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! 

Once Upon a Time…in History….by Lisa Olson

 “It’s easy to get sucked up into the enormity of life and not think you could ever make a difference. That’s what I like all my books to say. YOU ARE IMPORTANT!!!” ~Lisa Olson

 

 

 

 

I love this quote by Lisa Gammon Olson, author of the American Herstory series! Lisa contacted me recently about her picture book series and I could tell (even through e-mail correspondence) that she’s very passionate about what she wants young readers to take away from her books. I asked Lisa to tell us more about the books and the messages they impart.

My American Herstory Series started where every story starts…with a Once Upon a Time…a small snippet of time from our past, as seen through the eyes of one young girl.  

Working as a secretary in a small rural elementary school has given me a glimpse into the inner workings of a child’s heart and mind.  I see their need for acceptance, for praise and to feel valued as an integral part of the daily school routine.

My father taught 9th grade World Geography and American History. My three sisters and I grew up immersed in daily discussions of current and historical events, interconnected and tightly woven together, todays, tomorrows and yesterdays… sewn together in the colorful patchwork quilt of life.  I’ve always been amazed at the tenacity of the human spirit and the will to survive and even thrive in harsh conditions throughout history.

So, in wanting to validate every child’s sense of belonging, coupled with a passion for history, Dust Flowers, came to life.  The first book in this historical fiction series takes place during one of the most difficult periods in American history, the Dust Bowl Era. Imagine being a child, watching your parents struggle to farm during a decade long drought, besieged with daily black blizzards of swirling dust and not having ever felt a drop of rain in your entire lifetime.  What could one small girl do in the enormity of a drought?  Every act, no matter how small, can change someone’s life for the better. Growing a flower and bringing a smile to her mother’s sad face promises something even more precious…hope!

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Illustration from DUST FLOWERS by Lisa Olson, illustrated by Kyle Olson, published by Eifrig Publishing

Children need to know that everything they do in life will affect someone or something, either positively or negatively, depending on their actions.  In the second book, Sewing the Magic In, a young girl living in 1912 learns her own impact and importance.  She’ll find out how her seemingly tedious work in the costume department plays a part in bringing the magic of the circus to life.

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Even the orphan train riders in the third book, The Cheese Song, can find hope and promise in a situation far out of their control.  Each of us has a part to play on this earth and we soon find out we are all dependent upon the actions and kindness of others. Lessons learned from the past, hopefully, help us to grow and evolve in the future.

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Illustration from THE CHEESE SONG by Lisa Olson, illustrated by Lauren Rutledge, published by Eifrig Publishing

While the American Herstory series starts with “Once upon a time”…every book ends with a message of hope, love and the pursuit of the American dream, and they live, as we all should… “Hope”fully ever after.

Lisa Gammon Olson is an author for Eifrig Publishing.  She lives in Coon Valley, WI, where she is the secretary at the Coon Valley Elementary School….a job she adores!  She believes the most important skill we can ever teach our children is “How to be Kind.”  Any kindness we do, no matter how small, has the power to change someone’s life.  Growing up in northern Wisconsin has instilled in her the wonder of nature… sparkling lakes, endless forests and trails littered with pine needles and possibilities.  Preserving our planet and populating it with human beings who are Respectful, Responsible and Kind seems like an awesome idea.

Learn more about Lisa and her books at http://lisagammonolson.com 

Hope. Kindness. Tenacity of the human spirit. What wonderful messages for all of us to take into the New Year!