Connecting children and nature, Dawn Publications’ mission is to offer a unique line of nature appreciation books for young people to better understand and appreciate all life on Earth. Essentially non-fiction, Dawn publications are told with such an engaging style and beautifully illustrated that many of their books are best described as “creative non-fiction.” The publisher also offers engaging activities for educators and their students.
Since healthy food becomes more interesting when children know where their food comes from, readers explore What’s in the Garden?, a garden bursting with life, including indigenous animals and insects. With playful descriptions of fruits and vegetables, each includes kid-friendly recipes. A “food for thought” section presents interesting facts about each fruit and vegetable, and a “how does your garden grow?” section explains facts about gardening and the parts of plants.
Old MacDonald had a . . . garden? Yes! Sing along with new twist to an old song: E-I-E-I-O! Readers follow young Jo MacDonald as she grows healthy food for people and wild creatures. Find out how butterflies, bumblebees, and birds help a garden to thrive. Youngsters learn about garden ecosystems through suggested indoor activities and active garden stewardship.
2012 Purple Dragon Book Award: 1st Place (Children’s Picture Book – Ages 5-)
2012 IBPPG Next Generation Indie Book Award: Finalist (Children’s Picture Book Category)
While signing to the Old MacDonald song, Jo MacDonald introduces youngsters to the concept of ecosystems by taking readers on a trip to a farm pond. Complete with rhythm, repetition, wordplay, and onomatopoeia, you’ll find fish, frogs, ducks illustrated with lively watercolors. A resource section features both outdoor and indoor activities and games, sure to encourage young naturalists at home and school.
2012 Purple Dragon Book Award: 1st Place (Children’s Picture Book: Ages 5-)
2011 NAPPA Gold Award (Books Category) from National Assoc. of Parenting Publications of America
2011 Mom’s Choice Gold Award (Children’s Picture Book Category)
Do you have a “book bag” with go-to titles for different topics? These are the books that pop into your head at the mere mention of a word. If someone says “silly books” the cover of Mr. Brown Can Moo appears in my mind’s eye.
And when someone says “sibling problems” or “jealousy” I instantly see Mama, Chester, and Ronny raccoon from the cover of A Pocket Full of Kisses by Aubrey Penn. Animal stories have a way of making life lessons easier to understand, and when they’re done well, kids can see themselves and reflect on the message.
It was Okay for a while, but now Chester doesn’t like having a little brother. Every time he thinks Mother Raccoon has given him just a little extra love, she goes and gives it to his brother Ronny, too. Finally, with a story about the stars, Chester begins to understand about a mother’s love. This story helps “big brothers” understand that parents can never run out of love for their children.
Raccoon protagonists make this a story that’s easy to swallow for “big brothers” who want to make sure that they are loved, too. It could also work in a classroom where “jealousy” is the issue at hand.
There is just enough humor that the human “big brother” can see his jealousy but not be embarrassed by it.
It offers parents a means to physically demonstrate their unconditional love in a way that is precious to a child. If you have two (or more) children who sometimes forget that they are loved equally, this is a nice reminder.
If you’re in a house with siblings (or soon-to-be siblings), this is a great story for talking about love, jealousy, and being the ‘bigger’ child.
In our house, there are no brothers or sisters, yet as a three-year-old our daughter couldn’t get enough of this book. Great books make an impression that can last a lifetime. What books fit that category for you?
It seems that almost every book is part of a series these days. There’s a downside to that: isn’t there anything original anymore? But there is an upside, too.
When you want to hook a developing or struggling reader, series give them fast-paced stories with relatable characters they will grow to consider friends. It doesn’t hurt to mix in a little humor, too.
Meet Johnny Maverick, Stu Duncan, and Tom Morgan. Johnny and Stu have been friends for life and play on the Timberwolves hockey team. Tom Morgan just arrived in Howling, Toronto, Canada. He joins the team, but theirs is not an instant friendship. Tom is bent on picking on the overweight Stu; but by the end of Timberwolf Chase (Book One), Tom has learned some valuable lessons about friendship and teamwork.
Next time around, in Timberwolf Revenge, Johnny is Tom’s target. Tom makes the first move, playing a practical joke on Johnny. Then its Johnny’s turn … and it keeps escalating. When Tom outsmarts him one last time, Johnny finally gets the message that revenge isn’t the answer.
In each of these lightly illustrated novels, the story is fast-paced. There are peripheral characters – like parents and coaches – but most of the action centers around Johnny, Stu, and Tom. Here are some of the other reasons this series stands out for me …
There are humorous events and pratfalls kids love – like hooking Johnny’s shorts, tied to a fishing line, so that when he runs the race his shorts come down. [Timberwolf Challenge]
Life lessons relevant to preteens are woven into every story. From the choices and consequences of their actions to how to be a good Samaritan, these are examples kids can relate to and emulate. [Timberwolf Trap]
The boys’ competitive spirit is obvious … and so is the result of being too competitive. Each of the boys get their “come uppance.”
Although it might seem from the first two books I described that Tom is the main character, the stories are told through Johnny, and each book opens with what he’s doing. The key is that readers will be able to relate to each of the three protagonists.
Even as a ‘girl’ I enjoyed the series, but I’ll admit that it will more likely appeal to boys grades 3 to 6. If you’re looking for books for older readers that have that fast pace with life-lessons, I’d recommend the Orca Currents series. Here are previews for two of the newest titles.
At a Battle of the Bands event, Ace and his best friend Denny notice that girls like musicians, no matter how dorky the dudes might be. Since they have been severely challenged when it comes to meeting girls, they decide to start a band. Ace discovers that he loves playing guitar and electric bass and Denny tweets their every move. Ace tries to write a song that will win at the next local teen songwriting contest. It’s more difficult than he thought it would be. When Denny brings a great tune to rehearsal, Ace is devastated that Denny, who rarely practices, is a better songwriter than he is. The contest is only days away when Ace discovers that Denny stole the song, and Ace has to decide if winning is worth the lie. (publisher summary)
Ever since he was small, Franklin has been soothed by fire. Staring into the flames helps Franklin forget his problems. And right now, he’s got a lot to forget. Franklin’s mother has left the family home to be with her hairdresser boyfriend. Franklin’s father, the mayor of Montreal West, is too busy worrying about his public image to do anything about the family.
As a rash of local fires competes with upcoming elections for media attention, Franklin’s father has to work hard to keep the public happy. And Franklin has to reconsider his romance with fire. (publisher summary)
The Orca Currents series offers older readers (middle school) fast-paced stories that meet their interests. Unlike Timberwolf, each of these books introduces new characters. Yet just like Timberwolf , there are thought-provoking moments that readers will find relevant to the ir own lives.
I’ve always loved stories. They are windows to other worlds. A good story doesn’t tell you what to think. But if I can hook you in, maybe you’ll find yourself compelled to think, feel, imagine… and to begin a new journey of your own. ~ Beverley Naidoo
Four years ago this month I “met” Beverley Naidoo through Femi, Sade, and their father. They are a Nigerian refugee family living in London, whose lives (mostly Femi’s) were central to Web of Lies. The story was so powerfully told, that I wanted to learn more about this children’s author from South Africa. Her personal story is as captivating as the ones she’s created for young readers.
So far, I’ve read three of her works: Web of Lies, Burn My Heart, and Out of Bounds: Seven Stories of Conflict and Hope. These are books written at an upper-elementary level with stories that will interest and engage older readers, too. Each of these has been shared with young readers, and this week’s reviews focus on their reactions to the books.
Burn My Heart
by Beverley Naidoo
Book Level: 5.2; Interest Level: MG
Mathew and Mugo are friends, just as their fathers had been friends when they were boys. The Graysons, British settlers, took ownership of the land once farmed by Kikuyu, Mugo’s ancestors. As fears of the Mau Mau Society begin to grow, the boys’ worlds begin to diverge. Their friendship is being tested as they both confront prejudice, loyalty, and fear. Are they truly friends? Were they ever? This middle grade novel offers a fictional account of life in Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion.
I picked this out of a group of books because it has a cool name and a pretty cover. I did learn a little about the British going to Africa. I didn’t know they did that.
This is a haunting story. I couldn’t put the book down. Although the story is set in 1950s Kenya, the themes of prejudice, change, and the horror that comes with perpetuating fear could just as easily apply to 1950s America.
This is a well-paced read that offers a window into a poorly documented piece of history.
These are stories that describe life in South Africa during apartheid, 1948 through 2000. Each story is narrated by a young person who is trying to make sense out of what’s happening to his or her life, family, community, and nation. This is a set of short stories about life in South Africa during apartheid.
The thought-provoking tales are set simply, providing for easy comprehension.
Each character is given a distinct, notable personality. Although their names may be foreign for some readers, the identifiable traits set each person apart.
While these short stories seems like a fairly simple, straightforward read, there are moving messages on and between the pages.
After each chapter, some main points of the subject remain hidden, leaving the reader an unanswered question sometimes without a correct answer. This aspect drew me deep into the book. I often found myself rereading some passages to hopefully better understand the situations.
Web of Lies
by Beverley Naidoo
Reading Level: 4.7; Interest Level: UG
Having fled Nigeria and resettled in London, Femi (10) and Sade (12) thought they would finally be safe. While Sade is dealing with her mother’s death and the possible intrusion of a “new woman” in their lives, Femi is getting more and more involved with a street gang. It isn’t long before their resilience as individuals and as a family are once again put to the test. This is a novel that allows you to journey with the characters (and their father) as they deal with the presence of a gang in their lives.
This book shows a harsh reality for some children worldwide. While global cultures differ based on geography and customs, Ms. Naidoo has a way of making the story of Femi and Sade universal.
The reader makes the connection that many people today face the same problems of fleeing their homeland in hopes of a better life only to encounter a harsh welcome where they land.
It would be a good book for stimulating a discussion on global current events and what’s happening to displaced citizens.
The story is believable, offering stark but not exaggerated descriptions of the realities of life. Once you start, you will want to finish the book.
When looking for books that introduce kids to other cultures and yet have universal appeal, you can’t go wrong with these. They also have high interest / low readability appeal. The characters and plots are sophisticated enough for older readers who need extra help, too.
One of the best ways to tap into their natural curiosity and sense of humor is with a book. They may be clever, but with the right book, you can sneak a little bit of learning right past their eagle eyes.
I confess, I am a HUGE Sylvan Dell Publishing fan, and have been for a long time. Their informational picture books consistently offer young audiences quality stories. Each story is built around a practical learning topic, with additional activities in the back that are perfect whether you read the book in school or at home. The fact that you’ll find every title in both English and Spanish shouldn’t be dismissed, either.
This week’s book reviews are a selection of Sylvan Dell Publishing titles that guide kids to discovering answers to their question. These are stories that are more about the show and less about the tell.
How can this be? Someone stole Fox’s cake from the Cake Contest … on Owl’s watch, no less. Thirteen bakers and twelve cakes. There’s a thief in the house! Deductive Detective is on the case. He surveys the scene, collecting clues, and shares his process, all while eliminating suspects.
The story is fast paced. Kids will “quack” up at the clever word play. That said, some of the double entendre may be missed; and some adults may not appreciate the misspellings for effect (e.g., Moose makes a chocolate moose cake).
Bright, busy illustrations give young listener’s plenty to look at. Some pages are text-heavy, so the quality illustrations will keep their attention.
In addition to the factual data, each spread includes a subtraction problem … sneaky, sneaky!
This is a fun story to share and offers opportunities not just for prediction, but as a model on how to solve other problems.
Highly recommended for school or home. Deductive Detective would make a great gift for an elementary student, paired with a magnifying glass, a small notebook, and a pencil.
Visit and explore thirteen habitats, from the arctic to woodland forests above ground, and caves and marine environments below. Each spread asks kids to find natural objects in the imagery. Each habitat is presented with rhyme and action verbs, making it less story and more poetry like.
Readers use their visual detective skills to find the items described in each poem. Some are easy, like the animals; but others take a little more knowlege, like finding the hemlock in the forest.
Simple poems and beautiful illustrations make this an excellent selection for developing readers. The text is accessible and the imagery helps them decode words that may be unfamiliar.
Beyond the natural detective work, there is a broad array of action verbs. This can be useful for helping young writers expand their word bank with more descriptive vocabulary.
There are four pages of content in the back. The Creative Minds section is always good, but this is one of the best I’ve seen.
Highly recommended for school, and particularly home. This would be great to read before a trip to the zoo, a hike, or a walk around the neighborhood.
My Fifth Grader has been working on a project where she has to read an historical fiction novel then transform it into a picture book that she will read with her third-grade Book Buddy. [Personally, I think this is a brilliant project, but that's a subject for another day!]
One of the grading points for the project is the book’s cover, which must be
“engaging … with colorful illustrations.”
For better or worse, a book’s cover is often the key determinant in whether or not someone (adults included) pick up a book. When covers and content come together, there is reason to cheer.
For this week’s set of book reviews, I’ve selected three irresistible books from Dawn Publications from our Reading Tub® book bag. As you’ll see in the comments, our reviewers enjoyed them from cover to cover! Click the covers and read them on BigUniverse.com
Read on Big Universe
written and illustrated by Robert Nutt
length: 48 pages
Amy is scared of the dark. When she sees small lights are flickering outside her window, she gets an idea. She retrieves an empty jar and goes outside to catch some fireflies to bring to her room. The light of the fireflies dims because they’re confined to the jar. Amy releases them into her room, the darkness has gone away, and she overcomes her fear of the shadows on the walls, falling asleep in peace. This is a story that brings together nature and a child’s fear of the dark.
Everyone can enjoy this unique story with its dream-like quality and wonderfully researched facts about fireflies. The illustrations are quite effective at telling the story, and are wonderfully created. There is so much info here, both entertaining and educational.
This is a bedtime story and can start conversations about being afraid of the dark, but it is also about fireflies. At the end of the book is also a page of factual info about fireflies and their decline in the environment, and how to preserve them.
My children (ages 2,4, and 6) enjoyed the book. However, not really having experienced fireflies, I’m not entirely certain this book hit home for them.
This is a book about how honey is made by honey bees. Follow the day of a honey bee, with exquisitely detailed illustrations that are biologically accurate and just gorgeous to look at! This is a story about honey bees that also includes science information.
This is a great book that will catch the eye of most kids.
Gorgeous pictures, will grow with the attention span of the child. The story text is written at 2 levels: 1) a 2-year-old level, with just 2-10 words per page (short and sweet for a short attention span), and 2) a 5-year old level, with several sentences explaining the bees’ behavior in more depth.
My sons (ages 3 and 5) both loved the book. They both love learning about animals, so this book really spoke to their interests. The pictures gave them lots to look at, and the text was very interesting to them. I picked the book the first time, but they came back and asked for it a lot.
This wonderfully illustrated counting book portrays a variety of colorful ocean life. On each spread there is an underwater mother fish and her young, from 1 to 10, each with a short rhyme. This picture book is an undersea counting book that also introduces readers to ocean life.
Bright illustrations, short text, bonus material about teaching kids how to count, and “behind the scenes” looks at how the book was created make this book stand out.
My boys (2 and 4) liked this book. They both wanted to read it again, and my older son made associations between the illustrations here and other books. He also asked “what is that” about the other elements of the page. My 2-year-old is starting to learn to count, and the illustrations made counting fun.
The pages were colorful with lots to see, but they weren’t overwhelming.
There are lots of things to do with this book in addition to counting. You can explore the biology of sea life; and the rhyming lets you make it a musical story. The clay artwork may inspire kids to create their own works of art.
January – for me anyway – has been all facts! I am knee-deep in nonfiction right now and absolutely loving it. Truth be told, I’ve always loved informational books (think: historical fiction).
When I was tutoring, I loved using nonfiction picture books and easy readers because the format allows kids to explore without having to remember story arcs or characters. Here’s what sharing nonfiction has taught me …
Kids actually read more text because they want to learn more about what’s in that picture.
Readers retain more because they would absorb a specific fact or select set of information.
Fidgety readers could move all around the book – read page 10 before page 3 – and not “miss” anything.
To paraphrase our friends at Reading Rainbow, there is no end to what we can learn in a book. Readers of all ages can enjoy a nonfiction book, if for no other reason they have pictures to look at. To demonstrate that idea, I thought I’d share two books from Rourke Educational Media and show how they can be used with readers of different readiness levels.
As you can see from the reading and interest levels, this book is meant for independent readers. There is lots of text and big words that young readers may not understand or be able to decipher. Younger readers will be lured by the cute seals, arctic fox, and colorful photography.
Left to explore the book, they can get a lot out of it just by looking at the pictures and reading the photo captions and the “Chew on This” insets. Sitting with a child, parents and caregivers can either read or paraphrase the more detailed information.
Although this book is for an elementary audience, the reading level is at the high end of that group. There are concepts (like ISO codes) that young students wouldn’t understand; but the book is peppered with “Interesting Fun Facts” that are simple, one-sentence pieces of trivia about money around the world (like why the 2-dollar Canadian coin is called a toonie).
There are so many topics you can talk about using this book as your starting point. Pull out a globe and it is a chance to introduce children to other places in the world. Diverse school populations open doors for students to bring in samples of money from their homeland, or maybe what things cost … which leads us to math. That fabulous picture of US currency (above) could help a first or second grader learning about money see the items side by side, front and back.
The great thing about books that cross reading readiness levels is that they have a great shelf life. What started as an interest in looking at cute seal pictures in first grade becomes a handy resource for the ecosystems project in fifth!
Readers can select from among the group of 19 men and an elephant (Hannibal’s elephant), to create puppets of historic figures. You’ll find emperors, conquerors, and philosophers. These are the great men of Ancient Egypt, Greece, China, Rome, and Jerusalem. There is a two-paragraph biography on each person at the front of the book, followed by two pages of the character the reader needs to build.
I love books that bring history (0r reading) to life. When I saw Famous Figures, I was instantly captivated by the idea of creating puppets of historical figures and allowing the kids to role play as a learning process. This book covers the globe (ancient as it was) and balances disciplines (philosophers and conquerors) and fame (Alexander the Great and a Greek Hoplite). Cut the pieces out and connect them with mini-brads, fasteners, or 1/8-inch eyelets. Once the figure is assembled, kids can “play out the real stories of history or make up their own and travel through time.”
This is a creative book that offers a way to reinforce learning in a meaningful way.
There is a set of pre-colored pieces for those who aren’t artistic; and a set of coloring book-styled pieces for those who want to create originals.
The pages are cardstock quality paper, giving them some durability and sturdiness.
I would definitely recommend it, even for home use. It is a great way for you to play with your kids and learn together.
There isn’t a lot of background about on the characters. One reviewer calls is a “supplemental activity book,” yet it would be ideal for an audience that has not yet learned ancient history (i.e., elementary students).
This isn’t a book that you’re likely going to find in your local library because the pages are perforated. If you know kids who learn best with hands-on activities, this is a must have.
Last but not least, Diez-Luckie has done a fabulous job with the front material, clearly explaining what the book has to offer each audience (children, adults, museums, and historical re-enactors).
the sparkle in a person’s eye when they’ve become a reader;
the sigh that comes with a happy ending in a great book; and last but not least …
discovering new friends, worlds, and more through books.
Picking the first review of the year isn’t easy. I searched The Reading Tub website for “new years” books and all I got were first-day-of-school titles. No help! So I changed the term to “fresh start,” and the Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt came up in the list. There were others, yes, but this one hits two of my resolutions: read more broadly and review more chapter books!
The Wednesday Wars
by Gary D. Schmidt
Middle Grade Audience
ATOS Reading Level: 5. 9
In Holling’s world (1967), you’re either attending Jewish classes or Catholic classes on Wednesday afternoons—unless you’re Presbyterian like Hollings—in which case, you spend your Wednesdays with Mrs. Baker. The afternoons start off typically with geography and math, cleaning erasers, carrying cream puffs, then Shakespeare. Shakespeare gets Holling: the girl, sports stardom, teacher admiration, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Teachers, students, parents, sisters, boy and girls—everyone grows up and closer together for a happy ending.
Teen Reviewer: Holling Hoodhood – right away you know there’s going to be something good about a character with that name. You keep waiting to see if he’s going to go by that name or some weird nickname. No, Holling it is and you grow to see that Hoodhood is a proud name to have. I like how Holling is realistic about himself: he laughs at himself and he knows that sometimes he does stupid things.
I liked the way Holling talked to the reader saying things like “I know this is going to go bad; don’t you think this is going to go bad?” His character is so real. It’s like you’re standing right there beside him. He’s just a really great guy.
Good things come his way a lot. Quoting Shakespeare was a little freaky, but I guess it helped make his character. The romance between Holling and Meryl is just enough not to be mushy. There’s a war (Vietnam) going on, but the one closest to home is Holling’s relationships with his family, teachers, and friends. That’s actually a good way to help kids who weren’t born at that time to feel some of the feelings people were experiencing.
This is a good read for elementary and middle school students. I bought the hardcover book from a book store simply because I knew Gary Schmidt was a great writer. I had read other books by the author from my school library. I would give this book as a gift because the characters and the story stay fresh every time. This was a fun read.
Quite an endorsement, don’t you think? My first impression is that this would also make a great read aloud at home or school.
Does the Wednesday Wars remind you of other great books you’ve read? I’d love to add them to my list … I’ve got 12 months of reading ahead.
Like many schools, my daughter’s elementary school has a book buddy program where older students read with younger students.
This year my daughter reads with two first grade girls. She loves the privilege of reading with these younger students and looks forward to her Thursday morning time with them. Watching her these past few weeks, she is slowly – and unwittingly – becoming a book evangelist.
Beginning in early November she started asking me to select books from my office (affectionately known as “Mom’s Work Library”) that she could read with the girls. She’d look at the covers of the picture books and easy readers and decide whether or not it would suit their tastes. Some suggestions make her cut, some do not.
Anyone who knows illustrator Robert Sabuda’s work knows how intricate and delicate the popups are. For years I have held my breath as she handled these books, so you can imagine my trepidation taking them to school.
So why did I say yes? Because these are treasures to her. Every year for as long as I can remember, when we pull out the crate of holiday books, Catherine looks for these first. She marvels at how the story unfolds, explores the art to understand how it all works, and wants to show us the books over and over again, even though we all know them by heart.
She is passionate about these books – they bring her joy so powerful she wants to share it. Without her book buddy program she would be less likely to explore reading from someone else’s viewpoint or taste. She would be less likely to share a passion for her favorite stories. She might not ever realize that she’s turning into a bookworm!