I am excited to announce that I have been chosen as a round 1 CYBILS judge in the category of picture & board books. It's a new category for me this year, but one dear to my heart.

When I was a middle school reading specialist and literacy coach, I served on CYBILS middle grade fiction and speculative fiction a few times, but I have always had an abiding love of picture books and a decent knowledge of them. I used them constantly as a teacher (who doesn't) and even as coaching tools with inservice teachers. However, I have been much more involved with them recently while teaching a foundational reading course to preservice elementary educators.

Reading, teaching, mentor texts, bedtime stories, visual aides, way-in books.... however you look at them...
I will be hanging with some cool new peeps and I can't wait to see what amazing new finds we uncover. Lame puns aside, here are the lovely folks on my team:
      --------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at

It's that time of year again: CYBILS 2019!!!


What If Everybody Thought That?
Publisher's Synopsis: "What if everybody were more thoughtful before they judged someone? If you see someone in a wheelchair, you might think he or she couldn’t compete in a race. But…you might be wrong. What if you see a child with no hair? Do you think she is embarrassed all the time? How about a kid who has a really hard time reading? Do you think that means he’s not smart? You might think so. But…you might be wrong. With clear prose and lighthearted artwork, this companion book to the bestseller What If Everybody Did That? explores the preconceived notions we have about the world and encourages kids to be more thoughtful."
My Two Cents: Third in a series intended to make kids think about their actions, What If Everybody Thought That? stands out from its predecessors because it asks them to consider their internal dialogue, not something typically asked of children. The other titles in the series involve actions (saying and doing) toward others whereas here, children are asked to consider their presumptions. For this, I think What If Everybody Thought That? stands out.  Teachers can really spend some great discussion time talking about how our thoughts impact not only our actions, but our perceptions of the world around us, especially negatively.  Though the publisher lists 4-8 as the age range, I think this book would be excellent for intermediate children to jump off talking about their own internal dialogues (and not just about others, but about themselves also).  I am a huge proponent of mindfulness and metacognition within reading comprehension instruction and I could see What If Everybody Thought That?  further used as a way-in book on mindfulness comprehension strategy instruction...
Genre: Realistic Fiction Picture Book 
Age: 4-8 from publisher, but I would also use this as a way-in book for other students to discuss internal dialogues, assumptions, perceptions and how negative thoughts affect our perceptions
Pages: 32
Thank You to Blue Slip Media for my review copy!
Publisher: Two Lions
Date: August 2019
Themes: Internal Dialogue & Perception, Preconceived Notions of Others
Character: Not any one specifically
Plot: Not driven by plot, driven by introspection
Originality: Similar to previous in series (see below)
Believability: Somewhat didactic which will turn some readers away from self-selection. Better used as class read aloud & discussion book
Diversity: Strong representation of diversity
Here are the other titles in the series: Images will link you to Amazon...
What If Everybody Did That?
What If Everybody Said That?

--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at
Astronuts by Jon Scieszka
Publisher's Synopsis: “This laugh-out-loud, visually groundbreaking read launches a major new series by children's literature legend Jon Scieszka. Featuring full-color illustrations throughout, a spectacular gatefold, plus how-to-draw pages in the back, it's an outer space adventure that demonstrates a giant leap for bookmaking and a giant leap for any kid looking for their next go-to series. AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug are animals that have been hybridized to find other planets for humans to live on once we've ruined Earth. So off they rocket to the Plant Planet! Will that planet support human life? Or do Plant Planet's inhabitants have a more sinister plan? AstroNuts Mission One is a can't-put-it-down page-turner for reluctant readers and fans ready to blast past Wimpy Kid.”

My Two Cents: I'm not sure that little old me has much to add to discussions of this great new title as it has already garnered coveted starred reviews from both Kirkus & Publisher’s Weekly (as well as a glowing review from School Library Journal). Those shiny stars are not simply awarded because AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet springs from the mind of the fabulous Jon Scieszka. This truly is a standout book for a number of reasons.

AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet does the one thing that stellar children’s literature must do: make a point without preaching to kids. In this case, the point is that the planet is dying. This is a heavy topic made easily accessible by the brilliant chaos of science fiction, potty humor, and unique collage illustrations packed into an exploration adventure tale. It would be easy to thumb through AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet and think, “Oh, another graphic/diary/wacky title for boys.” That would be a grave underestimate.

Although the mind of Scieszka might appear to be filled with mayhem, his tellings are always way deeper and thoughtfully skilled than a simple glance. Scieszka pulls off Earth's first-person narration whilst farts and booger jokes barrel out alongside scientific facts. It's all so nonchalant; leaving young readers laughing while absorbing some pretty weighty background knowledge on science, space and the environment. There's also a big essential question built within the theme concerning our role in not only dooming Earth, but also our exploration rights to junk up space.

AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet is a jumble of fonts, captions, neon colors, and collage alterations, all of which greatly complement the chaotic nature of the genetically-altered Astronuts' mission. Because the text is presented in small snippets, interspersed with fun illustrations and captions, this series could really be a hit with striving readers. I see this as an excellent literature circle selection. teachers should recommend it to kids who like science fiction and/or humor and the maturing Captain Underpants crowd.

AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet is one to add to your collection, for sure.
Highest Recommendation from this little old reading & education specialist :-)

Genre: Science Fiction/Humor/Adventure/Graphic Novel Hybrid
Age: 7 - 12 / Grades 3 - 6
Pages: 220
Date: September 2019 ISBN: 978-1452171197
Thank You to publisher Chronicle Books for my review copy

Topics: Climate Change, Space Exploration, Genetic Engineering, Science Facts
Characters: The genetically engineered creatures are a hoot, each with their own quirks that I expect will come into play further as the series progresses
Plot: Will the Astronuts find a "Golidilocks" planet that is not too hot and not too cold, but just right (like Earth)?
Originality: Completely original
Believability: Oddly, very much so. The serious issue of climate change is actually rendered as more dire by the madcap mayhem because kids will actually want to listen to the telling.

You can buy AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet HERE

You can read more about illustrator Steven Weinberg on his website > HERE
You can read more about author Jon Scieszka on his website > HERE

--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at
Filigree's Midnight Ride 
Publisher's Synopsis: "Join Filigree, a five-pound Pomeranian, as he stows away on Paul Revere’s midnight ride in this first book of the At the Heels of History series, inspired by important events and told through the eyes, ears, and noses of dogs.

Filigree may be a small puff of a Pomeranian but he has a big, brave heart. As the Revere family dog, he’s ready to do his part to help the American colonists stand up to the British soldiers. But the other dogs, like Jove, Sam Adams’s Newfoundland, and even the Revere cat, Anvil, think Filigree is a joke. The Reveres’ daughter Frances is the only one who believes in him.

When Frances’s father, Paul Revere, leaves home on a secret mission, Filigree and Frances know they have to help, no matter how dangerous it might be. Will a pint-sized pup just be in the way, or can Filigree prove that even a very small dog can fight for freedom?"

My Two Cents: Filigree's Midnight Ride is the first book of the At the Heels of History series, a fun premise where dogs tell historical tales (kinda' like the Wishbone Adventures series). Aside from that great angle, I think young readers will really gain background knowledge on the Revolutionary War for later retrieval during social studies curriculum. Filigree's Midnight Ride would also be a great fit for 4th - 6th grade striving readers. As an added bonus, there are author’s notes at the book’s end which add clarifications on real history. Very well-done start to a new series sure to be a hit with the historical fiction and/or animal tales young readers able to read easy early chapter books (some disciplinary vocabulary encouragement will be needed though). Good for elementary school library purchase.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Animal Tales, Early Chapter Books
Age: 6-9 / Grades 2-4 and good for striving readers too
Pages: 192
Thank You to Blue Slip Media for my review copy
Publisher: Simon & Schuster / McElderry Books
Date: August 2019
ISBN: 9781534433335
Topics: Paul Revere's Ride, Revolutionary War, Colonialism
Themes: Friendship, Citizenship, Courage, Patriotism
Character: Fun and interesting group of patriot doggies.
Plot: The British Are Coming!!!
You can buy Filigree's Midnight Ride HERE
Learn more about the Heels of History Series on the dedicated website > HERE
You'll learn more about school visits, find a curriculum guide, and mazes and puzzles for added fun!

Author Pam Berkman usually writes books for grown-ups. Filigree's Midnight Ride (and the Heels of History series) is her first series for kids. You can read more about her on her website > HERE
Author Dorothy Hearst has in publishing for over 20 years and is the author of The Wolf Chronicles trilogy. You can read more about her on her website > HERE
Illustrator Claire Powell is an illustrator who lives in London. You can read more about her on her website > HERE

--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at
Pirates Don't Go To Kindergarten!

Pirates Don't Go to Kindergarten! is a cute take on the transition from one grade to the next, Pre-K to K in this case. New Kindergartener Emma wants to stay in her pirate themed Pre-K classroom with her pirate Pre-K teacher. The kindergarten is space themed and Emma will have none of that! She knows the pirate lingo and trusts the pirate captain; she's not so sure about that new teacher. Great illustrations add to the telling with a play on reality/imagination done well. Some pirate lingo may need specific vocabulary instruction (see below) and lends this tale to first and second grade reads as well.

Genre: Realistic Fiction Picture Book
Age: 4-8 / Grades: PreK-2 / Pages: 32
Date: August 2019
Thank You: Blue Slip Media
Publisher: Two Lions
ISBN: 978-1-5420-9275-3
Topics: Pirates, School, Behavior
Themes: Adjusting to new things, Accepting change
Characters: Emma is BUSY and her teachers are PATIENT. These are opportunities to teach correct behaviors by using Emma's unruliness as a non-example. Teachers can ask students to find other ways that Emma might have coped with her nervousness about attending a new classroom and point out how her disruptions are affecting the classrooms.
Plot: Will Emma ever transition from being a pirate to becoming an astronaut (aka: space-pirate)?

Originality: LOTS of 'Pirates DON'T' titles! Would be a great unit idea of "don'ts" for Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th (2019)...
Could teach contractions, behaviors, compare & contrast titles/characters/settings, etc... OH! The possibilities!
Some examples? (you can click on the pictures to head over to Amazon)

And, of course:

Pirate Vocabulary and Idioms: cutlass, anchor, ahoy, batten down, hatches, mateys, gangway, peg leg, doubloons, yo ho, blimey, mutiny, rigging, crow's nest, parley, plank, shiver me timbers, bandanna, heave-ho
Space Vocabulary: liftoff, astronaut, cargo, shuttle, experiments
General Vocabulary: rowed, scattered, stormy, treasure, snuggled, seized, sneered, snarled, whopped, hollered
Onomatopeias: splash, thump, clump, scrunch, splat
HERE you can find a great back to school kit from Curious City DPW.

You can read more about author Lisa Robinson on her website HERE  or find her on Twitter @elisaitw
You can read more about illustrator Eda Kaban on her website HERE or find her on Twitter @petiteturk

--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at
Sweet Home Alaska
If good historical fiction is supposed to make us wonder about the people who lived during various points in history, then Sweet Home Alaska is certainly good. It had me, instantly upon closing the last page at 1:00 am, researching the Matanuska Valley Colony. I don’t have a vast knowledge of Roosevelt’s New Deal specifics, I just know that the vestiges can be seen in our public spaces and government programs.

Sweet Home Alaska paints a vivid picture of American life during the Great Depression. That life, unlike many others that I have read set during that time, was not all doom and gloom, but rather, filled with love, laughter and community - good people doing good things, families working together, neighbors helping. Drawing on the pioneer spirit of one of her favorite authors, protagonist Terpsichore Johnson, reads Laura Ingalls Wilder tales of pioneer life in preparation for her family’s move from Wisconsin to the wilderness of Alaska. Terpsichore’s little mill town in Wisconsin has been hit hard by the Great Depression and her father is an unemployed mill worker who doesn’t want to go on public assistance. His plan is to apply for a New Deal program relocating families to the Alaskan wilderness, where they will be given money and land to start a new town. Through several twists and turns, Terpsichore’s family is chosen and that’s when the story really takes off (literally and metaphorically). 

The Johnson family is well-drawn, with only Terpsichore’s mother being a bit flat in her rendering. The spirited folks and friends Terpsichore meets in Palmer, Alaska all play wonderfully realized parts in her story. Author Carole Estby Dagg paints a vivid portrait of Alaska and the hardships the settlers faced. Historical facts and figures are sprinkled throughout the tale and give the telling an even greater richness.

As with most strong historical fictions, the sense of place and time are very much a character. It all made me want to plan another trip to Alaska!

Publisher’s Synopsis: “It’s 1934, and times are tough for Trip’s family after the mill in their small Wisconsin town closes, leaving her father unemployed. Determined to provide for his family, he moves them all to Alaska to become pioneers as part of President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project. Trip and her family are settling in, except her mom, who balks at the lack of civilization. But Trip feels like she’s following in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s footsteps, and she hatches a plan to raise enough money for a piano to convince her musical mother that Alaska is a wonderful and cultured home. Her sights set on the cash prize at the upcoming Palmer Colony Fair, but can Trip grow the largest pumpkin possible–using all the love, energy, and Farmer Boy expertise she can muster?”
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age: 10+
Grades: Middle Grades (5-6 especially)
Lexile: 870L
Thank You to Blue Slip Media for my review copy!
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (a division of Penguin Books)
Date: February 2, 2016
ISBN: 978-0399172038 

Themes: Tenacity, Attitude, Family Love, Friendship, Teamwork
Topics: Cooking, Gardening (especially pumpkins), Homesteading, Alaskan Wilderness, Building a library collection, Musical Inspiration, Literary Inspiration
Characterizations: Good representation of the era and the people living in it
Plot: Will the family do well moving to Alaska? Will the Matanuska Valley Colony thrive?
Originality: Although it certainly borrows from historical journey tales, I have not seen ANY other children's titles on the Alaskan Matanuska Valley Colony.
Believability: Great historical fiction must always ground itself in history in order for us to believe in the character's tellings. This was an excellently researched story.
Diversity: When reading historical fiction, it’s important that we frame our understandings today against a backdrop of times past. Yes, there are a few stereotypes of Alaska and its indigenous people presented by the Caucasian characters, but they would have had those stereotypes during that time. Placing diverse characters in books for the sake of tokenism is just as bad as whitewashing history. I teach my future teachers to look for tokenisms and avoid those book!  Author Carole Estby Dagg seeks to frame her story by giving an account of the decisions she made with regard to omitting  indigenous Alaskan peoples. Her thinking is presented as an author's note at the back of the book. Her thoughts would be an EXCELLENT jumping point for discussions about westward expansion, indigenous peoples rights and colonization - much more-so than any inserted token indigenous peoples.

You can buy Sweet Home Alaska HERE.

  • You can read more about the author on her website: HERE
  • You can find a great curriculum guide: HERE
  • You can read about how Laura Ingalls Wilder's books influenced ----- over at the Nerdy Bookclub:  HERE

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