Lucas Makes a Comeback and Lucas at the Paralympics by Igor Plohl, illustrated by Urška Stropnik Šonc

Published by Holiday House

Lucas Makes a Comeback by Igor Plohl: 9780823447664 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books
Lucas at the Paralympics by Igor Plohl: 9780823447657 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Summary: Slovenian author Igor Plohl has drawn on his own experiences to create Lucas, a lion who loses the use of his legs after falling off a ladder and injuring his spine. Lucas goes through a period of sadness, feeling like he has lost his independence and ability to work. With the help of therapists, friends, and family, he learns how to use a wheelchair and drive a car, gets his own apartment, and returns to his job as a teacher. Photos on the endpapers show Igor doing many of the activities that are described in the story.

In Lucas At the Paralympics, Lucas meets a fellow cyclist named Eddie, and the two of them decide to travel to the Summer Paralympic Games. Sidebars give additional information about the different competitions they attend. At the end, Lucas decides to train for the Paralympic Games in four years. Includes two pages of information about different events at the Winter Paralympic Games. Both books are 32 pages and recommended for ages 4-8.

Pros: Some much-needed picture books featuring a character with a disability. Readers will learn about some of the challenges faced by a person in a wheelchair, as well opportunities to compete in sports that are open to those with many different types of disabilities.. The book about the Paralympic Games is timely, since the 2021 Games take place at the end of the summer.

Cons: Given the restrictions of a picture book, Lucas’s journey to independence appears deceptively simple. Also, the photos of the author were on the endpapers, which meant some of them were covered up by the library dust jacket.

Teachers Pay Teachers

I’m starting a little experiment: opening a Teachers Pay Teachers store. If you’re not familiar with this site, suffice it to say I have joined thousands of other educators selling products they’ve created to make other teachers’ lives a bit easier. You can visit my store to see the three products I have for sale. All were inspired by my experiences running first grade book clubs. TPT requires you to start with a free product, so I have a book club for Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack. The other two products include discussion questions and activities for three books each: one is a general set of books for early readers and the other one has a summer theme. All are books I have reviewed on this blog.

I hope you will check it out, and even more, I hope you will let me know what you think of my products and if there are others you would like to see in my store. It turns out there is a lot to learn about Teachers Pay Teachers, and I feel like I’m still at the beginning of that learning curve. You can send me feedback at akidsbookaday@gmail.com. As always, thank you for any input you can offer!

Toasty by Sarah Hwang

Published by Margaret Ferguson

Toasty: Hwang, Sarah: 9780823447077: Amazon.com: Books
MICA Book Illustration: Toasty by Sarah Hwang

Summary:  Toasty is a piece of bread who dreams of being a dog.  He can see there are differences–he doesn’t have fur, he has two arms and two legs, and he sleeps in a toaster–but he’s sure he can overcome these.  He can bark like a dog, so he confidently decides to head out to the dog park.  When he tries to play with the other dogs, they see him as a tasty snack to chase, and Toasty is forced to hide in a sandwich.  Just as a girl is about to eat him, he starts barking.  The girl is delighted: she’s always wanted a dog, but is allergic.  The two become fast friends, and the final page shows them snuggling down to sleep.  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Quirky? You bet, but strangely sweet as well.  Kudos to Sarah Hwang for creating illustrations of a slice of bread that is as endearing as a puppy.

Cons:  Will there not be a mold issue?

On the road

I know it’s been quite a year for many of us, and I am no exception. As I wrote last spring, my job was eliminated due to budget cuts. I got that news on Monday, March 9, and the schools closed that Friday. A few months later, I was hired to be the librarian at Rebecca M. Johnson, an elementary school in Springfield, Massachusetts that hadn’t had a librarian in years. It’s been an interesting year of buying books, inventorying the collection, weeding, and trying to connect with students and teachers remotely.

On the home front, I recently sold my house and will be moving to another town in July, where I’ll go from solo home ownership to sharing an apartment with two housemates. I’m excited about the changes, and am looking to celebrate both them and my recent Covid vaccination (I received my second Pfizer shot on April 1) by traveling this summer.

Which brings me to the real reason for this post. I’m pretty flexible about my travel plans, and would enjoy meeting new people and doing some library consultation. Are you interested in chatting with me about your school, public, or classroom library? Send me an email at akidsbookaday@gmail.com to let me know what you have in mind, and I will see if I can come up with a travel itinerary to include meeting you.

P.S. – Someone just emailed me and asked me what kind of consultation I have in mind. Here’s how I replied: I don’t really have an agenda about consultations…just looking to travel and meet people.  I’ve worked in 11 school libraries over the years, and have helped teachers weed and reorganize classroom libraries, so I’d be happy to visit your library, talk to you about what’s working and not working, and possibly share ideas about changes, suggestions for the collection, etc.

Also, this is definitely unpaid consulting. Although if you want to take me to lunch, I won’t say no.

The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Chance to Fly: Stroker, Ali: 9781419743931: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Nat is nervous about moving to New Jersey, away from her California home and her best friend Chloe.  Her dad signs her up for a wheelchair track team, but at the first practice she sees a flyer for the activity she really wants to try: a production of Wicked for middle school kids.  Although she’s never acted, she loves singing and musical theater, and, against her parents’ wishes, decides to audition.  To her delight, she gets a part in the chorus and finds her tribe with the theater kids, including Malik, her first crush.  When a fire at the theater threatens to put an end to the play, Nat is unwilling to let go of her dream of performing on stage.  She and the other kids rally to put the show together, and Nat gets her chance–both literally and figuratively–to fly.  Includes a note from the authors about how they met and collaborated.  288 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Attention all middle school theater kids: here is a book about you that will have you on your feet by the last page, applauding Nat’s courage and determination to succeed.  Readers will build empathy for what it is like to be in a wheelchair, and may let go of some limiting beliefs about people with physical disabilities.  Be sure to look for YouTube videos of some of the performances of co-author and Tony Award-winning disabled actress Ali Stroker.

Cons:  Due to my mediocre knowledge of musical theater, I didn’t get the references of all the chapter titles (which are lyrics from various musical songs).

Ten books to read on Zoom

Like many of you, I’ve been reading to kids on Zoom this year. I discovered that my favorite way to share books is by turning them into Google slideshows. I’ve done about 200 books, so I’ve had a chance to perfect the process! There’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned if you want to contact me (jkdawson115@gmail.com). It’s a strange feeling to read this way, though, as often the kids are muted, and I can’t see all–or sometimes any–of their faces.

I’ve found that the books that the kids and I have enjoyed the most are the ones that are most interactive. There’s a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to read the book and also be able to see the kids, but it’s worth it to be able to have a conversation with your students. (I know many teachers use more than one screen to facilitate this, but so far I’ve just been on my laptop.) I’ve put together this list of the ten books that have worked the best for me and have brought me some much-needed joy in this crazy year of remote education.

Journey by Aaron Becker

Published by Candlewick

Amazon.com: Journey (Aaron Becker's Wordless Trilogy) (9780763660536):  Becker, Aaron, Becker, Aaron: Books

I’m starting with the one book I haven’t actually tried on Zoom yet. I have it in my plans to do in a couple of weeks. Creating a story for this amazing wordless book has always been a popular activity. I start by having the kids come up with names for the girl, the boy, and the bird. I’m hoping to either write or type the story as the kids make it up, then go back and read it again with their words. I’ll be trying this out with second grade.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Published by Candlewick

Du Iz Tak? (E. B. White Read-Aloud Award. Picture Books): Ellis, Carson,  Ellis, Carson: 9780763665302: Amazon.com: Books

I’ve never felt an inclination to read this book in person, but it was perfect for Zoom. Together we puzzled out the insects’ language, and Zoom made it easier to see the illustrations up close and to flip back to past pages to see how different words had been used. Second grade.

Take Away the A by Michal Escoffier

Published by Enchanted Lion Press

Take Away the A: Escoffier, Michaël, Di Giacomo, Kris: 9781592701568: Amazon.com:  Books

I inserted my own slides to have the kids guess before showing the illustrations. So before the first page, I had a slide that said “Take the A away from BEAST” with all the letters in black except for two red A’s. The kids would figure out that it would be “best”, then I’d go to the next slide which had the word and the illustration. I got some positive teacher feedback on this one. Second grade.

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do by by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook, illustrated by Andy Robert Davies

Published by Charlesbridge

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do: Heling, Kathryn, Hembrook, Deborah,  Davies, Andy Robert: 9781580892520: Amazon.com: Books

This cute book has rhyming text and a picture of different workers’ clothes on a clothesline. Kids guess who those clothes belong to, then you turn the page to see if they’re right. This team has also created similar books about sports and the first day of school. Kindergarten.

A Children’s Zoo by Tana Hoban

Published by Greenwillow Books

A Children's Zoo: Hoban, Tana, Hoban, Tana: 9780688052027: Amazon.com: Books

An oldie but a goodie that I’ve used for years. Each page has a photo of a zoo animal and three words that describe it. I give the three words and the kids have to guess the animal before I show the picture. I didn’t use Google Slides for this one, just held up the book to the camera, but if I had it to do again, I would. You could insert slides with the three word between the illustrations. If you have time, kids can make up their own when you’re done reading. First and second grades.

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest by Steve Jenkins

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest: Jenkins, Steve: 0046442861366: Amazon.com:  Books

One of my all-time favorites, this book also required me to insert slides with the record for each animal (e.g., the strongest animal for its size), then have the kids guess before going to the slide with the book page (ant). Kids and teachers loved this; my assistant principal observed this lesson and said she was shouting the answers to her computer screen (fortunately, she was muted). First and second grades.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Published by Candlewick

Amazon.com: I Want My Hat Back (9780763655983): Klassen, Jon, Klassen, Jon:  Books

I’m happy to report that yes, readers’ theater is possible on Zoom. I typed up a script from this book and color-coded the different parts to help kids recognize their lines, then shared my screen so everyone could read from it. The book also has color-coded lines, and I read it before we did the play. It was a big hit with second graders!

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine, illustrated by T. S. Spookytooth

Published by Millbrook Press

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons: Levine, Sara, Spookytooth, T.S:  9780761384649: Amazon.com: Books

Another book that allows kids to guess before you turn the page. What kind of animal would you be if you had extra long leg bones and short arm bones? (A kangaroo or a rabbit). I got some positive teacher feedback on this one, as they had just completed a science unit on animal body parts. First grade.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Published by HarperCollins

Amazon.com: Sideways Stories from Wayside School: Louis Sachar, Adam  McCauley, Julie Brincklo: Books

One of my readers’ theater go-to books. I got the scripts from Aaron Shepard long ago, which I have edited and added to over the years Again, I created a color-coded script, and did four of the chapters with third grade enrichment groups.

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

Published by Neal Porter Books

Small in the City: Smith, Sydney: 9780823442614: Amazon.com: Books

This is a great book for inferencing and predicting. Zoom allowed the kids to get a close look at the illustrations which are key to figuring out what is going on in the story. First and second grades.

I still have seven more weeks of school, so I could use some more ideas! Feel free to share your best Zoom books in the comments.

It’s awards day!

Just watched the livestream of the announcements:

Caldecott

Honor books:

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha and Irene Latham, illustrated by Yuko Shimuzo

Me and Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby

Winner: We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

Newbery

Honor

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Boys’ Thai Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvart (two Newbery honors for her this year!)

Winner: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Check out the ALA announcement of these and the many other awards announced this morning at their website.

What do you think of the winners? Answer in the comments!

Small Press Saturday

As you may or may not know, I have a certain schedule I follow each week with my reviews: Middle grade Monday, Third Grade Thursday (for early chapter books…not enough to do one every Thursday, unfortunately), Factual Friday, and Storytime Sunday. This year, I’m introducing a new one: Small Press Saturday. In an effort to celebrate the creativity and courage of small presses who go up against the Big Five publishing industry, I will review a book published by an independent press each Saturday. My biggest challenge here will be getting my hands on the books, which aren’t always available at my local library. I’ve reached out to a number of small presses, but if any of you has any connections, please feel free to let me know.

Another list of six: favorite nonfiction books

Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin

Published by Neal Porter Books

Your Place in the Universe: Chin, Jason: 9780823446230: Amazon.com: Books

I notice that Jason Chin has made it onto three of my last five favorite nonfiction book lists, so guess I’m a bit of a fan. His illustrations are awe-inspiring, and I loved the comparisons in this book that made enormous numbers and sizes a little more understandable.

Grow: Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

Published by Candlewick

Grow: Secrets of Our DNA: Davies, Nicola, Sutton, Emily: 9781536212723:  Amazon.com: Books

Explaining DNA and genetics in a way that’s accessible to readers as young as kindergarten is no easy feat, but Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton pulled it off. Watson and Crick would be proud.

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World: Hasak-Lowy, Todd:  9781419741111: Amazon.com: Books

I thought I knew a fair amount about nonviolent activism–I’m a Quaker, for Pete’s sake–but I learned so much from reading this book. 2020 had its share of activism and books about activism, but this was the one I found most inspiring.

The Fabled Life of Aesop by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

The Fabled Life of Aesop: The extraordinary journey and collected tales of  the world's greatest storyteller: Lendler, Ian, Zagarenski, Pamela:  9781328585523: Amazon.com: Books

I’m sure Aesop never imagined he’d be part of the Common Core, but there he is. As a school librarian, I am grateful for this comprehensive introduction to his life and fables, and I also appreciated the sly observations on what it means to have power. Pamela Zagarenski has a couple of Caldecott honors to her name, so don’t count her out this year.

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots by Michael Rex

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

Amazon.com: Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots (9781984816269): Rex, Michael,  Rex, Michael: Books

Who knew that when I was playing Kick the Can with Michael Rex and the rest of our neighbors in 1970’s suburban New Jersey that in 2020 I’d be reviewing his book? Well done, Michael, I loved your take on facts vs. opinions. Librarians everywhere should thank you for this book.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Published by Candlewick Press

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team -  Kindle edition by Soontornvat, Christina. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon .com.

I guess none of us should be surprised that this drama we watched unfold a couple of years ago would be made into a gripping nonfiction tale. Christina Soontornvat added so much context with her sidebars on Thailand, caves, and Buddhism, as well as her personal connection to the story that readers get much more than just a survival story.

Five more favorite picture books

These were some of my personal favorites this year. As I look at the list, it seems to reflect 2020: lots of emphasis on the joys and sorrows of family and home.

Golden Threads by Suzanne Del Rizzo, illustrated by Miki Sato

Published by Owlkids

Golden Threads: Rizzo, Suzanne Del, Sato, Miki: 9781771473606: Amazon.com:  Books

I loved this little fox and the friendship he finds with two different girls; also the concept of wabi-sabi that is explored in the story: finding beauty in things that are imperfect.

The Camping Trip by Jennifer Mann

Published by Candlewick

Camping Trip: 9781406393507: Amazon.com: Books

This story perfectly captured a weekend camping trip: swimming, hiking, s’mores, homesickness. The illustrations reminded me a little bit of G. Brian Karas, upon whom I shall heap praise a bit further down.

Hike by Pete Oswald

Published by Candlewick

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Amazon.com: Books

Another excellent introduction to the great outdoors, this one a wordless book celebrating a father-son bond created during their shared hike. This could easily have been on my Caldecott contender list.

Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Published by Clarion

Amazon.com: Almost Time (9780544785816): Schmidt, Gary D., Stickney,  Elizabeth, Karas, Mr. G. Brian: Books

A quiet story about waiting: for a tooth to fall out and for the maple sap to start running. This one also celebrates the father-son bond. And I am a sucker for G. Brian Karas illustrations.

Saturdays Are for Stella by Candy Wellins, illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan

Published by Page Street Kids

Saturdays Are For Stella: Wellins, Candy, Eve Ryan, Charlie: 9781624149214:  Amazon.com: Books

With so many families experiencing loss this year, this book is a comforting read about the circle of life, and how joys and sorrows can balance each other out.