SLAM Guy Reviews it All

Review- The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog

Crump, Martha L, Steve Jenkins, and Edel Rodriguez. The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog. Honesdale, Penn: Boyds Mills Press, 2013. Print.


Frog fans unite! Marty Crump has created a wonderful experience for readers and viewers of his book, The Mystery of Darwin’s Frog.  The book is everything I want to see in non-fiction: it offers credibility in its authorship, accessibility in its use of language, engagement in terms of its visual content, and authenticity in the nature of its subject.

I am not a fan of frogs, lizards, and other such creatures. Ok, I like Kermit… and Frog & Toad …but that’s it. I say that so you will know my perspective in advance. But this book is almost enough to convince me otherwise. Despite my personal problems, one would do well to consider this book for inclusion in any library that serves children and most elementary classrooms. Why include it? It is rare to find an author and editorial team that can weave narrative, scientific principles, interesting subject matter and real life experiences into one compact edition.

Lavishly illustrated with pictures and drawings to enhance the experience, the reader will also find a wonderfully assembled glossary that explains some of those intentionally seeded words that were included to challenge the reader. There’s also a list of useful websites, some other recommended books, and even a complete bibliography. Teachers will want to use these areas to differentiate instruction and stimulate further inquiry. Teachers of younger children will want to make sure they have this book in their “frog” collection. This is a book that can grow with the reader.

This book could easily morph into a very interactive app. A clever programmer guided by the book’s creative team could turn this into a fun and educational adventure.

Kids need more books like this.


Review- Revolutionary Friends

Castrovilla, Selene, and Drazen Kozjan. Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis De Lafayette. Honesdale, Pa: Calkins Creek, 2013. Print.

Non-fiction written for an elementary audience is now more popular than ever thanks to the Common Core. Good non-fiction is hard to find, and excellent works are scarce. This one teeters on the edge between the two.

Wonderfully illustrated, this highlights the grandeur and experience of Washington versus the youth and inexperience of the Marquis De Lafayette. The use of muted colors serves the battle scenes well and generally supports and adds to the textual emphasis.

The use of primary source material is also included in a parchment looking caption area on many pages. The idea works well and helps to challenge readers at the same time to tackle this more difficult offering in a more digestible bite.

One of the difficulties inherent in a small amount of space is the development of, and eventual resolution of the narrative. This decision making process becomes even more complicated when working with historical figures that are not yet known to their audience. The initial pictures painted with text and brush can have a tremendous influence on future encounters. It is for that reason that I have struggled with the portrayal of the Marquis De Lafayette, and even France. In the effort to portray his youth, inexperience, and devotion to the cause of liberty, the creators have chosen their path. It is neither right or wrong, it is merely their choice. You will have to decide for yourself, but think about it.

Another choice made by the creative team is the acknowledgment that the story continued beyond that of the illustrative content. They chose to provide a continuation of the text in what functions as both afterword and addendum. The inclusion of this matter makes a point that we should remember and bring to our young readers: just because a book has a lot of pictures does not make it inappropriate for older readers. The book has the shape and feel of a classic picture book, but the text is not what one might expect. It is plentiful on the page and the careful introduction of French words and phrases makes it sing. The ending section extends both the historical and textual complexity of the work with those word-filled pages. Opportunities for differentiation exist because of these additions and teachers will want to make this book available in their classrooms. School and public libraries will want to acquire it for the same reason, but realize that this book may not sell itself; it deserves a talk of the most animated variety. In short, I liked it.

Dogggone Feet!

Helakoski, Leslie. Doggone Feet!Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2013. Print.

Doggone it, this book is a fresh look at feet. Yeah, I know, feet are not my cup of tea either, but imagine a dog whose world-view is defined by feet. Combine that imagery with colorful illustrations, some playful rhyming language in narrative form and you have a potentially great book that presents families from an interesting perspective.

The book will find a comfortable home in the hands of early readers and classrooms, but it might also become a favorite for read-aloud sessions that kick off larger units of study. There are limitless classroom investigative applications for the down-low viewpoint introduced by Helakoski. Older students could make their own collection of pictures around the school or home and re-tell the story or adapt it to a certain series of events like a day at school.


Books that spark creativity in children and adults are special because they tend to move us beyond the pages and bend some of those pre-conceived notions we have of our world. They implore us to think creatively for solutions to problems and enlarge our field of view. But they do it in a sneaky way. It is up to the parent and teacher to seize these teachable moments and make them visible for those who might not recognize them at first glance. That is called teaching them how to think.


Add this to the bottom shelf of your collection, or the top, but add it with confidence.

A Review of Barbara Newman’s Glamorous Glasses-

Newman, Barbara J. Glamorous Glasses. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.


When I think of eyeglasses I think of glamorous people: Elton John, Elvis, Jackie O., and a few others that rocked some odd looking specks. But I also recall those glasses known as Clark Kent’s that were issued to military inductees. I never wanted those (and didn’t need glasses at that point), but some people even make those look glamorous. It is the search for that perfect pair of glasses or other fashion accessory that makes life quite exciting at times for some folks. I’m just satisfied to know where my glasses are located without having to resort to one of those ropes that tethers them around my neck. Maybe I’m trying not to look like a librarian?Never mind my lack of fashion, but I just read a book that reminded me that kids can even look cool in glasses as long as they are not the ones who have to wear them.

Glamorous Glasses is an all-too-cute story that should resonate with girls and their moms. Imagine what can happen when you wear a pair of prescription glasses that are not yours, and the person that should be wearing them doesn’t wear any. The story gets better when a shopping trip to the city is the background for the fun that ensues. Yes, the story is both fun and funny; it can be enjoyed at any pace by almost anyone- including boys.

School librarians will want to be sure to pick up this title for a variety of reasons. Yes, chief among those is a reminder that it can be quite cool to wear glasses. Secondly, this title is ripe for reading aloud by a bespeckled teacher or librarian. The vivid colors reinforce the sense of fashion that can be found in everyday items and how we can achieve that elusive glamorous effect. Well, everybody except me.

The Doctor is In- Here Comes Dr. Hippo

London, Jonathan, and Gilles Eduar. Here Comes Doctor Hippo. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.


I’m always amazed at animals that expertly mimic human behavior, and Dr. Hippo sure reminds me of countless boys and girls that have taken heartbeats, checked tonsils and conducted minor surgery all in the name of make-believe fun.


This fun–filled adventure is just the thing for parents to share with their emerging readers. Not only is the book predictable, but also it encourages vocalization and bonding.  This is sure to be a bedtime favorite for many sessions even if it inspires much play beforehand. The story is solid in all the ways that children’s books should be and Eduar’s art is the perfect match for this tale providing its own predictability and easily understood interpretations.


Parents and libraries collecting early childhood literature can feel confident adding this to their collection knowing that it will become a favorite of kids and adults reading together and building relationships.

If You Were a Chocolate Mustache: Poems

Lewis, J P, and Matthew Cordell. If You Were a Chocolate Mustache: Poems. Honesdale, Penn: Wordsong, 2012. Print.


Kid’s poems are always fun, but they have always been problematic for me.  Finding and sharing good poems is not too difficult when one has the time. On the other hand, finding poems that approach greatness are rare.  This work is a case of the latter. Poet (Lewis) and illustrator (Cordell) have unleashed over 100 poems and sketches designed to entertain and challenge kids.


The challenge in reading the poetry in this volume is that it presents younger readers with some difficult words scattered throughout. (Hmm, that sounds like text complexity referred to by the Common Core). The poetry is accessible because it is what I like to refer to as “everyday stuff.” Isn’t that what language is for, to describe everyday stuff in different ways depending on the message one wishes to convey?


This is a perfect book for the classroom library, if you buy more than one copy. Teachers and librarians serving second grade and beyond need to put this into their daily routine and use it as a read-aloud. The beauty of poetry, especially kid’s poetry that is illustrated is that it is playful and lends itself to performance. Indulge yourself and treat your kids to this scrumptious volume.

The Ice Man Cometh- A Cool Common Core Nonfiction Selection

Pringle, Laurence. Ice!: The Amazing History of the Ice Business. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Calkins Creek, 2012. Print.


Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover and Pringle’s Ice is no exception. Ice is a well-organized and chronicled history of the ice business. Okay, it’s ice, how exciting can that be?  It’s more exciting than watching ice melt. Yes, it exciting and it is simply about the ice industry. But what makes ice interesting? Not having ice? Trying to keep it from melting? Harvesting? You name it, this book delivers in a big way.


Given the emphasis on the Common Core by so many education agencies this book should become an exemplar.  It’s not that ice is so important these days as described in the book ; it is what the book doesn’t suggest that makes it valuable. Early keepers of ice were plagued with finding the perfect insulating material to preserve their investment and reduce melting. Can you imagine a group of student conducting their own controlled experiments to determine the same with modern day materials that are often bound for the garbage? Many opportunities for further investigation are ripe for the harvest inside the pages even if the author does not identify them.  And that makes this book even better because the author sticks with the program and writes about ice.


The illustrative content is superb. The pictures chosen have significance and are not just something loosely associated with the history. Readers come away with a feeling of the struggle that influenced innovation and made everyday life much more comfortable and profitable.


Libraries and teachers of science and social studies should give this book high priority on their selection lists.  Others interested in Americana should also find a way to read it and enjoy the well-written text that is useful and attractive. If I owned a business with a waiting room this book would occupy a prominent place.


Look– Look Again!

O’Brien, John. Look– Look Again!: Cartoons. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.


This book of cartoons is a frolic through the unexpected, yet familiar. While the book is targeted to an audience of young people one better…Look –Look Again! The dairy farmer, chef, woodsmen, knight, doorman and clown suggest familiar images from the annals of children’s literature.  And those vehicles provide a starting point for some twisted visual interpretations that may cause everything from subtle smirks to uproarious gut-busting belly laughs.


To be sure, the cartoons are exciting and provide a lot of room for thinking as readers, but the error is in the marketing- this book is not necessarily for eight-year-olds.  Yes, older, more mature readers with print experience may have a grand escape, but most may be tempted to discard it.  This is one of those books that need an introduction by a teacher, librarian, or a parent.  As a matter of fact, they might enjoy it much more than any child.


Teachers, librarians and parents will want to challenge themselves and their students with Obrien’s zany tales. They should make it available and make it a part of conversation, offering explanation where necessary. Challenge yourself and others to read, think and view outside the box.

Ostrich and Lark -a voice lesson

Nelson, Marilyn. Ostrich and Lark. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.

This book is about more than a child’s picture book by a Newberry Honor Book author; it is about breaking down barriers. The Kuru Art Project of Botswana provided the vibrant pictures for the tale that describes their journey as much as it does the story accompanying the art. And make no mistake about it, the book is about the art and it is fabulous. It is vibrant and adds color to the text that is a little more complicated than the art. In fact, the text is often overwhelmed by the art- which is not such a bad thing.

Ostrich and Lark is about finding one’s voice and that is a message that applies not only to writers, but learners of all shapes and sizes. The choice of characters just adds to the African feel of this book and introduces all types of life from the animal world, most not in the average child’s vernacular.

Teachers contemplating a study of Africa or African influence will not want to neglect this beautiful book. The images invite replication and kids are the perfect ones to attempt it. Librarians will also want to consider adding it to collections that need some more representation from true African art. Another educational opportunity and conversation also exists in the role that this art plays in helping an indigenous people realize their value and commodity in a world economy. Schools engaged in a serious program of world cultures will also want to acquire this book .

Molly, by Golly!

Ochiltree, Dianne, and Kathleen H. Kemly. Molly, by Golly!: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter. Honesdale, Pa: Calkins Creek, 2012. Print.


Dianne Ochiltree and Kathleen Kimly have provided an accessible, albeit fictionalized account of America’s first female firefighter, an African-American named Molly Williams. The story, crafted from legend and a few available facts portrays Molly Williams as a servant-cook who took up the firefighter’s role in a time of need.

The story heralds Molly’s actions as heroic, but it is her motivation that provides the real life lesson for young readers. Molly was faced with a circumstance where the opportunity to do good took precedence over any other role that was assigned or expected of her. Encouraging young readers and future firefighters to do the same in the name of unselfish public service is at the heart of the lessons to be learned from Molly, by Golly!

Additional information and background is included on the historic development of firefighting at the end of the book along with a section of frequently asked questions.  Young readers will be comfortable with the illustrative content, but others may find the plump Molly a tired stereotype of African-American women. Despite that objection, the watercolors provide the appropriate images for a folktale for young children.

Teachers and librarians will want to include Molly in classroom activities of all sorts. Besides the obvious connections to firefighting and public service, the content does provide elementary-aged students a glimpse into a neglected area of early American city life. Add this piece of Americana to the collection with confidence that it will circulate and spark conversation about life past and present.