Tag Archives: Book review

Sea turtles!!!!

30 May

Right now, I’m reading  Sea Turtle Scientist by Stephen R. Swinburne. It’s another in Scientists in the Field  series from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which I love. This book is as fantastic as the others and it has a video trailer:


From the publisher:

Dr. Kimberly Stewart, also known as the Turtle Lady of St. Kitts, is already waiting at midnight when an 800-pound leatherback sea turtle crawls out of the Caribbean surf and onto the sandy beach. The mother turtle has a vital job to do: dig a nest in which she will lay eggs that will hatch into part of the next generation of leatherbacks. With only one in a thousand of the eggs for this critically endangered species resulting in an adult sea turtle, the odds are stacked against her and her offspring. Join the renowned author and photographer Steve Swinburne on a journey through history to learn how sea turtles came to be endangered, and what scientists like Kimberly are doing to save them.

Like the others in the series, this book combines facts about sea turtles with the research done to preserve them and the actual people doing the work. It i very readable and makes me long to be on the beach in St. Kitts.

Up on the Roof

14 Apr


 “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.”

What an enticing opening line to Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.

This is how we meet Sophie, the heroine , whom everyone believes to be an orphan. She alone believes her mother is out there somewhere. Raised in England by her quirky male guardian, Charles Maxim,  Sophie is something of a free spirit. Alas, bureaucracy has no room for free-spiritedness, or with single male guardians. When she turns twelve, bureaucrats decide  that Charles is no longer suitable guardian and Sophie would be best served by an orphanage. Of course, they flee. Fortunately, they flee to Paris where that can investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the sinking of the boat that left Sophie floating int he English Channel. Along the way, Sophie meets real orphans who live in trees and on the rooftops of Paris.

Aside from a brilliant story, the writing is wonderful. Katherine Rundell manages to be quirky without being pretentious. In doing so she captures Sophie’s innocence and naiveté.


Brainy Bird Books

6 Apr

A family of ducks comes every year to nest in the courtyard of my school. There are usually two females, one or two males, and, eventually, many ducklings. So far this year, I’ve only seen two males, but I am hopeful that we will have ducklings before too long. Then, we will see teachers and students standing against the windows overlooking the courtyard, happily eating them. It is our Rite of Spring.

Thinking about the ducklings, my mind wanders to several new books about birds.

Unknown Unknown-1 Unknown-2

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth is a wonder. In the guise of a catalog from a future in which builds are extinct, it presents bird part  you can use to build your own bird. It is apart parody of sales catalogs, part cautionary tale about environmental issues, part natural history of birds. There is so much here and so many ways you can use this in the classroom: persuasive writing, descriptive writing, how to writing….. you get the idea. Here are some pages to show you what to expect.

images images-1

Feathers Not Just for Flying  written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, is a more traditional take on natural history. Stewart focuses on just birds’ feathers and the many different purposes of feathers. Each page or two-page spread has a statement with a simile in large print like “Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella.” Then there is a text box with smaller print describing how one particular bird (like the Tricolored heron, Florida Everglades) uses its feathers in this way. The text is simple, but the ideas are big.


Finally, we have Mama Built a Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, which focuses, as you might guess, on nests. More suitable to younger audiences, the rhyming text explains the different ways birds make nests for their young, allowing children to learn amazing facts about different birds.

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Nice people

2 Apr

Nobody likes a grouch, except maybe Oscar the Grouch, who is an exception to the rule.  And remember that old saying “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”? Well, two new picture books have two really lovely characters who are as sweet as honey.

In  Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin, the mains character, Brimsby is a hat maker who is just a very nice person.


I knew I was going to like this book when, on the second page it turns out that Brimsby has a friend who makes wonderful tea and they sit down to it often and have wonderful conversations. Men after my own heart.


When Brimsby’s friend leaves to become a sea captain, Brimsby is full of joy and sorrow. Life becomes too quiet, so he decides he needs to make new friends. When he does, the results are spectacular.

Another very nice person is the eponymous Maple created by Lori Nichols.


Goodreads summary: When Maple is tiny, her parents plant a maple tree in her honor. She and her tree grow up together, and even though a tree doesn’t always make an ideal playmate, it doesn’t mind when Maple is in the mood to be loud—which is often. Then Maple becomes a big sister, and finds that babies have their loud days, too. Fortunately, Maple and her beloved tree know just what the baby needs

Maple is a delight. I wish she were in my class. But it is how she treats her new baby sister that makes this really a wonderful book, because, in the end, something magical happens.



2014 Hub Reading Challenge check-in #6

15 Mar

A bit of a slow reading week. I am madly trying to finish sweaters for an auction. They will be late, but I think that;s probably built into the plan.I managed 3 books, brining my total to 30 so far.

28. MIND MGMT V.1: The Manager by Matt Kindt  – A graphic novel I didn’t enjoy much.

29. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina – A reread. I loved this as much the second time as I did the first. If you haven;t read it, please do. Don;t be put off by the title. It is all about a girl being bullied and definitely worth reading.

30. Zombie Baseball Breakdown by Paolo Bacigalupi -This was my big surprise of the week.


I would never have chosen this book based on the cover. For me, it’s a turn real turn off. Thank goodness it was son the list because I’m really glad I read it. It is sort of Upton Sinclair’s Jungle  meets  Shaun of the Dead. It’s all about the meat-packing industry, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, illegal immigration. It’s a funny book tackling some serious issues. So, as with Yaqui Delgado, look past the cover and give it a try.

Angel Island by Russell Freedman

12 Mar

When I taught 6th grade in  middle school, some years ago, our 8th grade team did a unit on immigration in Social Studies. The culminating event was a role plating exercise in which the students dressed up as an immigrant from their family history, and had to go through stations to enter the US.  All the teachers in the hall, 6th through 8th grade participated during their plan time. The brilliant skill our team members possessed,  was the ability to speak different languages. As they came to our station, we would give them instructions in a language they didn’t understand. I gave mine in French, another teacher in Hebrew, a couple of others in Spanish. Our Hispanic kids breezed throughout the stations in Spanish. Some kids figure it out. But I remember rather fondly one girl, a freckled red-head who had a costume so realistic she looked as though she had just left Ireland. She was a  very bright girl and school usually came easily to her. By the time she got to me, she was red-faced and looked exhausted. Even tough I didn’t speak to her in English, she told me how frustrated she felt about not having a clue about what was going on. The role play was a success!

Russell Freedman’s new book  Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain  portrays that immigrant experience.


It is always a pleasure to know that Russell Freedman has written a new book. With the feel of a family scrapbook, Freedman tells the story of the people who emigrated to America through Angel Island, first from China, then from other countries. It is a heartbreaking look at our past. With so much written about the Ellis Island experience, this book adds to the smaller list of books focusing on immigration on the West Coast. An amazing collection of photos is enhanced by poetry that was originally scrawled on the walls of Angel Island’s prison in Chinese characters.  Here is a sample of both the Chinese and translated poems:


It’s been seven weeks since my imprisonment  

On this island – and still I do not know when I can land.                                                                              

Due to the twists and turns of  fate,                                                                                                                                                              

I have to endure bitterness and sorrow.

This would have been a great resource for our 8th grade team back in the day. Nice to know that today’s teachers have this wonderful resource.

Animals Art(ists)

6 Jan

In   Parrots Over Puerto Rico Susan L.  Roth and Cindy Trumbore   intertwine the  histories of the Puerto Rican parrot and the island of Puerto Rico, culminating with current efforts to save the parrots from extinction.


For the first half of the book, Roth and Trumbore do a splendid job providing young readers with a history of the island, intertwining the birds’ history with its human inhabitants along the way. In the second part they indicate the awareness by Puerto Ricans that the birds are almost gone and then their efforts to bring them back. The book ends with a very informative afterward with photos as well as a timeline and a list of sources.

As always, Roth’s collages are outstanding.

Unknown-1  Unknown


Tables are turned in Whale Shines  by Fiona Robinson.


Whale is cruising about the ocean, advertising an art expo for sea creatures.   He sees all the other sea creatures expressing their creativity, and  bemoans the fact that he is a mere vehicle for advertising, not an artist himself.


images-1  Unknown-4

With a little help from some tiny friends, though, Whale discovers that, he too, can become an artist.


Odd boys

27 Dec

I have finished two really good middle grade books so far on break. Oddly enough, both feature boys who are just a little bit different.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu


Oscar is a wizard’s apprentice, well, no not really. He is a magician’s hand, but possesses knowledge and understanding of plants tat would make him a great healer. But he is shy and nervous around people, preferring the company of his cats and the books he sneaks out of the magician’s library. In fact, Oscar reminds me f me when I was young. When his Master, along with some others leave their island home, and worrisome things begin to happen, it falls to Oscar, and his new friend Callie, to save their world.

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech


One day a boy appeared on the John and Marta’s porch. A note simply asked them to take care of Jacob and that the writer of the note would be back.  Jacob doesn’t talk, but has musical abilities and has a genuine nature that works his way into John & Marta’s hearts. What unfolds, gently is a story of the power of love to heal and transform, if you are willing to open your heart and home.

I’ve seen both of these titles on f best of 2013 lists, and I can see why. Both are definitely worth reading.

Graphic Dust Bowl

17 Dec

Things that were history to me are now ancient history to the kids I teach. Because my parents lived through the depression and World War II, they were familiar to me. But now, these and many other important parts of our history are so distant to my students. These are the memories of their great grandparents, if they have them. And at my school, where over 60% of the students receive ESL services, the Dust Bowl isn’t  part of any family member’s memory.

Enter The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown.


This is an excellent introduction to the dust bowl. The text is presented in a simple, but thoroughly researched, style. Brown provides the scientific explanations for the dust storms as well as first hand accounts. But it is the art that really makes this a valuable tool. How can you really explain the dust bowl to someone who has never seen it or even heard of it? In a graphic form, of course. This is the perfect tool for introducing kids to the dust bowl.

These three books from MCL are…

13 Dec

My Christmas company arrives in 8 days. I have a lot of library books to read and return by then. Today, I cleaned out the picture books I have left so I can get them back today. These  three books from the Multnomah County Library are all great. I usually like to buddy up picture books by theme or topic. Not sure I can find a common thread in these, but you should read them anyway.


Kenta and the Big Wave,  by Ruth Ohi, is based on true stories from the 2011 tsunami that hit the east coast of Japan.When the tsunami hits, Kenta and his family  leave their home and climb to safer ground. Kenta watches helplessly as his prized soccer ball goes bouncing down a hill and gets swept away by the waves, never to be seen again… that is until it washes up on a beach on the other side of the world, where a kind person mails it back to him.  Ohi does a fantastic job of describing the consequences this horrific event and the warm water color illustrations help kids see and understand the event without being overwhelming to young readers.


In this bilingual book, Don’t Say A Word, Mama/No Digas Nada, Mama, written by Joe Hayes and illustrated by Esau Andrade Valencia, two sisters love each other so much, they decide to share their garden bounty – but in secret.Mama promises not to say a word, but when her kitchen is overflowing with tomatoes and corn and chiles, she might not be able to keep her promise.  a lovely story, beautifully illustrated. This is a fun read.

Okay sports fans, this one’s for you:


Something to Prove: the Great Satchel Paige vs Rookie Joe DiMaggio, written by Robert Skead and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. From the flyleaf: In 1936, the New York Yankees wanted to test a hot prospect named Joe DiMaggio to see if he was ready for the big leagues. They knew just the ballplayer to call–Satchel Paige, the best pitcher anywhere, black or white. For the game, Paige joined a group of amateur African-American players, and they faced off against a team of white major leaguers plus young DiMaggio.

Not being a baseball fan, I didn’t know that this was a little known event in baseball and civil rights history. The artwork is stunning and really adds to this well-written, fascinating story. Pair this with We Are the Ship. 

Randy Ribay

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