August Book Reviews: Where did summer go?

Did everyone else’s summer go by as quickly as mine? I thoroughly enjoyed spending time reading on our new screened porch, researching potential agents, binging TV shows. We spent a great week traveling as a family, visiting friends and relatives on the Eastern Seaboard. Unfortunately, I just didn’t get to blogging, but with school starting this week, it’s time to have fun and play with some great picture books before I dive back into teaching.

Lots of great books this month! Enjoy!

Title: A Spoonful of Frogs
Author: Casey Lyall
Illustrator: Vera Brosgol
Publisher/Date:  Greenwillow Books (July 19, 2022)
The “gist”:  A witch with a tv cooking show is describing how to make a special dish, but she has some difficulty getting the special ingredient: “a spoonful of frogs.”
My favorite part: There’s a fairly predictable ending, but it’s very sweet.
My response as a reader: 
This is such a cute premise and fun story it will be a great choice for teachers this fall who want a Halloween tale that’s not too spooky. I can picture it as a writing prompt too — designing your own Halloween recipe or making substitutions for other ingredients like “eye of newt”!
My “take-away” as a writer: This book breaks “the rules” by having an adult protagonist (and no children or talking animals in sight!), but it’s very relatable for kids because of the tv show setting. While it almost broaches that “adults are stupid” trope, the adult is less bungling and more simply frustrated. We root for her to win (even as we laugh at the frogs) and are happy to see her find a solution. A good goal for anyone’s main character.

Title: Clovis Keeps his Cool
Author: Katelyn Aronson
Illustrator: Eve Farb
Publisher/Date:  Page Street Kids (August 17, 2021)
The “gist”:  In a lovely play on the “bull in a china shop” theme, Clovis, who used to be an active, athletic bull, now spends his time quietly curating a china shop and trying to avoid getting worked up by the “friends” who continually taunt him.
My favorite part: There’s a lot to love here, but the fact that Clovis invites his enemies over to have tea with him is a takeaway worth the price of admission.
My response as a reader: I’m not sure how I missed this when it came out a year ago, but it’s a great story and since we’re thinking “Back to School” I would recommend this one for teachers as well — some good lessons in dealing with stress as well as breaking stereotypes!
My “take-away” as a writer: This story packs in a lot of plot while still having great pacing and some good traditional elements (try and fail, main character solves their own problem, etc.) but like the previous picture book, it’s basically an “adult” character (even though it’s a bull). Sometimes it’s a mistake to shoehorn all stories into a child character. Kids love to see that adults (even adult bulls) don’t always have all the answers.

Title: Sylvie
Author: Jean Reidy
Illustrator: Lucy Ruth Cummins
Publisher/Date:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers (May 10, 2022)
The “gist”:  In a story which could sit alongside “Charlotte’s Web” (but without all the drama), Sylvie observes the residents of the apartment building, careful not to be seen, until she realizes she should do something to bring them together.
My favorite part: I love how possessive Sylvie is of “her people” in the apartment building, checking up on everyone and feeling responsible for them, even though she’s just a tiny spider.
My response as a reader: 
Sylvie has to risk being seen and potentially harmed in order to bring the residents together, but she just keeps smiling and does it. It’s a rather quiet book but has a great lesson about how anyone can make a difference, no matter how small!
My “take-away” as a writer: Don’t be afraid to use big words and flowery language — here’s a great line: “That’s when that oh-so-savvy spider, with more moxie than misgiving, sashayed through the paints…” — tons of words a kid might not know but they will certainly pick up!

Title: This is a School
Author: John Schu
Illustrator: Veronica Miller Jamison
Publisher/Date:  Candlewick (March 29, 2022)
The “gist”:  In simple language we are introduced not only to the parts of a school, but the functions: learning, sharing, growing, helping, caring, etc.
My favorite part: I love that the main idea is of the school as a community — a place where everyone cares for and helps each other. It’s a perfect way to introduce children to the idea of school and allay any fears they might have.
My response as a reader: 
This book has classic written all over it– the sort of book every pre-school or kindergarten teacher is going to want as they introduce what school is like. The illustrations and text are simple and timeless– nothing suspenseful, but calm and colorful (and diverse!)
My “take-away” as a writer: John Schu is a rockstar in the world of children’s literature. He is well known (as “@MrSchuReads”) for his generosity and kindness for kids and libraries everywhere. It’s awesome to see him release this book and I know it will be a smash.

Title: Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher
Author: Katey Howes
Illustrator: Valerio Fabbretti
Publisher/Date:  Union Square Kids; Illustrated edition (January 2, 2018)
The “gist”:  Magnolia loves inventing, particularly with her Uncle Jamie, but he’s getting married, and she wants to use her inventing powers to help.
My favorite part: I’m a language teacher and I love learning about other cultures. Before I got married, I did a lot of research on wedding traditions around the world, so I love that Magnolia does the same thing.
My response as a reader: 
This book would appeal to fans of Andrea Beaty’s series of books such as “Rosie Revere, Engineer” or Sue Fliess’ “Mary had a little Lab”. It’s great to see so many recent books with strong and inventive girl characters!
My “take-away” as a writer: This is a great mentor text for a first person story from a kid’s POV– the tone is perfectly authentic and playful. I tip my hat to Katey Howes as it’s really hard to get that right!

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