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    book reviews, children's books

    Llama Llama Loves to Read (A Book Review)

    I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher as part of the Llama Llama blog tour.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Llama Llama Loves to Read
    by Anna Dewdney, illustrated by Reed Duncan

    Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 3 – 5
    Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten

    Anna Dewdney’s Bestselling Llama Llama series continues with Llama learning to read!

    Llama Llama learns at school. 
    Counting, writing, reading, rules. 
    Friends and school — there’s nothing better. 
    Llama learning all the letters!

    Anna Dewdney’s beloved Llama Llama is growing up and learning to read! Throughout the school day,the teacher helps Llama Llama and the other children practice their letters, shows word cards, reads stories, and brings them to the library where they can all choose a favorite book. By the end of the day, Llama Llama is recognizing words and can’t wait to show Mama Llama that he’s becoming a reader!

    Llama Llama Loves to Read Blog Tour

    It was a sad day for book lovers of all ages when the inspiring author of the beloved Llama Llama series, Anna Dewdney, passed away nearly two years ago from brain cancer. Anna was a champion of children’s literacy and learning who was probably best known for her Llama Llama series.  Llama Llama books are centered around a precocious young Llama navigating his way through childhood.  Undoubtedly, that series has touched many lives and helped put countless kids to sleep over the years. Thankfully Llama Llama’s story is not quite over yet.

    Of course it goes without saying, I love the overall concept behind this book – literacy and reading.  Just like all of the of the other Llama Llama books we’ve read, Llama Llama Loves to Read has a relevant theme, lilting rhythms, and great illustrations.  This book is sure to inspire a love of reading in every preschool and kindergarten mind that is blessed to hear/read the rhythmic story about Llama’s reading adventure.

    In true Anna Dewdney style, this book is written in fun, catchy rhymes.  It starts with a simple life problem and proceeds to solve it, with lessons learned along the way.  In this book, Llama Llama is faced with the problem of not being able to read some harder words.  He learns to do his best and take his time to sound words out.  In the end, he’s so proud of his newfound reading skills and can’t wait to tell his mother all about it.

    My kids and I are so happy Anna Dewdney and Llama Llama will continue to live on through this book and the remaining ones yet to be released. Check out Llama Llama Loves to Read if you want to inspire little people to love reading and conversing about literature.

    Llama Llama Loves to Read blog tour

    Anna Dewdney passed away in September, 2016, at the age of fifty from cancer. A teacher, mother, and enthusiastic proponent of reading aloud to children, she continually honed her skills as an artist and writer and published her first Llama Llama book in 2005. Her passion for creating extended to home and garden and she lovingly restored an 18th century farmhouse in southern Vermont. She wrote, painted, gardened, and lived there with her partner, Reed, her two daughters, two wirehaired pointing griffons, and one bulldog. Anna was a warm-hearted, wonderful, wise soul who will be forever missed, but whose spirit lives on in her books.

    Your turn: What is your favorite Llama Llama book?  Have you read this book with your little readers yet?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, children's books

    Front Desk by Kelly Yang: A Book Review

    Disclaimer: I was provided with an advanced review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    Front Desk
    by Kelly Yang

    Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 304
    Age Range: 8-12
    Grade Level: 3-7

    Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

    Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

    Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

    Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

    It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

    I will never know exactly feels like to be an immigrant who was not born in the United States. It’s simply not a part of my story. However, I do know what it’s like to be a Black person and at times feel discriminated against because of the color of my skin, the texture of my hair or my full lips. I guess that may feel what like to be an immigrant although they are not exactly the same thing.

    I think Front Desk is an amazing middle-grade book that wholeheartedly deserves a five star rating, let me tell you why.

    First of all, it’s loosely based on the author’s life, the daughter of first generation Chinese immigrants. The author lived this tale so the writing is gripping and very authentic based on some of her own life experiences.

    Second, it outlines the struggles and hardships many immigrants have to face daily. The book is set in the 1990’s timeframe so I found myself relating to it on so many levels. Having an immigrant-born Jamaican mother, my sister and I were often teased and heard terms like “fresh off the boat” even though we were both born in the US. My heart ached for little Mia and her family at times. But then my heart sang to see how they overcame any roadblocks that were in their way.

    Lastly, I loved all of the themes and lessons this book provides to readers: perseverance, racism, social justice, teamwork, hard work, gratitude, family, friendship and so much more. I honestly can’t say enough good things about this one!

    I walked away from this book feeling so full and blessed which was unexpected. I felt like I took my kids on an amazing read-aloud journey to experience what it feels like to live in an immigrants’ shoes. If you woke up this morning, have food to eat, and clothes to wear give thanks and be grateful.

    Kudos to author Kelly Yang for penning such wonderful and powerful debut novel! Front Desk publishes May 29, 2018. An absolute must-read for 2018!

    Your turn: Do you plan to read this book when it comes out?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, children's books

    Do You Have Magic Breath? An Easy Way to Teach Preschoolers About Mindfulness and Deep Breathing

    Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book to review by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

    My Magic Breath
    by Nick Ortner and Alison Taylor, illustrated by Michelle Polizzi

    Publisher: Harper Collins
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3
    Format: Hardcover


    Do YOU have the magic breath?

    Let’s see…Take a deeeeeep breath in…and BLOW it out…

    …and like magic, you can feel better just by breathing! Sometimes it’s hard to feel happy. But with this interactive picture book, children breathe along as they learn how to make angry or sad thoughts disappear.

    In a world that is sometimes too busy, with too many things going on, My Magic Breath will help steer children into a serene space of mindfulness, self-awareness, and balance.

    If you like interactive books like Press Here or Mix It Up, then you’re likely to enjoy this forthcoming mindfulness book for preschoolers and early elementary aged students.  It’s a new bedtime story favorite book of ours!

    My Magic Breath reminds kids (and adults) that peace is just a single breath away. All you have to do is remember to breathe.  We all have “magic breath” and can use it anytime we feel mad, sad, nervous or worried. Throughout the book, readers are instructed to breath in their happy or sad thoughts and then blow them out onto the page.  My kids love reading this book and pretend to blow the illustrations right off the page.

    I think My Magic Breath is a beautifully illustrated book that explains the concept of mindfulness and deep breathing in a fun and easy to understand way for little readers. A great book to read for story time at the end of each day or in a kids mindfulness group/class.

    Your turn: Do you practice mindfulness with your children?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Rebecca Green

    Publisher: CitizenKid
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 6 – 9 and up
    Grade Level: 3 –  7
    Publication Date: May 1, 2018

    It’s monsoon season in Bangladesh, which means Iqbal’s mother must cook the family’s meals indoors, over an open fire. The smoke from the fire makes breathing difficult for his mother and baby sister, and it’s even making them sick. Hearing them coughing at night worries Iqbal. So when he learns that his school’s upcoming science fair has the theme of sustainability, Iqbal comes up with the perfect idea for his entry: he’ll design a stove that doesn’t produce smoke! With help from his teacher, Iqbal learns all about solar energy cooking, which uses heat from the sun to cook — ingenious! Has Iqbal found a way to win first prize in the science fair while providing cleaner air and better health for his family at the same time?

    It’s monsoon season in Bangladesh, which means many families must cook over an open flame. But all of the smoke is making Iqbal’s mother and other family members sick.  Iqbal wants to help, so he enters the district science fair which offers a cash prize for winning first place. Iqbal is determined to win the grand prize so he can buy a gas stove that doesn’t produce harmful fumes.

    I love how creative Iqbal was and how he thoroughly researched his idea to create a solar cooker.  He learned that solar cookers provide many benefits including: protects the environment, reduces health problems, empowers women and girls, increases safety and saves money.

    I also like the special bond between Iqbal and his sister Sadia.  Sadia offers to be Iqbal’s assistant and helps him assemble the solar cooker.  The brother sister duo also receive help from their parents to put the final touches on their invention.  What a great display of family teamwork to accomplish a common goal!  Despite not having much money, they all pulled together and used the little they did have to help Iqbal complete his project.

    Aspiring creatives, engineers, scientists and inventors are likely to enjoy this inspirational story that shows how one child can champion the protection of the environment and help raise awareness about a global health issue.  There are themes of: STEM, creativity, family and solar power.  You truly are never too young or old to make a difference!

    The back matter has additional information about clean cookstoves, a glossary and a neat DIY (do-it-yourself) pizza box solar cooker activity for kids to try.

    Your turn: Have you ever invented anything?  If so, what was it?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

    Publisher: Candlewick
    Format: Hardcover
    Age Range: 4- 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3
    Publication Date: April 10, 2018


    What’s in a name? For one little girl, her very long name tells the vibrant story of where she came from — and who she may one day be.

    If you ask her, Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela has way too many names: six! How did such a small person wind up with such a large name? Alma turns to Daddy for an answer and learns of Sofia, the grandmother who loved books and flowers; Esperanza, the great-grandmother who longed to travel; José, the grandfather who was an artist; and other namesakes, too. As she hears the story of her name, Alma starts to think it might be a perfect fit after all — and realizes that she will one day have her own story to tell. In her author-illustrator debut, Juana Martinez-Neal opens a treasure box of discovery for children who may be curious about their own origin stories or names.

    I think this book is an absolutely adorable story about a little girl named Alma who is initially unhappy with her really long name.  She has six names: Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela.  After Alma’s father tells her the story of her name she appreciates it and fully accepts it.  For example, Alma learns she was given the name “Sofia” because of her grandmother who loved books, poetry and jasmine flowers.

    I love that Alma’s father goes on to tell her different stories of where each of the remaining names came from.  Each story provides Alma with a sense of identity through time, and helps her understand who she is in the world.  Through his stories, Alma’s father gives her a wealth of information about her distant grandparents, great-grandparents, and great aunt.  Alma also learned some things about her family’s heritage which will undoubtedly provide her with an important connection to her own identity and may possibly open her up to a new world into other cultures and traditions.

    When Alma learns her first name was picked just for her she couldn’t be more happy!

    I love the story of my name!  Now, tell me about Alma, Daddy.  Where does that come from?

    I picked the name Alma just for you.  You are the first and the only Alma.  You will make your own story.

    In the end, Alma proudly proclaims her name in big, bold font which is a drastic change from how she wrote her name in the beginning of the book.

    That’s my name, and it fits me just right!  I am Alma, and I have a story to tell.

    Alma and How She Got Her Name is perfect for kids who have long names and are curious about the origin of their names.  A great overall message about identity rings throughout accompanied by gorgeous colored pencil illustrations in tones of red, white, pink, blue and grey.  There are wonderful messages of acceptance, family, heritage, culture, love and individuality.

    The author’s note tells little readers the story of how she got her name.  A Spanish version of this book will publish on the same date the English version publishes.  Recommended for kids ages 4-8 and up.

    Your turn: How many names do you have? I have 3, my first, middle and last name. Well, 4 if you count “Mommy”. Make that 5 if you count “Babe”.

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Mommy’s Khimar
    by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

    Published by: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
    Age Range: 4 – 8 years old
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3
    Format: Hardcover

    A young Muslim girl spends a busy day wrapped up in her mother’s colorful headscarf in this sweet and fanciful picture book.

    A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears.
    Before she walks out the door each day, she wraps one around her head.

    A young girl plays dress up with her mother’s headscarves, feeling her mother’s love with every one she tries on. Charming and vibrant illustrations showcase the beauty of the diverse and welcoming community in this portrait of a young Muslim American girl’s life.


    When the publisher Salaam Reads was founded back in 2016, I was so excited!  Salaam Reads is an imprint that aims to introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works. The imprint, which takes its name from the Arabic word for “peace,” plans to publish books for young readers of all ages, including picture books, chapter books, middle grade, and young adult.  Isn’t that great news?

    Today there are very few good children’s books that have Muslim or Islamic themes.  There are even fewer books that focus on the African-American Muslim experience like Mommy’s Khimar.  I love this adorable story about a little Muslim American girl who likes to play dress up with her mother’s khimar (hijab).  It’s a lively and upbeat story with engaging words and vibrant illustrations that oozes with love!

    Playing dress-up has never been so much fun!  Especially when you have a closet full of beautifully designed headscarves to choose from.

    Some have tassles.  Some have beads.  Some have sparkly things all over.

    The little girl’s excitement at dressing up in mother’s khimar is infectious.  She uses her creative imagination to become a queen with a golden train, the sun, a mama bird and a superhero in a cape.

    When I wear Mommy’s khimar, I am a mama bird.  I spread my golden wings and shield my baby brother as he sleeps in his nest.

    At the end of the day, it’s time to take off the khimar and go to sleep, but not without one last stroke of mommy’s khimar.  The little girl takes her mother’s scents of coconut oil, cocoa butter and cinnamon with her as she drifts off to sleep.  It’s as if her mother is right there lying next to her.  Sometimes, a girl needs to know that her mother’s love will still be there, even when it’s time to go to bed.  Fortunately, smelling the khimar one last time lets the little girl know that Mama’s love won’t ever go away. This story is perfect for reminding children that a mother’s love will always endure.

    I really enjoyed reading this story with my kids.  The pages dance with pastel colored illustrations that really make the story come alive.  Ebony Glenn’s illustrations doing a fantastic job showcasing the beauty of a timeless khimar.  My favorite thing about this book is the mother daughter bond that is displayed throughout.  It’s clear that the girl admires her mother and wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps.  I love the way the little girl expresses her affection for her mom and how much love is shown to the girl from her community: her dad, grandmother and other women at the mosque.

    Overall, I think Mommy’s Khimar beautifully captures the childhood of playing dress up and make believe while contextualizing it against the backdrop of the African American Muslim experience. Mommy’s Khimar can serve not only as a window for other cultures, but as a mirror for Muslim-American children.  It may make many little girls want to snuggle up and read this book with their mother and spark meaningful conversations as their mother shares stories about each one of her beloved khimars.

    book reviews, children's books

    Chineasy for Children by Shaolan (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: We received a complimentary book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Chineasy for Children by Shaolan

    Publisher: Thames and Hudson
    Pages: 80
    Format: Hardcover

    Do your children know more than one language? My kids are both learning Spanish at school and I take them to free language classes (Spanish and French) offered for kids at one of our local libraries.

    I’ve always wanted to learn Chinese/Mandarin so this book provides the perfect learning opportunity for both me and the kids! Chineasy for Children is so easy to grasp and quickly be able to understand 100 common words (characters) in Chinese.

    Introductory spreads explain how Chinese is written in pictograms―characters form building blocks for other words and sentences. Subsequent spreads feature lively scenes that help children to recognize over 100 Chinese characters. The book is organized by themes such as numbers, family, animals, nature and food, each section covering vocabulary within that topic. Stories about the development of characters and customs provide the perfect introduction to Chinese culture, while games and activities allow children to put into practice what they have learned. The book also features a picture library of characters for avid linguists to memorize as well as guidance on Mandarin pronunciation.

    I like using this book with the kids and on my own!  I think it’s a fantastic introduction to Chinese for kids and adults alike.  Apart from the lively illustrations and simplicity of the book, I appreciate reading about the history behind some of the characters.  For example, the character for the word father shows the shape of two axes crossed together.  This character represents a time when it was common for a man to chop wood with an axe to make a fire for his family.

    There are also thought provoking Chinese proverbs featured throughout and fun questions to think about.  The answer key is provided in the back of the book along with useful notes for parents and teachers.  Chineasy for Children is perfect for homeschooling or anyone who wants to learn to understand some of the most common Chinese characters.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

    Your turn: Do your children know more than one language?  Have you or your children learned any Chinese characters?  Feel free to share in the comments.