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.

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.

Picture Books At The Library 170

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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GIRAFFE PROBLEMS: A giraffe goes on and on about how awful his neck is until he meets another animal who needs his help.

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HOW TO BE A T. REX: When Sal grows up, she’s going to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex because being human can be a real drag.

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HEY, WALL: Armed with pencils, paints, dreams, and Grandma Addy’s memories of how beautiful the neighborhood once was, Angel and others paint the cold, empty wall.

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THIS IS A CIRCLE: Circles and squares are introduced as a most unusual group of friends sings, sails, huffs, and puffs. Fun!

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A DOG NAMED HAKU: During a Hindu festival in Kathmandu, Nepal, brothers Alu and Bhalu search for a dog they can honor with food and gratitude.

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ERASER: Eraser is tired of cleaning up everyone else’s mistakes and wants to create instead.

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AN UNLIKELY BALLERINA: A small, frail girl with wobbly legs and turned-out toes becomes the first Jewish prima ballerina assoluta in history.

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CROW NOT CROW: A girl accompanies her father for the first time on a birding expedition and learns how to identify several birds.

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THE REMEMBER BALLOONS: James has a bunch of balloons, each of which holds a special memory, but he notices that as his grandfather ages, he loses balloons, while James gains new ones.

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KITTEN AND THE NIGHT WATCHMAN: Being a night watchman is a lonely job, especially when you’re away from your family.

Laura’s Book Reviews: Catalina and the King’s Wall AND Mela and the Elephant

Please welcome author and teacher (and Frog on a Blog follower) Laura Roettiger! Laura is the author of the forthcoming picture book Aliana Reaches for the Moon. She’s also a mentor for reading and writing at a STEM school in Colorado. She likes to use books in pairs or threes to encourage her students to make connections by comparing and contrasting them.

Today, Laura shares two books that celebrate kindness in very different ways.

I love the idea of reviewing two or more books on the same theme together. And books on kindness are some of my favorites. But what makes Laura’s reviews really special is that she’s shared the books with her students and has based her reviews, partially, on their responses to the books. As she says, “It’s an authentic way to talk about the books.” I’m thrilled to have Laura as a reviewer on Frog on a Blog!


As a teacher and curriculum developer, I don’t think of books in isolation. We always ask our students to “make connections.” In the younger grades, we ask students to make text to text, text to self, and text to world connections.

As a picture book writer, I’ve been studying picture books this year. Many, I’ve discovered on this blog (Frog on a Blog)! I like to think of how books relate to each other or something happening in the classroom or larger world.

Two books I really enjoyed this year are Catalina and the King’s Wall (Eifrig Publishing, 2018) by Patty Costello (ill. by Diane Cojocaru), and Mela and the Elephant (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018) by Dow Phumiruk Ng (ill. by Ziyue Chen). On the surface, they are very different books; one is like a many layered cake, while the other is beautifully simple. I like sharing two seemingly different books and asking my students to find similarities.

Catalina, a baker, needs to outsmart the king who wants to build a wall to keep out foreigners. (Yes, there is a political undertone, and according to the author, this was the inspiration for her book.) Lucky for Catalina, the King has a sweet tooth and she is able to use this weakness to her advantage. The illustrations are vibrant and children will be charmed by the abundance of colors, baked goods, and a tiny mouse who can be found on each page. The lessons of inclusion and acceptance are woven throughout, but the overarching theme of kindness is what my second and third graders took note of.

Mela is a little girl who wants to go on an adventure down the river without her little brother. A simple, negative exchange between them at the beginning allows the reader to anticipate what will happen when Mela gets lost and needs help. This Thai folktale is a more obvious story of kindness, but is in no way preachy, and the students were easily able to relate to Mela. The illustrations are also charming, but simpler, to match the story.

Personally, I give each of these books 5 stars because they both work as a good combination of text and illustration, telling compelling stories that work for a variety of ages.

Laura RLaura 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.

Keep an eye out for Aliana Reaches for the Moon, available February 19, 2019! 

Picture Books At The Library 169

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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FRANKENBUNNY: After Spencer discovers his big brothers’ stories about Frankenbunny aren’t true, he hatches a plan to teach his brothers a lesson.

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HARRISON P. SPADER, PERSONAL SPACE INVADER: Harrison loves life and wants to share his joy with everyone, but first he needs to learn about personal space.

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GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING: Every different type of girl is celebrated, because each girl is unique.

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THE ONLY WAY IS BADGER: Badger wants everyone to be more like him, and when they’re not, he sends them away to the other side of the wall.

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GRANDMOTHER’S VISIT: Grace receives one final visit from her grandmother after she’s passed away.

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BUSINESS PIG: One little pig is passed up for adoption, no matter how many charts he presents or resumes he hands out. Adorable!

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THIS IS MY EYE: Join a young girl as she explores the shapes, colors, patterns, people, and perspectives of her beloved city.

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THE BUNNY BAND: When Livinia the badger threatens to turn her garden thief into stew, the bunny pleads for his life, promising a rich reward if she lets him go.

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HOW TO FEED YOUR PARENTS: Matilda’s parents are picky eaters, so Matilda decides that if she wants to try something new, she’ll have to cook it herself.

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THANK YOU, OMU!: When the aroma of Omu’s homemade stew fills the air, her neighbors arrive, one by one, for a taste until all is gone except for her generous spirit.

Picture Books At The Library 168

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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HENRI’S HATS: Henri does not know that his Grand-Papa has gone on grand adventures until he discovers a trunk full of the most amazing hats.

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HECTOR’S FAVORITE PLACE: Hector worries about everything that could go wrong if he left his house.

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HEY, HEY, HAY!: Celebrate farming, family, machines, and hard work while you learn how hay is made.

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ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT FLUFFY: When Claire and her stuffed rabbit Fluffy become very, very angry, watch out!

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ELLA & MONKEY AT SEA: Ella and her best friend Monkey do not want to board a ship and leave behind their home in Holland.

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LENA’S SHOES ARE NERVOUS: Lena must find a way to convince her shoes not to be nervous about the first day of school.

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AND THERE WAS EVENING, AND THERE WAS MORNING: Tells the story of how God created the world, describing six days of work fashioning everything from seas and clouds to animals and people, to finally resting on Shabbat.

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THE DAY WAR CAME: A young girl, displaced by war, must fight for survival until help finally comes.

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MAPPING SAM: Where does Sam go when her people are tucked in bed and she slips out into the beckoning world?

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IF YOU’RE GOING TO A MARCH: A first introduction to what you’ll need and what you’ll see and do if you’re going to participate in a march.

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ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE: Chloe gets angry when her classmate Adrian claims to have a horse.

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THE DRESS AND THE GIRL: A girl loses her dress when she leaves her Greek island home and immigrates to America.