Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Prairie Dogs Play Day, Little Stinkers, and Bald Eagles Rule" by Margot Finke

Prairie Dogs Play Day, Little Stinkers and Bald Eagles Rule, is the latest picture book by Margot Finke, a wonderful Aussie-born, American author. I’m a great fan of Ms. Finke’s children’s picture books and 'tween books, plus the great support she gives fellow writers. This lovely book, illustrated by Kathy Iler, is the latest installment in Ms. Finke’s Wild and Wonderful series about Wild US and Australian animals. I’ll list her other books at the end of this review.
Prairie Dogs Play Day, the first of the three stories, gives us facts about prairie dog life, and images of their home and habitat presented in rhyme. I love stories that rhyme. They are such fun for read aloud time. I’ll share one verse that I especially like—then you need to see and read them with the accompanying artwork.

Their home is a cool den down deep in the ground,

with many long tunnels that spread from one mound.

These tunnels stretch far—sometimes up to a mile

and lead to escape holes Inside a dirt pile.

Ms. Finke’s clear, rhyming descriptions of prairie dog activities and family home life, coupled with Kathy Iler’s sweet, action pictures, puts you right in prairie dog town. Through Ms. Iler’s illustrations and Ms. Finke’s words, you can visualize prairie dog life nibbling grass, raising their young, and standing watch for danger.

The second short story, Little Stinkers, is about skunks, of course. It’s cute and funny, brought to life by Ms. Iler’s playful artwork and Ms. Finke’s humorous verses.

If you see stripes you’d better run.
Don’t stop to chat a while.
This fluffy creature has no shame.
It’s a stinker of reknown and fame.

Both Ms. Finke and Ms. Iler have a lot of fun with the rhymes and images in this one—with the little boy holding his nose and running away from the skunk.

The final story is Bald Eagles Rule, about our majestic national bird. Again, Ms. Finke provides insight into the bald eagle lifestyle in verse. These magnificent birds are portrayed soaring, hunting, and chick raising in their habitat. With Ms. Iler’s artwork, you can truly see the majesty in this awesome hunter and understand why he was chosen as our national symbol.

The Bald Eagle gracefully slips through the air,

all feathers in trim and only one care—

to hunt down a meal that will power his day.

And help raise the chicks in their nest far away.

This is an enjoyable book that teaches as it entertains. There are two additional pages of vocabulary notes and references for further class discussion. I recommend this series as a fine addition to any school Social Studies unit about habitat, wildlife and even studying poetry in Language Arts.


Read more about Margot Finke at:

“Wild” books:

Mama Grizzly Bear

Kangaroo Clues

Never Say No to a Frilly

 Picture Books:

Horatio Humble Beats the Big D

Ruthie and the Hippo’s Fat Behind

Rattlesnake Jam

Middle Grade books:

Taconi and Claude

The Revenge of Thelma Hill

Down Under Calling

Trial by Walkabout

Tags:  Prairie Dogs, Skunks, Bald Eagles, Margot Finke, rhyming picture books, children's books, stories, wildlife, habitat, nature, rhymes

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Review of "Because of Winn-Dixie," by Kate DiCamillo

Dear Readers,
I am truly a Kate DiCamillo fan.  I finished Because of Winn-Dixie in one reading--I couldn't put it down.  Not to gush too much, but I think this is one near perfect middle grade novel. See, I qualified my statement.  I wanted to say the perfect middle grade novel, but so much depends on the reader, I don't want to put anyone off, if you have another MG novel or author you want to praise.

Product Details
I've known of Because of Winn Dixie for years.  I found it in a middle school classroom when I was substitute teaching.  I read part of it, maybe even all of it.  I also saw the movie they made of the book.  But then I forgot about it and continued my reading journey.

Now tutoring middle school students at the library, I happily gave them the library's grade level reading recommendations.  I was pleased to see Because of Winn Dixie on the reading list.  I ordered it from my Digital Library, received it, and read it in one day. 

The way Kate DiCamillo crafted the book it's almost as if you're inside the main character, India Opal's, head.  Her father is a small town and small church preacher, so she calls him "the Preacher."  Right away Opal tells us they've moved to a new small town and she's lonely, missing her old friends. 

The book is about that summer they first moved to Naomi, Florida.  Opal tells us everything that happened that summer started when she found her dog, Winn Dixie. He helps her make friends and gives her the love and companionship she needs.  The story is heartrending and heartwarming. It's told in the voice of a lonely ten year old, who's not only missing her friends from her old town, but also her mother who left when Opal was three. 

The story has everything that I love, a strong main character plus the other characters are memorable, too.  They're real, human, and they each have their own stories.  Opal collects them all, to tell her father and maybe to share with her mother, if she returns.  The story doesn't have major crises, or obstacles or impossible situations for the main character to overcome.  It's just life has pain and sadness and yet it has love, beauty, friendship, and hope.  That's what I love most about Kate DiCamillo's books--they are true to life, all of life, and they give me hope.  I trust you'll enjoy this along with her other books and I'm on the list for The Tiger Rising and The Magician's Elephant.  Thank you Kate DiCamillo, our National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.  I look forward to all your books for us middle grade readers.

More info. at

Kate DiCamillo, award winning books, tween books, middle grade novels, Ambassador for Young People's Literature, reading, middle grade book, Because of Winn Dixie

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane" by Kate DiCamillo

I read Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  This is the third book by Ms. DiCamillo that I've read and reviewed.  The others:  Flora & Ulysses, and The Tale of Despereaux.  I will also be re-reading Because of Winn Dixie this week and reviewing it.

Product Details
Although I don't usually read reviews before I read an award winning book by a well-known author, I did read some reviews before reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  The ratings and comments were all over the map.  Some loved it, some hated it.  Some wanted to share the story with everyone, others wanted to protect children from it. With this background opinion and differing thoughts whirling around in my head, I went ahead and read it.

It was all the things everyone said.  The story is about a china Rabbit (a doll) who is very vain.  He's perfection itself and dressed to the nines.  He's well-loved by Abilene, the little girl he was bought for, but he feels and displays no love for her.  He doesn't get to stay with this lovely little girl. He is lost at sea and has many adventures over many years.  In the course of his life experiences he does learn love in all it's painful and beautiful guises.  In the end of the story he is a much-changed china rabbit. It has a happy ending, for which I'm glad, but it was hard going to get there.

Some people were hurt by the pain and suffering Edward Tulane endured.  Some were put off by his lack of feeling in the beginning of the book.  Some felt it was too difficult a book, too painful a book for children to read or hear.  Others thought it was amazing to see the transformation brought about by suffering and learning to love.  

At first I wasn't "charmed" by the character.  I thought, what a disgusting creature.  I tried to guard my emotions.  But then I got caught up in the story.  I had trouble putting it down. And like many readers, I cried.  So I add it to the list of great books by Kate DiCamillo and I continue to recommend all of her books and to read them.  I hope you will, too.

Books by Kate DiCamillo:

Flora & Ulysses
The Tale of Despereaux
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Because of Winn Dixie
The Magician's Elephant
The Tiger Rising
The Mercy Watson Series

Image of Kate DiCamillo
More information at

Another Newbery Award!
  Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated 
Adventures was awarded the 2014 John Newbery
 Medal for "the outstanding contribution for 
children's literature."

Ambassador Kate!
  January, 2014: 
The Library of Congress has announced 
that Kate is the new Ambassador for 
Young People's Literature. A new ambassador is 
named every two years and travels to promote 
reading. Previous ambassadors were 
John Scieska, Katherine Patterson, and Walter 
Dean Myers.

The Kerlan Award
The University of Minnesota Libraries presented 
Kate the 2013 Kerlan Award in June, 2013
The Kerlan Award is presented annually 
“in recognition of singular attainments in the 
creation of children’s  literature and in appreciation
 for generous donation of unique resources to the 
Kerlan Collection for the study of children’s 
literature.” Previous winners include 
Walter Dean Myers, Katherine Patterson, 
Jean Craighead George, Lois Lowry, and Karen Hesse.
Kate DiCamillo, children's books, award winning books

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Liar and Spy" by Rebecca Stead

I sometime ago I read Rebecca Stead's award winning When You Reach Me.  I intended to write a review of that book but time got away from me.  I still owe you a review.  I also read Liar and Spy, again intending to write a review, and promptly forgot.  This week I re-read Liar and Spy and am finally reviewing it. I read First Light, too, and will review that later.

Product Details   Product Details Product Details
Liar and Spy is a little slower novel than When You Reach Me, and deals with middle school angst -- can we ever get enough of that?  
Of course not, because every year new bright eyed bushy tailed elementary school graduates or promotees stumble into middle school and are thrust into an alien world.  If it's at all like my daughter's school, sixth graders are sheltered.  It's not until they move into seventh grade that the real bullying, name calling, pranking, and put downs gear up.  By eighth grade all you can think of is get me out of here alive.  High school can't be worse than middle school.  But it is for some kids.  What you need is a group of friends, or a posse. 

At any rate, Georges is already in the midst of it all in seventh grade.  He's stuck with a name that invites bullying and pranking:  he's named after Georges Seurat, which means his name isn't pronounced in American English or even British style, but in French style, with a softer "G" and the silent "s" at the end.  It's just too much to resist, so the "real cool" bullies call him "Gorgeous" and so it goes.  Georges also deals with problems at home.  His Dad lost his job so they lost their house and moved to an apartment building.  Then his Mom had to work double shifts at the hospital, so Georges rarely sees her.  His best friend Jason abandons him for the "cool crowd."  
In the new apartment building Georges meets a quirky family with a son his age named "Safer," also a daughter named Candy and an older son named Pigeon.  As you can see, names are important.  Georges soon finds out that the kids sort of "named" themselves.  Candy loves candy, Pigeon loves pigeon, and Safer? Well, the reason for his name comes up later in the book.
The plot of the story involves a mysterious Mr. X, whom Safer and Georges spy on.  What nefarious goings on take place in Mr. X's apartment?  Georges and Safer get all caught up in the "Spy Game."  What's real and what's a lie?  This doesn't get all sorted out until the end of the book.  To me the best part of the story is how Georges builds his circle of friends and how they survive the harassment from the school bullies.  There's much more to this story. 
Georges and Safer both deal with heavy problem,  Georges learns how to keep himself together even when his life is falling apart around him.  I highly recommend this book to middle schoolers who face issues of  loss, disillusionment, trust, friendship, betrayal, life's bitterest lessons, and all the problems faced by middle schoolers everywhere.
Image of Rebecca Stead
Rebecca Stead:
Rebecca Stead has written three novels for children:
When You Reach Me (A New York Times bestseller, and winner of the Newbery Medal and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Fiction);  
Liar & Spy, a New York Times bestseller and NYT Book Review Notable Book for Children; and  
First Light, a Junior Library Guild Selection and a New York Public Library Best Book for Teens. Rebecca lives in New York City with her family.
Tags:  Middle school, teen angst, liar, spy, friends, names, Mr. X

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Guardian Angel June 2014 Releases

Guardian Angel Publisher, Lynda Burch: 
Announces June 2014 Releases
 Academic Wings

alligator cover 
How Alligator Got His Smile Back
Author, Jayne Moraski; Ilustrator,  Carl Kocich
 Have you ever met somebody who brags? Meet prehistoric Alligator and his best friend, the bragging Frog. As Frog’s bragging grows, see if Alligator can find a reason to smile again.

Guardian Angel Animals & Pets 
 hardcover and soft
 Author, Margo Cronbaugh Bean; Illustrator, Aumi Kauffman Perry
Xavier, Ella and Mia’s grandma and grandpa live on a farm in Iowa where they watch a silly colt named Rowdy grow up. But they discover one night he is not so silly but a brave horse who can save them.

Guardian Angel Animals & Pets cow wouldn't eat grass

The Cow That Wouldn’t Eat Grass
Author, Mel McIntyre; Illustrator, Eugene Ruble
 Chloe the Cow gets fed up with eating grass and decides to find tastier things to nibble on. She learns that other animals eat strange things—including some that taste disgusting—before realizing that her favorite food was right in front of her all the time. 

Tags: Guardian Angel, Childrens books, animal stories, cow, horse, alligator, frog, grass, farm, colt, silly, brave, animals

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July 2014

Nationwide, we celebrate our country's birthday today with parades, fairs, musical extravaganzas, patriotic displays, car shows, picnics, BBQs, races, and fireworks displays.  It's a wonderful thing to remember that we fought for our independence and won it from our "mother country," Great Britain.  Even though we became separate and independent, we share a common "mother tongue" (language) and history with the British.  We also modeled our government and legal system around the British and French.  We remain close and indebted to many of our European neighbors and have supported them in time of need, and they in turn have helped us. 

We are proud to be American and live in the "home of the brave and the land of the free."  As I walk around the neighborhood, my heart swells when I see neighbors flying "Old Glory," old and worn flags or brand spanking new ones.  I remember how some neighbors even painted the Stars and Stripes on their garage doors  Sometimes I think I'd like to do that, too. 

We've been a free nation for 238 years.  Not to be a cynic, but I wonder, how much longer will we be free?  Have we recovered enough from our economic downturn, where we sought financial support from wealthy developing countries (such as China)?  Are we close to being solvent now?  Will our cities rebuild and eliminate urban blight?  Or have we shifted the wealth from say, Detroit, to "Silicon Valley?" Is our country now "owned and operated" by the few, the very wealthy?
I live in Santa Clara, CA, and every spare parcel of land is being developed into mixed use shopping centers (retail below, residential above), hotels, condos, apartment homes, senior housing, and huge office complexes.  Yesterday I read in our local paper about Santa Clara's new $6.5 Billion Mega development project near the new Levi Stadium:

Mega barely describes the huge project that replaces the Santa Clara Golf Course and proposes 30 restaurants, office buildings, movie theater, jazz/comedy club, Theater/Arts, bowling alley, 350 room hotel, shops, housing, and businesses.  It will bring many permanent jobs, businesses, and homes to my neck of the woods.  Can the roads and schools support this?  Are they planning for new schools and better public transportation, since there's no room for new roads?  Coupled with the development surrounding the new Apple headquarters in Cupertino, and development projects in San Jose and Mt. View, this is major development for this area.  
I guess Megalopolis will be an apt term to describe this type of development over the next 5, 10, 20 years.  It's already getting more crowded and congested here.  Urban planners should be busy trying to figure out how to move people and cars around, or if no room for cars, how will the people be moved?  And if half the 20-30,000 new employees/residents have children, the schools need to ramp up to plan for quality education.   I see the Agnews land plan has just been finalized for a combined K-8 grade and high school for Santa Clara Unified and San Jose is building a city park on the same property.  This should help.
I'm just overwhelmed with all this development and progress.  I'm sure that's how the Native Americans felt when the European settlers came.  And how the Spanish/Mexican/Americans felt as entrepreneurs from all over descended on California and the West.  The world is changing so rapidly.  How are we to cope?
Well, as a teacher, tutor, and author, I say, we need to read more, learn to critically think, analyze, evaluate more.  We need writers, teachers, readers now more than ever.  Read on.  Write on.  

Tags:  development, education, rich v. poor, megalopolis, urban planning, wealth and land management, children, future, growth.