Month: May 2019

Picture Book Review: “This is a Good Story”

Picture Book Review: “This is a Good Story”

This is a Good Story

Author: Adam Lehrhaupt
Illustrator: Magali Le Huche
ISBN: 978-1481429351
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2017)
Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3

Amazon Synopsis:

From E.B. White Read Aloud author Adam Lehrhaupt comes an inspiring new picture book that takes apart the pieces of a story—hero, heroine, setting, conflict—and asks the reader to put the story back together again.

As a child takes her pencil and begins to draw pictures for a story, the narrator takes her and the reader through a rollicking sequence of events in this classic tale of bad guys and townsfolk and dungeons. With simplicity and flair, Adam tells a story and then a meta-story of the parts of the story at once! A wonderful primer on the parts of a story and an imaginative way to encourage creative thinking, writing, and storytelling.

My Review

This is such a fun book that encourages young readers and future authors to write their own stories!  The author takes all the elements of a story (setting, conflict, plot, etc.) and weaves them into a story about writing a story.  Here’s an example:

“Our Story begins with Hero and Heroine.”

Picture introducing the protagonists in "This is a Good Story"

The elements of the story are boldly displayed and capitalized. Another example:

“They live in a good town, filled with good people,
called our Setting.

As with any Good Story, ours has a
Conflict, a problem that needs fixing.
and it’s a good thing, too, because without
a Conflict there would be no Plot.”

Picture describing the setting of "This is a Good Story."

Whenever there is a problem with the story (which is being written by a little girl), the narrator comes back and encourages little girl to revise her storyline.  For instance, when the little girl creates a wishy-washy antagonist, readers can feel the the narrator almost stopping her in her tracks (notice the look on her face),when he says,

“That’s not an Evil Overlord!
Come on. That’s barely a Creepy Sidekick.”

Picture of the Evil Overlord in "This is a Good Story."

The Illustrations

The pictures are amazing! I love the little girl who is “authoring” the story.  Though the narrator does all the talking, we can see how the little girl is working through the writing of the story through the pictures. Some of the looks she gives the narrator are priceless!

Glossary – An Added Bonus

There is also a one-page glossary in the back highlighting and defining all the elements of a story. This is a great addition kids can use to make sure they have all the elements included in their story.

Overall

Overall I absolutely loved this book. It’s fun, it’s creative and will inspire the imagination of  budding young authors! The age range listed on this book is 4-8 years. I’m thinking kids at the higher end of that range will enjoy it more, though the younger ones will definitely enjoy the lively, fast-action pictures!

About the Author

Adam Lehrhaupt is the award-winning picture book author of Warning: Do Not Open This Book!, Please: Open This Book!, Chicken in Space (A six book HarperCollins series continuing with Chicken in School June 20, 2017), I Will Not Eat You and I Don’t Draw, I Color as well as the upcoming Wordplay (Scholastic, July 2017), This is a Good Story (S&S, September, 2017), Idea Jar (S&S, Spring 2018) and several more he is not yet at liberty to discuss. Among the awards his titles have won are the E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor, the Wanda Gag Read-Aloud Award and the Hudson Readers Thumbs Up Award. His books have also been honored among ALA notable books, Huffington Post notable books, CCBC Choices, Bank Street Choices, Ontario Library Association ‘Best Bets’ and more.

Adam has traveled to six continents, performed on Broadway, and lived on a communal farm. He firmly believes that opening a book is a good thing, even if there are monkeys in it. Adam currently lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, with his wife, two sons, and two bizarre dogs. 

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library. I’m working my way through 500 picture books. Need a picture book review? Contact me!

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss”

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss”

37 LESSONS ON HOW TO GAIN FROM LOSS
Huma Zuellah Ahmed (2019)
ISBN 9789990150452
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (8/18)

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” by Huma Zuellah Ahmed is a book about personal transformation.  It is also the author’s journey from trial and loss, to living triumphant and free from the pain that held her back.  Using her personal experiences, Ahmed takes the reader through her most devasting trial, the illness and subsequent passing of her mother, and explains the steps she took to find her way to freedom.

“37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” is unique in that it is part self-help, part spiritual and part memoir.  As the author takes the reader through the journey of her mother’s illness, it reads like memoir passages, and at the end of these passages Ahmed lists her lesson and the steps to take to achieve the goal of the lesson, incorporating many self-help and spiritual concepts.

Savor the Journey

There is a lot of information in this book, so it’s not one to read through quickly.  I found myself taking notes all along the way, noting the pages and topics I wanted to go back to and revisit in greater detail.  37 different lessons may seem daunting at first, but a lot of the steps blend together in a quite natural procession and some are lessons you may have experienced yourself throughout your own journey. I was comforted to read passages that felt familiar, as if the author knew of my particular struggles.

In fact, the author, who describes herself as a human being, Muslim and Spiritual Self-Discovery and Mindset Coach and Trainer, has a wealth of experience to share that many readers will connect with and feel a “part of” on so many levels.

Mindfulness

Much of the writing resonated with me. The entire book is laced with wisdom such as those following.  Mindfulness is one of the strong themes I identified with most. I’ll list but a few for the purposes of this review.

“Becoming self-aware is the first step to conscious living.” (pg. 30)

“Nothing has the power to hold you in the state of pain except your own self.” (pg. 38)

“Your energy is where your thoughts are.” (pg. 67)

“Objects that are sometimes given far more importance than they deserve.” (pg. 133)

Inspiration – The Same and Different

The author’s journey was driven by her deep spiritual beliefs and that is included in the text as well.  She often quotes the Quran as that is what fuels her passions.  I found the messages inspiring and not so different from what I grew up learning. 

Overall

I highly recommend “37 Lessons on How to Gain from Loss” by Huma Zuellah Ahmed. An open mind and a willingness to do some work, as the author suggests, are all that is needed to start your own journey towards freedom from pain.

Review Copy

37 LESSONS ON HOW TO GAIN FROM LOSS
Huma Zuellah Ahmed (2019)
ISBN 9789990150452
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (8/18)
Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255

Picture Book Review – “P is for Pterodactyl”

Picture Book Review – “P is for Pterodactyl”

P is for Pterodactyl picture book cover.

P is for Pterodactyl
Author: Raj Haldar & Chris Carpenter
Illustrator: Maria Tina Beddia
ISBN:9781492674313
Publisher: Sourcebook Jabberwocky (2018)
Age Range: 4-8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3

Amazon Synopsis:
P is for Pterodactyl. This whimsical, funky book from Raj Haldar (aka rapper Lushlife) turns the traditional idea of an alphabet book on its head, poking fun at the most mischievous words in the English language and demonstrating how to pronounce them. Fun and informative for word nerds of all ages!

My Review: Alphabet books from “back in the day.”

I remember writing an alphabet book in the first grade.  My favorite teacher, Ms. Cinella, hosted an after-school activities class for those interested in writing their own book. I can picture it clearly in my mind.  Bound with staples and cardboard, decorated with our own handiwork, to us first-graders, these were products of beauty.  My book was an alphabet book, back when the concept was simple – name things beginning with each letter.  And so it goes: A is for Apple, B is for Banana, C is for Cat, D is for Dog, etc.

While the basic A is for Apple books are still in demand for toddlers, these days you have to tell a story along the way. And there are some amazing alphabet book “stories” out there. 

Love the concept

I fell in love with the concept of this book as soon as I saw it and purchased it immediately! The subtitles hooked it for me: “The WORST Alphabet Book Ever.  All the letters that misbehave and make words nearly impossible to pronounce.” Seriously, I first thought, “Why hasn’t someone come up with this sooner?” Followed immediately by my second thought, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

I mean, it’s a number one bestseller by a celebrity (rap star), and rappers are generally good with words and rhyme and clever text so I feel like this book will do well because of WHO wrote it. 

But, does it hold up to the hype?

As to the actual story, it feels a bit flat to me and I have to admit I am a bit disappointed. Now, don’t get me wrong – parts of it are “spot-on,” as shown in the title, “P is for Pterodactyl.” A couple of other good examples include “T is for Tsunami,” and “K is for Knight.”

Then there are the letters that inevitably do not cooperate, and the author really has to get creative.  Take the letter F for example – he states, “F is not for photo, phlegm, phooey or phone.” This is confusing for readers – are we talking about the letter F or the letter P? There are a few other instances like this, and it put me off as a reader.

An alphabet book for kids or adults?

The recommended age group in Amazon is 4-8 years old but I would recommend ages 8 and up.  I really don’t think the younger crowd is going to identify with words the concept that some words don’t sound like they are spelled.

About the Author

Raj Haldar is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestselling picture book, ‘P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever.’ But, for close to a decade, the Philadelphia based rapper, producer, and multi-instrumentalist has been better known for his critically-praised music under the moniker Lushlife.

His work has been featured by The Washington Post, Interview Magazine, VICE, Pitchfork, Village Voice, Mental Floss, BBC, SPIN and more.

Review Copy

I purchased this book from Amazon.com.

Blackout Poetry and Other Avenues of Creativity

Blackout Poetry and Other Avenues of Creativity

My son came for a visit this weekend and we had a lot of fun spending time together – just hanging out and, among other things, creating blackout poetry! Yeah, we do things like that. He’s a high school English teacher and I work in the author publicity field, so I always have my nose in a book of some sort. Anyway, we are definitely cut from the same cloth and every time he visits we tend to gravitate toward a few favorite activities involving some sort of creativity. Here are a few ideas to ignite your imagination:

Shakespeare anyone?

The first cultural activity we had planned included a visit to Zilker Park Hillside Theater, a beautiful outdoor venue in Austin, TX. Twice a year they host free shows for the public. Austin Shakespeare always hosts the May production, featuring one of Shakespeare’s works (obviously).  This year the show is “The Merchant of Venice” and we were really looking forward to going.  We typically pack a picnic, spread out a few blankets and soak up some Shakespeare!  Unfortunately, it rained all day Saturday. Sounds like the show still went on in spite of inclement conditions, but, I’m a fair-weather girl, and between the tornado warnings and the thought of sitting on wet grounds, it didn’t really sound all that appealing, so we opted for Plan B.

Plan B – Jigsaw Puzzles!

Best laid plans, right? If you’re stuck inside or just choose to be inside and want to spend quality time with family and friends – do a jigsaw puzzle! Along with some great conversation and laughs, there are also many benefits from doing puzzles – such as developing increased problem-solving skills, lowering stress levels, improving your mood – the list goes on.

In fact,  Here’s a good article about some of the benefits. I do at least two or three puzzles a year. I’d do them more often, but they tend to take me away from things that need to be done – though I do love a good distraction. Still, I think they spark creativity because they stimulate your mind and require thinking outside the box.  This is the puzzle we did this weekend.  The photo didn’t turn out that great – It’s a blueprint of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater” house and it was a HARD puzzle!

But, what about the blackout poetry?

What about the blackout poetry?  Yes, it is so much fun! I’ve heard about it but never actually tried it, so we took a break from the jigsaw puzzle to create some blackout poems of our own! I found some helpful information online outlining the process. John DePasquale of Scholastic says of blackout poetry:

“Blackout poems can be created using the pages of old books or even articles cut from yesterday’s newspaper. Using the pages of an existing text, blackout poets isolate then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces. Blackout poems, as I’m sure you can imagine, run the gamut from absurd to sublime because all of the words are already there on the page, but the randomness is all part of the fun!” Read his full article here for instructions and guidelines to create your own blackout poetry.

My son does this activity with his classes and says it’s always a big hit with the kids.  I found it to be engaging, inspirational and thought-provoking. It definitely stirs your creative juices, so it may even help you in other areas of your writing.  Hailey Hudson of “Craft Your Content” says every writer should do blackout poetry because it relieves stress, restores creativity and helps with writer’s block! Read Hailey’s full article here.

Handiwork from our blackout session.

Here is one of my creations from this weekend. A lot of blackout poetry includes artwork and it’s quite impressive. I’m not there yet – I’m just playing around with the words at this point. All in all, I was happy with my first attempt (though it is a bit dark – I have a goal to work on being more inspirational in the future). I can say this – the whole process is addicting!

To learn more about blackout poetry and see some examples, just Google “blackout poetry” for some amazing inspiration. I’d love to see some of your blackout poetry and hear how you bring creativity into your days!

Picture Book Review:  The Detective Dog

Picture Book Review: The Detective Dog

The Detective Dog
Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Sara Ogilvie
ISBN: 9781250156761
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Age Range: 3-6
Grade Level: Preschool – 1

Amazon Synopsis

When Detective Dog Nell puts her nose to the task, there’s no mystery she can’t solve. Whether she’s tracking the missing shoe of her human, Peter, or locating some lost honeycomb, all Nell has to do is sniff, sniff, sniff and she’s hot on the trail.

Besides solving mysteries, there’s something else Nell loves―listening to children read. Every Monday, Peter takes her to school where children tell her stories.

One day, Nell and Peter arrive to find that all the books are gone. Who could have taken them? And why? There’s only one dog for the job, and Detective Dog Nell is ready to sniff out the thief!

My Review

The Story

The Detective Dog is a fun mystery for ages 3-6. There are so many things to appreciate about this story.  First, the rhyming is perfectly balanced, making it an easy story to read and enjoy. 

“Now, Nell did detection from Tuesday till Sunday
But did something totally different each Monday.
She found Peter’s bag and she tracked down her lead,
Then set off for school, where she heard children read.”

Nell – The Detective Dog and Bibliophile

I love that Nell does her detective work on Tuesdays through Sundays, finding missing socks and toys and such. Nells keen nose makes her a brilliant detective. But on Mondays she takes the day off to visit the school and listen to children read. This holds a good message for adults – Nell knows the importance of self-care by taking a day off!

Nell also loves the smell of a good book – like any proper bibliophile, and this story encourages an interest in books and reading and introduces the lending concept of the library to young readers – so fun!   

Who took all the books?

When Nell and her human, young Peter, arrive at school one Monday to find all the books missing, it’s time for Nell to put on her detective cap once again. Who took all the books? Nell is a delightful character, warm and fuzzy, while also smart and determined. Peter is the appropriate sidekick, helping Nell and guiding the other kids along as they uncover clues.

When she and Peter discover the book thief, they come up with the appropriate resolution without critical admonition of the crime, rather administering an emphasis on the solution.

The Illustrations

The illustrations are whimsical and invigorating.  The colors, the details, the overall displays of exuberance – they add depth to the story and are fun to follow, perfectly complementing the rhymes and the action.

Overall

Kids will have an exciting time following Nell and Peter as they solve the mystery of the missing books, all while learning about the wonderful world of reading, books and libraries.

About the Author

Julia Donaldson is a top selling author of children’s books with over 65 million books sold worldwide. Among her greatest successes are Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo and Stick Man (all illustrated by Axel Scheffler), What the Ladybird Heard (illustrated by Lydia Monks) and The Giant Jumperee (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury). Julia’s books have been translated into over 72 languages.

Julia lives in the UK with her husband Malcolm and divides her time between Sussex in the South and Edinburgh in Scotland. From 2011 to 2013, she was the UK Children’s Laureate. Julia writes fiction, poems, plays and songs, as well as picture books. The TV films of The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom have both been nominated for Oscars.

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library. I’m working my way through 500 picture books. Need a picture book review? Contact me!