Category: older children

Book Recommendation: “An Environmental Guide from A to Z” (Tim Magner)

By , November 16, 2010 3:08 pm

There are a lot of junky books out there, but every now and then, an unknown gem comes my way and makes me very thankful that I get to review books on occasion!  An Environmental Guide from A to Z is just such a book.

Typical A-B-C- books are usually geared towards babies and toddlers and often leave older readers and adults cold.  This book is a happy exception.

Picture an A-B-C book for older children with each letter representing an environmental or nature-related concept or important person.  Each word is fully explained in easy to understand terms and is beautifully illustrated by Aubri Vincent-Barwood.  “D is for Darwin,” “F is for Fossil Fuels, ”  “I is for the Inuit Eskimos,”  “R is for Reduce and Reuse.”

Each letter also has a “Did you know?” section with an interesting fact or two related to the topic.  For example, in the “B is for Bees and Insects” section:  “A bee’s buzz comes from their wings flapping 200 times per second!”

I even learned a few things:  “Q is for Vo Quy,” “L is for Paolo Lugari” (read the book for more information) or “the average ‘piece of food’ travels 1,500 miles before it reaches your mouth….”  How about:  “with solar panels, Germany has nearly cut their use of coal in half” and “Denmark gets more than 20% of its electrical power from wind farms.”  I love it when I find a well-written childrens’ book that actually also teaches me a thing or two.

Perhaps my favorite part of the book is that it doesn’t just limit itself to teaching facts, ideas and concepts, but it also asks questions encouraging children to think about their own lives.  Each letter has at least one little oak leaf with questions on it, or sometimes activity ideas.  “What’s the biggest tree in your neighborhood?  How old is it?”  Many of these questions will encourage kids to get outside:  “Watching the animals in your neighborhood, can you see how they are built to survive?”

If you are looking for an informative and interesting book that teaches about the environment and “green living”  without being preachy, then I encourage you to take a look at An Environmental Guide from A to Z Many thanks to Tim for sending me a copy.  This is a review copy that will remain on our shelf to be enjoyed for a long time to come.

Cool Math

By , May 12, 2010 5:34 pm


Do you have a reluctant math student? Unfortunately I have two of them.  My 7 and 9 year-old are stuck in that very tedious phase of math where everything seems to be all about drilling problems.  According to her recent parent-teacher conference, my 4 year-old on the other hand, currently spends much of her time in the “math environment” of her Montessori classroom.  As her proud Mom, I have of course already planned out her future career as an engineer!

The foundation of math can be pretty boring.  I remember that from my school days.  Fortunately I ended up loving math later, and even took it in college.

I keep thinking, if only there was some way to make it clear to them that math can actually be really cool later on, then perhaps they’d be willing to slog through this early stuff until the light bulb comes on for them as it did for me.

Fortunately I recently discovered the math stories by Theoni Pappas.  I bought Fractals, Googols, and Other Mathematical Tales (that’s some of the cool stuff!) and The Adventures of Penrose the Mathematical Cat (my kids love cats).

I have begun reading the fractals book out loud with my oldest daughter. We have read several chapters and she keeps wanting more!  Each short chapter has an easy and creative explanation of a different complex, mind-bending concept presented in story format.  Often there are related activities to do, or puzzles to solve.  At the end of the chapter is a highlighted box with more complete information about the concept, usually involving history or practical applications.

The Möbius strip was one of the real WOW chapters that we have read so far (see our photo above).

Will these books turn my children in to math-lovers?  Who knows, but they are fun!

Ta Da!! (2010 Newbery & Caldecott)

By , January 19, 2010 2:06 am

Yesterday morning was the big announcement of this year’s Newbery and Caldecott children’s book award winners. Drum roll please…


John Newbery:

“The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”


2010 WINNER – When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

2010 HONORS –

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (YIPPEE!! Bought this for my 9 year-old for Christmas!)

Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick


Randolph Caldecott:

“The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”


2010 WINNER – The Lion & the Mouseby Jerry Pinkney

2010 HONORS –

All the World illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman


PS: How well do you know your children’s book awards? If you can’t tell your Theodor Seuss Geisel Award from your Pura Belpré Award, then you can read up on them all here.

Nasreen’s Secret School (Jeanette Winter) – Review

By , October 28, 2009 9:48 pm

If you like multicultural children’s books, then I hope you are familiar with the books published by the Global Fund for Children.  The Global Fund for Children recently discovered my review of their wonderful Global Babies board book and contacted me regarding a review of a brand new book, Nasreen’s Secret School.

I am very picky when it comes to requests to review books, most queries end up in my email trash.   But I just knew that this book would be of great interest to us, and to many of you who read Unplug Your Kids, so I accepted this particular request.  Soon I was sent a free review copy of Nasreen’s Secret School.

Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter is subtitled “A True Story from Afghanistan.”  It is published by Simon & Schuster for the Global Fund for Children.  The author based this book on a story told to her by an organization supported by The Global Fund for Children that aided secret schools for girls during the reign of the Taliban (1996-2001).

This is the powerful tale of young Nasreen, a little Afghan girl who has not spoken since her parents’ disappearance.  The narrator, Nasreen’s grandmother, is determined to get her out of the house and into school, but girls are not allowed to attend school in Afghanistan:

“The Taliban soldiers don’t want girls to learn about the world, the way Nasreen’s mama and I learned when we were girls.”

There were “whispers” about a secret school for girls behind a green gate.  Nasreen and her veiled grandmother hurry down alleyways to towards the green gate, hoping not to be seen by soldiers (women were not allowed to leave the home without a male relative):  “Please Allah, open her eyes to the world” prays her grandmother.

My 7 and 9 year-old loved this book and I still often come across them reading it and rereading it in quiet corners of the house.  My daughter (age 9) said she liked that it was a true story and how it showed that not all children have the same life she does.

Although the book is written in a simple picture book format, it is recommended for ages 6 to 9.  On every page you will find a vibrant acrylic illustration (also by Jeanette Winter) and just a few short sentences.

Despite its colorful picture book appearance, I would agree that this is not a book for very young or sensitive children due to the serious subject matter.  Nasreen’s father is taken away by soldiers and her mother never returns home after going off to try and find him.  Although mention of these events is brief, it could be distressing for littler ones.

The ultimate feel of the book though, is very uplifting.  It celebrates the strength of ordinary people (particularly women) to overcome adversity and carry on.  It is a wonderful lesson for older children in the value of education and how an education opens windows to the world, and that knowledge is always with you, “like a good friend.”

We also liked the tidbits of Afghan culture that are sprinkled throughout:  Nasreen’s ancient city Herat was once a beautiful place where music and learning “flourished.”  When a soldier demands to enter the school, he finds only a room full of girls reading the Koran, which is allowed (the girls hid their schoolwork).   The women wear a burqa and are completely covered while out in the streets and the girls wear headscarves.  This book offers lots to discuss and discover about Afghan culture, history and politics.

There is additional interesting information about Afghanistan in an author’s note.  Teachers and parents might find it helpful as a starting point for teaching about modern Afghanistan.

Thumbs up from us for this beautiful and educational multicultural book!


Picture Books That Entertain ME (…oh, and my toddler too…)

By , September 11, 2009 10:35 am

Have you ever fallen asleep while talking out loud?

I have and it happens most often when I am putting my three year-old to bed, reading her a bedtime story.

My voice gets softer, my words become garbled and trail off, my mouth gapes, my eyes roll up into my head, my neck flops, and just as I begin to drool on my daughter’s head (I know I am painting quite an attractive picture) – I am rudely brought to attention by an indignant cry of “WAKE UP MOMMY!!”

Maintaining my eyes focused and the words flowing freely is absolute torture! An exhausted mommy at the end of her day + warm toddler on lap + boring book = SLEEEEPPPP…….zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Let’s face it.  Some young children’s books are downright BORING.  What my three year-old loves, is often mind-numbing for me.  Even things that seem sweet and charming and lovely when I am awake, are hideously horrible to read when all I want is to have my head on a soft, downy pillow.

I spend a lot of time reviewing books that my children like, but in this post I want to focus on me.  ME ME ME ME – it’s all about ME!!!!!!

Here are a few books that I recommend for those extra-tired bedtime reads:


  • Anything by the wonderfully talented and funny Sandra Boynton.  Cute pictures, quick-paced rhyming text, a sense of humor (and mercifully short).  One of my favorites is Hippos Go Berserk which always makes me laugh out loud (kind of reminds me of my college days, or is that TMI?). In fact we read it last night, which is what inspired this post.


Once Upon a Time, the End retells popular fairy tales EXTREMELY (and very amusingly) briefly. Each tale ends with a not-so-subtle message to the listening child to “GO TO SLEEP!” My older children adore this book too. They laugh out loud, but they know when I reach for it as a bedtime reading choice, that I mean business about getting out of there and into my own bed as quickly as possible.


  • Pigsty (written and illustrated by Mark Teague), a fast and amusing read about a typical messy boy who won’t clean his room. Mom finally gives up nagging and lets him live with his mess – and the pigs who happily move into his room. The plot and illustrations amuse me, plus I am always hopeful that this story might inspire my children to clean their own personal pigsties.


  • Antarctic Antics by Judy Sierra, a collection of funny, informative poems about penguins.  These clever verses make me laugh and alleviate any Mommy Guilt at rushing the bedtime process, since they are actually quite educational.


  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert) and  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle) are examples of very lively, almost musical books.  While not really inherently interesting for adults, I find the strong, sing-song rhythm of the text of these stories helpful in keeping me interested long enough to make it through without falling asleep.  Tap your foot, slap your knee, play a maraca to the upbeat tempo of the words.

  • Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? (Dr. Seuss) is another book with a strong beat to its text, plus it lets you exercise your performing arts skills when you demonstrate to your children all the strange noises you (and Mr. Brown) can make. It’s hard to fall asleep while imitating a hippopotamus chewing gum.


  • Any short book that is mostly pictures (preferably interesting ones) is also good when I am tired.  They allow me to say as much or as little as I have the energy for.  Two of my favorites are: Global Babies by the Global Fund For Children (interesting pictures of babies from around the world), and Baby Animals of the Southwest by Rising Moon Editors (not your usual baby cows and chickens here).

    • If you think can make it through the entire alphabet or the numbers 1 through 21, try Alphabet City (a multiple award-winner, including Caldecott) or City by Numbers both by artist Stephen T. Johnson.  These books have wonderful photographic-quality illustrations of typical city scenes in which a letter (or number) can be found in the natural shape of a detail. It is a fascinating new way of looking at the world that captures my attention, even when sleepy.  The cover art explains it best, what do you see here?

    • Look-Alikes: The More You Look, the More You See! by Joan Steiner is another amazing visual choice. Be careful though, there is so much to see in this book that it could go on all night.  When you are exhausted, use this book wisely. Tell your child to find one particular item in each photo, then you’ll be much better off.  I guarantee that you will find new objects in each photograph every time you look at this book (keeps it interesting for parents).


      And of course when all else fails, don’t feel bad about resorting to the old tricks of paraphrasing text and turning more than one page at a time!  WARNING:  Won’t work with older kids.  Good Luck!   ;)

    PS. What tricks do you have for staying awake at story time? What picture books entertain you?


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