We Came to America by Faith Ringgold

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WE CAME TO AMERICA
by Faith Ringgold
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

We Came to America Cover Image

 

“We came to America
Every color, race, and religion
From every country in the world.”

This lovely lyrical stanza from We Came to America  invites children to participate in Ringgold’s inspirational poem while reminding them of the journeys made to this country by many different people. From the indigenous peoples already here to those who came bound in chains, from those who fled hardships elsewhere to those who came by choice, it is their stories and creativity which makes America great. As the poem unfolds, children come to realize the scope of this country’s diversity and how it contributes to our success as a country.

The acrylic illustrations have all the rich colors and naivety of folk art, a hallmark of Ringgold’s art. Her familiar style is put to good use here, vividly complementing the theme and helping to interpret the poem. She paints a rich diversity of faces against the backdrop of the red white and blue.

While there is little reference to such events as slavery and anti-immigrant violence, this book is a welcome addition and can used across the curriculum with a variety of age groups. Share it with lower elementary students who are working on a family origins unit for Social Studies. Or pair it up with other resources such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Mary Hoffman’s The Color of Home and Anne Sibley O’Brien’s I’m New Here, to help students gain a deeper sense of the immigration experience and the importance of immigration to this country’s growth. Introduce it to older students as they debate contemporary immigration policies. Share it to help heal recent political divisiveness.

“In spite of where we came from
Or how or why we came,
We are ALL Americans, just the same.”

Awards
School library Journal Starred Review
2017 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

  • Review by Dornel Cerro

Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

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IRON RAILS, IRON MEN, AND THE RACE TO LINK THE NATION
The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
Written by Martin W. Sandler
(Candlewick Press; $22.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

iron-rails-iron-men

Prepare to not want to put down this fascinating nonfiction book called Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation by Emmy Award and Pulitzer prize winning historian, Martin W. Sandler.

In the early nineteenth century it took six months to travel coast to coast by horse and wagon. Rugged terrain and violent weather made the journey difficult and dangerous. The alternative, sailing around Cape Horn, took at least six months and was equally dangerous.

Dreams of a transcontinental railroad had great promise: quicker travel time, new communities, and improved opportunities for trade and commerce. It took years to advocate and raise money for this massive project. When President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, two companies, the Central Pacific, laying tracks eastward, and the Union Pacific, laying tracks westwards, raced to complete the job.

The work required staggering feats of engineering, which award-winning historian MartinW. Sandler effectively demonstrates using period photos and weaving mind-blowing facts into the narrative. Workers had to blast through mountains to build tunnels and erected some of the highest bridges known. Supplies had to be hauled over mountains on horseback or cart to the workers. Conditions were grueling: prairie fires, cattle stampedes, severe weather, and Native American attacks. Each job had its physical challenges: imagine graders who hauled tons of dirt away or track layers who lifted and placed rails that weighed 500 to 700 pounds!

Sandler critically examines more controversial issues such as corruption, discrimination against the highly efficient Chinese workers, and the severe impact on the life and culture of the Plains Indians.

When the two rails finally met, tens of thousands of workers had laid over 18,000 miles of track and joined the two coasts of a rugged continent. Travel time, coast to coast, was reduced to one week.

The author has made dramatic use of archival photographs to enhance the engaging and informative text, all accompanied by easy to follow maps. A fascinating final chapter discusses what happened to the main personalities. Educators and parents should check out the publisher’s great teacher’s guide and audio excerpt. Highly recommended for teachers and librarians serving grades 5 and up and a great resource for 19th century United States history and train enthusiasts.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro


Reluctant Readers Love Timmy Failure and Tom Gates Series

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TIMMY FAILURE & TOM GATES
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR RELUCTANT READERS

Huzzah and hooray! A world class detective and a passionate doodler are back in the continuing series of two popular Candlewick Press middle grade books.

If you’re not familiar with either either Timmy Failure or Tom Gates, please take a look at earlier reviews of previous titles right here at Good Reads with Ronna (see below). Both series are a hit with fans of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and employ a diary or journal style novel filled with pen and ink illustrations. The illustrations not only add to both series’ humor, but, as one of my students, a reluctant reader (and now big fan) told me: the illustrations increase his understanding and enjoyment. Both are recommended for ages 8-12.
So check out more hilarious adventures– and misadventures– of Timmy Failure and Tom Gates.

Timmy Failure: Sanitized for Your Protection (#4)Timmy Failure Sanitized For Your Protection book cover
Written and illustrated by Stephan Pastis
Candlewick Press; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

The young “ … founder, president, and CEO of Failure, Inc, the greatest detective agency in the nation …” is forced to go on a road trip to Chicago to help his mom’s boyfriend move, instead of working on his latest case: the theft of money from a school fundraiser. Extremely put out, Timmy endures miles of cornfields and country-western music with his mother, Doorman Bob, his polar bear ex-partner, Total, arch-enemy and “criminal mastermind,” Molly, and her family. Like the Pink Panther’s clueless Inspector Clouseau, the equally clueless Timmy accuses everyone but the actual thief and tries to elicit confessions from the innocent while advising them on their “Carmen Miranda” rights. Can Timmy solve the case while far away in Chicago? Can he trust Molly, one of his many suspects, to help him find the crook? Be prepared for “greatness!” Visit Candlewick Press for information on the books and see Pastis’ wonderful Timmy Failure website for more information on the series, the characters, trailers for each book, and activities.

Read Good Reads with Ronna’s past reviews of the Timmy Failure series here.
Tom Gates Everything's Amazing (Sort of) book coverTom Gates: Everything’s Amazing (Sort of) (#3) 
Written and illustrated by Liz Pichon
Candlewick Press; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Tom has a lot on his mind and some big problems. Not his usual problems: an irritating older sister, an obnoxious classmate who is always trying to get him in trouble, school, teachers, and math homework. Actually, any homework.

No, he’s got much bigger worries than that. His birthday is coming up and no one seems to notice the wish list he’s conveniently posted on the refrigerator door. His weird, but sweet grandmother has promised to whip him up a special birthday cake. Not so good … she’s been known to mix jello and peas together. His parents have promised to take him and four of his friends to Dino Village for his birthday (where his father works). Four friends? No problem, he’ll invite best “mate” Derek, Norman, and two others. Things quickly go awry, when Amy, the girl he has a crush on, sees the invitations and asks if she can come … and bring a friend. He agrees before realizing the numbers (there’s that pesky math again) don’t add up to four.

His band, Dog Zombies, which includes Derek and Norman, has been “volunteered” by Principal Keen to perform at the school dance. The inexperienced trio, with only one previous engagement under their belts, is going to need a lot of practice. A lot! Even worse, Tom’s father, a loveable and delightfully quirky man, has been hired to be the DJ at the school dance. He plans to wear his dinosaur costume from Dino Village … and silver disco boots. Positively cringe-worthy.

Will this doodler and homework dodger get what he wants for his birthday? Will he figure out how to include Amy and his four friends at Dino Village? Will the Dog Zombies go up in flames at the school dance? And then there’s his father … and his grandmother’s special birthday cake. Read the book and be prepared for a laugh-out-loud experience!

Oh, in case you don’t speak British (“choon” means an excellent tune), Pichon has included a British to American glossary. Don’t forget to check out the recipe for Tom’s “Doodle Toast” at the end of the story.

Visit Pichon’s and Candlewick’s websites for more information on the author and the series as well as fun activities.

Check out Good Reads with Ronna’s earlier reviews of previous titles in the Tom Gates series:

The Brilliant World of Tom Gates (#1)

Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff) (#2)

  • Reviewed by Dornel CerroVisit Dornel’s blog, Mile High Books, here.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova

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SWAN: THE LIFE AND DANCE OF ANNA PAVLOVA
Written by Laurel Snyder
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

Swan The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova book cover

Starred review – School Library Journal

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is a breathtakingly lovely book that combines a lyrical narrative and dramatic illustrations to give young children not only insight into the life of Russian ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova (1881-1931), but the courage to fulfill one’s dreams despite the odds.

As a child, Anna and her mother struggled economically. In order to make ends meet they took in other people’s laundry. The book’s front end papers depict a forlorn Anna, staring out the window on a cold Russian city, her apartment practically barren but for the line of drying clothes.

One night, however, Anna’s mother takes her to the ballet which proved to be a transformative event for the young girl. Despite her social background and physical challenges, she was determined to enter the Imperial Ballet School, practicing at home while helping her mother with the laundry:

Now Anna cannot sleep …

She can only sway,

         dip, and spin ….

Two years later Anna was finally accepted. And, after years of hard work, she danced her first solo, the lead role of the Swan in Michael Fokine’s The Dying Swan. Snyder writes that Anna

                             “… sprouts white wings, a swan.

She weaves the notes, the very air

                                            into a story…

                   Anna is a bird in flight,

   A whim of wind and water.

Quiet feathers in a big loud world.

Anna is the swan.”

Morstad captures this defining moment in a graceful spread filled with movement: the swirling feathers of the swan emerging from Anna’s back while lovely flowers tumble about her.

Even though Anna achieved worldwide fame, she never forgot how ballet changed her life. She freely shared her dance with people who might never have had the opportunity to see a ballet.

One night, she caught a cold she could not shake and her condition grew increasingly worse. She never recovered. Against a darkened stage, Snyder writes

“Every bird must fold its wings.

Every feather falls at last, and settles.”

Morstad’s stylistic, mixed media (ink, gouache, graphite, pencil) illustrations perfectly capture Snyder’s dramatic and poetic narrative of one woman’s determination to fulfill her dream and capture her life and dance

End materials include a short biography and a bibliography.

I highly recommend Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova not just for children who love dance and theater, but for all children to see the inspirational life of someone who refused to give up her dream despite physical and economic and class challenges. And who when succeeded gave back. That this nonfiction picture book can be coupled with a variety of extension activities incorporating social justice, creative writing, biography, history of ballet, dance, movement and art goes without saying.

Visit Laurel Snyder to learn more about her award winning books and read her very cool Bewilder blog. Learn all about illustrator Julie Morstad and her art here.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Mixed Me! Written by Taye Diggs and Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

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MIXED ME!
Written by Taye Diggs
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Mixed_Me_cvr

 

Starred reviews in Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Librarian Dornel Cerro reviews Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs with illustrations by Shane W. Evans.

“I’m a beautiful blend of dark and light, I was mixed up perfectly, and I’m JUST RIGHT!”

Mike, an exuberant and energetic boy rushes from one place to another in his superhero cape:

“I like to go FAST!
No one can stop me
as the wind combs through
my zigzag curly do”

It’s clear that Mike is a well-loved, confident and joyful child. However, although Mike is comfortable with the color of his skin and the “WOW” of his hair, sometimes his diverse heritage causes people to stare and wonder:

“Your mom and dad don’t match,”
they say, and scratch their heads.

There’s pressure at school to choose a group to belong to:

“Some kids at school want me to choose
who I cruise with.
I’m down for FUN with everyone.”

Using rich vocabulary, gentle humor, rhyme, and a hip-hop like rhythm, Diggs offers a inspirational message. The author uses the diversity in the foods we eat to vividly (and deliciously) capture the differences in human appearances. Mike’s mother’s skin is “… rich cream and honey …” and Mike describes himself as:

“I’m a garden plate!
Garden salad, rice and beans-
tasting GREAT!”

This is not only a fantastic read-aloud, but a wonderful starting place for positive discussions on image, esteem, diversity, friendship, and inclusion. Adults sharing the story can easily design extension activities to reinforce the book’s theme. What do words like “fused” and “blended” mean? How do these words apply to people? How many references to multicolored or “mixed” things can children find in the book’s illustrations? What kinds of theatre, music, movement, and dance activities could help children express their understanding of the book?

Evans complements Digg’s bouncy and humorous text with textured illustrations consisting of watercolors and cut pieces of fabric. There are many two-page spreads of Mike, dominated by all that wonderful “zippy” hair and the book is awash in multicolor images: even Mom’s apron and Mike’s cape contain a rainbow of colors.

Mixed Me! is a highly recommended read for all children and adults who work with this age group.

Visit the publisher to see interior artwork and other reviews. Check out Digg’s and Shane’s Chocolate Me! website for information about their earlier book which also sends a positive message about skin and hair type. Read Diggs’ tribute to his long time friend, Shane W. Evans, in The Horn Book. See Scholastic for a biographical sketch on Evans and other books he’s illustrated.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

I Will Chomp You! by Jory John

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I Will Chomp You!
Written by Jory John
Illustrated by Bob Shea 
(Random House BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

I_Will_Chomp_You

Starred Review – Booklist 

If you stepped inside my library during a recent reading of this book, you would have heard a ferocious sounding monster (a.k.a the librarian) roaring out:

“I WILL CHOMP YOU, BUSTER!”

Then you would have heard my kindergartners scream back:

“I WILL CHOMP YOU!”

Squealing in delight and quivering with anticipation, my kinders beg me to turn the page.

“You’ve been officially WARNED!” hollers the monster. Then he lunges out and …

“CHOMP!”

and misses. Then he warns us:

“You do NOT want to turn another page, buster.”

My students wonder why. Well, as the story continues, we quickly learn that this monster has something to hide and will use everything at his disposal, including bribery and deceit, to prevent us from finding what’s inside the book.

But, my curious and giggling students are not intimidated, even as they gasp aloud or cringe behind a classmate. They want to know what that monster’s hiding. So, I turn the page and …

“CHOMP!!

Whew! He missed. But … realizing that his threats are not working, the once fierce, but now desperate monster politely requests that we not turn the page. He even gets a bit teary and finally reveals his sweet and delicious secret. He might be willing to share it if we will …

“just come a little closer …
a little bit closer now” ….

“No, no, no!” scream my kindergartners, as I start to turn the page.

“CHOMP!”

When the monster misses yet again, he’s willing to make a deal, but can he be trusted?

Read on … if you dare!

This deceptively simple and wonderfully interactive story had my students laughing, shouting, and jumping up in excitement. The oversize words encouraged students to read aloud and interact with the story. Soon they realize that under no circumstances can this monster be trusted – he’ll do anything, even risk a stomach ache, to prevent us from discovering his secret.

Shea’s stylized and brightly colored illustrations focus mainly on the monster (and his chompers), creating an uncluttered look on the pages. Large, simple shapes (ovals, circles, triangles, etc.) that make up the monster’s body and his exaggerated facial expressions, contribute to the humor and action in John’s story.

Visit author Jory John’s and illustrator Bob Shea’s websites to learn more about them and their work. Check out the short Youtube book trailer below and this pdf from Random House Kids for a yummy activity certain to make all little chompers happy.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro


The Sword of Summer: Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

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THE SWORD OF SUMMER
Book One of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard
by Rick Riordan 
(Disney Hyperion; $19.99, Ages 9-12)

The_Sword_of_Summer_Magnus-Chase

Welcome to the first book in Rick Riordan’s new series,
The Sword of Summer: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

Imagine this: it’s your 16th birthday. You wake up on a cold Boston street, your friends tell you this evil dude is looking for you … and not because he wants to bring you a birthday present. Your untrustworthy uncle reveals that you are the son of the Norse god, Frey, god of fertility of the land, peace and prosperity. Yeah, right. As the son of Frey you have the power to summon an ancient, long lost sword. Apparently, whoever wields it can do some pretty cool stuff with it. Some pretty scary stuff, too. And just think, all this time it’s been sitting at the bottom of the Charles River. Nasty.

Oh, and that evil dude looking for you? He’s the god Surt, Lord of Muspelheim, the realm of fire. He wants that sword, too. And not just to polish it up. See, he’s got this plan (or maybe it’s something like his destiny) to use the sword to free the wolf Fenir and set doomsday into motion. Wolves … dude, you hate wolves!

Someone has to stop him.

Could this be your destiny?

Ready to romp through the nine worlds of Asgard to prevent the end of the world? Well, before you take off, there’s just one. small. thing.

First, you gotta die.

Whew! So, are your ready for the The Sword of Summer, the first book in Riordan’s new series? I’ve got a feeling you’re hooked! From cold Boston streets, where the homeless (and not so prosperous) Magnus Chase lives, to the halls of Valhalla (the realm of the fallen heroes), prepare yourself for a wild and exhilarating ride through the many strange, wonderful, and sometimes frightening worlds of Asgard. Magnus and his friends, who include a snappy-dressing dwarf, a deaf elf, and a Muslim ex-Valkyrie, race against the clock to prevent a cataclysmic war.

Pursued by Valhalla heroes, giant wolves, and monsters, Magnus and his team bargain with powerful beings and magical creatures in order to prevent Surt from obtaining Frey’s sword, Sumanbrander. Whoever wields it has the power to bring about Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle between the forces of the gods Odin and Loki.

Percy Jackson fans will snap up this latest series (I can’t keep it on my library shelves). Using his now familiar model, Riordan has readers take a look at an unlikely hero struggling to understand who he is and the events swirling around him. Like all great heroes (Hercules, Gilgamesh, and yes, Percy Jackson), Magnus’ journey throughout the worlds of Asgard bring him a deeper understanding of self and greater empathy for his companions, who have sacrificed much to support him.

Riordan has inventively created a world blending Norse mythology with contemporary culture and peopled it with diverse characters in positive roles. In doing so, he shines a spotlight on contemporary issues such as Muslim culture, homelessness and people with special needs. Filled with nail-biting and dramatic action, it has the same irreverent humor found in Riordan’s earlier series.

Not familiar with Norse mythology? No problem, Riordan provides a handy glossary and other back matter materials to enhance the reader’s understanding of the ancient Norse world.

Visit all the worlds of Rick Riordan for more information on this and his other series.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro