Category Archives: review

Picture Books to Add to Your Valentine’s Day Collection.

Do you share Valentine themed books with your class or kids at home? Some of the old favourites like Guess how much I Love You are great, but it’s always good to refresh your collection with new titles.

Have I Ever Told You by Shani Kin would make a perfect Valentine’s gift for a younger child. My children read it and said ‘ this is really lovely’. The book is full of the important messages a parent should share with their child;  messages of love, acceptance, tolerance and joy. I can imagine snuggling with my girls, reading the book together and talking about the messages within. Each message end with the phrase, ‘Have I ever told you that?’. Some of the messages are recognizable as things we say to our children, and some may be things we ought to say, but sometimes forget.

book for valentines day

The illustrations by Anna Horvath, are built around hands; multiracial hands, hands doing things, holding things and helping each other. Intertwined with the hands are objects and thoughts to represent each thing the parent tells their child. There is something strikingly beautiful about this; love expressed through hands as they create, bond, help, heal and touch. Holding and touching hands is perhaps the most sincere and secure expression of love there is.

If Have I Ever Told You were read in a classroom, it could inspire a Valentine themed writing project. The children could choose someone they love – a parent, sibling, friend or grandparent, and write something they want to tell them, ending with, ‘have I ever told you that?’ You could scribe for pre-writers and they could draw a picture or write it inside a hand print. Advanced writers could make a small book following the theme. Asking the children why they think hands were used in the illustrations, would also spark an interesting discussion.

Have I ever Told You would make a perfect Valentine’s gift.

Love Big by Kat Kronenberg follows a different theme, one of kindness and community.  In Love Big, Baboon watches the other animals being mean to one another and teaches them that through smiles, kindness, sharing and listening, we can build a happy community. 

I liked the message of the book and think it would be a good starting point for talking about classroom community.  I feel like it would be more effective if it were simplified, as in places it was a little wordy, especially in the parts where Baboon shares his message, which seem a little complex for small children. The book has a nice structure as it moves through a scenario where the animals behave in an unfriendly way and then are taught that they can be happier if they behave differently.  I personally disliked the repetitive Whoosh! Wham! In a flash of light before the phrases ‘We can be kind’, ‘We can share’, ‘We can listen’ and ‘We can care’  as they felt unnecessary and showy, but that is simply a personal preference. In some places, it felt like it was trying to do too much, for example it includes a song to the tune of twinkle, twinkle little star which felt a little out of place to me.

The illustrations by David Miles are bright, bold and cheerful. As the animals learn their lessons, the illustrations are placed in small vignettes and this makes a nice contrast with the bright, full page illustrations in the other parts of the book.

In the back of the book there are ideas for classroom activities to explore the books themes further and additional activities, fact sheets and videos can be found on Katkronenberg.com.

Disclaimer – this post contains Amazon affiliate links.


Book Review for Multicultural Book Day: Farmer Falgu goes to the Kumbh Mela

Multicultural book day was the brainchild of reading and play advocates Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen, to share awareness of multicultural books and to get more of them in libraries, homes and schools. As an advisor, I was often asked to suggest multicultural books for schools and it was difficult to find quality books about diverse cultures. A key part of the initiative is to send out books for review to build a huge database of multicultural books with reviews. The website also includes lots of free resources for teachers with booklists, activities and posters.

The book I received is Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela by Chitra Soundar and Kanika Nair. 

multicultural picture books

This is the 3rd book in the Farmer Falgu series. Farmer Falgu, visits Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela festival and has a list of things he wants to see and do. Along the way he helps people, but each time he misses the events he hoped to see. Farmer Falgu. though disappointed, shrugs it off with the repeated phrase ‘maybe next time’. In the end, a turn of fate leads him to experience all of the things on his list and he has an ‘unbelievable ‘ time.

The Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela wasn’t familiar to me or my children so we really enjoyed reading about it. It feels very authentic, as if you are looking into the heart of another culture, rather than a superficial book about a festival. The book follows a clear structure and has repetitive phrases that will appeal to young readers, making it a perfect introduction to this lesser known festival. The illustrations are full of vibrant colours and bold designs and I love the simple way the illustrator shows facial expression and character.

multicultural picture book

A description of the origins of Kumbh Mela can be found at the back of the book. This could be a springboard to further research on the festival. Sometimes, I feel picture books are overlooked as a springboard for learning with older elementary children. This book could spark a wonderful project for older children too.

Suggested activities

  • Find the story of Kumbh Mela in Hindu mythology. Read it, act it out, draw pictures. Read other Hindu Myths – older children could write their own story in the style of a Hindu myth.
  • Find Allahabad on a map. Research what Allahabad looks like. Find the other locations of Kumbh Mela on a map.
  • Watch videos of the Kumbh Mela celebrations. Talk about celebrations in their own culture that may be similar.
  • Taste and/or make jalebis and lassis.
  • Think about the video and the book – why did farmer Falgu stop to help people? What happens in crowded places? Have you ever been lost? What did it feel like? What should we do when we are lost? This could also be the basis of a story.
  • Role play area – a train and role play a crowded train journey, a festival stand selling jalebis.

The 4th book in the Farmer Falgu series, Farmer Falgu goes Kite Flying, is available in April.

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes at Village Theatre

the noteworthy life of howard barnes

The concept of this new musical at Village Theatre was instantly appealing. Howard Barnes wakes up to find his life has become a musical. As a musical theatre fan, I can’t think of anything more wonderful than having a life full of spontaneous songs and dance breaks, but for an ordinary guy like Howard, he simply wants to return to normality.

Watching the first few scenes, I was worried I would be disappointed. It was amusing but not laugh aloud funny and I was still waiting for a wow moment. However, once I settled into the rhythm of the show, those moments came time and again.  As a reserved Brit, it takes a lot to make me laugh out loud, but I laughed and smiled my way through the whole show.

The story is clever, funny, emotional and surprising, with an array of fantastic characters, from the key players to the tiniest cameos. The cast was flawless, the energy infectious and the dramatic moments pulled at the heart-strings.  If you are a musical theatre fan, you will love spotting the references to all of your favourite musicals, as familiar characters and numbers appear and are reborn, Howard Barnes style. My personal favourite was the homage to cell block tango by Howard’s ex-girlfriends.

The Noteworthy Life of  Howard Barnes is not some frivolous comedy musical. Hilarious as it is, the show has some unexpected emotional scenes and explores the complex world of relationships, rejection and moving on.  A must see for musical theatre fans but a wonderful treat even if you’re not. Don’t miss it!

Here’s a little taster

Would I take the kids?

There are some adult references and sexual words in songs (some of which, I wish weren’t there so it were more kid friendly). I would say it is a PG13 rating – on balance I would take my musical theatre obsessed 10-year-old, because I think she would love it. I do however, think some of the relationship themes would be difficult for her to fully understand and I really wish some of the sexual words in certain songs would be taken out, so I didn’t have to answer awkward questions. If you want more information before making your own judgement, check out the production preview guide

The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes runs until October 21st in Issaquah and from October 26th – November 18th in Everett. The show runs without an intermission, so if you go on a week night you can still be in bed by 10.

The Steves: Picture Book Review

If you are a fan of  ‘I am Bat‘  you will love Morag Hood’s new book, The Steves.  Written and illustrated in the same quirky but simple style, it captures perfectly young children’s competitive nature and their drive to be bigger and better than friends and siblings. I can almost hear the words flowing from my daughters’ mouths.

Kids will laugh out loud at the insults they throw at one another and the wonderfully, comical illustrations. I love the way Morag Hood captures emotion in her illustrations.  Simple, beautiful and funny – a perfect package. I have no doubt the Steves will become a classic favourite for young children.

The Steve’s is available on Sept 4th 2018.

Benji & the Giant Kite: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

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Benji & the Giant Kite by Alan C. Fox and illustrated by Eefje Kuijl, tells the story of a boy who, more than anything in the world, wants a big orange kite.   To buy the special kite, Benji has to earn money, so he gets to work helping his mother in the garden until he earns enough to buy the kite. Benji watches the kite sour through the air but when it is time to let it down he is overcome with an urge to set it free.

Alan Fox explains, that Benji and the Giant Kite is based on true events from his childhood. “I wanted to share the sense of achievement I felt by working hard to obtain something I really loved.” explains Fox, “But once I saw the kite flying at the beach, I wanted to let it go. My dream had been accomplished. It was time to move on to another, new experience. You must always keep going to fulfill your dreams and aspirations”.

Benji and the Giant Kite is visually stunning. The illustrations fill a double page with beauty and energy. The colour pallet of turquoise, pinks and greens is peaceful and warm. I love the way Benji’s hair blows and his little dog follows him around. I also love the depiction of the natural world with rolling waves, bees and flowers, birds building nests and glorious sunsets.

Benji and the Giant Kite

The underlying message of working hard to achieve your dreams makes this book particularly endearing. My only disappointment was the ending where Benji let the kite go.  My children didn’t really understand that part too. They wondered why after all his hard work he would just let it fly away – wasn’t it wasteful? I think this makes an interesting discussion point and it is refreshing to have an unpredictable ending. Do our dreams become meaningless once they are achieved? Should we move on to the next dream or should hard work help us to appreciate our achievements more? If we save hard for something should it be precious for a long time? Why do they think Benji let the kite go? Would they have done the same? I think I’m with the girls, I was a little disappointed in Benji and felt he should have treasured the kite, if he truly wanted it.

Benji and the Giant Kite is available on August 1 2018.

Giveaway – I have one copy of Benji and the Giant Kite to give away the winner will be drawn on August 8th

Leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway. Additional entries can be found via the Rafflecopter link.

Open to readers in the US.

Win a copy of Benji and the Giant Kite via Rafflecopter

Disclaimer: links are Amazon affiliate links – if you buy the book via this link I will receive a small commission.

Snail Mail: Book review & classroom activities

Snail Mail  by Samantha Berger is the story of a girl, who sends a letter to her friend on the other side of the country, delivering it the traditional ‘snail mail’ way. As the four special snails slowly travel across the country, they find by taking their time, they discover beauty in the world.

The illustrations by Julia Patton, show four snails with unique characters. Children will enjoy looking at the equipment each snail takes with them on their journey and tracking how it is used in the different climates. The snails move across the United States, through deserts and mountains, passing famous landmarks, through flat prairies and different weather until they reach New York City.  The illustrations are quirky, full of expression and packed with tiny details that children will return to time and again.

The story of the snails delivering their precious cargo emphasises the magical nature of receiving something in the mail. It is a reminder that in the modern world of email and texting, there are some things that are more special if they are delivered by post.

My children loved it, they thought it was a charming story and spent a long time pouring over the detailed illustrations.  I love the sentiment of the book, reminding children of the magic of receiving a special message in the mail.

This would be a perfect book for a classroom as an introduction to many projects

  • writing letters – practice writing letters to friends or family, set up a class mailbox to post them, find a class in another part of the country/world to be pen pals with.
  • sending postcards – provide postcards in the writing area. How is writing a postcard different from writing a letter? Have the children ever received postcards – bring them in to talk about.  Do we still need postcards, make notes for and against.
  • making and writing cards – create a greeting card station, provide lots of examples, make and write cards.
  • how does mail get from one place to another? Find out about the mail service – how does mail get from one place to another? Find out if the way people receive mail is different in other countries.
  • the post office – set up your role play area as a post office, visit a local post office or sorting office
  • introducing maps – look at maps of the united states and mark the route the snails took. Has anyone visited these places? Encourage family and friends to send the children letters – mark on a World and US map, where the children’s letters have travelled from.
  • the desert – research desert climates and the animals and plants you can find in a desert.  Write a piece of informational writing about a desert animal.
  • mountains – research mountain climates and the plants and animals that live there. make list of similarities and differences between deserts and mountains.
  • Famous landmarks around in United States – talk to the children about some famous landmarks they may have visited, ask them to share pictures and stories – make a class book about the wonderful places they have seen.

Snail Mail is published in the US on May 1st by Running Press Kids.

 

Disclaimer: links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links.  Advance copies of the book were received for review purposes.

Are You Sick of the Seattle Spring Rain?Brighten your day with Seussical Jnr. at Village Theatre Kidstage.

Seussical-Jr_900x900If the rain is getting you down, Seussical Jnr at Village Theatre Kidstage, Issaquah, can’t fail to put a smile on your face. Many theatre goers shy away from kids productions for fear that they might not be any good. My own perceptions have been changed over the years since seeing  some truly excellent junior productions. I attended Seussical’s opening night because my daughter is playing the baby kangaroo, but I was in awe of this amazing cast and felt compelled to share my experience.

The last time I saw Seussical, it was performed by a group of talented adults (many of whom I had appeared on stage with) in Bristol, UK.  I had been told by many that Kidstage productions would exceed all expectations. The competition for a place in the cast is fierce with over a hundred children auditioning for thirty something places. I expected a quality show but these talented kids and teens blew me away and matched and sometimes outdid those adults in the UK.

The show itself, is colourful, high energy, funny, heartwarming and full of memorable songs. Setting the show in a playground and using everyday clothes for the costumes but adding magical twists like animal ears and feathered tails, emphasised the role of imagination, an important theme of the show, where ‘ Anything is Possible’.

Each cast member had a unique character that they maintained throughout the show.  Cat in the Hat (Nina Romero), is a fantastic physical actress. Every movement and facial expression embodied this familiar character perfectly and her clear speaking voice and strong, faultless singing made her perfect for this role.  Jojo (Natalia Oritz Villacorta) owned the stage, with a wonderfully, rich singing voice that surpassed her age.

Seussical introduces a myriad of familiar Dr. Seuss characters, but the main thread of the story centers around Horton the elephant. McKay Hancock made a perfectly sweet, lovable and downtrodden Horton and his heartfelt opening to Solla Sollew was one of my favourite moments. Arin Sandidge’s, beautiful voice, strong presence and ability to convey every emotion through her eyes, was captivating as Gertrude the bird with the one feathered tail. You couldn’t fail to cheer her on in her quest to get Horton to notice her.

I loved the characterisation of the Mayor and Mrs Mayor of Whoville (Colin Bixler and Eleanor Olsen). The Mayor’s comic timing was wonderful and this was counterbalanced by Mrs Mayor’s strong character and vocal ability.

There wasn’t a weak link in the show – every cast member put their life and soul into the production and there were so many little character moments to watch that I will need to watch it multiple times to catch them all. You can’t help but come out of this show with a smile on your face and you may very well be seeing future stars in the making.

Seussical Jnr runs from 13th – 29th April with performances on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Tickets are available from the Village Theatre box office for $18 general admission or $16 Youth and Senior.