

  • Magic School Bus Solar SystemTitle: The Magic School Bus Presents Our Solar System: A Nonfiction Companion
  • Author: Tom Jackson
  • Illustrator: Carolyn Bracken
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-68365-4
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  •  Grade Level: 1 – 3
  • Extras: Photographs, glossary
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