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.

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.

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!