Archive for Fiction

Super Happy Magic Forest

Written and Illustrated by Matty Long

Missing magic crystals and an evil doer remove the joy out of the happy forest. Only the bravest will be sent to great goblin mountain to get the crystals back where they belong. This colorful, glossy book is very busy with crowded double-paged spreads designed to look like maps for our wanderers. All along the trail, dangers and challenges abound.

Young readers and listeners will enjoy picking out the characters reminiscent of other well-loved stories from the unicorn to the Smeagol look-a-like polishing his gold ring. Children will study the illustrations and enjoy the humorous one liners, some of which only the adults will understand.  Teachers and librarians can use it to introduce the epic form of storytelling, while fulfilling

It is a classic epic tale format, though a skeleton of the literacy and/or English standards of the core curriculum. Students would enjoy adding to the difficulties of the quest, or inventing a new one either on their own or as a group project.

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  • Super Happy Magic ForestTitle: Super Happy Magic Forest
  • Author/Illustrator: Matty Long
  • Publisher: Scholastic, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-86059-8
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2


How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends?

Written by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Mark Teague

How do dinosaurs know so many things about kids?

Once again, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague team up to compare the feelings of dinosaurs as if they were regular kids. And once again, it is spot on. Jane’s poem about what happens to friends when they get in a fight goes through the common feelings of anger, resentment, hurt, and ultimately forgiveness. The ideas as well as the drawings provide giggles and ideas for handling such a situation.

The words are easy to read with large, dark font. Children will be able to read it back to parents or teachers after only a couple of repetitions. However, the illustrations are so wonderful, children will delight in studying them over and over. Teachers can use this particular book in the series to meet core curriculum standards in literacy while reinforcing cause and effect, picture clues, main idea, or sequencing skills.

This is a wonderful addition to a series of books librarians, parents and teachers all enjoy. Even though, there have been many of these books both the text and the illustrations are able to offer a fresh, new experience.

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  • How Do Dinosaurs Stay FriendsTitle: How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends?
  • Author: Jane Yolen
  • Illustrator: Mark Teague
  • Publisher: Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, 2016
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-82934-2
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 1
  • Extras: Beginning and back end pages show dinosaurs with their proper scientific names.

Baa Baa Smart Sheep

Written Mark Sommerset
Illustrated by Rowan Sommerset

Well, I nearly giggled myself to death on that one. At least, I can imagine a first grader doing so.

When Quirky Turkey encounters bored Baa Baa Smart Sheep, Baa Baa looks for a way to alleviate the boredom. So Baa Baa convinces Quirky Turkey to eat a pile of poo, which may or may not be smarty tablets. Warning: the little twists at the end will probably cause this to be favorite bedtime reading. As the cover says, this contains mischief.

The illustrations are adorable and supplement the text well.

The language is a little beyond first grade, but the context and repetition lend themselves to independent reading on the second try, meaning reinforced literacy skills. These New Zealanders have a winner here.

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  • Baa BaaTitle: Baa Baa Smart Sheep
  • Author: Mark Sommerset
  • Illustrator: Rowan Sommerset
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8066-4

Last Stop on Market Street

Written by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Riding the bus with Nana after church on Sunday is the backdrop of this poetic story which won the 2016 Newbery AND a Caldecott honor. The story is fresh and timely. It is realistic for all children whether they live in the city or not.  The little boy doesn’t want to go again, and complains about many little things we all fuss about when we are in a bad mood. Nana turns all the negatives into positives. She gently shows him how to see things differently even as a blind musician on the bus tells him to close his eyes in order to see the music.

Unlike so many books for young children that wrap everything up at the end, this book ends with a bright new beginning. He is glad they came again to the last stop on Market Street. The readers will be glad, also.

The exquisite art work is reminiscent of the cut paper art of Ezra Jack Keats, as are the bright colors and realistic neighborhoods. This book is definitely a winner and a must have for every school and public library.

Standards in the common core will be fulfilled in the areas of literacy and geography, but art teachers will want to tap into these pages for sample illustrations and/or project ideas, too.

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  • Last Stop on Market StreetTitle: Last Stop on Market Street
  • Author: Matt de la Peña
  • Illustrator: Christian Robinson
  • Publisher: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0399257742
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: K to 2

Groundhog’s Dilemma

Written by Kristen Remenar
Illustrated by Matt Faulker

Ever try to please everybody? It doesn’t work, as Groundhog finds out.

He does his job, and he does it well. He sees his shadow, calls for six more weeks of winter amid thanks from some animals and complaints from others. Throughout the following year, the animals try to reward, or bribe him into “seeing” what they want him to see next year. They let him play on their baseball team, bring him treats and keep him company.

The illustrations are hilarious from speech bubbles to signs on the walls of his den stating, SAVE THE DATE, I AM WHAT I AM, etc. Soon, however, he realizes his problem and seeks out his pal, Owl for advice. He admits he has said yes to everyone else’s desires because he wants them to like him. Owl plays the part of most parents stating, “You got yourself into this, get yourself out.”

Deep inside his heart he knows spring will come when it is supposed to come regardless of what his friends want. So, he returns to being his true self, reporting only what he sees. A perfect ending follows as groundhog becomes the most important person on the baseball team. The one person who will truthfully call ‘em like he sees ‘em.

Literacy core curriculum standards like sequencing, character traits, dialogue, and main idea can be strengthened while using this text. It is a fun introduction to the phenomena of Groundhog’s Day and the coming of spring.

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  • Groundhogs DilemmaTitle: Groundhog’s Dilemma
  • Author: Kristen Remenar
  • Illustrator: Matt Faulker
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58089-600-9
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2

Groundhog’s Day Off

Written by Robb Pearlman
Illustrated by Brett Helquist

Everyone deserves a day off. Especially when no one appreciates you personally. All they care about is the job you do for them. That’s exactly what Groundhog decides. He packs up all his stuff, including his shadow, and heads off to the spa.

Helquist’s illustrations perfectly capture the expressions experienced by all involved. Especially groundhog’s surprise at hearing the televised news broadcast report stating that while many other animals have applied for the job, none could fulfill groundhog’s role. It seems his audience does love and miss him.

All readers will giggle at the antics of other animals as they audition for the job.

Pearlman ends with a humorous, if expected twist about another disgruntled holiday mascot.

Literacy and social studies core curriculum standards, as related to holidays, will be supported by usage of this delightful book. Teachers and librarians may use it as a springboard for students to write notes of appreciation to oft overlooked caregivers and school employees so they feel appreciated and loved.

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  • Groundhogs Day OffTitle: Groundhog’s Day Off
  • Author: Robb Pearlman
  • Illustrator: Brett Helquist
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-61963-289-9
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Holiday
  • Grade level: PreK to 1

Surf’s Up

Written by Kwame Alexander
Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

The sparse text in this delightful picture book partly serves to reinforce the wonderful illustrations. The reader meets two frogs enjoying fantastic weather and surfing conditions at the beach. But first, one friend has to finish the book he’s reading. And the book is anything but boring. But try convincing the other friend of that. The book is about a man searching for a giant whale. “Wowie Kazowie!” Kids will be drawn in by the reading frog’s enthusiasm and his vivid imagination of what the book scenes look like. The other frog learns of another way to spend a day at the beach.

This is a great book for first graders to read independently for increasing literacy skills or for a teacher or parent to read aloud with a group. Reading activities could include learning more about whales and which ones are the largest and most aggressive. Of course, kids can also learn about literature and Moby Dick, about whaling in the nineteenth century, and about why whaling is no longer a common practice.

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  • Surfs UpTitle: Surf’s Up
  • Author: Kwame Alexander
  • Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
  • Published: NorthSouth, February, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Picture book
  • ISBN: 978-0-7358-4220-5

Cork & Fuzz Merry Merry Holly Holly

Written by Dori Chaconas
Illustrated by Lisa McCue

Special days are celebrated with good friends in a beautiful place. But sometimes it takes some searching to find the perfect spot. Someplace where birds aren’t squawking at you and squirrels aren’t throwing acorns down on your head.

This delightful book will have young listeners giggling and then singing along. Beautiful illustrations take readers along on the trip to find a quiet thinking tree and plant ideas about what it is making this day so special. The word Christmas is never used which makes the book universal for all winter holidays. Finding a tree with lights on it outside is unusual, but shouldn’t bother readers as there is a fence nearby suggesting a house nearby.

Teachers, librarians, and parents will want to add this wonderful book to the pile of winter holidays. Besides all the fun it offers, this book will also fulfill core curriculum standards in the area of literacy skills as teachers can use Cork and Fuzz as excellent examples of real life characters by listing their character traits. Understanding picture clues and predicting outcomes are also skills easily strengthened for grade one and grade two readers.  So fun!

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  • Cork & FuzzTitle:  Cork & Fuzz Merry Merry Holly Holly
  • Author:  Dori Chaconas
  • Illustrator:  Lisa McCue
  • Publisher:  Viking, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-451-47501-5
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 1

Stanley’s Diner

Written and Illustrated by William Bee

What is Stanley up to now? Cooking for hungry customers and teaching youngsters about food and food preparation. Hattie writes the menu on the blackboard and takes the orders, while Stanley cooks meals in the well-stocked kitchen. Charlie, the customer enjoys putting lots of syrup on his pancakes. Later, Stanley goes to the store and makes a special cake for Little Woo’s birthday. Then he cleans up and goes home.

For the very young, this would be a great read aloud for discussion of components and the pictures. Kids can even count the number of slices of toast Stanley’s toaster makes (eight). And they can read the names on the ingredients, such as flour, sugar, and butter. First graders can practice the literacy skills they’re already gaining by spotting the many simple elements in the fun illustrations.

Who knows what Stanley will come up with next.

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  • Stanleys DinerTitle: Stanley’s Diner
  • Author/Illustrator: William Bee
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 2
  • Genre: Food, Culture
  • ISBN: 978-156145-802-8


I Am Henry Finch

Written by Alexis Deacon
Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Henry is a finch. And he acts like a finch. Up in the morning with the flock. Says “Good morning” with all the finches. “Good afternoon,” “Good evening,” and “Good night” too. The only change in the routine is when the Beast shows up. The finches fly to a tree. Then Henry has a thought about being great. A thought that gets him swallowed by the Beast. Eventually, he plants a thought in the Beast’s head. “Open.” The Beast opens its mouth and out flies Henry. Safe again, Henry invites the other finches to have thoughts.

The wonderful illustrations in this entertaining book make up a good deal of the story. When inside the Beast, where it’s dark, the pages are black and the images are jumbled.

The book may be silly, but first graders will learn a lot about following their talents and about being a leader. As a read aloud, it’s a great tool for teachers and parents to interact with the kids.

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  • Henry FinchTitle: I Am Henry Finch
  • Author: Alexis Deacon
  • Illustrator: Viviane Schwarz
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Picture book
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7812-8
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