Publisher's Synopsis: "Inside the cozy house, a baby   has arrived! The world is eager to meet the newcomer,   but there will be time enough for that later. Right now,   the family is on its babymoon: cocooning, connecting,   learning, and muddling through each new concern.   While the term “babymoon” is often used to refer to a   parents’ getaway before the birth of a child, it was   originally coined by midwives to describe days like   these: at home with a newborn, with the world held at   bay and the wonder of a new family constellation   unfolding. Paired with warm and winsome illustrations  by Juana Martinez-Neal, Hayley Barrett’s lyrical ode to these tender first days will resonate with new families everywhere."

My Two Cents: Babymoon's lyrical prose and quiet illustrations allow readers to feel as if they are tip-toeing through a newborn’s first days with Mom & Dad. The rhyming cadence and matching joy-filled glow of the illustrations have the effect of a lullaby. Both sweetly enamored, and a bit apprehensive, the new parents bask in the glow of baby. Even the family dog and cat mirror the daze. From its opening lines, "The house is hushed. The lights are low. We’re basking in a newborn glow," Babymoon draws readers into the beautiful and diverse little family's babymoon.

The first page contains a gift template making Babymoon absolutely perfect as a baby shower or new arrival gift. I could see this picture book also enticing young children with a new sibling in the house.
Genre: Picture Book
Age: Probably adults as much as children, but 2-5 officially
Pages: 32
Date: March 14, 2019
ISBN: 0763688523
Thank You to LibraryThing & Candlewick Press for my gorgeous copy!
Themes: New baby, Parental Love, Family
Character: Parents are simply a reflection of the love and joy they feel for their baby
Plot: Not that kind of book. Basically, just basking in that aforementioned glow
Originality: I had not heard the term babymoon, but I think it may rise to higher use after this sweet book.
Believability: Yep, parents are not all easy and glow; they are apprehensive, uncertain, and pensive at times
Diversity: Very good. Lighter-skinned father, darker-skinned mother, gender neutral baby. Quiet joy of breastfeeding depicted.

BUY Babymoon HERE

Read more about author Hayley Barrett HERE.
Read more about illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal HERE.
--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
© 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at
Publisher's Synopsis: "Princess Puffybottom has the perfect life — her subjects serve her delicious meals, clean up her “delicate matters” and wait on her hand and foot. Life is good . . . until Darryl arrives. Princess Puffybottom thinks he’s disgusting, horrid and a true animal. Though she tries everything in her power to banish him (including hypnosis, trickery and even sabotage), it looks like this puppy is here to stay. Can Princess P. and Darryl find a way to co-exist? A hilarious picture book from acclaimed author Susin Nielsen, with adorable illustrations by Olivia Chin Mueller, Princess Puffybottom . . . and Darryl is perfect for not only warring siblings, but also anyone who loves cute pets (and some toilet humor)."

My Thoughts: Princess Puffybottom . . . and Darryl is a nice addition to the PK-1st classroom. The story is about the cat, Princess Puffybottom (every bit as stuffy as her name sounds) gaining a new member of the family, a pup named Darryl. At first glance this picture book seems a simple dog/cat tale, but the illustrations tells a different story. I would use this in either K or 1 for standards:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.K.7 With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts). CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.7 Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.
Here are examples of what else is going on besides a new puppy showing up:

Definitely a chance to make inferences from the illustrations.
Illustration inferences: someone is having a baby, Princess Puffybottom doesn't seem to notice =  surprise new baby ending :-)

In the area of word study, there is only a minor opportunity with some alliteration of "perfect," "permitted," "petting" at the very start of the story.

Vocabulary needing explicit instruction includes mostly tier 1 & 2 words: banished, subjects, delicate, faraway kingdom, hypnosis, trickery, sabotage, sophisticated, worshipped, pedestal, tolerated. The word "bright' is used, so there is a chance to mention it as a homophone (first-second grade).

Genre: Animal Tale / Picture Book
Age: 3 - 7 Years
Pages: 32
Thank You to LibraryThing & Tundra Books for my Early Reviewers copy
Publication Date: 02/05/2019
ISBN: 9781101919255

Themes: Changes in family structure, New baby arrival, Learning to get along with others
Character: Princess Puffybottom shows some character development, but Darryl is merely her foil
Plot: The 'catch' is knowing what's going on besides Puffybottom stated dislike of her new family member
Originality: Lots of tales on accepting new babies (with animal perspectives too), but this one adds both diversity and some subtlety in the insider inferencing from illustrations
Believability: It's a good thing most kids believe in anthropomorphism :-)
Diversity: Good representation of a mixed-race, same-sex family

BUY Princess Puffybottom . . . and Darryl HERE

You can read more about author Susin Nielsen on her webpage: HERE

You can read more about illustrator Olivia Chin Mueller: Here
--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at
Publisher's Synopsis: "What is love? Can you only express it in fancy meals, greeting cards, and heart-shaped chocolates? Kids will find love everywhere in this delightful book. It can be found in everyday moments such as baking cookies with grandma, notes from Mom in your lunchbox, or a family singing together on a car trip, and it isn't always what you expect! With delightful illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff and sweetly simple prose by award-winning author Stacy McAnulty, this is the perfect book to teach children what love means, why it's important, and how they can spread the love in their daily lives."

My Two Cents: I like Valentine's Day, but it falls too darn close to Christmas. I still have all that candy from my stocking and the last thing my umpteenth New Year's resolution needs is more chocolate. But, I love hearts and I love love and the idea that love is so universal and inhabits the space where we can all begin to connect and understand one another. I wish Valentine's Day was more about love and less about chocolates.

At first glance, it seems like author Stacy McAnulty has bought into all the Valentine's Day hype with her new picture book, Love. She tells us that love "needs designer greeting cards" and "must have the finest chocolate." But it is her illustrator who shows us the real meaning of love with multicultural, multiracial and multigenerational friends and family in the real, small, free actions of love. This juxtaposition of words vs. visual representations makes for a great tool for extended discussions o the real and varied meanings of love.

A Few Ideas:
  • Great for character trait discussions
  • Strong for making visual inferences
  • Would be a good choice to aide ESOL students 
  • Works well with Common Core Literacy Standard(s) for grade K-2:CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.K.7 With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear (e.g., what moment in a story an illustration depicts). AND, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.7 Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events., AND 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.  
  • Especially good as an introductory/anticipatory text to introduce the 3rd grade standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.7 Explain how specific aspects of a text's illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting) 
  • Check out the love cards/templates on the publisher's website: HERE
Some of the beautiful pages from the book:

Genre: Picture Book
Pages: 32
Themes: What is love?, Commercialism, Small acts of kindness
Buy Love HERE
Thank You to publisher Running Press Kids for my eBook copy (@RP_Kids ‏)

You can read more about author Stacey McAnulty HERE
You can read more about illustrator Joanne Lew-Vriethoff HERE

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

Love by Stacy McAnulty - a book bite

Saturday, February 9

Well, after 117 elementary/middle grade speculative titles, I can say that being away from this blog has not been boring! My fellow CYBILS 2018 round one judges and I have narrowed the 117 down to 7 (no easy task!) and our picks were announced on January 1 (as is tradition).

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel
Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow
by Jessica Townsend
Snared: Escape to the Above by Adam Jay Epstein
Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier
The Stone Gil's Story by Sarah Beth Durst
Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain by Zac Gorman

I was so thrilled to be back judging for the CYBILS after a few years off while I was completing that pesky doctorate. I have always been a round one judge as I cannot imagine what it must be like to pick JUST ONE of those seven. Without giving too much away, my PERSONAL favorite book of 2018 is in that pile, but as someone who recommends children's literature to kids, parents, and teachers, my PERSONAL favorite is not what the CYBILS is about at all. This was my fourth year serving and I can attest that the judges take their job VERY seriously, spending hours discussing which books should represent both wide kid appeal and literary merit. A lot of our discussions center around which kids will like which books as well as the literary themes, plotting, characterizations, etc... Again, we take this quite seriously for a bunch of volunteers!

That being said, there were a few titles fighting to get on the list - at least I was considering them in the top - and I think they deserve a mention too! I will TRY to write more about each of them in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are a few that stood out:

Bone's Gift by Angie Smibert - For older readers who like a little mystery and paranormal in their historical fiction reading,  Bone's Gift is a nuanced tale where a young girl discovers that the Gift she has inherited may have killed her mother. History, a special Gift, a mystery.... there's a lot packed into this fine telling that will keep readers intrigued. 

The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage - This story begins as a simple tale of three kids on an adventure to find a crashed Martian ship out in their New Mexico desert town during the Roswell incident era, but the simple adventure soon reveals deeper themes of family and community. Plus, I'm always a sucker for books in simpler times when kids could wander and investigate their world (even worlds with aliens in the backyard!).

The Turning by Emily Whitman - This story about a young half-selkie kept haunting me after I read it. So atmospheric and full of longing with themes on  identity and coming-of-age that are made even stronger by the writer's ability to impart the selkie's need for belonging in both worlds. Kids who struggle with identity would find much to love in this title. 

The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss is a quirky adventure about a girl who takes off on her beloved bicycle to meet her idol, a famous cyclist. As if taking off cross country on a bicycle at 12 and being raised by eccentric people in a monastery aren't enough to make this title quirky.... the real quirk is the ghostly hitchhiker that helps her learn not only about the USA she crosses, but herself as well.   

Endling 1: The Last by Katherine Applegate. Everyone knows I lADORE this author's books and perhaps I was a bit jaded, but I had really hoped that this one would make our list. Endling: The Last is a series start centered around extinction in a world that does not value its diversity. The story has some darker themes and sadness in it, especially for the younger end of the age range, but it's also the start to a fantastic adventure world I cannot wait to read more about in the next - Endling 2: The First.  probably my 2nd favorite title of 2018 (again, I can't reveal my favorite until the Valentine's Day announced winner :-) 

Nightbooks by J.A. White brings modern-day creepy to the Hansel & Gretel and Scheherazade stories with a boy imprisoned by a witch only alive as long as he can write her a story each day. Interwoven with the strong telling, are great writing tips and advice for young writers. 

There are a few other standouts that I will be featuring over the coming weeks, but you, in the meantime, can find all the CYBILS 2018 category picks by clicking:  HERE :-)
--------------- That's all folks! ---------------
 © 2007-2019 Dr. Cheryl S. Vanatti, education & reading specialist writing at 

CYBILS 2018 and a few more good ones!

Thursday, January 10

Publisher's Synopsis: "From the acclaimed author of The Nest, The Boundless, and Airborn comes a brilliantly funny, breakout book about a boy who discovers an ink blot that’s come to life! Perfect for those who love Hoot and Frindle and sure to be a hit with kids everywhere!
       The Rylance family is stuck. Dad’s got writer’s block. Ethan promised to illustrate a group project at school–even though he can’t draw. Sarah’s still pining for a puppy. And they all miss Mom. So much more than they can say.
       Enter Inkling. Inkling begins life in Mr. Rylance’s sketchbook. But one night the ink of his drawings runs together–and then leaps off the page! This small burst of creativity is about to change everything.
       Ethan finds him first. Inkling has absorbed a couple chapters of his math book–not good–and the story he’s supposed to be illustrating for school–also not good. But Inkling’s also started drawing the pictures to go with the story–which is amazing! It’s just the help Ethan was looking for! Inkling helps the rest of the family too–for Sarah he’s a puppy. And for Dad he’s a spark of ideas for a new graphic novel. It’s exactly what they all want.
       It’s not until Inkling goes missing that this family has to face the larger questions of what they–and Inkling–truly need.
       Kenneth Oppel has given us a small masterpiece of middle-grade fiction. Inkling is funny and fizzy and exciting, and brimming with the kind of interesting ideas and dilemmas that kids will love to wrestle with. And Sydney Smith is creating wonderfully inky illustrations to bring the story to vivid life. Get ready. A little ink blot is about to become your new favorite character!"

My Two Cents: Inkling is a master class in personification. Taking an ink blot and not only giving it character, but DEVELOPING that character into a full-blown bildungsroman is brilliant.  Inkling devours ink as sustenance and his pal (and the protagonist) Ethan feeds him some great literature choices. Watching Inkling grow and develop on ink from the BFG, Moby Dick, Anne of Greene Gables (and others) speaks volumes about the ways in which literature has the power to shape who we are. I can not decide if I liked Inkling's BFG or Captain Ahab influenced speech better! AND... there is that double entendre name! This book is metafiction perfection for literary-inclined readers.

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel - a book review

Saturday, October 6

Publisher's Synopsis: "Kelpy is an otter―and also a passionate sea captain. He builds himself a ship that he adores, from keel to cabin to crow’s nest. All the other otters and pirates and sharks just laugh at Kelpy’s ramshackle craft, but Kelpy sails on. Until one day on the high seas, he encounters a sailor even more laughable than himself―a petite butterfly pirate in a teeny-tiny boat. Kelpy’s laughter shifts to empathy when he realizes how much he has hurt the tiny pirate’s feelings. So Kelpy decides to scuttle his beloved boat in a playful ploy to repair the emotional damage he’s done. Along the way, an unlikely friendship (and rivalry) begins. Packed with rhyme, repetition, and lots of humor, this is a read-aloud with a heartwarming message about following your dreams even in the face of ridicule and doubt, and how even an underdog can lift someone up."

My Quick Two Cents:  It's a little harder for me to "review" all picture books. First, I'm solidly a middle grades gal myself, having spent the bulk of my teaching career between 3rd - 8th grade. Secondly, I could go all 'reading specialist' on a review and try to come up with phonics and foundational reading activities - even if I had to think a bit harder on them. So, it's sometimes easier just to talk about if I like a book (or not) and if I think kids will like it and, consequentially, if teachers and parents should buy it.

The Sinking of Captain Otter by Troy Wilson and Maira Chiodi - a book bite

Sunday, September 30

Publisher's Synopsis: "There are lots of things Duncan likes about bedtime --- the stories, the pajamas, the bubblegum-flavored toothpaste ... The only thing he doesn't like is going to sleep. And he'll do anything he can to avoid it. Until one day, Duncan's mom has had enough of his stalling. ?Try counting sheep,? she tells him. So, he does. At first, it's kind of fun. As he counts, each sheep appears, wearing its number like a race car, and leaps over the bed. But then comes Sheep #68, who hesitates. He needs a drink of water before he can jump. Then he has to go to the bathroom. Then he wants to put on running shoes. Will Sheep #68 ever do what he's supposed to?

 Kerry Lyn Sparrow's hilarious picture book story offers a new take on a universal experience. Using delaying tactics to avoid going to sleep at bedtime is a common routine for young children, and they'll love the sly humor when Duncan's own tricks get turned on him by the (?sheepish?) sheep. In subtle colors with lots of telling details, Guillaume Perreault's illustrations bring Duncan's bedtime rituals and his unexpected sheep guests humorously to life. This book makes a fantastic, funny read-aloud, appealing to both children and adults."

My Two Cents: Sleep, Sheep! is mostly a bedtime book for small pre-school age children, but I wanted to give it a spot on here because it may not get a lot of buzz in the US (Canadian folks involved) and it has some strong merit in the bedtime story department. There's lots of humor complimented by very interesting and elaborated illustrations. I like the idea that the "mom knows best and is always there for you" as that is clearly part of my own favorite picture book (Reading Rumpus didn't get named accidentally!).

Book Bite: Sleep, Sheep! - a bedtime story for the reluctant sleeper

Saturday, September 29

Publisher's Synopsis: When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

My Two Cents: I typically shy away from writing about books that I know will get a lot of “buzz.” Mostly because I am a late-to-the-party girl and by the time I set out to write a review, all sorts of accolades from folks way more influential than I have already been given. But, Kate DiCamillo is one of my very favorite, like top five - count on one hand, children’s writers and I don’t think I have ever written a word about any of her books! Her fabulous collection of meaningful and powerful works of art have their very own special shelf in my home, but nary a word on this little blog. That ends today with Louisiana's Way Home! I will still reserve my favorite Kate DiCamillo spot for the fantastical The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread, but Louisiana's Way Home has all the makings of another Newbery-worthy addition to the Dicamillo canon. Just like most of her stories, it's filled with: Hope, Forgiveness, Trust, and Tenacity. Not surprisingly, since I read it as an eBook, I’ll be rushing out to my local bookstore in order to add the book to my DiCamillo shelf.

Louisiana's Way Home by Kate DiCamillo - a great middle grade read

Friday, September 28

Anyone who has read this blog, even a little, knows my adoration for the Harry Potter books. But LOTS of people adore those books (duh). My Harry Potter story is a bit different. Although I adore the books as a reader, my true adoration lies within the joy they brought to my students back in 1999, 2000 and 2001. My adoration began before the MANIA, before nary a toy or movie, before Harry Potter hysteria took over.

My story is that of a sixth grade reading and language arts teacher whose PTSA offered to buy her classroom sets of books. Ever frugal, it just so happened that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was the Scholastic Books ninety-nine cent selection that month. I knew it was getting some 'buzz,' but honestly, I hadn't paid that much attention. I borrowed a copy from our school library, took it home, and read it, in one night, showing up to work exhausted but certain of my PTSA book selection.

Banned Books Week: How Harry Potter Brought the Devil into My Classroom

Monday, September 24