I'm a dog person. Sorry cat folks. My adult children have five cats between them, and I appreciate my grandcats, but I own two doggies: Jebediah Peabody. & Annie Roo.

Here they are:
Yes, it's weird that I placed my two dogs within this book review about a cat named Max.... I once had a dog named Max, he was CRAZY, but I digress even further! 
The reason I am placing a picture of my two dogs smack in the middle of a posting on Max Attacks is because I loved this book almost as much as I loved They All Saw A Cat and I am beginning to wonder if my five grandcats are chipping away at my dog adoration.
Here is Boba Cat:
Here is Taxi Cat:
Here is Choco Cat:
Here is Lemons Cat:
Here is Shrimp Cat (yes, she is disabled):
See! Cute grandcats!
But, we are here to talk about Max Attacks and I adore Max even though I am not a cat person. His facial expressions are exactly that of a cat getting into all sorts of mayhem. His personality shines right out of the pages. Max is blue, about the color of Pete the Cat (another favorite!), with black stripes. He reminds me so much of Boba Cat (shhh, he's my favorite grandcat). Max has a desire to "trounce and pounce" the swishy fishies in the bowl, but he keeps getting distracted by all the fun things to pounce upon: shoelaces, a lizard, socks, etc.  I don't usually write much about illustrators, not my expertise, but Penelope Dullaghan does an amazing job painting the psyche of cats. She perfectly complements Kathi Appelt's curious and attacking cat.

Max Attacks is a great read aloud with its rhymes as big and bouncy as protagonist Max. I highly recommend it for classrooms Pre-K - 3rd purchase as well as all elementary libraries. I think this one may have a shot at a Caldecott.

Genre: Picture Book, Animal Tales
Age: 4 - 8
Pages: 40
Publisher: Atheneum, a division of Simon & Schuster Kids
Date: June 2019
ISBN: 9781481451468
Acquired: Personal Copy

Themes: Cat Behaviors, Getting Distracted Easily, Winning (or not)
Characters: Max is great.  Doggie in the background looks bewildered by Max (as most dogs do when watching crazy cats). Even the fishies seem to wonder what's up with Max!
Plot: Will Max stay focused long enough to get the fishies?
Originality: There are lots of cat books, but Max Attacks is a stand out. His personality is so indicative of cat behavior and most young children can identify with getting easily distracted in a big, new, beautiful world with so many things to do and see.
Believability: Complete understanding of cat behavior, aided by perfect illustrations to convey those emotions. You'll be rooting for Max even though you won't want the fishies made into stew.

Teaching Ideas:

Vocabulary: pounce, trounce, midst, gusto, catnip, crouches, snag, dangling, kaput, cozy, trusty 
Discussion: There are lots of opportunities to predict and infer. Pages are not numbered, but...
1. On the page right before Max sees the lizard, ask what is going to happen (he is going after that lizard!)
2. What does Max want to do with the fishies? (Fishy stew)
3. What does Max do after he starts "twitchy" and "switchy" (repeated several times throughout, Max is getting ready to attack)
4. On the page when Ma and the dog get wet, ask what happened (Max attacked the bowl with water in it and they got splashed)
5. On the very last page, the lizard is sneaking off the page sideways. What does this say about Max "winning?"
6. And, don't forget the big question: Did Max win or did the fish? The illustrations are so important to this tale. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.7 Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.)
1. Write the couplet rhyme words and have the students practice them by looking at common spelling/sound patterns. Here are the rhyming couplets:
2. As you can see there are several phonemic patterns to explore there too! And, a couple nonsense words to explore! (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.1.2.D Segment spoken single-syllable words into their complete sequence of individual sounds (phonemes)
3. Discuss how the rhyming words create meaning (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2.4 Describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.) 
4. Max Attacks is a complete sentence and says a lot. Review the parts of a complete sentence.
(CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.1.1.A Recognize the distinguishing features of a sentence (e.g., first word, capitalization, ending punctuation.)

Kathi Appelt is a fabulous children's writer, one of my favorites. You can read more about her on her website: HERE.

Penelope Dullaghan is an award-winning illustrator. Max Attacks is her first children's book. You can read more about her on her website: HERE.

--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at

Publisher's Synopsis: "The sounds of the city at night create a lively lullaby in this melodious bedtime story from superstar producer and musician Timbaland, Caldecott Honor–winning illustrator Christopher Myers, and Kaa Illustration!
As a little boy gets ready for bed, the sounds of a wild storm echo around him, lulling him to sleep. From the crash of thunder to the pitter-patter of raindrops to the beat of passing cars, the music of the city creates a cozy bedtime soundtrack."

My Two Cents:
Nighttime Symphony is more than another sweet, lyrical bedtime story, it is an ode to fatherhood. Written by Grammy award-winning musician Timbaland, the musical cadence and rhyme of Nighttime Symphony is spoken as sweet sentiment by a father explaining the rumblings of a city storm as be helps his son to bed. By comparing the weather's sounds to melodious expressions, the narrator father helps his young son to not only squelch his fear, but to embrace the wonders of the city sounds.

That being said, Nighttime Symphony still works best as a lovely bedtime story. Rhyme schemes are not conducive for explicit ELA instruction and classroom applications are minimal.  Some comparisons are possible discussion points, but the book is meant to be more artistic than instructive.  Library purchase for diversity and read-alouds recommended.  

Genre: Picture Book, Realistic Fiction
Age: 2-8 , Pre-K - 3rd
Pages: 32
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, division of Simon & Schuster Kids
Date: May 2019
ISBN: 978-1442412088
Acquired: Personal Copy

Themes: Fear and Beauty of Sounds/Storms, Fatherly Love
Characters: The characters seem a bit inconsequential to the telling, with the father doing all the telling and the boy doing all the listening.
Plot: Poetic rendering of boy getting more comfortable with storm sounds due to father's explanations
Originality: Anchored in urban space, colorful illustrations, sweet comparisons of sounds to music
Diversity: Black father/son positive representation, City setting & sounds

Timbaland is a Grammy Award–winning musician. He has collaborated with many well-known musicians (Justin Timberlake, Madonna, One Republic, BeyoncĂ©, Missy Elliott, etc.). He is also the producer for the TV series Empire.
Nighttime Symphony is his first book for children.

Illustrations by Christopher Myers, an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books. He won a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations in the book Harlem, and has received three Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards. Myers has also illustrated books written by his award-winning author father,  Walter Dean Myers.
Watch this great video interview from Reading Rockets with Chris Myers regarding black representation and imagery in media:

Illustrations also Kaa Illustration Studio, comprised of illustrators Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien, and based in Ho Chi Minh City Their stunning, vibrant illustrations are inspired by the folk culture of Vietnam and Asia. You can see more about them HERE.

--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at
Publisher's Synopsis: "A breathtaking picture book about the relationships we share from New York Times bestselling storytellers Julie Fogliano and Loren Long in the tradition of The Runaway Bunny and Guess How Much I Love You....
Through clever, thought-provoking verse and warmly evocative art, New York Times bestsellers Julie Fogliano and Loren Long explore the awe-inspiring nature of relationships, love, and connection."

My Two Cents: If I Was the Sunshine is one of those books that begs you to pick it up. The typography, the pastel colors, the title….  All done with an artistic swoosh that begs you to grab it. That’s what I did as soon as my library acquired it. And, I am glad.

If I Was Sunshine will deservedly be on the Caldecott short-list and should be added to primary classrooms for both read-aloud and discussion opportunities. The artistic decision to print in all lower case makes this reading specialist cringe a bit, but If I Was Sunshine is not a title to grammatically nitpick. Rather, it is a title to read aloud, in lilting cadence, and discuss. Each rhyming stanza is a metaphor of relationship. Students will do well to listen to it as the poetry it is in the first sitting and then to review it a second or third time to discuss the relationships of the metaphors.

Highest recommendation. For both elementary library & classroom purchase. Definitely one for collection :-)
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 4 - 8
Pages: 48
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Kids / Atheneum Books for Young Readers
My copy: personal collection
Date: May 2019
ISBN-13: 978-1481472432
Themes: Love, Relationships, Nature Beauty

Teaching Ideas:
1. This wonderful book works with many ELA standards. I offer first grade, but the complexity of the relationships are developmentally closer to second grade...

if you were the winter
and i was the spring
i’d call you whisper
and you'd call me sing

Why would spring call winter whisper?
Why would winter call spring sing? 
(CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.4 - Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses)

2. Another idea: Discuss the use of light in illustration and how it creates a mood that aides meaning
(CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.7 - Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events)

3. Great little teacher's guide available: HERE

Julie Fogliano is a New York Times bestselling author and recipient of the 2013 the Ezra Jack Keats Award. You can read more about her HERE

Loren Long has illustrated many great children's books including President Barack Obama's Of Thee I Sing, Madonna's Mr. Peabody's Apples, and Jon Scieszka's Trucktown series. You can read more about him HERE
--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at

If I Was the Sunshine by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Loren Long

Wednesday, June 19

Publisher’s Synopsis: "It’s the first day of summer and Rachel's thirteenth birthday. She can't wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah. But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means. With all the heart of her award-winning novel See You At Harry's, Jo Knowles brings us the story of a girl who must discover where her heart is and what that means for her future."

My Two Cents: Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles is a solidly written realistic tale told from the viewpoint of a young girl struggling to figure out her own sexuality against the backdrop of her parent’s financial struggle. Typical middle grade feelings , worries, and even some joys fill the pages. Many tweens will find this a good read and appreciate the writer's firm grasp of middle grade concerns. Where the Heart Is is rightfully getting lots of good bibliophile buzz.

That being said, and in relation to my work with striving readers, the plotting is a bit slow, with action based in parent whispers and summer beach-going friendships waverings. Readers looking for a faster-paced or more emotionally reaching wallop might struggle to engage. Best recommended for individual selection, rather than whole class reading, purchase for libraries and literature circles.

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: Tween
Date: April, 2019
Thank You to Library Thing and Candlewick Press for my advanced copy

Themes: Growing Up, Family Love, Friendship Love, First Love, Financial Security. Could have been a much deeper story. Reads more like a beachy, summer fun tale than the deep themes it disguises. Possibly kudos to the writer on that front.
Character Development: Characters are well drawn, Sisters have the most fleshed-out relationship, Parents relationship seems one sided (narrator viewpoint only),
Plot: Young tween’s family loses their home while she struggles with her blossoming sexuality, probably more for girls than boys, causing rift between her male best friend who has feelings for her
Believability: Anchored in real life and internal monologue, with the protagonist carrying the weight of the novel, Where the Heart Is is a realistic example of a typical tween viewpoint.
Diversity: Girl liking a girl adds some diversity, characters mostly present as Caucasian. One concern I had was the female protagonist’s embarrassment at the possibility of liking a girl is never fully developed. This is a great theme to run with and it simply IS without excavating the WHY of the embarrassment.

Sorry, this is a mini book review so not much in the way of teaching resources, but you can find a teacher's discussion guide: HERE 

You can read more about author Jo Knowles on her website: HERE

You can buy Where the Heart Is HERE

--------------- That's all folks! ---------------

© 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at

Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles - mini book review

Tuesday, June 18

Publisher’s Synopsis: "Fergus and Zeke love being the class pets in Miss Maxwell’s classroom, and they do everything the students do — listening at storytime, painting masterpieces during art class, and keeping their own special journals. But when it’s time for the school science fair, the mice aren’t sure just how to get involved. Lucy wants to time them as they run through a maze, but they want to do an experiment, not be an experiment. Then Zeke comes up with a great idea: since Lucy is training animals for her experiment, maybe he and Fergus can do the same thing! Unfortunately, the only animals available are the students themselves. Can Fergus and Zeke turn the tables and train Lucy in time for the science fair?"

My Two Cents: Fergus and Zeke at the Science Fair is a cute second in series book about two anthropomorphized classroom mice with lots of personality. I did not read the first in the series, Fergus and Zeke, but Kate Messner books are always a treat so I can imagine why there is sequel.

Fergus and Zeke at the Science Fair has many opportunities for interdisciplinary literacy for beginning chapter book readers, some solid vocabulary words related to science and the scientific method, as well as a cute story about classroom mice wanting to DO an experiment rather than BE an experiment.

With no ‘big’ themes to struggle over requiring teacher guidance, Fergus and Zeke at the Science Fair is a solid literary circles selection for grades 1 or 2 and/or a striving 3rd grade group - probably more of an individual selection rather than a whole class read. See teaching ideas below...

Genre: Animal Tales, Beginning Chapter Books
Age: Transitional Readers, ages 5-9
Pages: 48
Date: September, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7847-0
Thank You to Library Thing and Candlewick Press for my review copy!
Themes: Training animals, Science Fair, Working hard in school
Character Development: Zeke is the standout mouse, with Fergus being the more reasonable, rule following one. Students and teacher are pretty generic as Fergus & Zeke are the show.
Plot: Will Fergus & Zeke get to do a science fair experiment?
Originality: Classroom. Students. Teacher. Pets. Pretty typical kid lit stuff.
Believability: I’m not the best animal tales reader, but allow that many kids love them. This one seems quite plausible and plays on the mice as experiment subjects idea.
Diversity: Tale is centered in typically represented American classroom. Kid’s skin tones are somewhat diverse. Teacher is white/blonde.

Teaching Ideas:

First.... a teaching guide from Candlewick Press can be found : HERE

Vocabulary: masterpieces, journal, announcement, science fair, experiment, solar system, scientists, erosion, observe, soggy, maze, skittered, grumped, demonstration, squealed, chemistry, marveled, clipboards

Interdisciplinary Opportunities: Solar System, Sunlight/Plant Growth, Erosion, Scientific Method 

Anticipatory/Engagement Questions: What is a science fair? Have you ever trained something? Why do we train animals?

Comprehension Questions:

At first, Fergus & Zeke plant sunflower seeds and watch them, but that doesn’t work. Why not? (they eat the seeds) p. 5

Why do Fergus & Zeke have trouble completing the erosion experiment? (they can’t aim well to get the water to erode the wood chips) p. 9

Why does Zeke hide in his mad spot? (he wants to DO and experiment himself, not be part of one) p. 12

Why doesn’t Lucy give Zeke a treat? (he cheated) p. 16

Why does it matter that he cheated? (she is trying to train him to run the maze and he went over the top of the maze wall) - inference standard

Which animals are Fergus and Zeke going to try to train in their experiment (children/Lucy) p. 19 

What do Fegus & Zeke train Lucy to do? (do the bouncy cheer) p. 22

What do Fergus & Zeke win? (first place ribbon) last page - inference visual

Post Question: Does a teacher “train” children? Elaborate

You can read more about Kate Messner's many fabulous books (and her too) on her website.

--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at