Animal Bites books by Animal Planet

Hello, non-fiction fans!

Today I will be reviewing a couple of the Animal Bites books published by Animal Planet.

First some quick stats: both of these books are by Laaren Brown. Both are 80 pages long, including all the backmatter. Both are nice big books, measuring just over 8 inches wide and 11 inches high.

Now, why do I mention how big they are? It's because my favorite thing about these books was the large photo illustrations. Some charts and collages are included in the book, but I'd say the average page has a nice big photo of an animal on it, and other photos and facts spread around the page.

My least favorite thing about these books would have to be that I felt they were kind of scattered. What I mean is they contained lots of interesting facts, but I didn't feel like I became more of an expert by reading these books. Obviously these are non-narrative books. So it's unfair for me to say that they didn't engage me in a story. But I also feel like they weren't structured in a way that I could even remember what I had read.

I dug deeper into this feeling, because I really wanted to like these books! They are beautiful, and I received a copy of each one from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. Here's what bothered me, that I could put my finger on.

I found the page headings to be remarkably unhelpful. "Doctor in the house" is the heading for the page about powder blue surgeonfish.  "Letting off steam" heads a page about Hydrothermal vents. It seems to me that English idioms are serving where descriptive titles would serve better.

A particularly ambiguous sidebar in the ocean animals book annoyed me. It poses the question, "Bottom-dwelling bud?" next to an anglerfish, and has check boxes for yes and no. No is marked. I was confused. Anglerfish are definitely bottom dwellers. I read the explanation to the side, "An anglerfish may look alluring, but it's just trying to find some food to eat." I didn't really know what to make of this. Apparently the question being posed was not, "Is this a bottom dwelling animal?" but "Would this animal make a good friend for you?" And that seems like definitely the less useful question to go after. Why are we even bothering with that question?

On the next page found the text uninspiring. We are presented with six snapshots of underwater animals, and this is the text we get:
Weird and cool
There are thousands of varieties of fish and ocean creatures. Some look cool, some look weird and some look just a little scary. 
Hmm. So when I look at these pictures, am I supposed to be classifying them as either weird, cool or scary? That seems like a really subjective and pretty pointless exercise. This text doesn't draw my attention to anything specific about the picturesit doesn't encourage me to closer observation. This text doesn't add anything to my knowledge about these picturesI don't feel any more educated than I was before. I'm guessing that a Dumbo Octopus is significantly larger than a Fringeback Nudibranch. But I don't know that, and they're both presented to me in a 2.5 inch square image.

Who would I recommend these books to? I would recommend them to families that mostly just want good, big pictures of animals. There were some really cool and interesting pictures in them. I would not recommend these books for their writing. I confess (and you can probably tell from my review above) that I just enjoyed the pictures in the polar animals book and didn't look too closely at the words, once I could see they were the same caliber.

What other non-fiction books do I recommend? Check out the narrative non-fiction roundup I did back in March. Also, check out National Geographic Readers.

If you'd like to shop these books or read more reviews, here are some links:

Levi likes the National Geographic Kids series a lot, and has decided to collect them. They're definitely simpler, shorter (32 pages) and smaller (9''x5'') than the Animal Planet books, but I prefer them.

Do your kids get picky about the non-fiction they read? What are the favorite animal books in your house?

"Never Let ____ Become More Important Than ____"

Hi, everybody!

Wow, what a week. As you know, when the blog goes quiet, there's a lot happening in my life. In the past week both Jacob and I had some big church responsibilities: he organized a chili cookoff and I helped with New Beginnings, a special night for the young women I work with. Jacob also had a choir concert. I'm happy to report that all these things went well! In fact, all of them went better than I thought they would. There was a good turnout at the chili cookoff, the New Beginnings program was beautiful, and the children were remarkably well behaved at the concert.

What have you been up to lately? I'd love to hear.

I spoke for a few minutes at our New Beginnings night, and this quote from President Thomas S. Monson is part of what I shared. I am finding it to be wonderfully applicable in my life. When it comes into my mind, I get good perspective on what is important.

If you were going to fill in the blanks, what would you say?

"Never let ____ become more important than ____."

The Best Movie I've Seen in a Long Time


My goodness it has been a busy day. But I just wanted to pop in here really quick and tell you that our family loved The Peanuts Movie! Loved it. I think I might buy it, actually. And that's saying something because I think the last movie I bought was . . . The Lego Movie? And that one I technically bought as a birthday gift for Benjamin, without even having seen it. So it doesn't count in the "movies I like so much that I bought them" category.

Jubilee, as a peanuts character.

Sidenote: I wanted to see The Peanuts Movie back when it was in theaters, but I guess I'm just too cheap to buy movie tickets. I wasn't too cheap to try out the Peanuts character creation tool that was floating around my Facebook at the time though. Above is the one Jubilee and I made of her.

Anyway, the movie made us all laugh. It was so engaging and funny to the kids that they were literally jumping up and down and laughing like loons. And that just made the movie even more enjoyable for Jacob and I.

I liked how the movie characters stayed true to the comic strip characters. It seems like that is so rare!

I liked how the movie also added something to the world of Peanuts. It connected the dots a little bit, you could say. For instance, you remember how Snoopy was always trying to sneak into school in the early strips? Well, he gets tossed out of school one morning and lands in the dumpster, where he finds a typewriter! I'm not a die-hard peanuts fanatic, so correct me if I'm wrong, but I think in the comic strip we never know how Snoopy got the typewriter, right? So that was cool, and there were a few other examples of connecting the dots that made the movie fun for me.

I think it's safe to say that the boys loved the physical humor of the movie best. And, as we all know, physical humor is a hallmark of the comic strip. Lucy and the football? Yeah. They don't run that gag until the credits, but all kinds of fun physical comedy pervades the movie and it had the kids in stitches.

Was there anything I didn't like about it? Mmm, not really. It is squeaky clean and left me smiling.

If you have enjoyed the comic strip, definitely check this one out. It's fun for kids and adults and especially for kids and adults to watch together. We rented it from Redbox, but I'm thinking once wasn't enough for me.

Seen any good movies lately?

Oh, and do you have a recommendation for which Peanuts book I should get for the fam?

The Seven-Year-Old's Review of Geronimo Stilton

A letter from Benjamin, dated 3-30-16:

Dear Issac,

Do you remember Geronimo Stilton: Flood Mission?  Geronimo is so funny! My favorite part is when Tony Sludge throws a cord at Geronimo and knocks into him right before he activates his rain triggering device! Another of my favorite parts is when Geronimo says "I'm not cut out to be a hero mouse!" Wait, I'm not done yet. It's so funny when Geronimo eats that sandwich with HOT PEPPERS! Oh isn't it funny when Geronimo thinks that Tess Technopaws is giving him gum?


click to shop     
Benjamin brought that piece of writing home from school and it completely enchanted me. He said that Issac is a boy in his second-grade class, but that he didn't ever deliver the letter to him. "For some reason, we didn't share, even though the letters were addressed."

Anyway, I couldn't resist posting it, along with this picture of Benjamin reading outside on Saturday. (Three cheers for springtime!) I particularly loved reading this letter because I've never really gotten into Geronimo Stilton books. Not my scene, at this point in my life. So I loved learning that he found them very funny and action packed. I also loved reading his invented spellings. The original document has gems like "dvice" and "samwice." I kept his all-caps on the hot peppers though!

I asked Benjamin if the Heromice series of Geronimo Stilton was different from the original. He said, "Kind of. Tony Sludge is the bad guy and all the hero-mice are trying to defeat him." Sounds to me like the Geronimo Stilton series has some different story arcs within the larger series. I know Magic Treehouse does.

It looks like I should've included Geronimo on my list of Exciting Chapter Book Series. :) 

Benjamin says he'd give the book 4.5 stars, out of 5.

17 Ways to Find Your Child's Next Book

Hello parents!

We all know that reading is important. And up until a certain point, you're the one choosing the books for your child to read.

My oldest son is seven years old. That's seven years of choosing books for a child, though of course he chooses some of his own as well. I have another son who is five, and my youngest daughter is only two. I've got years and years of children's literature in my future (Hooray!). How do I find new books for my kids to read? I've put together a list of 17 strategies that help me find the next book, and I hope you like it.

If you do, you're invited to sign up for the Everead Newsletter, too! Just put your email address in the box in the sidebar, and I'll do my best to help keep you in books.

Being part of the newsletter also makes it easy for us to email each other, and I love getting questions from readers. If you're already a subscriber, send me a question!

17 ways to find your child's next book:

  1. Recommendation from a friend - I love taking recommendations from friends because when I do I know I have someone to talk to about the book. Half of the time I can borrow the book from the friend and don't have to worry about a library due date.
  2. Comb the library shelves - Just today Jubilee and I did this. We started out looking for a specific book, but it wasn't there. So we just picked some nearby books that looked like winners.
  3. Ask a librarian - I don't know why I don't do this more often! Maybe it's because my local library is realy good about putting out displays of new books and librarian favorites, so it's easy to find these without asking. Anyway, every time I've asked a librarian for a recommendation it's been a good one.
  4. Check a book blog - I love getting recommendations from the blogs I follow. But obviously I don't find many recommendations on my own blog. I hope you do! If your crowd is young, Janssen gives great picture book recommendations. If your kids are ready for meatier books, I really like the read-aloud and chapter book recommendations that Amy gives. If you're looking for more YA, definitely check out Melissa's recommendations.
  5. NYT bestseller list - I like encouraging my kids to read what others are reading when appropriate, because I like the idea of our common culture being built on good books.
  6. Indie Next List - If you haven't heard of this list, check it out! It's billed as "inspired recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers. When I go into bookstores I often see a copy of this lying on the counter and take a minute to glance at it. I've come to trust the recommendations.
  7. Cybils book lists - You know I look at these all the time! I help to make them, and I love it. Every book that makes it onto a Cybils shortlist or winners list has been extensively discussed by kidlit bloggers and is high in both kid appeal and literary merit.
  8. Grab from a display at the library (or bookstore) - I mentioned library displays before. The fact is that professionals who deal with books all day know their stuff, and they do put thought and heart into their displays.
  9. Niche book awards - I didn't realize how many book awards there were, back when I was a kid. Now I know there are state awards, library association awards, booksellers awards, and more. There are awards for audiobooks and for mysteries, for graphic novels and for books by debut authors. If you're looking for something that meets some specific criteria, look into the book award for that criteria.
  10. Use the author - This is totally basic but I can't believe how often it is overlooked. When I love a book, I take note of who the author is and make sure we find more by that author.
  11. Use the publisher - Less basic. When I find I love I book, I sometimes note the publisher of the book and find more recommendations that way. The publisher is usually on the spine of the book, along with the author. It's definitely going to be on the copyright page. When I first started reading graphic novels, I started to notice that a lot of my favorites were published by an imprint called First Second. This year marks their tenth anniversary. Congratulations guys! You distribute great books! I have loads of other publishers and imprints (divisions of publishers), I'd love to talk about if y'all are interested.
  12. Browse Amazon - Amazon has it's pros and cons. (One of it's biggest cons being that it plays dirty with publishers who don't agree with its terms: see here.) But let's be real, its "Customers who bought this item also bought" feature is pretty good. I just got, like, 5 ideas from looking at Ella Enchanted.
  13. Your childhood favorite - I own some of my childhood favorites, but not all of them. And it is surprisingly pleasurable to give my kids a book that I loved when I was younger, have them read it and tell me about it and relive it through them. Same goes for reading them picture books that I loved. I highly recommend this tactic.
  14. Ask a teacher - Who checks the reading logs of all the kids in your child's grade? Who knows a bunch of age appropriate books for all reading levels, without even having to think about it? That's right. Ask a teacher.
  15. Ask a bookseller - If you forgot to ask a teacher before you went to the bookstore, definitely ask a bookseller. They're so conveniently near when you're in a bookstore. And their eyes just light up when they realize you're asking for a recommendation and not directions to the restroom.
  16. Let 'em loose at the thrift store - Kids really do love picking books out themselves, don't they? It seems like mine always find something to interest them when we go to a thrift store book section, and I don't mind a bit, because the price is right.
  17. Author who blurbed a favorite book - If you've exhausted option #10, look at the back of one of your favorite books and see who blurbed it. (The blurb is the short endorsement of the book on the back jacket, or in the front few pages.) Many times publishers get other noteworthy authors in the genre to write these blurbs. Pick one of these other authors and voila! You've got another body of work to read. 
Which of these methods is new for you?

I admit that I plan to look back at this list myself when I run into a dry spell with choosing books. It happens to the best of us, but now I have all my best ideas in a convenient list. I'm not lying when I say I'm going to have to Pin this.

~ Alysa

Story Club Update

Hey all!

It has been a while since I have given you a Story Club update.

Not this kind of Story Club
For any who don't know, Story Club is the ebook that I am working on. It is "a quick-start guide for storytelling with kids." It's targeted to parents, though of course teachers and others who have kids in their lives could definitely use it. It also has step-by-step instructions on how to start a storytelling club (Hence the name Story Club!), but I've heard from parents who say that it's helpful even if you're only planning on telling stories with/to one child.

So here's the update: we are now in beta-testing phase! The book is written. The book was edited. The book was re-written and re-edited. The book was designed. Now it's going into the hands of beta readers who are reading it and playing with it and giving me feedback.

I can't believe this is actually happening! Yay! And what took me so long? Good grief there have been months when I haven't even touched the project. Ah, well, I am giving myself permission to be patient with myself.

I read a great quote or article a while back, and now I can't find it. But the gist of it was that someone had finished a creative project and was surprised and heart-warmed to find that people cared about it. People had been patiently waiting for it, even though they hadn't been banging down the door for it, they had been there and been interested. Whereas this woman (I think the artist was a woman) had worried that the silence indicated indifference from others, she found out that it indicated patience and trust.

My heart is full of gratitude for those who have helped me with the project thus far. And I feel like so many people have been patient and trusting with me. Though it isn't quite done yet, we are definitely on to the next phase and what a thrill that is for me! I announced the project on April 11, 2014, hoping to have it done in six months. Two years later to the day I'm still working on it, but I'm getting really really close.

It feels good.

p.s. If you want to get notified by email of when Story Club is available for download, make sure you are subscribed to either the Everead Newsletter (subscribe in the sidebar, more info here) or the Story Club Email List (subscribe here).

On Centenarians (and Books)

I saw the link to this interview of Beverly Cleary on Ms. Yingling's blog and a couple of other places as well, and finally watched it tonight.


Lovely! She seems like a lovely person. My own grandmother will be turning 100 this fall, so I can't help but be a little bit interested in centenarians. I wish I could go visit my grandmother, so I hope she lives at least until Christmastime, when we plan to visit Arizona. Her own mother lived to 102, and they say Grandma Carmen is going strong, so I'm optimistic.

Grandma Carmen and me, on my wedding day in 2006
One of the most memorable conversations I've had with Grandma Carmen was just a couple years ago. I called her up on the phone, and we talked about Gone With The Wind, which I was reading for my book club at the time. She, of course, remembers when it came out and the splash that the book and later the movie made. We had a great time talking about it.

Anyway, did you enjoy any of Beverly Cleary's books? I remember loving Dear Mr. Henshaw, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and the Ramona books -- though I don't know if I read all of them. I particularly remember the scene when Ramona calls Beezus a "pizza face," riffing off of the insult "pie face" and Beezus is reduced to tears because she is sensitive about her new acne. Ramona wasn't thinking of Beezus's complexion at all, but such is the way of sisters.

I haven't read any Beverly Cleary books in years, but I bet I'd love them still! What's your favorite? and do you think you'll live to be 100?

p.s. On the subject of aging, I thought this book was very very well done.

Reading on the Train

Have you ever taken a train trip? Now that we live in the Northeast, I have a feeling we're going to become expert at it. This past weekend we took our first train trip as a family, down to New York City (The Big Apple!) to see my sister Clare walk at her graduation from Sotheby's Institute of Art.

We let the boys pick out some books to bring along on the trip. Levi brought Chocolate Fever and Clementine. Benjamin brought Astronaut Academy: Re-Entry, Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Rift part one, and the first two Jedi Academy Books.

We also made sure to bring Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads (which you can see Jacob reading to Jubilee, above) so that the grandparents could read it. It just cracks me up, and I knew they would like it, too. 

Atop Belvedere Castle, Central Park.
 While we were there, my dad gave me his copy of Smart Money Smart Kids, which I gave him for Christmas, so that I could read it for myself. So I started that on the train ride home.

Over all, this vacation was not great for reading. It involved a lot of exciting first-time-in-the-city things, like riding the subway and scratching the surface of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But I have to say, I think trains are great for reading.

books in this post:



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