January 23, 2014

The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac (Multicultural Children’s Book Day)

The Great Race, Story Chinese ZodiacTitle: The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac

Author: Dawn Casey
Illustrator: Anne Wilson
Publisher: Barefoot Books, 2006
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 5-8
Themes: Folktale, Chinese Culture

Opening Lines:
“Many moons ago, the people of China had no calendar. With no way to measure time, nobody could tell one year from the next.

Synopsis (from Barefoot Books website):

Race with the animals of the Zodiac as they compete to have the years of the Chinese calendar named after them. The excitement-filled story is followed by notes on the Chinese calendar, important Chinese holidays, and a chart outlining the animal signs based on birth years.


There are tons of Chinese Zodiac and New Year’s activities on the Internet. Below is just a sampling.

Snake Mobile Craft
Chinese New Year’s Activities for Kids – Pinterest Board
Chinese New Year Lesson Plans, Printables, and Crafts
More Chinese New Year Printables – puzzles, word searches, coloring sheets.

Why I Like This Book:

A simple, colorful re-telling of the origin of the Chinese zodiac and why cats hate rats.

The Jade Emperor decided to name each of the 12 years after an animal. To decide the order he announced The Great Race, the order in which the animals finished would determine the order of the calendar. Cat and Rat were best friends and also the smallest animals in the race. Clever Rat got them a ride on Ox. However, over-ambitious Rat pushed his friend Cat in the water and later ran-ahead of Ox to win. Cat never gets over the betrayal and this is why cats hate rats.

The text and artwork do a great job of engaging young readers. The artwork is done with paper collages and acrylics which works well in keeping the artwork simple, colorful, and childlike. The back matter contains information on Chinese festivals and more characteristics about the twelve animals and the people born in those years.


(Click to see a larger picture)

As a picture book writer, I know every word has to be carefully chosen to convey the right meaning and tone. For this reason I was somewhat bothered by the line below, which follows the scenes of Rat consciously pushing his friend cat into the water and running ahead of Ox to win the race.

“Rat may be small but he is also smart!” the Jade Emperor laughed.

I do realize the author can’t deviate from the original story, however it’s the subtext (probably unintentional) that it was okay for the rat to be mean and sneaky that bothered me. Maybe if the cat gave chase to the rat at the end I would have felt a little better.

Regardless of my pet peeve I do think this is a lovely book and is still good for introducing kids to the Chinese zodiac. Perfect timing with the Chinese New Year coming up.

This is review is a part of Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) and Multicultural Children’s Book Day! To see additional PPBF recommended books please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book.


I am very excited  to be a book reviewer participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day: Celebrating Diversity in Children’s Literature on January 27th, 2014Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump into a Book have organized this event to raise awareness for children’s books that celebrate diversity and to get those books into more classrooms and libraries so more little eyes can see them. Proudly sponsored by Lee & Low Books, Wisdom Tales Press, Chronicle Books, and author Susan Fayad.

Why is Multicultural Children’s Book Day so important?

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

More than 60 bloggers are joining together to share books and ideas to celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day.  Please join us on January 27, 2014 for book reviews and multicultural activities.

Visit our collaborative Pinterest board, Multicultural Books for Kids, to see more great books and check out all of these amazing blogs participating in the event!

2GirlsLostInaBook · 365 Days of Motherhood · A Bilingual Baby · A Simple Life, Really? · Africa to America · After School Smarty Pants · All Done Monkey · Andi’s Kids Books · Anita Brown Bag  · Austin Gilkeson · Barbara Ann Mojica ·  Books My Kids Read · Bottom Shelf Books · Cats Eat Dogs · Chasing The Donkey · Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac · Children’s Books Heal · Church o Books · CitizenBeta · Crafty Moms Share · Discovering The World Through My Son’s Eyes · Early Words · Flowering Minds · Franticmommy · Gathering Books · GEO Librarian · Gladys Barbieri · Going in Circles · Growing Book by Book · iGame Mom · I’m Not The Nanny · InCulture Parent · Itsy Bitsy Mom ·Just Children’s BooksKid World Citizen · Kristi’s Book Nook · Mama Lady Books · Mama Smiles · Mission Read · Mother Daughter Book Reviews · Mrs AOk · MrsTeeLoveLifeLaughter · Ms. Yingling Reads · Multicultural Kids Blog · One Sweet World · Open Wide The World · P is for Preschooler · Rapenzel Dreams · School4Boys · Sharon the Librarian · Spanish Playground · Sprout’s Bookshelf · Squishable Baby · Stanley and Katrina · Teach Mama · The Art of Home Education · The Brain Lair · The Educators’ Spin On It · The Family-Ship Experience · The Yellow Door Paperie · This Kid Reviews Books  · Trishap’s Books · Unconventional Librarian · Vicki Arnold · We3Three · World for Learning · Wrapped in Foil 

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Barefoot Books. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

December 17, 2013

Guest Post: Stacy McAnulty on Letter Writing Fun

I am delighted to welcome picture book author Stacy McAnulty to the blog today. She has a wonderful post about how to get kids writing letters! Also be sure to check out her yummy cookie recipe.

Letter Writing Fun | By Guest Blogger Stacy McAnulty


In this age of e-mail, texts, and Skype, the art of writing letters is becoming extinct. My debut picture book, DEAR SANTASAURUS, is an epistolary book—meaning a book written as a series of letters. My own children write letters to Santa annually. And it’s often the only letter they write all year. (I’m not including the obligatory thank you notes I make them pen after a birthday party.)

Here’s a quick list of letter writing ideas to get kids corresponding.

Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

No one would love a letter more than grandparents. These letters will likely be kept in a drawer or a shoebox forever. A kid can tell Gram about scoring a goal in soccer and tell Poppy about her speaking part in the spring play. (I used to love writing to my grammy because she always wrote back and she always included a dollar. Score!)

Dear Soldier,

You don’t need to wait until Memorial Day to remember our men and women serving in the military. Kids can write to soldiers any time. This is truly a win-win situation.  Look online for more information. Here’s one such organization http://www.operationgratitude.com/get-involved/write-letters/

Dear Teacher,

I can still remember my favorite teacher from elementary school—Mrs. Chew. If a child has a favorite teacher, why not write a letter telling her/him. I have a feeling that a heartfelt note would mean a lot more than a #1 Teacher mug.

Dear Manager,

My kids are already expert complainers—usually it’s about my dinner choices. I don’t want them writing me a letter of complaint every time I serve a casserole, but if they have a legitimate complaint I will encourage them to share their discontent. If a kid has bought a toy that doesn’t operate as shown in a commercial, he/she could write a letter to the manufacturer. If a kid thinks a slide at the local park is unsafe, she/he can write a letter to the mayor.

Dear Author,

Authors love getting fan mail. If a kid loves a book, let the author know. Questions and suggestions are also welcomed. Of course, kids can also write to superstars like Taylor Swift, but an author is more likely to write back. (Writing—it’s what us authors do!)

Dear Pen Pal,

Pen pals can be arranged through school or online. They can also be cousins who live seven-hundred miles apart or friends met at summer camp. Pen pals are a great opportunity for enthusiastic letter writers.

The list of potential recipients for your child’s letters is endless. You can even start with letters between family members within your own house. Everyone can create mailboxes to hang on their bedroom doors. (Think of the Valentine’s Day boxes you make in elementary school for all the cards.) Then let the letter writing begin.

And now for the daily cookie…

Christmas Crackle

(visit http://stacymcanulty.blogspot.com/ for the recipe)


About Stacy:

Stacy lives in North Carolina with her three children, two dogs, and one husband. She loves books, Christmas, letters, and sweets. DEAR SANTASAURUS (Boyd Mills Press, 2013) is her first picture book. For more information on Stacy, please visit www.stacymcanulty.com


November 25, 2013

Best Picture Books of 2013

Hello everyone. Thanks for stopping by to read this year’s picture book round-up. I think this was  the year of the “wordless” or nearly wordless picture books. So many great titles, three titles made it on to my best of list for this year.

If you would like a printable version of this year’s list click here. In keeping with the tradition of last year’s listI have placed books in “Best of ..” categories. Have a favorite book not on the list, please share the title in the comments along with a best of category title. The zanier the better! Hope you all have a safe and happy holidays!


To read an in-depth book reviews click on the book title.

Best Non-Fiction Book:
Author & Illustrator: Brian Floca – Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
Ages 4-10. The new transcontinental railroad in 1869 comes alive as readers take in the sounds, speed, and strength of the mighty locomotives and the American countryside. Kids and adults will be engrossed in the myriad of details in the wonderful narrative non-fiction title.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate
Author: Melissa Sweet, Allen Young – Illustrator: Nicole Wong – Publisher: Charlesbridge
Ages 4-8. Learn about the ecosystem of the rain forest as it relates to the life-cycle of the cocoa tree and why monkeys are so important in making chocolate. Kids will also love the two silly bookworms giving commentary on the non-fiction text at each page spread.


from JOURNEY by Aaron Becker

Best Wordless Book:
Flora and the Flamingo
Author & Illustrator: Molly Idle – Publisher: Chronicle Books
Ages 3-6. A charming, deceptively simple book about a young girl and her flamingo friend exploring the ups and downs of friendship through dance. The interactive flaps are a lovely touch and heighten the emotion at every turn.

Author & Illustrator: Aaron Becker – Publisher: Candlewick
Ages 4-8. Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Be transported onto a magical journey full of adventure and danger. Where a lonely girl with a red chalk has the power to create, explore, and eventually finds what she is looking for.

Best Friends Book:
Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever — or Snack Time?
Author: Tammi Sauer – Illustrator: Michael Slack  – Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Ages 4-8. A comical tale about the lengths shark will go to for preserving his friendship with minnow.

Best Sibling Book:
The Big Wet Balloon
Author & Illustrator:  Liniers – Publisher: Toon Books
Ages 3-6. Sweet tale of two sisters, Mathilda and Clemmie on a wet Saturday afternoon. It was the little things is this book that made it so real – Mathilda trying to convince the younger Clemmie of all the wonderful things to do on a Saturday, older one telling Clemmie to get her boots and Clemmie bringing her balloon and then a rubber duckie. These two girls could be any pair of sisters. Story is told in comic strip format.


Best Classic Feel Book:
Miss Maple’s Seeds
Author & Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler – Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Ages 4-8.  Fans of Miss Rumphius will adore this gorgeous picture book which introduces the kind, nature-loving Miss Maple, who celebrates the miracle in each seed.

Best Historical Fiction Book:
The Matchbox Diary
Author: Paul Fleischman – Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline – Publisher: Candlewick
Ages 5-9. A girl learns of her granddad’s immigration story to America through special objects in a collection of matchboxes. Wonderful way to learn history.


from THE STORY OF FISH AND SNAIL by Deborah Freedman

Best Eye-Popping Art in a Book:
Story of Fish and Snail
Author & Illustrator: Deborah Freedman – Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Ages 4-6. A story about courage in the name of friendship as snail ultimately takes a giant leap and follows fish on an adventure. The art for this work is eye-popping and pushes the boundaries of traditional picture book illustrations to create something truly captivating.

Hank Finds and Egg
Author & Illustrator: Rebecca Dudley – Publisher: Peter Pauper Press,
Ages 2-6. A simple, wordless tale of kindness brought to life  in a wholly original fresh new way of photographing hand-crafted dioramas.

Best Post-Modern Feel Book:
The Day the Crayons Quit
Author:  Drew Daywalt – Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers – Publisher: Philomel
Ages 3-7. Wacky, hilarious tale of a box of crayons going on strike. Fun for all ages.

Best Surprise Ending:
The Brief Thief
Author:  Michael Escoffier – Illustrator:  Kris Di Giacomo – Publisher:  Enchanted Lion Books
Ages 4-8. A lizard uses a pair of old underpants when he runs out of toilet paper. Not a problem until his conscience starts speaking to him. The best part is the ending and I’m not even going to give you a hint. It is PRICELESS!

November 18, 2013

Teeny Tiny Trucks

TTTrucksTitle: Teeny Tiny Trucks (book, app)

Author: Tim McCanna
Illustrator: Keith Frawley
Publisher: Little Bahalia, 2013
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 3-6
Themes: Trucks, Insects

Opening Lines:
“Teeny tiny trucks. Smaller than a dime.
So much to deliver, in very little time.”

Synopsis (from Amazon website):

Slugs in traffic jams, busy bees and caterpillar bridges you never know what you’ll encounter with Teeny Tiny Trucks! Teeny Tiny Trucks hits the road with a convoy of micro-sized rigs as they trek through a treacherous garden, down a grassy landscape, across a wide stretch of sidewalk and into the great beyond. Will they deliver their teeny tiny cargo on time?


  • Downloadable coloring sheets of the Teeny Tiny Trucks.
  • Grab some building sets, some trucks/cars, and whatever else you have and make your own truck route.

Why I Like This Book:

Breaker .. Breaker. We have got a new truck that is sure to delight all kids and will have them speaking like veteran trucker in no time. This colorful, rhyming book from debut author Tim McCanna is wonderful. I enjoyed the microcosm aspect of the book, teaching kids to see ordinary things in a new way. For example, a water hose is like a tunnel and a garden is like a jungle to teeny tiny truck.

Best of all kids can enjoy it in print form or as an interactive app. The two formats complement each other well. The print version has the bonus trucker glossary in the back. The app version has interactive elements at each spread, where kids can help the teeny tiny trucks by loading stuff onto the truck or moving obstacles out of the way. My 5yr-old daughter’s favorite part wasn’t the “helping” actions … nope, it was making the snails run into each other for the “fender bender” scene. So yes there is something for every child in this app.

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the author. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

November 13, 2013

Picture Book Month: “Ask the Education Consultant” Blog Hop

Picture Book MonthIt’s Picture Book Month! Today we have a special guest, Marcie Collen. I met her via the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge. She is a former teacher and totally gets what picture books should/should not be to engage children. She is currently the Education Consultant for Picture Book Month and has created an excellent teacher’s guide called Why Picture Books Belong in the Classroom. I highly recommend reading it and passing it along to others.

Enjoy the interview!

Q1. What type of picture books do you recommend for use in classrooms where English is second language?

Picture books are actually a wonderful tool for the ESL classroom or foreign language classroom because the illustrations aid in comprehension. Look for books that have vivid illustrations and minimal text. And building visual literacy does not end there. When a picture book includes a word that kids might be unfamiliar with, I always ask them to look at the illustration in addition to the textual context to help determine the meaning.

Q2. How can 3rd to 5th grade teachers use picture books in the classroom?

When choosing picture books for the 3rd to 5th grade classroom, teachers should look for themes and issues within the book that fit into their curriculum. Although picture books are considered suitable for younger grades, many are layered with meaning and universal truths for all ages.

Additionally, picture books can serve as “mentor texts” for teaching writing. With concise plot lines, fully developed characters, intriguing conflict and satisfying resolutions, picture books are complete stories in compact form. For further information about mentor text, see Marcie Atkin’s website.

Do you have any favorites or book recommendations for this age range?

THE CATS OF KRASINSKI SQUARE by Karen Hesse or THE OTHER SIDE by Jacqueline Woodson.

Q3. As writers we understand story is the most important. But what additional value-add items can a writer put in making it more appealing for use in a KG & 1st grade classroom?

Tell your story. Do not worry about adding elements that will make your story classroom-applicable. A good teacher will be able to pull educational value out of your book. A School and Library Promotions Department at your publishing house will be able to market your book to schools. A good Teacher’s Guide can provide teachers with validation to introduce your book to their classroom. However, all of that comes after your book is written. Focus on being the best writer you can be. Let the teachers teach.

Q4. What types of books are most appealing for pre-school classrooms?

Books that are highly visual, low word count, and even silly are very popular in the preschool classroom. But do not be deceived by the simple nature of these books. A whole unit can be developed around The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and focusing on Science and Nutrition.

Q5. Books for toddlers are highly visual and low on wordcount. Any tips for writers who do not illustrate that are trying to write for this age range?

Yes, publishers are asking for low word count, meaning less than 500 and sometimes closer to 300 words. But even with younger children, do not underestimate the value of story. Learn the tricks of the trade for strong word choice. Study other picture books for this age group. Do a search on Amazon by age level. Visit your local library and talk to the librarian about what toddlers are reading. Spend time with toddlers. Connect with your inner toddler. Remember what it is like when you were a toddler. And then write your story. Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books is a great resource for anyone interested in writing for this age group.

Learn more about writing and using picture books in the classroom at other blog tour stops!

Thurs Nov 7 – Lauri Meyers
Mon Nov 11  – Jean Reidy
Wed Nov 13 – Darshana Khiani
Wed Nov 20 – Joanne Roberts
Mon Nov 25 – Tina Cho
Wed Dec 4  – Julie Hedlund

marcieIn previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and a theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous! Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides, can be found at www.thisismarciecolleen.com.  She lives with her fiancé and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.


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