Courtesy of Darcy Pattison. Happy Holidays!
I’m please to announce that the grade reading sites has found a new administrator! Due to the complications imposed by shipping and e-reader compatibility, I will no longer be contributing reviews to the site but I encourage you to go and browse through all the book selections. Here’s a link to one of my favourite grade one books to get you started:
Author: Christine Pakkala
Illustrator: Paul Hoppe
Publisher: Boyds Mills (September, 2013)
Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
Interest: Ages 7-10
Move over Junie B. Jones, there’s a new (slightly older) girl in town. Lola Zuckerman is in Mrs. D’s second grade class, which is a bit of a problem since Mrs. D loves doing things in alphabetical order and Lola hates going last. Lola also hates change – producing another set of problems when her best friend and classmate (Amanda Anderson) moves to another neighbourhood, her grammy and grampy return to Texas, and her mother starts a new dress making business.
But Lola, who is as feisty and loveable as Junie B. (but not as annoying) finds a way to get through it, starting with a victory in the class “Going Green” project. Making compost is not as easy as it sounds, of course, especially in a class full of garbage hating girls, lead by a teacher with a phobia of worms.
Lola Going Green is laid out nicely, with several black and white sketches and a delicate, shadowed leaf pattern stamped on the corner of some pages. The writing is smooth, the characters are all likeable and realistic, and the pace is perfect. The ending was a little too neat and tidy, wrapping up all the loose ends in the final chapters, something that will appeal to the target audience (but maybe not more cynical adult readers).
Last-But-Not-Least lends itself perfectly to a series, and everyone in my family is looking forward to book two, Lola and the Wild Chicken. In the meantime, my seven year-old wants to read Lola Going Green – again.
Title: Cozy Light, Cozy Night
Author & Illustrator: Elisa Kleven
Publisher: Creston Books
Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
This beautiful rhyming picture book takes readers on a ride through the seasons, starting and ending with the world peacefully turning and stars reliably twinkling, while we are tucked in bed safe and cozy for the night. At every time of year, readers are treated to a feast of seasonal food, comfortable places, and everyday wonders.
Cozy Light, Cozy Night is not a book that is meant to be read by children themselves. It is a book that is meant to be shared and through such sharing emotional bonds can be built and reading comprehension can be improved. There are definitions to be discussed, such as bowers (one of a few words clearly chosen for their rhyme) and feelings to be explored such as what cozy means at different times and places.
Initially, some of the rhythm and rhyme are a bit awkward. Try saying “softly falling snow crochets a coverlet of lace” five times fast (or even once, slowly, without tripping over the line.) But the words do fold themselves into a smooth pattern once they are read aloud several times – which they are bound to be. This is a book that children will demand over and over again for the warm, cuddling feeling it provokes through vibrant imagery.
It is really the detailed, bold color illustrations that make Cozy Light, Cozy Night special. The cover shows a family of five cuddling on the bed, warmly inviting the reader to get cozy, snuggle up, and crack open the book. From there we are transported from one comfortable, beautiful scene to another, all rich in emotion and sensory detail. One of my favorites is the picture of a dad sewing at an old fashioned machine, scissors and fabric littering the ground, while kids lick ice cream cones and swing in the background. It’s an image that perfectly compliments the accompanying line “cozy sunhats, stitched and sewn, ice cream’s cozy in a cone.”
This book is the place to go when kids need comfort – whether it’s a bedtime story or a tool you turn to in times of trouble and stress. A welcome addition to the book shelf.
Illustrator: Sa Boothroyd
Publisher: Annick Press
Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
Interest: age 9-12
This new offering from science writer Claire Eamer is truly revolutionary – and I don’t use the term lightly! Delving into the science of eight different subjects, Before the World was Ready focuses on the people and thought process behind discovery and invention, encouraging middle grade readers to become the next generation of trail breakers.
The scientists featured in the book were all ahead of their time – thinking outside the box before such cliche terms even existed. In some cases, the world wasn’t ready for their ideas because they challenged the status quo and beliefs of the time. There’s Copernicus, who’s ideas about the world not being the centre of the universe went against the teachings of the Church. There’s Semmelweis, who inconvenienced doctors by suggesting they wash their hands to avoid the spread of germs. And there’s Rachel Carson who spoke out against DDT and started the modern environmental movement.
In other cases, the world wasn’t ready because the knowledge or resources necessary to make an invention work did not yet exist. This is true of the first airplanes, built by Sir George Cayley before the combustion engine had been developed. It is also true of the earliest computers, first imagined by Babbage, using machinery because electricity was not yet available.
The information in this book is well written and nicely presented. Water colour pictures infuse humour. Colourful backdrops, headings, and borders make is visually appealing. Sidebars providing extra information allow readers to go into more depth (or not) while at the same time allowing the author to complete the picture – it is very rare that one, single person was the first to come up with an idea. Eamer also uses this opportunity to feature women such as Ada Lovelace – daughter of the poet Lord Byron – a mathematician who helped develop the analytical engine in the 1820s, an early form of the computer. A welcome addition to a history dominated by men.
Eamer’s conclusion encourages readers to think about trail breakers and trail blockers, using the example of climate change. It is the perfect ending to a book that combines science, history, anthropology, and psychology. A must have for every library, classroom, and personal collection.
Find out more about this book and others in my interview with Claire Eamer at the Mixed-up Files.
Title: In The Tree House
Author: Andrew Larsen
Illustrator: Dušan Petričić
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
Lexile Score: 60 (ages 3-7)
In the Tree House is a wonderful, engaging picture book that totally succeeds at taking the reader out of their own world and transporting them into the world of an un-named narrator; a boy who loves summer, his tree house, and his older brother.
Right from the beginning, we are welcomed into his tree house on a really hot day – hot enough to crunch ice cubes – and treated to view of his neighborhood. From here we are told the story of how the tree house had been built the year before. Like many tree houses, it grew through the collaboration of a father and his sons. In this case, it was inspired by the narrator who started making tree house plans to help him adjust to a move and a new house where he no longer shared a room with his brother.
From the tree house, Dad and his sons watched the twinkling lights of their sleepy neighborhood because the city sky is too bright for them to see the stars to shine. It was the best summer ever – full of comics, cards, flashlights, and endless hours shared between brothers in the tree house.
But this summer is different because the narrator’s brother is growing up and no longer has time for the tree house. His brother is busy with friends and he is alone – the King of the Castle with no one to share it with – until one night when everything goes dark and a black out brings everyone together.
In the Tree House is a simple story about growing pains and the bond between brothers. The text is plain and straightforward, relying on illustration to portray much of the emotion behind the words. The pictures are purposefully stark, leaving lots of room for readers of all ages to fill in the blanks. Together, the illustrator and author have succeeded in making this book both poignant and timeless.
Everyone will want to spend their summer in a tree house after having this book read aloud to the class. Some readers will want to savor the book privately and then make plans to build their own tree house. Older readers will be forced to reflect upon changes in their own relationships with siblings and other family members. Still others will be touched by the notion that turning off the lights for a while can put everything into perspective.