October 14 – It’s Hispanic Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

From September 15th through October 15th National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.” From business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment, Hispanic and Latinx Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. You can learn more about the holiday and find cross-curricular resources for classrooms and homeschooling, videos, exhibitions, and much more from the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the National Park Service, the National Gallery of Art, the Nationla Archives and more to use not only this month but throughout the year on the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez

Written by Larry Dane Brimmer | Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez

On January 5, 1931 twelve-year-old Roberto Alvarez was happy to be going back to Lemon Grove Grammar School after the Christmas vacation. But when he got there “the principal told Roberto and the other Mexican and Mexican American children that they did not belong there.” He told them to go to the new Mexican school on Olive Street, and when they arrived, their teachers and desks were already waiting for them.

This had all come about stealthily after the school district’s board of trustees received a letter from the parent-teacher association complaining that “the Mexican children didn’t understand English,” which “held back the white students.” The letter also said that the “Mexican children were unclean and endangered the health of every other student in the school.” The board decided to construct a separate school—but without telling the Mexican parents, fearing “trouble.”

But as the Olive Street school was being built, Mexican parents understood it true purpose of segregation and instructed their children not to attend, but to come home. Most of the kids, including Roberto did as their parents told them. “That January morning the Olive Street School stood almost empty, except for two teachers, three students, and many unoccupied desks.” Roberto believed he didn’t need a different school. While his parents had come from Mexico, he had been born in California and spoke English as well as any of the white students.

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The Mexican parents formed the “Comité de Vecinos de Lemon Grove—the Lemon Grove Neighbors Committee”—to talk about the situation. They knew the new school had not been built to “help their students learn the English language and American customs, as the school board and newspapers claimed.” The only deciding factor of which school a child attended was the color of their skin.

The Comité de Vecinos acquired two lawyers, and on February 13, 1931 “Roberto brought the situation in Lemon Grove to the attention of the California Superior Court in San Diego” by filing a law suit against the Lemon Grove School board of trustees. His lawsuit asked that the school district stop discriminating against the Mexican students and allow them to return to the Lemon Grove School. The school board falsely stated that the students’ strike was “organized by Mexico or by groups in Mexico,” and the president told a reporter he knew that the district attorney of San Diego was on the school’s side.

In fact the San Diego district attorney represented the school board in its dealings with the court, saying that the Olive Street School was for “‘better instruction,’” a claim that was different from the minutes from the school board’s summer meetings. He then went on to say that having a school in their own neighborhood was safer since they didn’t have to cross the railroad tracks. But Roberto wanted to go to school with all of his friends—”brown and white.”

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The trial began on March 10, 1931 in San Diego. The lawyers for the school board insisted that the new school was to “benefit the Mexican pupils…not to separate” them. Roberto’s lawyers countered this with the minutes from the board’s summer meetings.

The trial ended the next day, and the decision was handed over to the judge. Two days later, the judge handed down his ruling. He stated that “in the eyes of the law the Lemon Grove School District had no power to set up a separate school for Mexican children.” On April 16, 1931, the judge’s ruling became official and the school board was ordered to immediately admit Roberto Alvarez and all of the other Mexican students “‘without separation or segregation.’” Roberto knew he had to stand up for what was right, and as he and the other Mexican students returned to school, “this time all were welcomed.”

An extensive Author’s Note, complete with photographs of Roberto Alvarez, his third- and fourth-grade classmates in 1928, Roberto’s mother, Lemon Grove Grammar School and its principal, and Roberto in 1999, reveals more about this historical event, the people involved, and the political and social atmosphere in the US at the time. Larry Dane Brimmer also discusses other cases of school segregation and follows up with the consequences for Lemon Grove principal Jerome Green and the successful career enjoyed by Roberto Alvarez as an entrepreneur. Resources used in researching the book are also included.

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Larry Dane Brimmer’s compelling history of this landmark case and biography of Roberto Alvarez and all of the students and their parents who stood up for equal access to schooling is instructive and empowering. The fact that this issue and similar others continue to roil schools, workplaces, and communities, makes Without Separation a vital resource to educate children and adults on system racism and how it spreads.

Brimmer highlights the courage, intelligence, and acceptance that children display and inspires them to lend their voices to change injustice wherever they find it. Brimmer’s clear and precise storytelling allows children to understand the actions and discussions involved in the school board meetings, neighborhood committee meetings, and the trial without losing any of the story’s emotional impact.

Maya Gonzalez’s lovely folk-art illustrations present stylized-yet-realistic depictions of the citrus groves, the school, and the courtroom. Fashions and décor set the time period while also appearing appropriate today. Another portrayal of universality is accomplished in Gonzalez’s two-page spread of the board of trustees’ meeting, in which she pictures the members sitting at a table with only their feet and upper body showing. Not only is this group representative of the 1930 school board, but of the “faceless” masses and committees that often drive policy today. Many images of the Mexican community supporting each other shows readers what can be accomplished when people work together.

An important book that will resonate with its target audience, Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez is a must-addition to any home, classroom, school, and public library.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371952

Discover more about Larry Dane Brimmer and his books on his website.

To learn more about Maya Gonzalez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

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You can find Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 7 – It’s National Book Month

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About the Holiday

This month-long holiday was established to get families excited about reading. As the weather turns cooler and activities turn indoors, reading together is a wonderful way to spend time laughing, learning, and making memories. Small children love being read to—and so do older kids! Sharing board books, picture books, and chapter books with younger readers opens up new worlds of imagination, feelings, and discovery. Taking the journey of a novel, graphic novel, or biography together with tweens and teens can provide inspiring, emotional, funny, and bonding moments that last a lifetime.

Thanks to Millbrook Press and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of Who Is a Scientist? for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Who Is a Scientist?

By Laura Gehl

 

Do you love science and think that maybe you’d like to be a scientist when you grow up? But do you also love to dance or surf to paint or bake? Maybe you like to play soccer or ride a motorcycle or you’re considering getting a tattoo like your mom or dad and you think that none of those are things a scientist would do. Maybe you think of scientists as a little bit stuffy with their white coats and endless graphs. Well, think again!

In Who Is a Scientist? Laura Gehl introduces you to fourteen scientists who smash those ideas. And what’s more they’re involved in some pretty fascinating and life-changing sciences and projects that you may never have heard about before but that may inspire you. For example, you’ll meet Isha M. Renata López who works as a meteorologist but “also loves to dance, play volleyball, and eat chocolate.” What’s great about her job? She alerts people to changes in the weather, and when a big storm, blizzard, hurricane, or tornado is coming, she works with emergency crews, the media, and the local government to make sure everyone knows so they can stay safe.

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“Jagmeet Kanwal studies bats and zebrafish to help figure out how the human brain makes decisions.” He’s also working to discover “how our brains allow us to hear different types of sounds.” He’s hoping to be able to “help people with depression, Parkinson’s disease, and memory loss.” What else does Jagmeet like to do? He’s also a painter and nature photographer.

If you like math, you may want to become a mathematician like Mark Lewis, who studies operations research during work hours and enjoys playing basketball in his off time. This kind of science “uses math to help business make good decisions” that affect consumer, such as how long people wait in line, how much items cost, and how transportation can move faster.

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Perhaps you’re interested in health and medical research like Tishina Okegbe whose work makes sure that mothers, babies, and children in Africa and Asia “have access to high-quality health-care services. In her free time, Tishina likes “visiting new places, belly dancing, and eating pizza and ice cream.”

Whether you’re interested in food systems and farming, how the brain works, the environment, space, dinosaurs, or computers, the scientists will inspire you to enjoy all of your passions. In fact, the extracurricular activities you enjoy the most may just lead you to a career you’ll love. The definition of who and what a scientist is broad and exciting as you’ll see when you meet these men and women who are changing the world while being themselves.

Back matter includes a QR code that readers can scan to view a video in which each profiled scientist introduces themselves. There’s also a flow chart that can lead kids to the type of scientist they might want to be or at least research further based on their interests.

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Laura Gehl’s engaging and inspiring look at a variety of scientists and their disciplines will get all kids excited about the wide range of work going on around them and the people who make it happen. Her profiles of these thinkers, activists, and active members of their communities show kids that they don’t need to be defined only by their career and that scientists—who are needed now more than ever—are a diverse group and welcoming to all. Each profile is accompanied by photographs of the scientist in their lab or other work environment as well as action shots of them enjoying their off time in their favorite pursuits.

A smart, inviting, and educational introduction to the people who are helping to make the world a better place through science and other STEM-related fields, Who Is a Scientist? is sure to inform readers on the wide-range of specialized work that falls under the umbrella of science and spark their interest in learning where they may fit in. The book is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for classroom, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1728441085

Meet the scientists in this Who Is a Scientist? Book Trailer!

One Question with Laura Gehl

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Laura Gehl is the author of more than a dozen books for children, including One Big Pair of Underwear, Except When They Don’t, the Peep and Egg series, and the Baby Scientist and Brilliant Baby board books. In addition to being an author, Dr. Gehl has a PhD in neuroscience and is the mother of four children. She lives with her family in Maryland. 

You can connect with Laura on her Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Hi Laura! I loved reading your book and getting to know some of the scientists working today. I also enjoyed seeing how some of their other interests are reflected in their work while others are great ways to relax and play—definitely something kids can relate to!

I was wondering if or how a previous job (or jobs) has influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write. 

I used to work in a neurobiology lab, and I also used to teach science. Both of those jobs made me want to write books about science and scientists! When I taught science, I realized that very few kids had met a real scientist or had read about any scientists more recent than Albert Einstein or Marie Curie. Flash forward twenty years and my new photo-illustrated picture book Who Is a Scientist? features fourteen real scientists working today in different fields from astronomy to entomology to paleontology. While the book talks about the fascinating work these scientists are doing, it also talks about the other things the scientists love…like dancing, soccer, junk food, watching movies, and playing with their pets. I hope this book helps kids realize that scientists are just like them—curious people with lots of different passions who like to ask and answer interesting questions.

Thanks, Laura! Through your books you’ve found a perfect way to share your love and knowledge of science with kids! I wish you all the best with Who Is a Scientist?!

You can find a Teacher’s Guide to Who Is a Scientist? and her other books on Laura Gehl’s website here.

National Book Month Activity

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Static Electricity Experiment!

 

We all know that cooler weather means shock season will soon be here. But you don’t have to wait until the fuzzy socks and fleecy blankets come out to have some fun exploring the science of static electricity. Using a blown-up balloon can be a dramatic way to show kids what’s going on with the electrons that are at the center of this phenomenon.

Babies and young children should be supervised by an adult while playing with balloons.

How does it work? Static electricity is generated when there is an excess of electrons on one object giving it an electric charge. These electrons are attracted to an object with fewer electrons and will jump to it when placed close by.

How do you produce static electricity? Just rub the blown-up balloon on your shirt, on your hair, on a blanket or other surface. Then try these experiments!

CRAZY HAIR

Generate static electricity on a blown-up balloon then hold it near your hair and watch it go a little crazy!

HANG A BALLOON

Generate static electricity on a blown-up balloon and gently place it on the wall and watch it hang all by itself.

BEND WATER

This bit of balloon magic will amaze you! Generate static electricity on a blown-up balloon. Turn on a faucet to a thin stream of water. Hold the balloon near the stream of water and watch it bend toward the balloon. 

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You can find Who Is a Scientist? at these booksellers. Due to shipping delays, preorders are now being taken.

Amazon | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

September 9 – It’s Family Meals Month

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About the Holiday

This month-long holiday got its start in 2015 and was designed as a way to support families in enjoying more meals made with fresh ingredients together. Over the years National Family Meals Month™ has gained recognition and grown into a social movement that promotes family bonding and education. Studies show that children who eat meals as a family are happier, less likely to get into trouble, and do better in school. To learn more about the Family Meals Movement and how you can celebrate this month and all year around, visit the Family Meals Movement website.

The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup

Written by Hunter Liguore | Illustrated by Vikki Zhang

 

A little girl stands at the stove watching her Nanni stir a big metal pot. She asks her Nanni what’s in the pot and learns that there are seeds inside. How can that be? She wonders. They are the “‘seeds that grew up to vegetables,’” Nanni tells her and then reveals that “‘there are also gardeners in the pot.’” That seems impossible the girl thinks. How can that be? So her grandmother tells her about the gardeners that raised the vegetables, the soil and rain, and the sun, the moon, and the stars that are also in the pot.

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Image copyright Vikki Zhang, 2021, text copyright Hunter Liguore, 2021. Courtesy of Yeehoo Press.

The little girl is catching on. She sees them all too and can hear the buzz of the bees that “pollinate the flowers, that grow up to be vegetables, planted by the gardeners, with their gentle hands.” She stands on tiptoe to see what else is in the pot. It swirls with the farm workers who “make footprints in the rich soil, carrying boxes full of vegetables to the, delivery trucks, boats, and trains.”

You might think that’s all the pot can hold, but there’s more. There are the merchants who “work in teams to bring the baskets of farm vegetables to the market” and the onlookers, “‘curious to see what they bought.’” The little girl thinks that must be everything, but Nanni takes another look and discovers a bus inside the pot. “‘A BUS, Nan! How can there be a bus inside the pot?’”

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Image copyright Vikki Zhang, 2021, text copyright Hunter Liguore, 2021. Courtesy of Yeehoo Press.

This is the bus Nanni took to the market. And what’s more, the bus driver, all the passengers, and everything they passed in all the neighborhoods they drove through on their way to the market are inside the pot too. “‘Wow, Nan!’” the girl exclaims. Could there be anything else? Nanni thinks and then a beaming smile crosses her face. Her granddaughter catches her excitement and asks “‘What, Nanni? What else did you see inside the pot?’”

“‘Love,’” Nan answers. The love of all the grandmothers and mothers who passed the recipe down through the generations just so she could make the soup for her own granddaughter. The little girl wants to learn the recipe too. But Nan tells her she must be able to remember everything that goes into the pot. I do know, the girl assures her. “‘The whole world.’”

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Image copyright Vikki Zhang, 2021, text copyright Hunter Liguore, 2021. Courtesy of Yeehoo Press.

Little ones will listen wide-eyed to Hunter Liguore’s whimsical tale that gently educates while building page upon page to a tender climax with plenty of humor along the way. The sweet and playful relationship between the girl and her Nanni will charm children and the idea of how the world is connected will resonate with kids beyond the soup pot and inform their view of the world. Liguore’s dialogue-rich text that reflects the cadences of real conversations with kids makes the story a perfect read aloud.

Juxtaposing illustrations with a retro vibe next to lovely fanciful drawings, Vikki Zhang mirrors the intergenerational theme of the story while more than satisfying readers curiosity about all of the quirky ingredients in Nanni’s soup. Kids are first invited into Nanni’s kitchen, a wonder that combines both old world and modern touches. In three clever illustrations, Zhang imagines the gardeners and a café inhabiting stylized cooking pots, and other “ingredients,” such as farm workers, modes of transportation, and nearby neighborhoods are presented in intricately detailed fantastical watercolors that kids and adults will want to linger over. A final image of Nan and the little girl’s heritage told through photographs, fine china, and jewelry is a loving look at all of the Nan’s, mothers, and daughters who have left a lasting legacy in their recipe.

A beautiful and fun book for adults—and especially grandparents—to share with children, The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup would make a meaningful gift and a welcome addition to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

Yeehoo Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1953458063

Discover more about Hunter Liguore and her books on her website. You can find a Teaching Guide and Lesson Plan Activity Kit for teachers, homeschoolers, or just to enjoy at home on Hunter’s site here.

To learn more about Vikki Zhang, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Family Meals Month Activity

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Souper Maze!

 

You can’t eat soup without a spoon! Can you help the spoon get through the maze to the bowl in this printable puzzle?

Souper Maze Puzzle  | Souper Maze Solution!

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You can find The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

September 2 – It’s National Friendship Month

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About the Holiday

Friendship Month was instituted about ten years ago by the Oddfellows – or, as they are officially called, The Grand Order of Oddfellows Friendly Society (GUOOFS) – an international organization dedicated to philanthropy and charity believed to have established in England in the 1730s. The holiday encourages people to spend more time with their friends, get in touch with those they haven’t seen or talked to in a while, and to reach out to others who are alone or need a friend. As school gets underway, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to meet new people and form friendships – some of which may last a lifetime.

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Aven Green Baking Machine with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Aven Green Baking Machine

By Dusti Bowling | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

Hot off her stint as a sleuth, Aven Green has discovered another activity to conquer—baking! When she learns of a baking competition at the county fair the next weekend, Aven determines not only to enter, but to win the blue ribbon. She’s sure she will win because one, she’s an expert baker, having made a carrot cake last week; two, she’s a supertaster; and three, she has an excellent sense of smell. Now, as a pro, she calls her friends Kayla, Emily, and Sujata to come to her house prepared to each make a recipe of their choice. They will then choose which one to enter in the contest.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With the girls all assembled at Aven’s house, they turn their attention to whose recipe to make first and focus on the ingredients Sujata brought to make her favorite Indian dessert, milk barfi. The other girls make fun of the dessert’s name, and Sujata retreats, crying, to Aven’s room. Aven’s mom appears to find out what happened. She asks the girls some pointed questions about whether they’d ever tried milk barfi before and if they had asked Sujata “what it tastes like or why it’s important to her.” She sends them in to Aven’s room to apologize. The friends make up and return to the kitchen to whip up the recipe, which Aven says smells like “spicy heaven.”

Next, they make Aven’s mint chocolate chip pie and then Emily’s peachy fluff, which Aven renames “peachy floof.” With these desserts all in the fridge, Kayla realizes they haven’t actually baked anything yet. And while the contest rules only call for an original dessert, Kayla thinks they should bake something. Aven suggests chocolate chip cookies until she discovers that the bag she thought held chocolate chips actually holds raisins for the raisin clafouti Kayla wants to make.

Aven has an unwavering loathing for raisins and tells Kayla, “‘Yeah, we’re totally not making that.’” The other girls defend Kayla’s choice. Hearing the shouting, Mom reappears and Kayla tells her how Aven won’t let her make clafouti—“‘raisin toefooty,’” Aven says, interrupting. Aven’s mom looks at her and tells her that she’s so disappointed in her behavior. Aven doubles down on her opinion and stomps off to her room to sulk. After the clafouti is in the oven, the girls all play together until it’s time to sample the desserts.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

They love the Sujata’s milk barfi, and Emily’s peachy fluff turned out to be soupy—delicious, but more of a drink. Aven’s chocolate chip mint pie was deemed too minty, and Kayla’s raisin clafouti was declared the winner. Still, Aven wouldn’t try it. After everyone left, Aven’s mom sits down with her and explains that “‘the Aven I know would try something, even if she didn’t want to, so as not to hurt her friends’ feelings…. You did not act like a good friend.’”

When Aven goes to apologize the next day at school, the other girls tell her they don’t want to enter the contest with her because she is “too difficult. ‘It’s your way or nothing,’” Emily tells her. As Aven sits alone on the playground, Ren comes over to see if she’s all right. Aven tells him about the contest and he tells her about his favorite dessert, manju—sweet bean paste steamed cakes. Aven makes a “yuck face” and Ren, sad, walks away. At home, Aven decides she’ll make something for the contest by herself and bakes a chocolate cake with mint frosting. But when the cake comes out of the oven, it is less than perfect. Aven cries because she knows she can’t win with that cake and her friends are all mad at her.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

She goes to visit her great-grandmother, who gives Aven some perspective while making another unusual cake that Aven thinks she’s not going to like but ends up loving. The next day, Aven asks Ren to be her partner in the contest, telling his she wants to make manju. At first Aven is reluctant to try the steamed cakes they make, but one nibble later, she’s ready for more. She even decides that “from this moment in history until the end of time, I would forever be Aven Green, trier of new things, even the weirdest things anyone ever heard of.” The night before the contest, Aven made I’m sorry cards for Kayla, Sujata, and Emily, using all of her best stickers and glitter glue.

The day of the contest finally arrives. Aven and Ren make a fresh batch of manju and take it to the fair. Aven gives out her cards and wishes her friends good luck. They all wait to hear the judges’ decisions and… First place went to an apple caramel cake. Second prize went to a chocolate cream pie. And Third Place went to… Sujata, Emily, and Kayla for their raisin clafouti. Aven cheered and cheered for them, and when they left the stage, they offered Aven one of the yellow ribbons. She thought it would look lovely hanging on her wall, but she declined, telling her friends, “‘I didn’t win it. Not only that, but I had a bad attitude about the raisin clafouti, which did win.’”

Besides, Aven says, “‘I didn’t lose…. I won a whole new friend! And now I have my old friends back, too. Best day ever!’” Then she tasted the raisin clafouti, and even though she didn’t like it, she praised it for being an award-winner. Then the friends took in the fair and the bluegrass music, and Aven discovered another activity to conquer. “‘Watch out, world!’” she cried. “‘Here comes Aven Green, Music Machine!’”

A glossary of baking words found in the story as well as recipes for milk barfi, mint chocolate chip pie, peachy floof, raisin clafouti, tomato soup cake, and manju follow the text.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2021, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Dusti Bowling’s second Aven Green story for young readers is infused with her protagonist’s distinct personality, infectious enthusiasm, and big heart. Realistic dialogue, situations, and emotions make it a book that will easily resonate with kids. While it’s easy to focus on the humor in Bowling’s story—which is delivered with snappy, rapid-fire dialogue and observations—the story also packs a punch in its message about the injustice of preconceived notions, the effects of thoughtless comments, ultra-competitiveness, and the true meaning of acceptance.

Just one of the joys of Bowling’s series is how Aven Green smashes wrong assumptions while being fearless and self-confident. Here, Aven discovers that while she promotes acceptance for herself, she must also extend the same appreciation to others. All of Bowling’s characters possess strong opinions, enough self-assurance to reject behavior that hurts, and the ability to recognize when they’ve been wrong and make amends. These qualities make them excellent role models for readers. As the girls separate into different teams for the baking contest and, ultimately, make a new friend, readers learn important lessons on standing up for oneself, making informed opinions instead of snap judgements, and what true friendship is all about.

Gina Perry’s engaging illustrations bring the story to life as readers see Aven cooking, eating, and creating cards for her friends with her feet as well as participating in all the other activities at school and the county fair. Her line drawings also capture the emotions of the characters as they argue, make up, and cheer each other on. Cameos by Aven’s mom and great-grandmother portray a steadying and caring influence.

Aven Green Baking Machine is a multi-layered story that will make kids think as they enjoy the humor, close relationships, and invitation to discover and bake recipes from around the world. This book is a good choice for kids and adults to read together while discussing the issues presented. Fans of the series will want to catch up on what Aven is conquering next and new readers will be happy to discover this empowering series.

Ages 6 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1454942207

Discover more about Dusti Bowling and her books on her website.

To learn more about Gina Perry, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aven-green-baking-machine-cover

You can find Aven Green, Baking Machine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 14 – Isabel and Her Colores Go to School Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today I’m happy to be joining the blog tour for Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, a beautiful picture book about starting a new school year, making friends, and finding a way to share what’s in your heart – even when it’s difficult. I also had a chance to talk briefly with Alexandra and Courtney!

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sharing a digital copy of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School with me for this review. All opinions on the book are my own.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Courtney Dawson

 

It’s the night before Isabel’s first day of school, and she’s sitting “cross-legged on her bed, coloreando with her favorite crayons: rojo, verde, azul, rosado, morado, violeta.” Isabel was ready for the next day, but there was something that worried her. She “didn’t speak much inglés. English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites. Isabel preferred the pinks and yellows and purples of español.”

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the morning, Isabel didn’t want to go to school, but Mami drove her there anyway. At the door, she kissed Isabel on the head and reminded her: “‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara. To bad times, a good face.’” But Isabel’s face showed sadness and worry. As class started, Isabel followed along, unsure of what it all meant. During stretching time, the kids counted “‘One, two, three.’” Instinctively, Isabel repeated “‘Uno, dos, tres.’” The colors of their voices “[crashed] against each other.” All the kids stared at Isabel, and she could feel her face getting hot.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When it was story time, all the kids took their regular spots on the rug, which left no room for Isabel. Then a girl told her she could sit “‘here’” next to her. Isabel understood the word “here” and sat down. “‘I’m Sarah,’” the girl said. “‘Me llamo Isabel,’” Isabel told her. Then Sarah asked Isabel if she’d like to be friends. The harsh words filled her brain and she shook her head to clear them. She blushed again. “‘No entiendo,’” she said. Misunderstanding herself, Sarah looked as if she might cry. Isabel felt that way too.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When lunchtime came, Isabel sat alone and tried to make herself feel better by coloring on her napkin, but tears came anyway. Back in the classroom, Isabel’s teacher announced that it was “coloring time.” Isabel looked up. “Coloring sounded very much like colorear.” When she got a blank sheet of paper and crayons, “Isabel knew she had understood.” As she worked on her picture, she used all of her favorite colors and she remembered Mami’s advice.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When she was finished, she showed Sarah. She had drawn herself and Sarah holding hands and surrounded by hearts and stars. “‘Amigas,’” Isabel said, pointing from girl to girl. Sarah understood. “‘Friends,’” she said. When their teacher showed Isabel’s picture to the other kids, all of her classmates were impressed. Their smiles and compliments softened the stormy colors of English “to a brilliant aguamarina—just like home,” and Isabel thought school might be okay after all.

Simultaneous translations of the English story are presented in colorful boxes on each page. A Spanish-to-English translation glossary of words typeset in bold throughout the book is found at the end of the story.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Alexandra Alessandri’s emotionally resonant story shines with her unique invitation to readers to understand how language barriers feel from the perspective of a native Spanish-speaking child as well as her English-speaking classmate who wants to be friends. Children’s fondness for drawing and favorite colors gives Alessandri the perfect palette to present initial feelings of worry, disappointment, and frustration as well as a meaningful way for children to bridge differences and discover hope, encouragement, and common ground. Alessandri’s dialogue and interactions between Isabel and Mami as well as between Isabel and Sarah ring true with honesty and the types of small moments that can lead to unintentional misunderstandings and others that unite. Isabel’s love for and descriptions of the rhythms and beauty of her native language are a highlight and can give teachers, parents, and other adults an excellent way to talk to their children about languages, diversity, and communication.

Courtney Dawson’s vibrant illustrations enliven the pages as swoops of color swirl around Isabel and through the classroom, depicting her feelings from moment to moment as well as how English sounds to her and how English and Spanish together clash in her ears. Readers will recognize the colorful elements of a classroom and the routines of a day. Dawson clearly depicts the characters’ emotions as well as how excitement and confidence can change to embarrassment and uncertainty with a word or in a moment—and, happily, vice versa.

Lovely, poignant, and with a unique perspective on themes of language, fitting in, and friendship that will resonate with all kids, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is a must for home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534110632

A Chat with Alexandra and Courtney

Hi Alexandra and Courtney! I’m thrilled to be part of your blog tour for your gorgeous book! Thanks so much for stopping by for a quick chat!

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Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University, as well as a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, where her poem “Inheritance” was a Finalist in the 2017 International Poetry Competition. She is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!(Albert Whitman, Oct. 2020) and Isabel and Her Colores Go to School(Sleeping Bear Press, 2021). 

You can connect with Alexandra Alessandri on her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

What is a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

My favorite summer memories are from the years I went to Colombia in the summer. We didn’t go every year because we couldn’t afford it, but the years we did go were always spent seeing family and cousins across several cities—Medellín, Manizales, Cali, Bogotá—and farms. Several family members had farms in different towns. Of those, one of my favorite memories is from the year my parents sent me to Colombia on my own to stay with family and close friends. I was nine.

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Alexandra in Colombia visiting family when she was nine years old.

 

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Alexandra riding horses in Colombia when she was nine years old.

There were many adventures that summer, but my favorite consisted of riding in the back of a jeep to my tío’s farm near Manizales, playing with cousins, riding horses to the edge of a forest, hiking down to a creek, and following that to a wonderful lagoon and waterfall. It was such a wonderful time!

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to have and why?

If I wasn’t a writer (or a teacher!), I would be a librarian. I still remember playing librarian as a kid with my dad’s old pencil mic. I would take my library books and “scan” the barcode with the mic, stacking them up and handing them off to my invisible guests. Libraries held a special place in my heart, as I spent many days there with my mom, looking through books, finding nooks in which to read, and participating in library events. Now, I love connecting readers with books and helping them find the right book to foster that same excitement I remember feeling as a child. Being a librarian would be a natural extension of this!

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Courtney Dawson is an illustrator with a great love for drawing, reading, and most kinds of ice cream. She lives with her family in Ventura, California. Picture books she has recently illustrated include Help Wanted, Must Love Books (Capstone, 2020), A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020), and The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space (Philomel Books, 2021).

You can connect with Courtney Dawson on her website | Instagram

What’s your favorite non-book summer activity?

Spending time with my two kids and my partner is my favorite summertime thing to do! We love riding bikes and having picnics at the park. My favorite alone time activity during the summer though, is drawing outdoors and listening to music.

Thanks, Alexandra and Courtney! I hope you both have a wonderful summer and I wish you all the best with Isabel and Her Colores Go to School!

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You can order signed copies of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School from Books and Books

 

You can find Isabel and Her Colores Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 29 – International Day of the Tropics

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About the Holiday

The International Day of the Tropics is a United Nations–sponsored holiday that celebrates the extraordinary diversity of the tropics while putting a spotlight on the unique challenges and opportunities the nations of the Tropics face. The Tropics are a region roughly defined as the area between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn and have in common a warm and typically unvaried seasonal temperature fluctuations and the prevalence of rain  determined by a region’s proximity to the equator. While it is projected that by 2050, the Tropics will be home to most of the world’s population and two-thirds of its children, the area faces challenges due to climate change, deforestation, logging, urbanization, and demographic shifts.  Today’s observance provides individuals, organizations, and governments an opportunity to take stock of progress across the tropics, to share stories and expertise, and to acknowledge the diversity and potential of the region. Today’s book tell the true story of one woman who is working to make a difference.

Thanks to Lee & Low Books for sending me a copy of Galápagos Girl/ Galápagueña for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own. 

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Angela Dominguez | Translated by Adriana Dominguez

 

On the day when baby Valentina joined Mamá, Papá, and eleven brothers and sisters, even the sea lions, blue-footed boobies, and iguanas seemed to welcome her to the “island formed by fire.” Valentina loved growing up on the Galápagos Island of Floreana. She explored the lava rocks, where Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttled back and forth. She swam with dolphins and manta rays, and even played with penguins.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

“Valentina watched pink flamingoes wading near mangroves. Blue butterflies fluttering on the breeze. Red-and-green iguanas sneezing salt like tiny geysers.” The crashing waves, albatross, and finches created a symphony as Valentina stopped to rest on a grassy cliff overlooking the ocean. The lava lizards, blue-footed boobies, and twirling sea lions provided young Valentina with a variety of dance partners.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

At home, Valentina’s family shared their home with two giant tortoises—Carlitos and Isabella. One day Papá told Valentina their story as they fed the tortoises plums that had fallen from their backyard trees. Papá had gotten Carlitos and Isabella from a friend when he first moved to Floreana. Although it was nearly impossible to imagine now that the tortoises were grown, at the time they were so small that they fit into Papá’s pockets.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

There was also a sad note to Papá’s story. He said that while giant tortoises still lived on other Galápagos islands, pirates and whalers had wiped out the population on Floreana. Papá went on to tell Valentina that many Galápagos animals were in danger. They were “threatened by other animals that don’t belong here. Threatened by people who don’t understand how to care for our islands.” Valentina promised that she would always protect them.

When she was older, Valentina left the island to go to school. She didn’t want to leave her beautiful home, but Mamá told her that she was “ready to learn about the world beyond.” And Papá reminded her that “like our islands, you have a heart full of fire.” On school vacations, Valentina always came back to study the wildlife on the Galápagos islands. She had not forgotten her promise to keep them safe.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

After she graduated with a degree in biology, Valentina returned to the islands as a nature guide to teach visitors about the beauty and uniqueness of the Galápagos. Some visitors were even lucky enough to meet Carlitos and Isabella when the plums dropped from the trees and the two old tortoises returned from exploring Floreana to eat them. Because of Valentina’s commitment to the Galápagos, her visitors also made a promise to always remember and protect them.

Extensive backmatter includes an Author’s Note about Valentina Cruz, the tortoises Carlitos and Isabella, and the history of tortoises on Floreana. There is also information on the Galápagos as well as fun facts about all of the animals in the story. A bibliography of sources invites readers to learn more.

Each two-page spread presents the text in English and translated into Spanish by Adriana Dominguez.

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Image copyright Angela Dominguez, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Lee & Low Books.

Marsha Diane Arnold’s lyrical and buoyant passages sing with the carefree joy Valentina felt as a girl exploring her beloved Galápagos and which brought her back home as a biologist to protect them. After seeing Valentina playing and swimming with the native animals and feeding Carlitos and Isabella, readers will also feel Valentina’s sadness at the dangers they face and want to make a positive difference to the environment and the world around them. Arnold’s dialogue-rich storytelling highlights the personal nature of the subject and will draw children into Valentina’s world.celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Galápagos-Girl-blue-footed-booby

Saturated with glorious color, each of Angela Dominguez’s illustrations is a celebration of the splendor of the Galápagos. Playful sea lions, high-stepping blue-footed boobies, scampering crabs, and even a sneezing iguana will captivate young readers and inspire them to learn more about these creatures and the islands. Images of Valentina camping out to study the animals during school breaks will excite environmentally conscious kids, and pictures of Carlitos and Isabella happily munching on plums will generate smiles and “awwws.”

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña will excite kids to learn more not only about the Galápagos region but about their own local environment, and the call to action will spark an enthusiasm for protecting the earth’s animals. The book would make an inspiring addition to home bookshelves and an excellent way to begin classroom discussions on environmental issues and science lessons. The engaging Spanish translation will delight Spanish-speaking and bilingual families.

Ages 4 – 8

Lee & Low Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0892394135

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website. You can also download activity sheets and teachers’ guides for most of her books here as well.

To learn more about Angela Dominguez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Welcome Marsha Diane Arnold

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In 2018, I was thrilled to talk with award-winning picture book author Marsha Diane Arnold about the backstory of Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña. Her interview, originally for National Wildlife Day, is just as timely today. Marsha was inspired to write this story after traveling to the Galápagos Islands, where she met Valentina Cruz and had the opportunity to swim with sea lions and dolphins.

Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning picture book author whose books have sold over one million copies. Her 21st book, Lights Out, was published in the fall of 2020. Arnold’s other books include Badger’s Perfect Garden, May I Come In? and Mine. Yours. Among Marsha’s honors are the Ridgeway Award for Best First Book, state Children’s Choice awards, IRA Distinguished Book, and Smithsonian Notable Book. Her bilingual book Galápagos Girl was selected as a 2019 Bank Street Best Books of the Year, a Campoy-Ada honor book, and a 2019 Green Prize in Sustainable Literature. The media has referred to her as, “a born storyteller.” Educators have called her a “true literary artist” whose books show “warmth and respect for one’s self.”  She lives with her family in Alva, Florida.

Thank you, Kathryn, for inviting me to celebrate Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña, along with conservation of wild places and animals!

As a child, would you have enjoyed swimming with sea lions? Feeding plums to giant tortoises by hand? Having warblers fly through your house? That was the life of Valentina Cruz. Galápagos Girl is based on her idyllic life on remote Floreana island in the Galápagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago west of Ecuador.

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My photos of actual blue-footed booby and Galápagos marine iguana.

Valentina grew up surrounded by nature, but perhaps more accurately, she grew up in nature. I think when a child grows up seeing wild wonders every day, they grow up respecting and protecting nature and wildlife. Valentina and her siblings certainly did. She grew up to be a biologist and naturalist guide. One brother, Eliecer Cruz, was director of the Galápagos National Park and, later, director of the Galápagos branch of the World Wildlife Fund. Another brother, Felipe, worked on many projects with the Charles Darwin Research Station, including studying the challenges that face the Galápagos petrel. Her sister, Marilyn, is director of Galápagos Biosecurity Agency, which helps control and prevent invasive species in the islands.

In some ways, Valentina’s childhood was similar to mine. She was surrounded by a loving family—her parents and eleven brothers and sisters. I only had one brother, but along with my parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, we gathered on many Sunday afternoons at my grandmother’s house. Valentina and I both delighted in nature, though hers was a more exotic nature—the distant Galápagos Islands, where Charles Darwin discovered those famous finches and came up with his theory of natural selection. Mine was a small farm on the Kansas plains—I didn’t see the ocean until I was an adult. Valentina had Galápagos tortoises as pets and swam with sea lions. (Of course, keeping tortoises as pets is not allowed today.) I played with my neighbor’s pet raccoon (also, not allowed today) and listened to the meadowlark’s song from the roof of my house.

Valentina loves nature, home, and family, but has the soul of an adventurer. I’m much the same. When I grew up I yearned to see as much of the world as possible. When my long-time traveling buddy, Jean Gallagher, asked me to travel with her to the Galápagos, one of my long-time dreams came true.

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The Galápagos Gang – fellow travelers to a far-off land. Jean is 3rd to right in front. I am 4th.

It was on that 2007 trip that I met Valentina, one of our naturalist guides. With her, we visited Floreana and saw the home where she grew up. I was enamored. I thought how wonderful a book about the islands and their unique wildlife, woven together with Valentina’s childhood, would be. Yet it wasn’t until April 2009 that I emailed Valentina and told her of my dream to write a picture book based on her life. Over months and years, Valentina generously shared her stories with me.

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Valentina showing us the lay of the land.

Valentina got her sense of adventure and love of nature from her father, Eliecer Cruz Cevallos, who first arrived in the Galápagos in 1939. He was one of only 100 people living in the Galápagos at that time!

Eliecer returned to Ecuador and married Valentina’s mother, Emma Bedon. She made him promise they would never live in the Galápagos. Who can blame her? They’d have almost no human neighbors! But in 1944, she changed her mind. Emma sailed to Floreana with Eliecer to build a life together. Valentina told me that even living in the wild, her mother taught her children “to keep all the rules of a city so we do not grow up wild.”

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Valentina and her father on Floreana

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Valentina, her mother, and her sister

Two Galápagos tortoises were a big part of Valentina’s childhood, so I had to include them in Galápagos Girl. Floreana tortoise had long been extinct (or so it was thought).  So when Eliecer moved to Floreana, his friend gave him young tortoises from other islands. Eventually, the family released the tortoises to roam free. One of the most exciting things that happened to Valentina as a child was seeing the tortoises return to their farm that first year after their release. The main reason was the tasty plums dropping from the trees. Every year after that, when the plums ripened, the family waited for the tortoises to return. They always did!

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An illustration of one of the family’s tortoises eating a plum treat by Angela Dominguez

The tortoise story changed several times during the writing of my book due to Valentina’s remembering more over time, checking facts with her family, and a discovery near Wolf Volcano on Isabela, another Galápagos Island. What’s in my book isn’t exactly the way things were, but it’s close to the real story. As Valentina wisely shared: “Each of us remember things in different ways. Our memory is like pictures of what impresses us in that specific moment, so everything can be true and everything can be fiction.”

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One of eleven species of Galápagos tortoise

Regarding the exciting discovery on Wolf Volcano, scientists recently found tortoises there that carry some of the Floreana tortoise genes! There is a project now to bring these tortoises back to Floreana. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have partial Floreana tortoises wandering freely, restoring the ecology of Floreana?

You may ask, “How did Floreana tortoises get on Isabela Island?” That’s one more fascinating question about the Galápagos. If I visit your school, you can ask me and I’ll share more.

Thanks so much, Marsha, for sharing the fascinating story behind Galápagos Girl / Galápagueña!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her Website | Earth’s Voices | Facebook

International Day of the Tropics Activity

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Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

 

There are so many fascinating animals that live in the Galápagos! Can you match the picture of each animal to its description in this printable Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle? You can find and download the activity sheet from the Lee & Low Books website:

Animals of the Galápagos Match Up Puzzle

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You can find Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 7 – Celebrating Our First Middle Grade Monday

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About the Holiday

I’m thrilled to welcome back Jakki Licare, who took time away from the blog to help her boys with virtual schooling. Jakki and I are also excited to tell you that on the first Monday of every month, Celebrate Picture Books will become Celebrate Middle Grade Books, with Jakki’s reviews of fantastic books for older kids. What does she have up first? A book that has it all – dragons, suspense, magic, and a new team of smart, brave, kind, and funny friends for readers to take adventures with. 

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of Dragon Mountain for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Review by Jakki Licare

Dragon Mountain 

By Katie and Kevin Tsang 

 

Synopsis

This synopsis contains spoilers

Billy Chang is dreading summer because his parents have shipped him off from his home in San Francisco to attend a summer camp in China so he can brush up on his Mandarin and “‘learn more about his Chinese heritage.'” But when he is paired with Dylan O’Donnell, Charlotte Bell, and Liu Ling-Fei for a scavenger hunt things start to look up. Determined to win, the kids take a shortcut – which they instantly regret when a tiger chases them. Unable to get away, the kids link hands and face off against the tiger together in front of a mountain. Incredibly, the tiger backs away and vanishes into thin air.

When they return back to camp, Ling-Fei realizes that she’s lost the necklace her grandmother gave her. The next morning the kids go back to search for Ling-Fei’s missing necklace. As they search the area, Billy realizes that they’ve lost something else – Ling-Fei! One by one the kids go missing, until Billy is all alone. Billy is convinced that something is pulling them into the mountain and he marches in to find his friends.

Deep within the mountain, he finds his friends trapped by a group of dragons. The dragons are glad that the children came because they’ve been waiting for the prophesized four to open it. The dragons explain that the mountain contains a special portal that connects the human and dragon realms together. These dragons are the portal guardians. An evil dragon, known as the Dragon of Death, tried to come through the portal thousands of years ago to maximize its powers by bonding with a human. The guardians fought to keep the Dragon of Death out, but they were unable to defeat the Dragon of Death so they sent her through a time portal. As they sent her back, she cast a spell that sealed the guardians in the mountain until they met their human matches. 

One of the dragons has the ability to see into the future, and she has seen the Dragon of Death coming back and enslaving the human realm. The kids want to protect their world and agree to bond with the dragons. The kids bond with their dragons by naming them. Once they’re bonded, the dragons are stronger in ability as well as size. Three of the dragons have magical pearls that will give the kids super powers: Charlotte receives super strength, Ling-Fei can sense nature, and Dylan has the power of persuasion. Billy’s dragon doesn’t have a pearl, but they know the fourth pearl is close. Billy realizes he has seen it at the summer camp. 

The kids head back to camp and break into the owner’s office that night. Billy finds the pearl on top of a bookshelf. When he grabs it, he loses his balance and does a perfect backwards flip. Billy now has agility superpowers. Now that they have the pearls and are bonded, the children are ready for the dragon realm. But the dragons find the entrance is still barred to them by the curse. The kids have to go through on their own to open the entrance for the dragons. The tiger that chased them earlier is waiting for them and is the keeper of the curse. The tiger attacks them with electric bolts and Billy distracts it. Using her powers, Ling-Fei learns that they must destroy the tiger’s heart. Charlotte uses her super strength and rips the tiger’s heart out.  

Now they can enter the Dragon Realm with their dragons, but they find that the entire dragon Realm is poisoned. The dragons then have to fight off the the Dragon of Death’s helpers, Noxwings, and soon the dragons are captured. With the help of Billy’s dragon, though, the kids are able to get away. The kids travel through the dragon realm on their own and have many adventures in which they must use their powers and wit to help them survive this dangerous land.

They finally reach the Nowxing’s camp and find hundreds of cages filled with captured dragons. The Noxwings are opening a portal to bring back the Dragon of Death by draining the dragons of their energy. The kids learn that if they destroy the floating flames that surround the portal, the cages will open and the portal will close. The kids work together and destroy the flames, but Billy is attacked. He’s about to be killed when his dragon swoops in and saves him.

They’re winning the battle and the portal is almost closed when the summer camp’s owner appears out of the forest. He grabs Dylan and heads toward the portal. He created the whole summer camp just to find the children he needed to open the dragon realm. The owner is determined to bring back the Dragon of Death. He jumps through, pulling Dylan with him. The kids are determined to get their friend back and all the freed dragons swear to help them. The kids and their dragons will travel through time to save Dylan and defeat the Dragon of Death.

Review

 

This fast-paced book will be sure to keep your middle grader’s attention. The writing is very immersive and you’re soon off on one adventure after another. Perfect for 8-12 year olds who love dragons and are looking for fun characters that you can’t help rooting for. Katie and Kevin Tsang’s dragons were inspired by both Chinese and European folklore and they even blended two of the dragons to create hybrids of both cultures. They also drew inspiration from the Chinese symbols of the Eight Great Treasures to create the eight pearls in Dragon Mountain which give the kids their superpowers. 

My favorite part of this book was how the characters work through their problems together. All of the characters are incredibly different and often their personalities clash, but they’re able to talk through their troubles together. After the children are separated from their dragons in the Dragon Realm, Charlotte is angry with Billy for running away. The group falls apart as they can’t agree on what to do. But after talking it through they’re able to come up with the beginnings of a plan that they can all agree with. This is one example of how the Tsangs do an amazing job of focusing on the intricacies of team work and thread it through the plot of the story. 

Billy Chang, the main character, is a surfing champ who is also good at keeping his head in stressful situations. Dylan O’Donnell is friendly, funny, and very cautious. Charlotte Bell is competitive, motivated, and smart. And Liu Ling-Fei is sweet, quiet, and generous. When the dragons are introduced, we learn that each child is destined to bond with a dragon. My kids and I loved guessing who was going to be matched with who. Some of the bonds were surprising.

My seven year old especially loved the dragons in this book. They start off as menacing and scary but, just like Billy and his friends, we soon learn to trust them. Each dragon’s personality is as unique as those of the kids, and they each carry their own powers that we learn about along the way.  I’m looking forward to the second book so we can spend more time with the dragons!

There are two distinct story worlds. The first part of the story takes place in a Chinese mountain. We get a very brief introduction to the summer camp before we are swept into the mountain. The other half of the book is spent in the dragon realm which is full of floating islands and has three moons and a mysterious red dome. The dragon realm’s barren world accurately reflects the danger the kids are in and increases the reader’s anxiety. As the kids try to maneuver through this foreign terrain, they come across many new and unexpected dangers. My son’s favorite part is when the kids have to bargain with a rock troll.

Dragon Mountain is a fast-paced, immersive adventure book that’s perfect for dragon lovers of all ages especially fans of How to Train Your Dragon and will make a great addition to class libraries as well personal libraries.

Parental Considerations: This book does contain fantasy fighting.

Ages 8 – 12

Grade Level 3 – 7 | AR Level: 4.8

Sterling Children’s Books 2020 | ISBN 978-1454935964

You can learn more about Katie & Kevin Tsang, their Dragon Realm series, and their Sam Wu Is Not Afraid series on their website.

Adventure into the Dragon Realm with this book trailer!

celebrate-picture-books-middle-grade-review-dragon-mountain-cover

You can find Dragon Mountain at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review