A Place to Start a Family: Poems about Creatures That Build

July 6th, 2018 · Books


A PLACE TO START A FAMILY, by David Harrison, is a collection of 12 poems about animals and the homes they build. Separated into sections for builders underground, on land, in water, and in air, the poems focus on the materials and techniques each animal uses to create a cozy, safe space for their young. The beautiful and lifelike illustrations by Giles Laroche are a mixture of collage, painting and more. Families will notice new details each time they read the book.

While the poems alternate between first and third person, each shares a positive and admiring perspective of the subject’s talents. The termites, for example, “keep a tidy nest” and “no one builds a better fortress” than they do. The yellow garden spider is described as “crafting in the dark” and possess an “ancient weaver’s skill.” A favorite in our house was the star-nosed mole whose “secret tunnels sometimes lead outside, sometimes beneath a ledge or limb, sometimes I even have to swim.” The poems are short enough to read several times, but rich in detail for creating discussion and prompting questions, especially together with the illustrations.

Anticipating wide-ranging questions from readers, additional information for each animal is provided at the end, including suggestions for further reading. The final page even is a bonus section entitled “A Different Kind of Builder,” which includes a poem and information about the sun coral.

A PLACE TO START A FAMILY is recommended for ages 5-9, but children slightly younger and older will find much to enjoy.

I received a review copy from the publisher.




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Sharks: Nature’s Perfect Hunter

May 23rd, 2018 · Books


Shark Week doesn’t come around until mid-July, but the magnificent Science Comics line has a new book out to tide us over. Sharks: Nature’s Perfect Hunter, by Joe Flood, is entertaining, informative, surprising, and its environmental call to action will inspire young readers to pay attention to sharks as co-habitants of Earth and not enemies.

From the opening note by Marine Conservation Biologist, Dr. David Shiffman, to the final frame of this graphic text, Sharks: Nature’s Perfect Hunter doesn’t shy away from focusing the reader’s attention on human responsibility in both the misunderstanding of sharks and the threats to their existence. With mentions of actual shark encounters, Hollywood’s influence, and markets for shark fins and souvenirs, the book firmly and gently places the onus on the reader to do better.

The book spends a good amount time on shark anatomy, including cartilage, organs, and the shark’s impressive sense of smell. With illustrations showing the spinal column, a cross-section of the shark’s body to highlight muscles, and various detailed jaw examples, Joe Flood makes sure readers have a comprehensive idea of how sharks work. This is especially important when the book pinpoints the shark fin trade in all its irony and gore.

A wide array of shark species are highlighted in the text and with colorful and detailed illustrations. Using a narrative that includes a captain and a group of “land-lubbers” who know a lot about ocean life, including sharks, we learn about the terrifying Goblin Shark, the pain-inducing Cookie Cutter Shark, and the toothless Whale Shark. Sharks: Nature’s Perfect Hunter also dips into folklore, prehistoric times, and the shark’s defenses that have nothing to do with its teeth.

The accessible glossary (complete with really cool drawings of shark egg cases!) and a busy Shark Family Tree at the back of the book, make sure young and adult readers alike will find the book entertaining and informative. In addition, you’ll be well-versed in shark facts when Shark Week comes around!

Highly recommended for ages 9-13 and beyond.

I received a review copy of the book from the publisher.



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Dr. Dolittle (1998) and Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001)

April 16th, 2018 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie reviewReview By JENNIFER KALI

One weekend, my family enjoyed a movie marathon of “Dr. Dolittle” and “Dr. Dolittle 2.” The first movie tells the story of a doctor (Eddie Murphy) who suddenly realizes he can talk to animals. He spends most of the movie coming to terms with his new reality. in the second movie, Dr. Dolittle used his ability to talk to animals to save a park land which is home to a very rare bear.

My daughter, age 8, loved these movies. There are a lot of visual gags and jokes that she found hilarious. The second movie has a strong animal rights theme. There are a few crude jokes, sexual innuendo, and mild cursing that seemed out of place in this family movie, but it wasn’t overwhelming.

Common Sense Media recommends “Dr. Dolittle” for ages 9+ and “Dr. Dolittle 2” for ages 8+.

This was a great selection for family movie night. Now we are off to see “Dr. Dolittle 3”!

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Little Sid: The Tiny Prince Who Became Buddha

April 14th, 2018 · Books


A relevant picture book for our times, Little Sid is a retelling of how a prince, Siddhartha, became Buddha. While not historically accurate, the story maintains the concepts and spirit of lessons to be learned in a style that will entice young readers. The modern twist (stuffed animals! casual diction!) will make the story of how Siddhartha became Buddha accessible to a whole new generation of children, many of whom will relate to the family dynamic described.


I found the telling interesting and direct without being overly childish. Little Sid is distraught to find that the possessions and activities his parents seem to value don’t provide contentment. Like many caregivers today, Little Sid’s parents are distracted and focused on getting “things” done, and when they notice that their son is unhappy, they order him entertained or showered in toys. The material things don’t help.

Thus, Little Sid learns early on that money can’t buy happiness, and he goes off on his own to find Happiness with a capital H. In his journeys, he finds some mysterious guides who only confuse him, and he even thinks some of their advice is “the dumbest thing he’d ever heard.” And then he sits with the advice for a while and wonders if it was in fact the wisest.

It is an encounter with a fierce tiger that shocks Little Sid into a discovery of how being fully present brings appreciation and Happiness. The rest of the story takes us back to Little Sid’s village and home to see how he spreads this knowledge to everyone, including his family.

The illustrations are dreamlike and beautiful. The layered imagery creates a focus for each page, and the simple shapes convey great emotion without cluttering the landscape. For younger children, the illustrations encourage interaction to identify emotions, colors, and more.

Recommended for ages 4-8.

I received a review copy from the publisher.


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