Author Profile: Cressida Cowell

Today I am featuring another of our favorite authors, Cressida Cowell. She is a British writer/illustrator who write picture books and chapter books. Her wonderful sense of humor and whimsy have earned her books (and the movies made from them!) international recognition. While her wry sense of humor shines through each of her books, I find them quite diverse.

You may know Ms. Cowell from the Hiccup the Viking series, most notably How to Train Your Dragon. However, she is also the author of one of my children’s (and mine) favorite characters, Emily Brown.

Her books range from board books for toddlers (What Shall We Do with the Boo-hoo Baby?) to picture books for the 3-8 year old range. Her Dragon books are longer and more complex, and therefore may appeal to the 7-9 year old target audience.

Our favorite Cressida Cowell books are:
Cressida Cowell BooksThat Rabbit Belongs to Emily BrownEmily Brown and the ThingEmily Brown and the Elephant Emergency

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown is the clear favorite, but we have read all of the Emily Brown books multiple times. Read my previous reviews here and here. In the case of How to Train Your Dragon, we did the reverse of our normal approach and discovered the book after enjoying the movie. I also found a copy of How to Be a Viking (a picture book introduction to Hiccup) at our library, which also came with an audio companion CD with extra story elements read in a lovely Scottish brogue. Check it out if you can find it!

Some other books from this author that I have not yet read: Claydon Was a Clingy Child, Super Sue at Super School, Little Bo Peep’s Library Book, and Don’t Do That Kitty Kilroy. I also haven’t read past the first How to Train Your Dragon book, but my kids and I may in the future!

What is your favorite Cressida Cowell book? Please share in the comments!

Review: Are You Ready to Play Outside?/ Max’s Review

Cover- Are you Ready to Play Outside?Are You Ready to Play Outside?

Written and Illustrated by: Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, 2008, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Friendship, Creative Problem Solving

How We Discovered This Book: I went looking for a summer themed book, and this is one of our old favorites. It is also a Theodore Geisel Award winner.

Summary: Piggie and Gerald can’t wait to play outside, but it begins to rain. Gerald helps Piggie have fun in the rain, but then it stops. What will they do now?

What I Liked: The Elephant and Piggie books are charming, simple, and funny. This book is no exception. With just simple illustrations and text, so much is expressed. My kids and I just noticed (after many years of reading these books) that the setting is just some nondescript place outside. We had never noticed!

What Did My Kids Think? My kids vie for who gets to read each of the voices. The text leaves so much room for expression. The books are short reads, so there is plenty of time to go back to the beginning and read it again!

Resources:

Brainstorm with your kids/students a list of things you can do inside and outside. And then flip the list and talk about what would happen if you had to do an outside activity inside (and vice versa). What creative solutions could you come up with to make each activity work?

There are many possible Elephant and Piggie companion activities: Try these or these. Mo Willem’s Pigeon even has an Elephant and Piggie party kit!

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And heeeeere’s Max! He’s back with his own review of Are You Ready to Play Outside? Max has taken a break from hanging out at the pool to give us his review this week.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.

Summer Camp Memories

My kids have been in morning camp for several weeks now, and have several more weeks ahead of them. They go to a wonderful camp held at one of our local elementary schools, which combines learning something new with general outdoor fun and arts/crafts.

I have fond memories of my own camp experiences. I had a pretty diverse experience – I attended a playground camp, Girl Scout camp, and a intense camp at the local college where I took courses in programming and mime. And I loved every minute of each of them.

I think summer camps should be somewhere that provides a change of pace, and an opportunity to look at your world a little differently. There isn’t the daily pressure of homework or other lessons – just a relaxed environment where you can try some new things, have fun, and perhaps learn something about yourself. You might find you really like the arts, or that tennis really isn’t your thing. It’s all about self-exploration.

So how do we capture that in our adult lives? We can certainly try new things – a new skill, a new project, a new sport. We can also try to look at things with a new perspective. In the spirit of summer, I am trying to take a more relaxed approach to the summer. There may be some changes and transitions to my life in the fall (more to come on that later), so this may be my last fully engaged summer with my kids. I am taking it one day at a time versus making structured plans for each day. As long as we have a good mix of fun, quiet play, reading, and time together, I consider the day a success.

So for this summer, I am narrowing the focus down to the bare essentials. Time with my family, time with some books, time to work on my novel, and time for the outdoors.

I hope your summer is going as you have planned (or not planned, as the case may be!)

Happy 4th of July!

I hope all of our U.S. readers are enjoying the long Independence Day weekend. In addition to all of the BBQ, beach, and outdoor activities you have planned, I thought I’d take a minute to share some of our favorite books about America.

This list is by no means comprehensive – it is just reflective of what we enjoy that is on our shelf. Perhaps there are one or two here that might be a new discovery for you. Also, a thank you to family friends of ours who have a wonderful taste in books, and are responsible for giving us many of these books about America (you know who you are!)

Many of these books capture the spirit of what it means to be American, captured in the stories of famous people and places. Some of our favorites:

  • Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America, Lynne Cheney
  • American Symbols and Their Meanings Series – Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, The American Flag (Joseph Ferry), The Liberty Bell, and The White House (all others by Hal Marcovitz)
  • Meet George Washington, Joan Heilbroner
  • The People Pick a President, Tamara Henneman
  • Benjamin Franklin: Amazing American, Margaret Davidson
  • Childhood of Famous Americans Series – Helen Keller (Katherine Wilkie), Thomas A. Edison (Sue Guthridge), Crazy Horse (George E. Stanley), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Kathleen Kudlinski), and Abraham Lincoln (Augusta Stevenson)
  • A Book About Benjamin Franklin, Ruth Belov Gross

The last book is one from my childhood, published in 1975. I still enjoy reading it. The illustrations were done by J.B. Handelsman, a cartoonist for Punch in England and The New Yorker in the US. These cartoonish illustrations pair with the text to make Benjamin Franklin’s life very engaging to children.

Best wishes for a lovely weekend! If you have any other favorites about America, please share in the comments.american-flag-1280

What Are We Reading This Summer?

Now that summer is in full swing, me and my kids are very happy to have more time for reading in our schedule. We all have varied reading interests, so our lists cross genres and types. So what are we reading?

Aidan (8 years old):

  • Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling
  • Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  • Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DeCamillo
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room, Lemony Snicket
  • James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, Jeff Kinney
  • How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell
  • Geronimo Stilton: The Kingdom of Fantasy

Elizabeth (5 years old):

  • Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet, Jane O’ Connor
  • Blue Hat, Green Hat, Sandra Boynton
  • How to Be a Viking, Cressida Cowell
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story, Michael Hall
  • Little Bear, Else Holmelund Minarik
  • Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes, Eric Litwin
  • Lots of Early Readers!

Me (did you think I would tell you my age? Ha!)

  • The Chaperone, Laura Moriarity
  • The Garden of Letters, Alyson Richman
  • All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  • Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett
  • Some of the books on Aidan’s list
  • All of the books on Elizabeth’s list!

I’m sure we’ll be adding and changing books as the summer goes on, plus adding some audio books. What are you reading this summer? Please share in the comments!

 

 

Schools Out!

Schools across the country are letting out, to the joy of children everywhere. My children’s last day of school for the year is today, and while they enjoyed school and are both looking forward to moving up to new schools in the fall, they have many plans for the summer.

Every summer we try to learn new things, both children and adults alike. This summer my daughter will try learning to be a better swimmer, tying her shoes, riding her bike with training wheels, and starting to read independently (whew!). My son wants to try some new sports for him – running, swimming, and tennis. For me? I’m going to work on learning to be a better runner, writer, and mom.

For all of us, reading is a central part of summer. We have longer stretches available for reading books – whether it is during road trips, cuddled up on the couch in our PJs, or while sitting on the front porch in between bike riding adventures.

I’ll share more next week about what we are each reading this summer, but I will tell you that Aidan and I will be doing another reading challenge. We are challenging ourselves to read 20 books again this summer. We took this challenge last year, but didn’t quite make it. We learned from that experience that while we enjoy reading to each other (and will still do so from time to time), we both read faster independently. So this summer we are taking more of a book club approach (if you can have a book club with only 2 members) – we are each reading a book at the same time, and then we’ll have a special sit down at the bakery or elsewhere to discuss it. We are already 2/3 of the way through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, so we’re off to a great start. I’ll keep you posted on how we progress.

Happy summer reading to all of you!

Author Profile: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Often, we enjoy particular authors and read many of their books. Today, I am featuring Sudiptha Bardhan-Quallen, an author who started her career in biology before finding enjoyment in telling stories to her young children. She began writing non-fiction for children focused on science topics and then biographies of famous Americans.

She then branched into picture books, and has written a range of stories. With some authors, you can identify immediately that it is their book based on the style of prose, humor, or topic. In Ms. Bardhan-Quallen’s case, she loves animals (especially pigs), but otherwise each book is different.

Some of the books are simpler and more suited for the 3-5 year old range, and some are more complex and may appeal to the 5-8 year old target audience.

Our favorite Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen books are:Snoring BeautyPirate PrincessMineosaur

The Mine-o-Saur is our favorite of the three. It is full of humor, and makes a point about not sharing without it feeling heavy handed. The other dinosaurs also demonstrate different ways to respond when someone else is not sharing. Look for the part where they look down at their knees- one dino in particular is taking it very seriously!

My daughter would love to be a Pirate Princess herself, and the princess in that book stays focused on her dream of being a pirate, despite her parent’s objections and her inability to successfully complete pirate chores. Snoring Beauty is a twist on the traditional tale, told from the perspective of a mouse who really just wants to get some sleep.

Some other books from this author that we have not yet read: Orangutangled, Hampire!, Chicks Run Wild, Quackenstein Hatches a Family, and the Hog Prince.

What is your favorite Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen book? Please share in the comments!

Children’s Book Authors are Rockstars (at least I think so)

My children’s school district sponsors author visits a few times a year. This week, they were visited by children’s book author/illustrator Brian Lies. My son enjoyed the visit so much, he insisted we stop by our local bookstore to see if they had any of his books.

As we parked in front of the bookstore, I looked across the street and I saw this:

Bat Car

It’s Brian Lies’ bat car for his current book tour (which, by the way, is an AWESOME idea). He had stopped by our bookstore to sign some more copies of his books. So not only did we get a Brian Lies book, we got one with a personalized inscription for Aidan.

Book Inscription

We were able to talk to the author/illustrator, and he was very nice, warm, and easy for children to talk to. I even got to talk to him a little about SCBWI and children’s book writing. Aidan and I were so amped leaving the store, it was all we could talk about all evening.

Brian Lies’ latest book, Bats in the Band, is about bats who love being musicians. A few of them fancy themselves rock stars, and I began to think about my reaction to this writer. It is the same reaction I have to other published children’s books writers- awe, respect, and admiration. Perhaps after many years of working on my own craft, I have a personal appreciation for the hard work and persistence required to actually get published. Add in the impact that children’s book author’s can have on children’s lives, and I can completely understand the adrenaline rush in meeting them.

I have been fortunate to meet many children’s book writers, and several of them have inscribed books for my children. I hope this book has a special place in their collection along with signed books from Jane Yolen, Mo Willems, and Julie Andrews.

Best wishes to Brian Lies on a successful book tour – and that he gets to enjoy his rockstar status a little (even if he doesn’t know he is one).

 

Picture Books About Nature

Now that June is almost here and the weather is perfect for nature hikes, I thought it was worth a profile of some of the nature books on the shelves at our house. I selected non-fiction picture books about nature, with my children piping in to make sure I included their favorites. This list is by no means comprehensive – just a snapshot of what’s at our house. Maybe there are a few on here that you can add to your “Must Read” list.

General Nature/Weather

The Magic School Bus: Inside a Hurricane (Joanna Cole, ill. Bruce Degen)

Inside a Hurricane

Cactus Hotel (Brenda Z. Guiberson, ill. Megan Lloyd)

Cactus Hotel

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (Verna Aardema, ill. Beatriz Vidal)

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain

Here is the African Savanna (Madeline Dunphy, ill. Tom Leonard)

Here is the African Savanna

Are Mountains Growing Taller? Questions About the Changing Earth (Melvin and Gilda Berger, ill. Robin Carter)

Are Mountains Growing Taller?

Animals/Insects

Big Sharks! (Toru Kosara)

Big Sharks!

Birds (K.M. Kostyal- National Geographic Nature Library)

Birds

Where Butterflies Grow (Joanne Ryder, ill. Lynne Cherry)

Where Butterflies Grow

Gray Wolf Pup’s Adventure (Stephanie Smith, ill. Robert Hynes)

Grey Wolf Pup's Adventure

Predators of the Sea (Mary Jo Rhodes, ill. David Hall)

Predators of the Sea

Whales (Kevin Boon)

Whales

Insects (Robin Bernard)

Insects

Gorillas: Gentle Giants of the Forest (Joyce Milton, ill. Bryn Barnard)

Gorillas

Penguins (Jane P. Reznick)

Penguins

Ants (Christine Young, ill. Andrea Jaretzki)

Ants

Additionally, we have 2 fiction favorites that should be mentioned: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer.

I’m sure you have other good nature books that you enjoy – please share them in the comments. We’ve love to discover some new nature books!