Only 5 Days Left to Nominate Your Favorite #kidlit and #YA Books for a Cybils Awards! 2018 Nomination categories include:

Follow this link to nominate your favorite books in all our categories. You have until October 15th.

I’m a judge for Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books. Put me to work!

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Linda Urban’s Road Trip with Max and His Mom

Linda Urban’s Road Trip with Max and His Mom (2018) is a clever follow up to Weekends with Max and His Dad (2016). In both books a young Max adjusts to his parent’s recent divorce. Urban’s second installment pivots around a road trip to Pennsylvania that nine-year-old Max and his Mom take to celebrate his Great Great Aunt Victory’s 100th birthday.

Although Max is excited when his mom tells him about their upcoming adventure he also feels guilty. Urban writes: “Max did want to go, but he wished he didn’t have to leave Dad alone on the weekend.” The grown-up sense of responsibility Max has for his father’s feelings is subtly explored in an age-appropriate way. His mother deftly handles the situation, explaining that his Dad wants him to have the experience, even if it means he misses out on a weekend visit.

Although the trip is the primary focus of the book, Max’s obsession with Ernest Shackleton, a British polar explorer, is discussed throughout. Max delivers a class presentation about Shackleton, at one-point mispronouncing Antarctica. His desire to be an explorer like Shackleton inspires lots of giggles as Max creates hardships for himself by wearing his shoes on the wrong feet and not packing a change of clothes for his big road trip.

Urban handles Max’s complex and often conflicting emotions with wit and flair. She also paints a charming picture of a family recreating itself after divorce. This provides a much-needed representation of contemporary family life. This is a lovely book with a diverse cast of minor characters. I recommend it for children confident enough to read on their own but not quite ready for more complex plots. The limited number of characters and simple vocabulary make this a perfect early chapter book for home and school libraries.


J.E. Morris’s new series Maud the Koala

Fish Are Not Afraid of Doctors by J. E. MorrisJ.E. Morris’s new series Maud the Koala introduces early readers to a wonderfully relatable character and helps build visual literacy as well as reading confidence. The series is thoughtfully illustrated in the tradition of comics with action moving across panels and tiers. Full-page spreads allow the reader to become immersed in imagery. Fish are Not Afraid of Doctors is a delightful book about a young koala’s apprehension about visiting the doctor.

Maud the Koala and her mother go see Dr. Susan for a checkup. There is a large fish tank in the waiting room and Maud shares her anxiety about the doctor’s visit by asking her mother if fish are afraid of doctors. When her mother responds that fish do not go to the doctor, Maud exclaims that she wishes she was a fish.

Children with concerns about visiting the doctor will easily identify with Maud, and the text helps calm anxieties by allowing young readers to follow Maud on her journey through her checkup. Towards the end of the visit Dr. Susan tells Maud she is ready for her vaccination, a big word many early readers are likely to stumble over, but one Morris breaks down phonetically as Maud repeats the new vocabulary word.

A fish mobile in the office reminds Maud that she really wishes she was a fish and the reader is then taken on a creative visualization of Maud’s transformation into a fish and exploration of the sea. The visualization exercise is cleverly folded into the story and adds a range of nautical vocabulary words to the mix.

The visualization is interrupted by Dr. Susan who says, “We’re all done.” Maud is surprised because she has not felt any pain. She’s rewarded with a sticker and is no longer afraid of doctors.

An end note to caretakers explains the power of visualization to calm anxieties of children concerned about doctor visits.

I enthusiastically recommend this book! As a mother of a three-year-old I know young children can experience anxiety about the unknown. This text not only provides a good overview of visualization as a creative strategy for coping with anxiety, it walks the reader through Maud’s doctor’s visit, so there will be fewer surprises for her young readers at their checkup.

Reviewed for the Cybils Awards 2018

Debbi Michiko Florence’s Jasmine Toguchi Series

Debbie Michiko Florence’s delightful early chapter book series, about an 8-year-old Japanese American girl named Jasmine Toguchi, provides readers with accessible and engaging snapshots of Japanese cultural traditions as well as universal struggles of growing up in the US.

In Drummer Girl Jasmine is tasked with quickly discovering a talent she can display at the school’s talent show. She has many interests, like collaging and tree climbing, but they’re not the kind of thing live audiences are likely to find entertaining. Jasmine feels like the only student in the third grade without a talent and grows anxious, initially keeping her feelings to herself.

Jasmine soon shares her anxiety with her loving and supportive mother who introduces her to taiko (Japanese drums). In college, Jasmine’s mother played taiko with a woman name Kat who recently moved to the neighborhood. Kat gives Jasmine lessons about the drums and Japanese values. Florence writes: “Kat said taiko was about respect. Respect for space, the equipment, and people, including myself” (p. 72).

Jasmine’s performance is imperfect at the talent show dress rehearsal, but she is committed and, although nervous, participates in the official talent show. Jasmine performs brilliantly.

Afterwards, Jasmine sees a rather arrogant student who surprised herself by performing poorly. She approaches her and reassures her that her performance was fine. After learning that the girl doesn’t enjoy playing her instrument she invites her to learn taiko.

Packed with life lessons, diverse characters, and Japanese cultural traditions, I highly recommend this book for classroom and home libraries. The author’s website has fun activities to complement the series, and readers who fall in love have several other books starring Jasmine to devour next!


Reviewed for the Cybils Awards 2018

Corey R. Tabor’s Fox the Tiger

Written and illustrated by Corey R. Tabor, Fox the Tiger, is an accessible story about a fox who wishes he was big, fast, and sneaky like a tiger. The fox, named Fox, reinvents himself with painted stripes and a new name – Tiger.

Fox’s transformation inspires his friends. Turtle becomes a race car and Rabbit changes into a robot. But, their new identities can’t stand up to the rain. Once the sky opens they change back into a fox, turtle, and rabbit.

A glum Fox is encouraged to find pleasure in his identity with the help of a squirrel who holds foxes in high regard. After hearing that the squirrel thinks foxes are big, fast, and sneaky, the attributes Fox admires in tigers, Fox decides he is happy to be a fox.

Fox the Tiger is a sweet story perfect for building reading competence and self-confidence in young readers who can extract the important lesson that the characteristics they admire in others are likely present in themselves.

Reviewed for the Cybils Awards 2018