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Book Review of Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet

Title: Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet

Author: April Pulley Sayre

Publisher: HarperCollins

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 4 to 8, but could be used for STEAM-related lessons for any age

How has living in a pandemic changed your family? 

For mine, it has been that we’ve become more observant. My daughter said, while on a walk the other day, that she thinks she’s a “noticer.” I asked more about this and she said, “You used to ask me to get the mail and I’d do it as fast as possible. Now, I feel like I walk more slowly and look around more.” 

Sometimes we don’t know what we’ve become until someone puts a name to it. 

Cityscape, by April Pulley Sayre helped make me a “noticer” too. 


Cityscape is all about design, lines, and shapes found in a city. However, with her sparse but specific use of language, Sayre is able to somehow convey the science AND the art. The reader is able to understand that these attributes contribute to design and function. For example, many will infer that the curve of the bridge’s trusses function to support the road, but they also serve as a reminder that transportation to, from, and within a city is essential. 

Repetition in this book is used in many ways. Sayre uses multiple photographs of an example (such as triangles) to broaden ways children might look for the shape, from rooflines to nature.

Sayre used a period after each of the words or phrases, as if to tell the reader to stop, slow down, and have a look around on each page.

It might be strange for older kids who are more used to that idea that a period is used in a full sentence (subject and verb, where are you?), they will also recognize that punctuation is sending them a message from the author to take a breath. 

Alliteration (repeated use of an initial consonant) and punctuation help bring cohesion and rhythm to the book.

The shapes kids learn at home and at preschool are taken to a real-world level as they learn to identify them in the city. 

The use of photographs in bold, bright ways to connect the concepts made us pick up our cameras (er, phones) and hit the streets. Although we live near Indianapolis, we found our small town of Danville to be full of many types of shapes and lines found in Cityscape. Slowing down to notice many attributes of the buildings was interesting and sparked conversation between the kids. While my kids are older, my son commented that it was like a scavenger hunt, which is still apparently cool. 🙂 


Cityscape has earned starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal. 


Additional information found at the end of the book is called “back matter.” Make sure you make time to review!

Additional back matter is featured, and includes what reads like an introduction from Pulley. Her words would make a wonderful introduction for the book to set a purpose for reading- What will we find in the city? Assuming the reader takes a walk through a city after reading, a lengthy list of questions helps to guide the experience, such as:

 “Can buildings be art? 

“Where does all the waste go? 

“Why are many cities found along rivers?” 

“Who plans the cities?”

Sayre includes photo credits (locations, name of building if applicable), along with the page numbers. While I was happy she did, as I wanted to confirm the identification of some of the buildings I recognized, the book is not paginated, so I did some counting. If my children were younger, I would have encouraged them to help me. I would show them how to match the photo credits and locations with the correct photo on the correct page. Learning how to use ALL the parts of a book is important (and pretty easy!).

Additional books by Sayre.

While we were in town, we headed to our library (noticing all the cool architectural features of this Carnegie-built structure) and found similar features in more of Sayre’s books. These would be wonderful additions to your bookshelf or to check out based on seasonal interests. The same structure and concise language is found in her other books. If your child isn’t into the photographs, several books are illustrated instead. 

I couldn’t help but notice that although many of her books focus on one concept, Sayre generates interest in the

From Thank You, Earth, more bold photographs and helpful back matter.

outdoor world with the vibrant art and focus on the beauty of often overlooked animals and objects. Creating curiosity about our environment? A knowledgeable author with a biology degree from Duke? Yes, please! 

We were especially drawn to her book, Thank You, Earth! She uses a similar layout to Cityscape, with a helpful list of activities at the end (preschool teachers, homeschool families, and those looking for some outdoor fun, this is for you!). You can find more of her work (and adventures) on her website.

Did Cityscape spark interest in city life now? Spend time with these great nonfiction texts: 

  • City Signs, by Zoran Milich, Kids Can Press, 2005 (another photojournal!)
  • How Cities Work, by Lonely Planet Kids and James Gulliver Hancock, part of the How Things Work series. 2016
  • The Ultimate Book of Cities, by Anne-Sophie Baumann, Twirl, 2017
  • C is for Cities, by Nikki Grimes, Boyds Mills Press, 2002

Now how about some fiction, where you can look for similarities between Cityscape and these picture books with a city setting! 

  • Small in the City, by Sydney Smith, Neal Porter Books, 2019
  • A Walk in New York, by Salvatore Rubbino, Candlewick, 2017
  • Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, Alice Schertle, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt De La Pena, Penguin Young Readers Group, 2015
Cityscape in our own “city!”

2020 requires all of us to look at our surroundings in a new way. Allow Cityscape to be your mentor text (the example you keep returning to) to create a photo journal, either together or individually. You can even have them printed by a variety of budget-friendly sites like Snapfish and even your local CVS/Walgreens/Walmart. Look for promotional codes for photo books, especially around the holidays. Spending the money to print this type of project would be an impactful way to show that your child’s work matters and that the ability to return to it, whether it’s the following week or 10 years from now, is important. Think through how you’d like to give photo credits at the end, if a table of contents is needed, and the all important “about the author” page.  


Book Review: Nesting by Henry Cole

Title: Nesting
Author: Henry Cole
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books: An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Copyright date: 2020
Age range: 4-8 (but really…anyone!)

Thanks to the talented artist/author Henry Cole, you’ll never hear the sound of a robin again in the spring without thinking of his latest book, Nesting. From the simple telling of the robin’s yearly cycle through accurate and concise word choice to the stunning illustrations, Nesting tells a complete story that leaves the reader with a sense of admiration for the devotion the male and female robins have for their offspring. 

The book begins with the special calls male and female robins use when finding a partner. Cole chooses to skip the mating process and goes right to nest building (so parents that aren’t quite ready for the reproduction talk…rejoice!). Readers can sense the waiting the robins feel while the mother keeps them warm and eagerly anticipate the cracking of the eggs! 

Like a good fiction story, Cole includes two examples that add some additional suspense to the cycle of the baby robins that don’t involve flying (a story line that seems to be overdone in many books about birds ). Extreme weather and a snake attack are sure to get the attention of any reader. 

While we’re happy to learn the story of these robins, it’s perhaps the use of illustrations and color (or lack of) that is the real appeal of this book. Cole used Micron pens and acrylic paints to create illustrations rich in detail (black pen), but with a pop of that famous blue hue adults associate with the robin eggs. While some pages are more sparse, gather the attention of the reader to the meaning behind the action of the bird, other pages create a bit of a seek-and-find feel, causing the reader to find the robins among the trees or leaves. 

Repetition also helps the reader understand sequencing, whether we are following the process of nest building, waiting for eggs to hatch, or gathering food. While the use of four images to the passage of time is helpful, I especially like the use of four panels to show movement over time as well.



Although my daughter and I enjoy watching birds in our yard on a nice day, I would never consider myself much of a bird watcher. However, after reading Nesting, I’m not sure I will be able to pass up an opportunity to look for robins in the spring. My point…this would make a lovely book for anyone interested in birdwatching or anyone who might typically look the other way! 

It’s no wonder Nesting has earned starred reviews by School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews and Booklist. Look for this as a possible contender for any number of awards given by the American Library Association!

My favorite wordless picture book of all time to use with upper elementary students is Unspoken, also by Henry Cole. Although Nesting isn’t wordless like Unspoken, they have many of the same qualities. The exquisite illustrations move the story along in a way that allows the reader to infer the context of the story, but to also ask questions that will lead to a better understanding of the Underground Railroad, slavery, and the willingness to take risks. The other similarity in illustrations between the two books include two page spreads that draw the reader to seek out additional details. In Unspoken, you will find the eye of the girl hiding from slave catchers. In Nesting, you’ll find robins eating berries. 

Can you find the eye?

Not a wordless picture book fan?

Try one of my favorite fiction picture books with…you guessed it…birds as the main characters! 

Nerdy Birdy and Nerdy Birdy Tweets Aaron Reynolds and Matt Davies. 

Additional nonfiction to enhance Nesting: 

  • Sounds of Nature: World of Birds by Robert Frank Hunter
  • National Geographic: Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Birds by Julie Beer
  • Audubon Birding Adventures for Kids: Activities and Ideas for Watching, Feeding, and Housing our Feathered Friends by Elliss Wolfson and Margarent Baker
  • Want to connect birds with geography? Try The United Tweets of America: 50 State Birds, Their Stories, Their Glories by Hudson Talbott. 

Looking for more outdoor activities? Grab a pair of binoculars and head outside! You can even make it more official by creating a sketchbook (folding copy paper in half to make a book) to record your findings. If you’re looking to draw more birds to your yard, add some bird feeders to your space! There are many kits available to make your own and many hardware stores offer classes for kids. 

How can you begin to identify the differences in all that chirping? Use this handy website to identify 50 common birds . If your child loves a challenge, strive to increase your birdwatching skills and participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count in February. Check out the Great Backyard Bird Count to learn more.



Introducing Your Favorite Books from Childhood to Your Kids

I won’t lie, when I became pregnant my favorite thing to daydream about was reading books with my kids snuggled on my lap. I had been a teacher and children’s book lover for years and selfishly wanted to create a home environment where reading was a beloved activity. Truthfully, that daydream didn’t include my husband as he doesn’t often read for entertainment. 

Last summer, when my children were 9 and 11, my husband came home with a boxed edition of the first five Hardy Boys books, announcing his intent to read them to the kids, starting with number one, The Tower Treasure. He shared with us his memories of reading these books as a child and how they probably contributed to his future love of CSI, Law & Order, and MacGuyver (the 80’s version, of course). 

My kids viewed the retro look of the book with suspicion. If this book were anything like the first four episodes of MacGuyver we had watched to my husband’s enthusiastic requests, we were all concerned this wouldn’t end well. 

Old books and new puppies.

We’ve heard similar comments from many of our readers and friends. You really want your children to fall in love with the same books you loved as a child. Or you just want to offer your child a way of connecting with you more deeply by peaking into your early years. And while the intentions are good, what happens next can be (but doesn’t have to be!) damaging if we cling to these books from our childhood with white knuckles, refusing to let go.

Tips for Sharing Your Favorite Books from Childhood with your Kids

  • Expect attitude. Your children will likely look at the dated cover art and the old fashioned type face with skepticism or outright hostility. Or, the opposite might happen. They may be overflowing with excitement to experience something you love, only to be let down by the reality of the book once you dig in. Remember, their feelings about these books are valid. Consider saying things like, “It’s ok if you don’t love this as much as I do, I just wanted to see if it interests you.” Or, “Let’s just read a couple of chapters and see if you enjoy it.” It’s like trying new foods… encouraging them to take a few bites and see if you like it is better than force feeding.
  • Take breaks. We usually encourage parents to let their child choose their own books (read our post all about the importance of self selection here), so in this case, you may need to be willing to dip in and out of this book you’ve selected for them. Don’t expect that they’ll want to read it every night. It took my family a full year to finish that Hardy Boys book with my husband. Understandably, they wanted to read their own books at bedtime most nights, and that should be encouraged, not discouraged.
  • Know when to quit. The worst thing that could happen is that your desire to have your child experience this book squashes their interest in reading altogether. Consider this a science experiment. Recognize when it’s time to realize it didn’t work and that your hypothesis was not accurate. Be sure to say things like, “Thank you so much for giving this a try. It means a lot to me that you were willing to listen to a few pages so I could show it to you.” Don’t make them feel like they did anything wrong. Ask them to read a few pages of their favorite book to you to demonstrate your willingness to learn about the books they love, too.
  • Celebrate new vocabulary. Your kids are going to hear some words they haven’t been exposed to. Jalopy and prowler were two from the Hardy Boys that stuck out to my kids. They may find this frustrating, so be ready to stop and offer explanations. Maybe keep a dictionary nearby and consider that part of the adventure of dipping back in time.
  • Point out stereotypes or harmful language and discuss why it is wrong. Our last post was all about microaggressions. Give that a read if you’re not familiar with this. If you haven’t revisited this magical book from your childhood since you were a kid, prepare yourself to possibly be horrified by how marginalized people are treated in these books. (I’m looking at you, Laura Ingalls Wilder.) If you’re worried about it, skim the book in advance. You may decide this book is just not worthy of being introduced to a new generation and is best left in storage in the basement, collecting dust. Appreciate it for what it offered you… a love of reading. But it need not serve that purpose for your children.
  • Prepare to be humbled. I’ll always remember relaxing in my living room, hearing giggles coming from my son’s bedroom while they read the Hardy Boys. When my husband emerged, I learned my kids had given the characters crazy nicknames. They had obviously reached the stage of poking fun at this book. 
  • Our final takeaway, and perhaps most important of all, is that it’s not really about the book. It’s about spending quality time together with your children. That may translate into laughing at your childhood fascinations, or how different life was “way back when.” It might involve tough conversations about how society has changed (or hasn’t changed enough.) And it might mean accepting when your child doesn’t love the book the same way you did.

Our own mother spent countless hours at the dining room table coloring and drawing with us when we were kids. But it’s the time our dad, home from work with pneumonia, colored a picture of a frog out of our favorite coloring book that we also remember. Fair or not, sometimes it’s the unexpected that lodges in the memories more than the day-to-day routines you set up.

Old favorites can become new favorites. Just remember that they don’t have to be and all will be well.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Using Books to Teach Children About Microaggressions

Back in 1990, I was starting 7th grade in a new school in a new town after my family had relocated earlier that summer. I was an avid reader, but I never saw a book on the shelf that would help me understand this scenario: 

Boy: “Where’s your towel?” 

Me: “What?”

Boy: “Yeah, where’s your towel?” Cue lots of snickers.

Later, as I was getting off of the bus, another boy quietly said, “They think you’re Muslim.” 

I am white and was raised Catholic. I do have olive skin tones and tan very easily. The town I had moved to is home to a large mosque, which means a handful of students at my school were Muslim. Being new to town and admittedly unexposed to other faith traditions, I didn’t even know what being Muslim meant. My parents had to explain that asking about my towel was in reference to the hijab worn by some Muslim women. 

While I may have lacked the knowledge to understand the substance of this interaction (and that boy lacked the knowledge to realize skin tone is not an accurate way of determining someone’s religious faith), I knew without a doubt that this line of questioning was meant to cause pain. While I could shrug it off as a misunderstanding, you can imagine the pain comments like this cause Muslims; to have their faith traditions be likened to a bathroom accessory. This is a microaggression.

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Easy and Affordable Rewards that Encourage More Reading

For many parents now working from home, or struggling with safe childcare options, or just dealing with the aftermath of kids who have already been stuck at home for months before summer even started, this time period likely presents many new challenges that most of us have never faced. Encouraging your child to keep reading can feel like one more daunting task on the never-ending to do list. We get it. We feel that way, too, sometimes. Honestly.

Some libraries are stepping up to the plate with fantastic virtual or socially distant summer reading programs. If you haven’t yet checked that out, please do so. My library has done incredible work moving their program online, and it has actually made my work-parenting balance easier this summer. Uninterrupted time to respond to emails while they happily read or do simple activities? Yes, please.

But if your library has not, or it is structured in a way that doesn’t work for your family, there are still simple rewards you can offer your child to keep them reading this summer (and into the fall and winter!)

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Where to Access Free Books for Kids During Covid-19

Depending on where you live, you and your family are likely well over a month into quarantine. Even the most prepared parent or caregiver is probably running low on new, fun books to read. Libraries and schools across the country are closed, most bookstores are closed (although many are offering curbside pickup or delivery, so do try to support them if you are financially able), and even Amazon deliveries are delayed understandably in order to focus on essential shipping needs. 

With many families facing very tight and sometimes dire financial circumstances right now, creative ways to get free books into the hands of children have never been more needed. 

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Reading During the COVID-19 Quarantine: Now is the Time to Raise a Real Reader

With schools (and everything else) closed and lots (and lots and lots) of extra time at home, a golden opportunity has been presented to us parents and caregivers. We have time to read. So do our children. Research has shown us that students are far more likely to read independently and successfully if given time and choice. That’s pretty much all we have right now, right?

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Books and Series To Read When Children Need An Escape

I had just finished reading Erin Entrada Kelly’s beautifully written book Lalani of the Distant Sea when I got a text from my sister about an assignment her fifth grader had just completed: 

He has to write an argumentative essay that names a word of the year, and then defend it. He chose “altercation.” And then wrote paragraphs about mass shootings, everyone fighting about global warming, the potential war with Iran, and immigration. Imagine at 10 years old, the word you think best describes the world is altercation. 

My dreamy thoughts from Lalani quickly came to a halt as I considered this. My sensitive nephew’s world view is just so different from what I remember mine being at age 10. While I could name the current president (Ronald Reagan), my primary troubles were saving enough money for more stickers for my sticker album or wondering if Friday’s episode of Full House would be a rerun. 

It’s not always feasible to offer our children opportunities to escape the current events of both their immediate world and the larger, global world.

But books can be that temporary vacation from reality and offer us (adults and children alike) a much needed respite from the constant barrage of pain and suffering.

Whole worlds are awaiting us between the covers of books. As a long-time advocate of realistic fiction as a tool to develop empathy and understanding, I’ve recently found myself drawn more to fantasy. It’s like my brain and my heart simply need to disconnect from our reality from time to time. 

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Book Review: Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Over the course of my adult years, I’ve dipped in and out of a few book clubs. One of the reasons I love participating in book clubs is that it inevitably inspires me to read books I might not otherwise select myself. Such is the case with Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together. I typically enjoy reading young adult books, but I’m not sure I would have stumbled upon this title without the encouragement of my book club.

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