Wednesday, December 13, 2023

To Dogs, with Love - a review 12.13.23

 If you are familiar with author Maria Gianferrari's work, you already know how much she loves dogs!  And if you know young readers, you absolutely know how much they love reading about dogs!  This December we have a new book to share with the dog lovers in our lives.

To Dogs with Love by Maria Gianferrari
To Dogs, with Love:
A Love Letter to the Dogs Who Help Us
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Ishaa Lobo
published by Roaring Brook Press

While this book is a love letter to dogs and all of their wonderful qualities, it is also a book that shines light on all the special ways dogs can help.  From grief therapy dogs, to comfort dogs, to my favorite, dogs that listen to young readers read a story!  The soft and comforting illustrations by Ishaa Lobo invite young readers to stay for awhile and enjoy these affectionate dogs.  Don't miss the author/illustrator page and see an illustration by Lobo that features Maria and Ishaa with their dogs, past and present!

There really is something so special about the relationship between a dog and a child.  I decided to ask some young friends about dogs and how they have helped them.

"My dog is calm but when he sees me he goes crazy!  I like that." - Connelly, age 7

"I like laying on the couch with my dog and being chill." - Jaxson, age 8

"My dogs make me happy because they bring me joy and love.  I like to cuddle them a lot.  They like to play and I like to play with them too." - Connor, age 8 1/2

And young Charley is going to give Maria a run for her money!  I asked her how dogs help her and I got a whole report from her!  She knows a little bit about military dogs, service dogs, search and rescue dogs, seizure alert dogs, police dogs, comfort dogs, and bomb sniffing dogs.  Talk about your young dog expert.  But my favorite is how she started her report:
"When you think about dogs you probably think of this very cute puppy in a shelter ready to be adopted.  But sorry, today cute puppy, we will not be talking about you.  We will be talking about how dogs help us!" - Charley, age 10

It's clear that dogs make an enormous impact on children.  And I know this book is going to have a place in their heart too!

If you would like a copy for a young dog lover in your life or to share with young readers, don't miss the giveaway at the bottom of the post.  It will be open until Dec. 20th to all US residents.  Thank you to Maria and publisher Roaring Brook Press.

For Maria Gianferrari, dog love is the most 
pawsitive medicine of all! To Dogs, with Love is Maria’s seventh book featuring beloved canine characters, following Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness, Operation Rescue Dog, Hello Goodbye Dog, Officer Katz and Houndini, and the Penny & Jelly series.

Ishaa Lobo is Children’s Book Illustrator living in London. She is the illustrator of The Mystery of the Love List by Sarah Glenn Marsh; To Dogs, with Love by Maria Gianferrari; and There’s Always Room for One More by Robyn McGrath. Her next book, Bigfoot’s Big Heart, written by Sarah Glenn Marsh, will be released next year. In her spare time she likes to visit galleries, go to the cinema, and go on walks. See her work at

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Thank You, Moon - a review - 10.25.23

I think I'm most conscious of the moon on my early morning jogs.  It's interesting to see how it lights up the dark sky and world around me.  It seems like sometimes the animals are more active in those dark, early morning hours.  And while I may see more or less depending upon the cycle of the moon, it's affecting so much more than my light.

Thank You, Moon
written by Melissa Stewart
illustrated by Jessica Lanan
published by Alfred A. Knopf

In Melissa Stewart's newest book, Thank You, Moon, we get to see the impact of "Nature's Nightlight" (the books' tagline!) on the earth and its many living creatures.  In both lyrical and expository text, readers learn more about the phases of the moon and the effects they have.  Jessica Lanan's watercolored illustrations capture the essence of the moon and bring the creatures to life.

I have a special treat for my blog readers, as author Melissa Stewart agreed to stop by and answer some questions about the book!  Enjoy!

 1.  You always have great stories about the origin of each of your books.  I feel like this one was born from nuggets learned in some of your other books that came together with the moon being the common factor.  If not, what is the back story?

In this case, my editor, Katherine Harrison, gets all the credit. In February 2020, she tagged me on Twitter, alerting me to a conversation about how animals respond to the Moon’s cycle, and asked “Is this something you’d potentially be interested in writing? I just can’t get enough of the moon these days, and I feel like you could bring something special to it.” She also included a beautiful, eerie, mysterious image of the Moon partially obscured by clouds. It was an irresistible invitation. 

Not only was it a fascinating topic that had never been written about in a children’s book before, I immediately knew how I’d end the book. I could draw inspiration from a special moment I’d shared with my nieces, Caroline and Claire, about 15 years ago.

As I discuss in this video, when Caroline was in kindergarten and Claire was in second grade, I did an author visit at their school in Maine. They wanted to ride to school with me rather than take the bus, and on the way, I spotted the Moon.

 “Oh, look, there’s the Moon,” I said, pointing out the passenger-side window.

Claire, who was on that side of the car, could easily see it. “Oh yeah. Cool,” she replied.

But Caroline couldn’t see it. She squirmed wildly in her car seat. “Where? Where?” she yelled. As her frustration grew, she exclaimed, “I’ve never seen the Moon in the day in my whole long life!” 

So I pulled the car over, and we all got out to admire that lovely, surprising daytime Moon. I’ll never forget Caroline’s joy and astonishment in that moment. She was discovering something new and exciting about how nature works. 

Even as an adult, spotting the Moon in the day is still a special treat. It feels a tiny bit magical because you aren’t expecting it. I wanted to capture that emotion at the end of the book, and it felt simpatico with the image Katherine had sent me. 

2.  This book reminds me of your series "A Place for..." with the poetic lines and then additional facts.  I typically use those as examples of a cause-and-effect text structure. Is that what you had in mind here—because of the moon, this happens?  

You’re right. A Place for Butterflies and all its companion books have a strong cause-and-effect structure in the main text. When people do XXXX, butterflies can live and grow. The secondary text in those books has a problem-solution structure. First it describes how human actions are harming butterfly populations. And then what scientists and community members are doing to address the problem.

While it is true that, in this book, light from the moon (or lack of it) allows the featured animals to find food, escape from enemies, raise a family, etc., I didn’t consciously structure the text with cause/effect in mind. I was thinking of it as a compare-and-contrast text structure because there are two comparative examples linked to each verb. For instance, the moon guides tiny sea turtles and dung beetles on their migrations. However, I think a reader could make an argument for cause-and-effect. And it would be a great activity for students to re-write my text to make a strong cause-and-effect structure. It’s always interesting to see what other people take away from my books!

3.  How do you start writing a book like this?  And how do you decide to have the two different layers of text?

When I write expository literature, I begin by looking for a hook--a unique lens that will spark the reader’s curiosity and encourage them to think about the topic in a new way. 

When a book has a strong hook, it’s often built right into the title, so brainstorming titles is one way to discover the great hook. It can really help to toss around ideas with a friend, so one Saturday, I asked my husband to help me think of possible titles while we cleaned the house. The ideas could be good or bad, silly or serious, anything at all. Any unique way of thinking about “our closest companion in space.” I liked the sound of that phrase, so I wrote it down to get us started.

A few hours later, the dust bunnies were gone, the bathroom sparkled, and we’d filled a notebook page with ideas. The next day, I typed them into a computer file along with all the adjectives I could think of to describe the Moon photo Katherine had sent me. My goal was to create a manuscript that evoked that image.

It didn’t take long for the title Thank You, Moon and the lens of gratitude to rise to the top. After all, life on Earth—including us—couldn’t exist without the Moon to regulate Earth’s seasons. 

I also thought it would be possible to use the phrase repetitively to craft the kind of lyrical voice I wanted for the book. 

Once I had a hook and I knew the text structure, I could start to write. Expository literature often has two layers of text. It helps the book appeal to a broader range of readers. Younger readers can focus on just the main text and the art and get the gist of it. Older readers can take a deeper dive by exploring the secondary text. The additional details will enrich their understanding of the topic. 

I wrote the lyrical main text and more detailed secondary text in tandem, moving those large chunks around until I had an order that flowed well and represented the diversity of creatures, habitats, and geographical regions that would appeal to a broad, global audience.

4.  Writing picture books seem like such a daunting task because you have minimal pages which usually means some information gets left out.  What was something that you were thinking of adding but didn't make the finished story?

Yes, during the research process, I gathered information about 20 or so different animals. In the published book, there are ten animals and one plant. Whenever I write a list book about an animal behavior, I keep diversity in mind. As I mentioned above, I’ve included creatures from many different animal groups (reptiles, insects, birds, mammals, zooplankton, corals) and many different habitats and geographical regions. I also looked for ways to pair the animals by survival strategies to the compare-and- contrast text structure I mentioned above. 

One example that made it almost up until the end is this:

“Thank you, Moon, for guiding chum salmon to their breeding grounds. 

Each summer, chum salmon travel hundreds of miles up raging rivers and swirling streams to lay their eggs. Under the Full Moon’s bright glow, they can swim faster and farther.” 

But when I decided to feature just two examples per verb (guiding), I decided to keep the reptile and insect and let the fish go.

Thanks so much for inviting me to answer these questions, Michele. Your blog is a tremendous resource for teachers and librarians. Thank you for all you do to help educators nurture and nourish young readers.

You're welcome, and thank you, Melissa, for stopping by!

I know this is a book you'll want on your shelves and Random House Publishing has donated a copy to giveaway!  Enter the giveaway below by Wednesday, November 1st for your chance to win (US addresses only).

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy!

MELISSA STEWART has written more than 200 science books for children, including Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem, Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks; the ALA Notable Book Feathers: Not Just for Flying; and the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs. She maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and lives in Massachusetts. Learn more at 

JESSICA LANAN is the author and illustrator of Jumper: A Day in the Life of a Backyard Jumping Spider and The Fisherman & the Whale, which was awarded the Bull-Bransom Award for wildlife art. She has illustrated many other books, including The Lost Package and Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet. Jessica lives in Boulder, Colorado. Learn more at 

Let's be social!  Find us here:


Blue Slip Media: @blue_slip_media 

Random House Children’s Books: @randomhousekids

Melissa Stewart: melissastewartscience
Jessica Lanan: jessicalanan
Me: @readingthroughtheages_


Blue Slip Media: @blue-slip-media 

Random House Children’s Books: Random House Children’s Books

Melissa Stewart:  Melissa Stewart


Blue Slip Media: @blueslipper & @barbfisch

Random House Children’s Books: @randomhousekids

Melissa Stewart: @mstewartscience
Jessica Lanan: @jalanan
Me: @knott_michele

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Fungi Grow, a review - 10.11.23

I am excited to share with you Maria Gianferrari's beautiful new nonfiction book, Fungi Grow.  Featuring gorgeous illustrations by Diana Sudyka, young readers are introduced to the amazing world of fungi.  Full of information about how they grow, spread, and help the world around them, readers will have a new appreciation of the fungi.  And don't miss the fun facts in the backmatter - fungi will surprise you!

Fungi Grow
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Diana Sudyka
published by Beach Lane Books
publishes on Oct. 17th

Full of lyrical writing, after reading Gianferrari's words, you'll be spouting fungi facts in no time at all!  As a fan of Gianferrari's works, I had to ask her about the subjects she writes about and how she decides to write the text.  For example, in this book, she writes in poetic form with action-filled words ("catapult", "plop", "spurt" are on just the first few pages!) that make the book come to life.  She also includes more scientific information on each page in smaller font.  This makes the book readable in multiple ways.  Here's what she told me:

I love to write most about the natural world and the creatures and beings that inhabit a variety of habitats and ecosystems: trees, fungi, wild animals like bobcats, coyotes or hawks—I feel awe and joy and wonder in the presence of nature, and writing about nature helps me to celebrate it and give thanks for this wonderful world we live in. 

Using concrete and vivid verbs is integral to any kind of writing I do, whether it has a more conversational tone, such as Terrific Tongues, or a lyrical one, like Fungi Grow. Strong verbs have the power to create energy and movement and to encapsulate emotion too. 

As a picture book writer, I pay particular attention to the sounds of the verbs and flow of the words, because they are meant to be read aloud, like in this section that showcases the sheer variety of mushroom shape, color, size and more:

And from dead stuff,

mushrooms erupt!

Mushrooms sprout.

Parasols pop out.

Mushrooms fan,


Spread their skirts. 

There is joy and a sense of playfulness in writing onomatopoeic words like “plop” and “poof” and reading them aloud too.

The verb grow is a powerful one—there is flow and fluidity and movement to it, and it encompasses the many different ways that fungi multiply, so the “fungi grow” refrain can contain a multitude of meanings.

I love using sidebars or layered text because the main text can be more imagistic and poetic in its expression of scientific ideas, while the layered text can explain those terms in more detail, which info-loving kids (and adults) really appreciate.

If you know Maria Gianferrari, you know she writes about a variety of topics.  I was really interested in finding out how she came upon the topic of fungi.

Well, as I mentioned above, I love to write most about the natural world and animals, both domestic and wild. I had always been intrigued by the other-worldliness of mushrooms. When I was researching Be a Tree!, illustrated by the amazing Felicita Sala), I discovered the wild and wonderful world of mycorrhizal fungi—the kind of fungi that partners with trees and other plants to share and exchange resources and I was utterly fascinated. Before that, I had only thought of mushrooms/fungi as decomposers, and I didn’t realize that they could also have these kinds of mutually beneficial relationships with plants. There is a spread that shows the so-called “wood wide web” in Be a Tree! and I wanted to dig deeper to explore and discover more about this magical kingdom which you can see here.

And here is a corresponding one in Fungi Grow where you can admire Diana Sudyka’s gorgeous art:

I learned so many fascinating things—about the power of mycelium—the “roots” of fungi (whereas mushrooms are the fruiting bodies), and how fungi can grow in all kinds environments, even extreme ones contaminated by radiation, like Chernobyl, or despite radioactivity in space (though that part didn’t make it into the book). 

And other fun-gi facts like how mycelium can be made into clothing, furniture and packing materials that are environmentally friendly and sustainable; or how mushrooms can help clean up oil spills and chemical contamination. 

Fungi is truly remarkable! I hope readers will be inspired to follow their curiosity and learn more about the field of mycology. 

I know this is a book you'll want to add to your shelves.  Maria and the publisher have generously donated a book to be given away to a reader (US addresses only).  Winner will be selected on Oct. 18th.  Enter below!

More about author, Maria Gianferrari:  
Maria Gianferrari’s yard is full of fungi. From branching corals and pointy stinkhorns to smoky puffballs and colorful jack-o’-lanterns, everything’s coming up mushrooms! Someday she hopes to find some morels—she’ll even share them with a squirrel. Maria’s favorite edible mushroom is the hearty portobello. She lives in Massachusetts.

More about illustrator, Diana Sudyka:  
Diana Sudyka grew up hearing stories of her grandfather, an ardent forager, bringing home chicken of the woods and maitake mushrooms for meals. Her favorite edible mushroom is the delicious morel that popped up in her yard last spring. Diana lives with her family in Evanston, Illinois.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Thank a Farmer - a review, 9.05.23

If you ask young readers, "where does your food come from?"... the most likely answer will be "the grocery store"!  The idea that the food we buy starts somewhere else is a bigger thought to think about!  And where does most of that food come from?  A farmer!

Thank a Farmer by Maria Gianferrari
Thank a Farmer
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Monica Mikai
published by Norton Young Readers

Maria Gianferrari goes back and makes young readers think about all of the food that the farming industry gives us and how it might be harvested.  On each layout, Gianferrari asks about a specific food and then in poetic form, explains to young readers how the food is picked and harvested and brought about to eventually landing on their plate!  With 2-page layouts featuring brightly illustrated pictures by Monica Mikai, young readers will absorb so much information between the illustrations and the lyrical words.  I love the vocabulary that is woven throughout the story.  Some of my favorites:  hopper, tubers, punnet, pods, chaff.

There are so many science related texts, I love that this one relates to the social sciences.  Perfect if you're studying rural/suburban/urban or wants and needs or economics!  This is a book I can see fitting in with your discussions.  And while you may think you would only use this book for discussions of rural/farming locations, there is discussions in the book about how farming does occur in urban locations too.  Rooftops, hydro-aero-aquaponics, school yards, and city lots are all mentioned!

I also like how the story turns the table and shares what farmers are thankful for.  From bees to weather to people and machines.  It's a good way to show young readers that we all rely on people and animals and electronic things to help the world go 'round!

I highly recommend this story to be on classroom and library shelves!  It's a book that young readers will reach for because of the information and bright illustrations.  And it's a text that teachers can easily incorporate into the curriculum!

If you would like to add a copy to your library, check out the giveaway below!  Maria Gianferrari and publisher Norton Young Readers have offered a copy of Thank a Farmer to a lucky reader.  Enter by Tuesday, September 12th to win! (US addresses only).

Maria Gianferrari has two connections to farming: she is descended from a long line of dairy farmers in Emilia-Romagna, Italy whose cows provided milk to make the region’s famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; she also grew up in New Hampshire, down the street from Barrett’s Farm and across the street from a maple sugar house where cotton-candy scented clouds filled the air. She now lives with her family in Massachusetts.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Cover reveal - Octopus Acrobatics

The ocean and all of its living things fascinate so many of us.  It's another whole world there with so many mysteries and undiscovered life!  So when author Sue Fliess asked if I wanted to do a cover reveal of her upcoming book, Octopus Acrobatics, I jumped at the chance!  I'm a big fan of Sue's books.  The way she uses poetic form and non-fiction facts in her books about the world around us make for perfect read alouds.  Some of my very favorites are Rumble and Roar: Sound Around the World, Cicada Symphony, and Flash and Gleam: Light in Our World.  And if you haven't checked out her "Kid Scientist" series (where she introduces young readers to different scientific occupations), don't wait any longer!  Make sure you find them right away!
Now, Sue is diving into the ocean (yup, planned that one) and is introducing us to an amazing sea creature, the octopus!  And without further ado, just take a look at this cover!

And look at the wraparound cover!!

We have just a bit to wait for it, but you can make sure you have it at publication time by preordering now HERE!  It makes anticipating spring time a little sweeter!

More about author Sue Fliess:  Sue Fliess ("fleece") is the award-winning, bestselling author of over 50 children's books including Cicada Symphony, Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket, How to Trap a Leprechaun, Mary Had a Little Lab, Rumble and Roar, the Beatrice Bly's Rules for Spies series, the Kid Scientist series, and more. Her books have received honors from SCBWI, been named to ALA Notable lists, and have been used in school curricula and museum educational programs. Fliess's titles have been featured on Reading Rainbow Live and included in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library in the US and Australia. She's a member of SCBWI & Children's Book Guild of DC. She visits elementary schools and does speaking engagements and lives with her family and two yellow labs in Virginia. Visit her at

Monday, July 24, 2023

You and the Bowerbird, a review - 7.24.23

The architect starts building his home.  He goes for grandeur, knowing one day this is the place he will eventually bring his mate.  Designing, planning, decorating... the architect works hard to make his place a true work of art.  Just when a lady friend shows some interest, pirates show up!  Stealing, pillaging, damaging, and breaking everything down, the architect must begin again.  Building, looking for those perfect accent pieces.  Of course, he has an audience watching his every move.  Maybe this time his lady friend will stay and be most impressed with his hard work.
Sounds like the premise to the latest Netflix show, right?  Nope, just the daily life of a satin bowerbird!

You and the Bowerbird by Maria Gianferrari
You and the Bowerbird
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Maris Wicks
published by Roaring Brook Press
publishes August 15th

In Maria Gianferrari's latest book, we get a glimpse at how hard a satin bowerbird works on his home, or bower.  He truly is an architect as he scouts the area for just the right pieces to design his home.  Something that surprises me is the male bowerbird makes his bower on the forest floor, not in a tree!  Better to place all of his found treasures!  And he especially needs a welcome mat.  Not one ordered from Amazon, but something blue, something found.  Perhaps a feather or sock!  But once the bower is created, the satin bowerbird always has to be on the lookout for pirate birds who are out to steal some of his treasures!  It really is rough out in nature!  These birds are found in Australia.  Even if they aren't local, they are fascinating birds to learn about!

Maris Wicks' illustrations are bright, bold, and will catch a young reader's eye, just like the color blue attracts a male satin bowerbird!  At times, Wicks' gives us the perspective of a young birder looking through binoculars at these fascinating creatures.  Other layouts have a couple of frames that give it more of a notebook feeling.  Of course if you peek under the book jacket you'll find the book looking like a composition notebook, which goes along with the observation and note-taking the young girl seems to be doing.

The text is full of vibrant verbs that so many of Gianferrari's books contain.  I always feel like I could act out her stories with her playful words.  With words like inspect, steals, scours, snatches, and pillages, you can't help but wiggle in your seat as you read this exciting story!

This is a must have book for your science units that talk about animal instincts, habitats, and traits.  The bowerbirds and their habits are so unique, I know young readers will want to know more about them!

About author Maria Gianferrari:
Maria Gianferrari lives in Massachusetts and loves bird-watching from her kitchen window while drinking her morning cup of tea. She has written more than a dozen books, including Coyote Moon, Hello Goodbye Dog, Hawk Rising, and most recently Bobcat Prowling. Her next title with Roaring Brook Press is To Dogs, With Love, which releases in December.

Would you like to have a copy of this book for your library?  Macmillan Publishing has generously offered a copy for giveaway for one reader (US addresses only).  Winner will be selected on July 31st!  For an extra entry, visit @readingthroughtheages_ on Instagram!