Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I See Me! A Day in the Life of a Princess

I See Me! A Day in the Life of a Princess

Rating: 3.5 stars

I have several I See Me! books for my own children on our crowded bookshelves here in our home. My daughter received a customized My Very Own Name when she was born from family friends. It wasn’t one we read to her often until she realized that it was in fact, about her very own name, and then she chose it frequently for bedtime and anytime readings.

When our two boys came along, we purchased for them a book from the next iteration of I See Me! books, My Very Own Pirate Tale. This book is better than my daughter’s because it is, in fact, more of a story. A fearless pirate captain is needed, and a treasure map (of sorts) spells out the new pirate’s name (in other words, your child’s name). Both boys went through phases of loving the book. This book as well as My Very Own Name are still available through www.iseeme.com.
 

I liked these books a lot, but they are just okay compared to the next iteration of I See Me! books which are just fantastic! In these books, the child’s name is not the only thing that is customized. Nope, it’s 2014, of course, and these books have photographs of your child of choice inside the actual pages of the book. The photographs aren’t slipped in (I’ve seen that before)—they are part of the illustration, part of the page. It’s one thing for a child to hear their names out loud by a grown-up; it’s entirely another (wonderful) thing for a child to see their own face jump out from the page. I See Me! was kind enough to have three books made for Washington FAMILY Magazine to hold, flip through, and review in order to tell you, parents everywhere, that these are fine, worth-the-money products.
 
And that’s what I am here to tell you: Girls everywhere will go crazy over Princess: A Day In the Life of a Princess books. 

When you order this book from www.iseeme.com, you provide your child’s name, gender, hair color, birthday, city, and skin color. Uploading a photograph is actually optional and of the three books reviewed for Washington FAMILY Magazine, this is the book that needs the photo the least. It is used twice: on the dedication page (for maximum effect—what a hook for a child to see their face on the first page!) and in a frame on page four with their name along the frame. The cartoon princess in the book is made in their likeness.
 

The story is a little tale of a girl who dreams about becoming a princess and then, POOF!, she actually wakes up as a crown-wearing royal. She has a breakfast (cupcakes and fruit!) and strolls around her castle, visits her horses, trots through the garden, and ends up having a tea party. There are details of your girl of choice sprinkled in the words: her birthstone, her birthday and the city where she lives.
 


To read the rest of the review, please click HERE.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Big Bear's Big Boat by Eve Bunting

Big Bear's Big Boat by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Rating: 5 stars

Sometimes, books end up in our giant library bag just for me.

I know, I know--they are picture books and they're found in the CHILDREN'S section, and they are meant for younger eyes and younger hearts than mine. But I'm a firm believer that children's books (from picture books to young adult novels) are good at any age, so I read them, unashamed, even when my kids aren't around.

So this book. Big Bear's Big Boat.

Big Bear's too big for his small boat. Kindly, he gives it to Little Bear because it's just Little Bear's size. Now, he sets off to build up another boat for himself. "I want it to be just like my little boat, but bigger," he tells his mom.

So he saws and he hammers and he measures and he builds until he's got his new big boat. Just like the old boat, but bigger. He smiles with satisfaction as he sits in his newly-finished boat.

This his friends get a look at it.

"It needs a big mast!" suggests Beaver. "It needs a top deck!" says Otter. "It needs a cabin!" screeches Blue Heron. Big Bear considers these suggestions and then adds a big mast, a top deck, and a cabin.

The he steps back, looks at his big boat. "What an ugly boat I've made. The mast leans over, the deck slants, and the cabin is higgledy-piggedly."

He goes to his friends. He doesn't want to hurt their feelings. He thanks them for their help but says he realizes he doesn't like the boat when it has all of their suggestions on it. "This boat is not my dream. A bear should never let go of his own dream." His friends nod in agreement, support his (very right in my own opinion) opinion, and watch as Big Bear takes down the mast that leans over, the higgedly-piggedly cabin, and the slanted deck.
And he was happy.

He pushes the boat into Blueberry Lake and rows it all around, fishes from it, relaxes in it, and watches the night sky from it.

And he is happy.

Right now, I'm trying so, so very hard to become a children's book author. I am putting my manuscripts out there in the big, opinion-filled world and people who supposedly know a whole lot more than me are telling me what they think of them. It's humbling for sure, though it's what I expected, and after each round of feedback I wonder: Is this my vision? Do I agree with their feedback? I need to learn from Big Bear, who has a big skill in his back fur-pocket: He can say no, thank you, that's not my dream. And then, he follows his own voice or heart or vision.

What a great lesson--for me, for my kids, for you, for all of us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I See Me! M is for Me

I See Me! M is for Me
Rating: 5 stars

Do you know how kids go through phases where they are obsessed with one certain thing? For example, my six-year old son can't get enough baseball--he'll read anything baseball-related, from picture books to the sports section of the New York Times. My seven-year old daughter has a "crafternoon" when she comes home from school most days, and often raids my recycling (I prohibit the dirty, messy stuff) to get new materials.

The youngest in our bunch is currently obsessed with the alphabet. Three and a half-year old Kiefer walks around proudly and loudly just spelling out his name "K-I-E-F-E-R!" He is learning how to write his name--he needs a little help sometimes with that pesky curve on the R. But he happily and seriously works on that R as if his life depends on it. Anytime he sees letters--from license plates to posters, t-shirts to the "SUNSHINE" coffee mug from which I'm sipping right now--he traces them in the air with his finger as his eye focuses on the letter.

He's going to love it!
When he sees this M is for Me book that I recently ordered from www.iseeme.com, he is going to go bananas! The cover alone will stop him in his tracks: K is for KIEFER it reads, loud and proud. That’s not the only thing personalized in this book. When he opens the cover, he’ll see himself smiling back at him. There’s no mirror involved; instead, I See Me! placed a photograph I sent to them of Kiefer on the page, complete with a short note: 
“Kiefer, This special book is filled with words that describe my hopes for you. Together we’ll read this book to learn the alphabet and all about you!”


Just like any alphabet book, there’s a word for each letter of the alphabet. But unlike any other alphabet book I’ve seen, these words are positive attributes that we all hope our children possess. Here are a few to give you an idea: 
A is for Active 
B is for Brave 
C is for Caring 
D is for Determined 
E is for Extraordinary 
F is for Friendly

To read the rest of the review, please click HERE to go to Washington FAMILY Magazine's book review section.


Friday, November 14, 2014

I See Me! Farm Friends


I See Me! Farm Friends

This review was first published at Washington Family Magazine. Click HERE for the link to that original review.

I have several I See Me! books for my very own children on our crowded bookshelves here in our home. My daughter received a customized My Very Own Name when she was born from family friends. It wasn't one we read to her often until she realized that it was, in fact, about HER with her very own name, and then she chose it frequently for bedtime and anytime readings.

When our two boys came along, we purchased for them a book from the next iteration of I See Me! books, My Very Own Pirate Tale. This book, methinks, is better than my daughter's because it is, in fact, a story. A fearless captain is needed, and a treasure map (of sorts) spells out the new pirate's name (in other words, your child's name). Both boys went through phrases of loving the book. This book as well as My Very Own Name are still available through www.iseeme.com.

These books are okay. They are just okay compared to the next generation of I See Me! books, which are FANTASTIC!

In these books, the child's name is not the only thing that is customized. Nope, it's 2014, of course, and these books have photographs of your child of choice inside the actual pages of the book. The photographs aren't slipped in (I've seen that before)--they are part of the illustration, part of the page. It's one thing for a child to hear their names out loud by a grown-up; it's entirely another (wonderful) thing for a child to see their own face jump out from the page.

I See Me! was ind enough to have three books made for this lucky Washington FAMILY Magazine reviewer--so I could hold, flip through, and review these books in order to tell you, parents, everywhere, if these are fine, worth-the-money products. And that's what I am here to tell you: they are fine, worth-the-money products! Children everywhere are sure to give the My Farm Friends personalized book a raucous standing ovation.

When you order this book from www.iseeme.com, you provide your child's name, gender, hair color, birthday, and skin color. Uploading a photograph is actually optional but I assure you: you should! Because when your child receives this book in his or her lap, the first thing she'll see is her face on the cover, instead of the farmer's face. Her body will be illustrated cuteness, but her face will be her own. The title will no longer be vague; it will be Griffin's Farm Friends or Ella's Farm Friends.

The story is, in itself, an engaging children's story, complete with rhyme and animal sounds all around. And as your child turns the pages, the farmer on each page will be your child. The gender of the farmer on the page will be what you've instructed. And the face? The image you provided to I See Me! Your child will be delighted to see her own face on every single page. For sure.

The downside of this book: It's expensive. Most board books cost $8 to $12; Farm Friends costs $29.95. This book isn't a necessary part of your child's book collection. As a lover of books, I think there are plenty more that need to be there before this one. So, is it worth it? If you can do it, I think it is. Can you request the book from a grandparent or other special family friend? At this young age, kids get intrigued by books because of gimmicks such as lift-the-flaps, surfaces they can touch, mirrors, and even photographs of themselves. These gimmicks work to create interest in books and start kids thinking: books are cool!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Doug Unplugs at the Farm by Dan Yacarrino

Doug Unplugs at the Farm by Dan Yacarrino

Rating: 5 stars

Review for Washington Family Magazine:

Meet Doug. He’s a robot. He’s a young robot whose parents want him to be the smartest robot ever. His robot mom and robot dad accomplish this by plugging in Doug for lengthy downloads full of facts and figures.

We first met Doug in Doug Unplugged, published in 2013. In this book, Doug’s parents plug him in to learn about the city before they head off to work. Doug is happy to learn a bunch of facts about the city, but a pigeon on the windowsill makes him feel something he doesn’t often feel—curiosity—and when he reaches for the pigeon, he unplugs himself. And suddenly, he’s free to explore and experience the city in a more meaningful way.

In Doug Unplugs on the Farm, Doug and his parents drive to visit his grandbots in the country. As they are still interested in Doug being the very smartest robot, his mom-bot and dad-bot plug him in to learn about the farms he’s driving past. He learns some neat facts (that my three kids liked, too):

• Cows need to be milked every day.

• Sheep tend to follow each other.

• A baby pig is called a piglet.

• Horses can pull plows.

His downloading is interrupted when a whole flock of sheep runs across the road, causing his dad-bot to veer into a ditch and for the whole family to become unplugged!


To find out what happened and read the rest of the review of this fantastic book, click HERE.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ninja Boy Goes to School by N.D. Wilson

Ninja Boy Goes to School by N.D. Wilson, illustrated by J.J. Harrison

Rating: 4 stars

Review for Washington Family Magazine:

How fitting that my kids and I read Ninja Boy Goes to School the day before school started. I anticipated the story to be a this-is-how-you-are-brave-at-school message, which was a tale my kindergarten-starting son Ben might especially appreciate.

I must admit I was a little surprised by the story that actually unfolded!

N.D. Wilson introduces how to be a ninja--a job that's not just for anybody. A ninja must be silent, nimble, strong, graceful. He brings levity to this serious topic with parenthetical comments that are cute and funny. J.J. Harrison keeps the talk of ninja on the appropriate kid level with bright illustrations that are a great balance of serious ninja and silly kid.

Ninja Boy—we don’t ever know his name—goes to school by bus, but instead of sitting in the seat, he suction cups himself to the roof of the bus, something my kids howled at. Other kids on this page laugh at Ninja Boy too, but he is too committed to being a ninja to notice or care. 


And this is where the story takes an unexpected turn...


To read the rest of the review (and find out what happens! What a cliff-hanger, I know!), click HERE.



Mama Built A Little Nest by Jennifer Ward

Mama Built A Little Nest by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Rating: 5 stars

If you've got a nature-loving kid somewhere near you, this book needs to be in his or her hands. We were all blown away by how many facts we learned from a book that appeared to be a simple rhyme with gorgeous illustrations.

Ward gives us a gift of a book jam-packed with great information about a bunch of different birds--from the more well-known emperor penguin and falcons to more unique birds such as the weaverbird (the yellow bird pictured on the cover), falcon, grebe, and shorebird.

This is a grow-with-me book, or a book for a household like ours--with one strong, curious reader; one emerging, interested reader; and one bird-loving, letter-finder. On each two-page spread is a succinct, one-stanza rhyme about the bird illustrated on the page. There are also several sentences about the bird written in a smaller, different font for readers like Lorelei to read on her own or for me to read to Ben (he can read most of the words in the actual poem himself).

Mama built a little nest / inside a sturdy trunk.
She used her beak to tap-tap-tap / the perfect place to bunk.
Each page not only shows the reader what the bird looks like, but what the nest is like. The diversity of each bird--from what it looks like to how it makes its nest--impressed me greatly and was fun to point out to my kids. The birds and their neat nests grabbed my kids' attention and set off their imaginations.

Here are some of my favorite facts about the birds and their nests in this book:

  • A hummingbird makes the smallest cup-shaped nest out of spiderwebs so the nest will stretch as the chicks grow.
  • The male cactus wren makes many dome-shaped nests to attract a female. If impressed, the female will choose one and then continue to add to its structure.
  • Grebes create a floating nest on the water and anchor it to water plants.
  • The swiftlet makes an edible nest (!!) using tube-shaped saliva, which hardens in the air. Swiftlet nests are used in bird's nest soup, a Chinese delicacy.


My kids love this type of bird feeder!

This is a wonderful, one-of-a-kind book that pairs nicely with the kind of bird feeder we have attached to our window...click HERE for link to purchase.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Little Women Christmas by Heather Vogel Frederick

Little Women Christmas by Heather Vogel Frederick, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Rating: 5 stars

In May 2007, I held my daughter Lorelei for the first time. My first day as a mother was an idyllic bubble of joy—Lorelei nursed confidently, I capably soothed her cries, and the nurses were a short call away should I have any questions about the many things I didn’t know how to do.
On Lorelei’s second day in this world, my father came to visit. He came, of course, to say hello to Lorelei, to welcome her into this world and our family, to congratulate my husband and me. He sat holding his granddaughter, singing Ranger jodies into her tiny ears. He also came to say good-bye. He deployed for Iraq the next day.
It’s hard for me to imagine how my heart held these two giant, opposing emotions. My blissful hours with Lorelei had an undercurrent of fear as my father bunkered into and worked from the Green Zone. I endured six months of this, of letter writing and baby bathing, of worrying and cooing.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Little Blue Truck's Christmas by Alice Schertle

Little Blue Truck's Christmas by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Rating: 5 stars

Little Blue and I go way back. I mean, waaaaay back.

The original Little Blue Truck was Ben's favorite book as a baby. Because I read it to him daily, I can still recite the words and recall McElmurry's sweet illustrations that correspond with the stanzas. I can still recall having baby Ben (who turns six in two weeks! what?!) sitting in my lap and reading again and again, him flipping the pages, making the animals sounds, laughing at the change in my voice for the different characters.

I also snapped up the sequel, Little Blue Truck Leads the Way when it was released a few years later. Both of these books have all that you want in great children's books: a fun, interesting rhythm and rhyme; sweet illustrations of neat characters; a nice moral to the story. In the first book, Little Blue helps a big, rude truck get out of the muck and, through his kind actions (rather than preachy words), teaches him that it pays to be a nice guy. In the second book, country-boy Little Blue teaches big-city traffic how to slow down, be patient, and take turns.

This third book, Little Blue Truck's Christmas, is just as wonderful as the first two. It is in a board book format, so best for ages four and under. There's some counting, just from one to five and then back down again, which is best for littler readers. Little Blue puts five trees in back to deliver to his friends, who all (wonderfully) say please and thank you as they request specific trees in the truck bed of Little Blue.

Who gets the last tree? I like this part. I think in decades past the last tree would be saved for an elderly person, someone who needs it most--and while that is fine and dandy, I think the fact that Little Truck saves the last tree for himself is an example of the "self love" trend that has been occurring for the past few years: You've got to love yourself and regard your own happiness in this life we've got, and that habit starts when kids are kids...and hopefully lasts until they are old and gray (and hopefully still very happy).

It's good to see you again, Little Blue!



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by Cátia Chien

Rating: 5 stars

Once upon a time, a little boy about four years old walked with his father to the Bronx Zoo. This boy stood in front of the cage of a giant, wild jaguar. The jaguar paced before the boy, seeming frustrated at his confined situation.

The boy understood how the jaguar felt. He was a stutterer; thoughts were confined to his head, unable to get out. Usually when he tried to "use his words" he grew red in the face and his body convulsed with the his inability to transform his thoughts into coherent sounds and launch them successfully into the conversation.

But today, in front of this great cat, he whispered without a single stutter, "One day, if I figure out how to speak, I will speak for you, too." There was something magical between them. With this wild creature, he could speak.

On the days between visits to that jaguar in the Bronx Zoo, the little boy endured harsh sentences--he heard grown-ups tell him he was broken, and he was sent to a school for disturbed children. Like that jaguar, he felt caged and misunderstood.
"If I try to push words out, my head and body shake uncontrollably."

Years went by and this little boy grew up and went to college in an experimental program that embraced his debilitating stutter, and grown ups encouraged him to be a "fluent stutterer." He worked hard to finally speak without stuttering. He found his voice.

But he still feels broken on the inside, still feels damaged and different and unsure how to use that voice. He studies black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains, then travels to Belize to study jaguars. He starts to feel connected to his voice, and he wants to use it to fulfill the promise he made to that one jaguar on that one day so long ago.

He begins to follow and capture jaguars for study before releasing them. He successfully argues for the world's first and only jaguar wildlife preserve. He becomes Dr. Alan Rabinowitz: a zoologist, a conservationist, a passionate advocate for the 36 big cat species of the world, what Time calls the "Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation." And today, he says he is grateful for his stuttering, because that disability led him to what he is most passionate about: jaguars.

This is an incredibly moving true story about working hard, keeping promises, finding your passion, and making the world a better place.

P.S. The illustrations by Cátia Chien are phenomenal, too!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Shh! We Have a Plan! by Chris Haughton

Shh! We Have a Plan! by Chris Naughton

Rating: 5 stars

Shh! We Have a Plan! is sitting on Kiefer's bed right now, and it hasn't moved very far all week. He is just crazy about it. Almost as crazy as I am about the book, which is oddly dark for a picture book.

But the hues match the setting and story perfectly: Four wrapped-up guys go out hunting for a bird in the dark. Three are serious about catching one; one is along for the ride, seemingly too young to have been left at home.

"Hello, birdie!" this little one calls out.

"Shh..." says the first guy.

"SHHH!!" reinforces the second guy.

"We have a plan!" says the last guy, who is holding something (a cage, a ladder, a big log).

Kiefer likes to then tell me what their plan is: "They're going to CATCH the birdie and put him in the cage." Or "They're going to climb up the ladder to get the birdie in the tree!"

Ready one, ready two, ready th...!
The three guys try to get that birdie but never succeed.  Finally the littlest guy pulls out some bread and attracts not just the one bird but a whole flock, including a big, mean one that does NOT want to be caught. They run for their lives!

And they decide maybe they'll catch a squirrel instead.

This is a wonderful book with which your child or student can practice making predictions, and to talk generally of having a "plan." Maybe it's just plan-happy me that appreciates that...?!