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Book Review: Crafting With Nature Series

Flower, Leaf, and Seed Crafts round out the series.

Title: Crafting with Nature series, specifically Rock Crafts and Stick Crafts by Betsy Rathburn and Sand Crafts by Rebecca Salbeko

Publisher: Bellwether Media

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 3rd through 8th grade, though it depends on the level of adult assistance

This unique crafting series for kids not only offers up crafting how-tos with objects you’re likely to find in your own backyard, also included are fun facts and additional background building relating to each craft. For example, included next to the directions for building a stick owl (p. 6 in Stick Crafts), is information about owls, with key vocabulary words in bold, such as “talons” and “roost.” A glossary in the back allows for quick reference. 

This owl could make for an adorable ornament or window hanging too!

Safety tips and guidelines some children might not consider appear at the front of each book. Text boxes also appear, giving the reader additional tips or facts. The crafts are built by following the numbered directions and often have matching pictures for the more complicated steps. The needed materials always have a list with pictures included, so even non-readers can help hunt for the materials. 

We know more than a few grandparents who would treasure a frame like this one!

These books haven’t seem to gain the attention of many magazine reviews or awards, I like the fact that they are only available in with a library binding option but without the steep price, on Amazon. 

My kids know I’m a big fan of crafts, but only if they are simple and won’t require purchasing materials that will be seldom-used. While many of the items are found in backyards, there are times a trip to the store might be necessary, especially if you don’t own a glue gun. Perhaps that’s why these are the first craft books we’re promoting on Raising Real Readers.

In a world full of glitzy-glittery-unicorn-inspired kits found in the endcaps of most chain stores, these crafts bring back the basics…that beauty is often found in your own backyard, with materials you already own. 

I also appreciate the universal appeal that these crafts bring. I could just as easily see my son interested in making these items as my daughter. We plan on trying the Rock Message Magnets (p. 10 in Rock Crafts) over Thanksgiving break. The kids have decided they will create a symbol code and write messages that can only be cracked with the code sheet. 

While creating your own sand mandala sounds fun, you might check out this incredible time lapse video! Point out the way math, science, and art contribute to beauty as the Tibetan monks create this mandala. Also, there are many brands that offer mandala coloring books for kids, should you choose to skip the sand and go for the crayon instead. I love this one, since it includes affirmations as well.

One of my favorite crafts featured in Rock Crafts required nothing but a pile of rocks, a ruler, and a hard surface! Stone cairns, or piles of stones used for landmarks, have been a family favorite for years. We love to find them in parks as we hike. I hadn’t thought about making towers of them around home, measuring to see the tallest we could make one before!  The book even shares about the Llano Earth Art Festival, where rock stacking championships are held! After we tried our hand at it, my son found this video of the European Stone Stacking Championship! We were mesmerized and plan to keep trying. Don’t have rocks nearby? Want to try this in an educational space, without the mess? Try these wooden “rocks” designed for stacking: 

Like the idea behind these books? Here are links to each of the six in the series, plus some others we like! 






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Reading Your Way Through The Holidays

How many years in a row have you thought something along the lines of, “I wish we could sit around snuggling up and reading together as a family, but the holidays are just too busy.” Well, if your calendar looks anything like ours, some free time has definitely opened up in 2020. Cancelled parties and events, scaled back celebrations… plus all the time you typically spend just preparing for all this stuff is now available, too. We’re trying hard to look on the bright side and embrace what new traditions this might offer our families.

I know it’s still just mid November, though. And we have one very clear rule in our family, ingrained into our way of thinking since we were very young: Thanksgiving is the best of all the holidays and NOT just a stepping stone to the others. Well, Mom and Dad, it’s 2020 and we’re breaking the rules. Whether it’s the threat of shipping delays due to COVID, or concerns about in-person book browsing in a pandemic, this year it’s more important than ever to add books to the collection of a loved one in a timely and safe manner. And take advantage of a simpler, more manageable holiday schedule.

Let us be clear. We firmly believe it’s not about the number of gifts under the tree. It’s about the time you set aside to make the gifts meaningful, whether it’s in the personal way you selected the book or the time you will set aside to enjoy the book together. 

This is why books make a fantastic gift. Books are meant to be read. Whether it’s under the blankets on a cold winter night with a flashlight or cuddled together on the couch or with a sibling or shared with a friend, it’s the actual joy of reading that is the truest gift. And isn’t that something to be thankful for this year, more than ever before?

From now until Christmas, we’ll be sharing book recommendations each day on our social media pages. (We also have a frequently updated list of book recommendations here.) Be sure you’re following us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We love this community of readers we’re building… so as always, please share your own family favorites in the comments on our posts, and be sure to share some of ours with your circle as well!

We’ll provide Amazon links to make online shopping easier (and a very small percentage of your purchase supports our blog). However, if you have the flexibility, we really encourage you to support your local, independent bookstore. Many have been greatly impacted by the pandemic and current economic crisis. Don’t have one nearby? You can still support those in other towns using Bookshop

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Book Review: What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo?

Title: What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo?

Author: Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Copyright date: April, 2020

Age range: preschool-elementary

Lexile reading level: AD900L

What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo? Shares unique ways zoo staff contribute to the care of the animals, and why these actions are important. For example, you might tickle a tapir with a rake to emulate the sensation of rubbing against a tree (to remove parasites), create puzzles for meerkats to find their food (to encourage natural behavior) or brush a hippo’s teeth (to help avoid cavities, of course!). 

Bonus alert! Teach alliteration with many of the pages, like “Tickle a tapir!”

Each page begins with a verb (rub, shine, kick, pick, etc), an animal, and a short description of the activity. With a white background and the layered, textured illustrations, the animals pop off the page and often appear to be in motion. 

As the pages begin to become predictable, Jenkins and Page shake things up with a three-page spread showcasing how the employees work together to weigh a python! 

Young children often love the cadence and rhythm Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a _____ a _____ books. I found myself generating that same pattern, only instead of silly endeavors, I was shining a tortoise’s shell (to keep it from drying and cracking, of course!) and rubbing an aardvark’s ears (with sunscreen to keep from those pesky sunburns!). 

Backmatter matters! In this case, we’ve got a timeline, a map, and lists. The next page gives additional information on the featured animals.

I particularly liked the way Jenkins and Page avoid using the word “zookeeper.” The actions described may be performed by a wide range of zoo employees, from picking up panda poop to measuring a guitar shark, and will allow children visiting a zoo to notice all of the employees, not just the highly trained that may be less visible to the public.  

Are your Eric Carle fans growing up? Do you have kids who love to make collages? Love to add to their knowledge of animals? Jenkins’ books are perfect for your kids!

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page, a husband and wife team, won a Caldecott Award for their work What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? so their latest collaboration caught our attention.

Jenkins has written over 30 books for children, most of them with an animal theme. His books are usually focused on a very specific aspect, such as the attributes of animal eyes, comparisons between animal eggs, or the ways tails help animals. These unique angles make these books great for classroom read-alouds or for multiple family members because there is something for everyone! I find myself waiting for some of my favorite animals to make a guest appearance in each book! 

While this book was published in 2020 and has not (yet?) won any major awards, it has received great reviews. Booklist says, “…Clever, engaging, and always informative, this will be welcomed by animal-lovers and fans of this duo.” School Library Journal writes, “Textured collage illustrations bring the animals to life and create a sense of authenticity…. Young readers will learn about an underrepresented profession in this title, which also encourages a love of animals.”

Spend time on this author’s website, where the icons are recognizable images from his books! We love this video where Jenkins shares his process for illustrating his book, Move.

If possible, spend time at a zoo after reading this book. We guarantee that your child’s experience will be enhanced as they look for the ways a zoo employee has made an impact. Can’t make it to a zoo? Most local zoos have great websites where you can observe feedings or other happenings. 

Looking for a way to practice some basic research skills? Each family member can choose their favorite animal from the book and share what they already know, what they’ve learned, and what they’d like to know more about that animal. While the internet is always an easy choice, you can use this opportunity to head (virtually or in-person) to your local public library to explore non-fiction books on the animal. Show your child how to use the online catalog to search by call number as a great introduction to library organization!

Also by Steve Jenkins:

As always, let us know what YOU and YOUR children think of the books we’ve included!

Want to know what we’re reading, what we’ve loved, and what’s sitting in our Amazon cart? Check out our GoodReads bookshelves! Got a children’s book in mind that you’d like to see us review? Leave a comment or email us at 

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Book Review: We Are Water Protectors

Title: We Are Water Protectors

Written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: The publisher says ages 3-6, but the book brought tears to my eyes. This book is truly for anyone. 

A young Sioux girl recalls the story her grandmother told, featuring the dire warning that a black snake would come, contaminating the water source, thus causing harm to all the animals and land. The young girl decides to take a stand in order to protect the water sources and provide safety for all living things. 

The “black snake” a.k.a. the pipeline.

While this is a simple story, there is more to it than meets the summary. The black snake? It’s really an oil pipeline. 

The illustrations are truly stunning. If We Are Water Protectors  doesn’t make it to the award podium, I’ll be shocked. The New York Times writes: “Powerful….Goade’s illustrations combine a mystical mood with the lovely fierceness of a child seeking justice.” It has earned starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Bookpage. Currently, it ranks #1 in Children’s American Folk Tales and Myths, #2 in Children’s Native American Books, and #5 in Nature Conservation, and with 338 reviews, it has a 4.9/5 rating. It has a 4.61/5 rating on Goodreads with 787 reviews. 

You see, this book isn’t just a folk tale, the main character is a social justice poster child. Booklist writes Goade’s watercolor illustrations fill the spreads with streaming ribbons of water, cosmic backdrops, and lush natural landscapes…. Lindstrom’s spare, poetic text flows with the “river’s rhythm.” Written in response to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, famously protested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe―and others―these pages carry grief, but it is overshadowed by hope in what is an unapologetic call to action.”

The movement and flow of water, and it’s importance, it’s very clear in Goade’s artwork. Not only does it progress the story, she shows the reader that without clean water, nothing will live. 

This sentence appears throughout the book as an important reminder.

The repetition helps to drive home a feeling of tribal chanting or a coming together. The repetitive text, seen below, secures the reader to the issue and that interconnected bond between the tribe, the water, and the animals. 

If you think your children are too young to learn about environmental issues, think again. The two page spread, clearly a scene taken from Standing Rock, will feel empowering to people in every generation. 

“The black snake is in for the fight of its life.”

Additional information, including a glossary, and words from the author and illustrator are critical in continuing the conversation.

The backmatter includes additional information and perspective from the author and illustrator, both current members of tribal organizations. 

During this month of November, classrooms across the country will no doubt continue making traditional crafts. In many preschool classes, children will dress as pilgrims and native people, in headdresses and brown paper vests. Educators (and parents) need to be more aware of the modern stories affecting native people, from pipelines to poverty, but also highlight all of the ways they celebrate, from the traditional to the modern. Consider adding these books to collections, from classroom to library to home. 

Fry Bread, by Kevin Noble Malliard, a winner of the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, and a 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor Winner, is told through repetition and allows for the reader to see that eating fry bread, wherever they may live, is a tradition that stands the test of times. 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorrell, shares a year in the life of the Cherokee, through the seasons. Traditions, from those specific to the Cherokee, to those most are familiar with, allow the reader to realize we’re all a bit more alike than different. Need more convincing? Check out these stats: 2019 Sibert Honor Book, 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Book, NPR’s Guide To 2018’s Great Reads, 2018 Book Launch Award (SCBWI), Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2018, School Library Journal Best Books of 2018.

Comparing these books would be a wonderful way to seek out themes. Preparing a meal of fry bread, with a clean glass of water, with our families and friends, would combine aspects of all of these books and serve as a reminder that for generations, the simple act of being together and sharing a meal is truly something to be thankful for. 

In addition to taking the pledge on the last page of the book, consider sharing these short video clips with your children. They will provide images that might dispel stereotypes and also further educate on why children have a strong opinion against the pipeline. You can sign the petition!

As always, let us know what YOU and YOUR children think of the books we’ve included!

Want to know what we’re reading, what we’ve loved, and what’s sitting in our Amazon cart? Check out our GoodReads bookshelves! Got a children’s book in mind that you’d like to see us review? Leave a comment or email us at 

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 

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Book Review: Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Title: Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice

Written by Nikki Grimes, a NY Times bestselling author

Illustrated by Laura Freeman, a Corretta Scott King Honoree

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 4-8

With Kamala Harris becoming the first Black and South Asian woman to be nominated for the Vice Presidency, a children’s book biography was begging to be included on shelves wherever kids search for books. Her story is told from the time her parents met through the end of her own presidential run in the Democratic primary last year, but ends open-ended in a way that leaves the reader feeling that Harris wasn’t leaving the Washington spotlight for long. This story is told from a fictional mother’s point-of-view to her young daughter, Eve, who had come home from school citing a boy who had told her that girls could never be president. It’s then that the mother tells the story of Kamala, with Eve interrupting every few pages with questions or statements. 

Personally, I found the narration of Harris’s story as told by the mother and Eve a distraction. I think many young children (the intended audience being as young as four) could be confused, especially in the beginning of the book, assuming that Eve and her mother were Kamala and her mother.

I was also disappointed that Harris’s marriage to Doug Emhoff and her role as “Mamala” to his two children was left out. Her marriage is included in the timeline in the back matter, but it’s done in a confusing way. 

Although I felt I already knew quite a lot about Harris, I still learned new details from the book, including the fact she moved from California to Montreal during her teenage years for her mother’s job. We also learn that her parents divorced at a young age. This makes Harris a very relatable character to children.

Learning the name Kamala means “lotus flower,” I found myself looking carefully at the artwork for the ways Freeman included the flower and Grimes referred back to it throughout the book.

I think kids would be very interested in her story of protesting the rules of her apartment complex with her sister when they weren’t allowed to play soccer. 

With her incredible accomplishments, this book is important example to show kids who may not see this type of representation that children of color (and those with parents from different parts of the world) can do tremendous things. 

This book, despite its flaws, should be read aloud to school-age children not just because of Harris’s unique role in our nation’s history, but because the art work has much to offer and her diverse heritage should be celebrated. 

Check out these other timely books. 

In Superheroes Are Everywhere, a NY Times bestseller, Kamala Harris wrote about all of the superheroes that influenced her success and explores the idea that anyone can be a superhero, including the child reading the book. With a Lexile level of 640, this book is a better jumping off point than Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice. 

Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, written by Meena Harris, Kamala’s niece, tells the story of how young sisters Kamala and Maya work to turn an empty courtyard into a playground for other kids. This book has earned lots of praise by celebrities and is also a NY Times bestseller. 

If your child enjoyed hearing stories or seeing illustrations of Harris as a child, add Joey: The Story of Joe Biden by Dr. Jill Biden (Simon and Schuster, 2020. Ages 4-8) to your must-read list. 

If your Government 101 class seems like eons ago, read What is a Presidential Election? By Douglas Yacka with your kids. This book, part of the well-known and much-loved Who Is/Was, What Is/Was series, explains the differences in parties, the confusing electoral college, and Inauguration festivities. 

While Kamala Harris: Rooted in Justice hasn’t won awards (yet?), it has a 4.6/5 star rating on Amazon and a 4.18/5 rating on Goodreads. School Library Journal says it’s “worthy of addition to children’s biography collections” and Booklist claims it’s an “important biography.” (Booklist, August, 2020) Publisher’s Weekly said “Lyrical prose makes the text effortlessly readable . . . In multitextured digital art, Freeman succeeds in creatively capturing a range of Harris’s expressions and experiences, exemplified by a layered portrait of her life and legacy. Notably, Grimes covers Harris’s presidential run and withdrawal, leaving young readers with an uplifting message of perseverance and agency.” — Publisher’s Weekly, July 2020

Consider showing your children photographs of Harris, including ones on her personal website and the Biden/Harris site.

Better yet, share the introduction of her from the Democratic National Convention, so children can see photos of her family mentioned in the book and her husband and stepchildren, who are sadly not mentioned in the story.

Another way to better relate to Harris: try some of the same activities mentioned in the book! Attend a demonstration that is important to your family (or better yet, start one of your own, even if it’s just in your front yard!). Kamala and her sister liked to create change, so think about something in your community that needs work- from picking up trash to fundraising for a cause, and involve your children in the process. 

Homeschooling or looking for some practice in the art and science of research? Choose another leader from the book to research, from Thurgood Marshall to Shirley Chisholm, the book is not short on ideas! 

As always, let us know what YOU and YOUR children think of the books we’ve included!

Want to know what we’re reading, what we’ve loved, and what’s sitting in our Amazon cart? Check out our GoodReads bookshelves! Got a children’s book in mind that you’d like to see us review? Leave a comment or email us at 

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. 

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Book Review: The Problem with Problems

Title: The Problem with Problems

Author: Rachel Rooney

Publisher: Rodale Kids, New York

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 2-5 years…but really, anyone on the struggle bus

Lexile reading level: suggested 4-7 on Kirkus Reviews years, no Lexile found

Anxiety? Worries? Butterflies? Nerves? Problems? No matter what these big feelings are called in your house, there’s no doubt that teaching your child how to handle them can be tough. We get it. We’ve been there. Talking from experience, we burned through a LOT of books about anxiety at different points with our children. With each read, we hoped one would be the perfect combination or text and visual support that our kids could latch onto. In short, we think this is the book that would have done it. 

Rachel Rooney, a former special education teacher, helps children attach a face with a feeling, in the form of blobby, colorful monsters that annoy and keep the kids from being happy. One of the best ways to introduce new vocabulary words to kids is to have a corresponding picture in which to associate the word. Rooney does just that, which would certainly help when the image of a butterfly doesn’t exactly fit the feeling your child is struggling to overcome. 

Whether the kids in the story are fighting over a toy, feeling lonely, or worried about trying something new, Rooney gives directions in simple, yet direct text. This is important. From years of training, it’s important to know that when a child is upset or having a meltdown, one of the worst things the adult in the room can do is overtalk. Calm, consistent, messaging is key. 

One of the Raising Real Reader kids was famous for asking, “But what if…” during the anti-anxiety talks. Rooney seems to anticipate those “what ifs” by taking the reader from a start with this approach to a “and if that doesn’t work, try this” approach, a few times over. I love what that says to kids, like, “I hear you. I understand you know these are complicated emotions. There needs to be a back up plan in case step one doesn’t work.”

Even if your child is as carefree as can be, this book should be shared. Every child will most likely face each scene depicted in the book at some point or another. A discussion of this book will allow you to feel like your child is better equipped. Ask him or her to recall the monsters in the book and some of the various strategies Rooney gives for sending those guys packing. Many times kids just need to be reminded that they have a choice in how to handle conflict or worry. 

The diverse group of children featured in this book face monsters that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. 

Social stats for this book publishes in 2020 are strong, with 4.9/5 stars on Amazon, 3.96/5 stars on Goodreads.

Kirkus Reviews states, “The slippery concept of “problem” aside, rhyming verse and peppy illustrations make for a fun and funny ride.” In summary, Kirkus felt that some of the strategies were not sustainable for legitimate problems, such as ““Some you can sleep on. They wake in the night, / then quietly tiptoe and slip from your sight.” While I understand the point, for many kids, this is simply what happens. What is a big deal one day, dissolves later simply by the passing of time. Clearly this isn’t the case for serious problems, but who hasn’t experienced a post-preschool meltdown only to realize after waking up from nap time the child no longer even remembers what happened?

Other picture books we’ve tried and also recommend for those with a case of the worries: 

Ready to work through some nagging issues with a workbook style text? Try these: 

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What-to-Do Guides for Kids)
A Smart Girl's Guide: Worry: How to Feel Less Stressed and Have More Fun (Smart Girl's Guides)

While the pictures in this book will inspire, we feel it’s important for kids to process a current problem out loud or on paper after reading this book. Take out some paper and crayons, and draw out some examples of problems in your own lives. Yep, you too. Pick a strategy from the book and decide how to handle it. Model what you will do if that strategy doesn’t work. 

We also have tried many of the activities listed on the Therapy Basics website.

While our kids have mainly outgrown the separation anxiety that plagued our families, it’s important to think about how books, images, words, and activities can help set kids on a lifelong trajectory to becoming problem-slaying masters! Start with this book.

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Want to know what we’re reading, what we’ve loved, and what’s sitting in our Amazon cart? Check out our GoodReads bookshelves! Got a children’s book in mind that you’d like to see us review? Leave a comment or email us at 

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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.  


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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.



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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.

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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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