Friday, November 27, 2015

Review Round-Up: Books for Beginning Readers, November 2015

Happy Thanksgiving weekend! Here is this month's collection of reviews of easy readers and beginning chapter books.

Easy Readers

This month, Round One Cybils judge Jennifer had reviews of a bunch of the nominated easy readers at Jean Little Library and Flying Off My Bookshelf:

Flying Off My Bookshelf also featured reviews of Stingrays: Underwater Fliers and Don't Throw It To Mo.

At Step Up Readers, Katie from Storytime Katie focuses exclusively on easy readers. This month, she reviewed The Little Butterfly, all of the 2006 Geisel award booksHamster Holmes: A Mystery Comes Knocking, and the first two books in the Lana's World series.

Additionally, Literary Hoots reviewed Hoot, Owl!, Becky's Book Reviews featured I Really Like Slop, Redeemed Reader posted about Flop to the Top and Written and Drawn by Henrietta,  and Shelf Employed used What Does Otis See? to discuss some of the problems with publisher-assigned levels for easy readers.

Chapter Books

There were tons of great chapter book reviews this month! Tons!

Jennifer from Flying Off My Bookshelf and Jean Little Library reviewed lots of Cybils nominees:

Jennifer also reviewed Race the Wild: Rainforest Relay and Gymnastic Jitters.

Here at Story Time Secrets, I also reviewed a few Cybils titles:

Additionally, I featured a vintage beginning chapter book, Bears on Hemlock Mountain, in one of my Old School Sunday posts this month.

Mo Willems's latest book, The Story of Diva and Flea, was just published in mid-October. It was reviewed this month by Waking Brain CellsLiterary Hoots, and Geo Librarian.  Geo Librarian also reviewed the Oliver Moon series and The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party. The Princess in Black was also featured in a post about sequels on What to Read to Your Kids.

Sal's Fiction Addiction and Kids Book a Day continue to be great sources for beginning reader book reviews. Sal's Fiction Addiction reviewed Jasper John Dooley, Lost and Found and Princess Pistachio and the Pest, while Kids Book a Day covered Shelter Pet Squad: Merlin, Gooseberry Park and the Master Plan, and The Best Friend Battle.

Other November chapter book reviews included:

Submit Your Reviews! 

Do you review beginning reader books? Please let me know about any reviews you post in December by emailing me at Thanks!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, November 2015

With my birthday and Little Bo Peep's baptism last week, and Thanksgiving today, as well as my return to teaching CCD on  Monday nights, this has been a very busy month, but we have been reading in spurts whenever we can. Read on to learn what Miss Muffet and Bo Peep have been enjoying lately.

Non-Fiction for Little Miss Muffet 

Though we continue to read lots of fiction picture books, I have recently been making a greater effort to share non-fiction with Little Miss Muffet. She picks up new vocabulary so easily right now, that it only makes sense to start introducing age appropriate non-fiction topics so she can be exposed to more interesting words. I have been using easy readers, mainly because the simple language and repetition make it easier for her to understand what is being presented and to actually learn something from hearing each book. Right now, we are focusing on community helpers, the weather, baby animals, and holidays, with the following titles/series:

Her favorite is Watching the Sun. She is obsessed with talking about the sun coming up and going down, so this book has been a perfect way to satisfy her curiosity. I'll be looking for Watching the Moon next because she also loves the moon and watches for it every night as she goes to sleep. She also really loves Mail Carriers, and keeps talking about the mail carrier's pouch.

Baby's First Read-Aloud

Little Bo Peep is still not really that into books, but I finally sat down the other day and read a picture book just to her while Miss Muffet played in her room. I chose Little Baby Buttercup by Linda Ashman and You Byunmostly because it rhymes, and because I enjoy You Byun's artwork even if the baby is too young to appreciate it. She had no real reaction to the book, but I do enjoy saying "Little BabyButtercup, look how fast you're growing up," which is occasionally met with a little smile.  We've also been trying some poetry, but I have to be more diligent about actually having baby-friendly poems on hand when I'm spending one-on-one time with just Bo Peep.

One Tip from Mom 

When Little Bo Peep is drinking her bottle, I often need to amuse Little Miss Muffet to keep her out of trouble. One way that I have been doing this is by laying a quilt on the floor and calling it the story quilt. I tell her she can sit on the story quilt and either look at books herself, or if I can manage to handle Bo Peep one handed, I will read to her. I've never said she can't get up from the quilt, but she seems to consider its edges to be some sort of boundary, as she will usually stay put for at least a few minutes. And if she does get up and wander away, I can usually entice her back with the promise of just one more book. If you have a wandering toddler, this might work for you, too! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Middle Grade Review: Dream Soul by Laurence Yep (Reading Through History Review 47 of 52)

Fifteen-year-old Joan Lee, her brother Bobby, and her sister Emily, are the children of Chinese immigrants living in 1927 West Virginia. Because they are not Christian, their parents have never allowed them to celebrate Christmas, a fact which makes the younger Lee children feel hopelessly left out every December. When the three children are invited to celebrate with a lonely neighbor who has no family of her own, they plead with their parents to allow them to join the festivities, but they are told they can only participate if their behavior is absolutely perfect. This is especially difficult for Emily, who is the troublemaker of the family, and for Joan, whose new classmate Victoria's permissive father seems so much more appealing than her own. It will take a health scare - and a supernatural experience involving her own father's soul - to help Joan realize how much her parents really do love her and her siblings.

This book has very little to do with major historical events of the 1920s, but I wanted to include it in this project because I've never read anything by Laurence Yep. I'm so glad I did, because his writing is truly delightful, and I feel that I have discovered a new favorite author. Through a series of memorable scenes from everyday life, this family story explores themes of alienation and isolation, obedience and kindness, fear and suspicion, envy and admiration. Relationships drive the story and help readers to understand the beauty and importance of familial love in a very natural and believable way. Though this type of story - especially when Christmas is involved - often comes across as cheesy and didactic, this one does not. The Lees are very real people, and even the parents who make things feel so difficult for their children, come across as sympathetic.

I didn't realize this when I selected it, but Dream Soul is actually a sequel to a 1991 novel called Star Fisher. Though I normally like to read books in publication order, I had no problem jumping right into Dream Soul without the benefit of reading the first book, so it seems that it is not necessary to read them in order. Though the main character is a teenager, she seems much younger, so readers as young as 8 or 9 would probably have no difficult relating to her or enjoying the book. In fact, Dream Soul is an ideal read-alike for the American Girl series, of which Laurence Yep has actually written a few titles. I wouldn't say this is a true historical fiction novel that teaches readers about the 1920s as a whole, but it is a lovely slice of life novel that explores a taste of the immigrant experience which young readers who like family stories will definitely enjoy.

I borrowed Dream Soul from my local public library.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chapter Book Review: The Dragonsitter by Josh Lacey (Cybils Nominee)

The Dragonsitter
by Josh Lacey
illustrated by Garry Parsons
2015. Little, Brown
ISBN: 9780316298964

Quick Booktalk

Eddie finds himself in a difficult situation when his uncle drops off his dragon and then falls out of communication for several days, leaving Eddie and his family to figure out how to care for its unpredictable needs.

Reading Level

Though this book looks pretty long at first glance, many of the pages at the end are taken up with an excerpt from the next title in the series, so it is actually pretty short. Told entirely in emails, the story basically consists of Eddie’s first-person narration of various altercations between the dragon and members of the family, especially Eddie’s mom. The vocabulary is very straightforward, but the author gets a lot of mileage out of very simple words, using them in clever ways to describe the full impact of this dragon’s displeasure on Eddie and his family. (Especially memorable are the first two lines of the book: “You’d better get on a plane right now and come back here. Your dragon has eaten Jemima.”)


The illustrations are a key part of this story’s humor, as they portray the outrageous doings of the dragon, as shown in the photos Eddie attaches to the emails he sends to his uncle. Eddie’s tone in the email messages remains mostly calm and deadpan, so the visual representations of what the dragon is doing to his home make the whole experience seem especially funny. I also love the way the artist portrays both Eddie and his uncle from the back as they sit at their respective desks and type on their computers. It’s a neat visual way to bring the reader into the world of the story.

Kid Appeal

This story is fast-paced and laugh-out-loud funny, and it involves a creature that kids love to read about, and about which there are never enough books. The cover is appealing, the email-based format is pretty rare for a beginning chapter book, and the overall formatting of the book is nearly perfect for the target age range. This book - and the following three sequels, all of which are already available in the UK - are likely to fly off shelves.


I borrowed The Dragonsitter from my local public library.

NOTE: This book was nominated by Julie Williams for the 2015 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, as well as the category chair, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks!
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