Review Policy

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Book Review: Raj the Bookstore Tiger

Author: Kathleen T. Pelley
Illustrated by Page Keiser
Interest Level: Ages 4-8
Click here for Discussion Activity Guide

From the Book Jacket: Being a bookstore "tiger" is lots of work. Raj has to patrol the storerooms, keep an eye on the front window (while sun basking, of course), and greet customers with a hearty meow. But Raj loves his job, especially story time with the children.

Things change when Snowball comes on the scene. The cranky cat's snide remarks cause Raj to doubt his own tigerness. So Raj is forced to figure out if he's just an ordinary kitty-cat after all...or if, just maybe, it's Snowball who's got it wrong.

Why It's On My Bookshelf: It is such a great feeling when you feel your best self. It's a fill you up happy state called high self-esteem. But there is nothing worse when it all of a sudden plummets. And why did it plummet? WHAM - you got knocked down by a put down. This is what happens in one of my new favorites Raj the Bookstore Tiger. Another cat named Snowball takes over his turf by using put-downs and bully behavior.

I see this happen in school ALL the time. A student arrives in the morning all cheery and ready to learn and then I see them at their last recess looking absolutely broken. Whoa. What happened? A lot of times it's negative comments or mean words they received at one point during their day from another student. Just like Raj they feel withdrawn and a bit hopeless... like they want to disappear. Any power they once felt they had - poof - it disappeared. Enter one of my favorite words - EMPOWER. Raj teaches kids to stand up for themselves, don't believe in the put-downs, and guard your self-esteem. You have the POWER to not allow your self-esteem to plummet in the first place. I get excited teaching kids this stuff!

Something else I liked about this story is how Snowball and Raj didn't remain enemies but they became friends. It didn't end with Snowball being condemned as the bully and Raj as the hero. It made them equal and showed the possibility of healing a situation even when a major hurt has been caused. Stories that bring characters together are ones I relish reading to kids. Ask your students to look around the room at each other...who do they need to have healing with? This book will give them inspiration to do so.

A Link to This Book and Others You Might Find Helpful:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Review: Four Feet, Two Sandals

Authors: Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
Illustrated by Doug Chayka
Book Website:
Interest Level: Ages 4-9

From the Book Jacket: When relief workers bring used clothing to the refugee camp, everyone scrambles to grab whatever they can. Ten-year-old Lina is thrilled when she finds a sandal that fits her foot perfectly, until she sees that another girl has the matching shoe. But soon Lina and Feroza meet, each wearing one coveted sandal. Together they solve the problem of having four feet and two sandals. 

As the girls go about their routines - washing clothes in the river, waiting in long lines for water, and watching for their names to appear on the list for a new home - the sandals remind them that friendship is what is most important. 

Illustrated with warm colors and sensitive brush strokes, Four Feet, Two Sandals portrays the strength, courage, and hope of refugees around the world, whose daily lives are marked by uncertainty and fear. This story was inspired by a refugee girl who asked the authors why there were no books about children like her. 

Why It's On My Bookshelf: Every child needs to read this touching book. Four Feet, Two Sandals is more than just a story about sharing. It's about real life hardships and circumstances connecting people together. The friendship of two refugee girls will start a powerful discussion.

Refugee.....most students didn't know what the word meant. So we dove on in and I could immediately feel the empathy, understanding, and awareness begin to grow. Isn't it fabulous how when you introduce kids to world issues they just want to know more. Hearts and minds were growing from the knowledge they were gaining. We also have students who come from all sorts of different countries and backgrounds and a few have been refugee families. Our discussion turned to remembering to be mindful (my new favorite word to use w/kiddos) to one another. We talked about how the next time you see something about refugees on the news - to pay attention and not look away. It's sure easy to do.

Four Feet, Two Sandals also unfolds an incredible friendship. They redefined the definition for us in the story. A new standard was set which I loved.  Some of the topics around friendship we discussed: caring, loyalty, strength, and being a forever friend (a new thing I'm teaching). Get this book on your shelf. It's definitely a favorite of mine and the kids.

A Link to This Book:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book Review: The Sandwich Swap

Authors: Queen Rainia Al Abdullah and Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: Tricia Tusa
Book Website: The Sandwich Swap
Interest Level: Ages 4 and Up

From The Book Jacket: Lily and Salma are best friends. They like doing all the same things - jumping rope, drawing pictures, playing on the swings. And they always eat lunch together. Sure, they don't eat the same lunch. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus - but what's that between friends? It turns out, a lot. And before they know it, it's a food fight. Can Lily and Salma put aside their differences and save their friendship? Or will a sandwich come between them?

Her Majesty Queen Rania and bestselling author Kelly DiPucchio tell a story inspired by her Majesty's own childhood. Salma and Lily reach the true spirit of tolerance and acceptance. The smallest things can pull us apart - until we learn that friendship is far more powerful than difference.

Why It's On My Bookshelf: Awards should be plastered all over this book's cover. Which by the way, is the most darling cover I have just about ever seen. The students took one look at The Sandwich Swap and said, "Read us that one!!" Sometimes I bring in a few books to each of my lessons to give them a preview of next weeks story. Even in the hallway, a second grade student said to me, "When are you going to read us The Sandwich Swap?" Apparently, they can sniff out a good book just by it's cover. But this is more then good, it is GREAT.

The lessons learned by both girls in the story is EXACTLY the kind of message students need to hear. Working in a culturally diverse school I know students have many curiosities about one another. But sometimes, those curiosities can sadly turn into put-downs towards one another. It divides everyone which is what happens in the story. Just look around the world, it's pretty obvious we need to start these conversations and teachings early in life. A first grade student said, "I hope everyone goes to multi-cultural night tomorrow to make more friends!" The lovely 'pot-luck' ending will make you think about what your own school is doing to help promote cultural diversity.

The Sandwich Swap is a wonderful reminder and encourager to embrace and appreciate other's differences. It's amazing how a book can increase awareness, sensitivity, and open hearts and minds. This was an impactful read and there is no doubt it has helped increased my school climate. The students clapped as I finished reading the last page. Clapping for diversity! Love it.

A Link to This Book and Others You Might Find Helpful:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book Review: Don't Need Friends

Author: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger 
Interest Level: Ages 4-8

From The Book Jacket: There's a new dog in the junkyard, and boy, is he ever grouchy! He seems the perfect new friend for surly, grumbling Rat. But the two animals are only interested in shouting at each other. "Don't you come near me!" barks Dog, and Rat mutters back, "Fine with me. Don't need friends, don't need 'em at all!" But as this crusty duo soon discovers, everybody needs a friend. Especially during a bitter winter in a junkyard where warmth is hard to find - and a foot-long salami sandwich is a near miracle. Endearing and sassy, this uplifting story of the importance of companionship will put a smile on even the grumpiest of faces.

Why It's On My Bookshelf: There is a bigger message than the importance of having a friend in this book. I didn't figure this out until my third or fourth reading. It started with a new question I posed, "How could Rat and Dog have prevented being so angry in the first place?" We all agreed they had a loss in their lives causing their anger and sadness. But what should we do when we feel like that? Take it out on everyone around us like Rat and Dog or talk about our feelings? When my students get to hear how important it is for their feelings to be validated and figure out a better way to cope. 

So I sort of went a different direction with this book, but you can also focus on the importance of friendships and why we need them. The kids also LOVED hearing Rat and Dog's dialogue back and forth. Because behind the anger, we all knew they actually cared about each other. 

A Link To This Book:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Reviews: Oliver at the Window and Loon Summer

Author: Elizabeth Shreeve
illustrated by Candice Hartsough McDonald
Interest Level: Ages 4-8

From the Book Jacket: When his parents separate Oliver must brave many new changes. He shuffles back and forth between his parents' homes. And now he goes to preschool every day. He doesn't know the kids there or his new teacher. Isolated and alone at first, Oliver slowly becomes part of the gang. Eventually he's able to help the newest student feel welcome at school. And his lion stays with Oliver everywhere he goes, giving him just the thing he needs to adjust to all the changes: courage.

Why It's On My Bookshelf: Oliver at the Window is a MUST read for children who are feeling withdrawn or sad after a divorce. On top of those difficult feelings, sometimes kids have to move and change schools because of the divorce. It's no wonder detachment can become an issue for students. Oliver is experiencing this detachment. This simple and sweet story will empower and encourage kids as they are going through this experience....and they will come out okay.

Oliver eventually begins connecting with the other kids and participating in classroom activities. Sometimes we just need a little time. A new girl shows up with the same sort of detachment going on. But it's Oliver who steps in to support and guide her because of what his own experience has taught him. It's important for kids to know that through their own life journeys - they can help each other. Oliver is a wonderful role model.

Author: Barbara Santucci
illustrated by Andrea Shine
Interest Level: Ages 9-11

From the Book Jacket: My first morning on the lake I hear the loons. "Oh-OOOO-oooo." Their sad songs remind me Mom isn't coming to the cottage this summer.

Rainie knows that this summer will be different. As she and her dad spend time together at the cottage. Rainie is painfully aware of her mom's absence. Throughout the summer, Rainie watches a pair of loons on the lake - watches them lay eggs, hatch babies, and be together as a loon family.

"You told me loons stay together for life. Why can't you and Mom?" she asks her dad.

Loon Summer is an authentic hopeful story of a child adjusting to the difficult reality of changes in her own family. As summer progresses, Rainie grows in her trust and understanding of the unconditional love each of her parents will always have for her.

Why It's On My Bookshelf: Divorce reminds me of the grieving process. It's a loss...a letting go. The absoluteness of a new beginning can be especially difficult. Rainie's story will be a familiar and helpful one to many children. She still wishes and hopes things could go back to the way they used to be. I appreciate divorce bibliotherapy validating those thoughts and feelings. Children will also find healing and comfort in Rainie's dads words to her, "My wish is that you'll never forget how much Mom and I both love you. Even when one of us isn't with you." This is what kids want to I'm excited to have this in my lending library to kids and parents. 

A Link to These Books: