A Fantastic Non-Fiction Series for Readers

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to review Kid Artists… by David Stabler. I was so excited to find a captivating non-fiction chapter book for upper elementary and middle school aged readers. I was even more delighted to learn that there were more books in the series which includes Kid Presidents* and Kid Athletes*. 

Each book features true tales from a famous person’s childhood making it easy for readers to relate to them and deeply humanizing these important figures who would go on to become famous athletes of presidents. Readers do not need to know much about the person before reading the chapters. Instead of being grouped chronologically, they are grouped by a theme that connects them.

For example, read about Barack Obama’s experience being the new kid in town. He left his home in Hawaii as a young boy to live in Indonesia with his family. There he had a pet gibbon, a type of ape, that ate peanuts from his hand. As a kid, he had to adjust to many changes living in his new home in Indonesia and he faced a significant amount of bullying for looking different and not speaking the language. The chapter teaches about overcoming obstacles, standing up for yourself and encourages kids to become resilient.

  Though I am not a huge sports enthusiast, there are certain times that I am absolutely captivated by sports, including the Summer Olympics. I have a big fan of gymnastics and always amazed by the focus and dedication of the youngest athletes to their sport and art. Kid Athletes is perfect for readers who love sports and for those who have specific athletes they admire. I was obviously drawn to the chapter about Gabby Douglass, the first African American gymnast to win an individual all-around gold medal during the 2012 Olympics.

Her chapter is featured in the section of the book called Family Matters, which explores the important role family played in the childhoods of a group of athletes. As a young child, Gabby demonstrated an early aptitude for gymnastics which led to her joining a gymnastics gym with rigorous instruction and training. Here she encountered bullying due to discrimination and faced many racist remarks from her peers.

Gabby struggled to keep this to herself and it ended up impacting her performances. Meanwhile, her coaches accepted mediocrity at best from her and did not push her to excel in the way that she was fully capable. When she finally was able to connect with a coach who believed in her, she gained the courage to stand up for herself and her gymnastics career skyrocketed.

Each chapter of David Stabler’s books is carefully crafted in a way that is engaging and informative. Each has an important lesson that the readers can take away and apply to his or her own life. Doogie Horner’s illustrations add an element of comedy and help the reader envision what is happening in the text. The partnership between author and illustrator is perfect and I can’t wait to see what else this series has in store!

Click here to purchase a copy of Kid Presidents and Kid Athletes (affiliate links).

*I received complimentary copies of these books in exchange for my honest review.

 

Easter Board Books

Holiday themed picture books are so much fun. It’s our first round of holidays with our little one and I’m still trying to figure out how we will navigate holiday books as part of our own home library collection. Leave them out throughout the year or bring them out as each holiday nears? I’d love to hear how you handle this in your school or home collections!

Somehow spring snuck up on me this year. Maybe it’s the 10-month old and having just gone back to work full time, but Easter is right around the corner. My little one is loving these two board books right now!

In Happy Easter, Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, join the pout-pout fish dressed up as a bunny and his underwater creature friends as they hide and find easter eggs in unexpected places. This is a fun, captivating read for babies and toddlers alike.

Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching by Laura Gehl is a hilarious book. Peep can’t wait for Egg to hatch so that they can begin their many fun adventures today. But Egg is not having it. He’s too scared to make an appearance. Nothing Peep says will convince him to hatch. Young readers will laugh along as Peep tries to coax Egg out of his shell. Will Egg finally take a chance and hatch? Joyce Wan’s illustrations are bold, colorful and add to the comedy of each page.   

Click here to purchase a copy of Happy Easter, Pout-Pout Fish and Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching (affiliate links).

 

 

Entertaining Easter Reads

   Here Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood is a hilarious Easter read. It accurately portrays the personality of many cats. Claudia Rueda’s illustrations add an extra layer of comedic value, making this book a must have for any cat-loving family.

Cat sees a poster announcing that the Easter Bunny is coming soon and it upsets him. The narrator tries to reason with Cat, explaining that the Easter Bunny’s job is a hard one and not just anyone can take his place, but Cat cannot help but feel jealous and angry. The narrator invites him to be the Easter Cat and bring nice things to children everywhere as well. See his response for yourself!

Yes, that’s a hairball!

As the story continues, Cat comes up with unconventional ways to one up the Easter Bunny every step of the way on his journey to becoming the Easter Cat. The ending to this adorable story is unexpected and thoughtful.

Here Comes the Easter Cat is a must-have if you are looking for a fun-filled Easter-themed picture book. Click here to purchase a copy of this book (affiliate link).

Another fantastic Easter picture book is Chester’s Colorful Easter Eggs by Theresa Smythe. Chester the bunny is eager to decorate Easter eggs and hide them for his friends. He carefully dyes and designs each egg a special color and finds the perfect hiding spot. This book is perfect for young readers learning colors to reinforce names. It’s also great for looking at the bright and bold illustrations and naming familiar objects and creatures.

Chester’s Colorful Easter Eggs is a simple yet fantastic book about friendship and making meaningful memories.

Click here to purchase a copy of Chester’s Colorful Easter Eggs (affiliate link).

 

Lucky Lazlo?

Steve Light’s delightful Lucky Lazlo is an energetically fun picture book about a romance gone terribly wrong. Lazlo is on his way to see his love perform in Alice in Wonderland. He purchases the last red rose from the flower seller and he’s on his way to the theater. A mischievous cat lurks in the corner eyeing both Lazlo and the flower.

The cat stalks Lazlo and when the opportunity presents itself it snatches the rose away from him. A chase ensues as Lazlo follow the cat into the theater, backstage, through the orchestra creating chaos and destruction everywhere. Will Lazlo rescue the flower in time to present it to his Alice?

Readers will enjoy meeting the characters from Alice in Wonderland as the characters prepare for the performance. They will see the various aspects of putting on a play, from costume design to props. Not to mention, Steve Light includes a list of theatrical superstitions and invites the reader to find them within the illustrations in a “Where’s Waldo?” style hidden picture hunt.

The pen-and-ink illustrations are captivating and capture the tiniest of details. Primarily black and white, color is used to draw attention to the most important parts of each scene.

Lucky Lazlo is the perfect picture book for kids ages 3-7. Younger readers will enjoy the plot and the pacing of the story. Older readers will enjoy examining the illustrations for details and learning about the different theatrical superstitions.

Click here to purchase a copy of Lucky Lazlo (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of Lucky Lazlo in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

A Hilarious St. Patrick’s Day Read

How to Catch a Leprechaun by Adam Wallace is a hysterical St. Patrick’s Day read. St. Patrick’s Day is near and the Leprechaun is ready to cause maximum trouble, from dumping glitter in your hair to turning your toilet green!

The Leprechaun visits many different homes causing lots of mischief, and escaping booby traps them left and right. He’s quick. He’s crafty. He’s merciless.

How to Catch a Leprechaun is a fun read for kids of all ages. The illustrations by Andy Elkerton highlight the mess the Leprechaun leaves behind as well as the intricacies of the plans to finally trap him.

How to Catch a Leprechaun is great for readers ages 3-7. Click here to purchase a copy of this book (affiliate link).

 

 

Anorak Magazine Giveaway!

As a kid I loved receiving any kind of snail mail. I would have loved a magazine subscription, so when I saw Anorak for the first time I was so excited. From the bright colors to the creative illustrations, I had to get a closer look at this stunning magazine!

Anorak is the perfect read for kids ages 6-12. It features a variety of genres, from narrative fiction to non-fiction and some more interactive activities.

The issue of Anorak that I received was dedicated to cakes in honor of the magazine’s 10th anniversary. It included Pablo the Pastry Chef a very fun story about a young chef who dreams of becoming a pastry chef with some rather unorthodox ingredients. Much to his disappointment, his patrons keep opting for the vegetarian menu. Though he struggles at first, he learns that he just needs to find the right audience for his sweet, insect-filled treats.

Dot has the same stunning appeal of Anorak, but is intended for younger, pre-school aged readers. The illustrations are bolder and larger in scale. The theme of this issue is the farm and the entire issue connects back to this theme. The text is shorter and heavily supported by the illustrations. In addition, there are plenty of activities for kids to complete which include drawing, counting, labeling, and matching.

Anorak and Dot are quarterly subscriptions. The Caterpillar Corner and Anorak Magazine have partnered to bring you a very special giveaway opportunity. For more details click here.

*I received complimentary issues of Anorak and Dot in exchange for my honest

Finding a Fur-ever Home

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat is the perfect picture book for young cat lovers. The main character is a cat who lives a very busy life. Each day he makes his rounds, visiting the different homes up and down Blossom Street.

Each person he visits has a different name for him, hence the long title of the book. There is, however, one house he does not visit. Number eleven. Mrs. Murray, an elderly woman, lives along in her house, she spends her days knitting and watching television. Until one day Mrs. Murray receives a package and an unexpected surprise!

Days go by and nobody has seen the cat. Take a closer look at the beautiful illustrations to see how each person misses him in their own way! Mr. Green has a spare fish for him. Miss Fernandez lacks inspiration for her painting.

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat has the perfect ending. One that brings together people of all ages and celebrates friendship and finding a forever home.

This is a delightful picture book for kids ages. Click here to purchase a copy of Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Dustin Hansen and his Microsaurs

Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl is the first book in a series about tiny dinosaurs living in a top-secret laboratory. The main characters are best friends Danny and Lin who stumble upon the existence of the Microsaurs when they follow a tiny pterodactyl home from a skateboarding competition. They track it back to a mysterious house that reveals a fascination with these prehistoric creatures. The reader learns quickly that Danny is brave and Lin is braver, so the duo decides to dig deeper and find out more about the mysterious creature.

Throughout the story the characters learn the importance of teamwork and making sacrifices for friendship. This is a fast-paced story that is engaging for readers ages 7-10 with an interest in science, dinosaurs and adventure.

The Caterpillar corner had the awesome opportunity to interview Dustin Hansen about his writing process for Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl.  We hope you find Dustin Hansen’s responses to our questions as delightful as we did!

How did you come up with the idea for Microsaurs? 

Ideas are magic.

They arrive in the most random, strange, unexpected ways imaginable. For example, I’ve had ideas come to me while eating Fruit Loops. Once I was on the phone with my boss and BLAMO, right there in the middle of the conversation a totally unrelated idea blipped into my brainbox. (Thanks brainbox, could you pick a better time?). They show up while mowing the lawn, watching TV, sleeping – seriously, it is the most unpredictable thing in the world for me, and I’m probably not alone in this experience.

For Microsaurs, I was in the hospital and I’d been there for nearly a week. Long story, I’ll keep the details to myself. But I was BORED TO TEARS and I started daydreaming. No TV, no books, nothing else there to distract me. I was minding my own bored business, when a little question pop into my thought-noggin. What if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct? What if they shrunk so small that we sort of forgot about them? What if they were still alive today? Then the title Microsaurs drifted by and I GRABBED IT!

I guess what all of these idea things have in common is that they are present a lot in our mind-melons. We just need to know when to listen and recognize when a good one floats by so we can be ready to snatch up the good ones.

What kind of research did you have to do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning this book?

 

I love research. I do it all the time. Sure, some people might think it’s just me buzzing through YouTube watching “Who Would Win Animal Battle” videos and “How To Cook With Peanut Butter” clips, but there is something great about filling the idea vault with loads of cool stuff. I call this filling the well, and it really is an important part of my writing process.

For Microsaurs, I did a lot of free form well filling, but I also studied about different types of dinosaurs, dinosaur anatomy (for the illustrations), the science of evolution, the concept of shrinking items in a lab. All kinds of nerdy and neat facts. But I also read a LOT of other books that were similar to Microsaurs. You know, fun, adventurous books like Mo O’Hara’s Zombie Goldfish books. Studying other writers that are super smart and funny is the best way to learn how to write a good book.

So, yeah. Hard to tell how much time I spent. Somewhere between 44 years (I don’t really remember much from my first 3 years on the planet) and 44 hours.

Are you characters Danny and Lin inspired by real people? 

 

YES! Danny, well I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t a little Marty McFly and a little bit Jerry Seinfeld. So, yeah, he’s not really based on a real person, but I like how Marty kind of falls into the right situation in the middle of a whole lot of bad situations, and how Jerry is funny, but still the most normal guy on the Seinfeld show.

But Lin, she’s totally based on my daughter, Malorie. Mal is full of whacky ideas, has no idea what fear is, and is generally good at everything she tries to do. Lin (and Malorie) both love critters of all kinds, especially critters that pack a punch, have teeth and stingers, and are probably venomous. But even spiny, scratchy, stingy creatures need love, Am I Right?

How much time did you spend writing, revising and editing Microsaurs?

More time than I did writing it, that’s for sure. I think the first draft of the Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl, took about 1 month to write. Then I threw it away and started over from scratch. The 2nd attempt was much better because I knew the characters better, but that meant it took longer, probably 2 months. Then the big revisions started. Another 2 or 3 months of back and forth with my writing group, my wife, my editor, my agent. And then another couple of weeks after the story was complete just tweaking words and fixing grammar and spelling errors. I’d say about six months total, give or take a few forgotten days.

Oh, and yeah, the illustrations went through basically the same process. It’s amazing how similar drawing is to writing when it comes down to it.

How does your experience working in the video game industry influence your writing?

Video game storytelling is VERY different than writing a book. One major difference is that in video games, the player (reader) is usually the main character in the game and they get to make a lot of choices that the game designer (or author) can’t control.

However, making video games taught me so much about writing in so many ways too. I learned how important it was to challenge your game player and put him or her in tough situations. This is exactly what you should do in writing too, put your main character in the worst possible predicament and let him or her figure their way out.

But perhaps the most important experience I gained from working in video games was how to work with a big team to make one creative project together. Sure, my name is on the cover of Microsaurs, but it takes a lot more than just me for a book to make it on the shelves. A whole puppy pile of creative minds rolled around in the land of the Microsaurs over the year it took me to put it all together, and each one brought a special voice, idea, or direction to the book.

What type of books did you enjoy reading as a kid? Did you have a favorite children’s author or book?

I loved non-fiction books about science, mechanics, cooking (I know, I’m strange), and facts. I once fell in love with a book about small engine repair so much that I pretended to lose it so I didn’t have to return it to the book-mobile. (sorry). I loved the cut away drawings of the engines and reading about how they worked. Good stuff.

But I also loved reading stories about struggle and imagination. The BFG is a great example of this kind of book. As was Robison Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I adored all of those books, but perhaps the most influential book I read when I was young was Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends. Every illustration was a masterpiece and the poems were not only clever, but smart. Still to this day I consider it one of my all-time favorite books.

If you could tell your younger self anything about being a writer, what would it be?

First of all, that I’d actually be a writer. My younger self would probably be very shocked, and perhaps a little disappointed to not be a cowboy.

Reading was VERY hard for me. I’m dyslexic, so I came to reading very slowly. Probably why I loved non-fiction tech books if I’m being honest. They were step by step, good slow digesters.

But, I was always a storyteller. I loved a big grandiose tale, and if I were going to go back and have a chat with wiggly little Dustin, I guess I’d read him this poem, because it wouldn’t have been written yet, but it is exactly the kind of dreamery I wish I would have known long ago.

“The Bridge”

This bridge will only take you halfway there 
To those mysterious lands you long to see: 
Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs 
And moonlit woods where unicorns run free. 
So come and walk awhile with me and share 
The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known. 
But this bridge will only take you halfway there- 
The last few steps you’ll have to take alone.

  • Shel Silverstein – 2010

At the end of the book, Professor Penrod leaves a super secret video message for Danny and Lin, suggesting that their encounters with the Microsaurs are far from over!

Click here to purchase a copy of Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl (affiliate link). 

 

 

Little Ninjas and Their Dojo Master

The Dojo series*, which includes Dojo Daycare, Dojo Daytrip, and Dojo Surprise is bound to leave young readers giggling with delight. Written and illustrated by Chris Tougas, the series consists of a group of young ninjas who enjoy practicing their ninja skills (pulling, punching, taking and breaking).

Each book includes a different adventure, from attending daycare and planning a special surprise to going on a field trip. In each scenario, the Dojo Master tries to control the ninja kids, pleading with them to take time to reflect and to help those in need. In each book all hope is almost completely lost that the little ninjas will ever comply with his requests.

The poor Dojo Master repeats a different set of hysterical phrases in each book that children will love reading too! For example in the Dojo Daytrip it is “YIKES! YEE-OW!”

At the very end of each adventure, the little ninjas pull it together and order is restored. Ultimately it shows that the ninjas do have respect for their Master.

This series is wonderful because it is playful and fun. It is written in rhyme and jam-packed with illustrations that jump off each page. Young readers will be engaged from the first  page and will be requesting to read these books over and over again.

The Dojo books are great for readers ages 3-7.

Click here to purchase Dojo DaycareDojo Daytrip or Dojo Surprise (affiliate links).

*I received complimentary copies of these books in exchange for my honest review.

A Unique and Imaginative Picture Book

Two damselflies discover a tiny green shoot one day and wonder du iz tak? What is that? The shoot begins to grow little by little and a pair of beetles arrive. Together they climb the stem and the budding leaves and decide they’d love to build a fort!

The different creatures work together to build the tree fort of their dreams. But, as in all great stories, they face their share of obstacles.

Du Iz Tak?* is written in a completely invented language, but the illustrations and repetition of words makes it easy to follow along. The body language of the characters along with the different punctuation and capital letters, helps convey the emotional setting. After rereading the story and pay close attention to the details, young readers may begin to solve the meaning of some of the different words.

Carson Ellis’ Du Iz Tak? is a must-have for every home library. It is beyond imaginative, it opens the door to a world filled with magic and wonder in the most simple of places, a backyard. His use of space in the illustrations is amazing, preserving the small scale of the different insect-like creatures, while allowing ample room for the plant to grow.

Du Iz Tak? won a Caldecott Honor and this book is perfect for readers age 3-8. This book would also be fantastic for students who are English Language Learners as well as struggling readers as it has multiple points of access and support. 

Click here to purchase a copy of Du Iz Tak? (affiliate link)

*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.