Touch the Brightest Star by Christie Matheson

Thank you to @christiemath @GreenwillowBook for my review copy

My two cents: Touch the Brightest Star is a lovely picture book for both pre-readers and beginning readers. Told in flowing cadence and rhyme, it tells the story of day's end turning to night and then ends with the closing of eyes to darkness, only to open again to morning. This is a great vehicle for foreshadowing and inference (what happened while the eyes were closed?). Because the vocabulary is limited, and there are numerous spelling repetitions due to the rhyme scheme, it also makes a good book for beginning readers (though the topic might be a bit young, the idea that they can actually read the words usually supersedes that!). Information on various creatures and objects of the night is given on the last page, making for further discussion and future investigations.

The most unique thing about this book, aside from the great writing, is the use of terminology usually reserved for digital reading. The author invites young readers to "swipe" and "tap" various scenes of serene watercolor-like mixed-media illustrations on big bold pages of blue and darkening sky. The change in the shadowing of the apple tree lends further discussion opportunities. I think this one is definitely a Caldecott contender!

This is a truly stellar learning tool and should be purchased for all pre-school and kindergarten libraries.

Publisher's Synopsis: "A companion to the popular and acclaimed Tap the Magic Tree! In this interactive bedtime story, touch, tap, blink, whisper, and more to make magic happen in the nighttime sky, from sunset to sunrise.
What happens while you're sleeping? With lush, beautiful watercolors and cut-paper collage, Christie Matheson reveals the magic of the nighttime sky, using the same kinds of toddler-perfect interactive elements as her acclaimed Tap the Magic Tree. Wave good-bye to the sun, gently press the firefly, make a wish on a star, rub the owls on their heads, and . . . shhhh. No two readings of this book will be the same. That along with the gentle, soothing rhythm, makesTouch the Brightest Star a bedtime winner—no matter how many times you and your child read it."

Genre: Picture Book
Age: 4-8 years
Pages: 40
Themes: Day turning to night turning to day, creatures & objects of the night
Thank You to publisher: Greenwillow Books
Date: May 2015
ISBN: 978-0062274472
BUY Touch the Brightest Star HERE

-------------------- That's all folks! --------------------
 © 2007-2015 Cheryl Vanatti for

Edgar and the Treehouse of Usher by Jennifer Adams

(Thank you to @ericsmithrocks & @GibbsSmithBooks) for my first BabyLit copy!

My two cents: I had heard of the BabyLit series, but had not held one in my hands. They sure sounded great, but I am a middle school reading specialist so they were honestly kind of low on the TBR stack. When I got an email to take a look at Edgar and the Tree House of Usher, I thought that I would probably like it. I mean, any bibliophile has to at least like the idea of putting classical readings in children's hands as young as possible, right? And who doesn't love Poe? I mean, c'mon now!

So... if I said that I liked it, no one would really be surprised. 

BUT... if you look over at my "highest recommendation" tag, you will see that I am very sparing with that tag. Most of the books in that category have won big prizes or accolades. I stake my reading reputation on that tag.  

Edgar and the Tree House of Usher is marvelous! It follows the general plot of The Fall of the House of Usher, with name dropping and illustration references galore. But, when this house falls, the outcome is less bleak and has a little lesson on equality and fairness thrown in (without a hint of moralizing). How wonderful that children can have some background knowledge of our beloved classics. I want all of the BabyLit now (well, I'd really like to have a grandchild to go along with it, but that's for the personal blog)! 

Teachers and librarians: if you haven't been purchasing this series yet (and especially the Edgar ones!), I suggest you get your hands on them quick. 

Although I would like to thank the folks (up top there) that sent me this review copy, I would also like to tell them that I know their game! I am headed over to Amazon to start my collection with

Publisher's Synopsis: ""It was a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year ... " when the mischievous raven Edgar heads to his friend Roderick's house to work on their tree house. Edgar dashes his sister Lenore's hopes with the ever-popular phrase "sisters are not allowed," until a storm starts to brew and the two boys realize that sometimes the best things happen when you decide to stick together. The third picture book in the popular Edgar series is sure to warm the hearts of kids and parents alike.

JENNIFER ADAMS is the author of more than two dozen books, including titles in the Baby lit series, which introduces children to the world of classic literature. She lives in Salt Lake City. Visit her website at
RON STUCKI is a graphic designer and illustrator of Edgar Gets Ready for Bed and Edgar and the TattleTale Heart. Ron lives in Utah and Idaho. Visit him at"

-------------------- That's all folks! --------------------
 © 2007-2015 Cheryl Vanatti for

Max the Brave by Ed Vere

(Thank you @Sourcebooks) 

My two cents: A spunky cat has to figure out what a mouse looks like so that he can chase it. Children and adults alike will gasp when Max finally encounters the "mouse." This is a sweet and funny tale that should not be missed. The funny and surprising ending make this title a must buy for preschool and kindergarten classrooms. 

Publisher's Synopsis: "Max is a fearless kitten. Max is a brave kitten. Max is a kitten who chases mice. There's only one problem-Max doesn't know what a mouse looks like! With a little bit of bad advice, Max finds himself facing a much bigger challenge. Maybe Max doesn't have to be Max the Brave all the time...

Join this adventurous black cat as he very politely asks a variety of animals for help in finding a mouse. Young readers will delight in Max's mistakes, while adults will love the subtle, tongue-in-cheek humor of this new children's classic."

Genre: Picture Book
Age: 3-6
Pages: 32
Themes: Unique & spunky character, Tenacity and curiousness, Little white lie = comedy
Thank You to publisher Sourcebooks for my copy!
Available in hardback in the USA on September 8, 2015, but you can preorder Max the Brave HERE

-------------------- That's all folks! --------------------
 © 2007-2015 Cheryl Vanatti for

Fun Vocabulary-Building Books for the Earliest Readers

(Thank you @ChronicleKids)

I am always excited to find  beginner books from @ChronicleKids because as a reading specialist (and soon to be school media specialist), I really understand just how important it is for parents to read good, exciting and fun books to their babies and toddlers. There is much research backing what those of us who have been in the struggling reader trenches know by living it.

I absolutely love Who Done It? by Olivier Tallec! Perfect for mastering the skill of using clues to make inferences, the reader must look at the illustrations to answer a question on each page. This one isn't out until October, 2015, but new and/or expecting parents or grandparents need to pre-order!

Because I am a middle school teacher, I typically give all my beginning books away to a local preschool or friends with young ones, but I am keeping this one! Funny, cute watercolor illustrations, and skill-building: this one is a keeper.

You can pre-order  Who Done It? HERE

Good for practicing beginning vocabulary and directions, All Shook Up! by Alain Crozon is an interactive book with bright, bold illustrations that ask you to shake up the various critters by moving their ears, noses, wings, etc...

Available August 18, 2015 HERE

Who's There? is also by Alain Crozon and sports the same bright, silly illustrations. This time, the interaction comes in the form of onomatopoeia. Young children learn sound words for some common and also not so common objects.

 Again available August 18, 2015 HERE

Finally, for the very young, is a couple board books that help babies learn about happy and sad as the little driver makes various trucks go and various makes friends smile. These will be available September 15, 2015, but you can preorder them HERE

Thank you to Chronicle Kids for the copies of some great new books for parents, grandparents & teachers this fall!

----------------- That's all folks! -----------------
 © 2007-2015 Cheryl Vanatti for

Nest by Esther Ehrlich

 (Thank you @randomhousekids)

Publisher's Synopsis: "A heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.
   Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.
   Nest is Esther Ehrlich’s stunning debut novel. Her lyrical writing is honest, humorous, and deeply affecting. Chirp and Joey will steal your heart. Long after you finish Nest, the spirit of Chirp and her loving family will stay with you."

My two cents: I am not certain what else to say about Nest. Everyone loves it; there are glowing reviews all over the internet. The atmospheric prose is lovely and well-written, and means the title was probably lingering on Newbery award lips this past season. 

But, I also thought it was awfully heavy for a general read. I was especially concerned for the protagonist's friend who appears to be suffering from child abuse. The fact that his story is never developed doesn't end my concern. It is certainly a title to give to students who are having difficult family issues with death, suicide and mental illness of family members, but handing this one over to just any middle grade reader is tricky. The publisher lists 10 and up and I would certainly stay true to that designation as 10 seems awfully young to bear the worries of child abuse, suicide, and mental illness. 
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: 10+  /  Lexile 830L
Pages: 337
Themes: Family, Depression/Mental Illness, Suicide, Friendship, Nature
Plot Engagement: Meandering, not a fast adventure type
Originality: More topical than original
Believability: Sadly so
Thank You: NetGalley
Publisher:  Random House Kids
Date: Sept 2014
ISBN 978-0385386074
Click here to buy: Nest
Read the first chapter here:

New York Times review: HERE
Author website: HERE

-------------------- That's all folks! --------------------
 © 2007-2015 Cheryl Vanatti for
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