I Pledge Allegiance

Taken from my review at www.goodreadswithronna.com, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature and educational products.

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Independence Day is just around the corner, and for many of us that means barbecues, fireworks, and parades. Of course, the celebration includes the pride of being or becoming an American, and that’s the focus of I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez and illustrated by Patrice Barton.

Young Libby must lead her class in the school flag ceremony, and her great aunt Lobo is getting ready for her citizenship ceremony. They both must learn the Pledge of Allegiance, so they decide to practice together. They practice in front of their cat, Libby’s stuffed animals, and each other, and during the week, Libby learns Lobo’s story about coming to America and becoming a citizen.

“Why do you want to be a citizen?” I ask.

“Mi querida, I was born in Mexico and went to school there, but the United States has been my home for many years. I am proud to be from Mexico and to speak Spanish and English. Many people are proud of the places where they were born or where they grew up. But a long time ago…my father wanted a safer place for us to grow up, and we came to the United States. The American flag—read, white, and blue—wrapped itself around me to protect me.”

This sweet story artfully weaves the themes of patriotism, immigration, citizenship, history, and family. It’s a wonderful introduction to the importance, history, and meaning of the Pledge, as well as a reminder that no matter where we come from, we are all together under the flag.

Duck & Goose Go to the Beach

From my review on goodreadswithronna, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature and educational products.

Duck & Goose
It’s summer, and Duck is eager to explore. Goose, however, is reluctant to leave their perfect little meadow with its tree stump, hollow log, stream, lily pond, and shady thicket.

“A TRIP? A trip sounds far away. I like close…An adventure? That sounds scary,” Goose honks.

But Duck is determined, and Goose grumpily follows him on their hike. When they arrive at the beach, Duck gets more than he bargained for. The waves are loud, the sand is hot, the ocean is big, and the beach dwellers are different. The beach isn’t what Duck expected, but it isn’t what Goose expected either, and, suddenly, he’s up for the adventure!

Goose stared at the vast stretch of sky, sand, and sea. “Isn’t it magnificent?” he said.

“Oh dear, the beach has SO MUCH water,” quacked Duck. “I feel tiny.”

“Have you ever seen SO MUCH sand?” honked Goose.

“It’s getting in my feathers, and it’s too hot on my feet,” said Duck. “Let’s go.”

“Go swimming? Good idea, Duck!” said Goose, and he raced to the water’s edge.

Duck & Goose Go to the Beach is a story of many levels. It presents the idea of having an adventure and doing something new. It deals with facing fears and being open to changing your mind. It’s a fun summer read. Most of all, it is charming and humorous. Duck and Goose are adorable characters. They are who they are, and that trait is so appealing to young readers (and their parents).

The oil paint artwork is almost too cute. The images of the feathered friends running down the hill and peeking over the sand dune are picture perfect. The artwork adds to the massive appeal of the book.

Whether they’re in a meadow, at the beach, or in your home, your kids will delight in Duck and Goose.

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Father’s Day Flashback Favorites

Taken from my review on http://www.goodreadswithronna.com, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s books and educational products.

Father’s Day is just around the corner and to honor the occasion, I’m reviewing two picture books that have been daddy favorites in our household for years.

Daddy Hugs 1*2*3

The first is Daddy Hugs 1*2*3 by perennial kidlit favorite, Karen Katz. This counting book is perfect for the younger crowd (ages 1-3). Its bright and action-packed illustrations feature Daddy playing with Baby with hugs at every number.

“Here I come! It’s Daddy!”
Four “Yay, you did it!” first-step hugs
Six “I gotcha now!” hide-and-seek hugs
Eight dancing on Daddy’s feet cha-cha hugs

Kitty is along for the fun and can be spotted on many of the pages. Numbers accompany the words, so the young readers can identify numerals. This is a sweet book that highlights the milestones in infant/toddler life. The story ends with good night kisses and is perfect as a bedtime book, as well.

Very Best Daddy

The Very Best Daddy of All written by Marion Dane Bauer is a quiet book that presents the many ways through which fathers express and demonstrate love for their children.

Some daddies sing you awake.
Some hold you snug and tight.
Some take care of your mama, so she can take care of you.

Each page cleverly presents animal fathers. For example, Some tuck you in, safe and warm, when the sun’s about to go features a duckling cozying up in its father’s wing. Some daddies comb your hair, gently, gently, so you’ll be fresh and neat is paired with a gorilla combing his fingers through his child’s fur.

Leslie Wu’s pastel illustrations capture the warmth and strength of the animals in their landscapes. See the zebras on the savanna as the sun sets and the songbird feeding its baby in their nest.

The title suggests there is a very best daddy of all. Who is it? Your child will enjoy reading the book to find out.

If I Had a Raptor

Taken from my review on www.goodreadswithronna.com, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature and educational products.

If I Had a Raptor

Let’s face it, kids love pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, even snakes and lizards. But raptors? You’d better believe it! In If I Had a Raptor by George O’Connor, (Candlewick Press, 2014 $15.99; Ages 3-7), a young girl brings home a “teensy and tiny and funny and fluffy” dinosaur. Never mind that the little fluff ball, named Dinah, could grow into a carnivorous beast. Her plucky caregiver showers her with lots of love and attention, and in that oh-so-special kid rationale explains why owning a raptor would be “the best thing ever!”

A baby raptor is so teensy and tiny that she would be easy to lose. I’d give her a little bell so I could always find her. If I had a raptor, she would like to sit on my lap, and I would let her. I might even have to trim her claws a little bit now and then.

The illustrations are fun, and the facial expressions are priceless. Check out Dinah’s face when she’s caught clawing the comfy chair. When our well-meaning pet owner awakens the sleeping dinosaur to play, Dinah’s half-closed eyes and pinched nostrils look incredibly similar to those of an annoyed cat. In fact, this raptor might just be part cat as she likes to “bask on a sunny windowsill or snuggle on clean laundry. She would sleep all day long. She will run around like crazy all night long…she would stalk the little things that catch her eye, like birds, or bugs, or even a dust bunny.”

My young daughter loved seeing Dinah grow from a lap-dinosaur to a full-sized raptor. And she howled with laughter when finicky eater Dinah sniffs at her dino-bowl and puts her snout in the air when she disapproves of the meal.

Whether your child already has a pet or not, he/she will be convinced that a raptor is a great addition to the household.

Goodbye, Ms. Angelou, and Thank You

I was listening to the radio when I heard the announcement that Maya Angelou had passed. Pulling over, I began to cry as I heard the tributes pour in. I felt that I had lost a dear friend.

Maya angelouI didn’t know Ms. Angelou. I never had the privilege to meet her or the opportunity to hear her speak in person. But, I felt as if I knew her and as if she knew me. That ability, I think, is at least a little part of why she was such an incredible individual. She spoke to me in a way that few persons of her status have been able to. She was an activist, a writer, a poet, a trailblazer, and she was an Every Woman. She dined with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, with Presidents Clinton and Obama. She attended state and international functions. Dignified and gracious, she commanded an audience as she addressed dignitaries and celebrities. But she was never above anyone else. She was of the people. You, me, the President– it didn’t matter. She was with us, and she made me feel as if I were with her.

I first encountered her writing as a student teacher and was immediately hooked. Reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first volume of her autobiography, I was taken by how much strength she exhibited, by how much character she possessed, by how she worked through and rose above the trials thrown at her. Her diction and descriptions enthralled me, leaving me wanting more and leading me, ever thankfully, to her poetry.

I used to teach poetry to high school students, and, I’ll tell you, it could be a hard sell. Preconceived and erroneous notions of poetry–it must rhyme, it’s only for girls, only gay guys write poetry, it’s always about love–affected the uneasiness of many students, mostly males. In came Still I Rise and Phenomenal Woman and On the Pulse of the Morning. These poems presented truths, fully, unapologetically, beautifully. Their honesty, unabashed and relatable, resonated with many of the students who previously had protested that poetry was not for them. Ms. Angelou reached out and enveloped these students with her ability to weave words into meaning, as she had me.

I’m sorry that I never wrote to Ms. Angelou and tell her what a profound effect she had on me as a reader, as a woman, and as a teacher. “Phenomenal Woman” was a revelation, to both my students and myself. Used to being objectified by others’ standards, my female students embraced the sense of ownership of themselves, studied the poem, and discussed how it applied to them. I was thrilled when I saw a number of the girls slip their copy into the front cover of their binders, there for the world to see. Now, as a mother, that poem resonates ever more strongly. I wish my daughters to know and have the strength that the poem declares. I want them to live that confidence and carry themselves proudly, to define themselves by their standards.

Ms. Angelou gave me the courage as a young teacher to respond to a parent who complained that I was teaching I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings because she considered it “offensive” as it described rape. She was with me in spirit when I responded that the book was not offensive, that reading about rape was not offensive, and the fact that Maya had been raped was an offense against Maya and not her, the parent. I did not hear from that parent again.

I remember showing my students the video of Ms. Angelou reading “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s inauguration. We watched and listened as her cadence rose and fell, as she paused, as she addressed, as she challenged, as she encouraged, as she humanized, as she drew us together.

(Video credit: William Clinton Presidential Library)

Here on the pulse of this new day/You may have the grace to look up and out/And into your sister’s eyes, into/Your brother’s face, your country/And say simply/Very simply/With hope/Good morning.

Goodbye, Ms. Angelou, and thank you. Thank you for your words, your wisdom, your example, your courage, and your hope.
May you rest in peace.

Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman: Doggie Duties

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Taken from my review on http://www.goodreadswithronna.com, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s literature and educational products.

Ruff Ruffman is the lovable canine host of the PBS Kids’ show, Fetch! My daughters greatly enjoy watching that educational and fun program. In that vein, Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman: Doggie Duties presents the reader with Ruff’s latest dilemma, a broken toilet. What’s a desperate dog to do?! Too proud to use a litter box, Ruff decides he must learn how to make a space toilet. After all, if NASA can do it, why can’t he?!

Fetch!’s colorful cast of characters, including the feline show supervisor, Blossom, and Ruff’s assistant, the mouse Chet, join Ruff for his adventure. Complete with a science activity on how to clean dirty water with a filter, this book is sure to please and teach.

We Need Diverse Books

The New York Times recently published an article about the lack of diversity in children’s books.

This set off a firestorm in the kidlit and social media spheres. Tumblr is spearheading the current #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that’s taking place on its site, as well as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs.

Details can be found here. Essentially, people post photos of themselves or books with the caption “We need diverse books because” and they give a reason. An example is below.

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We need diverse books because everyone has a story to tell.

If this topic is of importance to you, be a part of the conversation!

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Poems for Made-up Occasions

With National Poetry Month wrapping up, I’d like to highlight some of my favorite poems and the occasions best suited for them.

Enjoy!

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If you are feeling stressed and need perspective, find solace in The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry.

If you want express your love to your significant other, but are too broke to buy a gift, check out I Am Offering This Poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca.

If you’re tired of the know-it-all in your life, pass along The Book of Wisdom by Stephen Crane for a little passive-aggressive fun.

If you embrace womanhood in all its glory, celebrate with Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. In fact, read anything by Maya Angelou! She is an incredible poet and writer and orator and person. The list goes on!

If people are giving you crap, meditate upon Be Kind Anyway attributed to Mother Teresa (not really a poem, but very inspirational).

If you enjoy the quiet of the morning, find peace with Before Dawn by Jack Cooper.

If you admire cats and/or like misty weather, read Fog by Carl Sandburg.

If you can identify with the folly of youth, pay attention to We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks.

If you think you’ve got it tough, reflect upon Mother to Son by Langston Hughes, and then call your mom.

If you participate in the creation versus evolution debate, think about Design by Robert Frost.

If you have an appreciation for or would like to learn more about Native American beliefs, read Eagle Poem by Joy Harjo.

If you rally for curves, be proud and enjoy Homage to My Hips by Lucille Clifton.

If you can identify with eccentric souls, try a little Tia Chucha by Luis Rodriguez on for size.

If you understand that trees are symbolic of life, read This Tree, This Poem by Luis Rodriguez, and then go hug a tree.

If you have a favorite poem (and an occasion for it), let me know.

Ziggy’s Big Idea

Taken from my review at http://www.goodreadswithronna.com, where you can find the latest and greatest in children’s books and educational products.

I like bagels, especially mixed orange and cranberry, but I don’t know anything about them really.

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Ziggy’s Big Idea by Ilana Long presents one interpretation of the bagel’s origin. Ziggy is an inventive young boy, full of ideas, such as a square ball that doesn’t roll into the street. However, his ideas don’t always work out quite as Ziggy hopes. Just read about Rabbi Levi and the “shulstilts” that Ziggy made so that the Rabbi can “see the congregation over the bimah.” Ziggy’s father works in the bakery. So when the baker’s customers complain that “the buns are undercooked at the center,” Ziggy is determined to help! Will he be of use or just get in the way?

This informative read has additional resources, including a bagel recipe and theories on the bagel’s humble beginnings. It also presents life in a shtetl and uses Yiddish words and phrases. The artwork is full of interesting details, such as storks nesting on chimneys and era décor. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get a bagel at my local handy drive-thru bagel shop.