Child of the Flower-Song People by Gloria Amescua

Cover image for Child of the Flower-Song People.

Child of the Flower-Song People by Gloria Amescua, illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh (9781419740206)

Luz Jiménez was a child of the flower-song people, the Aztecs. She had listened intently to the stories told by the elders about their sacred mountains and streams and also about how the Spaniards had taken their lands away. Luz learned how to do the traditional work of her people, grinding corn on a metate, twisting yarn with her toes, weaving on a loom. She learned about the plants around her and what herbs were medicine. Luz longed to go to school, but it was forbidden for native children. Then the law changed and required schooling in the ways of the Spanish. Luz was a good student and learned much, still keeping the traditional tales alive as she shared them with the other students. At age 13, Luz was forced to flee the Mexican Revolution and live in Mexico City. There Luz became a model for artists, sharing her traditions in paintings and photographs. She longed to be a teacher, but was denied that opportunity. Instead she taught in a different way, through modeling, sharing her tales, and being a living link to the Aztecs.

This beautiful picture book pays homage to Luz Jiménez, a humble woman who became the face of her people. Amescua’s lovely Author’s Note shows the detailed research that went into this biographical picture book. That research is evident in the lovely prose she uses to share Luz’s story with a new generation. Her writing uses metaphors and evocative phrases to really show the impact that Luz’s presence has had as well as her strong connection to her heritage.

Tonatiuh’s art is always exquisite. Done in his own unique style, his illustrations mix modern materials with a folkloric feel. They work particularly well for this subject.

A stellar biographical picture book of a true teacher and heroine. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park

Cover image.

The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng (9781328515131)

A teacher asks her class to think about what they would save in an emergency. You’re allowed to save one thing, knowing that your family and pets are already safe. What would you save, no matter how big it is. Some of the students very quickly decide what they will save while others find the choices almost impossible. Others pick items that were made by grandparents who have passed away. Some have collections they’d want to rescue. Some are very practical, taking their glasses so that they can see or their wallet so they have money to survive. The class has conversations about what they chose and why, giving everyone lots to think about.

Told in verse, this book is written in the dialogue that happens in the classroom. Park captures this dialogue flawlessly, the voices distinct and clear both in their indecision and their decisiveness. Each person reveals a piece of themselves as they reveal why they chose a certain object. The result is a group of students who understand one another a lot better than when they began.

Park writes with such ease on the page that it is amazing to find out in her Author’s Note that she has used a sijo poetic structure throughout the book that limits the number of syllables per line. Within those parameters, she wrote dialogue that never seems limited or stilted as well as offering space for interjections and conversation.

Immensely clever and thought provoking, this book will be embraced by both teachers and students. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Clarion Books.

Review: Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon

Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon

Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka (9781484750223)

When Mrs.Giordano has to stay home sick, a substitute comes to run the classroom. Unfortunately though, all of her changes are really disruptive for the very young students in the class. So one of the students writes a series of poems to Miss Pelly, the substitute. Miss Pelly doesn’t know how to pronounce their names, doesn’t collect the homework that is due. The class doesn’t visit the library on their scheduled day, the turtle tank isn’t cleaned, and turns at being line leader are disrupted. Miss Pelly even laughs too often, but she does share a great book of poems with the class and it might just be alright if Mrs. Giordano takes another day off to get well.

The authors capture the confusion at having routines disrupted by a substitute teacher. Through the vehicle of short poems, this picture book is approachable and gives voice to a child’s frustration at things being changed and grappling with being flexible and understanding. The illustrations have a childlike whimsy to them, with noble turtles, red-glasses wearing crocodiles, and a substitute who looks kind even when the child is unsure.

A winner for classrooms preparing for substitutes or other big changes. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.)

Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood

Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood

Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood (9780399539053, Amazon)

The latest in the long Here Comes Cat series, this picture book is just as charming and fun as the earlier ones in the series. In this book, Cat is asked to step in as a substitute teacher. He’s not happy about it at all, since he wants to nap. Plus, he’s not really comfortable around kittens. Cat attempts to get out of it several times, but finally is in front of the class. They try music first, but Cat’s rock and roll approach disturbs other classes. They build with blocks, which turns out brilliantly and offers a snack too! Art is next and it gets really messy just as the teacher returns to the class room. Can Cat and the kittens get everything cleaned up in time?

I love the way that Cat is always teetering just on the edge of disaster throughout the book. He also has is own style of approaching everything that adds to the chaos and the fun. Putting him in charge of a classroom is rather like putting a child in charge, since he react so much that way and the results play out in a similar fashion as Cat figures it all out on the fly.

Just as with the other Cat books, the book has minimal words and Cat communicates by holding up signs with pictures on them. It’s a trick that the kittens learn by the end of the book, which is a great way to end a long day of teaching.

Just right for early days of school, this picture book is silly fun. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Priscilla Gorilla by Barbara Bottner

Priscilla Gorilla by Barbara Bottner

Priscilla Gorilla by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley (9781481458979, Amazon)

The bestselling duo behind the Miss Brooks books returns with a new book. Priscilla loves gorillas, mostly because they get to do whatever they want. She acts like them and dances like them. She loves to wear her gorilla costume all the time, particularly at school. But because she acts like a gorilla, her teacher puts her in the Thinking Corner sometimes. As Priscilla starts to be seen as a troublemaker, other children join her in the Thinking Corner in their own costumes. But perhaps it’s not being really gorilla-like to be so troublesome, since gorillas are also known for cooperating together. Can Priscilla figure out how to be true to her own inner gorilla even if it means cooperating?

Bottner has such a way with capturing the spirit of childhood on the page. Priscilla speaks for all children as she struggles to navigate the lines between being troublesome, being an individual, and cooperating with others. Bottner writes in an engaging way, allowing the story to unwind at a natural pace that keeps readers caught up in the story. The book ends with Priscilla’s class visiting the zoo and the book beautifully comes full circle as cooperation merges with gorilla dancing.

Emberley’s illustrations are superb. He depicts all of the children in their animal costumes with a wry sense of humor, plushness, bent tails and wrinkles. One wants to crawl into a costume and join the fun. The depiction of Priscilla’s parents and teacher are also cleverly done, showing parents who are allowing their daughter to figure things out but also giving a gentle gorilla nudge in the right direction.

Funny and smart, I’m bananas about this picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi

The Teacher's Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi

The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora (9781484743645, Amazon)

Mr. Stricter, the teacher, has always wanted a pet. So when the class hatches tadpoles, he tells them that they can keep one. They choose Bruno who grows very quickly and unexpectedly. Soon he has left the fishbowl and entirely taken over the classroom. He farts, eats furniture, and munches school supplies. He also hasn’t turned into a frog at all! But Mr. Stricter can’t see how troublesome Bruno is until one day Bruno proves it once and for all.

Rissi uses plenty of humor in this picture book that turns the tables on teachers and their responsibility. The class of children must be the ones who see the problem and then rescue their teacher from his own blindness. This twist makes the book all the more exciting and fun to read, especially for children. Add in the humor of what Bruno actually grows into and you can expect when you share this aloud with children for them to be delighted at the huge creature and call out warnings to the oblivious Mr. Stricter.

Ohora’s illustrations are filled with bright colors that zing and zap. He plays the colors against each other with orange-yellow floors and deep red walls. This adds a lot of energy to the book and gives Bruno a dynamic background to appear against in all of his vastness.

The power of children is embraced in this picture book that will have everyone laughing along. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from ARC received from Disney-Hyperion.

A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson

A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson

A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (9780375868450, Amazon)

The framework of this picture book is a thank you letter to a childhood teacher. Inside that framework, it is the story of a girl who is struggling to learn to read and the 2nd-grade teacher who taught patience and gave the little girl space and opportunity to bloom. Along with the little girl, there is also a gardening project in the classroom, one too that takes its own time to come to fruition though the hard work is done throughout the year. Through the year, there are learning moments, accidents, setbacks and leadership opportunities. It’s a year of inspiration that clearly lasted a lifetime.

Hopkinson’s words paint a vivid picture of a little girl who much prefers the out of doors over books and classwork. She is something of a loner, someone who learns to love books during the year and becomes much more part of the group by the end. Hopkinson shows a wonderful individual child who is still universal while being so specific. Hopkinson does the same with the character of the teacher, who is patient and yet has structure in her classroom and expectations. It is the story of all teachers who make a difference and see a child for who they can become.

Carpenter’s illustrations are also exceptional. They use color to keep the focus of the illustrations on the teacher and the little girl. The other child become part of the background at times, though they are still there. Carpenter also shows the relationship of teacher and child with a depth that is very effective, using expression on the characters faces to show the trust that is being built.

A perfect gift for teachers, this picture book is also full of hope and opportunity for children to notice how special their teachers are. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.

 

Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

Lion Lessons by Jon Agee (InfoSoup)

A boy heads into a shop to take lessons in being a lion. First he has to don the appropriate outfit, complete with mane. His instructor is a professional and informs him that there are seven steps to becoming a lion. First though they have to stretch. The first step is looking fierce, but the boy’s poses don’t impress his teacher. The second step is roaring, but the he wasn’t loud enough. The third step was what to eat and the boy only wanted spaghetti, not the various animals. Prowling Around came next but the boy kept forgetting his tail. Sprinting had the boy running far up a hill and exhausted by the end. Pouncing didn’t work at all. Looking Out for Your Friends though suddenly had the boy acting a lot more lion-like than ever before!

I love Agee’s surreal picture book and his absurd look at life. This picture book is a delight with the farcical attempts of a boy trying to act like a lion alongside the stern professorial lion himself. The pairing of the two of them is wonderfully funny. Children will relate easily to the joy of pretending to be an animal and will see the humor in this much more formal way to learn something that is usually done so casually.

Agee’s illustrations are done in his signature style that is minimalist and effective. The illustrations are simple and will work well with a group thanks to their large format. There is plenty of humor in the illustrations as well, from the lion stretches as yoga poses to the glower of the lion himself. It is all filled with lovely timing too, all designed for maximum joy.

A great and surprising pick for back-to-school, this picture book will have them roaring with laughter. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson (InfoSoup)

Topher, Brand and Steve know that they have one of the best teachers in Ms. Bixby. She is the sort of teacher that everyone hopes to have. But then she announces that she is sick and will have to leave without finishing the school year. She tells the class when her last day is, however her health worsens and she doesn’t make it to her planned final day. That’s when the three friends decide that they must follow through and give Ms. Bixby the final day she has dreamed of. Even if it means skipping school, taking the city bus, buying a very expensive dessert, finding a perfect book, and even illegally buying some wine. Ms. Bixby would do that and more for them, so they must do this for her. As the boys tell their stories of what Ms. Bixby did for each of them, readers too will see that this is the sort of teacher you break all the rules for.

Wow. This book is incredible. It is one that teachers will adore, showing how one teacher can impact so many of her students on a personal level. It is one children too will love, showing their own dedication, bravery and heart. It is a book that skirts along the line of heartbreak and hope, allowing readers to soar at times, fall down and smash like a backpack filled with cheesecake, and then soar once more. It’s a wonderful roller coaster of a book filled with so much emotion and connection.

The three lead characters are all wonderfully depicted. Their voices are unique from one another and stay separate and distinguished. Though they are friends, they have secrets from one another, ones that Ms. Bixby is part of and they all have connections to her that the others don’t know about. It’s a look at the harshness of childhood, the ways that adults can help and the importance of one teacher.

A powerful read that calls on all of us to be heroes in each other’s lives. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Walden Pond Press.