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For Women’s History Month – Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird Blog Tour

AWAY WITH WORDS:
The Daring Story of Isabella Bird
Written by Lori Mortensen
Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
(Peachtree Publishing; $17.95, Ages 6-10)

 

cover illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

 

Before Nellie Bly or Amelia Earhardt there was Isabella Bird and, thanks to this eye-opening new picture book biography, Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, children can read about what impressive inroads this English explorer made at a time in history when a woman’s place was in the home not out globetrotting around the world, and writing about it to boot!

This “unlikely candidate for adventure,” who never felt well as a child, was born in the Yorkshire countryside in 1831. Isabella Bird suffered from a multitude of ailments and rarely left the house. That worked for awhile because, according to Victorian societal norms that she would eventually challenge, “Young ladies wore dresses. / Young ladies didn’t go to school. / Young ladies stayed home.” Countless doctors couldn’t diagnose her with anything until one doctor recommended she get some fresh air. Her father took Isabella out with him on his horse and, with his encouragement, she made discoveries that would forever change the course of her life. “Out in the wild, Isabella forgot about her aches and pains. / She breathed in new ways to see and describe everything around her.”

Captured beautifully by Caldwell’s spread below, letters from relatives abroad and other news from overseas sparked a flame in Isabella. She felt deep inside that travel would feed her soul and she yearned for the possibilities it would provide but some days she could barely get up. The tide turned for the better when her doctor suggested a sea voyage and her parents agreed.

 

interior illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

Interior spread from Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird written by Lori Mortensen and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell, Peachtree Publishing ©2019.

 

She boarded a mail steamer for Nova Scotia and from then on there was no looking back for this intrepid young woman. Her red leather notebook accompanied her wherever she went. I love how Mortensen weaves quotations of text from Bird’s own published books wherever it adds atmosphere to the story. Caldwell’s colorful illustrations pair perfectly with those lines. One of my favorites is, “There was a small bed with a dirty buffalo-skin upon it; I took it up and swarms of living creatures fell out of it …”

Her first book, The Englishwoman in America, was published in 1856, smack in the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign. But when her father passed away Bird chose to end her explorations. That ultimately led to a flare up of her ailments and an onset of doldrums that, at her sister’s urging, could only be allayed by journeying across five continents. It took grit and guts and bravery to gallivant solo around the world to myriad destinations lacking in creature comforts, but Isabella persevered. Thanks to her detailed record keeping of all the places she visited, the nine additional books she wrote became bestsellers. People craved reading about the exotic locales and peoples that they’d never see in their lifetime whether that be climbing up Kilauea volcano in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), trekking across the dangerous frozen Persian “desert at the roof of the world,” or befriending a “notorious outlaw.”

 

int illustration by Kristy Caldwell from Away With Words by Lori Mortensen

Interior spread from Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird written by Lori Mortensen and illustrated by Kristy Caldwell, Peachtree Publishing ©2019.

 

As Mortensen’s story vividly demonstrates, the world was indeed Isabella’s home so it’s no surprise that in 1892, Bird was the first woman to ever be inducted into the Royal Geographical Society of London and a year later was presented to Queen Victoria. In 32 pages of lyrical prose, Mortensen shows young readers the personal growth and happiness that can come from travel and exposure to a vast range of cultures. Caldwell’s artwork includes just the right amount of soaring spirit a name like Bird implies.

Picture book biographies, when done well, provide a much needed window on the world of important people from the past that we might ordinarily never hear or read about. Away With Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, does that and more. It offers inspiration and a role model for children who, long after Women’s History Month has ended, will no doubt want to seek out Bird’s impressions by turning to her original books to learn more about this trailblazer’s 19th century daring journeys. The back matter including an author’s note, a timeline of Bird’s travels and publications, Bird’s text quotations, and a bibliography make this nonfiction book ideal for both home and school. In fact, I’d give it as a gift to a child along with a journal to get them started on documenting their own travels, even if that’s just an outing to the zoo or a trip to another city.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Visit other stops below on this enlightening blog tour from Peachtree Publishing:

3/5: Let’s Talk Picture Books

3/6: Pragmatic Mom

3/7: Geo Librarian

3/8: Kid Lit Frenzy

 

Travel to Great Britain – Kidlit Roundup

TRAVEL TO ENGLAND & SCOTLAND
A Picture Book Roundup

 

Maisy Goes to London
Written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick Press; $15.99; ages 2-5)

An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids
A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids
Written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling
(EK Books; $17.99; ages 6-10)

 

Travels through England and Scotland

Maisy_Goes_to_LondonI was raised in England, so I’m partial to books about the British Isles. Luckily, there are so many of them! We begin with Lucy Cousins’ Maisy Goes to London, which is a perfect introduction to the fabulous city for children ages three to seven. Maisy and her friends are sightseeing in one of the most exciting cities in the world, and there’s so much to see and do! They climb the lions in Trafalgar Square and see Nelson’s Column. Right across the street is the National Gallery, home to “so many amazing paintings. Maisy likes the sunflowers best.”  Of course, no trip to London is complete without seeing Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. With stops at a park and the Tower of London—“Cyril and Charley love the Beefeater’s colorful uniform”—Maisy and company cover a lot of the most recognizable sites. As always, Lucy Cousins’ delightful artwork and easy-to-understand word choice hit the mark for younger readers.

 

An-English-Year-300x288For a broader look at modern England, older readers can check out An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling. Five children, Victoria, Aman, Tandi, George, and Ameli, are our guides to festivals, games, traditions, sites, animals, and foods from different parts of England. Each month has a double page spread and is filled with delightful pictures that depict the text. Each spread features about 12 facts for the month. The books is chock full of information! I personally loved seeing the hot, roasted chestnuts in a paper bag for January and the Punch and Judy puppet show for June. The references to lesser-known facets of living, such as “we gobble Jaffa Cakes and Jammie Dodgers” (June) and BBC’s Children in Need fundraiser (November), add to the sense of discovery. Details such as these, in addition to the more mainstream items like Stonehenge and Royal Ascot, go a long way in creating a real sense of life in England.

 

A-Scottish-Year-300x288McCartney and Snerling have also created the series’ companion book, A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids. In similar fashion to the England book, Scotland’s heritage is presented via five children—Rashida, Sophie, Dominik, Isla, and James. We learn that on Twelfth Night, people “take down our Christmas Tree to avoid bad luck” (January) and that “Tartan Day celebrates everything good about Scotland” (April). We’re introduced to blaeberry picking (July) and “redding the house, to bring in a fresh new year” (December). The use of Scottish vernacular (for example, dreich, meaning dull, depressing, dreary weather) and inclusion of celebrations (the Braemar Gathering and the Royal Highland Show) produce a vivid feel for the pride that the Scottish feel for their country.

Readers may realize that more context or detail is needed to explain some of the information in the books. For example, English Year states, “At birthday parties, we play lots of games. Dad tries to give us The Bumps!” We did this when I was a child, so let me explain. The Bumps is when the birthday child is lifted by the arms and legs, and his/her bottom is bumped on the ground the number of years he/she is turning. It’s fun. Scottish Year mentions that in November “we put on our coats and play conkers outdoors.” I have fond memories of playing conkers with my classmates. A conker is a horse chestnut with a shoelace strung through it. Children then aim and hit their conkers at each other’s. Whichever conker outlasts the other, wins. Even though some research may be needed if a reader wants to dig deeper, the basic information doesn’t distract from the charm of the books.

The artwork is adorable. Each book’s characters show features of life at home, school, play, festivals, and so on. Illustrations introduce the months. In Scottish Year, March has a rain cloud hovering over it and rain sprinkling from the M, and September has leaves swirling around it. The text incorporates different colors and line shapes. For example, the text weaves around illustrations, some words are colored, some letters have their circles filled in, and some are in different sizes. The visuals, including the endpages, are appealing and encourage readers to follow the text.

Each book ends with a list of counties/regions and a map of the country filled with fun facts. I had no clue that Scotland has over 790 islands! I did know, however, that England consumes more tea per person than anywhere else in the world. Tea is such a large part of the culture. I appreciated the multicultural aspect that reflects the reality of these countries today. It begins with the inclusion of the children’s characters from Pakistan, India, Jamaica, and Poland, as well as England and Scotland, of course. While plenty of traditional aspects are presented, so are the more contemporary contributions from the various “introduced cultures” that have become a part of the fabric of England and Scotland. For example, in English Year, we learn that “Holi is the Spring Festival of Colours. We cover each other in coloured paint” and that “Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. No more fasting!” To ensure authenticity, the books have been produced in consultation with native English and Scottish advisors, school teachers, and school children.

If you aren’t traveling to the British Isles this year, or even if you are, these three books are a wonderful introduction to London, England, and Scotland.

  • Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

 

 

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold by Joyce Sidman

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold

Written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; November 2014, $17.99; ages 6-10)

 Winter-Bees-cvr.jpg

Living in southern California, my children and I can only imagine winters with the landscape covered in snow and animals nestling against the cold. Luckily, we have Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, a new picture book by Joyce Sidman. Twelve poems capture how animals and nature manage during the north’s long and often freezing season. Some subjects, such as tundra swans and snowflakes, are cute and others like springtails (also known as “snow fleas”) and skunk cabbage, not so much. Cute or not, all topics are fascinating. Here is the first stanza of Chickadee’s Song:

 From dawn to dusk in darkling air

we glean and gulp and pick and snare,

then find a roost that’s snug and tight

to brave the long and frozen night.

Facts accompany the various poetic forms. For instance, for chickadees, we learn that “weighing less than a handful of paperclips…spending every waking moment searching for food…chickadees hunt for seeds, berries, and hidden insects to build up a thin layer of fat, which must last them all night.” That is just a little tidbit of the plentiful information given. The book also includes a glossary. This makes for a wonderful way to teach poetry, science, and vocabulary from one source.

The artwork by Rick Allen adds to the feeling of a frosty winter. The book’s description states, “The individual elements of each picture… were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks… and then hand-colored. Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations.” Keep your eye out for the beautiful red fox that guides the reader through most of the pages.

Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold gives us a glimpse into the natural wonders of winter.

– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan

 

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet

NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, (Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, $17.50, Ages 6-10) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

✩Starred Reviews – Publishers WeeklyKirkus Reviews
Junior Library Guild
Selection

The-Right-Word-cvr.jpg

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Eerdmans 2014.

List: index, inventory, agenda, series, menu, outline, docket. If you like to make lists, be sure to put this wonderful book about Peter Mark Roget on the top of your next one. A marvelous new nonfiction collaboration from the terrific team of Bryant and Sweet, here is the story of a man whose book resides in countless homes, schools, and libraries. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus will boost your appreciation for this indispensable reading and writing reference tool as well as for the man who created it.

Young Peter’s early life was challenging. His family moved often following his father’s death in 1783, but Peter found that books were always plentiful, faithful friends that he did not have to leave behind. He began writing his own book, a list of Latin words and their English meanings. The list helped him study and gave him a sense of comfort and order while his mother fretted and worried.

Bryant’s lovely, lyrical text walks a well-balanced route through Peter’s shy teen years, medical school, marriage and family. While practicing medicine, Peter continued amassing words until his book of lists was completed. Always collecting, revising and perfecting, Roget’s lifelong dedication eventually created an organized, easy to use tool. In 1852, the first thousand copies of Roget’s Thesaurus flew off the shelves.

Sweet’s collage style illustrations are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, drawing fine threads of Roget’s story into focus with richness and clarity. I have studied the pages of this book for days, and still discover unique text samples and detailed subtleties in the pictures that amaze me. This is truly a book to savor over and over, noting fresh gems each time.

Indeed, in The Right Word we learn that thesaurus comes from the Latin and Greek roots meaning treasury. I cannot imagine a more apt description of this spectacular picture book biography. Be sure to note the extensive author and illustrator notes, timeline, bibliography and endpapers that will make this treasure an indispensable resource.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
  • Where Obtained:  I borrowed a The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus from my local library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Download discussion guide here.

Read our review of Bryant’s and Sweet’s book A Splash of Red here.

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems Selected by Paul B. Janeczko

Celebrating National Poetry Month!
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems Selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 6-9), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Janeczko, the 2011 CYBIL winner for Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, has selected a collection of short poems about the seasons written by well-known children’s and adult poets. Included here are lesser known poems by Charlotte Zolotow and J. Patrick Lewis (children’s) and Emily Dickinson and Richard Wright (adult). Each wonderfully illustrates the point that poets are artists who paint with words and only needs a few carefully chosen words to convey powerful images.

Firefly-July-cvr.jpg

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Candlewick Press, 2014.

The mood of the poems is reflective and evocative. Some are resplendent with metaphors or similes such as “In the Field Forever” by Robert Wallace (p. 21):

Sun’s a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars! all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!

Illustrator Melissa Sweet received a Caldecott honor for River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. Her full page, mixed media illustrations (water color, gouache, and collage) are uplifting and enhance the poem without overshadowing it. My students admired Sweet’s illustrations for the interesting details she added that are not necessarily a part of the poem, but are reasonable inclusions. In the illustration for “Water Lily” a frog’s eyes peer out of the pond, following a nearby fly (p. 10).

The publisher recommends this for ages 6-9, but I read it to older students to demonstrate poetry techniques such as metaphors, word choice, etc. My 4th/5th grade class found the word choice so vivid that the readings evoked personal memories or made them feel like they were in the poem.

This breath-taking collection has deservedly received starred reviews Horn Book, Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal and is highly recommended for all libraries (public, school, and home!).

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GEORGE!

 George: George Washington, Our Founding Father

Dear Readers,

This review first posted in in 2012 (hence the different date of Presidents Day), but I felt it was worth reposting again today.

Tomorrow, February 22nd, is our founding father’s birthday.  Since I probably learned about America’s first president over 40 years ago, I decided to revisit some children’s books and found George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating with paintings by Mike Wimmer ($16.99, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, ages 6 and up), to be one worth noting.

George-Washington-jpg

George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating with illustrations by Mike Wimmer, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2012.

The author, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, shares this story, part of the Mount Rushmore series, in first person so readers will feel an immediate connection to Washington’s life in Virginia.  The fifth of ten children, Washington was expected to leave school at 15 years old to assist his widowed mother; his father having died four years earlier. From an early age young Washington displayed strong moral fiber, writing a list called The Rules of Civility originally taught to him by teachers, the principles of which would guide him throughout his life.  I had not remembered that Martha, whom he married at age 27 was already a widow with two children although it’s not surprising considering the average life span then was around 37 years old. I liked that the author chose to include various rules from Washington’s list helping me to learn more about what shaped this influential man even prior to becoming commander in chief of the armies or our nation’s first leader.

The award-winning artist, Mike Wimmer, has brought Washington to life through his use of oils painted on canvas in this wonderful picture book. To capture the president in the 18th century so accurately, Wimmer used models, period costumes and a lot of research. He has succeeded in portraying Washington’s life in an engaging, almost photographic-like way and  his paintings truly complement Keating’s succinct narrative . This book would make a great addition to any school or local library’s American History section as its message is timeless.

Rule 1: Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

Rule 73: Think before you speak. Pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

Now these are great rules to live by!

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Matchboxes and Memories

matchboxdiaryThe Matchbox Diary ($16.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 6-11) is a beautifully written tale about a Kindergarten-aged girl who spends time with her great-grandfather in his home library, where he shares with her his life story through his special collection of matchboxes. Author and Newberry Medalist, Paul Fleischman, was inspired to write this story after meeting an artist who saved matchboxes from his travels, housing trinkets inside from each destination. It wasn’t until 15 years after that meeting that Fleischman came up with the story for this book; it was well worth the wait.

The boxes and their contents reveal the details of the great grandfather’s journey emigrating from Italy to America. From an olive pit and a bottle cap to a baseball ticket stub, each one of these boxes’ treasures represents an important event in the great grandfather’s life. Even an empty matchbox helps reveal a memorable tale.

This book reminds me of the special relationship I had with my own grandfather and the many hours I spent listening to stories about his life. There’s magic in a small child learning that his or her parent, grandparent or great-grandparent had a fascinating life  – challenges and triumphs included. I admire the fact that the book teaches young readers about the hardships of many people who came to our country from places far away.

The Matchbox Diary author: Paul Fleischman illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline

The Matchbox Diary author: Paul Fleischman
illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline

The extraordinary illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline are of award-winning quality. The pictures of present day when the great-grandfather is talking to his great-granddaughter are in full color, while the illustrations depicting the past are in black and white. The illustrations, printed on paper with a gold hue, are rendered in incredible detail and are perfect for conveying the historic era of the great-grandfather’s journey to America.

The Matchbox Diary reminds us that despite this age of information accessibility and modern technology, nothing can take the place of a story told by someone you love.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

On this day, 133 Years Ago, Helen Keller was Born

cover-helen-276x300Your first clue that you’re about to read something special is that the jacket cover title, Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller ($17.99 Disney-Hyperion, ages 6 and up) by Doreen Rappaport with illustrations by Matt Tavares, is written in Braille. Here’s a picture book that utilizes every last available printed page to impart meaningful information to young readers.

To say that Helen Keller only changed the world’s attitude towards blindness would be an understatement. At 19 months old, Keller fell ill and the resulting blindness and deafness turned her life from bright to dark. Before their daughter’s seventh birthday, Helen’s parents hired the once legally blind teacher Annie Sullivan.

Sullivan would go on to change the course of Helen’s life with her unwavering devotion and determination to help Helen learn to communicate. Helen proved to be a sponge, soaking up every bit of information Sullivan could share. She eventually went on to college and became an advocate not just for people with disabilities, but for people of color, the poor and women. Author Rappaport injects many of Keller’s transformational quotes into this touching book. “We do not think with eyes and ears, and our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses.”

The evocative illustrations by accomplished artist Matt Tavares serve to highlight Keller’s courage and numerous abilities including a profound embrace of life and homeland. Not only are there resources listed in the end pages for children, but a Manual Language Chart, too. It’s been decades since I read about Helen Keller’s inspirational life so I appreciated learning many interesting new facts. In Keller young readers are sure to find a role model worth emulating.

Click here for a link to author Rappaport’s invaluable teachers’ guide.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Silky Smooth and Mighty Strong

StoryofSilk Debbie Glade recently reviewed a fascinating book about spider silk called Stronger Than Steel, so it seemed perfectly natural for her to review this book about silk worms.

The Story of Silk: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves ($17.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 6-10) was written by traveling photographer, Richard Sobol, who also authored two other books I reviewed:  The Mysteries of Angkor Wat and The Life of Rice. Oh, how I envy this author’s work, as I cannot think of anything better than traveling to far away places as a photojournalist, learning about the world and sharing that knowledge with young readers. I cannot be the only person on earth who has always wondered how silk is made and woven. So let’s find out how it’s done!

The book starts with the history of silk and the travels of Marco Polo on the Silk Road. Did you know that Polo’s journey took 24 years? Did you also know that silk made in Thailand is all woven by hand? That is where the author of this book traveled to learn about the process of how silk is made.

What readers learn is that the only food silkworms eat are the leaves of the mulberry tree. So not only do silkworm farmers have to raise the worms (actually caterpillars), but they also have to constantly grow mulberry trees for the worms, who are constantly eating. Silkworms molt numerous times while growing and this requires them to eat 50 times their weight in food!

When the silkworms are in the cocoon stage, they are bright yellow. The adult pupa spit out liquids that make strands of silk, and these cocoons are boiled to release all the strands. (The boiled worms are actually eaten by the villagers, who dip them in red pepper sauce.) There is a process to dye and weave the silk which is equally as fascinating as the cocoon process. Silk is not only luxurious, but also very strong and durable. In the back of the book is a page with silk facts and a glossary of terms.

What I love about this book is that it is easy to read, very informative, and the topic is so interesting. The photographs are excellent, and the author does a terrific job interviewing people involved in the process of making the silk. Now that I know that it takes 40 hours of spinning by hand to make one pound of Thai silk, I have a new found respect for this beautiful fabric.

What’s Lurking in the Garden?

Kids love butterflies and are generally fascinated by other insects too. Today Debbie Glade reviews two compact yet information-packed books for ages 6 and up about insects that linger in the garden.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: a Step-by-Step Guide for Kids ($19.95, Firefly Books, Ages 6 and up) written and photographed by Carol Pasternak. What struck me first were the spectacular close-up photos of all the stages of the lifecycle of a monarch butterfly. Wow! After learning about the basic anatomy and metamorphosis of a monarch, readers will learn all they need to know about raising their own monarchs. There’s a list of supplies to gather, tips on how to find a caterpillar (on a milkweed plant), how to raise the caterpillar and watch the entire extraordinary lifecycle before your very eyes. You’ll also discover how to release your butterfly and what that creature will experience when out on its own. There are helpful Resources, a Glossary and Index too.

Children will love doing this project with an adult and will feel like true scientists doing an experiment as they watch and learn. The book is well written, takes you step-by-step and is easy to understand. Each of the 48 pages got me so excited about the prospect of raising my own butterflies that I’m going to try this myself. (I’ll let you know how it goes.)

Let’s Look at the Vegetable Garden ($11.99, Moonlight Publishing, Ages 6 and up) written by Caroline Allaire and illustrated by Sabine Krawczyk is a unique and wonderful book. It is one of many Close Up books by Moonlight Publishing that teach kids about science. The book is spiral bound so it opens flat and is compact in size so the reader can bring it outside in the garden for reference. In the back is a clever paper magnifying glass that you place around several wonderful cellophane illustrations to “magnify” the images. There’s even a paper magnifier case too. The book highlights six different insects one would find in a vegetable garden. Through descriptions and illustrations, readers learn what the critters look like, what they like to eat and how they live. In addition to the featured insects, a few pages of the book lists some of the many other bugs typically found in vegetable gardens, complete with illustrations.

As an avid organic gardener myself, I know how important it is to learn about all the critters that want to eat the food I am growing for my family. This book is an excellent tool for the youngest gardeners, as it will help them understand all the challenges farmers face and help them appreciate the food they produce for us to eat. What’s more, it reminds them that humans are not the only animals on earth who need to eat the food that grows in the ground.

Click here to check out the other titles in the Close Up Series.

I highly recommend both of these books. They are beautiful, educational and inspire young minds to explore the natural world around them.  Parents and teachers will love them too.

The White House, America’s Most Recognizable Residence

Coming out this July is The House That George Built written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Rebecca Bond. Today reviewer Rita Zobayan weighs in on why she likes this new picture book.

                  Presidents’ Day may have passed, but Independence Day is just around the corner. Begin your celebration by sharing the story of one of America’s most recognizable residences: the White House.  The House That George Built ($16.95, Charlesbridge, ages 6 and up) written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Rebecca Bond  describes George Washington’s role in the building of the presidential home, which was originally referred to as the President’s House.

                  In essence, this book is almost two in one. On the left pages is more advanced, detailed text: “Then George spied a magnificent drawing with majestic columns, grand staircases, and a stately oval room. James Hoban’s design was just right and he won the contest.”  On the right pages is the simpler version: “This is the design/that would stand for all time/that was drawn for the lot/that grand, scenic spot/for the President’s House that George built.”  (You may recognize the rhyme style and the book title as a reference to the famous poem “This Is the House That Jack Built.”) The book provides information on the many aspects of this process from choosing the correct location to using the available materials in the new country to the people who worked on the house.

                  Finishing up the book are additional pages of information. One page provides the logistics of the house (35 bathrooms!) and outlines changes made to the residence, such as Theodore Roosevelt adding an outdoor tennis court in 1912 and Bill Clinton adding a hot tub and jogging track in 1993. The next page is the author’s note and elaborates on the back story of the building endeavor. For example, even though George Washington had an active hand in overseeing the process to build this structure, he is the only president to have never lived there! Lastly, sources and resources are listed, which are useful should a child wish to use this book for a report. The House That George Built is an informative and fun way to learn more about one of our nation’s most historic buildings.

                 

Celebrate Black History Month with Baseball Great, Larry Doby

There was a time when even baseball was segregated. African Americans were not welcome on major league baseball teams; they played in the Negro League. That was until the late 1940s when baseball changed for good . . .

Jackie Robinson was the first black player in the major leagues, and Larry Doby was the first black man to play in the American League. His athletic accomplishments earned him spots in seven All-Star games, and in 1998 he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game, ($16.99, Candlewick Press, ages 6 and up) written by Chris Crowe, is a great picture book about an African American boy and his dad, who really love baseball. When they hear the news that Larry Doby is going to play his very first game for the Cleveland Indians, they can’t concentrate on anything else. At home, they listen to the game on their brand new radio and celebrate every run. Throughout the story readers feel as though they are experiencing the anticipation of the game firsthand. At the back of the book are two pages of factual history and a one-page bibliography.

I love this book for several reasons. 1) It commemorates a monumental moment in black history. 2) The story is told with such a great deal of enthusiasm that the reader feels like he is actually living in the story. 3) The illustrations by Mike Benny are wonderful. 4) It’s about baseball, and that’s about as American as you can get.

Any child, or adult for that matter, who loves baseball will love this book and will learn something important about American history.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

What Presidents Are Made Of

Israeli artist and author Hanoch Piven has created an extraordinarily fun way for children to look at all 44 of our American presidents in an updated edition of his 2004 hit, What Presidents Are Made Of ($6.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ages 6 -10). This playful perspective presents each leader with his face depicted through a collage of items ranging from chains, telephone cord and jelly beans to a kazoo and a hot dog – yes, I kid you not, a genuine frankfurter for a nose!  It also sheds light on different aspects of their character or persona.

Did you know, for example, that Ulysses S. Grant once got a $20 ticket for dashing just a bit too quickly in his one-horse carriage and had only praise for the policeman who fined him, or that Franklin D. Roosevelt never liked the food his White House chef cooked but felt he just could not fire her? My favorite picture also belongs to that of our 32nd president and has a remarkable resemblance to Martin Scorsese with his prominent black bolt eyebrows.

In his straightforward introduction, Pinoch shares an artist’s ever creative approach to evoking these larger-than-life individuals for children to enjoy, but also to learn from in a light-hearted, whimsical way.  He also encourages kids to try their hand at reproducing a president’s likeness using found objects. If I were a teacher  I’d have a blast with this book, but parents can also take part in the portrait-making process. Go on, think about someone you’d like to recreate on paper (Lady Gaga, First Lady Michelle Obama, or maybe even Sponge Bob), get out some pasta, push pins, a few earrings that have lost their pairs, and start your own art project today.

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