Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin

Written by Sean Taylor and the Khayaal Theater
Illustrated by Shirin Adl

Subtle and wry humor are the hallmarks of this re-telling of this delightful collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. It affords the reader the opportunity to learn about this area of the world and help tie that world together. Mixed media illustrations perfectly pair with the stories.

A series of tales show how impish Nasruddin, a wise yet foolish thirteenth century man, could be. No matter the situation, he found a way to turn it back on the other person involved or to make everything seem perfectly logical. For example, he helped out a weary traveler by stealing his bag and running to his destination. (He got him where he was going and made him happy to get his bag back!) When offered a gold coin or a larger silver coin of lesser value, he took the silver coin every time. Incredulous townspeople tested this by giving him the same choice. He said he wouldn’t take the gold coin because then people would stop giving him money. When asked why he rode his donkey backwards, he said it was the donkey who was backwards.

The stories are a bit long for independent reading before third grade but would be fun to read together with first graders.

Riding a Dinkey2

  • Title: Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin
  • Author: Sean Taylor and the Khayaal Theater
  • Illustrator: Shirin Adl
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Folk Tales
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0507-7

Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever

Written and Illustrated by Matt Tavares

An amazing story, based on the legend of Santa Claus. How did Santa end up with all those reindeer and why are there eight of them? Do they like living at the North Pole.

Dasher and her family are part of a traveling circus. It’s not a bad life. Visitors give her carrots, her favorite food. And she gets to spend time with her family. But she dreams of the family’s home at the North Pole, where the North Star is directly overhead. When a gate is accidentally left open, Dasher takes off and heads north. She runs into Santa, who is pulling his sleigh with a single horse. As the number of children grows, the horse is increasingly overtaxed. Dasher is delighted to discover flight and that Santa’s home is her original destination. Eventually, the rest of Dasher’s family joins them, and the eight tiny reindeer gain a new job.

Gorgeous illustrations accompany a heartwarming tale. As a read aloud, younger children will love it. Older children will want to read it again and again.

This great book has been mentioned in several best-of-the-year lists and will win many awards.


  • Title: Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever
  • Author/Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Holidays, Legend
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0137-6

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas

Written and Illustrated by Juana Medina

Juana loves her family. She lives in Bogotá, Colombia with her mother and near her grandparents and various aunts, uncles, and cousins. The story is mostly about Juana’s daily life, her relationship with her dog, Lucas, and her mother’s burgeoning romance with a man named Luis. Juana loves her life so much that she’s afraid what would happen with change. Eventually, Mami and Luis do get married and Juana finds that change is not always so bad.

The author cleverly introduces a lot of Spanish vocabulary within the text – a sort of Spanglish. She is always careful to use the English word elsewhere to aid in comprehension. Numerous illustrations – often with arrows of explanation – accompany each and every page. A great way for readers to learn Spanish words and about life in Colombia. They will find that life not so different from life in the US. Grandmother’s seamstress makes the wedding dress. Great aunt Piti makes the wedding cake. Juana, Mami, and Lucas move to the farm with Luis but still see the rest of the family often.

Recommended for a cultural unit.

  • Big problemas

    Title: Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas

  • Author/Illustrator: Juana Medina
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Family, Spanish Language
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0131-4

The Dog Who Lost His Bark

Written by Eoin Colfer
Illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The two voices in this amazing new book are a puppy and a young boy. In this way, the author gives a fairly accurate picture of what both are thinking and feeling. Dog is ripped away from his family before he is ready and delivered into an abusive family. When they literally dump him, he winds up in a shelter. Patrick takes him home. Remembering how much trouble his barking caused, he hides in the travel crate, doesn’t make a sound, and refuses to eat. Only through patience and music is Patrick able to make friends with OZ the dog. Patrick’s parents are breaking up, though they haven’t shared that information with Patrick. Oz and Patrick are able to help each other with difficult times, a theme very important to present to the reader.

Detailed pencil drawings give a face to the story, making the characters even more wonderful.

In a short time, this uplifting story already appears on many best-of lists.

  • The Dog Who Lost His BarkTitle: The Dog Who Lost His Bark
  • Author: Eoin Colfer
  • Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Rescue dogs, Divorce, Friendship
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0442-1

Sea Glass Summer

Written by Michelle Houts
Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Astounding watercolor illustrations accompany a sweet, quiet, heartwarming story that shows even the simplest things can tie us together. The main story is about a boy who spends the summer collecting sea glass and dreaming about it. He feels connected to his grandfather because he uses his grandfather’s magnifying glass to examine the bits of glass. Of course the glass collected by the boy also has stories – long before it was smoothed and clouded by the sea. The book suggests one piece came from a champagne bottle used during a ship’s christening years before. Another piece is from a shipwreck. And glass dropped by the boy after breaking the magnifying glass will no doubt be discovered by some other child years from now. The author invites the reader to imagine all the other stories the sea glass has to tell. Great for the imagination and great for remembering our connections with others.

  • Sea GlassTitle: Sea Glass Summer
  • Author: Michelle Houts
  • Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoullin
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Picture book, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Family, History
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8443-3

Little Lunch: Triple Treats

Written by Danny Katz
Illustrated by Mitch Vane

Silliness ensues in this adaptation of three stories from the Australian television series, Little Lunch. Six classmates find endless, hilarious adventures leading up to and during lunch. In “The Snack Shop,” the reader learns about the contents of each lunch box. Rory’s lunch box is at home. He’s already eaten all the emergency food from the teachers’ lounge, so he plots to leave school grounds and buy food at the snack shop across the street. “Grandparents Day” finds Battie afraid to tell the teacher his famous grandfather will not be able to make a speech as planned. Battie spends lunch hour hiding so he doesn’t have to share. “The Cake Sale” highlights Tamara and Debra-Jo trying to sell not-so-good slices of cake to raise money for homeless puppies. Atticus, Rory, and Battie start a rival fundraising effort. It turns into a food fight.

In a gentle way, life lessons are underscored, while the reader laughs along with the classmates. Illustrations are lively ink drawings on nearly every page, enabling even more engagement. Watch for more episodes and for more syndication of the television show.

  • Little LunchTitle: Little Lunch: Triple Treats
  • Author: Danny Katz
  • Illustrator: Mitch Vane
  • Publisher: Candlewick Entertainment, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 112 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 4
  • Genre: Humor, Friendship
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9471-5

Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure

Written and Illustrated by Alex T. Smith

Mr. Penguin is a Professional Adventurer with a spider for an assistant. (Colin the Spider communicates by writing on a pad.) When he receives a request for help from the Museum of Extraordinary Objects, Mr. Penguin sets off for the museum. The museum is in sad shape and needs to find a treasure the deceased owner hid somewhere. Mr. Penguin and Colin are greeted by Miss Bones and her brother, Montague, current owners. Working from the first clue, the four of them find more clues and a lot of danger. Will they find the treasure? Who else is searching for it? Will the alligators get them?

First in a new series written and illustrated by the author/illustrator of the Stanley series, this is a fun and exciting adventure for early readers. Of course, many of the situations the characters find themselves in are a little beyond believable. But what do you expect from a penguin and his spider partner? Their methods are great, though. They show how to re-interpret clues and use a map.

Looking forward to more from Mr. Penguin and Colin.

  • Mr Penguin and The Lost TreasureTitle: Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure
  • Author/Illustrator: Alex T. Smith
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 212 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Chapter book, Humor, Mystery
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-120-1

Away with Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird

Written by Lori Mortensen
Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell

Isabella was a sickly young lady. She grew up in Victorian England, where young ladies dressed and acted properly at all times. But her doctor advised her to get outside and explore the world. Oddly, this approach helped her to feel better. So she started exploring well beyond England. And she wrote about her adventures. People loved reading her stories. Her travels went wider and wider. Her writings grew more numerous. In spite of the trials of traveling, she continued to feel better when out and about. Eventually, she became a well-known lecturer as well as a writer. Her health finally did catch up to her, but she lived to be seventy, was the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographic society, and was presented to the queen.  

Fascinating look at what a person can do when she puts her mind to it. Very few people know much about Isabella. It’s refreshing to learn about another hero. Well researched and presented.

  • Away with WordsTitle: Away with Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird
  • Author: Lori Mortensen
  • Illustrator: Kristy Caldwell
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publications, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 4
  • Genre: Picture book, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-005-1
  • Extras: Author’s Note, A Timeline of Isabella Bird’s Travels and Publications, Source notes, Bibliography

Beware of the Crocodile

Written by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura

Don’t be fooled by the lively illustrations in this great new book. It’s surprisingly informative and still a lot of fun. It’s not some outlandish tale about an anthropomorphic crocodile-like creature. The actions taken are real actions a crocodile might take. The focus is on two things – how a crocodile hunts and how a crocodile is born and grows.

Crocodiles are smart enough to know the places that animals come to drink water. They will lie motionless, with just the top of their heads above water, until an animal gets close enough to grab. They only need to feed again when they’ve digested the meat available on the caught animal. The mother crocodile lays her eggs in the sand and tends them, adjusting the number of leaves covering them to regulate the temperature. She then protects the small babies as best she can.

Of course, crocodiles really are scary, but the scariness in this book comes from real crocodiles, not cartoons. Recommended for classroom units on nature.

  • Beware of the CrocodileTitle: Beware of the Crocodile
  • Author: Martin Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Satoshi Kitamura
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nature
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7538-7
  • Extras: About Crocodiles, More Information, Index

A Place for Turtles

Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Higgins Bond

First released in 2008, this highly informative and entertaining book has been revised and updated for a new audience and for new data. Each informative two-page spread includes a problem that turtles currently face and possible solutions and ways readers can help turtles. Much of the background and information is revealed in sidebar fashion, making it more accessible to teachers and parents. This is truly for a family and schoolroom discussion. Beautifully realistic illustrations help readers relate to the turtles.

Introduction of exotic plants has destroyed much of the turtles’ landscape. When people add fish to lakes and ponds, they may be squeezing out turtles. Some fishing equipment is harmful to turtles. Plastic shopping bags can be ingested, causing death. People have eaten too many of the beautiful creatures. Dogs often harm turtles. Turtles used for amusement causes many problems. Turtles often get killed on roadways. Humans often encroach on turtle habitat. The key is to leave them alone as much as possible and help where necessary.

Highly recommended for home and classroom.

  • A Place for TurtlesTitle: A Place for Turtles
  • Author: Melissa Stewart
  • Illustrator: Higgins Bond
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company Inc., April 1, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska                                                                                                                                             
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 3
  • Genre: Nature, Turtles
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-096-9
  • Extras: Turtle Facts, Selected Sources, Recommended for Young Readers
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