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.

 

The Challenge of Sounding it Out

I was immediately drawn to Phoebe Sounds It Out by Julie Zwillich when I read the synopsis. This is the perfect book for any child whose name isn’t easy to pronounce or to spell. My husband’s last name is 13-letters long and contains several silent Hs. It’s very rare for someone to pronounce it correctly. I cannot help but worry how our daughter will respond when posed with the challenge of spelling her last name when that time comes. I think Phoebe Sounds It Out will be the perfect addition to her library to encourage her to try her best.

When Phoebe’s teachers announce that the class will be practicing writing their names, Phoebe does her best to avoid the task. She sees her name which has been stitched onto her backpack by her mom, but that name starts with a P and she knows her name starts with the “Fff” sound. She figures that her mom made a mistake.

Phoebe’s teachers encourage her to try her best and to sound it out. The classroom environment is one that allows her to take risks and to try her best as she stretches out the letter sounds and slowly writes each letter. Her efforts are celebrated and her work goes up on display along with all her classmates’.

Phoebe Sounds It Out is a wonderful picture book for reluctant writers. It encourages kids to take risks and to take pride in their work. The illustrations by Denise Holmes perfectly capture the mood of the story, from Phoebe’s nervousness to the calm energy in the classroom. This book is relatable and accessible to readers of all ages.

The Caterpillar Corner and Owlkids Books have partnered in a very special giveaway of Phoebe Sounds It Out. For additional details please click here.

Click here to purchase a copy of Phoebe Sounds It Out (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of Phoebe Sounds It Out in exchange for my honest review.

A Perfectly Moving Book About Loss

 

  My Yellow Balloon by Tiffany Papageorge is a wonderful and touching picture book about loss, portrayed through the experience of a young boy losing his beloved yellow balloon. The story is set in the 1930s, a carnival comes to town and young Joey sees a balloon man selling balloons. The beautiful mass of balloons hover in the air, mesmerizing the young boy. Unable to select one, the balloon man picks a yellow balloon for the young boy and ties it to his wrist.

The yellow balloon becomes Joey’s companion, joining him on his various adventures. Then one day, the unexpected happens. The balloon slips off of Joey’s wrist. He has no choice but to watch helplessly as his friend and companion floats up and up, away from the young boy. He is devastated. All color drains from the illustrations to help convey the intensity of his sadness.

Across the following pages, he experiences a range of emotions from anger to sadness. But in his dreams, Joey and his balloon are reunited.

Time passes slowly and Joey goes from missing his balloon all of the time to a lot of the time and some of the time. The ending of the story is precious and powerful. Though Joey is never reunited with his yellow balloon, he learns an invaluable lesson about transition and loss.

My Yellow Balloon is an incredible picture book that tackles such an important social issue in a way that is accessible for kids. There are not many books that deal with loss in a way that is easy for all young readers to relate to.

The Caterpillar Corner had the opportunity to speak with Tiffany Papageorge about her book My Yellow Balloon, a conversation which left us in complete awe of a book we already fell in love with. Each detail of the illustrations is carefully crafted, and plays as important of a role in the story as the text itself. For example, the change in the color palette of the illustrations reflect Joey’s innocence at the beginning of the story and later validate the importance of his experience toward the end. Another example includes all of the toys in his dream are found in different scenes of the book, with the exception of the pink unicorn.

In speaking with Tiffany Papageorge, we talk a lot about the power of loss to transform us as individuals. This lesson comes across in such a sophisticated way through the pages of My Yellow Balloon.

Click here to purchase a copy of My Yellow Balloon (affiliate link).

For more information about Tiffany Papageorge, including her in-school programs, please visit her website.

A Beautiful, Multicultural Coloring Book

Careers for Little Sisters is a very special coloring book that features realistic and inspirational career possibilities for young girls. It encourages young children to imagine their ideal jobs, from video game designers to doctors. Each page includes a short description that introduces the different job in an enthusiastic and accessible way. The pages reflect minority women in important, powerful roles, bringing multiculturalism to coloring books.

The Caterpillar Corner had a chance to chat with Melissa Del Toro Schaffner, creator of Careers for Little Sisters. Check out her answers to some of our questions below:

How did you come up with the idea for Careers for Little Sisters?

“Careers for Little Sisters” was born from a conversation I had with my mother back in 2015. Mom and I were marveling about the fact that many young girls spend their time coloring books about princesses, and pretending to be something that they most likely could not be as an adult. We were also amazed by the scarcity of realistic materials advertised for little girls (especially minority children) to color and dream about their futures. When we color, our imaginations take over and we dream about possibilities.

How did your own experiences growing up influence your decision to create Careers for Little Sisters?

Growing up a little Puerto Rican child in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA, I had no idea what possibilities were out there for me when I “grew up”. The only role models I truly looked up to in my life were my mom and dad. When faced with the decision to choose a college and a major at seventeen years old, I felt I only had two options – be a teacher like mom or an engineer like dad. I choose electrical engineering.

Why was it so important to you to create Careers for Little Sisters?
I created this series to explain a wide variety of careers children can consider when they grow up, and what kinds of people might like that particular kind of work. I also wanted to feature beautiful minority women in various occupations not normally held by women, let alone women of color. I believe it’s important for our future as humanity to encourage children to become exactly who they came here to be, and give them permission to dream BIG goals for themselves.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t see anyone else like you doing something you want to do. I’m so grateful for having parents and friends who supported my vision to enter a field (engineering) that still, in 1991, was predominantly white and male. I enjoyed a long career in a field I never could have dreamed I was capable of doing because I was not naturally good at math.
—–
Careers for Little Sisters in Spanish is also now available in Spanish.

Click here to purchase a copy of this wonderful coloring book (affiliate link).

 

The Journey

There has never been a more timely and relevant book that Francesa Sanna’s The Journey. It’s a powerful and moving picture book that captures the experience of a refugee family trying to find a new safe place to call home. The illustrations capture the emotional setting perfectly and help readers of all ages imagine how difficult this journey truly is.

Told in first person, The Journey, is about a young girl whose family used to do ordinary things like go to the beach every summer. But a war began and their lives changed forever. Everything became darker and more difficult, which is captured by the drastic change in the color scheme of the illustrations.

The mother begins to prepare her children to leave their home and everyone they know behind in search of a safe place. She maintains an optimistic tone and even presents it to them as an adventure.

The family quickly learns, “The further we go… the more we leave behind.”

When they finally arrive at the border, there is an enormous wall. They face many obstacles and hardships, yet they persevere. Surrounded by the scary and unfamiliar, the mother comforts her children and keeps them safe in her embrace.

The Journey takes the reader on the journey of uncertainty and danger that many refugees face today. It is an invaluable story of hope even during the darkest of times that will inspire empathy and compassion in young readers.

This book is perfect for readers ages 5-10. It explores important social issues including war, family and loss.

Click here to purchase a copy of The Journey (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of The Journey in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Teaching the Power of Positive Thinking and Acceptance

From a young age we are taught not to judge a book by it’s cover. When it comes to picking picture books, often times I do just that. I pick books to read because the title and/or the cover captures my attention. Abigail the Whale* by Davide Cali did just that.

As grown ups, we all know that kids can sometimes be cruel. We have all either had direct experiences with name calling ourselves or seen it happening around us. Abigail the Whale tackles this issue in a way that promotes resilience in the person who is experiencing the unkind behavior. It does so in a very powerful and thoughtful way, that will inspire readers of all ages.

When Abigail dives into the pool, she makes an enormous wave and the kids shout out, “Abigail is a whale!” She feels very self-conscious about the size of her body and the negative attention she receives because of it.

Abigail’s swim teacher takes the time to notice and check in with her about swimming. She confides in him that she is too big and heavy to be a good swimmer. That’s when he teaches her about the power of our thinking. If Abigail wants to swim fast, she should think light. Envision how you want to be and that will become your reality.

With this new perspective, things begin to change for Abigail. It is only once Abigail sees herself in a new light that the kids also begin to see her in this way. Abigail the Whale is an important read for all young readers because it not only teaches about empathy but also self-worth.

This picture book is ideal for sparking conversations about difference and teaching inclusion, but it also empowers kids to love themselves for who they are. Abigail the Whale is simply a must-have picture book in every classroom library.

Click here to purchase a copy of Abigail the Whale (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of Abigail the Whale in exchange for my honest review.

 

Friendship and Imagination

Giselle Potter is a unique author and illustrator. Her books feature one-of-a-kind characters and tackle complex issues in a magnificent way. I was first introduced to Giselle Potter as the illustrator of Toni Morrison’s The Big Box. Her artistic style blends folk art and whimsy in a way that makes it easily recognizable as her own. Then I discovered The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, which combines Potter’s illustrations with cut out words producing a lovely collage affect that contributes so much to the story. Needless to say, I was delighted to hear about This is My Dollhouse which is both written and illustrated by Giselle Potter.

The main character is a young girl who has made her own dollhouse out of different materials. She painted bricks on the outside of a cardboard box and divided the inside into sections which made up the rooms. Her family consists of a variety of figures, Daddy is a stuffed bear, and Grandma Mousey is a mouse.

My personal favorite is the elevator the twins ride up to the rooftop pool where they go swimming. The young girl takes great pride in her dollhouse as she has decided what to include and made it herself.

The girl’s friend Sophie also has a dollhouse, but Sophie’s dollhouse is store-bought and perfect. Every detail was decided for Sophie and so she has a hard time imagining the world for her dolls apart from what she has already been provided by the toy company. When the girl tries to make suggestions, Sophie resists. This creates tension between the two girls.

When Sophie comes over to play, the girl covers her dollhouse. She is nervous that it is not “perfect” like her friends. In fact she hides it beneath a blanket and hopes it goes unnoticed.

This is My Dollhouse is an inspiring picture book that promotes imagination, play and creative problem solving. It invites kids to make their own toys and dream up their own stories rather than playing in the worlds that are imagined for them by others. This is a remarkable picture book that is a must have for all kids.

Click here to purchase a copy of This is My Dollhouse (affiliate link). 

*I received a complimentary copy of This is My Dollhouse in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

A Must-Have Non-Fiction Chapter Book

As an upper elementary school teacher, it’s hard to find interesting and well-written non-fiction texts for kids ages 8-12. Non-fiction books for younger readers are easy to find, with amazing authors like Seymour Simon and Gail Gibbons. For middle-school-aged students, there are plenty of narrative non-fiction chapter books that are engaging. But for the middle-level reader, there seems to be an absence of rich, substantive non-fiction books for them to grow their skills as readers of this genre.

That’s why I get SO very excited when I discover a non-fiction book that is not only interesting and well-written, but perfect for this age group. Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood From Creative Legends is one of these books.

Kid Artists… by David Stabler focuses on the childhoods of the most well-known artists, their lives before they became famous. The reader does not even need to know who the artist is in order to appreciate their experiences growing up. This book humanizes the legends, from Dr. Seuss to Keith Haring.

Each chapter features a different artist and the book is organized into three different sections: Call of the Wild, It’s a Hard-Knock Life, and Practice Makes Perfect.

For example, Georgia O’Keefe’s chapter is in the section Call of the Wild because she grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and drew so much of her inspiration from nature and the world around her. In her childhood, Georgia O’Keefe challenged gender norms, from her favorite pastimes to her preferred clothing. Readers can easily relate to the competitive dynamic among siblings as well as receiving and responding to academic criticism. For Georgia O’Keefe, art became a way of expressing herself and communicating with others.

 

Kids will be delighted to read the chapter about Ted Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss. Ted Geisel grew up near a zoo and he spent a lot of time as a child studying and drawing animals, though his drawings did not resemble the real living ones. His animals were imaginary and wonderful. Word-play was also a big part of his upbringing, which contributed to his interest in language.

When the U.S. went to war with Germany, Ted Geisel became the target of teasing for being a German-American. He stood up to the bullying and became determined to demonstrate his patriotism. Kids will learn about the importance of advocating for social justice and how Ted Geisel’s own experiences with discrimination and intolerance influenced his work as a children’s book creator.

There are so many aspects of Kid Artists that make it a strong non-fiction book. It is ideal in that it is organized into sections and chapters. Kids can examine why the author made the decision to arrange the book this way and how each chapter connects to the greater section. Within each chapter, readers can be challenged to examine the cause and effect relationships, how events or experiences in each artist’s childhood impacted his/her later work. Not to mention, readers do not have to read this book from beginning to end, they can use the table of contents to decide what chapters are interesting to them and read just those sections.

Doogie Horner’s illustrations are peppered throughout each chapter. They support the text, helping the reader envision elements of the text, while adding elements of humor to keep the reader engaged.

*I received a complimentary copy of Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood From Creative Legends in exchange for my honest review.

 

Click here to purchase a copy of this book (affiliate link).

 

 

The Perfect Picture Book for Chinese New Year

The Nian Monster* by Andrea Wang is a delightful story about the Chinese New Year. Xingling and her grandmother PoPo are getting the family apartment ready for the annual celebrations. PoPo shares with Xingling the legend of the Nian Monster, who would eat whole villages each new year. The villagers learned that the Nian Monster had three weaknesses, loud sounds, fire, and the color red. From then on, people decorated their homes with red banners and lanterns, drums and gongs, and lit firecrackers to keep the monster away. 

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the Nian Monster appears, threatening to terrorize the city and devour its inhabitants. It’s up to Xingling to outsmart the monster and save Shanhai. Xingling is a strong and clever female protagonist, reminiscent of Elizabeth from The Paper Bag Princess.

The Nian Monster teaches young readers about the Chinese New Year. From the casserole that Xingling helps her grandmother prepare to the noodles eaten to represent long life, we learn about many of the culinary traditions of the New Year in a fun way.

Alina Chau’s illustrations are colorful and playful watercolors that add an element of comedy to the text, instead of making it intimidating or scary. The Nian Monster is adorable, with its warm color scales and large, round eyes.

The Nian Monster is not only a wonderful book for celebrating the Chinese New Year, but can be read year round as a picture book with a strong female character. This book is perfect for readers ages 4-8.

Click here to purchase a copy of The Nian Monster (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of The Nian Monster in exchange for my honest review.

A Touching Picture Book for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China. It is a period of rest and celebration before the next farming season begins. Families come together to celebrate the New Year. This year, Chinese New Year is on Saturday, January 28!

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong is a very moving story about a young girl named Maomao whose father comes home only once a year, for the Chinese New Year. Though the visit it short, it is very special. Maomao and her mom go to meet her papa, then they get ready for the celebrations together.

Papa helps Maomao make sticky rice balls. A seemingly simple task, that is meaningful because the young girl gets to spend this time with her father.

A New Year’s Reunion highlights aspects of the Chinese New Year, including visits with family and friends, but at it’s heart lies the story of a father who is separated from his family for the majority of the year by his job. It’s a story that emphasizes the importance of family and coming together, but it also tackles how difficult it can be to be apart. Zhu Cheng-Liang’s illustrations are beautiful and colorful. They capture the energy and celebration of the holiday, while also creating intimate scenes in which the young girl is reunited with and later says goodbye to her father for another year.

This book is great for readers ages 4-8. Click here to purchase a copy of A New Year’s Reunion (affiliate link).