A Horse Named Steve

A Horse Named Steve by Kelly Collier is all about a horse who wants nothing more than to be exceptional. And he thinks he’s found a way to be extraordinary when he finds a gold horn lying in the forest. Ol’ Steve fastens the horn to his head and struts around, showing off his new look to all of his friends.

Pretty soon, other animals are tying odds and ends to their heads in an effort to be exceptional, just like Steve. But what will Steve do when he discovers that his gold horn, the item that made him unique and wonderful, has gone missing? Will he mourn the loss of his horn, or will he find a new way to be “exceptionally different?

I love the central message in this book. “Dare to be rare!” In a world that seems to want everyone to look and act like everyone else, that message is needed more than ever. I tell my students on a regular basis that normal is boring and that they should embrace what makes them different. A Horse Named Steve helps me to spread the word in a new, fun way.

This wonderful book, with hilarious words and pictures by Kelly Collier, will be released on April 4th. It is a must-add to any library that serves children.

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, written by Bob Shea and illustrated by Lane Smith, is a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

The town of Drywater Gulch has a bit of a problem with a gang known as the Terrible Toads. What they need is a sheriff. And that’s just what they get. A kid sheriff rides into town–slowly–on his tortoise. Now, this sheriff doesn’t seem to know much about the Toads, but he knows an awful lot about dinosaurs. How can that possibly help the town, though?

As it turns out, this sheriff’s knowledge of dinosaurs may help to catch the Toads and rid the town of these pests for good. How, you ask? Read Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads to find out!

Reading this through the eyes of an adult is very different from reading it as a kid, I imagine. While the book is funny, I think a lot of the humor may go over the heads of most young readers. They may like how the kid uses his knowledge of dinosaurs to fight crime, but I doubt they’d see the understated humor in the book’s situations and dialogue.

I don’t think this book would be my pick for a K5 or 1st grade storytime. Not only wouldn’t my younger readers understand some of the humor, but it’s just a tad uncomfortable having to explain to students why a gang of outlaws might be kissing cattle. (Honestly, I’m not sure why they would be, and I really don’t want to have that conversation with my kiddos.) If students want to take this book home to read with their parents or by themselves, that’s fine, but I will not be handling cattle-kissing questions on my story carpet.

If you’d like to promote this book in your classroom or library, feel free to use the book trailer below.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt was a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award and a National Book Award finalist.

Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers, are the newest Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. They gather information vital to the survival of the swamp, and, should they ever need to, they wake the Sugar Man if the swamp is in danger. Pretty soon, they’ll have to do just that. A band of nasty, vile, feral hogs are on their way to the Sugar Man Swamp, and they’re sure to destroy anything in their path. Our loyal, beloved Scouts simply can’t let that happen. They must find a way to wake the Sugar Man, who has been sleeping for over sixty years.

While Bingo and J’miah are working for–and trying to wake–the Sugar Man, a twelve-year-old boy named Chap is doing his own part to protect the swamp where he lives. An awful man, Sonny Boy Beaucoup, wants to pave over the swamp and create an alligator wrestling theme park. In the process, he’d force Chap and his mom out of their pie-making business and the only home they’ve ever known, not to mention all of the plants and animals that would be destroyed. Chap just can’t let that happen, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep his home…even if that means coming face-to-face with the Sugar Man himself.

As hogs are coming from one direction and theme park developers come from another, Chap and the Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp are both working to save their homes. They’ll have to be both creative and relentless in their quests to protect the swamp.

Will the raccoons wake the Sugar Man in time to beat back the horrible hogs? Will Chap find some way to convince Sonny Boy to abandon his theme park schemes?

Trouble is surely coming for this precious swamp, and only one thing can really set things right. It’s time for the Sugar Man to wake up!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

In Jeff Kinney’s latest installment in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Greg Heffley is wondering if life was really better in the old days. He always hears his parents and his grandfather talking about the “good old days,” but he doesn’t see what’s so good about them. No decent electronics, little privacy…and no baby wipes. It all sounds pretty awful to Greg.

This year, Greg is getting a little taste of the “good old days.” For one thing, his grandfather has moved in. This causes a bit of a shuffle in the Heffley house, which means Greg now shares a room with his little brother. There’s also some added stress because Greg’s dad realizes just how much his kids don’t know how to do themselves. This leads to even more changes, like Greg taking more responsibility for himself…and older brother Rodrick getting a job.

Greg’s mom is also getting into the whole “old school” thing. She’s organizing a city-wide weekend with no electronics. This means no TV, phones, gaming systems…nothing. She wants neighbors to get outside and reconnect with each other. Greg isn’t nearly as enthused as his mother. This can only end badly for him.

And finally, there’s the big field trip his class is taking. One whole week roughing it at Hardscrabble Farms. Greg learns fairly quickly that he’s just not cut out for doing things the “old school” way. He’s a kid that enjoys his modern conveniences…and he’s not the only one.

Join Greg as he attempts to try things the old-fashioned way…and realizes that, though people in the past may have been tougher, being a wimpy kid in the present isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Because I Stubbed My Toe

Because I Stubbed My Toe by Shawn Byous is a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Because I Stubbed My Toe is sure to be a hit with young readers who enjoy Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books.

This charming book shows the chaos that erupts because of one stubbed toe. One little stubbed toe leads to frightened animals, dropped ice cream cones, bee swarms, a bouncy house disaster, stampeding elephants, and it all leads right back to the boy who started it all.

Because I Stubbed My Toe is an excellent book for teaching the concept of cause and effect. It’s a funny, fast read that could inspire children to write similar stories.

Z is for Moose

Z is for Moose, written by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, is a nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Z is for Moose is a funny book that is ideal for any young reader who is learning the alphabet or likes picture books with lots of silliness.

Zebra is trying to put on a production of the alphabet. Moose, though, is impatient for his turn. He interupts other letters wondering if it’s his turn yet, and when he finally gets ready for his big moment with the letter M, he discovers that Zebra has given his spot to a mouse.

Moose is not happy about being replaced, so he goes on a bit of a rampage. He takes over the alphabet and throws everything into a tizzy. Eventually, Zebra gets things back in order. He realizes, however, that he’s hurt Moose’s feelings, and there’s only one way to make things right.

While I’m not sure this book is ideal for read-aloud, I do think it will be a hit with kids, primarily preschool-kindergarten students, who are exploring the alphabet. They’ll enjoy seeing where Moose messes things up, but they’ll still be able to see the alphabet in order. I predict that this book could lead some young readers to create their own crazy ABC books.

Exclamation Mark

Exclamation Mark, written and illustrated by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, is a nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Exclamation Mark, or !, tells the tale of the most exciting (and often overused) punctuation mark. All ! wanted to do was fit in, but, as the saying goes, “He was born to stand out.” He tries everything he can to be like the marks around him, but nothing works.

One day, an encounter with a rather annoying question mark, makes this little exclamation mark snap, and a whole new world opens up to him! He finds his voice, and he learns that it’s okay to be different. Being different is what makes him special.

Along with learning a little about punctuation, I think this charming book could be used to teach kids that it’s okay to be different. (I tell my students constantly that normal is boring.)

I love the simple illustrations in this book, especially that the background on each page is that lovely, elementary writing paper.

This is definitely a book that I will share with my 1st and 2nd grade students. (My K5 kids may not fully grasp punctuation yet.) In older grades, this book could serve as a way to make punctuation just a little more fun.