Book Reviews: Sweet Shapes by Juana Medina and Alphabet Boats by Samantha R. Vamos

 

Reviewed by Dora M. Guzmán

The following books are amazing additions to your early concepts library! Each book introduces readers to shapes and letters by inviting them to explore diverse tastes and sights around the world.

 

Sweet ShapesDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: In this delicious forest, the bears are made of rectangular brownies, the goldfinches are triangles of lemon tart, and the butterflies are oval jelly beans. What child could resist learning shapes from such delectable creatures as these? Collage artist Juana Medina has outdone herself with this array of tooth-achingly sweet animal desserts that come in all shapes and sizes.

MY TWO CENTS: This book takes the reader on a short and sweet (literally), path in the forest. It introduces different animals and compares their shape to decadent treats. A diverse group of animals include goldfinches and chipmunks, and sweets include baklava and carmelita. The mixed medium is interesting in this children’s book, and the use of photography in illustrating the sweets gives you an immediate sweet craving! There are also a variety of shapes that extend beyond your typical shapes like the parallelogram, oval, and crescent.

This book is a great fit for your early childhood readers who like sweets and animals. It introduces shapes in a different, yet playful manner, and it draws your eye to the positioning of treats and the animals’ silhouettes. The short and sweet text allows the reader to focus on the concepts of shapes. At the end of the book, the author shares a recipe for chocolate covered strawberries, because why not?! Overall, a great addition to your early concept collection of shape books.

TEACHING TIPS: This concept book pairs well with a five senses unit since you can use the bakery treats as realia after you read the book to your future bakers and chefs. There are other concept books in this series by Juana Medina that reinforce counting and ABCs.

 

Juana Medina

Photo: Silvia Baptiste © 2013

ABOUT THE AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR: Juana Medina may have over-indulged her sweet tooth doing the research for this book! Fortunately, her young twin sons keep her active at their home in Washington, D.C. A native of Colombia, Juana is the author-illustrator of 1 Big Salad, ABC Pasta, and the Pura Belpré winner Juana and Lucas. Please visit her and her work at www.juanamedina.com.

 

 

 

 


 

Alphabet BoatsDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Discover twenty-six types of vessels, from the more common–canoe and motorboat–to the unusual–umiak and Q-boat. Just like in Alphabet Trucks and Alphabet Trains, colorful art includes the letters of the alphabet hidden (and not-so-hidden) in supporting roles in the illustrations. The text features familiar as well as unusual boats from around the world, packing in tons of instant kid appeal, and upper and lowercase letters are integrated into the action of the art rather than solely in the typography. Back matter includes age-appropriate facts about each featured boat.

MY TWO CENTS: Come on a rhyming ride through the alphabet on a boat! This is no ordinary trip as you will be immersed in a rich vocabulary of boat life around the world. There are various types of boats and they have various ways of moving through the water. For example, you have the barge, the gondola, and the umiak. The illustrations are crisp and detailed, which allow the reader to search for letters within the background. A must read in the classroom for all future sailors!

This book exceeded my expectations of an ABC book, especially in the use of technical vocabulary of boats and more. I definitely learned a lot about boats and their functional parts. While certain parts may become complex for readers who are not into boats, the text includes short phrases so that readers get small doses and remain engaged in the alphabet. A glossary is included in the back to expand on each boat’s description and use. Overall, this book is a great addition, as it invites readers to a new, and maybe familiar, world especially if they live near a body of water.

TEACHING TIPS: In addition to adding this book to your collection of ABC books, one can incorporate this in their phonemic awareness and writing lessons. After each letter introduction, there is a rhyming scheme that is great for phonemic awareness mini-lessons on rhyming and/or phonics lessons around word families. Readers can also go on a letter hunt as the illustrator has placed various letters across the pages. In writing, teachers can focus on using descriptive words that go beyond describing objects using color and size, like describing boats by their speed or the way they move in the water. Videos of each boat and their function are a wonderful supplement to this read aloud and lessons, as it will bring the boats to life. Easily paired with the rest of the author and illustrator’s books around the alphabet!

ABOUT THE AUTHORSamantha R. Vamos is the author of Alphabet Trains, Alphabet Trucks, and The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred, a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor Book. Samantha and her family live in Northern California. Samantha’s favorite boats are the iceboat and the Very Slender Vessel. www.samanthavamos.com

 

 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATORRyan R. O’Rourke illustrated Alphabet Trains, Alphabet Trucks, and Eight Days Gone by Linda Reynolds. He both wrote and illustrated Bella Lost and Found. His art has appeared in galleries, newspapers, and magazines. Including a weekly illustration for the Boston Globe Magazine. Ryan lives in New Hampshire. www.ryanorourke.com

 

 

 

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading and Language. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile!

Cover Reveal: The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande, by Adam Gidwitz & David Bowles

We are pleased to host the exciting cover reveal for The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande

The Chupacabras of the Río Grande is the fourth book in the fully illustrated, globe-trotting middle grade fantasy-adventure series about mythical creatures and their cultures of origin, from the Newbery Honor-winning author of The Inquisitor’s Tale.

Elliot and Uchennna have only just returned from their most recent Unicorn Rescue Society mission when they (along with Jersey!) are whisked away on their next exciting adventure with Professor Fauna. This time, they’re headed to the Mexican border to help another mythical creature in need: the chupacabras!

Teaming up with local kids Lupita and Mateo Cervantes–plus their brilliant mother, Dr. Alejandra Cervantes and her curandero husband Israel–the URS struggle to not only keep the chupacabras safe, but also to bring a divided community together once more.

All in time for dinner!

The Chupacabras of the Río Grande is co-written with David Bowles, author of the Pura Belpré Honor-winning book,The Smoking Mirror. It will be published April 16, 2019.

And now, for the cover reveal!

 

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Follow @AdamGidwitz and @DavidOBowles on Twitter to get more information about their upcoming novel!

 

Book Review: Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez, illus. by Felicita Sala

 

Review by Dora M. Guzmán

Joan ProcterDESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:  Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets….

While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!

When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her komodo dragon as the guest of honor.

With a lively text and vibrant illustrations, scientist and writer Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala bring to life Joan Procter’s inspiring story of passion and determination.

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Joan Procter

MY TWO CENTS: This picture book encompasses the biography of reptile scientist, Joan Procter. The story begins by contrasting the ‘cold scaly’ interests to her peers, which eventually lead to her passion in science, specifically zoology. Joan proves many people wrong as she goes above and beyond in her work and research, even during the war. Her hard work and effort land her an opportunity to organize a public display of reptiles at the London Zoo, including Komodo dragons. The illustrations vibrate throughout its textured lines and solid colors, especially in the reptiles. Their colors stay true to their nature, yet enhance the illustration to make it fun for children. The author also includes a thorough biography at the end with a bibliography for readers to extend their own research on this phenomenal scientist!

One word-inspirational. Joan found her passion at a young age and proved her worth as a woman scientist. This book follows her journey of finding her reptilian passion and demonstrating perseverance in her personal and professional journey. In this biography, the reader learns about a scientist who not only studies animals, but also diagnoses and treats them to their best health. Overall, a must add to your library and future read alouds for all readers.

TEACHING TIPS: There are a variety of ways to implement this book within your literacy block. In reading, teachers can highlight Joan’s character traits and how it influenced the trajectory of her life events. Readers can also compare other woman scientists and contrast historical events or challenges. The book also provides multiple opportunities to teach rich vocabulary words that describe reptiles and expand knowledge of adjectives.

 

patricia valdezABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patricia Valdez is a scientist who loves writing for children. She earned her PhD in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and works at the National Institutes of Health. Originally from Texas, she now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. This is her first picture book. Visit her at PatriciaValdezBooks.com and follow her on Twitter at @Patricia_Writer.

 

 

 

felicita salaABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Felicita Sala is a self-taught artist who studied philosophy at the University of Western Australia. She has worked on several animation projects, but her passion is making picture books. Felicita lives in Rome with her husband and their daughter. Visit her at FelicitaSala.com, FelicitaSala.blogspot.com, and Instagram.com/felicita.sala.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading and Language. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never ending “to read” pile!

Book Review: La Frontera: El Viaje con Papá / My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva, illus. by Claudia Navarro

 

Review by Sanjuana Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Based on a true story! Join a young boy and his father on an arduous journey from Mexico to the United States in the 1980s to find a new life. They’ll need all the courage they can muster to safely cross the border — la frontera — and to make a home for themselves in a new land. Inspired by the childhood immigration experience of co-author Alfredo Alva, this story of perseverance is told in both Spanish and English to empower language-learning. Includes 4 pages of endnotes that unpack facts about Alfredo’s story and other stories like his and borders around the world to help parents and educators talk with children about immigration, resilience, empathy and belonging.

MY TWO CENTS: This bilingual picture book tells the story of Alfredo Alva (a co-author) who leaves his family and home in Mexico to make the journey to the United States with his father. Told from the child’s perspective, Alfredo tells the reason why his father makes the difficult decision to make the harrowing journey to the U.S. by stating that he “could no longer provide for our growing family” (n.p.). The language that is used is simple, yet powerful. Alfredo makes the poignant statement in thinking about leaving his Mama and brothers: “I was hungry, yes, but I did not want life to change” (n.p.).

Their journey, like that of so many, is difficult and they pay a coyote to guide them in their journey across the border to the U.S. Alfredo and his father are abandoned by the coyote, and they must make the journey through the dessert on their own and on foot. Alfredo documents how they traveled and the dangers they encountered, “We started walking at dawn every day, and we walked for five days. There was no path, and the brambles ripped my clothes. I had many cuts. When I sat or slept on the ground, I got bitten by fire ants, and I was always watching for scorpions and snakes.” Eventually, they reach their destination. Alfredo begins to attend school, he learns English, and makes friends. Alfredo and his father are able to begin the long process of applying for citizenship through President Reagan’s amnesty program. Alfredo does not see his mother and brothers for four years.

The illustrations in this book are vivid and bring life to the experience that Alfredo is describing. They also depict the sense of sadness that Alfredo feels when he finds out he will be separated from his family, they depict the harshness of the trip, and also capture the closeness and love of family.  This is a timely and very important book that shows the difficult choices that parents must make to provide a better life for their children. It also showcases the love that Alfredo’s father has for him as he carries him through some of the journey and tries to provide comfort in any way to his son. The book also showcases the difficulties that children experience when they leave their families behind, travel through the dangerous terrain, and begin life in a different country. This book provides an excellent space for discussions about the immigration experience, the journey that families make, and the difficulties in adjusting to a new life. One of the best features is that it is told through the perspective of a child and therefore can provide a window into the difficulties into the immigration journey that so many children experience. The educational end notes provide four pages detailing Alfredo’s story, describing borders and cultures, and reasons why people immigrate. The end notes also provide real pictures from Alfredo’s family. This book is a heartfelt and moving depiction of a family’s difficult decision to immigrate and a child’s experience in that journey. It is a must have in classrooms and libraries.

Click on the video below for an introduction to La Frontera by Barefoot Books:

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORSAlfredo Alva was born in La Ceja, Mexico. He came to Kerrville, Texas, with his father when he was eight years old. He is now married with two children and runs a successful masonry business. He wanted to share his story because he sees immigrants facing the same difficulties today that his family faced over thirty years ago.

Deborah Mills studied architecture and worked in the field while living overseas with her husband and five children. She now divides her time between Kerrville, Texas, and Thousand Islands, New York. When she met Alfredo’s family and learned his story, she wanted to write it down and share it. She believes that all children everywhere need to understand this important piece of history.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Claudia Navarro studied at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas UNAM in Mexico City, and has illustrated for clients around the world. She lives in Mexico City.

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER:  Sanjuana C. Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Literacy and Reading Education in the Elementary and Early Childhood Department at Kennesaw State University. Her research interests include the early literacy development of culturally and linguistically diverse students, early writing development, literacy development of students who are emergent bilinguals, and Latinx children’s literature. She has published in journals such as Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Language Arts, and Language Arts Journal of Michigan.

An Interview with J.C. Cervantes, Author of The Storm Runner

 

By Cecilia Cackley

The Storm Runner, which releases tomorrow, is the first book inspired by Latinx culture under the new Disney imprint Rick Riordan Presents. As in Rick Riordan’s many other series, it features a pre-teen who gets pulled into adventures with various gods and mythological creatures. I was able to talk to J.C. Cervantes about her process writing the book and what it’s like to be part of the Rick Riordan Presents team.

Q: How did you get connected with Rick Riordan and his imprint?

A: My agent sent me a well-timed email as soon as Disney sent out the Rick Riordan Presents announcement. I happened to have a story in mind that had been lingering in the vault. I nearly squealed with excitement. So, I polished the first three chapters and synopsis and after my agent submitted, we got a call the next day! What was it like working with him? Intimidating. Surreal. Amazing. Terrifying. Thrilling. Humbling. All of the above?

Q: The Storm Runner is an adventure novel, whereas your debut Tortilla Sun is a family story set in a close-knit village. Was your writing process for each book different in terms of plotting and character development? 

A: It was totally different. When I wrote Tortilla Sun, I had never written a book before so there was sort of an innocent navigating my way through the thorny dark with no idea where I was going vibe. But I had more experience by the time I wrote The Storm Runner and had already forced (yes, forced) myself to learn how to outline and plot in ways that I had been SO resistant to before.

Q: What was your research like for this book, not just the Maya aspects to the story, but also for your protagonist with a physical disability?

A: I relied on stories my grandmother told me to get me started and then hit the books (eight plus) to really challenge what I thought I knew. Interestingly, there were discrepancies even between texts. Additionally, I worked with two Mayanists, specifically on language aspects and pronunciation. I also watched several documentaries. One of the great challenges with learning more about the Maya and their pantheon is that most of their ancient written records were destroyed by the Spanish.

In terms of writing a child with a disability, it was important to me that his disability not define him, that I be mindful of the visibility and invisibility of his experiences and his feeling that he didn’t belong. So, I drew on personal experience with people/children I know with disabilities, but I also worked closely with a special education scholar who has dedicated her life to teaching and working with kids with disabilities. She read the manuscript as well to ensure I remained mindful and aware of my character and his experience in an authentic way.

Q: For kids who read this book and immediately want to learn more about Maya culture and cosmo-vision, what books or resources would you point them towards?

There are so many amazing books out there but depending on age range I would recommend the Popol Vuh, The Pocket Dictionary of Aztec and Mayan Gods and Goddesses, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aztec and Maya, the Lost History of the Aztec and Maya, and for fun, a picture book titled: You Wouldn’t Want to be a Mayan Soothsayer. There are also some really wonderful videos on YouTube like The Underworld of the Mayan Gods produced by the History channel. Warning: it’s pretty creepy!

Q: Middle grade has for a long time been the age category with the least Latinx representation. That feels like it’s starting to change, with high-profile debuts from people like Celia Perez and Pablo Cartaya and now your addition to an imprint from a middle grade superstar. What advice do you have for other Latinx writers who want to write for middle grade readers?

A: Begin with what you know, what you grew up with. Tap into the magic that is so prevalent in our cultures and let that carry you through the story. Don’t let anyone tell you that your experience doesn’t matter or isn’t ______ enough (fill in the blank) or doesn’t align with the “norm.” Read loads of books, especially diverse titles, mentor, and support diverse writers. Be authentic. And above all honor the kids you write for. They are smart and funny and so eager to see themselves and their lives reflected in the pages of books.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORAbout the author: Jen Cervantes is an award-winning children’s author. In addition to other honors, she was named a New Voices Pick by the American Booksellers Association for her debut novel, Tortilla Sun. The Storm Runner‘s sequel, entitled The Fire Keeper, is slated for release in 2019. Keep up with Jen’s books and appearances at her official site.

Jen is also a member of Las Musas, the first collective of women and non binary Latinx MG and YA authors to come together in an effort to support and amplify each other’s debut or sophomore novels in US children’s literature. You can learn more about them by here.

 

 

 

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER: Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC, where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. Learn more at http://www.witsendpuppets.com.

Book Review: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

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This review by Lila Quintero Weaver is based on an advance uncorrected galley.

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION: Bryan has a good idea of what’s tight to him—reading comics, drawing superheroes, and hanging out with no drama. But “no drama” doesn’t come with the territory of where he’s from, so he’s feeling wound up tight. While his mom encourages his calm, thoughtful nature, his quick-tempered dad says he needs to be tough because it’s better for a guy to be feared than liked.

And now Bryan’s new friend Mike is putting the pressure on—all of a sudden, his ideas of fun are crazy risky. When Bryan’s dad ends up back in jail, something in Bryan snaps and he allows Mike to take the lead. At first it’s a rush as Bryan starts cutting school and subway surfing. But Bryan never feels quite right when he’s acting wrong, and Mike ends up pushing him too far.

Fortunately, if there’s anything Bryan has learned from his favorite superheroes, it’s that he has the power to stand up for what he believes.

MY TWO CENTS: Starring an Afro-Puerto Rican character from Brooklyn, NY, this entertaining middle-grade novel is a brilliant read layered with emotional richness and nuance. Along with its primary selling point as a solid and strongly voiced story, Tight delivers an important but subtly threaded message on self-respect and moral courage. Bryan’s internal wrestling match, one brought on by a questionable friendship, lies at the crux of the story. In the hands of a lesser writer, this story line could have easily devolved into a morality play. But Maldonado avoids such cardboard cutouts in favor of a skillfully crafted portrait of a relatable middle-grader facing down his vulnerabilities and learning how to choose the higher road.

Sharply drawn from head to toe, Bryan is a sympathetic character with a mounting dilemma that begins as soon as a boy named Mike makes his appearance. Initially, Bryan feels suspicious of the new boy, but lets go of those reservations when Mike reveals a kindred love of superhero comic books. Still, subtle things about Mike continue to nag at Bryan, setting up an undercurrent of mistrust. As Mike works his charisma on Bryan, gradually opening doors to dangerous and alluring pastimes, Bryan begins to rationalize his original misgivings. To complicate matters, things on the home front are going south, too. Bryan’s father, who’s recently gotten out of jail, seems to be courting trouble again, putting the whole family in a state of tension.

Although at times Bryan succumbs to risky behavior, he seems most like himself when the drama is dialed way down. He actually relishes the peace and quiet of his “office,” an unused desk at his mother’s workplace, where he spreads out his homework. In this vein, we also witness him happily chatting on a park bench with his mom, who he endearingly refers to as “my heart.”

You cannot help but love Bryan. He reads as a real boy, with a real life, and a rings-true voice that expresses rich interiority. But as if to test his tender side, Bryan’s world is complicated by the code of machismo. At his school and in his neighborhood, the message telegraphed at boys is don’t be soft. This refrain of warped masculinity features in many a Latinx treatment. Fortunately, Maldonado lifts the story above such tropes by enlivening Bryan with contradictory currents and introducing fresh possibilities that will keep readers on their toes.

Other elements of Latinx life include food (chicharrones, alcapurrias) and observations on ethnic identity. In an early scene, Bryan reveals that he purchased the new Miles Morales Spider-Man comic because “he’s my age and looks like me. He’s half black and half Puerto Rican. I’m full Rican but heads rarely guess right.”

It’s obvious that Bryan has a lot on his plate. Here he is at the corner bodega presenting a note from his mom, in which she appeals for store credit.

When I finally have everything, I go to the counter. Hector checks if the list matches what I got. I can’t have nothing extra.

I stare back at the chocolate powder we can’t afford to buy. Chocolate milk tastes so good.

Right then, this girl Melanie from my school comes in and watches as Hector bags my stuff and hands me a Post-it. “This is how much your father owes.”

Dang! Why’d he have to mention us owing money? I nervous-smile at Melanie, and just like I thought, she eyes me all in my sauce and trying to know the flavor.

What’s for her to figure out? I’m a broke joke.

Does it need pointing out that Maldonado nails the art of voice?

In addition, he commands a spare approach to description, choosing a handful of small details for the sizzle they bring. One of my favorite examples of colorful scene-setting occurs when Bryan and Mike pass through a crowded train station. “Mike ducks under a turnstile and races up the steps. ‘PAY YOUR FARE!’ the teller’s voice yells through the microphone in the MetroCard booth. It sounds extra scary because it’s all metallic, like Darth Vader’s voice.”

This is a novel that kid readers across the board will go for, and that readers hungry for Afro-Latinx representation will cheer on. In Bryan, Maldonado has created a vivid, relatable character with a lot going on between his ears. He has also built a fascinating and realistic world for this character to occupy, and spun a story that packs punch, enclosing within it hidden, but never preachy, lessons about life and love and healthy self-respect.

IMG_5888ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  What do you get from teaching nearly 20 years in a middle school in the Brooklyn community that you’re from & you’re an author? Gripping relatable novels and real-life inspiration. Voted a “Top 10 Latino Author” & best Middle Grade & Young Adult novelist for African Americans, Torrey Maldonado was spotlighted as a top teacher by NYC’s former Chancellor. Maldonado is the author of the ALA “Quick Pick”, Secret Saturdays, that is praised for its current-feel & timeless themes. His newest MG novel, Tight, is a coming of age tale about choosing your own path. Learn more at torreymaldonado.com

Click here to see our recent Q&A with Torrey Maldonado.

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Lila Quintero Weaver is the author of a graphic memoir, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White, and a novel for kids, My Year in the Middle. Connect with her on Twitter, where her handle is @LilaQWeaver.