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July 2017

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Take a Picture of Me, James Vanderzee! (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

    Take a Picture of Me, James Vanderzee!
    by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett

    Publisher: Lee & Low Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 6 – 9 and up
    Grade Level: 1- 4

    Synopsis
    James Van Der Zee was just a young boy when he saved enough money to buy his first camera. He took photos of his family, classmates, and anyone who would sit still for a portrait. By the fifth grade, James was the school photographer and unofficial town photographer. Eventually he outgrew his small town and moved to the exciting, fast-paced world of New York City. After being told by his boss that no one would want his or her photo taken -by a black man, – James opened his own portrait studio in Harlem. He took photographs of legendary figures of the Harlem Renaissance–politicians such as Marcus Garvey, performers including Florence Mills, Bill -Bojangles- Robinson, and Mamie Smith–and ordinary folks in the neighborhood too. Everyone wanted fancy portraits by James Van Der Zee. Winner of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! tells the story of a groundbreaking artist who chronicled an important era in Harlem and showed the beauty and pride of its people.

    Reflection
    During his lifetime, photographer and artist James VanDerZee created thousands of portraits and took more than 75,000 pictures. Years later long after James put his camera away due to advanced technology, the Metropolitan Museum of Art found thousands of his photographs showing Harlem residents. They decided to use the photos for an exhibit on the history of Harlem called Harlem on My Mind.

    This book is not only informative, but it’s beautifully illustrated too. I learned so much about this important man in history who I had never heard of prior to reading this book.  It tells the story of James VanDerZee and his love of the arts, specifically photography. Born in Lennox, Massachusetts, James decided to take his camera and move to Harlem at the age of 18. He soon found work as an assistant photographer, but then took his camera to the streets of Harlem during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Little did James know those photos would make him famous many years later.  Sadly, James passed away in 1983 and the age of ninety-six.  Since his passing, the world has never seen the city of Harlem in quite the same way.

    I think this would be a great book for budding photographers or for anyone who wants to learn more about James Vanderzee’s life and his extraordinary contribution to the arts and photography.  There are themes of: music, art, photography, hard work, determination, racism, and family. The back matter has additional information and original photographs.

    Your turn: Have you ever heard of James Vanderzee before?  Are you looking forward to reading this book with your children?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    adult books, summer reading

    A Sizzling, Suspenseful Summer Beach Read: The Marriage Pact

    Looking for an irresistible, page turning and suspenseful summer beach read?  Look no further than The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond.

    So far my summer has been filled with a series of mini weekend family adventures, endless kids’ birthday parties, lots of good books and beach trips.  We have at least two more summer beach trips soon and I’m excited to sink my teeth into this new psychological thrilled called The Marriage Pact.  Have you heard of it yet?

    Here’s a brief synopsis:
    Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

    The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact. And most of its rules make sense. Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . . 

    Never mention The Pact to anyone.

    Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples.  And then one of them breaks the rules.  The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life. And The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule.

    Doesn’t that sound juicy?  If you liked the books Gone Girl” or Girl on a Train” as much as I did, I have a feeling you are sure to love this book!  It explores the ultimate question: How far is too far when it comes to protecting your marriage?  There are themes of marriage, domestic suspense, unfaithfulness and more!

    Our beach trip can’t come soon enough so I can find out what happens with Jake & Alice.  I need to know, who broke the rules and why?  Will their marriage last?  Why is it forbidden to mention The Pact to others?  So many questions! I finished the first two chapters so far and can’t wait to finish the rest.  By the way, the chapters seem fairly short so far which makes it perfect to read a good amount of the book while relaxing on the beach.  Anyone else planning to throw this book in their bag on your next beach trip?

    Click here to find out more or purchase “The Marriage Pact”.

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    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Sleep Well Siba & Saba (A Book Review)

    Sleep Well Siba & Saba by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illustrated by Sandra Van Doorn

    Published by: Lantana Publishing
    Pages: 32
    Format: Paperback
    Age Range: 4- 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    Synopsis
    Forgetful sisters Siba and Saba are always losing something. Sandals, slippers, sweaters – you name it, they lose it. When the two sisters fall asleep each night, they dream about the things they have lost that day. Until, one night, their dreams begin to reveal something entirely unexpected…With playful illustrations and a lullaby-like rhythm, this heart-warming story set in Uganda is truly one to be treasured.

    Reflection
    I am so impressed with this new independent publishing company, Lantana Publishing! They publish award-winning diverse children’s books and wholeheartedly believe that ALL children deserve to see themselves in books.
    Lantana’s mission is to select outstanding writing from around the world, working with prize-winning authors and illustrators from many countries, while at the same time nurturing new writing talent.

    Since their company began in the UK in 2014, they have published a variety of different books including my personal favorite, Sleep Well Siba & Saba. It’s a beautifully written story about two forgetful sisters from Uganda, Africa who always lose their physical belongings and then dream about them in their sleep.  They only thing they didn’t lose was each other.  One night their dreams start to change which forces them to start looking forward to things in their future.

    Why I like this book:

    • the illustrations – I like the calming color palette chosen as well as the variety of exotic animals, interesting shapes and gorgeous patterns
    • the language…it’s so well written!
    • the overall message of not dwelling on things you no longer have, but looking forward to things in your future with great anticipation

    I think this book also has a much deeper message too: We are not our stuff.  We are much more than our possessions.  The sisters seemed to understand their memories are within themselves, not within their things.  They were able to let go of the things from their past and free themselves for much more exciting things to come in their future.  They also learned to use their imagination and dream big. I love the illustration on the last page that shows the sisters looking forward to new adventures with their suitcase in hand.

    A lovely book that teaches children there are always new things to discover!

    Connect with Lantana Publishing
    Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

    Check out these other exciting diverse books from Lantana Publishing!

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    book reviews, children's books

    Kindness Matters: Most People (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

    Most People by Michael Leannah, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris

    Publisher: Tilbury House Publisher
    Pages: 32
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 4 – 7
    Grade Level: Preschool – 2
    Publication Date:
    August 15, 2017

    Looking for a book to teach kids about kindness?  How about a straightforward book to help children see the good in people even when bad things happen?

    Synopsis
    The world can be a scary place. Anxious adults want children to be aware of dangers, but shouldn’t kids be aware of kindness too?

    Michael Leannah wrote Most People as an antidote to the scary words and images kids hear and see every day. Jennifer Morris’s emotive, diverting characters provide the perfect complement to Leannah’s words, leading us through the crowded streets of an urban day in the company of two pairs of siblings (one of color). We see what they see: the hulking dude with tattoos and chains assisting an elderly lady onto the bus; the Goth teenager with piercings and purple Mohawk returning a lost wallet to its owner; and the myriad interactions of daily existence, most of them well intended. Most People is a courageous, constructive response to the dystopian world of the news media.

    Reflection
    When you read or watch the news, sometimes it can feel like the only things reported are terrible, depressing events. Am I right? Typically the media tends to concentrate on the negative events and bad people in life, rather than the good. Despite that, I still believe most people in this world are kind. Do you? That’s the overall message of this heartwarming book.

    Little readers follow two families (one Black family and one White family) from sunrise to sunset interacting with various other people in their community. Along the way they see people doing both good and bad things until they finally arrive back home again.  The families enjoy dinner and dessert together on the rooftop of their apartment building where all the people from their community also live.

    This picture book is filled with various diverse characters of different skin tones and physical abilities. There is even a blind person shown along with their guide dog.  I love the sense of community and messages of kindness. I also like how the book explains that people who do bad things can change.  Because deep down aren’t all humans good people? I like to believe so or at least hope this is true. As the book states, “there is a seed of goodness inside {each person} waiting to sprout.”

    The author’s note acknowledges that while children need to be careful of strangers, they also need to know that most people are good, kind and helpful. Our children don’t deserve to be overly fearful of the world no matter how much the media communicates this.  I think this book can help spark lots of great discussions with smaller children whenever tragedies strike as it’s easy enough to understand.  A great book to add to your home or school library.

    About the Author
    Michael Leannah was a teacher in elementary schools for more than 30 years and is the author of a forthcoming instruction manual for teachers, We Think with Ink. His children’s fiction has been published in Highlights for Children, Ladybug, and other magazines, and he has written two other forthcoming children’s books and contributed to Midwest regional histories and biographies. He is the father of three grown children and one three-year-old granddaughter.

    About the Illustrator
    Jennifer E. Morris is the author and illustrator of May I Please Have a Cookie?, Please Write Back! (combined sales over 1 million copies) and other children’s books. She also illustrates children’s magazines, greeting cards, party ware, and educational materials and is the recipient of the Don Freeman Memorial Grant awarded by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Jennifer currently lives in rural Massachusetts with her husband and two children.

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    book reviews, children's books

    You Should Meet: Katherine Johnson (A Book Review)

    You Should Meet: Katherine Johnson by Thea Feldman, illustrated by Alyssa Petersen

    Publisher: Simon Spotlight
    Age Range: 6-8
    Grade Level: 1-3
    Format: Hardcover or Paperback
    Pages: 48

    Synopsis
    Get to know the woman who made many of NASA’s early missions possible in this fascinating, nonfiction Level 3 Ready-to-Read, part of a series of biographies about people “you should meet!”

    Meet Katherine Johnson, a brilliant mathematician who worked at NASA in the early 1950s until retiring in 1986. Katherine’s unparalleled calculations (done by hand) helped plan the trajectories for NASA’s Mercury and Apollo missions (including the Apollo 11 moon landing). She is said to be one of the greatest American minds of all time.

    A special section at the back of the book includes extras on subjects like history and math, plus inspiring careers for math lovers. With the You Should Meet series, learning about historical figures has never been so much fun!

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

    Reflection
    I couldn’t stop talking about the movie Hidden Figures when I initially saw it. If you don’t already know, the movie is based on the true story of three African-American women who were critical to NASA’s first space launch.

    Hidden Figures introduced many people to Katherine Johnson for the first time. I was already familiar with her since I studied Computer Science, but several people I know had never heard of her before. This level three easy reader chapter book helps little STEM lovin’ readers become more familiar with Katherine Johnson.

    Born on August 26, 1918, Katherine Johnson was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.  She was the youngest of four children.  Her father owned a farm, and her mother was a teacher.  Katherine was always interested in learning about almost anything.  Her favorite subject and first love was math.  Katherine’s father was also a math wiz who could solve math problems like no one’s business.

    I think this book is really great for teaching little readers about Katherine’s childhood and family life, her first job and her many accomplishments achieved throughout her lifetime. Did you know Katherine Johnson started high school when she was just 10 years old and became a college freshman at the age of 15?  Impressive!

    Not only was Katherine Johnson a math genius, she was brave.  As a woman, I know working in a male dominated industry like computers or engineering is already tough.  So I can only imagine how much tougher it was to be working in a male dominated industry in the 1950’s in the segregated South as a Black woman.

    I am so glad I have the opportunity to share this book with my children and others.  Katherine Johnson’s story is such an important piece of history that everyone should know about.  This book helps kids learn basic facts about an important female who helped change the world through her extraordinary work.  Not only is this book informative, it’s inspirational too.  I am so happy Katherine finally received the recognition she deserved by receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by President Barack Obama.

    Katherine is proof that if you stay grounded in what you love, the places you go can be out of this world!


    The book is broken out into five small chapters and the back matter includes information about how sailors use stars to guide them, useful information about different creative careers and a fun quiz to see what you’ve learned.  Be sure to check this one out if you’re looking for a historical non-fiction easy reader chapter book for kids.

    How Long to Read This?  Find out here.

    Your turn: Are you looking forward to reading this book with your kids or students?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    family fun, literary road trip series, STEM

    Literary Road Trip Series: Legoland Discovery Center Westchester, NY

    Disclaimer: My family was provided complimentary tickets to facilitate this review.  As always, all opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.

    Over the years, LEGO bricks have changed very little.  According to LEGO, you can mix bricks made more than 30 years ago with ones in your child’s current collection and-CLICK!-they’d snap together as though not a day had passed.  How neat is that?

    Interesting facts: In Latin, the word “lego” means “I build” or “I assemble”.  The interesting thing is LEGO inventor, Ole Kirk Christiansen didn’t know that when he came up with the name.  When Ole Kirk was deciding the new name for the now famous LEGO brand back in 1934, he took the Danish words for “play” and “well” – leg and godt – and combined them into the new name we know today, LEGO.

    Our Road Trip Begins!
    Last summer our family embarked upon an annual tradition of visiting a family-friendly destination followed by checking out either a local independent book store or library afterwards.  It was such a hit we decided to do it again and hopefully keep it as an annual tradition.  The first stop in our road trip series this year was LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Westchester, NY.

    Unlike the LEGOLAND outdoor amusement park in Florida, LEGOLAND Westchester Discovery Center has a wide range of indoor educational and interactive experiences for children (and grown-ups).  There are hands-on play areas, a 4D cinema, master classes led by Master Model Builders, two LEGO amusement rides and MINILAND — the venue’s signature re-creation of famous landmark locations and buildings throughout Westchester County and New York City, made entirely out of more than 1 million LEGO bricks.

    The MINILAND creations are amazing and so detailed.  We were told by an employee it took a team of 20 expert Lego model builders six months to complete – wow!  LEGO lovers will see replicas of: Grand Central Terminal, The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, The Statue of Liberty, Met Life Stadium, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Central Park and more.  Children will also be mesmerized by the exciting interactive features that include lights, sounds and moving parts.

    Upon entering we received a brief factory overview and learned how LEGOS are made from plastic.  First, the plastic is mixed, then heated and finally molded into different colorful bricks.  After that we headed over to the first of two indoor rides, The Kingdom Quest, an interactive laser ride complete with blasters to blast the “bad guys” in order to help save the princess.  We also took a spin on the other ride called Merlin’s Apprentice.

    Next, we headed over to the Build & Test Zone where we built our own race cars with different LEGO pieces and wheels.  Once our cars were assembled we enjoyed racing them down the speed test tracks.  Finally, we checked out some of the other exhibits and play pit areas before heading over to the cinema to watch a 10-15 minute 4D animated LEGO movie.

    Although they do have a cafe on-site, there weren’t too many options to choose from so we just opted for a light snack which consisted of chips and bottled water.  Since LEGOLAND is located inside of a shopping center you might be better off having lunch at one of the nearby restaurants.  That’s what we ended up doing.  It’s also worth mentioning that outside food isn’t permitted to bring in.

    Of course we had to visit the gift shop before we left to purchase some souvenirs.  The shop is stacked with popular LEGO sets, Duplo bricks, and some apparel (hats, t-shirts and watches).  The kids got their own LEGO sets which they have thoroughly been enjoying playing with since they received them.  Oh, and don’t forget to bring your parking ticket to the gift shop in order to get it validated.  Parking isn’t free, but with the validation it comes up to $1.75 for LEGOLAND attendees.

    If you’re in the Connecticut, New York or other surrounding areas I’d definitely recommend visiting LEGOLAND Discovery Center.  Especially if you or your kids love playing with LEGOs like mine do.  It’s a nice and clean family-friendly destination to hang out at with your family for a few hours.  There’s a variety of STEM related activities to keep the kids busy and lots of different seating options for grown-ups to sit down while the kids play and explore. Also, bonus points for it being indoors!  That means you can enjoy LEGOLAND all year round without having to worry about the weather.  It’s heated in the winter and cool during the summer months – win, win!

    Connect with LEGOLAND Discovery Center!
    Website | Instagram | Facebook

    Surrounding Local Bookstore or Library

    There is a independent bookstore located about 5 minutes away from LEGOLAND Discovery Center called Womrath Bookshop.  They have a great selection of children’s and adult books as well as some novelty items.

    Yonkers, NY has three different public library branches to choose from.  We ended up going to the Grinton I. Will Branch located about 10 minutes away from LEGOLAND.  I didn’t know there were three branches to choose from so maybe one of the other two branches are located a bit closer to LEGOLAND.  In any event, the branch we visited was clean and organized with a cute play area in the children’s section.  They also have beautiful murals decorating their walls throughout the library.

    There’s a book for that!

    Looking to pair this outing with a children’s book?  Check out The Inventors of LEGO Toys by Erin Hagar.  It’s part of the Awesome Minds early chapter book series for kids!

    Your turn: Have you visited LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Westchester, NY or any other LEGOLAND?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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    children's books

    2017 Amazon Prime Day Book Coupon + 16 Forthcoming Diverse Books for Kids!

    Eeeek!! The start of the 2017 Amazon Prime Day is just hours away!  What books are on your radar to purchase for yourself or your kids?  I’ve rounded up a list of sixteen 2017 diverse picture and early chapter books I’m looking forward to reading with my kids, some of which we’ve already had the pleasure of seeing a sneak peek of at the Book Expo.

    If you have a list of books like me, use this awesome Prime Day coupon code at checkout to save $5.00 off your purchase of $15.00 or morePRIMEBOOKS17.  The coupon is only valid to use one time per account and it is not available to use on any digital content.  The coupon code will expire at 11:59pm PT on July 12, 2017.

    Below are some of the forthcoming 2017 books I’m looking forward to (in no particular order).  Be sure to use the coupon provided above for your book purchases in order to SAVE.  Happy shopping!

    Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut (October 2017)

    Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (December 2017)

    Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil Rights Activist Nina Simone (December 2017)

    Most People (August 2017)

    Daddy Played the Blues (September 2017)

    All Around Us (September 2017)

    Why Am I Me? (September 2017)

    When Rosa Parks Went Fishing (August 2017)

    Yo Soy Muslim: A Father’s Letter to His Daughter (August 2017)

    Hello Goodbye Dog (July 2017)

    Sing, Don’t Cry (August 2017)

    A Night Out with Mama (October 2017)

    Little People, Big Dreams: Rosa Parks (September 2017)

    Grandma’s Tiny House (August 2017)


    Danza! (August 2017)

    Shai & Emmie: Break an Egg (October 2017)

    Your turn: Which books are you looking forward to purchasing on Prime Day?  Feel free to share in the comments.

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