Tag Archives: non-fiction

Don’t Dangle Your Participle

1 Apr

Today’s book review is for Don’t Dangle Your Participle, written by Vanita Oelschlager, illustrated by Mike Desantis, published by Vanita Books. It is scheduled to be released on May 1, 2014. I recevied an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Don't Dangle Your Participle book cover

“What on earth is a participle and how does it dangle?” That’s the opening question in one of the most entertaining grammar guides I’ve encountered. With clear explanations and amusingly illustrated examples, Don’t Dangle Your Participle helps to demystify a sometimes confusing topic.

Oelschlager begins by laying out a brief grammar lesson for her readers. Her relaxed conversational tone, complete with colloquial language makes the subject accessible to children. It’s a pleasant departure from the traditionally dry language of English textbooks. Oelschlager recognizes that if we want young people to learn, we need to be able to address them in their own language.

The rest of the book is a series of examples. First we are shown an incorrectly formed sentence, then on the following page the corrected form. But what makes it so effective are the clever illustrations of Mike Desantis. The pages with the incorrect sentences will have you laughing. From skateboarding deer to gluttonous cakes on the run, he helps students to see the problems that arise from dangling participles. His ink and watercolor cartoons are lively and engaging.

This is the sort of book that deserves to be in classrooms and on homeschool shelves. It makes a traditionally dull subject amusing and engaging. More than that, though, Oelschlager demonstrates an understanding of how children best learn–not just by rote, but by engaging multiple senses. A solid educational resource, Don’t Dangle Your Participle earns 5 out of 5 stars for its laugh-while-you-learn approach.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Not My Girl

29 Jan

Today’s review is for Not My Girl, written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, published by Annick Press. It is scheduled for release on February 18, 2014. I received a free electronic copy of the book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Not My Girl book cover

In this beautiful picture book memoir, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton recounts her return to her family after spending two years at a Canadian residential school. When Margaret steps off the boat to return to her village, her mother uses her limited English to declare “Not my girl.” This is the beginning of Margaret’s journey of re-integrating to her familial culture after two years of assimilation. She finds that she has forgotten most of her language and fumbles at chores that used to be easy. Even her father’s sled dogs, with whom she used to share affection, treat her as an outsider. This is a moving story that opens a window to a troubling period of history. However, its uplifting ending will reassure children that no matter how much they grow and change–they can always return to the love of their family.

Although I had heard about residential schools for First Nations children, this was my first time actually reading about their impacts. While it seems that the staff at the school treated Margaret with kindness, her narrative reveals that they still caused unintended harm to many children. The pain of facing rejection by their families after returning as outsiders must have left psychological scars. I am thankful that she chose to share her story, thus giving younger generations the chance to learn about a piece of history that seems not to be discussed very often.

The writing has a plainness and clarity to it, which is punctuated by moments of poetic imagery. It’s a style that works well. The narrative voice captures the emotional tone of a 10-year old girl, overlaid with the reflections of a grown woman. Children should be able to connect with the voice of the child, while parents will appreciate the perspective of revisiting the past.

Grimard’s soft illustrations provide a beautiful complement to the story. The abundance of orange-tinted light in her pictures perfectly captures the feeling of Arctic winter, where the sun is always low on the horizon. At the same time it also creates a sensation of familial warmth. Most of all, I loved how deeply expressive the characters were. Every face evoked a strong emotional response. Whenever she drew Margaret as a sad young girl, I felt an ache in my heart. I love when an artist is able to elicit such a reaction.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’m giving it a full 5 stars for being such a powerful and moving work. It provides abundant opportunity to talk with children about history, Inuit culture, assimilation programs, geography, and family dynamics. The book is targeted to readers in grades 1-4, although I think it could be enjoyed by a much wider audience.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Mommy and Me Start Cooking

20 Jan

Today’s book review is for Mommy and Me Start Cooking from Dorling Kindersley. I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

Mommy and Me Start Cooking book cover

Mommy and Me Start Cooking is a wonderful first cookbook for school aged children. In addition to introducing children to basic cooking techniques, it also includes detailed information on a number of ingredients. The bold design and use of infographics make for a book that is sure to engage children and get them excited about being in the kitchen.

The first thing that I noticed about this book was the great design. It’s quite visually appealing. Text is presented in fun, kid-friendly fonts that are still easy to read. Illustrations combine elements from photography, clipart and traditional illustration to create a lively visual environment. Most of all, though, I was drawn to the infographics. Infographics such as charts and diagrams make it easier for kids to process new information. Instructions are provided in text, with accompanying photos so children can understand the actions described. There are even warning triangles to indicate steps that should be done either by an adult, or under adult supervision. I was really impressed by how thoughtful the designers were in putting the book together.

The recipes cover all three meals of the day, as well as snacks and desserts. I appreciated the range provided. As a vegetarian, I also appreciated that efforts were made to suggest alternatives to meat in some of the recipes. I was most intrigued by the recipes for star cookies, blueberry sponge, and pea houmous. The star cookies incorporate ginger and orange zest to make them special. Using peas to make houmous was a novel and appealing idea. My only real complaint about the recipes is that I wish they incorporated more vegetables. Getting children to eat vegetables can be a challenge for some parents–but I think if they were encouraged to help in their preparation it might help.

This cookbook offers ample opportunities for teaching moments. There are asides about various ingredients that explain where they come from, how they are harvested, etc. Measuring ingredients for the recipes helps kids develop math skills. For an extra challenge, you could figure out how to double a recipe to serve more people. After observing how ingredients combine and transform, children could read about different aspects of food chemistry. A child interested in geography could research where various crops originated. Or you can simply enjoy learning the basic life skills of food preparation, and enjoy consuming the fruits of your labor.

Mommy and Me Start Cooking is sure to engage children and teach them to appreciate home-cooked food. With great design, fun variety, and age-appropriate content, this book earns 4 stars. And the recipes are simple enough that even parents who lack culinary savvy should be able to execute the recipes with their kids.

You can find more information about this book on Goodreads.

It’s a Feudal, Feudal World

20 Nov

Today’s book review is for It’s a Feudal, Feudal World: A Different Medieval History, written by Stephen Shapiro, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, published by Annick Press. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

It's a Feudal, Feudal World book cover

It’s a Feudal, Feudal World is an innovative book that explores medieval history through infographics, cartoons, and lively text. It covers a wide range of topics, from life expectancy to siege methods. Throughout it makes a point to emphasize the contributions of both women and men, and to highlight the intercultural influences on the period. As a bit of a medievalist myself, I was thrilled to see how much detail was fit into such a short volume.

Shapiro clearly knows his material. Each page is filled with information to stimulate and engage young minds. It’s hard to find history dull, as presented by the author. That’s because all of the information is accompanied by jokes and bits of humor. The reason he’s able to include so much information is because rather than get bogged down in explanations of everything, he opts to use infographics to convey important data and ideas. After all, why read a description of a Viking longship when you can look at a diagram instead?

There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’d say that in this case, it’s absolutely true. Kinnaird’s illustrations give life to this history. His cartoons grabbed me from the beginning and made me want to keep reading. They also helped me to understand concepts, such as how mills could be powered by various sources. And I loved the image of the librarian chained to his books–maybe because I could relate a little.

The book also contains a glossary, selected bibliography, and index to enhance the ways students are able to engage with the book. It has a great design and format.

I think this would make a great addition to a classroom or library that serves grades 4-7. It’s the sort of book that I wish had been around when I was growing up. It looks deceptively simple–it’s mostly pictures, and many of those are cartoons. However, anyone who reads it is sure to come away knowing far more than when they began. I’m giving it 5 out of 5 stars. It’s always nice when a book is able to successfully combine education and entertainment.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: The Solar System Through Infographics

28 Oct

Today’s book review is for The Solar System Through Infographics, written by Nadia Higgins, illustrated by Lisa Waananen, published by Lerner Publishing Group. It is scheduled to be released on friday, November 1, 2013. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing that I want to say about this book is that the title is a bit misleading. It would be more appropriately titled “Astronomy Through Infographics”, since it covers a lot of astronomical phenomena that are not found within our solar system. That said, it’s an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in learning more about astronomy.

Higgins presents the sometimes overwhelming subject of astronomy in language that is accessible and easy to understand. She uses a congenial, relaxed tone to engage her readers and make science cool, rather than intimidating. The information presented was in accordance with what I learned in my astrophysics class at university, so I’d also say that she seems to have done well at presenting accurate information to her audience, as well. The one area where I think she could have done a better job was in distinguishing between weight and mass in the text–particularly because there is a table of weights on different planets in pounds and kilograms–where the SI unit should be Newtons. That said, it’s not a major issue.

It’s Waananen’s graphics that really make the book, though. Her vector art style and bold color choices are eye-catching. And her infographics illustrate important concepts and ideas through timelines, flow charts, tables, graphs, and more. Besides helping kids to understand astronomy better, these graphics also introduce them to various tools that they can use to communicate ideas to others. In this way, the book pulls double duty on the educational value front.

What I love most is the overall design. Before I had even gotten past the front matter I was thinking “this is a cool book!” It’s hip and on-trend. Rather than presenting information linearly, the book is set up so that you can jump around. Information appears in small chunks that can be easily digested before young minds get distracted. By using multiple typefaces, readers can distinguish different types of information on the page, as well. At the end, the book includes a glossary, index, and suggestions for further information (books and websites)–making it not just pretty, but also functional.

Whether you have a child who is fascinated by astronomy or one who is science-phobic, this book is a great choice to nurture an interest in the subject. I think it’s a 5 out of 5 star book–it’s educational, it’s visually appealing, it’s functional, and it engages a variety of learning styles. It would make a great tool in the classroom and an excellent resource for a library.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Feel Confident!

13 Oct

Today’s book review is for Feel Confident!, written by Cheri J. Meiners, illustrated by Elizabeth Allen, published by Free Spirit Publishing. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Feel Confident! book cover

Feel Confident! is another installment in the “Being the Best Me!” series. I previously reviewed Be Positive!, which is part of the same series. The series is intended to help children learn character development skills. In this volume, they are guided through building self-confidence.

The text is once again written as a series of first person affirmations. Although this is a picture book, it’s not a story, so much as it’s a self-improvement guide where the advice unfolds over the course of a fictional day. While these “I” statements might feel a little silly to cynical adults, I think they’re much more effective with the target audience of pre-school and early elementary aged children. One thing that bothered me in this volume was the assumption that all children are able-bodied. One of the pages talks about celebrating all that that “my body can do” and then goes on to mention jumping, dancing and running–which are activities that many who use wheelchairs cannot do. While I understand that books aren’t always sensitive to these situations, I had expectations that this one would be, given that it is sensitive to so many other issues.

The illustrations are, once again, pleasant but generic. Children will probably enjoy them though, and connect with the characters depicted on the page. Allen provides thoughtful examples to compliment the text on the page.

The book also includes four pages of extension activities at the end, so that caregivers and educators can reinforce the ideas expressed in the main text. There are discussion questions, vocabulary lists, activities and games to explore.

I’m giving this book 3 out of 5 stars, which is one star less than the volume I previously reviewed. Why? Well, probably if I’d read them in reverse, the ratings would be reversed. The thing is, they just felt too similar to me. Many of the affirmations in Be Positive! could have been used in Feel Confident!, and vice versa. I can’t even fully remember in which of the books some of them did actually appear. They just sort of blend together into one larger book to me. Still, the book provides a good message and would be a great resource in the classroom to encourage character development.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Animal Motions

10 Oct

Today’s book review is for Animal Motions, written by Melissa Pilgrim, illustrated by Ira V. Graves, published by Indigo River Publishing. I received a copy of this book from the author, through the First Reads giveaway program on Goodreads, with the understanding that I would provide an honest review.

Animal Motions book cover

Animal Motions is a book designed to teach children an easy, low-impact movement routine, while at the same time encouraging them to use their imaginations. It was developed from a theater exercise that author, Melissa Pilgrim, used when she worked with kids at a theater in Chicago. Easy to execute in small spaces, children are asked to follow along with a boy named Eric as he pretends to be 17 different animals. By connecting each stretch and movement with animals, children will be able to easily remember how to perform each stretch and movement.

Pilgrim’s first person prose, told from the point of view of little boy Eric, does the job of leading children through the routine. However, sometimes the phrasing that she used felt a little awkward to me–particularly when considering her target audience. The first thing that threw me was the use of the word “mimicking;” while I have no problem with exposing children to new vocabulary, it seems that doing so in the context of a movement exercise might not be the optimal approach. Because the book was adapted from a theater exercise, the book was full of run-on sentences. They’re a natural part of spoken language, but on the page they can be distracting.

My biggest issue, though, was with Gates’s illustrations. Determining the quality of illustration, as with any art form, is a highly subjective matter. That said, I found the illustrations in this book really tacky. So tacky, in fact, that I had to re-read the book a few times to overcome the negative impression they gave me. They reminded me of the low-budget freebie books I got as a child in the 1980s. The cheesy expressions on the animals and the incredibly dated image of the family at the end were bad, but the worst part were the garish and excessive yellow highlights used throughout. There were some nice ideas behind the illustrations, but the execution left so much to be desired.

The book does, however, still have educational merit, which is why I ultimately gave it 3 out of 5 stars. As a picture book, I’d rate it lower–but I decided to instead evaluate it as an educational resource. And on that front, it does a great job. Parents and teachers who purchase the book are directed to the book’s website: animalmotions.com, where there are 6 free lesson plans available. The lesson plans are targeted to children ages 3-6 and cover subject areas of health & fitness, drama, and combined biology & geography. There is also a mini-poster that can be printed out for children to cover. It could be utilized in classrooms, camps, daycares or home-school environments.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: Be Positive!

3 Oct

Today’s book review is for Be Positive!, written by Cheri J. Meiners, illustrated by Elizabeth Allen, published by Free Spirit Publishing. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Be Positive! is a part of the “Being the Best Me!” series, a collection of books created to help with character development in young children. This volume helps children to understand that they can choose to cultivate a positive attitude about life. By thinking and acting in optimistic ways, children are more likely to feel good about themselves and their lives.

Meiners writes the book primarily as a series of first person affirmations. Initially I was a little uncertain about the style. It reminded me a bit too much of Stuart Smalley. But then I remembered that I’m not the target audience for this book–and I think that for pre-school and early elementary-aged kids, the positive “I” statements are probably a great thing. Although the story follows the main character throughout the course of a day, there is no real story to the book, no plot.

Allen’s illustrations are generic but pleasant. They’re rendered in a soft, fuzzy cartoon style that is fairly popular in books for this age group. I do appreciate that they depict a diversity of people on the pages. The images that are depicted are well-chosen. Each one provides an example of how a child might apply the affirmations expressed in the text.

The book also includes four pages of extension activities at the end, so that caregivers and educators can reinforce the ideas expressed in the main text. There are discussion questions, vocabulary lists, activities and games to explore.

When I first read Be Positive! I felt a bit ambivalent about it, because I was reading it in the way that I usually read picture books. Once I shifted my mind-set from that of reading a story to one of reading a self-improvement guide, though, I liked it much better. Sometimes it’s important to remember that books serve a variety of purposes–even children’s books! With that in mind, it gets 4 out of 5 stars. I would especially recommend it to parents or educators who want to encourage strong character development in children.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe

25 Sep

Today’s book review is for Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe, by Sheryl and Simon Shapiro, published by Annick Press Ltd. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe is a companion book to Ladybugs Have Lots of Spots, which I reviewed last week. This book uses the same sort of rhyming text and colorful stock images to convey its ideas.

I’m sure that the colorful stock images will appeal to children. They a brightly colored and crisp. Many feature young children engaged in play. The book design, however, doesn’t seem as professional as its sister volume. There’s not much variety in the page layouts and the amateur blurring effect is used more liberally. And once again, we’ve got playful, but generic, text.

Worst of all, the concept for this book was a bit muddled to me. For most of the book, it seems that we are exploring squares. I was puzzled, because the title suggested that we would be exploring stripes–but then, just before the end, we got to the stripes. At this point, I wasn’t entirely clear about why squares and stripes were thematically similar. I mean, squares are composed of lines, just as stripes are… but so are triangles, hexagons, rectangles, diamonds, octagons and more.

Unfortunately, Zebra Stripes Go Head to Toe earns 1 out of 5 stars. Above all, a concept book should illustrate a clearly identifiable concept. All other aspects aside, this book fails to meet even that most basic criteria. I’m sure the authors had an idea of what they were trying to accomplish, but it didn’t come through in their work.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

Book Review: Young Chicken Farmers

21 Sep

Today’s book review is for Young Chicken Farmers: Tips for Kids Raising Backyard Chickens, by Vickie Black, published by Beavers Pond Press. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

To begin with, I should disclose that I love chickens. I’m not entirely sure when or how this love originated–but it’s there and it’s strong. If I had the space and resources, I would love to be a backyard chicken farmer myself. In the event that day eventually comes, I definitely want to have a copy of this book on hand.

Although it’s targeted to children, I found Young Chicken Farmers to be incredibly informative. Black has a wonderful writing style that manages to pack a lot of terminology, facts, and information into this short volume–but without being dry or boring. Instead she includes bullet lists, numbered lists, labeled pictures, and asides to make a truly engaging book.

The book itself is colorful and fun. All of the photos were taken by Black, and many are images of her own children practicing the skills described on the page. I love how vibrant the pictures are–strong colors, crisp detail, great lighting.

All of these elements are brought together an a masterfully executed design. Some photos are arranged on the page in a small collage, with multiple typefaces used to differentiate the asides and lists from the primary text. Backgrounds are strongly colored and visually appealing. Small details like arrows, outlines, and geometric accents make the book pop.

If you know a child (or adult, for that matter!) who is interested in chickens, this book would make a great gift. It’s certainly a book that I’d like for my own daughter’s shelf.

Unsurprisingly, I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It’s awesome. There’s plenty of information here to satisfy even the merely curious. The author even makes a point of explaining to children how to ensure their chickens are mentally healthy as well as physically healthy. Now, will someone go buy me this book, please?

You can find more information about this title, including other reviews, at Goodreads.