Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks. ~ Dr. Seuss

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Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express

Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express
by Margaret K. Wetterer (Author), Karen Ritz (Illustrator)


This is a true story of a girl who saved many lives during a raging storm in Iowa in 1881.

Kate Shelley lived with her mother and younger siblings on a farm in Iowa. Their house overlooked the railroad line which ran over a bridge built on top of Honey Creek river.

On July 6th, 1881, a terrible storm raged and hit the Des Moines River valley.  Rain poured all day long. Kate and her family watched as the river water kept rising in the Honey Creek. And soon enough the river flooded the banks and the yard.

Kate ran to help the barn animals. She let the horses go to higher grounds and rescued the piglets and led them indoors into their house. But the rain kept pouring.  Flood water kept creeping closer to their house. It was dark outside now and when the lightning flashed, Kate could see the rail tracks shining in the light. But she wondered about how the bridge itself was holding up in the storm?

Kate Shelley looking at the bridge

As the family sat down for dinner, Kate voiced her concerns. Kate knew that the Midnight Express would pass through Moingona station (near her house) and it would not stop there. She knew that it would cross the bridge over Honey Creek bridge. But was the bridge safe enough?

Shortly after 11:00pm, Kate and her mother heard the railroad men coming by on an engine to check whether the tracks and the bridges were safe for the Midnight Express. Suddenly, Kate heard a terrible crack and a splash. She knew that the bridge had broken!

Kate Shelley bridge cracking

Kate knew that the engine and the railroad men had fallen into the raging river. She knew that she simply had to go and get help to save the men. Not just that, now that the bridge had gone under, she must find a way to stop the Midnight Express carrying large number of passengers from passing the Moingona station.

But will she be able to get there in time? And how will she be able to navigate the thundering storm and pouring rain to get to the station? Kate must fight wind, rain and darkness and make her way over another bridge to get to the station.

Kate Shelley crossing bridge

This true story about bravado and courage of a 15 year old girl, should be a read aloud in every household! Written in simple narrative, the story is easy to understand for young readers.  This is a great story to talk about character development and teach about personality traits. It also makes a great conversation starter for teaching children about all the other people who build their careers around saving lives.

DD and I loved reading this story. We discussed what we could do in times of emergencies and we also talked about how we could help others during trying times.

So many lessons from one true story! 

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Red Kite, Blue Kite

Red Kite, Blue Kite
by Ji-li Jiang (Author), Greg Ruth (Illustrator)

 A tale of optimism

I first came across this book at Non Fiction Monday event hosted by a group of children’s literature bloggers. Perogyo’s lovely blog featured “Red Kite Blue Kite” as a celebration for Father’s Day this year. And since reading her review on the book, I have been waiting to read it myself.

“Red Kite, Blue Kite” is a story of a little boy, Tai Shan and his father, Baba and their love for flying kites. Their Red and Blue kites bob up and down, backwards and forwards. From the rooftops, the city looks small, the people look like ants. Up in the sky the kites fly free. Up on the rooftops, Tai Shan feels free. As they fly their kites, Baba tells Tai Shan stories.

Red Kite Blue Kite together

But hard times are coming. The Cultural Revolution sweeps the country. Tai Shan’s school is shut down and he sees people wearing red armbands everywhere. Families are broken. Tai Shan is separated from his father.

Red Kit Blue Kite going away

Baba is sent to a labor camp and Tai Shan has to go live with a granny near the labor camp. Fortunately, Baba comes to visit Tai Shan every Sunday and then they climb the hills, fly their kites and forget about their worries. Baba tells Tai Shan stories that make him proud.

Red Kite Blue Kite when will you be back

But soon things get worse and Baba is not able to visit Tai Shan anymore. As Tai Shan looks to the sky and flies his Red Kite every day, he wonders when he will be able to see his Baba again?

This is a beautiful poignant tale of family, a tale about parent and child bonding. The setting is a dark one, the Chinese Cultural Revolution was a time when millions of people were persecuted and a large number of population was displaced. But “Red Kite Blue Kite” focuses on hope, on optimism. It introduces an important event in history through Tai Shan’s point of view. Ji-li Jiang’s narrative is simple yet strong. Written in first person from Tai Shan’s point of view is an amazing way to engage an early reader into the tale.

Red Kite Blue Kite together at last

Greg Ruth’s pen and watercolor illustrations feature realistic depiction of the events. The images keep the strong negative events in the background, highlighting the more positive aspects or emotions in the foreground.

It is easy to see why this book deserves merit. Whether you read it because it is a powerful tale about a father and son bond, or because it is about a historic event, you will be moved.

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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The Enormous Crocodile

The Enormous Crocodile
by Roald Dahl (Author), Quentin Blake (Illustrator)

Wickedly funny!

The Enormous Crocodile is hungry. He decides to eat a nice juicy child for lunch. So the wicked croc sets out to find some children to eat. On the way to the other side of the jungle, where the humans live, the Enormous Crocodile bumps into a number of animals who live in the jungle.

He meets Trunky the Elephant, Humpy-Rumpy the Hippo, Muggle-Wump the Monkey and Roly-Poly Bird. To each of them, he reveals his clever” plans to catch the juicy children. Each one tries to stop the nasty croc, but the Enormous Crocodile slips away.

The Enormous Crocodile Jungle Animals

Finally, the crocodile reaches his destination and plays out his “clever” plan. As the children approach the “croc-in-hiding“, the animals decide to stop him before it’s too late! But can these animals thwart the villainous croc’s plans before it’s too late?

The Enormous Crocodile Run

Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile is witty and well paced. Written in a conversation style, this book makes for a great read aloud. This hilarious tale of a silly and nasty crocodile is an instant child pleaser Smile Quentin Blake’s pen and ink watercolor illustrations add to the dark humor. We loved looking forward to the croc’s next trick and how it would be foiled!

The Enormous Crocodile BackCover

And as for the end.. well, what could you expect from a “Roald Dahl” book! Wink

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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America’s Champion Swimmer : Gertrude Ederle

America’s Champion Swimmer : Gertrude Ederle
by David A. Adler (Author), Terry Widener (Illustrator)

A story about determination

Trudy learned to swim after a nearly fatal incident when she fell into a pond and nearly drowned. Her father taught her to swim and she soon mastered the dog paddle. Soon she had mastered more advanced strokes. She LOVED to swim Smile

Americas Champion Learning

By age 15, she had won her first big race. And a year later, Trudy became the first woman ever to swim 17 miles from Lower Manhattan to Sandy Hook in New Jersey.  Not only that, she had beat the men’s record for the same swim!

Americas Champion Long Swim

By 1925, Trudy had accumulated 29 US and World records. She now set her sights on the ULTIMATE challengeswimming the English Channel. The English Channel was tough! With choppy, cold waters spreading out across 20 miles from England to France, only a handful of men had ever accomplished this. And when people learned about Trudy’s ambitious goal, they laughed at the idea of a “weaker sex” even dreaming up of such a task.

So on Aug 18, 1925, Trudy stepped into the cold waters of the Channel and fought the strong currents for almost 7 hours. She was less than 7 miles to shore before her trainer  pulled her out fearing she had swallowed too much water. But Trudy did not give up! She tried again next year.

Americas Champion Rescue

This time Trudy was prepared for the cold waters. Coated with lanolin and heavy grease and equipped with special swim goggles, Trudy stepped into the Channel once more. In the calm ocean waters, Trudy swam on at a rapid pace. But around 1:30 in the afternoon, it started to rain. The rain turned into a strong wind. The waters grew choppy and within a short hours Trudy was swimming against 20 feet high waves!

Americas Champion Waves

Her trainer yelled for her to give up. Her father and sister worried about her being all alone in the waters. Would she be able to finish? Will she have to give up on her dream?

Americas Champion Swimmer Gertrude

“America’s Champion Swimmer ” is an in depth account of Gertrude Ederle’s life and accomplishments. Trudy’s story will appeal to little girls and boys who enjoy swimming as a sport. As we read through the events of the Channel swim specifically, we found ourselves wanting to look ahead to see what happened to Trudy next! David Adler does a superb job of making this story an exciting page turner! The illustrations show vividly her struggle in the Channel waters. The turbulent dark skies and choppy waves and the almost vanishing Gertrude have been captured beautifully by Terry Widener in his impressionist styled paintings. An inspiring read-aloud!

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Lulu’s Hat

Lulu’s Hat
by Susan Meddaugh (Author, Illustrator)

Adventure Into Deep Magic Space!

Its widely believed that in True Magic Families one member of the family in each generation is born with The Magic Touch! It’s in the genes. Either you have it or don’t.

Each summer Uncle Jerry, the great magician in the family, would invite a niece or nephew to be his assistant. This was a unique opportunity for both to find out who would be the next great magician!

So when it was Lulu’s turn that summer, to volunteer and work with Uncle Jerry, everyone simply laughed. They urged Uncle Jerry to re-consider.. because after all Lulu was adopted! It couldn’t be her!

But Uncle Jerry was also a kind man. He let Lulu have her turn and invited her to join him as his assistant. Uncle Jerry showed her some simple tricks that she could perform to “open” the Magic Show. But Lulu was all thumbs. Still Lulu was determined to try and do her best.

First, she needed an outfit. She tried on several..

Lulus Hat dressing up

but none of them really “fit” her. Finally, she dug deep into the trunk, and pulled out a Hat!
She put in on and said “I like this!”.

Lulu's Hat finding it

Little did Lulu know that this was indeed a magician’s hat. A hat that would help her to do all the simple tricks her uncle showed her AND all of her Uncle’s difficult tricks too! Curious, Lulu wondered where this Hat came from? And when Lulu’s dog jumps inside her hat, where does he go to?

Lulu's Hat trying tricks

One day as Lulu performed her trick, her dog jumped in on cue but did not return when he was called for. So Lulu decides to jump in to rescue the dog herself. That’s when many strange things start to happen.. Will Lulu find her dog in Deep Magic Space? And will she and her dog be able to find their way back out to the Real World?

Lulu's Hat Hereboy

This is a great read aloud or self read for older kids. Susan Meddaugh, the authoress famous for her “Marth Speaks” books, has written a hilarious, witty and truly original chapter book for kids of age 6+. We loved the simple illustration that added to the story telling. Lulu’s character is very relatable as she tries to find the truth behind her family and the magical hat. This good hearted girl will want you to grab a magic hat and try some tricks of your own!

Find out here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Sloths: a little book of SLOTH

Sloths: a little book of SLOTH
by Lucy Cooke (Author)

 Warning : Cuteness Overload!

 “In a sleepy corner of Costa Rica there’s an upside down world where sloth is a virtue and not a sin…”  writes Lucy Cooke in her hilarious, stunning photographic picture book staring the laziest and most adorable creatures on the planet –

the SLOTH!

A little book of sloth Collage

Slothville” is an idyllic sanctuary for these sleepy animals. It is home to hundreds of rescued, injured and orphaned sloths who find comfort and solace in each other’s company and that of the Sloth Whisperer Judy Arroyo.

This book is about the gentle adorable “Xenarthrans” ( no they are not alien !! it simply means that they can’t control their body temperatures like other mammals. And that is why they like to bask in the sun!) Inside the book you will find not just pictures of cute babies, but also definite facts about them. For example, at the sanctuary, they have 2 types of sloths, The Bradypus or three-fingered sloths like baby sloth Buttercup here…

A little book of sloth Buttercup

or The Choloepus, the two fingered sloth like baby Mateo here..

A little book of sloth Mateo

Lucy Cooke writes the story of the sloths in an easy going conversational manner making it a perfect read aloud for kids. At the same time, she writes this book with so much of love and reverence, that it is easily infectious. From the many, many requests to read it out aloud, it is safe to assume this book is an instant winner in our house

The book has two end notes. The first one is a “year book” of the sloths currently at the sanctuary. The second end note cautions readers about the fact that these gently creatures are not meant to be pets and need to be healed and returned to the wild.

A beautiful book for readers of every age.

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Elephant and Piggie Series

Elephant and Piggie Series
by Mo Willems (Author, Illustrator)

THE most checked out books from our library!

We LOVE Elephant and Piggie! We can’t get enough of them. Every time we head to the library, we make a beeline to the “Elephant and Piggie” section. Why? Because we LOVE Elephant and Piggie Smile Do you want to know why?

(1) Simple words and sentences. This series is meant for early readers to really enjoy reading books. In his interview, Mo Willems declares that “my primary goal was to create stories that were funny and exciting despite their being early readers”. So after reading a ton of Elephant and Piggie books, do we think this series achieves this goal? Yes, yes and YES!

(2) Speech Bubbles. This series is illustrated like a comic book strip but for early readers. Mo Willems has simply mastered the art of illustrating it with speech bubbles. He uses the speech bubble to express emotion (happy, sad, surprised, mad) …

loud and soft voices..

Elphant and Piggie Loud and Soft

pauses and expressions (such as exclaiming!)…

Elephant and Piggie Expressions

and writing plays (writing in speech bubbles helps to write like playwrights do) and understanding power of dialogues

Elephant and Piggie Speech Bubbles

 (3) Visual Cues. Have you noticed the “white space”.. this technique very popular and effective in the world of illustrating, is brilliantly put to use in this series. I love that there is absolutely no distraction to the eye. While reading, you are focused wholly and solely on the characters, their emotion and words.. Mo Willems executes this brilliantly and this technique just simply WORKS!

(4) Encouraging Read Aloud skills. While many books qualify as great read-alouds, this series works especially well at our home. Also, in this case, the read aloud is done by the child! DD loves to read aloud in all pose and manner, with lots of gusto and enough expression to make the grumpiest person smile! She will stomp her feet and twirl around, lift her eyebrows and make every kind of silly sound she can while reading  aloud. It is NO wonder that this series is SO popular and entertaining Smile

(5) Books on Friendship. Finally, this series is about friendship. As the cover says..

Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.
Gerald and Piggie are best friends

The two friends love to spend time together. They are different and their personalities reflect through the stories and illustrations. It is hard not to fall in love with their silly adventures. And the stories are so simple and relatable, that it doesn’t surprise me that even the youngest of the young truly enjoy them.

Perfect Vocabulary, mind-bending stories and hilarious adventures.. WE WANT MORE!!

A list: (as of July 2013)

1. A Big Guy took My Ball!

2. lets Go for a Drive!

3. Listen to my Trumpet!

4. Happy Pig Day!

5. Should I Share my Ice Cream?

6. I Broke My Trunk!

7. We Are in a Book!

8. Can I Play Too?

9. I am Going!

10. Pigs make me Sneeze!

11. Elephants Cannot Dance!

12. Watch me Throw the Ball!

13. Are you Ready to play outside?

14. I Love my New Toy!

15. Today I Will Fly!

16. I Will Surprise My Friend!

17. My Friend is Sad!

18. I am Invited to a Party!

19. There Is a Bird on Your Head!

Which one is your favorite?

Find these here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Illusions: 13 Art Illusions Children Should Know

Illusions: 13 Art Illusions Children Should Know
by Silke Vry (Author, Illustrator)

 Art and Illusion for children

We stumbled across this book at our library and were delighted to learn about some very interesting tricks. In “13 Art Illusions Children should know”, art historian and archaeologist, Silke Vry has collected art work that cheats the eye and bewilders the mind!

“Artists are magicians and tricksters!” begins the book. Inside you will find 13 Illusions or “optical tricks” ranging from photo-realism and Surrealism to clever use of paints, perspectives and light.

Each illusion is spread out over a few pages. Inside, lively text explains in simple terms the “What”, “When”, “Who”, “Where” and “Why” of the illusion.

For example: In the section “Deceive the Eye” the author describes Tromp l’oeil (art that deceives the eye). The deception here was to startle the viewer into believing that the boy is actually trying to climb out of the picture! But how could that be? Since this is after all a flat painting!

13 Art Illusions Children Should Know_Escaping_criticism

In the section “Pictures of Depth”, we encounter the famous “Relativity”. The painter M. C. Escher painted and drew this never-ending staircase as an optical illusion. This impossibly clever construction was made to confuse and amuse you at the same time. It made us scratch our heads as we tried to figure out where the scene begins and ends!


Although this book is chock FULL of such clever art work, our favorite was the section on “Concealed Messages” or anamorphosis.

The painting below “The Ambassadors” (National Gallery, London) is around six feet high and wide. It is almost life like with the 2 serious people standing alongside objects that feel strangely real. The two also look at you as if you are in the same room with them!

But wait! Look at this picture closely — can you spot the optical Illusion in the scene?

(Answer below the picture — highlight the words with your cursor to reveal)

 13 Art Illusions Children Should Know_Ambassadors

(Answer: View the picture from a particular vantage point- in our case, tilt the book and look at it from just below the elbow of the man in the black robe – look at the bottom of the page and see the strange figure in the center bottom is a SKULL!)

This book was so much fun! We waited to show the illusion to all our friends and explain to them what was coming up. One can’t help but fall for the trickery in the book. We loved holding the book upside down, sideways and even right up to our noses!

Don’t miss this one!

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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thumbnail The Enormous Crocodile article post
thumbnail America’s Champion Swimmer : Gertrude Ederle article post
thumbnail Lulu’s Hat article post
thumbnail Sloths: a little book of SLOTH article post
thumbnail Elephant and Piggie Series article post
thumbnail Illusions: 13 Art Illusions Children Should Know article post