Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Teacher Appreciation Week

If you're looking for the perfect book to gift a teacher for Teacher Appreciation Week (next week, btw) I've stumbled upon a gem in "A Letter to My Teacher" by Deborah Hopkinson in previewing books for our upcoming Scholastic Book Fair.  Check out our school's online book fair through May 20th. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Anyone who has read this blog knows my son, Elliot, is a bit…obsessed with dinosaurs.  And I may have thought we had exhausted the dinosaur books available.  It is rare that we can stump him with a dinosaur he has not already encountered in some form of media but Dinosaurium did just that.  Did you know that half of all dinosaur discoveries have happened in the past 30 years?  This does explain the vast gap in my knowledge from childhood which came predominantly from the pictures on the kids cup at Wendy’s and my son’s which comes from every available scrap of information about dinosaurs.  I had not before encountered the dinosaur classification system and family tree, known as a cladogram, that is featured in this text.  Similarly, I hadn’t previously seen the breakup of Pangea and the continental shift shown among the three different periods of the Mesozoic Era: Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous.  The organization of this text is very logical and will make plenty of sense to the junior paleontologist in your life.  The inclusion of extinction theories as well as survivors of the extinction help readers to understand how other creatures continued to evolve from the ancestors of the dinosaurs.  The large size (height and width) of the book Dinosaurium make it a novelty, a great gift for a dino-loving reader!

Title: Dinosaurium
Author: Chris Wormell and Lilly Murray
Published 2017 by Big Picture Press an imprint of Candlewick
ISBN: 978-0-7636-9900-0

Monday, April 16, 2018

Alma and How She Got Her Name

Alma’s name is looooong, Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela is quite the mouthful.  When Alma expresses dismay to her dad, he helps her understand where each piece of her name and consequently each piece of herself originated.  Author Juana Martinez-Neal, really Juana Carlota Martinez Pizarro so named by Victor Nicolas Martinez Gomez can relate to Alma’s struggle.  This story of family heritage and finding yourself is beautifully written and illustrated.  I love the sentiment that pieces of a name may be connected to the past but that your name is uniquely you all the same and you write your own story each day.  

Juana Martinez-Neal includes a note to give some background information which concludes with a question: What is the story of your name? What story would you like to tell?  My name is Ellen Catherine Therese Dollarton Zschunke.  I was named Ellen after my paternal grandmother Eleanor.  She was a beautiful, bright, vibrant soul whose life story was cut short by cancer when my father was just nine years old.  I wish I had known her.  But I know that her blood runs through my veins and helps me to be a better person.  

Catherine for my aunt and godmother Cathy (short for Catherine).  My aunt Cathy is a devoted and loving woman, having grown up in the same neighborhood as my aunt (and we both still live here now) we have always enjoyed a close relationship.  My aunt is a musician and singer and inspired me in my young life to sing my heart out.  As a result, I was part of chorus and continue to sing out loud any chance I get.  

Therese was the confirmation name I chose.  I really liked the name Theresa (it’s pronounced differently) but my mom decided what I really meant was Therese (I didn’t but it’s grown on me).  Theresa (spelled with an h) is apparently not the name of a saint but Teresa and Therese are.  When choosing a confirmation name in the Catholic church, it must be the name of a saint.  So that was that. Therese is also my aunt Cathy’s middle name and the name of Saint Therese of the Little Flower.  My mom went to a high school in Philadelphia called Little Flower.  That wasn’t really related to the choosing of the name, but it is a point of reference.  

My maiden name, Dollarton, is pretty unique in this area.  It is believed that it was changed at Ellis Island.  In my neck of the Pennsylvania woods, only those in my direct family have the same last name but there is another group of Dollartons who we are presumably somehow related to in Norristown which is only about a 45 minute drive from us and there is a town and highway in Canada which I have resolved to one day visit.  That name shall be carried on by my cousins and their families.  My cousin and his wife will welcome their first child this summer and the name lives on.  

The name Zschunke is the last name of my husband and his family and now our family.  It originates on the Polish/German border and is pronounced chunky.  I get many questions about this name and though I didn’t grow up with it, I love it just the same.  I often joke that my last name is how you can tell I really love my husband.

And on to the names I had the honor to choose for my own children.  What an honor and a responsibility!  The weight of a name can really carry someone or weigh them down.  My daughter, Cecelia Ann is named for my maternal grandmother and subsequently my sister, Sheila.  Sheila is the gaelic for Cecilia, which was the spelling of my grandmother’s name, but I like Cecelia with the second e and so it was.  My maternal grandmother died when I was 4 so I don’t remember much but she lives on in the many epic stories of her life.  She was a strong woman who took advantage of opportunities afforded to her and made sure that she got herself to an optimal place.  The story that sticks with me is of a trip she was on with my mother in Europe.  On a tour, she made sure she got to the front to hear and see everything and talked to everyone.  I do the same and I hope to instill the same in my daughter.  Ann was one way to bestow Cece with a name that honored many people.  Each of her paternal aunt’s and both of her grandmother’s all have the middle name Ann, my mom with an e, but we already added an e into her first name.  Though she carries a name connected to many strong women in her life, she is her own person and her name is unique among her peers.  She carries it well and I believe her name will serve her well in life.  

My son, Elliot Orion, really got his own name.  No one in either of our families is named Elliot…or Orion.  My husband and I really liked the name Elliot and, knowing him now, never has a name more perfectly fit a child.  Orion for the constellation of the hunter in the sky and his belt.  My father and I used to go for night time walks in the winter.  My father was in the Navy and could tell the time by the position of the sun in the sky and pointed out constellations on clear nights.  The only one I could consistently locate was Orion and now I have my own Orion in the constellation of our family.  Elliot Orion will chart his own course in the skies.

Names tell such rich stories.  Juana Martinez-Neal weaves a beautiful story of Alma and her name and inspires readers to reflect on their own history and future related to names.

Title: Alma and How She Got Her NameAuthor: Juana Martinez-NealPublished 2018 by Candlewick PressISBN: 978-0-76736-9355-8

Friday, March 30, 2018

May We Read Them

I've been thinking about this post for a bit now...almost a month.  March is National Women's History Month.  There is an expression, "Here's to strong women.  May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them."  I don't know from whence it originated so I apologize in advance for not attributing those wise words.  Earlier this month, a friend posted a link to an article along with "May we READ them." And being me, I got SO excited.  Then I followed the link.  And was a bit disappointed.  Here is the list, so you can decide for yourself: Authors Share Their Favorite Kids' Books About Girls Written By Women  Now, granted, these are submitted by authors, but this list struck me as...old.  And really, really white.  Granted, these are all great books and some are on the newer side, but there are SO MANY great books out there by female authors featuring strong female characters.  So...I made my own list.  These are all books I've read within the past year (according to GoodReads).  I highly recommend each of them and hope you can find something awesome to check out.







Give these fab female authors some love.  Some are authors of books listed above, and others are just authors I LOVE and want to share.  Enjoy!  And READ THEM.

Comment below with a favorite book featuring a strong female character by a fabulous female author.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire

In looking back at Disney films, you may notice a dramatic shift in use of color that seems jarring and it was (jarring) to the “Nine Old Men” who were approving work at that time and did not approve of the use of these bright and beautiful hues.  But that didn’t stop Mary Blair and once she got started, she didn’t stop.  Well, she did stop at Disney Studios when she felt she was not able to get her ideas from the page to the screen, but she came back and was commissioned to create a ride.  You may have heard of it (and never been able to get the song out of your head too…): It’s a Small World!  Mary traveled the world and collected images that she painted in bright colors and geometric patterns that she brought back to put together to create this ride that was a quick tour around the world showing all we have in common and our unique cultural differences.  Brigette Barrager does a beautiful job of bringing Mary’s colors and shapes to life on the pages of Pocket Full of Colors and Amy Guglielmo and Jacquline Tourville work together to tell the story of this remarkable woman in a world full of men, both at Disney and in advertising.  Mary Blair’s genius and modern art brought Disney into the next phase of imagineering.

Title: Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire
Author: Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville
Illustrator: Brigette Barrager
Published 2017 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-1-4814-6131-3

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star Spangled Creation

I sure do love me some block printing and Holly Berry is clearly a master.  The spread that references the “dawn’s early light” with the changing colors of sunrise on the black buildings is gorgeous and reminiscent of an etching process of putting black over another color and scratching through with a toothpick but to accomplish this effect with block printing is just beyond gorgeous.  Sources are included as is an Author’s Note and the full text (with four verses!?) of The Star-Spangled Banner.  Kristen Fulton does an excellent job of giving context to the lyrics of the poem, “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” penned by Alexander Scott Key through the eyes of seamstress, Caroline Pickersgill.

Title: Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star Spangled Creation
Author: Kristen Fulton
Illustrator: Holly Berry
Published 2017 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
ISBN: 9781481460965

This book was borrowed from the public library for review purposes.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing

The day after reading “Margaret and the Moon”, I saw Lego is releasing a set of Women of NASA including Margaret Hamilton with her code.  Since I had read the book the night before, I made the connection between the female scientist and her huge pile of papers of code.  

That pile of code physically symbolizes (well it’s not a symbol, it’s the real deal) a human thinking about every possible eventuality related to a moon landing, and as it turned out Margaret had anticipated exactly what happened and programmed an override to take care of the problem.  Lucy Knisley’s illustrations match Dean Robbins’ storytelling of Margaret’s life perfectly and make her story accessible for all readers.  The author’s note gives further background and the bibliography and additional reading offer readers more options to learn more about Margaret and many of the people involved with the landing of Apollo 11.  Margaret’s story illustrates a message of perseverance and problem solving that inspires us all to reach for the stars and the moon.

Title: Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing
Author: Dean Robbins
Illustrator: Lucy Knisley
Published 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-399-55185-7

This book was borrowed from the public library for review purposes.