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Review – Christmas Makes Me Think

Posted by shelburns on 30th December 2008

I should have reviewed this one before the holidays, but time just got away from me.  Sorry about that, but here you go, while Christmas is still on your mind.

Thank you to Lee & Low Books for sending this to me.

Title:  Christmas Makes Me Think

Author: Tony Medina

Illustrator:  Chandra Cox

Review Copy Provided by:  Lee & Low Books

Summary of Book:  A young boy, narrator, is excited about Christmas, his favorite time of year.  He is looking forward to more fun, watching cartoons at night, no school, baking a cake with his grandmother, a beautiful tree, and lots of presents.  But, he starts to wonder about things.  What happens to the trees that don’t make it to Christmas?  What about all the people that don’t have a home, food to eat and presents at Christmas?  All this thinking sets the boy into action about giving his old toys to kids that don’t have any and hats, gloves, and scarves to homeless people.  He learns that Christmas is not about getting, but about giving.  It is best said with this quote, “Christmas makes me think about  others and not just me!”

My Review:  This is a sweet story.  It is told from the point of view of a young boy, which I love because boys will be able to relate to the character.  It is also an African American themed book, which is why I enjoy Lee & Low’s books because of the multicultural diversity that they are not afraid to put into books.  Kids need to have books with characters who look like them, and Lee & Low does that.  If I had had this book prior to the holidays, I would have shared it with my students because of the message.  Christmas isn’t just about the gifts you get, but what you can give to others.  I think children need to hear that as many of them are so “me” centered when it comes to the holidays.  This book would make a great springboard to writing in the classroom.  Many times throughout the book, these words are used:  “Christmas makes me think…”  After reading the story, I would give students those four words and see what they could come up with.  They could pattern it after the book, or just finish the sentence.  It would make a great class book to make during the holidays when students are excited and not real into working.  This would be fun for them I think.  I recommend this for young children, teachers, and parents.  It is a quick read for a read aloud, easy for children to read alone, and a story with a great message for kids and adults alike.

Free Teacher’s Guide available at leeandlow.com

Other info about the book:

   paperback $8.95
   hardback $16.95
Interest Level
Grades K – 4
Reading Level
Grades 1 – 2
African/African American Interest, Environment/Nature, Family Traditions, Holidays & Celebrations, Home, Religion/Spiritual, Sharing & Giving
Accelerated Reader
Level: 2.8
Points: .5

Posted in Book Reviews, Christmas, Lee & Low Reviews, Picture Books | 6 Comments »

Review – The World that Loved Books

Posted by shelburns on 30th December 2008

Thank you to the author, Stephen Parlato, who sent me an autographed copy of this book, and thank you to The Picnic Basket for the chance to review this.

Title:  The World that Loved Books

Author:  Stephen Parlato

Illustrator:  Stephen Parlato

Review Copy Provided by:  author via The Picnic Basket blog

Summary of book (from back of book):  There once was a world where everyone loved books, even the animals.  Everyone loved to read so much that when they read their books, they became what they read.  When they closed their books they became themselves again…only smarter.

My Review:  This is an absolutely beautiful book!  I could sit for hours just looking at the pictures as each big picture is a collage of smaller pictures that take time to pick out and enjoy.  Imagine a horse made up of fish, or a cat made up of mice, rats, and hamsters.  It is truly unbelievable!  When I got this book, I was impressed with the cover art, much more so than the picture online did it justice.   I can’t wait to give this book to my students and see how they react!  Not only are the pictures amazing, but it has a great message.  There is not a “plot” to this story, just instances of how people and animals change with each book that they read.  I am always telling my students that with books you can go anywhere, become anything or anyone, and learn whatever you want to know.  This book solidifies the premise that we become what we read.  From each book we read, we take a piece of it with us and carry it around forever.  What a great message for kids and adults alike.  I will definitely be using this one with my reluctant readers because it is an easy read with a good message.  Some children may have a hard time reading it by themselves as the text is not always linear.  I like how the author manipulates the text into curves to accent the illustrations.  I know that there are a few of my boys that will fall in love with this book strictly because of the illustrations, and if that’s how I hook them, then I’ve got them!  I will recommend this to teachers and my librarian for the same reasons:  beautiful illustrations, easy read, great message.

I don’t usually give ratings to my book reviews, but since I am reviewing this book for The Picnic Basket, I was asked to rate the book on a scale of 1-5.  Here is how the scale works out:  5-Strongly Recommend, 4-Recommend without Reservation, 3-Neutral, 2-Recommend under Certain Reading Situations, & 1-Unlikely to Recommend.  When I review books for The Picnic Basket, I will be using these ratings and giving you my reasoning behind the rating.  So, without further adieu, I rate The World that Loved Books a 4 – Recommend without Reservation (This book should be in every picnic basket, it is as good as the perfect potato salad and would be welcome at a coastal or park picnic.  You would rummage through the picnic basket to read it.) based on the illustrations.  I think that children will ask to read it often because of it is short and so that they can see the pictures.

Stephen Parlato has another book, Dragons Love, that I can’t wait to get my hands on!

Other info about the book:

2003, Simply Read Books
36 pp, full color, 8 3/4″ X 12″, cloth with die-cut cover
Ages 6-11
US $16.95, CDN $22.95, UK £9.95, AU $24.95

Posted in Book Reviews, fiction, Picture Books, The Picnic Basket Book | No Comments »

Amanda’s Giving Books Away!

Posted by shelburns on 27th December 2008

If you haven’t been over to A Patchwork of Books, you are missing out on a GREAT giveaway!  Here is what she has for you:

S is for Shamrock: An Ireland Alphabet
D is for Dancing Dragon: A Chinese Alphabet
B is for Big Ben: A London Alphabet

P is for Pinata: A Mexican Alphabet
A is for America: An American Alphabet

and also:

A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet

Ai s For Amazing Moments: A Sports Alphabet.

Hurry over and get yourself entered; this giveaway ends tomorrow (Sunday) night!


Posted in giveaways, Picture Books | No Comments »

Review – The Gift of the Christmas Cookie

Posted by shelburns on 19th December 2008

Although I’ve read some Christmas titles during the season this year, I haven’t reviewed any here due to other review obligations.  Imagine my surprise when I opened up a package in the mail yesterday to find this wonderful picture book!

Title:  The Gift of the Christmas Cookie - Sharing the True Meaning of Jesus’ Birth

Author:  Dandi Daley Mackall

Illustrator:  Deborah Chabrian

Review Copy Provided by:  Phenix & Phenix

Summary of the Book:  It’s the Christmas season during a time when people had little money to spend.  Cookie jars held pennies, not Christmas cookies.

So when Jack smells something delicious coming from the kitchen, can’t believe his nose.  Cookies!

But his excitement turns to disappointment when he learns the cookies aren’t for him.  Instead, Mother is baking them for the needy people at their church.  While Jack helps roll out the dough, his mother tells him the story of the Christmas cookie.

My Review:  My first impression of this book, without opening it, was beautiful!  The cover is nostalgic, with the scene of an old timey table spread out and messy with sugar cookie ingredients.  I fell in love with the cover and the fact that it was about my favorite holiday, Christmas.  One thing that I love to do during the holidays is bake, and I usually bake a few batches of cookies.  I knew that I had to read this book immediately.

I was not disappointed with this one.  Mackall takes a small action, making cookies with your mom, and turns it into such a large action, sharing the love of Christ with a stranger.  What a sweet story!  It is short, beautifully illustrated, and well written.  A must have for the Christmas collection! 

Sugar Cookie Recipe

(included in book)

4 cups sifted flour

4 cups powdered sugar

4 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp anise extract

Stir all the ingredients.  Let the dough stand for two hours.  Then roll out the dough.  Imprint with cookie cutters, or use a designed rolling pin, or press into molds.  Let them sit while the oven preheats to 325 degrees.  Bake on greased baking sheets for about 15 minutes.


Posted in Book Reviews, Christmas, fiction, Picture Books | 5 Comments »

Review – A Day with My Dad

Posted by shelburns on 6th December 2008

A big thank you to Paula from Author Marketing Experts for sending me this book. 

Title:  A Day with My Dad

Author:  Lance Waite

Illustrator:  Manuela Pentangelo

About the Book:  Singing and talking, and simply enjoying their time together, father and daughter take a break from the hectic daily routine to reconnect with each other, and nature.

My Review:  Told from the viewpoint of the child, a little girl recalls a day spent with her dad.  This is a sweet little picture book.  I enjoyed the rythm of the story as the little girl tells about her day with her dad.  What a great gift for a daughter to give to her dad this Christmas, or for Father’s Day.  The print in the book is not your typical block print, instead it is soft script that fits in well with the girls’ perspective of the story.  Manuela Pentangelo has great illustrations that use bright, vivid colors.   I would recommend this story to teachers who want to teach rhyming to their students as it is full of rhymes, hence the great rhythm that happens when you read it aloud.  I also recommend it to parents of girls because there is a great bond between fathers and daughters and this book describes it so well. 

More About the Book: 

Price:  $17.99

ISBN:  978-1-60131-015-6

Pages:  24

Posted in Book Reviews, fiction, Picture Books | 2 Comments »

Review – Bird

Posted by shelburns on 30th November 2008

Thank you to Hannah at Lee & Low books for providing me with a copy of this book!

Title:  Bird

AuthorZetta Elliott

IllustratorShadra Strickland

Publisher:  Lee & Low Books


About the Book:  Young Mehkai, better known as Bird, loves to draw.  With drawings, he can erase the things that don’t turn out right.  In real life, problems aren’t so easily fixed.

As Bird struggles to understand the death of his beloved grandfather and his older brogher’s durg addiction, he escapes into his art.  Drawing is an outlet for Bird’s emotions and imagination, and provides a path to making sense of his world.  In time, with the help of his grandfather’s friend, Bird finds his own special somethin’ and wings to fly.

My Review:  This is a book for young children that deals with heavy issues.  We don’t usually find books like this that so openly deal with issues like drug use and death, even though they are issues that today’s young children face.  I am glad that Lee & Low chose to take a risk and publish this one.  It carries the seal of the New Voices Award *Honor* from Lee & Low.  I shared this book with a group of 4th graders.  They enjoyed the story.  I’m not sure that they fully got the message, but we did discuss the fact that the older brother was “sick” because of the drugs.  The students that I shared this with could not relate to Bird in any other way than that he is African American, like they are.  However, I do know many students that would be able to relate in other ways.  I am glad to have found a publisher that chooses to publis books with multi-cultural characters because there are not enough of them being used in schools.  Children need to see characters like themselves, and I applaud Lee & Low for finding these books.  I love how this story is told from a child’s perspective, with real feelings.  I also enjoyed the fact that Bird used art as an outlet for what he was going through.  There are many children who do this, and they need to see that it is okay and be able to share that with others.  I think that parents and teachers should share this title with their children.  Drug abuse and death is something that we all have to deal with; we should not hide it from even our young readers.

More info about the book:


ISBN 978-1-60060-241-2

48 pages

Ages: 8-12

Published: October 2008

Read an interview with the author.

Click here to see a book trailer for Bird.

Check out this great podcast review of Bird by Just One More Book!


Posted in Book Reviews, fiction, Picture Books | 2 Comments »

Review – No Mush Today

Posted by shelburns on 23rd November 2008

Title:  No Mush Today

Author:  Sally Derby

Illustrator:  Nicole Tadgell

Review Copy Provided by:  Publisher (Lee & Low)

Summary from Book Jacket:  Nonie’s had enough!  Enough mushy mush for breakfast.  Enough of her baby brother’s crying.  So off she goes to live at Grandma’s house.  No mush or baby there.  Grandma attends to Nonie.  Grandma takes her out inot the world of grown-ups.  After a day away from home, will Nonie reconsider her move?  Maybe…maybe…if she can make a deal about breakfast!

My Review:  I enjoyed this book.  It is short and simple.  Who hasn’t had their oldest child, because of a younger sibling, want to run away?  I think it is something that every older sibling goes through.  Now that the new baby is here, some of the attention is gone.  That is how Nonie feels.  Plus, she is tired of having mush for breakfast.  Things will be better at Grandma’s (next door).  Or will they?  Children will relate to this story.  I like the fact that the story is about an African American family.  We need to expose children to all cultures and books is one way to do that.  Children also need to see other children like them in books, and Lee & Low does this so well with the titles they choose to publish.  I love how the illustrator uses facial expressions to show Nonie’s feelings.  As you read, you notice these even though the author doesn’t tell you how Nonie feels.  This adds so much to the story.  Young children will love this story for it’s illustrations, and it’s message.  Things may be better somewhere else, but home is the best place to be.

Posted in Book Reviews, fiction, Picture Books | 5 Comments »

Review – The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby

Posted by shelburns on 17th November 2008

I was thrilled to receive a package in the mail last week from Lee & Low Books; thank you Hannah!  Inside were 4 beautiful hardcover picture books for me to review. I thought I would share the first one here for Nonfiction Monday.

Title:  The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby

Author:  Crystal Hubbard

Illustrator:  Robert McGuire

Review copy provided by:  Lee & Low Books

Synopsis from book jacket:  Born into an African American sharecropping family in 1880s Kentucky, Jimmy Winkfield grew up loving horses.  The large, powerful animals inspired little Jimmy to think big.  Looking beyond his family’s farm, he longed for a life riding on action-packed racetracks around the world.

Like his hero, the great Isaac Murphy, Jimmy “Wink” Winkfield would stop at nothing to make it as a jockey.  Though his path to success was wrought with obstacles both on the track and off, Wink faced each challenge with passion and a steadfast spirit.  Along the way he carved out a lasting legacy as one of history’s finest horsemen and the last African American ever to win the Kentucky Derby.

My review:  I have to admit that when I got this book, I hadn’t heard of Jimmy Winkfield, slaves being jockeys, or African Americans running in the Kentucky Derby.  Now I have, and I’m glad.  This was such an interesting read.  Being a horse lover, I was drawn to this one, even though I am not particularly fond of running horses.  I was just intrigued by this story because it has so much history in it.  The author, Crystal Hubbard, tells Wink’s story so well.  Wink had a dream and he didn’t stop until he had achieved that dream.  Hubbard uses her writing to showcase that dream. 

“When Wink saw the jockeys sitting proudly in the winner’s circle dressed in their fine colored silks, he knew he wanted to be there one day himself.”

“He had gone from exercise rider and stable hand to jockey in less than a year.  This race could be his big break.”

“As punishment he received a year’s suspension from racing.  Wink was devastated but determined not to give up on his dream.”

The story chronicles Wink’s life from childhood to retirement.  Through racial tension, suspension, and blacks being forced out of racing, Wink persevered and made a name for himself.  There is an afterword at the end of the book that tells more about this fabulous man.  I enjoyed learning about a part of history that I didn’t even know existed, and am certain that children, young adults, and other adults will as well.   His daughter sums it up with a quote at the end:

“He was a survivor.  His determination not to give up was amazing.  He lived a good life.” – Liliane Winkfield Casey



Posted in Biography, Book Reviews, Picture Books | 9 Comments »

Review – The Day Leo Said I Hate You!

Posted by shelburns on 12th November 2008

I was lucky enough to receive this book in a blog giveaway.   I had seen posts about it and knew I had to read it for myself.  I even shared it with a group of 2nd graders today…they loved it!  That is enough of a review for me, but I want to do the book justice, so I’ll tell you what this teacher thinks.

Title:  The Day Leo Said, I Hate You!

AuthorRobie H. Harris

IllustratorMolly Bang

Synopsis:  Leo continures to do things that he shouldn’t.  Leo’s mom continues to tell him “No.”  Well, Leo has had enough of that.  In his bedroom, no one can tell him no.  Then, the words just pop out of his mouth before he can take them back…Oh no!  What will mom do?  How will Leo fix what just happened?

My Review:  When I first read this, it so reminded me of When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry, mostly because the illustrations are by Molly Bang, but also because it is about a little kid who gets so mad they can’t control themselves.  I was drawn to the illustrations…they are phenomenal.  Even the kids commented on how some of the items in the pictures look real.  They also liked it when Leo got mad and his face was BIG and red.  The story itself is a great one!  What a message to send to kids.  It is okay to hate “things,” but we don’t say we hate people.  I love the way Harris uses different typeset, small letters, large letters, all caps, to get the point across.   Leo is all boy, one that many little boys will relate to.  What parent hasn’t heard his/her child say this to them at one point?  Harris chooses such a great way to deal with those 3 little words.  It is a great story that will have the children laughing, but one that carries such a great message.  This is a must read and one that I’m sure will be checked out over and over again from the library.  I know because I set it down to talk to a parent today and three kids picked it up.

Posted in Book Reviews, Picture Books | 2 Comments »

Review – Twelve Terrible Things

Posted by shelburns on 26th October 2008

Twelve Terrible Things by Marty Kelley is a picture book told and illustrated from a child’s perspective.

Twelve Terrible Things

It opens with a letter:

I’m warning you. If you turn the page, you are going to see some terrible things.
Some really terrible things. This book is full of them. Didn’t you read the title?

Just about everything in this book is terrible. You’re probably going to turn the page, anyway, aren’t you?

Go ahead.


Of course, you are going to turn the page; who wouldn’t with an intro like that?

There is not a story line to this book. Each page is an illustration of what is happening, from the child’s perspective, and then a little blurb about the event. The events are numbered 1-12, hence the title, Twelve Terrible Things. #1 shows ice cream that has fallen off of the cone with the word, “Oooopsie!” on the page. It continues like that through the 12th thing. At the end, though, a good thing happens.

I think that this book would be appropriate for Pre-K – 2nd grade students. It lends itself to a lot of discussion, based on the illustrations themselves. Children deal with what they think are terrible things every day, and this book touches on some of them. Children will be able to relate to many of the events in this book and maybe even come up with some more of their own. I could see teachers using this as a kick-off for students to create their own terrible thing books either individually or as a class. Some kids may not think these are terrible things, so it opens up another discussion about point of view.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to parents and teachers based on all the discussion that you can have around the illustrations.

Please read what others are saying about this book on the original post over at The Well Read Child.  Many thanks to Jill for allowing me to help review books for her.

Posted in Book Reviews, Picture Books | 3 Comments »