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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Chronicle Books

Orbiting Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in OrbitThat lively, quirky-thinking duo from Planet Kindergarten have teamed up once again for Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit. Many schools use the 100-day marker to reflect on how far they’ve come since the first day of kindergarten. Social graces, etiquette, mindfulness, assignments, singing, pledges … they’re all included in this new book.

But the extra-fun twist is that our hero recounts the entire story as a trip into space aboard a starship filled with aliens and a thoughtful commander. 

A classmate who becomes sick doing “anti-gravity exercises” is kindly accompanied to the Nurse’s Office by our hero. Shane Prigmore, the illustrator, reminds us of the exciting scene from Star Wars, the first movie, in which Luke Skywalker zeros in on the Deathstar, with a hallful of doors, slightly askew, and the red-doored office at the end. Adults and older siblings will get the reference and continue looking for more. 

Waiting for show-and-tell, our hero says “Then, like the Apollo astronauts, we wait to be called up. It takes forever before my turn.” Mayhem ensues when there’s a tricky maneuver … but these children aliens are quick to lend a hand, because that’s what they’ve learned in Planet Kindergarten!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit

The illustrations are bold and funny and cued-up with plenty to notice and appreciate. The story is clever but that never gets in the way. It’s a very good story to read out loud, savor as a child-and-adult reading book, or use in the classroom to inspire space-themed play and imagination. Count me in as a moon circling this planet!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit
written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Chronicle Books, 2016


Tucked In for the Winter

Sleep Tight Farm

Sleep Tight Farm by Eugenie Doyle illus by Becca Stadtlander Chronicle Books ISBN 9781452129013

Every detail in this book is heartwarming. You know that the author and the illustrator and the book’s publishing team put a lot of love and respect into bringing this story to readers.

From the moment you see the opening end papers, a forest and pasture ablaze with fall color, until you discover the closing end papers, that same forest with the snowy skeletons of those trees, you sense the care within.

It’s a story of a farm family who are very busy tucking their farm in for the winter. Unless you live on a farm, you likely have no idea there’s so much to do! Harvesting, putting food by, protecting the fields, preparing the hoop house, keeping the beehives safe from mice and wind … from big chores to small, this family’s love for their farm wraps around the reader like a fluffy quilt.

The book will open eyes for children who don’t know about farm life, but it also neatly tucks the details around us, giving us a satisfying look at a family who raise a variety of vegetables for themselves, winter markets, and their own farmstand. You sense the family’s deep level of caring for the land, the birds and animals, and the farm that sustains them.

“Dad cuts back the raspberries before wind and snow can crack the canes. … The promise of late summer’s plump fruit lies in roots tucked underground. Good night, raspberries, resting below.” So fine.

I was drawn to this book by the cover and illustrations. It’s those finely detailed, draw-the-reader-into-the-world-of-the-book, gently instructing paintings that complete the spell of Sleep Tight Farm.  Those details include the icy whiteness of the book’s title on the cover and the informal friendliness of the body text. The farm kitchen is fascinating with stacked wood, a collection of painted pottery, rugs on the floor, and a fire in the pot-bellied stove.

Sleep Tight Farm

When “We board up chinks in the chicken coop and set a timer to give the hens the light they need to lay eggs all winter” even the straw that lines the chicken coop and the feed for those chickens are included in the details. We learn a great deal about the farm by observation. How are eggs collected from the coop? Mom is pounding nails to “board up chinks.” There’s a variety of hens and a beautiful rooster. The family is wearing boots for their work. There’s a fence around the chicken yard. A chicken-strutting ramp leads from the coop to the ground. “Good night, chickens, snug in your coop.” 

After reading this book, I feel calmer about the winter to come. And I want to visit this farm. Warm thanks to author Eugenie Doyle (whose family operates The Last Resort Farm in Vermont) and illustrator Becca Stadtlander and the team at Chronicle Books for creating this respectful, loving, and informative book. What a joy to read! It’s a keeper.


Welcome to Roy’s House

Roy's HouseWhat better way to familiarize one’s self with the work of pop culture artist Roy Lichtenstein than to walk through his house from living room to snack bar, from bathroom to bedroom, and finally into his studio, where we can try our hand at painting?

Susan Goldman Rubin and her team at Chronicle have created a book illustrated by Roy Lichtenstein’s paintings, Roy’s House, which lets us see up close his style of art, the colors he used, and the technique of shading color in dots.

printer's loupeIf you look at a newspaper or a magazine or a brochure, and you use a loupe (Merriam-Webster definition: a small magnifier used especially by jewelers and watchmakers), you can distinguish among the dots used to lay the color down (the “halftone” technique).

During printing, when the color is laid down, those dots grow in size a bit. That’s called “dot gain” and printers expect it, compensating on the original.

Lichtenstein exaggerated those dots, and the technique of cross-hatching, to make his paintings bold, bright, and memorable. His style is instantly recognizable. As the back matter states, “His first show shocked critics in 1962.”

Roy's House

The text is minimal (in keeping with Lichtenstein’s paintings) but the author still manages to imbue those words with warmth and humor, spark and spirit. Making use of the artist’s distinctive, jagged-edged thought bubbles provides energy.

This is a book for the very young, the budding artist or art collector, and yet it’s also a book for those who love art, teach art, and are educating themselves about the infinite styles within art. Lichtenstein’s work is iconic … and so is this book. (Merriam-Webster definition: “widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence”)

Also take a look at the author’s book Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy Lichtenstein (Abrams), written for an older child.

For readers 12 and up, find a copy of Marc Aronson’s Art Attack: a Brief Cultural History of the Avant-Garde (Clarion Books).


There’s Nothing to Dooooooooo

by Vicki Palmquist

By this point in the summer when I was young, the charm of being out of school had worn off, I’d played every game on my grandma’s shelves, and I’d had a few fights with my friends in the neighborhood, so I’d retreated to reading as many books as I could, consuming stories like Ms. Pacman swallowing energy pellets.

When your kids claim that there’s nothing to do, here are a few suggestions for books that inspire doing things, thinking about things, and investigating more.

How Come? Every Kid's Science Questions ExplainedAs I was growing up, I believed that I didn’t like science or math. Turns out it was textbooks and worksheets and tests I didn’t much care for. Give me a paragraph like these two:

“One very big number was named by nine-year-old Milton Sirotta in 1938.

“Milton’s mathematician uncle, Edward Kasner, asked his nephew what he would call the number one followed by a hundred zeroes. Milton decided it was a googol.”

And the number naming doesn’t stop there. This tidbit is part of a chapter called “What is the last number in the universe”” found in How Come? Every Kid’s Science Questions Explained (Workman, 2014), written by Kathy Wollard and illustrated by Debra Solomon with wonderfully comic and lively depictions of the concepts in the text.

Other chapters address must-know topics such as “How does a finger on a straw keep liquid in?” and “Are ants really stronger than humans?” and “Why do the leaves change color in the fall?”

I probably don’t need to point out that kids aren’t the only ones who will find this book fascinating. Read a few chapters to yourself at night and you’ll be able to answer those endlessly curious children who pull on your sleeve.

PhotoplayFor the visually curious, and I believe that means Every Child, you’ll be inspired by Photoplay! Doodle. Design. Draw. by M.J. Bronstein (Chronicle, 2014).

Ms. Bronstein provides examples and workspace for kids to draw on existing photos (printed in the book), telling a story with those drawings or even writing a story. The book can be used in quite a few different ways … and then you can take your own photos and print them out for kids to continue having fun and using their imaginations.

Who Done It?A book that takes some investigation and one that looks like a book for very young children is actually a sophisticated guessing game. The humans and critters line up on Olivier Tallec’s game pages in Who Done It? (Chronicle, forthcoming in 2015).

A simple question such as “Who played with that mean cat?” requires looking into. Can you spot the most likely suspect?

For kids who are learning about facial expressions, body language, and taking one’s time to reason through a puzzle, this is an ideal book that will engender good discussions or occupy a few of those “there’s nothing to doooooo” hours of summer.

Who Done It?


Epic felt

Three small board books … encompassing the first three Star Wars movies and a year-long craft project.

Star Wars Epic Felt

As I read each book, all 12 words, one word and one photo on each two-page spread, it slowly dawned on me just how ingenious they are.

In those 12 carefully chosen words and scenes from the movie, Jack and Holman Wang, twin brothers and admirable artistes, manage to evoke the entire saga of the first three movies. As a Star Wars-loving parent , grandparent (yes, the first fans are old enough to be reading to their grandchildren), aunt or uncle, this is a clever way to communicate across generations, to bring your wee ones into the universe of the Skywalkers.

Each word in the books gives readers an opportunity to talk about ideas such as snow, friend, kiss, father … all of the truly big concepts in a young person’s life … and how they weave into the Star Wars saga.

If we still had bards, they would be regaling us with the epic tales of Tatooine and Aldebaran, the Jedi, and the Force. These books are an unparalleled way to encourage storytelling of tales that are surely as familiar to modern bards as Beowulf or Gilgamesh were to audiences of old.

Star Wars Epic Felt

For further astonishment, each photo on the page opposite those words is as heartfelt and concise in storytelling as are the words. Made by needle felting, consider as well the scale modeling of the characters’ surroundings and the excellent photography. This is artistic skill at its finest.

Jack Wang is an associate professor teaching creative writing at Ithaca College. Holman Wang left the life of a middle school teacher and corporate lawyer to focus fulltime on creating children’s books. The boys grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. Today, they live on opposite coasts, Jack in Ithaca, New York, and Holman in Vancouver. Their website is a must-visit.

In their own words, here’s how the books are made: “The primary technique for making the figures in Star Wars Epic Yarns is needle felting, which is essentially sculpting with wool. This is a painstaking process which involves stabbing loose wool thousands of times with a specialized barbed needle. This entangles the wool fibers, making the wool firmer and firmer. It took us nearly a year to create all the Star Wars figures and spaceships in wool, build all the scale-model sets, and do all the in-studio or on location photography. We even flew to California and Arizona to find real desert to recreate the scenes on Tatooine! As lifelong Star Wars fans, it was important to us to get the books just right. Think of Star Wars Epic Yarns as the ultimate, year-long craft project! It was definitely a labor of love.”

Highly recommended.

Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope
Jack Wang and Holman Wang
Chronicle Books, 2015

Be sure to look for their other classic books, Cozy Classics from Simply Read Books, a couple of which are pictured here.

Cozy Creations

Planet Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten

Books about getting ready for kindergarten and the first day in that Strange New Land are plentiful, but I can’t recall one that has drawn me into the experience as fully as Planet Kindergarten does. Every aspect of this book, from word choice to story to the detailed and clever drawings, puts this book at […]


Gifted: Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs for Thanksgiving edited and with reflections by Katherine Paterson illustrations by Pamela Dalton Handprint Books / Chronicle Books, 2013 ISBN: 978-1-4521-1339-5 The season when we focus on giving thanks will quickly be here. If you are looking for a gift to take to your hosts, to give to […]