Book Review: Princess Cupcake Jones and the Dance Recital by Ylleya Fields

  • Princess Cupcake Jones and the Dance Recital. Ylleya Fields. Illustrated by Michael La Duca. Belle Publishing: Cleveland. 2016
  • Preschool

Cupcake Jones and the rest of the students at Madame’s School of Ballet are preparing for a dance recital. Cupcake Jones is finding it hard to master a difficult move and worries about what will happen at the recital. The students learn that hard work and doing your best is all they need for a successful event.


This is the third book in the Cupcake Jones picture book series. The author is a fellow Clevelander and started writing the Cupcake Jones books because she struggled to find books with African American characters in them. As a children’s librarian in the inner city, I found the same problems finding books the kids I served could relate to.

We all want to see ourselves represented in the books we read. It helps build a love for reading. Print Motivation happens when children can relate to the story on the page.

I love that the theme of the book is one that all kids relate to and it is the universal nature of the story that makes this a great book for all children. The more diverse our book characters are and the more universal the themes are I believe it helps all of our children relate to each other better.

The text is rhythmic and full of alliteration which builds phonological awareness. It has strong vocabulary that introduces dance names but also has a strong word choice outside of new dance vocabulary. The author was careful in her text and a few read-throughs of this book and your child’s vocabulary will grow.

The illustrations are fun and realistic and diverse, quite representative of the world we live in. Kids thrive in stories based in reality and familiar routines and emotions. The story is also one with a strong lesson, don’t give up when something is hard. Princess Cupcake Jones will be a good example of how to act when your child is faced with a new or difficult situation.


If your child doesn’t dance, see if you can observe a nearby dance studio. Watch the activities of the lessons and talk about what he learned afterwards. Field trips are great ways to expand the world your child lives in. It not only helps them have new experiences it broadens her world. Find books at the library on dance or find classics such as the Nutcracker and watch together.

Write a story together about a time your child tried something new or struggled with learning something. Have your child tell the story and write the words. It will teach them how to create a story and seeing the words will reinforce all those great skills they learn hearing a story: How the words are written on the page, left to right; how stories have beginnings, middles and ends; how to connect what they see in their heads to the words on the page through illustrations.

Learn the different ballet moves in the story and write vocabulary cards for them. Hold up the word and practice the move. Your child may not be able to read, but you will see them start to recognize the patterns in the letters. The action will reinforce the new word. It’s a fun way to learn new vocabulary.


(I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a picture it will take you to Amazon where if you make a purchase I will get a portion of the sale.)


Connect with the Author: Ylleya Fields

Happy Reading!

Book Review: A is for Africa By Michael Samulak

  • A is for Africa. Michael I Samulak and Illustrated by Sswaga Sendiba. Trafford Publishing: Victoria, 2008.
  • Preschool

A is for Africa is an alphabet book with the peoples and animals and traditions that center around Uganda. The pictures are bright and beautiful artwork that will take you on a journey through the country of Uganda and help explore the continent of Africa.


The most striking aspect of this book is the rich vocabulary. The author is familiar with Uganda, the animals and plants and people. This knowledge helps him introduce another land to our earliest readers. Some of my favorite words in the book are fowl, Ibis, Kob, Pygmy chimpanzee and tilapia. These are animals that are kids don’t often see, even in the zoo. It expands their world, imagination and, of course, vocabulary.

The author also uses rhythmic language and alliteration to reinforce phonological awareness, the important building block for sounding out words.

It may seem a stretch in an alphabet book, but the author’s use of a land and a people helps tell not just a story of the alphabet journey, but the life of a people who live far away. He brings in ritual life and traditions that help kids explore a world they do not hear about. These types of books and book experiences open up creativity to our youngest readers and enrich the stories they tell.

The pictures are bold, boisterous and beautiful. The illustrator is an artist in Uganda, who uses a particular style of painting called batik. There is more information about this process in the back of the book, but his illustrations invite the reader onto the page and the reading becomes an interactive experience instead of a passive one. Interesting and unique pictures that support the text on the page produce a love of reading called, Print Motivation. The more our kids love a book, the more they develop a love for reading.


This book is a great start to study different forms of art. Create your own “batik” style paintings or drawings while talking about what your child sees in her every day life. The book is an exploration of Africa, so explore the city or state you live in with the animals you see around you, the traditions or food you eat in your region. This is a great way to build hand strength, through picture drawing, and a great way to introduce new vocabulary. It also helps her learn about the place she lives in which will help with cultural awareness.

Since this is an alphabet book, I would be remiss if I ignored the different alphabet activities out there. Pinterest is a great place to find cute and interactive ways to learn the alphabet. You don’t have to be super creative though, some of my favorite alphabet building fun is taking rice or oatmeal or sand and filling a cookie sheet. Trace the alphabet and have your child mimic. Imprinting the shapes and movement of the alphabet will bring the letters to life.

What to Read Next

(I am an Amazon Affiliate. I do not get paid to review books. The opinions are mine. However, if you click on the pictures it will take you to Amazon, where if you make purchases I will receive a percentage of the sale.)

See our other book reviews of author Michael Samulak’s work:


Author Interview

A Wonderful Day Book Review


Connect with Michael Samulak



What is your favorite way to practice the alphabet with your child? Share in the comments at the end of the post.


Happy Reading!

Book Review: Shapes, Reshape! Silvia Borando

  • Toddler, Preschool
  • Shapes, Reshape! Silvia Borando. Candlewick Press: Somerville, 2014.

Shapes, Reshape! Is a counting and guessing book that keeps your child’s imagination on the move.


When we talk about literacy we often only think about reading, but math literacy is just as critical at the earliest stages of life. It is hard to find books that do more than counting to improve spatial reasoning and visualization that children will need later in their math careers. This book not only provides sequencing through counting, but spatial reasoning through the shapes that make up the pictures. Seeing how the shapes fit together and how they are reorganized to create a different shape is a great skill to have not only in school but in life.

This book will introduce your child to shapes or reinforce the shapes they already know, all while building vocabulary. There is also great words like buzzy and dragonflies. Flittering and fluttering. Which not only will teach her new words, but also encourage phonological awareness through the use of alliteration.

The sequencing in the book is phenomenal. The numbers provide one way to tell the story. The child will practice counting backwards through the numbers in the story. Next, your son will love guessing how to reorganize the shapes into the next animal. It will have them giggling and guessing all the way through the pages. With each retelling they will strengthen narrative skills by ordering the animals through the book.

Print Motivation is high with this book. My 6, 8 and 12 year old all stopped what they were doing and came over to sit with me when I picked up this book off the shelf.

Print Awareness is also highlighted by how the text is read and the story progresses. This is a great book to use your finger and follow along to point out the words on the page. The text isn’t so long that your child will lose interest and he will see how a story is told.

How To Use This Book

This book begs to be recreated with your own shapes and numbers. You can draw pictures with crayons or if you are more ambitious, trace shapes and have your child cut them out. Then spend a fun afternoon organizing and reorganizing to see what different objects you can create together. Label or make a list every time you make a new shape to help reinforce vocabulary and writing!

Organize the animals into a list. This is a great way to take sequencing to the next level and build vocabulary. It can be however you want, where the animal lives, if it has a tail, stripes, or whatever else you can think of. Write the names with corresponding numbers and you will do a double whammy with math and reading literacy.

I always love connecting what our children read to the real world, so take a trip to the zoo and see what animals you can find. And for dragons, well, what better place than your local library to find different stories and myths of these large-fire-breathing-creatures.

What to Read Next

Other books by the author

Or Similar books:

2017: Building Lifelong Reading Habits


This week we have written about three habits you can start now with yourself and your family in order to build reading habits for the lifetime of your children.

Read Every Day

The most important is to read every day. Twenty minutes is the recommendation but don’t let the number keep you from building the habit. Any amount of time spent in reading is helpful in future literacy success.

Know what good quality books to read

6prereadingskillsKnowing what books to read also helps build successful reading habits. Balance what your child loves to learn about with good quality picture books that highlight the six pre-literacy skills. The content will motivate her to hear the story and while she listens important literacy building blocks happen.



Be a reader to raise a reader

Lastly, be a reader. Our kids watch everything we do and love mimicking our actions. Make one of those parroting activities be reading. Read while you wait for appointments, read while your child plays independently or make a space for independent reading every night for your family. Make sure your child catches you reading everyday.

Start with these three habits and see how your child’s reading explodes over the course of the year.


Reading aloud


To build a future reader, be a reader


Do you ever notice how often your child parrots what you do? Sometimes you will see your son putting on your shoes and parading around the room. Or you will see your daughter typing away on a toy pretending it is a computer or you will see your son pick up a washcloth and a dish and pretend to wash dishes.

Our kids are sponges and love to mimic. We notice when they repeat a word we don’t want them to know or do something we wish they hadn’t seen us do. But the positive side of their spongy and mimicking natures is the will also do the positive things we do.

So pick up a book and start reading because they are watching

So this is where I encourage you to pick up a book and read. When your child is awake and engaged in a toy or other activity. Don’t wait until they are napping or sleeping or at an activity.

The biggest mistake we can make as parents is to never read in front of our kids.

I know kids keep us busy. We play with them and drive them to activities and playdates and school. We are busy doing housework and other necessary family tasks. Life is busy, but never let it get so busy that you do not pick up a book for yourself during the day. It not only gives you a quick break, but your child is watching everything you do. And if they see you picking up a book, it will become a natural rhythm in his day.

Creating Time to Read

Read while your child plays. It is okay to say Daddy or Mommy is going to read now. Sit in the room with your child and start reading. It may take a while for him or her to get used to the routine, so start out with five minutes and build up to longer periods of time. This teaches independent play and gives you a break!

Read while you wait. Bring books for you and your child while you wait for appointments. It shows your child how to wait patiently and will give you both something to do for those long doctor office waits!

Make your bedtime routine reading. In the evenings create a reading space for your family. Instead of watching the T.V. before bed, have everyone grab a book and read together. Snuggle up in front of a fire or on your favorite couch. This again, may take some time to build into the routine but keep a consistent habit and it will be a favorite time of day for everyone.

What do I read when my last book was What to Expect When You’re Expecting?

It may have been a long time since you picked up a book for fun. There are a lot of great places to find new or classic books.

My favorite right now is Litsy. It is an app that is sort of like Instagram for books. People post pictures and reviews and quotes of what is in their reading pile. There is even points for interactions and reviews and likes of your posts.

Goodreads is a book review site. You can track what you read, write reviews and create lists of books you want to read. It is also now an Amazon company which sends out book deals. You can set a yearly reading challenge, follow other people and find reviews of books.

Facebook also is a great place to connect with authors and reading groups. A favorite of mine is Reader’s Coffeehouse. It is a place to talk about books and also connect with authors. No better place to discover what to read than from a place where authors and readers meet!

This year, make it a goal to read more. It not only is good for you, it will help build your child into a future reader!


What are you reading? Share in comments at the end of post to share ideas.

Happy Reading!



What Will I Read Today


Planning is an important part of completing any task. The more prepared you are, the easier it is to get something done. It’s why we meal plan, or make to do lists, create outlines for papers or set goals. Knowing what we will do, makes it easier to do it. It is no different when we read to our kids.

Yesterday we talked about setting the habit of reading every day. You have decided on a consistent time, a time you know you will be free, now plan what you will read during that time. Having books on hand will help to make sure you are able to use your reading time fully.

read across america

Find Good Books

There are a lot of ways to find good books. This blog, amazon, bookstores, libraries, friends, Facebook groups and more. Plan out a trip to the library or bookstore each week so you have books on hand to read with your child. I always want reading to be child directed but you are your child’s best teacher. Take them with you to choose books. I always make a pile and go through it with my kids. It helps them select books they might not normally have picked up and I also know what catches their eye for next time.

Know what your child is interested in. I know one of my kids prefers books with tons of pictures. Another child prefers fantasy and another loves to learn facts. Use conversations and screen time habits and creative play to help guide book choice. The more a child enjoys the material she reads, the more enthusiastic a reader she will become.

Use technology and people power to discover new books

I love Amazon and Goodreads and other websites to help discover books I didn’t know about. In Amazon you can search a book you know your child likes and it will show suggestions for similar type books. Goodreads offers book reviews. And don’t forget your local librarian. He or she will love to help you discover new books or favorite authors.

Being intentional with reading is one of the best habits you can build this year. It will make the time you spend reading more impactful and enjoyable.

Do you have a favorite author and want to find new or similar books? Ask in the comments and I will help you discover new books!



Read Every Day


The advice most parents have heard in recent years to ensure reading success for children is read at least twenty minutes every day. We want to do this, because, who doesn’t want their child to succeed. But there is work and playdates and school and activities and housework and the list goes on. Somehow it gets to bedtime and you realize you haven’t picked up a book today. You promise to do better tomorrow and tomorrow comes and the same thing happens.

I believe strongly in setting smaller goals in order to accomplish big things. Sure, twenty minutes is the ideal. It is the sweet spot of introducing new vocabulary and familiarizing our kids with story narratives, how books work and much more.

But twenty minutes is intimidating in a world that never seems to stop. What I always suggest to parents is find a consistent time, no matter how long, and read.

No matter how long, find time each day to read

If you spend a lot of time in the car, pick up an audiobook from the library and the picture book to go along with it. As you taxi your family from place to place, turn on a book and make the most of the time in the car.

Reading doesn’t have to happen at bedtime. If mornings have more time, make your day start with reading. Or if bathtime is the only time you have your child’s full attention, read a book while he splashes in the tub.

Reading happens more often than you realize. Any time you are driving, in a store or at an activity there are words around you. Point this out to your child wherever you are. Create a story with the signs you see. The important part isn’t how great of a story you tell, but the word connection your child makes in the world around him.

Choose a book the whole family can listen to. For me, the kids are at all different stages of reading. Trying to fit in twenty minutes of reading with each of them is impossible. Pick a classic story or a brand new tale and sit down as a family and read. It can be at the dinner table or the minutes you have before you head out for the day. A family who reads together, grows together.

A consistent reading habit is what matters

Don’t worry about how much time you spend. I believe you will find more time as your family reading habit grows. Just like when you start eating better or exercising more, the less pressure you put on yourself to be perfect, the easier it is to achieve your goals.

Make 2017 the Year of Reading by starting with the habit of reading everyday.

What tips or tricks do you have to include reading time each day? Share in the comments section.

Happy Reading!

Make 2017 the Year of Reading



Every New Year’s we make resolutions to improve ourselves. We promise to eat better, sleep better, exercise more, be better employees or spouses or friends. There are many ways we can improve our lives but I believe the best gift to ourselves and our children is to make 2017 the year of reading.

This week I will post a reading resolution each day. Choose what works for your family and focus on that one change. We don’t need to do everything in order to build future readers, but we need to start somewhere.

Make this the year your family commits to reading.