Young readers will be easily charmed by Li’l Rabbit. Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, now available in a paperback edition, was originally published in 2010 but its story is timeless.
Despite being frustrated during Kwanzaa for multiple reasons in addition to being told he’s too little to help, Li’l Rabbit still looks forward to his favorite part of the weeklong holiday, Karamu, the festive meal served on the sixth night.
But Granna Rabbit is sick and can’t prepare the meal. “Kwanzaa,” Li’l Rabbit recalls his granna telling him, “is a special time when we help each other.” Her words set him off on a search for a Zawadi (gift, often homemade) to cheer her up. During his quest, various forest friends ask him what he’s doing, and after he explains they all remark how they, too, wish there was something they could do to help. It seems Granna Rabbit has always made time to help out these animals and her good deeds have meant so much to them. When Li’l Rabbit returns home empty-handed and disappointed, he is surprised to see the animals he’d encountered celebrating with food, fun, and friendship. What a surprise for Li’l Rabbit to learn from his granna that her spirits have been lifted not only because of what their thoughtful neighbors have contributed but most of all because Li’l Rabbit’s dream made it happen.
Evan’s buoyant illustrations bring the Kwanzaa festivities to life with their rich colors, patterns, and energy. This picture book will resonate with any child who has ever felt left out or too small to make a difference. I appreciated the back matter including The Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa as well as a glossary of words that were used in the story.
Many kids want to pick out books they can read by themselves to improve their skills and feel successful. Parents, teachers, and librarians can’t argue with that. Why not take a look at the Spot (an imprint of Amicus) Holiday series geared to emergent readers? The photographs are beautiful and the text is purposefully simple to encourage beginners while providing an engaging way into diverse cultures and traditions.
In Mari Schuh’s Kwanzaa, as well as all the other series’ books, children can enjoy a search and find feature at the beginning (see the art below), with pictures and words.
“The text uses high-frequency words and repeating sentence structures” empowering new readers while introducing them to new vocabulary via holidays many of their classmates, friends, and neighbors celebrate. Other books in the series include Ramadan, Diwali, Hanukkah, Easter, and Christmas. I’m glad to have discovered this series and look forward to sharing more Amicus books in the future.
Read a review of another diverse holiday picture book here.
Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”
Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.
Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?
As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.
Zemke’sillustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.
Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts. I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).
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(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5 and up)
I like the play on words in the title, The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box, written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, which you’ll understand after you read the review of this interesting and recommended nonfiction picture book.
The book’s main character, Ralph Baer, was born in Cologne Germany and enjoyed doing things other kids his age did, like riding his scooter or playing stick hockey. Wessels doesn’t mention specific dates, but adults and older readers will know the action was unfolding in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to power, which is mentioned. Around that time, readers are told, Hitler began making life difficult for the country’s Jewish people. And, since Ralph was Jewish, “Even former friends became enemies.” He was bullied, and attacks by the Nazis were not uncommon.
“With no one to play with, Ralph spent more time indoors, tinkering with his construction set.” Not only was Ralph able to complete all the models in the manual, he also came up with many clever ideas of his own.
Restrictions on Jews didn’t stop Ralph from learning even despite being kicked out of school at age 14 for being Jewish. In 1938 Ralph and his family fled Germany. Once in America, his inventiveness proved invaluable. When he saw a way to speed up handiwork that he, his sister and his mother were doing to help make ends meet, Ralph created a prototype machine. Soon they doubled the amount of projects being completed, increasing their earnings. Always industrious, Ralph took a radio repair course which led to “… fixing radios for the entire neighborhood.”
In the army, since necessity is the mother of invention, Ralph constructed a radio for his barracks from whatever bits and pieces he could find. Then, after WWII he learned how to build a TV set (the box in the title I referred to earlier). The advent of television heralded in a new era in family entertainment and Ralph saw immense “possibilities.” I was impressed with how Ralph’s career anticipated or paralleled the rise of home technology.
While Ralph saw the TV as a vehicle for playing games, his ideas were initially disregarded. He eventually held jobs building equipment for the U.S. military and for NASA. In fact “he embedded a radio transmitter in the handle of the video camera that astronaut Neil Armstrong took to the moon.” As time passed Ralph still envisioned the potential of TV and imagined “using an external box to control the TV to play games.” With the blessings and funding from one of his bosses, Ralph secretly created a home gaming system and “… the Brown Box, was born!” After numerous rejections, Magnavox took on Ralph’s invention and in 1972, the first iteration of the Odyssey went on sale. As we all know, the video game industry would grow in leaps and bounds over the decades and Baer can be credited with being one of its pioneers.
Wessels has made the story of Ralph Baer’s innovations an accessible and fascinating one. She’s managed to take a lifetime of Baer’s ingenuity and whittle it down to just 48 pages. While the book may read quickly, it definitely invites revisiting to let the scope of Baer’s achievements sink in. When children read the book or have it read to them, they’ll learn about more of Baer’s inventions and can find further sources for information in the back matter. Castro’s comic-like art wonderfully complements Wessel’s words. There is just enough realism to the illustrations when detailing the technology. She also conveys the right mood with the red palate during the dark days of Hitler. I’d love to see her do a graphic novel and could easily see Wessel’s story succeed in that format, too. The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box is a motivating STEM bio that will definitely resonate with unconventional thinkers and could very well inspire kids to pursue exciting new paths in learning.
Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom (or anywhere) read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.
Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.
What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!
There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this year—with or without a power outage.
I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?
Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.
The wonderful thing about nonfiction biographies is that, when done well, they will take us on a journey full of facts, stories, and struggles that will not only enlighten us but also keep us glued to the page, even when we know the outcome. The following books we’ve selected to share for Women’s History Month are excellent examples of recent biographies about extraordinary, trailblazing women whose legacies are enduring and whose contributions remain invaluable serving as powerful role models for generations to come. Find out more about Hedy Lamarr, Susan B. Anthony and Ada Byron Lovelace below.
Wallmark’s chosen a fascinating woman to profile in her illuminating picture book biography of Hedy Lamarr. The Hollywood legend was more than dazzlingly beautiful actress, she was a secret inventor whose “greatest invention was the technology known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum” which has played a crucial role in keeping “our cell phone messages private” and keeping our computers hack-free. Although she knew she was more than just her looks, Lamarr chose to hide this talent from public and didn’t sell her inventions.
Born in Austria in 1920 (100 years after Susan B. Anthony), Hedy was a curious child who, when other kids would likely be out playing, was pre-occupied with how things worked. Her father encouraged her interest in science and technology which no doubt had a positive impact on the young girl. She also had a love of cinema and pretending so it was no surprise she gravitated towards a career in the movies. “I acted all the time … I was a little living copybook. I wrote people down on me.” Eventually doors opened for Hedy when a famous film producer offered her a seven-year film contract. She left her homeland for the bright lights of Hollywood, had her name changed to Hedy Lamarr from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler and went on to star in films with some of the industry’s most popular leading men including Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable.
With her wondering mind at work all the time, even after a day of filming, Lamarr always was thinking about a way to improve on things already in existence or to create something new. That was especially true during WWII. So when she met composer George Antheil, a former weapons inspector, she learned from him that the U.S. Navy, like the European ones, had trouble with the enemy jamming their weapons’ radio signals. Hedy wondered if there was a way to counter this. With the piano as the impetus for a new idea, Hedy thought there might be a way to change frequencies like playing the same keys on a piano in different octaves, and by doing so build a secure torpedo guidance system. And so, after a lot of hard work, they did. Together with Antheil they shared their invention and were told it was “red-hot” but it still needed more work to operate effectively. While the pair eventually received their patent, the Navy “refused to develop” this ground-breaking technology and even classified it as secret so no one else could use the idea. Ultimately they never earned a penny from this breakthrough.
Undeterred by her thwarted efforts to help her adopted homeland, Hedy found success by getting behind the war bond effort, selling millions. Lamarr also took time to meet with servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen and pitched in any way she could. She retired From the movie business in the late 50s and only in the last twenty years has been earning the recognition long overdue. Wu’s artwork is just the right amount of subject and space, and pulls us into every illustration, my favorite being the one where Lamarr and Antheil first meet at a dinner party. Her simple depictions of Lamarr’s big green eyes, sculpted nose and brown hair are terrific. Wallmark’s added a “Timeline” and “Secrets of the Secret Communications System” in the back matter for young readers to learn more about “jam-proofing” technology. I love how even the endpapers are filled with artwork and details about Lamarr. Plus readers will find a “Selected Bibliography,” “Additional Reading About Other Women in Stem” and a list of “Hedy Lamarr’s Films.” Award-winning author Wallmark’s also written picture book biographies about Ada Byron Lovelace and Grace Hopper. Add Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life to the list of must-read biographies.
Prepare to be impressed by the tireless commitment and inroads Susan B. Anthony made for women’s suffrage as detailed by Teri Kanefield in Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America, book #4 in this inspiring series in which each volume “tells the story of an American leader who helped shaped the United States” that we know today. My review copy is so dog-eared to mark the countless passages I wanted to return to. What Kanefield successfully does from the Prologue forward is thoughtfully convey the most important aspects of Anthony’s life so kids will see the evolution of her beliefs beginning with her Quaker upbringing, her teaching years and all the way through to her time lecturing across America as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
What comes across to the reader is that Anthony, born in 1820, prior to the Victorian era, from an early age held strong convictions that everyone should be treated as equals. At that time in our country’s history women were supposed to raise families and keep their noses out of politics and practically everything else unless it concerned homemaking. They were only allowed to work in a limited amount of jobs: teacher, seamstress or nanny. They were prohibited from owning property and, in the case of estrangement in a marriage, the man gained custody of the children. In fact, it was not uncommon for a man to have his wife committed to an insane asylum if he wanted out of the marriage.
The immoral slave trade was the most divisive issue, even among Quakers at that time. To Anthony, people of color as well as women were not second class citizens, destined to remain subservient to white men. This was considered a radical idea in the early 19th century and she did not have an easy path as she tried, along with her friend and fellow activist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to bring about change and a new amendment to the Constitution giving women the vote. Frederick Douglass was a friend with whom she worked to help first abolish slavery and then gain constitutional protection for free slaves. However, before slavery was abolished and even after, prominent politicians and leaders cautioned her to put her agenda for women’s rights on hold. This was unacceptable. Anthony, along with her friend and staunchest ally, Stanton, challenged the notion that women had to forgo their wants and needs and remained determined “to ride roughshod over obstacles, ignore critics, and take help wherever they could get it.” The support of Anthony’s large family was a constant throughout her life and I wonder how she’d have managed without them during the numerous times she was broke or in debt. Her intelligence and quick wit made her the ideal person to speak on behalf of the suffrage movement but it’s worth noting that she also gravitated towards defending anyone whose rights were being abused.
This well-researched biography is filled with maps, photos, flyers, posters and advertisements that help paint a picture of American society during Anthony’s life. Even something like a lady’s corset could be symbolic of the self-imposed restrictions 19th century women placed upon themselves due to societal norms that a woman should have an hourglass figure. “Girls as young as seven were laced into overly tight corsets.” Also included are Notes, a Time Line, Selected Writings of Susan B. Anthony, a Bibliography, Acknowledgments and an Index.
By the time she died at age 86, four states allowed women to vote but it wasn’t until President Woodrow Wilson and the start of WWI that an amendment to give women the vote would gain traction, ultimately becoming the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also called the Susan B. Anthony amendment, in 1920, fourteen years after her death. Kanefield’s invaluable biography paints a portrait of an American hero whose convictions changed the course of American history
I told everyone about Ada Byron Lovelace after finishing Dreaming in Code. I had heard her name in regards to code but it ended there. I knew nothing of the back story that led to this brilliant woman’s presaging today’s computer era almost two centuries ago!
Ada Byron Lovelace was born in England at the end of 1815, just five years before Susan B. Anthony. Augusta Ada Byron, was the daughter of the celebrated poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his “prim, religious” wife, Anne Isabella Noel, called Annabella, a woman of wealth and intelligence. The couple did not remain together due to his philandering and squandering of money among other things so Ada, as she became known, was raised by a single mother. Annabella was a self-centered hypochondriac yet quite philanthropic at the same time and left it to nannies, governesses and tutors to raise her child while she spent time away visiting her newly inherited holdings and helping the coal miners under her employ. McCully engagingly details how Ada flourished from her education although she remained removed from society until her mother deemed it necessary to find her a husband.
Around this time Ada met Charles Babbage, “famous inventor, philosopher (as scientists were then called) and mathematician” who held Isaac Newton’s chair at Cambridge University. Theirs was to be a long and intense, though completely platonic, relationship as they discussed big ideas since both were passionate about math and science. Their friendship provided Ada with the outlet she needed for stimulation. However things grew complicated when she married William, Lord King who became the Earl of Lovelace and soon became a mother. Though not as cold as her own mother, Ada, too, found it difficult to parent when her loyalties lay elsewhere. These chapters were some of the most fascinating ones yet sad at the same time. She often felt ill and, as was common in the early 19th century, was prescribed Laudanum, a tincture of opium viewed as a cure-all. That addiction had to have contributed to her early death at age 37.
As Countess of Lovelace, Ada mixed with a cross-section of society and attended talks on science given by brilliant minds of the era such as Michael Faraday. Ada also wanted to help Babbage and his Analytical Engine and at the same time make her own mark in the science and math fields. Here’s where her genius shone through. While Babbage saw his invention as “arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical,” Ada believed the machine could do more than compute … “that numbers were symbols and could represent other concepts, is what makes Babbage’s engine a prototype-computer.” Sadly, Lovelace lived in era when women were overshadowed by men and women’s freedoms were limited. We can only begin to imagine what miraculous achievements she’d have made had she only lived longer.
With the very readable Dreaming in Code highlighting her meticulous research, McCully has shed light on Ada Byron Lovelace, an important historical figure whose contributions to the field of STEM are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I recommend this young adult nonfiction book for anyone seeking to get a better understanding of the era in which Lovelace lived and how she was inspired to think outside the box.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read about the friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass here. Read another book, Dare The Wind, illustrated Emily Arnold McCully here.
RENATO AND THE LION Written and illustrated by Barbara DiLorenzo (Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 5 and up)
HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY TO RENATO AND THE LION!
★Starred Review – Booklist
Barbara DiLorenzo’s historical picture book, Renato and the Lion, captures a young boy’s fondness for a stone lion. The story is set during World War II and Renato’s father cares for sculptures in a museum. When foreign troops arrive in Florence, he safeguards the art in brick enclosures. However, Renato’s beloved sculpture resides outside in the Piazza della Signoria where he likes to play soccer with his friends. Using some spare bricks, Renato tries to protect his lion too, but falls asleep while hiding from soldiers. The lion magically transports Renato home.
Years later in the U.S.A., Renato shares this tale with his granddaughter and soon after travels to Italy where he is reunited with his long-lost lion—a reminder that powerful connections with pieces of art transcend continents and generations.
DiLorenzo’s beautiful watercolor paintings bring Renato and the Lion to life. This visually stunning story enchants as it gently educates. The emotional resonance evokes a timelessness that will charm children with its quiet and heartfelt message.
Find more info about Barbara DiLorenzo by clicking here.
ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST Written by Andrea Beaty Illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams Books for Young Readers; $17.95, Ages 5-7)
Ada Twist, Scientist is the third rhyming picture book from Andrea Beaty and David Roberts featuring an extraordinary child whose talents can be problematic. Ada Marie Twist doesn’t speak until age three then asks “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose?” “Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?” Her parents tell her that she will figure it out.
Throughout the chaotic story, Ada tries to find the source of a terrible smell. Though the reader is never told where it comes from, children will be happy to help Ada out. The crazy antics of Ada’s experiments are illustrated in vivid detail.
When her parents finally have enough, they send Ada to the family’s “Thinking Chair.” In this pivotal page, we see small Ada surrounded by white space—with a sharpened red pencil surreptitiously nearby. Kids gleefully grasp what comes next as Ada cannot contain her big thoughts.
Thankfully, her parents understand. “They watched their young daughter and sighed as they did. What would they do with this curious kid, who wanted to know what the world was about? They smiled and whispered, ‘We’ll figure it out.’” Together, they help Ada become a young scientist . . . if only Ada could figure out where that awful smell originates.
Readers of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect will notice that Miss Lila Greer’s second-grade class (including students Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck) make cameo appearances in Ada Twist, Scientist. Graph-paper backgrounds again evoke mathematical calculations which contrast nicely with the colorful, humorous images.
This historical fiction book asks the question, “Do Presidents Have Challenges?” and answers with “You’d better believe it.” Jurmain goes on to explain that those challenges can be personal or national or sometimes both. For Franklin Delano Roosevelt or FDR as he was known, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, it would not seem that life would present him with many challenges notes Jurmain. “He was rich. He was smart. He was popular.” He also happened to be the cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, who served as an important role model for the career-driven FDR. Destined to do “big stuff,” the younger Roosevelt got into politics first in New York then moved on to running the Navy. It was even looking like he might make a run for governor.
Then, in 1921, at age 39, FDR’s legs were paralyzed by Polio, an illness that at the time had no cure. Rather than wallow in self-pity, the solution-oriented Roosevelt was determined not to give in to the disease. He used leg braces and crutches and exercised to strengthen his leg muscles as best he could. And when he wasn’t up to task, Franklin’s popular wife, Eleanor, got involved making speeches on his behalf. As his health improved, Franklin decided to run for governor of New York, making him the first disabled person to seek office. Franklin, when hearing people’s objections, responded with his typical can do attitude. “The governor of New York State does not have to be an acrobat.”
The start of the Great Depression immediately following the NYC Stock Market crash of 1929 or Black Friday as it was known, meant millions of people lost their jobs. Not one to be easily discouraged, Franklin felt he could do something to lift America out of its troubles. In 1932 he became the 32nd President of the United States. At his inaugural speech, FDR gave hope to Americans with his famous line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Then he got about the business of putting Americans back to work by creating a government jobs program, giving seniors Social Security benefits and creating funding for the unemployed. He even took to the radio with his “Fireside Chats” to speak directly to the American public. He went on to be elected (a total of four times) and watched the nation rise from the depths of despair. And though he still could not walk, he was responsible for putting the country back on its feet again.
Nice Work, Franklin!reminds readers of the power of positive thinking. Thanks to his can do approach and record of success, FDR will always be a role model for students. Jurmain aptly chose to highlight some of Roosevelt’s most important contributions to American society in a straight forward manner that is both informative and encouraging. Rather than attempt to cover his entire presidency, the author has concentrated on his first term in office, a pivotal time in U.S. history. Day, who has twice teamed up with Jurmain on some other presidential themed picture books, captures not only Franklin’s appearance, but his personality as well. The scenes he illustrated depict a nation desperate to recover and on the verge of great change. Two outstanding spreads for me were the one showing the endless lines of jobless men waiting for soup, and the inspiring image of Roosevelt standing up at his swearing-in ceremony ready to give his inaugural address. Between Jurmain’s anecdotes that demonstrate Franklin’s determination to overcome his challenges, and Day’s artwork resulting from “weeks sketching at the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park,” Nice Work, Franklin!will make a welcome addition to any classroom.
The Snow Queen Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara Barefoot Books; $9.99; Chapter book for ages 8 and up
The Snow Queen Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova Minedition; $19.99; Picture book for ages 5 and up
To those in the USA who are busy surviving snow storms and blizzards, winter might seem like a curse. For those who are stifling under drought conditions, snow must seem like a fleeting, magical element. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen combines the danger and wonder of snow in an imaginative tale. When a shard of an evil mirror pierces his eye, Kay sees only the bad in the world. This makes him easy prey for the Snow Queen, who kidnaps him. Kay’s best friend Gerda decides to rescue him. To do so, she must set out on a long and arduous journey where she encounters talking birds and animals, magical flowers, an enchantress, a robber girl, and a princess. Gerda’s love for her friend is her greatest help, and she battles the bitter cold to reach the Snow Queen’s icy palace. There, Gerda frees Kay from his frozen heart and the Snow Queen’s grasp.
It’s little wonder that this fantastical story continues to be retold, even 171 years after its original publication. Here are two retellings of this tale of friendship and courage.
The Snow Queen Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara Barefoot Books: Step Inside A Story; $9.99
With “accelerated vocabulary and complex sentence structure for the confident reader,” Barefoot Books presents its adapted version as a chapter book for ages eight and up. At 64 pages within seven chapters, the book is a good length for that age group. Here’s a taste of this exciting story:
The bags of provisions were taken and Gerda was dragged from the saddle. Her arms were pinned behind her, and a bony robber with bristling eyebrows and a hairy chin prodded and poked at her new clothes. “Quite the little lady…” he murmured as he drew his sharp dagger and held it to her throat.
“No!” shouted a clear, commanding young voice.
What I greatly enjoyed about this version was the evocative art by French artist, Miss Clara. Whimsical illustrations produce an ethereal sense of people and places. The jacket description states that Miss Clara first creates maquettes (scale models of unfinished sculptures), which she then photographs. Next, she works on those images digitally. The results are simply beautiful and captivating. I also enjoyed the tangible feel of the book. The cover is made of thicker paper than most chapter books, as are the pages. This made the book in its own way feel more appropriate for chapter book readers, as if they are being recognized as older and entrusted with weightier books. In addition, Barefoot Books states that “we source paper from sustainably managed forests,” which adds to the appeal.
The Snow Queen Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova Minedition; $19.99
Minedition presents its version of The Snow Queen as a picture book for ages 5 and up. Also 64 pages, this edition features large print for easy reading. Here’s the same sample as above:
They seized the horses, killed the coachman, footman and outriders, and dragged Gerda out of the carriage. “Oh, doesn’t she look tender and plump,” said the old robber woman who had a beard and bristly eyebrows. “This little girl will taste good!” And she brought out a sharp, shiny knife. But then she screamed, “Ouch!”… “Oh no, you don’t,” said the little robber girl.
Again, the art work is a huge draw for the book. The icy tones of the multiple shades of blue, silver, and green capture the feel of the cold and the iciness of the Snow Queen’s heart. The illustrations seem delicate and powerful at the same time.
The Snow Queen is a classic, and both versions are excellent versions that will fascinate children.
JBG’s book was having a tour. Clever blog tours are hard to ignore. So I just read her book And you must take a look ‘Coz good poetry’s never a bore!
If this book doesn’t inspire kids to try their hand at poetry, I don’t know what will? I found myself relating to the main character, Ryan, who cannot quell his urge to compose poetry. Even his name, Ryan O’Brian, rhymes. Poetry fills his waking hours – at breakfast (see image below), walking to school, in the playground and even in the cafeteria where he must resort to using food to share his Couplet for French Fries.
Two lines are not enough to express How much I adore your potato-ness.
As the story progresses, Ryan dabbles in an excellent array of poetry (that begs to be read aloud) written in every wonderful style from Limerick to Quatrain. What’s so wonderful about this poetry collection is that it’s an engaging story incorporating poems to share Ryan’s feelings and teach poetry at the same time. Throughout the rest of Ryan’s day, he creates poems on the soccer field, poems outside in the rain and one in the bathtub (part of Fever below), that’s very, very clean!
I cannot stop this fever in my brain, I feel compelled to write, and write, and write. Day in, day out, the words just fall like rain.
The story ends when Ryan’s completed a word-filled 24 hour cycle of poetry and can no longer produce another poem. His teacher, Ms. Frost (hmmmm …) gives the class an assignment to write a poem about spring. What she doesn’t know is that Ryan’s brain has reached poetry capacity! After he explains his poetry predicament to his teacher, she’s more than happy to have him hand in “recent work” that we’ve all read.
Brooker’s cheerful artwork jumps off the page and is a beautiful blend of collage with drawing and photos. I found myself carefully examiming every illustration to absorb all that Brooker delivers. Kids, parents and teachers will appreciate the helpful guide at the end explaining every kind of poetic form and voice used to create The Poem That Will Not End. By including examples as varied as Acrostic to Villanelle, Graham’s clever book serves double duty as both a joyous celebration of the magic a good poem makes and a primer on how to do it well.
Check out these other great bloggers’ sites to see what fun they had with Graham’s book!
Poetry for Children–Dr. Sylvia Vardell, Texas Woman’s University, Denton, TX, a behind-the-scenes look,
Maybe it’s because fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s because the weather gets a bit cooler here in L.A. The street where I live gets tons of trick or treaters beginning about five o’clock with the littlest monsters, penguins, princesses and elves making an appearance before bedtime. The creative costumes never cease to amaze me. One year I recall we had a Mozart, a rain cloud and a laundry basket! I look forward to every shouted TRICK OR TREAT?! In honor of Halloween I’ve put together a varied selection of books to sit down and peruse after they’ve emptied bags and examined their hauls.
WHERE’S BOO? (A Hide-and-Seek Book) by Salina Yoon, Random House Books for Young Readers, $6.99, Ages 0-3. This interactive board book will attract little ones with its velvety-faced kitty on the cover and velvety tail at the end. Parents can help children solve the mystery of where Boo is hiding beginning with a jack-o’-lantern and ending with a door in this die-cut 18 page guessing game. The pictures are sweet not scary, a perfect introduction to All Hallows Eve!
VAMPIRINA BALLERINA HOSTS A SLEEPOVER by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, ages 3-5. Last year’s Vampirina Ballerina was so popular she’s back again and this time she’s hosting a sleepover. While this picture book is not strictly for Halloween, what better time of year than right now to share a vampire tale? Dad helps with homemade spider invitations, Vampirina tidies up, the menu is prepared and the sleepover party begins! Full of the same delightful detailed artwork featuring all the necessary vampire accoutrements including caskets and headstones plus all the not-to-be-missed facial expressions courtesy of Pham, this latest picture book is something to sink your teeth into. Pace throws in puns galore so parents can get a giggle, too. There’s even a pull-out spread to add to its appeal. This sleepover’s a lids down success.
GHOST IN THE HOUSE by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record, Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-7. What works so well in this picture book is that it’s not only a cumulative counting book beginning with a little ghost, but it’s a fun read-aloud as well with its catchy rhythm and rhyme. Ghost in the House manages to mix a slightly spooky premise and lighten it with a cute cast of characters including a mummy, a monster, a skeleton, a witch and a little boy. The bonus: No trick or treaters anywhere in sight makes it an ideal read for any dark and stormy night!
HALLOWEENHUSTLE by Charlotte Gunnufson with illustrations by Kevan J. Atteberry, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, $16.99, Ages 4-8. Get ready to boogie to a funky beat that will get your youngsters chiming in. Skeleton’s in a dancing mood, in fact he’s got a whole crew of hustling creatures following his lead, but things keep tripping him up, first a crooked crack, then a cat and finally a zombie’s foot. Here’s the catchy refrain your kids will latch onto:
“Bones scatter! What a clatter! Spine is like a broken ladder!”
There’s a hoppin’ Halloween party where Skeleton enters a dance contest, but can he keep it all together? Let’s see what a friendly skeleton girl and a little super-strong glue can do!
OL’ CLIP CLOP, A GHOST STORY by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez, Holiday House, $16.95, ages 6-9. This haunting, well-paced and tersely written story is one you’ll want to tell by a roaring fire while huddled next to your child. The climax, where there’s usually a fright, though not as scary for an adult as it may be for a child, is deeply satisfying. The good part is that it’s actually a happy ending because it’s good riddance to the villain, mean John Leep. This well-off, but miserly and greedy landlord has a cruel fate planned for the widow Mayes of Grass Hollow. He’ll demand the rent in full or evict her, throwing her out into the night on a cold Friday the thirteenth, 1741. Velasquez’s artwork of dark upon dark sets the ominous nighttime mood, with the lightest color being the white of widow Mayes’s cap and mean Leep’s linens. The clip, clop, clip, clop sound of Leep’s horse Major gets more and more frightening as Leep feels he is being followed on his way to the widow’s house. What’s in store for the stingy man as leaves the desperate widow wondering if she’ll lose her home? Will he make it home alive?
NOTE: This review was originally posted on Jan. 17, 2012, but we felt it was fitting to repost to mark the 50th anniversary of MLK’s March on Washington.
Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.
On this special day in America, we take the time to think about the forward-thinking, visionary leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. His courage and wisdom are even more inspiring as time passes. That’s why I was thrilled to read My Uncle Martin’s Words for America($19.95, Abrams Books, ages 5+). The author, Angelina Farris Watkins, PhD, is the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. (She is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.)
My Uncle Martin’s Words for America is a wonderful summary of the highlights of this extraordinary leader’s journey to promote justice, freedom and equality for all Americans. Young readers are introduced to segregation, Jim Crow laws, King’s incarceration, protests, speeches and the events the led up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the back of the book you’ll find an excellent chart summarizing the protests MLK led, matched with the resulting changes in civil rights. There’s also a helpful glossary. I respect the fact that this book does not focus on the assassination, but rather on his philosophies and accomplishments.
I have read and reviewed countless children’s picture books, and only a few of them really stand out as momentous as far as the quality of the illustrations; this book is indeed one of them. To simply say that the Coretta Scott King award-winning illustrator, Eric Velasquez, isextremely talented is just not enough. Not often does one come across illustrations so realistic, vibrant and beautiful as these. He paints with oils on watercolor paper, and it is a glorious combination. Just take a look at the jacket cover – front and back – and you’ll have no choice but to open this book and take it all in. It’s obvious that Eric Velasquez has a calling in life, and he answers that call each every time he paints a picture. Oh how I’d love to have one of his paintings on my wall at home!
Once you read this book, I think you’ll agree that it should be on the bookshelf in every elementary school classroom in America. (There’s a second title, too, Uncle Martin’s Big Heart, written and illustrated by the same author and artist as this book.)
P.S. As I wrote this review, there was a woman on my local news station at an MLK parade in Miami being interviewed about this holiday. She said, “What Martin Luther King, Jr. did was not just for black people, but for all people.” I could not have summed up his achievements any better than that.
The Bookworm ($9.95, Karadi Tales, Ages 5 and up) is a story about an Indian boy named, Sesha, who loves to read. In fact he has his head in a book so often that other children his age rarely see his face. His classmates tease him and laugh at him every day, and they even write a song about him. . .
“Strange silent Sesha, his nose in his book, Doesn’t give anyone else a look, Bet his mum doesn’t know what his face looks like, Bet his dad hasn’t seen him since he was a little tyke! . . .”
Sesha just keeps to himself and tries to ignore the comments and giggles of the others. He’d rather read and write down his thoughts in his little brown notebook he takes with him everywhere. Well one rainy day, some bullies in his class trip Sesha, causing him and his precious notebook to fall to the ground and get all muddy. Those bullies laugh and laugh, and naturally this is traumatizing for poor Sesha. But later in class something happens that makes the other students – including the bullies – realize that Sesha has something important they wish they had.
I absolutely love the glorious collage and ultra colorful watercolor illustrations by Shilo Shiv Suleman, and thoroughly enjoyed how much they enhance this story.
Stories about nerdy kids and bullies are not uncommon. But this picture book is unique in that it broaches the subject of bullying to the youngest readers without preaching. Rather, through carefully selected prose by author LaVanya R.N., the youngest readers are able to relate to the protagonist and learn that it is wrong to tease others for being different. Even better yet, this book shows us all that being smart and well-read is a powerful thing.
In the end of this book, guess who has the last laugh?
Today my girlfriend Loren posted her winter harvest color wheel on Facebook. She grew organic beets, broccoli, turnips and red cauliflower. Earlier in the week, down in Florida, reviewer Debbie Glade showed off her heirloom tomatoes and gave readers on her blog her secret tomato sauce recipe with directions and photos! Okay so how do I make my vegetable soup you ask? By taking a trip to the supermarket and buying it there! I so envy the freshness and tastiness of my friends’ latest hauls, but do not have a green thumb. Never did. That’s why I had a vicarious experience reading It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden by award-winning author and photographer (of more than one hundred books), George Ancona ($16.99, Candlewick Press, ages 5 and up).
Do you fancy yourself a gardener? Well author Ancona was curious when he learned that the Acequia Madre Elementary School in Santa Fe, New Mexico had a garden so he paid it a visit. Turns out a lot of the staff, students, parents and other volunteers were digging in and helping out to make that garden grow. In this new book Ancona documents how he spent the better part of year getting to know a lot of green thumbs and watching plant life in its seasonal cycles.
By reading the 48 pages filled with fabulous photos, kids will get a great taste of what went into the planting and caring for this successful school garden. Having a school garden means many garden projects can be planned so children can learn first hand about where our flowers, fruits and vegetables come from (and I don’t mean the supermarket!). From choosing what seeds to plant, making compost, planting seeds, transplanting seedlings and all the other steps gardeners must take to assure a viable crop, It’s Our Garden provides a terrific glimpse into the process the whole family will enjoy … and perhaps try to copy.
While I am certain Debbie Glade’s favorite part of the book was reading about all the creatures that live in the garden (and the accompanying photos), mine by far was seeing the students enjoy eating the fruits of their labor! In addition to kids benefiting from It’s Our Garden, the book would make an ideal teacher gift and should be on the shelves in every elementary school classroom.
Debbie Glade reviews a beautiful book about Ben Franklin.
I can never seem to read enough about Benjamin Franklin. Part of the reason is that he was truly one of the most innovative founding fathers of our great nation. Among his long list of accomplishments; he was a member of the Second Continental Congress, he signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Another reason he fascinates me is because my daughter attends the University of Pennsylvania, founded by Ben Franklin himself in the mid 18th century.
Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Ben Franklin ($17.99, Dial Books, Ages 5 and up) is a beautiful book, the kind you want to keep forever. Author and illustrator Robert Byrd does a marvelous job depicting Franklin’s life with both his written word and his intricate watercolor and ink paintings. In the back of the book Byrd discussed the process of finding accurate depictions of Franklin to complete his illustrations, giving readers valuable insight into the process of accurately writing a biography.
When you open the inside back or front cover of the book, you’ll find wonderful lists of famous Franklin quotes. You may then find yourself surprised to learn that many of these quotes which we so often use without thinking about their origins actually come from Franklin, including the title of this review!
“Neither a borrower nor lender be.”
Inside the pages of the book you’ll find the story of Franklin’s life in 2-page topic segments. Readers learn about this founding father as a young boy, a scholar, printer, publisher, scientist, inventor, philosopher, political figure and seeker of justice and peace. Franklin was outspoken and a Renaissance man in so many ways.
This book is an excellent introduction to Benjamin Franklin for young readers. The text must be read to the youngest readers as it is quite advanced. But that is a positive because reading with your children is so important and rewarding. After you finish Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Ben Franklin both you and your child will want to learn even more about Franklin, one of our nation’s greatest historical figures.