Category: Elementary School


stratford zoo macbeth

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Zack Giallongo

When the gates shut at night at The Stratford Zoo, the animals come out to play.  They steal the keys from one of the zoo keepers as they leave and all of the cages are unlocked.  Vendors walk the aisles selling treats like peanuts and earthworms to the growing crowd.  Then on stage, the theater begins with the lion as Macbeth.  After meeting with the witches, the question is whether Macbeth will eat the king.  Lady Macbeth proposes different preparations to make the king taste better, and Macbeth finally succumbs and eats the king.  But then, as with any Shakespearean tragedy, others must be eaten too.  This is a wild and wonderful combination of Shakespeare, hungers both human and animal, and plenty of humor.

Lendler takes great liberties with Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  He combines all of the moments that people remember in the play, from Lady Macbeth trying to wash out the spots of blood to the visits to the three witches and the way their predictions play out.  He also adds in lots of slapstick comedy, plenty of asides from the audience and actors, and also shortens the play substantially. 

Giallongo’s art is colorful and dramatic.  He plays up the drama of the ketchup stains, the growing stomach of the lion, and the ambitions of Lady Macbeth.  Comic moments are captured with plenty of humor visually.  This zoo is filled with fur, claws, fun and drama.

A perfect combination of Shakespeare and wild animal humor, this will please those who know Macbeth and people knew to the play alike.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

any questions

Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay

Where do stories come from?  How are books made?  These questions that authors often get from children are the subject of this picture book from an author who has written and illustrated many picture books.  Together the author and a group of children asking delighted questions create a story right in front of the reader.  They take inspiration from the kind of paper the story is written on, the colors of the page.  They talk about how ideas happen, and how sometimes they are great ideas but don’t become a book or that not all ideas fit into a single story.  Ideas sometimes don’t appear and you have to wait for them, doodling and dreaming of other things until they arrive.  And then something happens, and it starts to become a story!  The children in the book get involved and the story takes a surprising turn.  Luckily story telling is flexible and able to deal with wild purple monsters who come out of the woods.  This is a great look at the creative process and how books are made, written at a level that preschool children will enjoy and understand.

Gay is so open and inviting in this picture book.  She is refreshingly candid about the creative process and all of the bumps and twists along the way.  The invitation to the reader along with the child characters in the book to be part of creating a story is warm and friendly.  All ideas are welcome, some work and other don’t, and that is all embraced as part of creativity. 

Gay’s illustrations continue the cheerfulness of the text.  They combine writing in cursive with story panels and speech bubbles with characters in the book.  It’s all a wonderful mix of styles that gets your creativity flowing.

Expect children to want to write their own stories complete with illustrations after reading this!  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

emma and the blue genie

Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke, illustrations by Kerstin Meyer

Emma often spends her nights out by the sea with her dog, away from her pesky brothers.  One night she finds a bottle floating in the waves and opens it to discover Karim, a very small blue genie inside.   Karim has had most of his magic stolen away when Sarim, the huge yellow genie, stole his nose ring and trapped him in the bottle.  Now Karim has to head back to avenge himself and to save the kingdom from the evil rule of Sarim.  Emma decides to go with him and she sets off aboard his magic carpet for the kingdom of Barakash.  There, she is quickly caught up in the battle against Sarim, but once he sees her yellow hair, he immediately takes her prisoner.  There’s not much that a girl can do to escape from an evil genie who keeps you in a cage, but all is not lost when you have a blue genie and a brave dog on your side!

Funke has written a wonderfully original book for young readers.  The Middle Eastern setting comes alive as Emma walks through the busy castle on her way to see the young king.  Funke incorporates many references to the desert into people’s vernacular, even more firmly setting this book in a specific place.  Emma is a great female character, filled with plenty of gumption and not scared of much.  She doesn’t shrink away from anything in the book, enjoying flying on a magic carpet, seeing new places and having wild adventures.

The illustrations are in full color and add a lot of life to the book.  Used differently from one page to the next, they add a dynamic piece to the book design.  The differences between the two genies could not be more clearly shown, with the calm blue and the wild yellow.  Meyer also manages to show the opulence without things becoming too busy and overwhelming for the eye. 

Fun and original, this book will share aloud well with a class and will be an inviting pick for children reading chapter books.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

star stuff

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson

This is a picture book biography about Carl Sagan and how he got interested in the stars.  It all started when he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and was inspired.  He started researching stars and space and wondering about the universe around us.  He got his doctorate and worked with other scientists to create machines that would investigate planets and take pictures of them.  Then he went on television with his show Cosmos and told everyone about the universe and how we are all made from the same stuff as the stars.  This is an inspirational story of how a child who loved the stars turning into a man who taught a generation about them.

Sisson keeps this book at the exactly right level for young readers.  She does not dwell on Sagan’s time in college, but instead spends much more time on his childhood dreams and interests.  She focuses too on his work as a scientist and then speaks very broadly about his time on television.  I greatly appreciate that his work was not narrowed to just Cosmos, but instead it is celebrated as a part of what he accomplished in his life.  The book ends with an Author’s Note and a bibliography and source notes that readers looking for more detailed information will find useful.

In her illustrations, Sisson wisely incorporates elements of comic books with panels and speech bubbles.  These give the book a great modern feel and help propel the story forward.  Done in a friendly cartoon style, the illustrations make astronomy approachable and friendly for the reader.

Children will be inspired to see a young person’s dream become their vocation in life.  This picture book is a new way for Sagan to inspire people to learn about the stars.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

tales of bunjitsu bunny

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Isabel is the best at Bunjitsu in her school.  They call her Bunjitsu Bunny, but she knows to never use her martial arts skills to hurt anyone, unless she has to.  This easy reader features a series of short stories about her Buntjitsu skills and how she uses them throughout the day.  Isabel figures out before anyone else in her class how to get into the school when the door is locked.  She outwits pirates who want to steal from her.  She races a tortoise in a fresh take on the Tortoise and the Hare story.  In one story after the other, Isabel shows her poise, her intelligence and her sense of honor. 

This book for the early chapter book reader will appeal on many fronts.  First of course is the martial arts aspect, though those looking for flying fists and fighting will find something very different here.  Inside the covers is a unique mix of Eastern philosophy and problem solving that is presented at a level that children will understand. 

Himmelman’s illustrations offer just the right amount of break for young readers, so that they will not be put off by the amount of text.  The fonts are equally welcoming with their large size.  The illustrations are done in black, white and red.  They are welcoming and cartoony, created often with just a few lines that carry plenty of action and humor.

A unique and fascinating chapter book for new readers, this is a wonderful mix of girl power, martial arts and restraint.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

gabriel finley and the ravens riddle

Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

Gabriel is a 12-year-old who loves riddles, he collects them and loves puzzling over them, just like his father did.  But his father has disappeared, leaving Gabriel behind in the care of his loving aunt.  Outside the house, Gabriel is unaware of the raven’s nest and the little raven growing up in it.  Paladin is a special raven though, one that is destined to have a magical bond with Gabriel, but only if he can survive the attacks upon him.  Owls hunt ravens for food, but worse are the valravens, creatures who serve Corax, a half-man, half-raven.  As Gabriel learns more about his father and his family’s special relationship with ravens, he is drawn into a quest that will lead him and his friends into the underground world of Aviopolis to confront Corax and save his father.

Inventive and unique, this middle-grade fantasy novel is something special.  Gabriel is an interesting protagonist, cautious with the friends he makes and living in a world where magic is suddenly part of his life.  He adapts quickly but believably to what is happening and responds with bravery but also curiosity.  He and his friends have a variety of skills, and they all nicely come into play during their adventures.  There are other characters who may be friends or not, they are written with a wonderful ambiguity that is allowed to be unresolved for a long time, adding richness to the tale.

Hagen has added a lot of depth to her novel with his creation of a raven society where they test one another to see if they are valravens with riddles.  Valravens don’t care for humor, so they are easily identified opposed to the merry ravens.  Much to my delight, it is revealed later in the book that owls love puns.  So the book is filled with wordplay, a grand element of the plot.

A vibrant mix of riddles, adventure and animal tale, this book is definitely one worth discovering.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.

tiny creatures

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

There are tiny creatures all around us that do the most amazing things!  Microbes are too small to be seen by the human eye, but look through a microscope and you enter a world of them.  There are microbes like viruses that cause diseases or colds.  And there are others that are very good for our health and turn milk into yogurt and compost into dirt.  Microbes may be very small but their impact on our world and our lives is very big.  This book shows the huge impact they have and how much we need to appreciate them.

Davies has written very engagingly about microbes in this book.  When talking about something like microbes, the numbers can get too large to understand, but Davies nicely ties these huge numbers to others that make sense.  She shows how quickly a microbe can reproduce using the page of the book.  The entire book is cleverly done, exposing the facts about microbes in a friendly and approachable way.

The illustrations by Sutton show both the microbes and their effect on the world.  The pages with the tiny microbes are fascinating as one gets to see the different types up close.  The illustrations have a friendly charm about them that makes the subject matter even more fun to read.

A great book on microbes, this will encourage children to pick up a microscope and learn even more about these tiny little creatures.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

red pencil

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

Amira is an artist who spends her free time drawing with sharp sticks in the dirt.  She has just turned twelve and is now old enough to wear a toob.  Amira longs to go to school, but her mother doesn’t believe that girls should go to school.  So Amira stays on the family farm with her parents and younger sister who was born with misshapen legs.  Then the peace is shattered when their farm is attacked and Amira’s beloved father is killed.  Now they must leave their farm behind and head to a refugee camp where people are crowded into a small space and hunger is constant.  But when Amira is given a red pencil, her mind once again is able to escape into her art and she starts to once again dream of a different future and how to get there.

Set in Sudan, this verse novel is filled with power, wrenching written.  The brutality of the attack is captured clearly on the page as is the shock of loss that continues to ripple and tear at the small family remaining.  Pinkney captures grief on the page, writing with a clarity and beauty that is stark at times and layered and subtle at others.  Her verse speaks to the power of dreams to lift people out of where they are trapped and make a difference. 

From waves of wheat on the page to the family together, Evans’ illustrations support the powerful verse.  As the tone of the poems shift, so does his art which moves from playful to dramatic along with the text.  My favorite images capture small pieces of life, little glimpses of what makes a home and a day.

An impressive novel in verse, this book offers a strong survivor of a protagonist who uses art as a force to lift herself.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

right word

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The incredible and award-winning team of Bryant and Sweet return with a picture book biography of Peter Roget.  The book looks deeply into his childhood as a boy who grew up moving around a lot in Switzerland.  He found that books stayed good friends through the many moves he made.  Roget was also a boy who enjoyed making lists, lists about all sorts of things:  Latin words, elements, weather and words for things in the garden.  As a teenager, he spent time silent and alone outside, making lists of birds and insects.  Then one day, he realized that it would be great to have a book that listed all the different words to choose from, and his idea of a thesaurus was born.  But it would take many years of hard work to come to fruition.

Bryant’s text has just the right amount of information about Roget and his life.  She wisely chooses to focus on his interest in lists as a child and how that grew into the thesaurus as Roget himself grew up.  This natural progression of interest from youth to adult is something that children will enjoy seeing in both Roget and in their own lives.  Bryant’s Author’s Note at the end of the book speaks to all of the research that goes into writing a biography for young children and the inspiration she herself found in Roget.

As always, the illustrations by Sweet are a highlight of the book.  Here, as she explains in her Illustrator’s Note at the end of the book, she has incorporated the Latin words that Roget used in his notebooks.  The other words that she weaves into her art are found in the first edition of his thesaurus.  Her art incorporates different papers, watercolors, and objects.  There is one page where it feels like it pops off the page, a book that contains words, creatures, plants and ideas.  Simply amazing art.

A noteworthy addition to the already impressive shelves of Bryant and Sweet, this is one that belongs in every library and in the hands of all young wordsmiths.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

my heart is laughing

My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Dani has always been happy, but now that her best friend has moved away to another city, she is unhappy sometimes too.  But Dani tries not to think about being unhappy.  Dani didn’t know anyone in her class when she started school, but now she does.  When two girls in her class both get a crush on the same boy and ask him who likes best, they are amazed when he shows that he’s much more likely to like Dani.  Dani tried to keep being friendly with the girls, but neither of them wanted anything to do with her.  Dani sat by herself at lunch, but she didn’t mind because she just thought about all of the fun she had visiting her best friend.  But then her teacher moved her between the two girls, and Dani was cruelly pinched by them.  Dani finally had enough, and reacted by squirting them (and then the teacher accidentally) with sauce.  Now it is up to Dani to tell the truth about what happened and to figure out how to find happiness without her best friend at her side.

This is the second book featuring Dani, following My Happy Life, which tells the story of how Dani met her best friend and then how she had to move away.  In this second book, the focus is on bullying and the author does a great job with it.  As the situation escalates, Dani remains apart from the situation for awhile, then finds herself right in the middle of it.  I appreciate that Dani is not faultless in the situation in her reaction, but also that she reacts humanly and believably to the situation. 

Set in Sweden, the stories have a universal appeal but also are clearly not set in the United States.  This is a gentle introduction to the subtle cultural differences and a great way to start a discussion about how people are both the same and different in other cultures. 

Fans of the first book will love the next in Dani’s adventures.  This will also find an audience as a read-aloud for teachers wishing to discuss bullying with elementary students.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Gecko Press and NetGalley.

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