Tag Archives: self-improvement

Little Monkey Calms Down

3 Jan

Today’s book review is for Little Monkey Calms Down, written by Michael Dahl, illustrated by Oriol Vidal, published by Picture Window Books (an imprint of Capstone Young Readers). It is scheduled to be released on February 1, 2014. I received an advance electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Little Monkey Calms Down book cover

Little Monkey Calms Down is a board book for children ages 2-4. Little Monkey has a meltdown when his day isn’t going as planned. However with some soothing words and useful coping strategies, Little Monkey is able to calm down and enjoy the rest of his day. This book teaches toddlers how to express and manage their emotions, which is an important skill.

Dahl’s writing is simple, clear, and age appropriate. He uses plain language that helps children to focus on the key ideas of the text, rather than getting bogged down in unfamiliar word choices. I appreciated that he emphasized that you can feel more than one emotion at the same time, such as sad and mad (although, I was puzzled by the inclusion of angry, being that mad and angry are usually used synonymously). Most importantly, though, he reassures kids that it is okay to cry–while also offering them techniques to calm themselves.

Vidal’s illustrations are bold and colorful. Every page has a flat background of saturated color that draws the eye. And his rendering of the monkeys is wonderful. Little Monkey displays a wide range of emotion, illustrated so that even the youngest children can read the visual cues and understand how he is feeling. Vidal works in a style that I also think will appeal to toddlers–one that is cute and lively.

This is an excellent choice for parents who want to encourage emotional awareness in their children. Learning how to regulate their emotions is an important developmental milestone for children–and it’s not something that they can do on their own. They need adults to guide them and provide them resources. At the same time, sometimes we parents also need resources to help guide us. Little Monkey Calms Down is a great solution–it provides children an opportunity to learn and parents a place to start dialogue. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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


The Weird! Series

22 Oct

Today’s book review is for all three books in the Weird! series: Weird!, Dare!, and Tough!, written by Erin Frankel, illustrated by Paula Heaphy, published by Free Spirit Publishing. I received electronic copies of these books from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. I am also pleased to announce that I was invited to participate in the blog tour for this series, which was scheduled to coincide with Bullying Prevention Month. So, keep reading after the review for a special guest post from author Erin Frankel!

Weird! book coverDare! book coverTough! book cover

The Weird! series tells the story of bullying from three different perspectives: Luisa, the victim, narrates Weird!, Jayla, the bystander, in Dare!, and Sam, the bully, in Tough!. Each of the third grade girls struggles to understand her identity and how to express it. However, when they find a supportive and encouraging adult to help them, each girl is able to overcome her problems and grow into a better person.

Bullying has long been a problem in schools, which means it has also inspired a multitude of books on the subject. In that sea of literature, Frankel’s voice is a breath of fresh air. She is able to get inside the heads of each girl and narrates in voices that feel fresh, honest, and real. At the same time, she doesn’t sacrifice literary style–the language is thoughtful and has a natural, easy flow. I was also impressed that each of her main characters are cool and likable in their own way–there are no pathetic outcast whiners or giant ignorant oafs in these books, just three girls with vibrant personalities. And it was great to see that the girls were guided through their issues by competent adults. Too many books leave children to figure out problems on their own, but Frankel recognizes that bullying can be complicated, and sometimes kids need help solving big problems.

To make things even better, the series has gorgeous illustration. There’s no bland, generic stock illustration here. Instead, Heaphy’s pictures are graphic and hip. She has an excellent eye for design. She uses repeating patterns and motifs throughout each book to create a sense of mood and identity. I also loved the way that she applies color sparingly–being unafraid to leave most of the page in black and white. Her images bring the books to life and provide a sense of unity between the three stories.

At the end of each book there are a series of discussion points and activities to use with children in the classroom, or at home. They provide great opportunities for extension projects and are a great resource for busy teachers. For me, these final touches also reveal just how much thought went into crafting these books. While they are engaging stories on their own, they are also great teaching tools. For everything from design to thoughtful story telling, these books earn 5 out of 5 stars.

You can find more information about these books, including other reviews, at Goodreads.


Helping Kids Stop Bullying
Tips for Using the Weird Series in the Classroom

By Erin Frankel

When I wrote the Weird series, I knew it was important to bring the role of the caring adult into the spotlight. It is a role too often left out of picture books on bullying in which child characters are left to find solutions on their own. The reality is that most children will need help when it comes to putting an end to bullying, and they will turn to the adults in their lives to help guide and support them.

Each of the three books in the Weird series, Weird!, Dare!, and Tough!, shows main characters as well as peripheral characters interacting with adults who support and help them in finding solutions to bullying. Placing adults in the books was a leap of faith. I had to believe that if a child reading these books had the courage to reach out to adults about bullying, those adults would respond with compassion and commitment.

When it comes to bullying, teachers, parents, and other caregivers need to be willing and prepared to help. It is my hope that the additional discussion questions, activities, and suggestions outlined in our free leader’s guide (available online here) will help foster a caring community of learners in your classroom, school, and community.

The three books in the Weird series can be read in any order. You may choose to start with Weird!, told from the target’s perspective; Dare!, told from the bystander’s perspective; or Tough!, told from the perspective of the child initiating the bullying. Each book is packed with opportunities for discussion and reflection. I like to begin with Weird!, told from the target’s perspective, because it sets the stage for a powerful question: How did Luisa get back to being herself? No matter which book you choose to start with, I suggest taking your time with each, rather than trying to race through all three books in one reading. There are many ways to integrate the Weird series into your classroom schedule and curriculum. Some ideas include using the series:

  • at the beginning of the school year when working with students to define what will make your classroom a caring community.
  • as a lead-in to National Bullying Prevention Month, No Name-Calling Week, or other national or local anti-bullying initiatives.
  • during character education units on courage, compassion, empathy, kindness, truthfulness, fairness, confidence, self-respect, or tolerance (just to mention a few).
  • when specific instances of bullying have occurred in your classroom or school. Note: Take care not to name participants or single out students.
  • as a reminder throughout the year to choose kindness.

However you use the books, consider revisiting the characters and their challenges throughout the school year to discuss the choices they made. If students have forgotten details, it is often nice to go back and read the books again.

For further ideas about how to use the Weird series in your classroom or community, follow us online at www.theweirdseries.com.

Erin Frankel is the author of Weird!, Dare!, and Tough!, an acclaimed picture book series on bullying from Free Spirit Publishing.

Adapted from A Leader’s Guide to the Weird Series by Erin Frankel, illustrated by Paula Heaphy, copyright © 2013. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.

Many thanks to the author and publisher for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. Also, apologies for the late post–technical difficulties and an injury conspired against me, but I persevered.

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.

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.