Hail to the Chief (An Ellis the Elephant Story)

Hail to the Chief
(An Ellis the Elephant Story)
Callista Gingrich

“Ellis the elephant is back, and he’s headed to the White House! In Hail to the Chief, the sixth in Callista Gingrich’s New York Times bestselling series, Ellis meets some of America’s greatest presidents and discovers how they have led our country throughout American history. Join Ellis as he travels back in time to encounter:
  • George Washington as he is sworn in as our first president.
  • Andrew Jackson as he welcomes thousands of Americans to the White House.
  • Abraham Lincoln as he delivers the Gettysburg Address.
  • Theodore Roosevelt as he builds our national park system.
  • Lyndon Johnson as he signs the Civil Rights Act.
With beautiful illustrations and charming rhymes, Hail to the Chief will delight young and old alike with a glimpse at the leaders who helped make America an exceptional nation.”
My Review:
What a great book! I love that it’s a darling picture book with colorful illustrations, and yet it’s packed with information! Children will think they’re reading about a cute little elephant, and yet they’re learning about American presidents and history. You know me, I hate it when authors push their agenda onto children through books and movies, and I was worried that this book might do that; it did not, thankfully! It is an unbiased look at several of America’s former presidents; Republican and Democratic alike. The only agenda in this book is to get children excited about American history by helping them learn about former presidents. I even learned a few things! It’s written in poem format, which is great because learning to rhyme is also an important skill for children to have. It’s not forced rhyming, either. It flows well and is easy to read and understand. My copy is hardback, which I love for its durability. The illustrations are very well done. They’re colorful, interesting, and full of great details. Not all the former presidents are highlighted in the book, but there is a little blurb on each of the presidents in the back of the book. (*Update 1/6/17: I had a reader contact me regarding the blurbs. She felt like the blurbs were biased, so I read through them. I think most of them are unbiased and informational. There are a few, especially with the more current presidents,  that are slightly biased. I didn’t feel like they were extremely biased, but there was a hint. Still, I think the benefits of the book outweigh the negative. If you feel the blurbs are biased then you could take those pages out, since they are not a part of the actual story. The story itself is unbiased.*)  I highly recommend this book for old and young alike! This book should be in every elementary school library in the United States!
Rating: G (Clean!)
Recommendation: Everyone!
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever!

I know it’s past Christmas, but……
Merry Christmas!!!!
I have been completely preoccupied for the last six weeks! (You could probably tell that I have not posted as much as I usually do.) I have been subbing full-time for my daughter’s class at school. Her teacher had a baby and asked me if I would sub her class for the next 12 weeks. Wow. It has been crazy! I haven’t worked full-time in 14 years, since I had my first baby. That was when I taught first grade, but it has been 14 years! Let’s just say that jumping back into it has been a HUGE adjustment for all of us. I’m halfway through! Six more weeks to go and then hopefully I can get back to my usual routine! I usually do my reading at night when everyone is asleep and I can’t sleep. However, the last six weeks I have fallen asleep so fast that I haven’t been able to do much reading. I did, however,  manage to read this book. I love this book! I have read it many times, but it’s been a few years; so I was excited to pick it up again. 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Blurb (from amazon.com):

The Herdmans are the worst kids in the history of the world. They lie, steal, smoke cigars, swear, and hit little kids. So no one is prepared when this outlaw family invades church one Sunday and decides to take over the annual Christmas pageant.

None of the Herdmans has ever heard the Christmas story before. Their interpretation of the tale — the Wise Men are a bunch of dirty spies and Herod needs a good beating — has a lot of people up in arms. But it will make this year’s pageant the most unusual anyone has seen and, just possibly, the best one ever.”

My Review:

I love this book! It’s so cute and full of wonderful lessons; for Christmas time and all year long. The narrator is hilarious and engaging. She has a funny personality that makes you care about her and her story. The mom is so patient and usually has a positive outlook. The Herdmans are awful. I read this to the kids and I had to stop and talk about how unhealthy smoking is, and how stealing and setting fire to things are bad choices. However, it sets a great stage for what is to come in the story. Their bad behavior makes the change that much more poignant. I won’t give it away, but some of the lessons learned are to actually think about the things we do, instead of just going through the motions, and to really think about the things we believe in. It also teaches the importance of not judging others, and to not gossip. It’s a quick read, yet it is such a great book to read at this time of year. Reading this book helps put things in perspective. 

Rating: PG+ (It does talk about the kids smoking, burning things, and doing all sorts of bad things. It does have a religious overtone to it-just fyi.)

Recommendation: As long as mom or dad are sitting there discussing the poor choices that the kids are making, this book is fine for about first grade and up. As a silent read I would say third grade (but I would still recommend that a parent discusses it with them).

A Rare Nativity

A Rare Nativity by Sam Beeson (Images by Nina & Terral Cochran)

“We’ve all heard the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and we’ve all seen the traditional Christmas crèche. Now, author Sam Beeson and photographers Nina and Terral Cochran combine these two classic Christmas icons to create A Rare Nativity. Upon reading the first lines of the book, it’s clear the narrator holds a bitter grudge as he sends his enemy crude and discarded gifts…Night after night the “gifts” pile up–shards of glass, rusty nails, gnarled twigs, and more. What the narrator’s enemy decides to do with each of these odious gifts is nothing less than a Christmas miracle. The photographic creation of the rare nativity at the end of the book is both a work of art and a wonder to behold. Forgiveness is something we all need to give and receive, and A Rare Nativity opens our eyes to the act of forgiveness and the true meaning of Christmas. It’s a universal message to be shared with readers of all ages. Christmas is a season for giving. Make it a season of forgiving.”
My Review:
I have to admit that this book was not at all what I imagined when I opened the cover. When I think of Christmas books, I think of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, I think of angels and wise men, and I think of happiness and joy. I think of children smiling, of carols, and of family. I also think of yummy treats. When I opened this book I expected to find those things, or things that are similar. Especially thinking of the nativity, I think of Joseph and Mary with their baby in the stable. I think of angels, wise men, and shepherds. That is not what I found when I opened this book, and it definitely surprised me. This book is very different from every other Christmas book I have ever read, and I’m still trying to decide if that is a good thing or not. It opens with the line, “On the first night of Christmas I gave my enemy a briar from a tanglewood tree.” This includes a picture of a burr-like thing; I’m assuming it’s a briar. It goes on like that for many pages, with the narrator giving his enemy all these awful things. In the end, there is a good moral, it all comes together, and you understand. However, I felt like it focused way too much on the negative gifts and the enemy. Maybe it’s because it’s Christmas, but I just felt like it was 90% negative and 10% positive, and even though the positive was good, it wasn’t enough to win me over. It’s still a good book, and it’s a good lesson to teach my kids, but unfortunately it will not be my new favorite Christmas book. If you’re looking for something different this year, then A Rare Nativity will be just the book for you!

Rating: G (It’s clean)

Recommendation: Everyone

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Chocolate Touch

The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling

“John Midas loves chocolate. He loves it so much that he’ll eat it any hour of any day. He doesn’t care if he ruins his appetite. He thinks chocolate is better than any other food! But one day, after wandering into a candy store and buying a piece of their best chocolate, John finds out that there might just be such a thing as too much chocolate…..”

My Review:

Too much chocolate? No! I don’t think so! Or, at least I didn’t think so….until I read this book! Unfortunately, John has to learn the hard way that there is such a thing as too much chocolate! Bummer, right? I mean, who wants to eat broccoli instead of chocolate? No one! This is a cute story. It’s so fun, and it teaches a good lesson too. It’s well written, engaging, has good character development, and my kids loved it (I started reading it to my girls-7 and 9, and my boys, 13 and 11, joined us…they loved it too!). It’s a great read-aloud! And, I guess even the big kiddos enjoy it! I loved the descriptions in this book; I could just picture the expressions on the characters’ faces, and almost taste that delectable chocolate. And what is even better? This book is totally clean; there is no profanity, violence, or “intimacy” (Yay!).

Rating: G (Totally clean!!!)

Recommendation: Everyone! This book is especially great for all the chocoholics out there….. 🙂

This is the Turkey

This is the Turkey by Abby Levine
This is a fun story! It’s written in rhyme, which is always fun, and it’s actually well done. It is clever and full of some fun surprises. The illustrations are bright and colorful, and so cute! I love the expressions on the faces. I love that, although exaggerated a bit, it is real. Life with family on Thanksgiving never turns out perfectly, and instead of getting upset and angry, you just need to learn to roll with it. Also, we all make mistakes, and it’s okay. We shouldn’t “cry over spilled milk,” but be thankful for what we do have. I think this book is so cute!
Rating: G (Clean!)
Recommendation: Everyone

Let’s Celebrate Thanksgiving

Let’s Celebrate Thanksgiving by Peter and Connie Roop
We got this book a few years ago in a book order from the school, and I actually like it. It has some very good information about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. It isn’t a fictional story, it is facts and information about the Pilgrims and the Native Americans involved in that first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Colony in 1621. I love that they tried to make it accurate. The Pilgrims did not wear black and white clothing, and the Native Americans did not live in teepees. It talks about the Mayflower, the hardships that the Pilgrims faced, how Squanto and Massasoit fit in, how the Wampanoag tribe helped the Pilgrims, and what they probably ate at that first Thanksgiving. As far as I can tell, the information is accurate with what I have researched myself. So that part is great for the parents! Then there are fun jokes and fascinating facts interspersed with all the information to make it more fun for the kids. For example, “The Mayflower traveled at a speed of 2 miles an hour. That is about 48 miles a day.” And, “If a Pilgrim threw a pumpkin into the air, what came down? Squash!” Hahaha….. The illustrations are bright and colorful, and they are well done. They are still cartoony (is that even a word??), but they try to be more accurate than most illustrators do. I also like that they talk about different Thanksgiving celebrations around the world, and that there were a few Thanksgiving celebrations before the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony.
I like the accurate information in this book! I like that the authors took the time to do the research and teach the children correct information. I love the illustrations! We talked about Thanksgiving last night in our family, and my 11 year-old son kept giving all these correct answers. When I asked him where he learned it (because I’m sure he didn’t remember it from last year, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t learn all of it in school), he said it was from this book. Yay! Love it!
Rating: G (Clean!)
Recommendation: Everyone!

The Adventures of Geo the Pebble

The Adventures of Geo the Pebble by Jay Gerald
“Have you ever picked up a pebble and wondered where it came from and the adventures it has had? This is the story of Geo, who was born at the top of a mountain and traveled all around the world to end up in the palm of your hand.”
My Review:
This is a cute story. It is fun to see what happens to Geo on his travels, and it definitely makes you think more about the rocks in parking lots and up in the mountains. It’s too bad that rocks don’t have some sort of tracking device so you can see where they have been. There is some humor, and a little potty humor (which isn’t my favorite, but the boys and little ones will love it). The illustrations are bright and colorful. They aren’t my favorite style, but they are well done. This book would be fun for a social studies class to read. This book is also great for boys because it’s about rocks and it’s not frilly or princessy. It would be fun to use this book as a kick-off to a rock unit. It would also be fun to have a class rock that children could take on vacations and such, and take their pictures with it all the different places they go. Then they could each write about it a class rock journal. 
Rating: G (Clean! There is that one little potty word, but even though it’s not clean, it’s clean-hahaha!)
Recommendation: Everyone!
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

[Book Review] T. Rex Trick-or-Treats by Lois G. Grambling

T. Rex Trick-or-Treats 
Lois G. Grambling

My boys were crazy about dinosaurs when they were little. We have tubs of dinosaurs. They don’t get played with very often any more, and it’s crazy, but I miss it. This book is cute, but I think I love it more because of the sentimental value. It reminds me of those crazy-fun dinosaur days. The illustrations are bright, colorful, and so much fun. The characters’ expressions are great! The fonts are fun and different, and there are even different colors! I love the idea of the book that T. Rex wants to be something scary for Halloween. Hahaha…….is there anything scarier than a T-Rex dinosaur? T. Rex’s friends try and help, but they end up taking all his ideas. So what does T. Rex end up being for Halloween? You’ll need to read it to find out! The kids love this book! I love that there are repetitive phrases and words that even little kids can say, and I love that it reminds me of my cute little boys who loved dinosaurs. Even though they are big now (13 and 11), they will still sit with me and listen when I read this story. My girls (9 and 6) enjoy this book too! This Halloween book is definitely a keeper!

Rating: G (Clean!)

Recommendation: Everyone!

Animal Motions

Animal Motions by Melissa Pilgrim
(This summary is taken from an email the author sent to me.) “Animal Motions” is a fun, easy to follow, low-impact movement routine told as a story in a colorful picture book for ages 3-6.  Follow Eric as he stretches and moves his body at the start of his day by using his imagination to become some of his favorite animals.  Travel with him to the jungle, the desert, the forest, the ocean—-and don’t forget to keep your body moving!  It’s inspired by the theatre games I used to play with my young actors in Chicago at my theatre there, and I’m hoping it helps all children everywhere stay “creatively fit!” 

The beautiful, full-page watercolor illustrations are done by the very talented Ira V. Gates.”

This is a fun new children’s book! I read it to my kids this morning. My six-year-old laughed and loved it, my eight-year-old said it was ok, and my eleven-year-old just shrugged. So there you go. It says ages 3-6 and that’s spot on. Eric wakes up in the morning and stretches his body. He moves like many different animals, and each animal is a different position or stretch. My kids were eating breakfast when I read it to them, but if we had all been sitting together I would have made them follow along. I think this is a fun concept. It gives kids a more exciting way to stretch and move. Not only is it great for families, it would also be great for preschool, kindergarten, or first grade classrooms. (There are lesson plans to go along with the book on her website, which I will give below.) It would also be great for a younger dance or gymnastics class as well. The illustrations are so bright and colorful. They are captivating and really bring the story together.  
The website that coincides with this book is a great resource for parents and teachers. The website is: www.animalmotions.com . There are lesson plans and a mini poster that you can print for kids to color. Also, there is an app that goes along with the book! It goes through all the animal motions and the kids can follow along. So fun! (It’s FREE on amazon.com for android today, Sept. 4th, so grab it while you can! It’s also FREE on itunes today!!!)
Rating: G (Clean!)
Recommendation: It is recommended for ages 3-6. I think even toddlers could do it.
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Here is the link to the app on amazon:
Here is the link to the book:

Joy’s Journey Home

Joy’s Journey Home by Timothy Connolly
(Summary taken from the back cover of the book) “A heartwarming adventure seen through the eyes of a kitchen named Joy on her way back home. This story is a tale of growth and connection, which is filled with lovable characters, each with their own adventures and lessons learned, all leading Joy toward home where she belongs.”
I liked this book, for the most part. It’s a fast, easy read. Most of the characters are cute and lovable. I liked that one of the main characters, Angela, is deaf and uses sign language to speak. I have never read a book that has a deaf character in it, and I liked that it brought deafness and sign language to the forefront. I also liked that there were some good lessons to be learned. The characters learn about love, family, and helping each other. I did think, though, that for a cute little kitten story, it was more violent and scary than it should have been. Even though it’s with a cat, there is essentially a “birds and the bees” story. I mean, it is a cat, but she falls in love with a stray boy cat, and goes off with him, then he leaves her and she comes back pregnant. She is dejected and upset because he left her alone and pregnant. I’m not sure if a little child would catch it, but I would be uncomfortable reading it to my daughters the way it is written. It’s a bit much. There is also a part where a fire burns a barn, collapses, and kills a few kittens. That was a really sad and scary part. Now, there is a surprise at the end that may or may not make things better, but it happens after the sad and scary parts. I know my girls would be upset after reading that part. 
So, it has a good ending, it teaches some good lessons, and it brings deafness and sign language to the forefront. I like those things. The illustrations are very cute as well. There were a few parts, though, that I didn’t think should have been in the story, or I think they should have been toned down a bit. It’s tough because some of the scenes are geared more toward middle graders, but this story of a cute little kitten and her friend Angela will not appeal to them. The story line is geared toward younger children. If I read it to my girls I will definitely read it to them, and I will alter those parts a bit. It is worth reading, though, because the characters do learn some good lessons. 
Rating: PG
Recommendation: It’s kind of tricky. Because it’s a kitten story, middle graders really won’t be interested, but a few scenes are too much for the K-3 girl crowd. I’d say K-3rd grade girls, but I’d recommend that parents read it first. Maybe other parents will be fine with it. If they read it silently, I’d make sure to discuss those parts with them. It’s probably a 2nd grade reading level.
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.