Book Review: ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME: A teacher and writer’s perspective by Laura Roettiger

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I spent most of my teaching career at a school with a population of over 90% Latinx. When I heard about Alma and How She Got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal, it was especially interesting to me because I miss my Chicago students and imagined them hearing the book. Lucky for me, I have a wonderful group of students here in Colorado to read to, coming from a variety of ethnicities.

The basic premise of Alma, is she thinks her name is too long, until her father explains to her how she got the name Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. It’s a lovely story celebrating family, tradition, and being proud of who you are.

I can turn any book into a lesson and an activity after years of teaching. With Alma, the teaching extension wrote itself. When I first told them there would be homework, they protested, but when I explained what it would be, the energy in the room shifted to enthusiasm. The children were given a graphic organizer and sent home with the task of asking their parents about the origin story of their names.

story of your name graphic

As the children returned with their homework, I learned one of them is named after a WWE wrestler that his father likes and another is named for an NFL player. One is named for a Disney character, and another is named for a character in a movie her mom liked. The stories of aunts, uncles, grandparents were also shared on the page and in class. Many of them didn’t know these stories before the assignment and that is a tribute to Juana Martinez-Neal and her inspiring story.

As a picture book writer, I’ve been studying different aspects of craft and I believe this book is a perfect example of heart. Julie Hedlund, founder of the picture book challenge 12×12, talks about how heart is so important in picture books. I find it hard to define heart, but easy to find examples. The illustrations, also the work of Juana Martinez-Neal, are unique and match the story perfectly, complete with sepia toned drawings that look like old photographs.

This book earns 5 stars from me because its simple message is full of heart and it created a wonderful family project for my students. I’m sure many families would find this to be inspirational.

Laura R

Laura Roettiger is the author of the picture book Aliana Reaches for the Moon (Eifrig Publishing, 2019) She has enjoyed working with children ever since she was no longer considered a child herself. She was a reading specialist and elementary teacher in Chicago, IL before moving to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where she worked in Environmental Education and is now a mentor for reading and writing at a STEM school. Her superpower is encouraging curiosity in children and letting them know she believes in them. Laura has three children of her own, all of whom were led by curiosity and creativity into STEM-related professions. Laura is also a part of #PictureBookBuzz, a group of authors with books being released in 2019.

Find Laura on Twitter @ljrwritenow and at her website LauraRoettigerBooks.com.

Picture Books At The Library 174

At The Library Too

I catalog hundreds of new picture books each year, and I read as many of them as I can. Unfortunately, I can’t review them all. But I can share them! Below are a few recent titles. (Summaries have been taken directly from the books whenever possible.) Check your local library or bookstore for availability.

 

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ROCK WHAT YA GOT: An artist, displeased with her drawing, tries to make it better, but the figure, Viva, comes to life and proclaims that she’s happy just the way she it. Fun!

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LUCIA THE LUCHADORA: Lucia becomes exasperated when her bothersome little sister makes a big hole in her mask. 

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UP THE MOUNTAIN PATH: Every Sunday, Mrs. Badger walks the mountain path alone, until the day she meets Lulu and everything changes.

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SEA PRAYER: When the sun rises, a father and son gather their possessions and join others as they embark on a perilous sea journey in search of a new home. Moving and powerful!

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A PRAYER FOR THE ANIMALS: A special blessing for all animals around the world. Lovely!

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LITTLE PENGUIN STAYS AWAKE: Penguin tries really hard to stay awake so that he can wish on a shooting star.

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GATOR, GATOR, GATOR!: Join a little girl on her quest to find a gator.

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PEARL: Pearl is heartbroken when her mother asks her to tend to a mere grain of sand. Another beautiful Molly Idle book!

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OLIVER: Just when Oliver resigns himself to always being the second largest living thing on Earth, he meets other trees who help him realize he’s part of something even larger.

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PTERODACTYL SHOW AND TELL: When one boy brings his pterodactyl to class for show-and-tell, pandemonium prevails.

The Inspiration Behind DEREK THE FLYING DODO by Vanee Apoolingum

Please welcome author Vanee Apoolingum to Frog on a Blog. Vanee stopped by to share a little about the inspiration behind her new book DEREK THE FLYING DODO.

DEREK THE FLYING DODO is my first children’s book that has just been published! It is an exciting adventure story for 5-7 year olds about friendship, having the courage to be different, and never giving up on your dreams. Since my book has been published, two questions that I have been asked regularly is why did I do it, and what was my inspiration?

Derek cover

So why did I decide to publish a book? Well, since having my two sons, bedtime reading has always been a precious moment in our day. We all get to wind down and lose ourselves in wonderful and magical children’s books and stories we make up together.

Picture books such as Spinderella, Hello Mr Dodo!, Little Dinosaur’s Big Adventure, and Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon have all got important messages about friendship and having the courage to be different. All the illustrations in these picture books are vibrant and colourful and are great at drawing in young readers! In addition, the adventures that the characters share in those books are truly magical. Just over a year ago my boys said I should write one of our stories down, so I decided, why not.

Inspiration has come from past and present experiences, which have shaped my story one way or another. Whilst I have been living in London for over 17 years, I was born and brought up on the paradise island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The Dodo was native to this island and famous for its inability to fly (as well as being extinct!). It has always fascinated me, but growing up, there were hardly any children’s books about this bird. So naturally, when I first decided to write a book, I wanted to base my main character on the Dodo. Even though there are now some picture books on the dodo, the theme has generally been around extinction of the bird or the fact that it can’t fly.

However, I wanted to bring a little bit of magic and fantasy to my readers – hence making Derek the Dodo fly!

flying dodo

The locations in my book were also heavily influenced by my upbringing in Mauritius. Growing up, I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by Mauritius’ natural beauty. The luscious white sandy beaches, crystal blue water, dense rainforest, and some of the most beautiful botanical gardens gave me the perfect inspiration when writing my book. I was immediately drawn to my childhood memories, all the places I spent so much time in and where some of my best memories still are. Mark Twain very rightfully summed it up when he said “Mauritius was made first and then heaven, heaven being copied after Mauritius”!

Mauritius illo

The themes of friendship, having the courage to be different, and dreaming the impossible were influenced by my 6 year old who was assessed as Gifted a few years ago. When he first started school, he was very different to his peers and struggled to connect to other children. However, he always knew he was different and very readily and strongly embraced that.

So there you have it, why I wrote my book and what my inspiration was. My hope now is that children reading my book will be transported into this magical story and share the thrilling ride with this wonderfully unique Dodo, and, just for a little bit, dream that the impossible can happen!

Vanee A photo

Vanee Apoolingum was born and raised on the paradise island of Mauritius. Growing up in exotic surroundings plus childhood stories about the flightless dodo provided her with the inspiration for Derek the Flying Dodo.

For the past 17 years she has swapped warmer climates for the milder (and wetter) weather of London. In her very limited spare time, thanks to her two young boys, she enjoys reading, writing and baking with her children.

Random Pic Of Cuteness: Writing Prompt #8

Just for fun, I’m sharing–at random–cute photos to inspire your picture book writing. Perhaps a picture will spark an idea for a character, setting, or even an entire story. Have fun!

Girl in snow

*All photos are available in the public domain (or were taken by me), and are free to use and share.

Picture Books At The Library 173

At The Library Too

I catalog hundreds of new picture books each year, and I read as many of them as I can. Unfortunately, I can’t review them all. But I can share them! Below are a few recent titles. (Summaries have been taken directly from the books whenever possible.) Check your local library or bookstore for availability.

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CAPTAIN RAPTOR AND THE PERILOUS PLANET: Captain Raptor and his crew rush to help rescue scientists who are trapped on an unstable planet with a volcano about to erupt.

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OUR CELEBRACION!: A rain shower does not dampen a Latino family’s enjoyment of their town’s parade and summer celebration.

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SWEET DREAMING: Molly’s mother imagines stories to lull her to sleep, from swooping birds to a quiet beach, and soon one of them falls asleep.

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THE HOUSE OF LOST AND FOUND: A neighbor boy asks Niles, a lonely old man, to look after his plant while he’s away. Beautifully illustrated!

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THE SNOWFLAKE MISTAKE: Princess Ellie is left in charge of the magical snowflake machine.

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SING TO THE MOON: A young Ugandan boy and his grandfather have fun together on a rainy day.

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COUNTING DINOS: Join a gang of dinosaurs as they go from one to ten and learn to see their world in a new way. Fun and colorful read aloud!

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CRAFTY LLAMA: Llama likes to knit while she thinks, but Beaver will only make something if it’s useful.

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ALL ARE WELCOME: In one very special school, diversity is celebrated and songs, stories, and talents are shared. Awesome message!

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HIKING DAY: Going on a hike for the very first time is an adventure for one young girl.

Picture Books At The Library 172

At The Library Too

I catalog hundreds of new picture books each year, and I read as many of them as I can. Unfortunately, I can’t review them all. But I can share them! Below are a few recent titles. (Summaries have been taken directly from the books whenever possible.) Check your local library or bookstore for availability.

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LORRAINE, THE GIRL WHO SANG THE STORM AWAY: When Pa Paw and Lorraine’s instruments come up missing during a fearsome storm, Lorraine finds the music inside herself to get them through.   

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A KISS FOR AKARAKA: A girl spends time with her father who playfully includes his daughter’s imaginary friend Akaraka. Lovely art!

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ZOLA’S ELEPHANT: A girl hesitates to initiate friendship with her new neighbor Zola because she imagines Zola is busy with her elephant friend. Beautifully illustrated and unique!

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HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS: A mischievous squid steals clothes from the other animals until they fight back, leaving him with two long arms in the process. 

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MAX AND THE SUPERHEROES: Max is crazy about superheroes, especially Megapower, who is someone very special to him.

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QUIET: Two children learn from their grandfather how to be quiet and still and appreciate the world around them.

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A VERY LATE STORY: After several creatures show up and realize they’re in a book, they decide to wait for their story to begin.

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A GOOD DAY FOR DUCKS: A brother and sister play outside on a rainy day.

Picture Books At The Library 171

At The Library Too

I catalog hundreds of new picture books each year, and I read as many of them as I can. Unfortunately, I can’t review them all. But I can share them! Below are a few recent titles. (Summaries have been taken directly from the books whenever possible.) Check your local library or bookstore for availability.

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THE NIGHT BOX: When a boy opens the Night Box, darkness swoops out, taking light’s place, and night flows freely until morning comes to replace it again.

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TAKE YOUR OCTOPUS TO SCHOOL DAY: Tired of being second best, Sam is determined to “win” at show-and-tell, especially on Take Your Octopus To School Day.

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JOSIE’S LOST TOOTH: Josie finally loses a baby tooth, but when she for-real loses it, she needs a substitute tooth to leave for the Tooth Fairy.

SCAREDY BEAR: A brave little bunny goes in search of the scary creature known as the Big Hairy.

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GOOD MORNING, NEIGHBOR: A group of animals goes in search of the ingredients needed to make a cake.

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WILD ORCA: A girl named Mia hopes she will catch a glimpse of Granny, the oldest orca, during Orca Sing in the San Juan Islands.

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FAST ASLEEP IN A LITTLE VILLAGE IN ISRAEL: Various sounds keep Mrs. Strauss awake, but when the first rain of the season comes, it quiets everything else.

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NIGHT JOB: When the sun sets, a boy helps his dad clean the school.

 

 

Book Review MAXIMILLIAN VILLAINOUS: A Teacher And Writer’s Perspective by Laura Roettiger

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Everything about the book Maximillian Villainous (Running Press Kids, 2018) made me know it was going to be a hit at school. To be honest, I was excited to find this book at the library and I knew my enthusiasm would add to their interest. The title alone captured the imagination of the children who wanted to know more about this villainous monster. But wait, Max isn’t a villain! And right away, the author had us engaging with the main character.

The class of second and third graders may not know about the rule of three, expertly employed by author Margaret Chiu Greanias, but they sure appreciated the way it was woven into the story. The three tasks for Max: “1. Steal something 2. Make someone cry 3. Gain fame by being devious” are cleverly highlighted in the illustrations so that children focused on the list. We even compared it to the classroom rules, which was fun and another way to interact with the story. Of course, the students explained the tasks were the opposite of what they should be, demonstrating that the author and illustrator did a great job engaging the readers early in the story.

As a picture book writer, I’ve been studying different aspects of craft and I know how important page turns are. This book is a model of page turns done well. I’d like to mention two excellent examples. The first that attracted attention (read children needed to chime in with their predictions) involved the bunnies digging in the Sandman’s stash of magic sleeping dust. Many of the children knew what would come next. The other is when Max has an idea, complete with the villainous “Mua-ha-Ha!” This was definitely the class’s favorite part of the book (read everyone was making the sound and believed Max was turning into a villain like the rest of his family.) Well played, Margaret!

The illustrations (by Lesley Breen Withrow) in Maximillian Villainous are fantastic. They are colorful, full of wonderful detail, but not too busy, and whimsical, matching the tone of the story. Even the way the Illustrations were laid out on the pages and the use of signs and notes created a high level of interest for the children and for me.

This book definitely earns 5 stars from me because it’s got humor and heart on every page. Additionally, it allowed for a fun reading lesson learning about problem and solution in a story where they weren’t as obvious as in many books. This helped me know what the children understood and which ones needed more help. It is more proof that picture books are excellent vehicles for learning.

Laura R

Laura Roettiger is the author of the picture book Aliana Reaches for the Moon (Eifrig Publishing, 2019) She has enjoyed working with children ever since she was no longer considered a child herself. She was a reading specialist and elementary teacher in Chicago, IL before moving to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where she worked in Environmental Education and is now a mentor for reading and writing at a STEM school. Her superpower is encouraging curiosity in children and letting them know she believes in them. Laura has three children of her own, all of whom were led by curiosity and creativity into STEM-related professions. Laura is also a part of #PictureBookBuzz, a group of authors with books being released in 2019.

Find Laura on Twitter @ljrwritenow and at her website LauraRoettigerBooks.com.

CNY Literary Festival

Library Logo

The Community Library of DeWitt & Jamesville is hosting its 1st CNY Literary Festival on Friday, November 30 from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm.

• Meet more than 30 local authors
• Author readings from select works
• Book signings
• Light refreshments
• Giveaways

Join me for a celebration of local authors and participate in a community experience that encourages the love of reading, writing, and the value of literacy in our community. The event is for all ages, with 38 authors of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and children’s books looking forward to chatting with you. (psst! Bruce Coville is scheduled to appear!)

With Christmas just around the corner, there’s sure to be a book to suit the taste of everyone on your list!

The Community Library of DeWitt & Jamesville is conveniently located at 5110 Jamesville Road, a short distance from 481 Exit 2. The Library’s CNY Literary Festival is generously sponsored by Community Bank N.A., DeWitt Office.

As an employee of the Library, I’ll be working at the festival, as well as participating as an author. I hope to see you there, too! 🙂

Random Pic Of Cuteness: Writing Prompt #7

Just for fun, I’m sharing–at random–cute photos to inspire your picture book writing. Perhaps a picture will spark an idea for a character, setting, or even an entire story. Have fun!

Frog

*All photos are available in the public domain (or were taken by me), and are free to use and share.