Sunday, September 27, 2009

President Obama: A Day in the Life of America's Leader

President Barack Obama is one of the busiest men on Earth. Time for Kids takes us inside the White House for an intimate look at a typical day for the President of the United States in their book President Obama: A Day in the Life of America's Leader.

The book opens with a brief review of Obama's road to the White House. It clearly explains the democratic process involved in electing a President, including real examples from this particular election.

Next is an in-depth look at the White House: its history, its floor plans, and a map of the estate.

The remainder of the book introduces readers to the President's staff, fully explaining the role each one plays. We are introduced to his family and see how they spend their time. Finally, every aspect of his day is analyzed and discussed. The book emphasizes how President Obama is also a father, with two young daughters at home. This makes him seem more real and relatable to children.

What I like about this book is that it breaks down the enormous entity that is the U.S. Presidency, dissecting every little bit for total comprehension. The language is clear enough for children to understand. Vibrant, colorful photographs accompany every page, allowing for visual explanations as well. It is a book version of an well-done documentary. I do not recall seeing such a complete book recently, nor do I think many could surpass this one in excellence.

Teachers will appreciate this book for its concise and clear information that is easily applied in social studies lessons. While the intended ages are 9-12, even educators in younger grades will be able to apply the information and photographs to their lessons.

Parents can use it as a springboard for conversation at home. They can compare and contrast their own lives to that of the President, as well as discuss their children's hopes and dreams for the future. It will also make a great collector's item for those interested in commemorating this historic election.

Purchase TIME For Kids President Obama: A Day in the Life of America's Leader

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mommy, Draw Stars on My Tummy

Martine Groenveld's upcoming book, Mommy, Draw Stars on My Tummy is a breath of fresh air in the world of children's books. Not only does it introduce new poetry and rhymes to children, but also encourages the most intimate play time and connection opportunities between parent and child.

Groeneveld is a licensed massage therapist and certified infant massage instructor. She understands the healing power of touch and introduces it to parents in a natural manner. Each rhyme in the book is accompanied by a description of the strokes used for each, as well as the manner of touch to accompany each line. She adds further tips to most of the rhymes that will create new experiences every time they are shared.

Beautiful, calming illustrations by Brad Kunkle complement each rhyme, allowing for the book to be read while simply cuddling with a child, even without the touch and massage techniques. Reading aloud to children has been scientifically proven to benefit children's reading skills. Rhymes train the child's ear in phonemic awareness skills, which are essential to the reading process.

Groeneveld provides much information in the introduction about methods of massage and touch, as well as appropriate times to perform the activities with the children. She emphasizes following the lead of the child, such as directly touching skin or rubbing over clothing. At the end of the book, she provides a synopsis of studies that support the benefits of touch on a child's development, as well as a comprehensive list of resources for further information.

Though the title insinuates it is a book for mothers to share with their children, fathers, grandparents, siblings, and other caregivers can use it to create a deeper relationship with the child. It can be implemented as a natural part of the daily routine, to be used for several years. Let's hope Martine Groenveld is inspired to share more of her wisdom with families again, soon!

Buy Mommy, Draw Stars on My Tummy; Rhymes, Songs and Touch-Play Activities to Stay Connected

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

The Endless String

The Endless String: Poems for children (and the people who read to them) by the husband-wife team of Tom and Tess Hannah is a delightful collection of poetry that strongly follows in the footsteps of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein.

The beat of the poetry allows for fluid reading-aloud. The subjects are dear to children's hearts and guaranteed to put a smile on their faces. The subtle puns provide entertainment even for adults. Adding to the verse are Tess Hannah's accompanying illustrations. They are simple, yet add so much to the visual impact of the poems.

Younger children who are learning how to read benefit from hearing and learning rhyming poetry. It's also a great exercise for older children who are improving upon their reading skills. The Endless String provides parents and teachers with another resource to use. Reading the book, I can also see teaching opportunities for meter and rhyme when teaching poetry, even in upper grades, such as high school. It may be more entertaining for teenagers to read, thus getting the lesson across in a stronger fashion.

I shared the poetry with a teenager and a kindergartener, both of whom greatly enjoyed the experience. The smiles on their faces as they heard the verses and looked at the pictures spoke volumes to me. Tom and Tess have a great thing going here, and I hope they continue their collaboration. I plan on using The Endless String in my classroom and tutoring sessions. I just wish it were in hardcover, as I believe it is going to get a lot of use over the next few years!

Buy The Endless String: Poems for Children (and the people who read to them)

Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for

Queen Vernita Visits the Blue Ice Mountains

Queen Vernita Visits the Blue Ice Mountains is the sequel to Dawn Menge's book Queen Vernita's Visitors. In this book, Queen Vernita is spending a year visitng the Blue Mountains, and wishes to explore them with her friends. She invites one friend per month to stay with her for a week, exploring local flora and fauna.

The story is written to reinforce the months of the year, as one friend visits per month. It is also written to reinforce the days of the week, as each day brings about a new discovery. It provides a wealth of information about crabs, sea otters, glaciers, wildflowers, whales, eagles, bears, rainforests, Aurora Borealis, seals, oceans, and the North Pole.

The amount of information and words on each page could be overwhelming to very young children. It would be more appropriate for slightly older children who are looking for a bit of information as a foundation for later research. Or, the teacher could read it through once, then later focus on one page at a time. Numerous units could be taught, using this book as a foundation.

The timing of the storyline is also a little confusing. One fact is learned each day. "On Monday they learned....On Tuesday they learned...." But the visits are supposed to be for an entire month. If you're paying close attention to the words, it sounds like the one week has actually stretched out over an entire month. Perhaps children won't pick up on that particular technicality.

At the end, Queen Vernita returns to her home, only to meet two friends who are irrelevant to the rest of the story. Their purpose seems to indicate a sequel story that will be written at a later date. One previous story about Queen Vernita already exists. Perhaps they are characters from that book? I haven't yet read it. I am assuming that Menge is hoping to turn this into a full series.

The illustrations by Bobbi Switzer are quite vibrant, which will make them easily seen if the book is read in front of a class. As the book's characters are meant to be based upon Dawn Menge's friends and family, the illustrations do seem to be caricatures of real-life people.

I shared this book with some children I know. The kindergartner enjoyed the book, as well as all of its illustrations. The teenager wasn't as sure. This just shows that sometimes the opinions of adults matter less than the younger audience for whom the book was intended.

Buy Queen Vernita Visits the Blue Ice Mountains

Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for

Aurora of the Northern Lights

Aurora of the Northern Lights is a beautiful and touching story that is destined to become a Christmas favorite amongst young and old alike.

Mistletoe is an elfin living in the North, who falls in love with William, a human. When it becomes obvious that William is not built to live in such frigid conditions, Mistletoe leaves home to live with William a little further South, in a little town.

After a few years, they welcome a darling baby girl, whom they name Aurora, after the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) under which they were married. When tragedy strikes, Aurora is left to fend for herself. She doesn't quite fit in anywhere, and commences upon a journey to find a place she belongs.

Throughout her adventures, she meets several people who shun her from their communities, yet bestow upon her gifts to help her along her way.

After trekking through ice and snow for days on end, Aurora finally comes full circle, finding the place she truly belongs.

The story is written completely in verse that flows on paper, as well as when read aloud. You cannot help but be filled with a variety of emotions as the story ebbs and flows through the happiness and the heartache.

Illustrations by Donald Vanderbeek add to the beauty and poetry of Holly Hardin's words. They are beautiful and elicit as much emotion as the story itself.

Children will be held captive by the words and the pictures when this book is read aloud to them. It inspires visions of families cuddled together on the couch, wrapped up in blankets on a cold December night, sipping hot chocolate, as they share the story. It could even inspire young authors and artists to create their own story.

Buy Aurora of the Northern Lights

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

Anna's World

Anna's World is an entertaining young adult novel about a fourteen year-old girl named Anna Coburn. Still weak from recovering from the typhoid fever that swept through her village, Anna is sent to live with the Shakers while her father heads off to Boston to rebuild his business. No one is left in their small town of Martindale, due to the typhoid and the flood, and Father wants her to make a full recovery while he is busy working. He also appreciates the fine education offered by the Shakers.

Anna is not too keen on living with the Shakers as she tries to learn their unique ways. She is trying to get used to the idea of God being both Mother and Father. At the tender age of fourteen, she is already considered to be an adult in the Shaker community, which means playing and skipping is not an option. She is used to having conversations with adults, discussing politics and the like, but the Shakers do not engage in such talk.

Anna's favorite person becomes Sister Zenobia, the schoolmistress who wasn't always a Shaker. Sister Zenobia is highly accomplished, able to fluently read and write in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, German, and Italian. She is a painter, composer, and pianist. And she introduces Anna and the other children to a brilliant man named Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau's wisdom haunts Anna over the next few years as she grows up and becomes better acquainted with the world.

Anna also gets pulled into secretive deeds with another Shaker girl named Sally, leading her to bond with the shopkeeper Brother Seth. Only, Brother Seth is not as pious and wonderful has he appears, causing Anna some serious problems.

Anna's feelings about the Shakers are put to the test when she is finally able to rejoin her father in Boston, joining the upper-class society. Will she decide to stay with her family, or will she go back to the Shaker ways she once shunned?

Anna's World is very informative, as it combines Shaker traditions from the time to paint a relatively accurate view of their lifestyle. It is thought-provoking, bringing up political situations of the time that can still be applicable today. Teachers, even through high school, can use this novel to elicit conversation in English classes, history classes, philosophy classes, and religion classes. Families can read this book together to provide a springboard for conversation about personal safety, family views on religion, philosophy, and politics, and even the future dreams of the children.

Coleman and Perrin write in a manner that is easy to read, for both adults and children. The voice of a fourteen year-old girl really comes out through the narrative, making Anna easy to relate ti. The awards this book has won are well deserved.

Buy Anna's World

Andrea Coventry is a reviewer for

The Cave


The Cave by Steve McGill is a fantastic, quick read, with plenty of suspense and chills to keep you on the edge of your seat turning pages as you follow along in the journey.

Ian Pratt is a young man who is fascinated by WWI. His own great-great-grandfather Arthur had served in the British army. Great-grandpa, a.k.a. "Gramps", was Arthur's son, whose loss of his father at the age of 5 still haunts him to this day. He honors his father's memory by sharing heroic stories and pictures of Arthur. Other WWI information he shares with Ian whet Ian's appetite for knowledge and adventure.

Ian loves to write, focusing on writing daily in his journal. He often rides his bike home past a cave that is intriguing, yet foreboding at the same time. He keeps promising himself that one day he will have the courage to check it out, but hasn't found it yet.

One night, Ian dreams of a sad, old man, appearing solely as a face, that tries to speak to him. Terrified, Ian goes to sleep downstairs and tries to not give it any more thought. When he awakes, his father decides to take him to Butterfield Ranch, his favorite place for riding bikes and swimming. After he hears about the mysterious history of the ranch, and spies a familiar old face in the shadows, Ian becomes determined to explore both the cave and the ranch, and to combat his fears.

When Ian finally enters into the cave, he enters into a new world, filled with WWI memories and ghosts. He becomes an integral part of a reconnection between the past and the future that is suspenseful, yet touching at the same time. Interspersed between the chapters about Ian's adventures in the cave are the back stories of Arthur and other WWI heroes. Through fiction, McGill also manages to give history lessons that could whet the appetites of young "Ians" who may choose to pick up his book.

The Cave is written for young adults, but is easily enjoyed by adults who enjoy a good story. It has echoes of Steve McGill's literary heroes, Roald Dahl, Stephen King, and Maurice Sendak. McGill seems to have absorbed their talent for suspenseful storytelling that appeals to a variety of ages. One can only hope that he continues to write more books, because he could easily inspire a future writer of his own.

Buy The Cave

Andrea Coventry is a book reviewer for