What We’re Reading Wednesday: August 19th

Welcome back to What We’re Reading Wednesday!  We have another round of exciting book reviews for you, courtesy of the Simple Kids Book Review Team:

Birth to Toddler

By Meghan Armstrong (Out of the Woods)

jamberry1I’m excited to recommend Jamberry by Bruce Degen, a children’s literary classic.  You may be most familiar with Degen’s illustrations from the popular Jesse Bear and The Magic Schoolbus books.  Jamberry has been a favorite of mine since I began reading to my daughter, almost immediately after her birth.  I think we can all agree that when reading to an infant, one of the most important qualities of a good book is whether or not it holds the parent’s interest, right?  I’ve found the Jamberry story to be charming and clever, with lots of wordplay—I haven’t tired of it after eight months!

Jamberry tells the story of a little boy and a fruit-loving bear who go hunting for berries in the countryside.  Along the way, they meet animals of all sorts, venture into “Berryland” and, of course, eat loads of berries.  My favorite page, for its words and illustrations, shows boy and bear riding in a hot-air raspberry, while berry rockets burst in the distance:

“Moonberry starberry cloudberry sky/ Boomberry zoomberry rockets shoot by.”

I recommend it as a great book for infants, because it has a distinct cadence and lots of repetition. It’s real poetry and is a delight to listen to, with or without word comprehension.  The illustrations are vibrant with plenty of contrast, and I believe they will continue to hold my daughter’s interest as she grows.  The pages are packed with fun little treasures to discover, like trees made out of bread, cracker lily pads and jars of jam for street lamps.  This is the perfect book for berry season—read it to your little one before heading out on your own berry-picking adventure!


from Wesley Jeanne (Mountain Mama)

snailandwhaleSome dear friends recently sent us a trio of books by Julia Donaldson with illustrations by Axel Scheffler. What a find! All three are wonderful, but we especially love The Snail and the Whale, about a tiny snail who dreams big and a new friend who helps him to live big. The pair have many adventures together–through far-off lands, frolicking waves, even storms–and eventually the snail gets a chance to use his unique gifts in order to help his large friend.

This is a book that kids and adults both can enjoy for the easy flow of the rhyme scheme, the positive-yet-not-simplistic story. And oh, the illustrations. The illustrations are, quite simply, lush. Lots of color, plenty going on in each picture without being overwhelming and distracting. Each re-read we find something new–a creature here in the trees, a bird with a fish in its mouth, a crab peeking out from a cove within a coral reef.

My two-year-old loves the whale, of course, and my five-year-old loves to point out the details, the creatures, the birds. And, of course, the rescue. I love the smooth writing and the multi-layered messages of being bigger than you think you are and helping others do the same. I can get behind that.

Early Elementary

from Jean-Marie

The Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo series is a great selection for the naturally curious elementary set. Katie is a normal 4th grader in every regard with one exception — the magic wind. This wind is a wild tornado that blows only on Katie and switcheroos her into someone else.

It first happened after a bad day of unfortunate events in the third grade. Katie wished she was anyone but herself. The next day Katie turned into Speedy, the class hamster.

And like any tornado, Katie’s switcheroos usually create trouble and confusion for everyone involved. Katie, however, is a terrific problem-solver with a big heart, and she always figures out a way to clean up her messes.

whirlwindvacationWith this summer coming to an end and staycations all the rage, my 5-year-old daughter and I decided to take a lovely European vacation with Katie Carew and her family in Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo: A Whirlwind Vacation by Nancy Krulik.

This special issue features more switcheroos than most other books in the series. A switcheroo happens at each vacation destination point. Before the trip is over Katie steps into the shoes of a Buckingham Palace guard in London, England, a sidewalk artist in Paris, France, a flamenco dancer in Madrid, Spain, and an aspiring gondolier in Venice, Italy.

Katie always shows a lot of charm trying to make the best out of each awkward situation. When requested to sing a song during her stint as a gondolier she summons up the only Italian song she knows: On Top Of Spaghetti. It is this type of quick thinking that helps Katie to happily resolve each and every predicament she creates during her switcheroos.

This is great read because in addition to offerings an exciting adventure that kids will really enjoy, it also provides some basics about European culture. And it can serve as a springboard to inspire so many other fun activities and pursuits.

Take a pretend gondola ride. Sing your own made-up Italian song.  Pull out that sketch pad during your next outing.  Point out all the shapes and colors you see around you.  Make some homemade castanets and get flamenco dancing. Host a taste of Europe dinner week. Let everyone help with the menu and preparations. And my favorite, play the laughing game. Take turns trying every crazy stunt and silly face imaginable to get a laugh out of the other person.

So get the passports ready. Time to go traveling with Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo: A Whirlwind Vacation.

Upper Elementary

from Elizabeth (Finding Him Bigger)

so-b-it-2I’m excited to share a wonderful book for my first review here at Simple Kids, one that I know any young woman (and her mother) will love. Since I have an almost 11-year old daughter who is as much a bookworm as I am, she often asks me to read the books she’s enjoying, most of which are written for upper elementary students. While I enjoy almost all of them, I loved So B. It by Sarah Weeks.

So B. It is a sweet story about a twelve-year old girl named Heidi who lives with her mentally-disabled mother and their neighbor, Bernie, a free spirit who never leaves her apartment because of agoraphobia.  Heidi is highly intelligent and fiercely independent, with a lucky streak that comes in handy for things like winning extra grocery money in the slot machine at the corner laundromat. Since Heidi does not go to school and rarely ventures out on her own, she knows very little about the world around her, and even less about how she came to be part of it.

Heidi loves to read and learn, especially by looking things up in Man’s Best Friend (M.B.F. – the big Webster’s dictionary kept on the coffee table).  Still, some things she cannot learn from a book, and Heidi would do anything to better understand her and her mother’s history.  So when a peculiar word in her mother’s vocabulary has no obvious meaning, Heidi sets out to discover exactly what it means and why. She refuses to accept what every adult in her life tells her: there are some things in life a person just can’t know.

Guided by her good luck and a photograph of her young mother standing with people Heidi does not know, she embarks on a remarkable journey. The mystery of Heidi’s identity and the answers she finds are both heartbreaking and lovely, and it’s nearly impossible not to be captivated by it all.  The story serves as a reminder of the beauty of mankind and the kindness shown to us, some of which we may live completely unaware. Once the truth is learned, Heidi can never turn back, and she is forced to acknowledge that there are, in fact, some things she will never be able to know.

So B. It is a treasure of a book, and I hope you enjoy it as much as my daughter and I did.

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  1. I’m familiar with all but one of these books and they really are wonderful. It is so special to share them with our kids and enjoy them together!

    • @Elizabeth, I am so intrigued by So B. It! Really, really great review and it definitely left me wanting more. I adore YA lit – I’m keeping my eye out for this one. Thanks for the review!

  2. I love it when other moms recommend books! We will definitely be ordering “The Snail and the Whale”. Of course it’s not available at Barnes and Noble or Amazon right now. LOL

    In the meantime… our recommendation for the 4 to 8 year old group (although my little reader is 3 years old) is “Strega Nona”. by Tomie De Paola. Strega Nona is the town healer of ailments such as curing warts, headaches and helping find husbands. Strega means “Grandma Witch”. Strega Nona hires Big Anthony to help around the house and while there he sees her magically fill a pasta pot. Strega Nona has to leave for a while and tells Big Anthony not to touch the pasta pot. Of course he disobeys and the result is a pasta pot that won’t stop filling up. The pasta covers the house, and starts to move into the little village until Strega Nona comes back and saves the day and… Big Anthony has to suffer the consequences… by having to eat all the pasta he made.

    Tomie de Paola is a writer and illustrator that we all enjoy.

    Happy reading to all!

    • @Julia Janzen, oh my goodness. I haven’t seen Strega Nona in years. I love that book! Thank you for reminding me of it.

  3. Awesome reviews, everyone! I think I might have to go read So B. It just for myself 🙂

    • @Meghan, would you believe we have not read Jamberry? I have to find this one for our toddler – I know she would love it. Thanks for the great review!

  4. My hubby and I can recite Jamberry in our sleep! We often do so during berry-picking season!

    And @Julia Janzen: Strega Nona is wonderful! We have read the book but we also have a scholastic video of the book and my kids love it!

  5. Thanks so much for the book ideas!!

  6. I love these reviews! My daughter loves to eat anything with …berry at the end, so we’re going to have to get ourselves Jamberry! She loves dance and rhythm too…sounds like a perfect fit 🙂

  7. I’m going to look for Jamberry for us to read. I love reading aloud picture books with great words and rhythm. Would you believe I haven’t read or even seen any of this weeks books.

  8. Can’t wait to check out Jamberry for my wee one! So B. It is intriguing too…

  9. We love Jamberry, too – a total favorite! 🙂 I’ve been reading a lot of books to share with my 10-year-old niece – So B. It looks interesting. Thanks for the great reviews ladies!

  10. My best friend and her daughter are participating in a Mom/daughter bookclub. So B It sounds perfect!

  11. Thank you for your recommendations! I’m always looking for new books for the kids. I just reserved Snail and the Whale and Jamberry at the library. Thanks again!