Friday, March 22, 2013

KAZAAK by Sean Cassidy

Cassidy, Sean. Kazaak! Markham, Ont.: Fitzenhenry & Whiteside, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-55455-117-0. $18.95.

Kazaak! is the story of two porcupines named Spike and Rupert. Spike is quite the ingenue when it comes to having quills; Rupert, though, is an old pro. Rupert excitedly shows Spike all the wonderful things that quills can do. Most marvelous of all, however, is the way that, with a flick of a mighty tail, a porcupine can kazaak pretty much anything. You can kazaak fruit and let the yummy juice drip of your quills into your mouth. You can kazaak a tree and use it to help you climb up. The most important thing that kazaaking allows you to do? Scare off Bear.

Unfortunately, things don't go so well for Rupert and Spike when they encounter Bear in the woods. Rupert has spent so much time showing Spike what quills can do and kazaaking here and kazaaking there that all his quills are gone! A little quick thinking on the part of Spike, though, saves the day!

The final few pages of Kazaak! end with some information about porcupines—where they live, what they eat, and what their tracks look like. Additional statistics are shared about quills—for example, an average porcupine has 30,000 quills and if you were to draw all 30,000 quills at a rate of two quills for every second, it would take four hours to finish. Speaking of drawing, a final activity provides a diagram of how to draw a porcupine.  It's a good book, though I did feel a bit sorry for Bear when everything came to an end.

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Thursday, March 21, 2013

BUZZ by Eileen Spinelli

Spinelli, Eileen. Illus. Vincent Nguyen. BUZZ. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4169-4925-1, $15.99 

BUZZ. I can probably recite every word of BUZZ. The reason? My niece loves it. Fortunately, it's a cute book and I rather like it myself. Eileen Spinelli has set the story in response to the scientific statement that "aerodynamically speaking, the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble doesn't know it, so it goes on flying anyway." She switches it around a bit, though, and the story explores what might happen if a bumblebee did find out that she couldn't fly.

BUZZ centers around three main characters: Buzz, Snail, and Old Owl. All three live a happy existence and Buzz especially loves being able to fly over fields of clover, trees, and Snail's briar. Old Owl is lovable in his stereotypical aloofness and Snail is kind—especially when Buzz, devastated upon seeing a news article reporting the scientific findings, can no longer fly. Unfortunately, this happens right when Buzz needs to fly the most. Old Owl is in great danger and only Buzz can save him—if she could fly. Alas, she can't, and Buzz has to come up with another way to save Old Owl.

This book is more than just a sweet little story and pretty pictures; it poses the question: "What will you do when someone says you can't succeed?"

As a side note: I tried out a fun reading development technique (which is appropriate for any illustrated book a child knows well) that was a great success. I asked my niece if she wanted to write the story of Buzz. She excitedly said yes, so I pulled out a piece of paper. I asked her to look at the pictures and tell me a story of what happened. There was a lot of "Buzzy, buzzy, buzzy Buzz!" but it was worth every single reading to watch a three year-old, clutching a few pages to her chest, proudly proclaim: "I'm an author! I writed a book!" Did she put pen to paper? No. But she is beginning to associate the act of writing and words and the creation of written narrative. Who knows, one day she might write her very own book for someone else to review!

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Hoppey, Tim. Pedro the Pirate. Illus. Dianna Bonder. McHenry: Raven Tree Press, 2012. ISBN# 978-1-936299-18-8. $16.95. Author’s suggested audience: Pre-K to 3rd Grade.

Pedro, the cabin boy on a pirate ship, dreams of becoming a real pirate like Captain Crossbones and finding treasure. Pedro he finds a locket on the rocks and takes it. A mermaid named Elena approaches Pedro and she asks him how he can take what doesn’t belong to him. Indifferent to her comments, Pedro casts a net to catch Elena. Captain Crossbones and Pedro kidnap Elena and hold her for a ransom of gold from the other mermaids. Pedro feels guilty about stealing and kidnapping. When he opens the locket, he learns that the locket is of special significance to Elena. The next day, when the mermaids bring the gold as ransom for their friend, deceitful Captain Crossbones keeps the both the gold and Elena. Pedro talks Captain Crossbones into releasing her. Later, Pedro sneaks into the captain’s quarters and takes the key to the pirate’s treasure chest. Pedro returns the locket to the rocks where he found it. He also leaves all of the mermaids’ gold there too. Pedro tells Elena he now knows he doesn’t want to be a pirate and he vows never to steal anything again.

This picture book includes valuable lessons and is enjoyable to read. Themes of action, adventure, value, and virtue follow Pedro through his decision-making about becoming a pirate. The powerful lessons about right and wrong taught by the story are do not steal, people can change their mind and do the right thing, and that things that have gone wrong can be made right again.

This is not a bilingual book but it does include creative elements of bilingualism that add to the quality of the book. The parrot character plays a significant translator role in the story. That is, he repeats what is said but in the opposite language. On page eight, the captain shouts, “Arrgh, treasure!” and the parrot squawks, “¡Arrgh, tesoro!” Tesoro is the Spanish translation of treasure. The translations not translated by the parrot are easy to connect to the English text because the Spanish text immediately follows the English. On page three, sailors scream “The pirate! ¡El pirata!” Pirata is the Spanish translation of pirate. The words pirate and pirata look alike and make it easy for the readers to make a connection, and these words are cognates.

Even though Pedro’s serious dilemma about right and wrong lends a serious tone to the story, there is humor in the interactions of the bilingual parrot, bilingual Pedro, and Captain Crossbones, who only speaks English and doesn’t understand what the parrot is saying. Crossbones says repeatedly “Quiet, parrot!” and the parrot always replies “¡Silencio, loro!” basically repeating what the captain just said, only in Spanish. Crossbones can’t understand what the parrot is saying, but the reader can, and this is very funny and enjoyable.

The story is mostly written in English, but there are nine words and phrases in Spanish in the book and the translations given to Spanish are accurate. The book includes a glossary of Spanish and English vocabulary words used in the story at the back. The text is color coded, with English text in black and Spanish text in red so the Spanish is easy to identify. Oddly, some words and phrases are not included in the glossary and these might be difficult for the target audience to understand. These are words and phrases that the target audience may not have been exposed to yet or are not commonly used in their everyday communication. The words boasted, glistened, beamed, and plunked do not appear in the glossary. The two phrases not included in the glossary that may be unfamiliar to readers are, “What the blazes did you just say?” and “Let’s have her walk the plank and be done with her.”

There are big, colorful and fun two- page spread illustrations of the ocean and of pirates. Characters’ facial expressions are very vivid. Inside of the front and back cover are illustrations of a historical nautical map that depicts ships, gold, a compass, and route markings. Text on these pages is placed within boxes, visible and clear.

On some pages, where the image does not fill the two-page spread, there is a blue border, with the text to one side. The border on the side where the text is appears much thicker and looks like water splashing into the image, which adds a nice touch since the story takes place in the ocean.

This book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Diana Derner

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Reed-Jones, Carol. The Tree in the Ancient Forest. Illus. Christopher Canyon. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications, 1995. ISBN: 1-883220-31-9. Author recommends this for ages 4-10.

A nature awareness book, this richly colored picture book is written in the literary form of cumulative verse. This form is best known from the verse The House that Jack Built. By using this form, the author emphasizes the theme of interdependence in an ancient forest. Reed-Jones is also a music teacher and she uses rhythmic, repetitive verse, and word cadence to engage readers in the vocabulary and overall theme of interdependence in the book.

Throughout the pages readers repeat phrases about the 300-year-old tree that grows there, and the other life in the ancient forest. A squirrel, a marten, underground truffles, voles and mice and an owl are all characters.

Illustrations done in acrylic include deep greens, blues, browns and oranges. The perspective of the images is complex and holds readers’ visual interest. Paintings are of the tree above ground as well as from underground so that soil layers, roots, and habitat of underground animals is visible and detailed, and alternates from this to depictions of habitats of animals that live in the treetops and on the forest floor.

At the back of the book is a list of entries for the animals and plants mentioned in the book. These entries include information about habitat, diet, size and other simple scientific background descriptions. Also included at the back of the book is information about the importance of the ancient forest and descriptive information about its characteristics.

With the re-emergence of the importance of high quality, literary informational texts in schools across the country, this title is a welcome addition to a read aloud classroom collection, especially for lessons about science.

Reviewed by Linda Salem

Monday, March 18, 2013


Jarkins, Sheila. The Adventures of Marco Flamingo in the Cave/ Las aventuras de Marco Flamenco en la cueva. McHenry: Raven Tree Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-936402-00-7. $16.95.

*This book is the fourth one in the series. The three books prior to this one are: Marco Flamingo, Marco Flamingo under the Sea, and Marco Flamingo in the Jungle.

This story is about a flamingo named Marco who is looking for an adventure with his three other flamingo friends, Shelly, Coral, and Webb. They travel through grasslands, along rivers, and into the desert. When their jeep breaks down in the desert, Marco leads his friends to an oasis. There, Marco spots a cave and is eager to discover what he will find inside. His friends are timid and stay outside while Marco explores the cave. Leopard, Snake, Vulture, and Goat watch as Marco enters the cave and decide to join him. They become friends and Leopard tells Marco they will go and bring Shelly, Coral, and Webb into the cave. After various planned attempts Leopard, Snake, Vulture, and Goat get Shelly, Coral, and Webb to enter the cave. They explore the cave as Marco did and ultimately find Marco. Marco surprises his flamingo friends by introducing them to his new friends Leopard, Snake, Vulture, and Goat. They all become friends and dance as they exit the cave together.

Additional Information:
This story is a fictional picture book. Ideal for a bilingual classroom setting, the story is written in English and Spanish. The English text on top and the Spanish text on the bottom right below the English text, language texts are color-coded and easy to distinguish.

Originally written in English and translated into Spanish, some of the translations are not very accurate, and there is one spelling error. On page seven, the engine overheats and dies. Coral says “Oh no, we’re doomed.” The Spanish text reads "Oh, no, estamos perdidos." The word perdidos means lost, not doomed. A more accurate translation would be "Oh, no, estamos atorados." The word atorados means stuck. On page 10, in the Spanish word mirren as used in this story is misspelled. It should be miren with one r. On page 11 a flamingos says “I agree” and the Spanish translation given is "Tienes razón," which means “You are right” in English and not “I agree.” The correct translation would be "Estoy de acuerdo." On page 17, in the Spanish text, the usage of the word charca is questionable because it means puddle and in the English text this was originally written the cave pool, meaning a body of water bigger than a puddle. A more accurate translation of cave pool would be la laguna de la cueva. Finally, on page 19 Shelly says “Yikes!” but the Spanish text translates this to "Guacala!" which means “Gross!” in English, not yikes. A better translation would be "Ay!" Also, some sentences could have been rephrased better in Spanish. Aside from the errors mentioned, the translation matches the original English text.

This story is ideal for teaching dialogue and dialogue punctuation. The punctuation for dialogue in Spanish is written differently than the punctuation for dialogue in English. In Spanish, the guión (–) is the punctuation used in dialogue. In English, the quotation marks (“) are the punctuation used in dialogue. Each language uses the punctuation differently. Certain rules pertain to each one.

Other books in the series set Marco in different locales such as the sea and jungle. Teachers can use these texts to initiate conversations and access students’ prior knowledge when teaching about these habitats in particular. A sneak peek summary of the story on the inside flap of the cover. At the end of the book, the author includes a glossary of vocabulary used in the story. The vocabulary words are in Spanish and in English.

The colorful illustrations engage for young readers. If not used in the classroom to teach dialogue or habitat, this story can be used for enjoyment purposes. Children love reading about adventure.

Reviewed by Diana Derner

This review is part of the Special Section: Books in Spanish, featuring a collaboration with Policy and Language Studies students at San Diego State University. Read more about it here.