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Kids’ Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Becoming a Good Creature

BECOMING A GOOD CREATURE

Written by Sy Montgomery

Illustrated by Rebecca Green

(HMH BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

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Starred Reviews – Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Sy Montgomery’s New York Times best-selling memoir, How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals, inspired the picture book, Becoming a Good Creature. Herein she conveys her beliefs that we can—and should—learn from animals. Montgomery’s fundamental messages include “respect others,” “find good teachers,” and “see for yourself.” She encourages us to take a closer look at the world and everything inhabiting it. In doing so, we are bound to “love little lives” and find ways to nurture them because we’re all in this together.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

While naturalist and adventurer Montgomery has led an extraordinary life, traveling the world and living with animals, we don’t have to fly far away to find something worth exploring.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

During the pandemic, my family has discovered and interacted with previously overlooked insects in our garden. Becoming a Good Creature reinforces such behavior. It also shows that women can make their own families and forge their own paths.

 

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Interior spread from Becoming a Good Creature written by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BYR ©2020.

 

Rebecca Green’s paintings, full of delightful animals, depict Montgomery from girl through woman and showcase how curiosity inspired her positive interactions with animals around the globe. For example, alongside the beautifully poignant illustrations of an octopus, a young Montgomery wonders what could we possibly have in common with them; the answer is playing! This uplifting book stresses the importance of communication and caring—much-needed actions for successful coexistence on our planet.

  • Click here then scroll down the page to learn more about Rebecca Green’s artwork.
  • Read a review of another picture book about animals here.

 

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Kwanzaa Books for Children

CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR KWANZAA 2020

 

Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and lasts one week. Learn more about this joyous African American holiday by sharing the books reviewed here.

 

 

Lil Rabbits Kwanzaa paperback cvrLI’L RABBIT’S KWANZAA
Written by Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
(Katherine Tegen Books; $7.99, Ages 3-7)

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.

 

Kwanzaa SpotHolidayseries cvrKWANZAA
A Spot Holiday Book
Written by Mari Schuh
(Amicus; $7.99, Ages 5 and up)

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.

 

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Interior photographs from Kwanzaa written by Mari Schuh, Amicus ©2020.

 

“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.

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Picture Book Cover Reveal – A Brief History of Underpants

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IT’S TIME FOR AN UNCOVER REVEAL!

Did that get your attention?

 

Are you curious for a sneak peek?

 

Okay then, here it is …

 

 

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Presenting …

 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS

Written by Christine Van Zandt

Illustrated by Harry Briggs

(becker&mayer! kids; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Publication Date: April 13, 2021

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER NOW – DETAILS BELOW

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MY REACTION:

If you follow this blog you’ll know that Christine is a regular contributor and has reviewed such a wide variety of books over the years from board books to young adult novels. I’m thrilled to have her on the receiving end this time around.

Additionally, as a critique partner of Christine’s, I’ve seen this book in its various iterations so to at last see her vision brought to fruition with such humorous artwork is a joy. When her debut turned out to be a nonfiction title as opposed to a fiction one, it was quite an unexpected but super surprise. Then seeing that the cover also featured a reveal wheel, well that just made the wait all the more worthwhile. Turn the wheel slowly to get glimpses of four kinds of undies covered in this 48-page paperback picture book including bloomers, boxers, briefs, and schenti (Egyptian loincloth). If you’ve heard of some other type of underpants they’re likely covered here!

I had such a grin on my face the first time I laid eyes on the cover of A Brief History of Underpants. I love how the book design uses an eye-catching bright yellow circle inside a blue one, to immediately pull our focus to the boy in his red boxers. The red detail on his socks is fun, too. The iconic look of illustrator Harry Briggs’s (a graduate of Art Center College of Design nearby in Pasadena) comic-style art will make the interior spreads shine when coupled with Christine’s punny undie descriptions. The cover character with his black outlining, the kid-friendly fonts, plus the shadowing on the word underpants is a nod to the Captain Underpants series and lets kids know this is definitely going to be an interesting and entertaining read. 

 

STORY INSPIRATION:

The idea for A Brief History of Underpants came about at school—sort of. Christine has been a book volunteer since kindergarten. Other than working with kids in the classroom and bringing in or patching books, that meant helping kids, parents, and teachers select books at the school’s week-long annual Book Fair.

In 2019, nonfiction books were the big thing, prominently featured in displays. Many parents veered their kids toward them. But Christine noticed time and again that kids resisted, stating “nonfiction books are boring” even though many wonderful nonfiction books were offered. These comments led to Christine and her family brainstorming what else could be done to make nonfiction more accessible to kids.

Humor was already a part of Christine’s writing, so writing a funny book was a natural choice, but the right topic was key. Christine’s fourth-grader suggested underwear because kids love underwear. When Christine researched books on this topic, she found they seemed too long. Taking a new angle, she condensed the world history of underpants into short, fast scenes, and the book was born.

 

Author Christine Van Zandt photo by Marlena Van Zandt
Author photo ©Marlena Van Zandt

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Even though Christine Van Zandt is the author of A Brief History of Underpants, she hasn’t found fossilized underwear, but she loves uncovering interesting historical facts that make great books for kids.

She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, daughter, two cats, and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.

 

FIND CHRISTINE ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

Website: https://christinevanzandt.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christine-van-zandt/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christine.vanzandt.9

Instagram: christinevanzandt9

 

TO PREORDER CLICK BELOW:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

IndieBound

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Five Children’s Books for Armchair Traveling

TRAVEL & MAP BOOKS FOR KIDS

– A ROUNDUP-

I love everything about travel, the new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. And getting there is also a big part of the excitement. But right now, staying home during the pandemic means we have to find other ways to get that thrill. There are travel programs and international webcams to watch, online museums to visit, and best of all, there are books to read. Take advantage of the variety of books that kids of all ages can enjoy for unique vicarious experiences. I hope you’ll share these books so that, while at home, your children can adventure both near and far simply by turning a page.

 

 

TinyTravelers INDIA cvrTINY TRAVELERS TREASURE QUEST: INDIA
Written by Steven Wolfe Pereira + Susie Jaramillo
Illustrated by Meiyee Tan + Abigail Gross

(Encantos; $12.99, Ages 3-6)

Help your kids become global citizens by introducing them to a vast array of fascinating destinations in this fabulous board book series. The 28-pages in Tiny Travelers Treasure Quest: India provide an engaging illustrated journey into the heart of India. My first trip to India was over 30 years ago and yet that trip has remained with me all these years because of the scenic beauty, the delicious food, the warm, welcoming people, and the majesty of the monuments such as the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. Kids, parents, teachers, and librarians will love how the book is filled with facts about the “language, history, food, nature, music, and more,” in every colorful spread. There’s a seek-and-find element woven into the text that parents can choose to play with their children during the first reading, or return to the next time. Top that off with the rhyming prose, “Bollywood movies / are one of a kind. / They have dancing, singing / and costumes combined!” and kids will be hooked. Find more info and books in the series including China, Mexico, Puerto Rico at TinyTravelers.com.

MyFirstBookofLondon coverMY FIRST BOOK OF LONDON
Written and illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Walker Books U.S.; $18.99, Ages 3-7)

Covering 15 topics, My First Book of London, a large-format picture book, is just one title in this fun series that combines vibrant graphic illustrations, brief narrative and simple words to give an overview of the most well-known attractions and things to do in this beloved city. I actually laughed out loud when on the first spread I saw that for Buckingham Palace not only was Queen Elizabeth II included, but also a Corgi! I wasn’t quite sure why a fire engine was featured, (must look that up) but I’m glad that the “flag-waving crowd” and “Changing of the Guard” were depicted. Arrhenius has zeroed in on London’s museums, too, one of my favorite things about this city. There is a museum for everyone’s interests, from the famed British Museum with its mummy collection to the V&A Museum (Victoria & Albert), my personal fave. Use the book as a dictionary, as a seek-and-find book, or simply as a wonderful way to get familiar with what makes this English city so popular.

LuluandRockyinIndianapolis cvrLULU AND ROCKY IN INDIANAPOLIS
Written by Barbara Joosse
Illustrated by Renée Graef
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

The fourth book in this beautifully illustrated U.S. travel series is Lulu and Rocky in Indianapolis, informational fiction that is part story, part travelogue, and 100% interesting! The books all feature fox cousins, main characters Lulu and Rocky, and their penguin pal Pufferson. There is a welcome consistency in how each story begins the same way making it easy to read the books out of order. First readers get a sneak peek at Aunt Fancy composing a letter, then comes a map of the featured city (in this Indiana’s state capital), followed by Lulu receiving the purple envelope in which Aunt Fancy invites her to bring Pufferson to meet up with Rocky at the destination. Once together the trio embarks on an adventure in a different city that will make you want to pack your bags and hit the road to join them. Kids’ll discover that there is so much more to the “Hoosier’s paradise” than the famed motor race. In the backmatter’s two-paged “More to Know” section, each attraction visited is described in more detail so you can plan a future trip to Indy. Make sure to include the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest children’s museum in the world!

50MapsoftheWorld cover50 MAPS OF THE WORLD
Written & researched by Kalya Ryan and Ben Handicott
Illustrated by Sol Linero
(Wide Eyed Editions; $30, Ages 7-10)

Another picture book for armchair travelers is the detailed 50 Maps of the World, recommended for tweens. Not your mother’s atlas, this large-format book is an easy way for kids to connect with our world through travel, culture, historical and current famous personalities, geography and animals without leaving home. There is a helpful intro so kids know what to expect before diving in. What I love about this book is not just how good it feels to hold in your lap, but I also appreciate how much info has been packed into every page so there are multiple ways to approach it. Take South Africa for example. Sometimes you may pick up the book to learn the key facts about its largest cities, population, official languages, etc. Other times you may want to find out about its natural attractions such as Hole in the Wall, Tugela Falls, or Kruger National Park. You can even study a timeline or discover who once called this country home such as Elon Musk, cricketer De Villiers, Nelson Mandela, inventor Thato Kgatlhanye, or actress Charlize Theron.

Cities in Layers coverCITIES IN LAYERS: Six Famous Cities Through Time
Written by Philip Steele
Illustrated by Andrés Lozano
(Big Picture Press; $22.00, Ages 8-12)

What makes Cities in Layers so cool and accessible is how it takes kids back in time to two previous eras in history per city in addition to the present time via fact-filled pages, bright visual maps, as well as info about people who lived there. There’s even a cleverly designed “die-cut  element,” that “allows readers to really peel back layers of time.” This visually appealing large-format, 64-page picture book will delight tweens as they see the changes in the six famous cities unfold right before their eyes. Starting with an intro and a timeline, the book then covers Rome, Italy; Istanbul, Turkey; Paris, France; Beijing, China; London, U.K.; and New York City, U.S.A. Cities in Layers would be the perfect companion to stories from those time periods. When looking at London from 1863, kids could learn about authors from the Victorian era, or they could read about the Great Depression when checking out the map of NYC from 1931. What’s interesting is that Steele has chosen different centuries to focus on for each city so while the pages for Paris zero in on 1380, 1793, and today, the section on Istanbul covers 550 ce, 1616 as well as the present day.  A two-page spread at the end ponders what future cities will look like while addressing population growth, the scarcity of resources, and technology. This fascinating read combines history, maps, architecture, and progress with its unique perspective that will no doubt spark interesting discussions.

Also, check out these other books:

OUR WORLD: A First Book of Geography
Written by Sue Lowell Gallion
Illustrated by Lisk Feng
(Phaidon; $18.95, Ages 2-5)

A read-aloud introduction to geography for young children that, when opened and folded back, creates a freestanding globe.

 

 

Maps DeluxeEdition coverMAPS: Deluxe Edition
Written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska & Daniel Mizielinski
(Big Picture Press; $50, Ages 10 and up)

Discover the world in this updated edition of the beloved bestseller,
featuring twenty-four all-new maps. A great large-format book for budding cartophiles and travel enthusiasts.

 

 

 

 

BIGFOOT VISITS THE BIG CITIES OF THE WORLD
Written and illustrated by D. L. Miller
(Little Fox; $14.99, All Ages)

A seek-and-find challenge for the whole family!

 

 

 

Looking for more Around the World books to share with your children? Check out the Pinterest board from Candlewick by clicking here: https://www.pinterest.com/candlewickpress/around-the-world/

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity

 

THE BOY WHO DREAMED OF INFINITY:
A Tale of The Genius Ramanujan

Written by Amy Alznauer

Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

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Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly

 

Did you know Srinivasa Ramanujan was one of the greatest mathematicians the world has seen? I didn’t, but was thankful to come across The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity by Amy Alznauer and learn a little bit about this man whose amazing accomplishments are still studied today.

 

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THE BOY WHO DREAMED OF INFINITY. Copyright © 2020 by Amy Alznauer. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Born in a small South Indian village in 1887, Ramanujan began questioning the world at an early age: “What is small? And what is big?” He spent endless hours writing and erasing on his slate, trying to capture his thoughts about numbers and size. “Ramanujan was a number theorist, a person who studies the properties and patterns of numbers.” This book’s examples make these large concepts easy to understand such as when Ramanujan takes food to the man by the river who claims to see odd creatures that aren’t there. To this, Ramanujan says, “Sometimes even invisible things can be real.” Kids can relate to this while their parents have a greater understanding of what Ramanujan meant.

This self-taught genius felt alone with his thoughts until reaching out to Cambridge University in England because of its great mathematical center where he finally connects with top mathematician, G. H. Hardy (whose pamphlet on infinity Ramanujan had recently discovered). Just six years after making that connection, Ramanujan died in 1920, at the age of thirty-two. “The profound originality of his ideas has been a source of inspiration for mathematicians ever since.”

 

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THE BOY WHO DREAMED OF INFINITY. Copyright © 2020 by Amy Alznauer. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Daniel Miyares’s lovely illustrations show us Ramanujan’s India blended skillfully with the boy’s thoughts. One of my favorite scenes discusses how numbers whisper to Ramanujan in his sleep; he tries catching ideas before they disappear. The accompanying art has multiple images of Ramanujan leaping and climbing on numbers, set against a night sky. Get this book for the kid in your life with big thoughts—whether anyone else can see them or not.

 

 

  • Click here to order a copy of The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity.
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    Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
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    Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/19/20

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – No Voice Too Small

NO VOICE TOO SMALL:
Fourteen Young Americans Making History

Edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila V. Dawson
and Jeanette Bradley

Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley

(Charlesbridge; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

 

No Voice Too Small cvr

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

 

There’s no better time than right now to make our voices heard. But this isn’t about our voices. It’s about our children’s voices. And, in particular, it’s about the diverse voices in No Voice Too Small that stand out from the daily din of our world. The fourteen children selected for this rich collection of poetry and prose may not have been known to you prior to reading this book, but you’ll remember them afterward.

Though not your kids, these powerfully productive activists will make you feel proud that they never let their age or inexperience hold them back. They saw something they needed to address and ran with it by organizing marches and walks, fundraising, protesting, DJing, and even starring in a TEDxTeen talk.
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NVTS int Ziad Ahmed
Interior spread of Ziad Ahmed from No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila W. Dawson + Jeanette Bradley with illustrations by Jeanette Bradley, Charlesbridge ©2020.

 

The editors have invited 14 #ownvoices authors and poets to compose poems inspired by the “young Americans who opened hearts, challenged minds, and changed our world.” They include S. Bear Bergman, Joseph Bruchac, Nikki Grimes, Hena Khan, Andrea J. Loney, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Fiona Morris, G. Neri, Lesléa Newman, Traci Sorrell, Charles Waters, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Janet Wong. The three editors have also contributed.

The poetry provides a compelling and creative way into each highlighted individual’s unique situation. And, as a poetry lover, I appreciated the variety of poetic forms that offers readers an opportunity to experience: Ballad, Cinquain, Concrete poem, Elegy, Free Verse, Onomatopoeic poem, Reverso, Spoken word poem, Tanka and Triolet. Perhaps the subjects covered (racial justice, clean water, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, Type 1 diabetes, gun violence, and more) will prompt kids to write their own poems on a topic that resonates with them.

The children’s names that follow are ones to watch out for since I’m certain they will continue to make headlines as they fight for their beliefs for years to come. They are: Levi Draheim, Cierra Fields, Judy Adams, DJ Annie Red, Marley Dias, Ziad Ahmed, Jazz Jennings, Jasilyn Charger, Noah Barnes, Zach Wahls, Mari Copeny, Viridiana Sanchez Santos, Adora Svitak, and Nza-Ari Khepra. I was glued to the pages learning about them all, and intend to reread the poems multiple times. Joseph Bruchac’s free verse poem Water Protector inspired by Jasilyn Charger especially moved me. Her protests and runs aim to bring awareness and protections for water preservation for “the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as millions of people downstream.” It opens with this unforgettable line, “We need the river more than it needs us.”

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NVTS int Jasilyn Charger
Interior spread of Jasilyn Charger from No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila W. Dawson + Jeanette Bradley with illustrations by Jeanette Bradley, Charlesbridge ©2020.

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The prose accompanying each poetic spread contains the specific background about the cause these fourteen kids and teens have pursued, along with tips on how kids can get involved and amplify these causes with their own voices.

I reached out to editor and illustrator, Jeanette Bradley, because I was so impressed with her illustrations, the book’s layout, and the kraft paper-like pages and wanted to know more. “The art is created digitally using Procreate for the iPad. It is drawn as if it were charcoal and pastels on kraft paper, but both the paper and the pastels are digital tools. The art was inspired by the book design done by Art Director Diane Earley. Because the book contains multiple layers of text, and poems have unique shapes, the book design had to be done before the illustrations. I then had to draw to fit the art into the remaining space on the spread. When I got the page proofs, Diane’s choice of font made me think of a sign hand-lettered on cardboard, which inspired me to use kraft paper as a midtone background and draw into it with both light and dark ‘pastels.'”

The backmatter includes details on each poet’s connection to the subject they wrote about, a description of the poetry forms, and an additional free verse poem by the editors. The separate endpapers include quotes from all of the children featured in No Voice Too Small.

This timely anthology of youth activism is the go-to book for students and families who are not only looking for a rewarding read, but are especially eager to find inspiration and motivation. I hope that the excellent examples of kids making themselves heard and making a difference will spark something positive in your youngster because they are our future, and their voices do matter.

    •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: The editors of No Voice Too Small are donating one percent of hardcover sales to Teaching For Change, (teachingforchange.org), “a nonprofit that helps youth learn to participate actively in a diverse democracy.”

 

Find out more about Jeanette Bradley here.

Find out more about Keila V. Dawson here.

Find out more about Lindsay H. Metcalf here.

 

Click here to order a copy of No Voice Too Small or visit your local indie bookstore.
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Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!

Recommended Reads for the Week of 10/5/20

 

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Picture Book Review – The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box

THE BOY WHO THOUGHT OUTSIDE THE BOX:
The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer

Written by Marcie Wessels

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro

(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5 and up)

 

TBWTOTB cover

 

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.

 

Final Art TBWTOTB page 002
Interior spread from The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

“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.

 

Final Art TBWTOTB page-003
Interior spread from The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

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.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Five New Children’s Books for Independence Day

INDEPENDENCE DAY 2020
RECOMMENDED READS FOR KIDS
-A ROUNDUP-

 

Clip Art Independence Day

 

The selection of books here, while not necessarily being about July 4th or the Revolutionary War, all have to do with our country, and what it means to have gained our independence and become a democracy. I hope the books inspire children to read more on the topics covered, and to think about how they can make a difference, no matter how small, in their own communities.

 

Free for You and Me cvrFREE FOR YOU AND ME:
What Our First Amendment Means
Written by Christy Mihaly
Illustrated by Manu Montoya
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

When at last America declared itself free from British rule, the Constitution was written “with rules for every institution.” However, something more was needed to guarantee five “of the most fundamental American freedoms,” and so the First Amendment, along with nine others (and making up the Bill of Rights) was drafted.

Using verse, occasional speech bubbles, and bright, diverse, kid-centric illustrations, Free for You and Me explains in easily understandable language just what these powerful 45 words represent. Kids will enjoy seeing other kids on the pages debating the meaning of the expression, “It’s a free country” making this picture book ideal for classroom discussion or for any budding historians and legal scholars.

Mihaly explains how our First Amendment means “we the people of the United States have five important freedoms,” many of which we see at work on a daily basis. Americans are guaranteed “freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to gather in a peaceful rally or protest, and the freedom to tell our leaders what we want them to do.” If your child has recently marched with you in a protest, that’s due to our First Amendment rights.

In this book, kids learn the importance of the First Amendment through the example of a mayor who wants to shut down their playground. They organize a rally and get signatures on a petition in an effort to save it. Other good examples are presented as in the case of Freedom of Speech. Readers find out about Congressman Matthew Lyon who was arrested and spent four months in jail in 1798 for criticizing President John Adams. This would never have happened were it not for a law Adams and his Federalist government passed called the Sedition Act. Once Jefferson was elected, the Sedition Act expired. I had never heard about this before, but my 19-year-old son had so a lively conversation ensued.

The timeliness of this educational picture book will not be lost on those who support a free press, the right to free speech and to assemble peacefully, as well as the freedom of religion and freedom to petition the Government for redress of grievances. Mihaly, a former lawyer, understands the principles upon which our democracy was established. With her knowledge of the First Amendment, she succeeds in conveying the freedoms it entails in an engaging and accessible way for young readers. We can never take these hard-fought for liberties for granted. Four pages of back matter go into more detail.  •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

VOTE FOR OUR FUTURE!
Written by Margaret McNamara
Illustrated by Micah Player
(Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

The students of Stanton Elementary School aren’t old enough to vote when their school closes every two years on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. That’s when it turns into a polling station. They are, however, are old enough to spread the word in Vote for Our Future!

The diverse cast of characters, energetically represented in bold and vivid illustrations, introduce a topic that is timely for all ages. McNamara’s sweet and intuitive children first ask “what’s a polling station?” The children’s eyes widen as they learn that “the reason people vote is to choose who makes the laws of the country.” LaToya with her big pink glasses raises her hand and says, “we should all vote to make the future better.” But Lizzy reminds her that they just aren’t old enough.

So what are they old enough to do? Player illustrates boys and girls from all backgrounds looking through books and “searching online to find all kinds of information. They even took a trip to their local election office and picked up forms.” The research shows that “kids have to live with adult choices. The kids of Stanton Elementary School were ready to spread the word.”

McNamara takes the reader through the small town where Cady and her mom make flyers. They pass them out to a busy dad, who didn’t even know there was an election, to Nadiya and her auntie, wearing hijabs on their heads, who go door to door telling neighbors that “voting is a right.” Player’s vibrant and colorful art of people from various ethnic groups shows the reader that all people have the right to vote.

With each excuse from adults that the children are given, an even better comeback is heard in return. “I don’t like standing in lines,” one lady tells Nadiya. Nadiya’s auntie doesn’t like standing in lines either, but Nadiya says if you can stand in line for coffee you can stand in line to vote. I love how fearless the kids are when the adults come up with excuses for why they aren’t voting and how the kids don’t take no for an answer.

Player shows “people voting for the first time, and the fiftieth time, with their sons and daughters, their nieces and nephews, their brothers and sisters, their cousins and friends.” When voting was complete and the ballots were counted, Stanton Elementary went back to being a school and “the future began to change.”

McNamara writes in the back matter titled Get Out The Vote! that when adults vote for people and causes they believe in, they speak for us and make laws that are good for everyone in the country. She lists various Acts that have been signed to prompt further discussions between adults and kids. Player’s drawings of stickers such as Yes, I Voted help to get the message across that voting does matter and that every vote really can make a difference. Have the primaries happened in your state? If not, get out and vote! • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

For Spacious Skies coverFOR SPACIOUS SKIES:
Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration
for “America the Beautiful”
Written by Nancy Churnin
Illustrated by Olga Baumert
(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

I loved getting to know the origin story for the beloved song so many people think is our national anthem, but isn’t. I also learned that not only was the poem that was later turned into a song, written by a woman, but a very independent one at that.

Katharine Lee Bates was raised by her widowed mother who “grew and sold vegetables to help Katharine go to school.” Katharine’s smarts led to higher education and her passion for the written word led to her career as an author and professor at a time when young women were encouraged to pursue marriage and homemaking. She was also a reformer. In addition to teaching, Katharine worked hard to improve the lives of those most vulnerable in society, while also using her talents to help the suffrage movement.

A summer teaching job took her across the country by train from Boston to Colorado where she first glimpsed America’s boundless beauty. On July 4, 1893 Katharine’s mind was flooded with “memories of the ocean” as she set eyes on amber stalks of wheat swaying in the Kansas fields. A trip up to Pike’s Peak and its majestic views clearly inspired her to compose the poem we know and love. It was first published on July 4, 1895 and, with each additional publication, underwent several revisions. In 1910 it was paired with the famous melody by composer Samuel A. Ward we still sing today. This terrific and inspiring biography with its glorious Grandma Moses-esque illustrations perfectly blends the story of Katharine Lee Bates’s life and career, and country with the poem that celebrates its expansive splendor. Back matter and a timeline round out this recommended read.
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

We the People coverWE THE PEOPLE:
The United States Constitution
Explored and Explained
Written by Aura Lewis and Evan Sargent
Illustrated by Aura Lewis
(Wide Eyed Editions; $24.99, Ages 10-14)

Even adults can take advantage of this comprehensive look at our Constitution because of the colorful and inviting picture book format designed with middle grade readers in mind. Plus it’s the kind of book you’ll want to keep on hand to refer to, especially when kids ask questions you may be unable to answer.

This quote from the authors on the intro page speaks volumes about what you can expect when you pick up a copy of We the People: “… we believe that having a deeper understanding of our Constitution can inspire change. Anyone can understand how the government works, and every single person has the power to get involved and make a difference.”

The 128 pages of the book are divided up into brief, digestible chapters, with plenty of white space so that your eye can travel to the most important parts quickly. The authors have included excerpts from the Constitution which have been paraphrased in kid-friendly English so they’re easily understood especially when presented as they relate to our daily lives.

One of my favorite sections was about the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, intended to guarantee that “no one can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.” The chapter features a bottom border illustration of both the suffragettes on the left holding signs and modern day protestors on the right also carrying signs. The spread (like those throughout the book) has interesting factoids such as the one about young conservative Tennessee politician, Harry Burns, whose mother influenced his decision “that tipped the scales in favor of the 19th Amendment.” On the four pages devoted to this amendment there are also thought provoking questions that a teacher or librarian can pose to their students.

There is so much wonderful information to absorb that I recommend readers take in a few chapters at a time to let the facts sink in. One particular chapter that, leading up to this year’s presidential election, might prompt discussion is about the 12th Amendment and the electoral college. Everyone who reads We the People will likely find something covered that will resonate with them whether it’s about the rights of the accused, term limits, or D.C.’s residents (now looking for statehood) being given the right to vote for president. Get this book today and you’ll get the picture!
•Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

STAR-SPANGLED:
The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and
the American Anthem
Written by Tim Grove
(Abrams BYR; $19.99, Ages 10-14)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Okay, I’m going to embarrass myself here and admit I did not know the “Star-Spangled Banner,” our national anthem, was about a battle against the British over a fort in Baltimore. I mean I knew it was about a battle based on the lyrics and I knew the battle fought was with the British, and that’s it. I’m not even sure I was taught the anthem’s history in school. Now, thanks to Tim Grove’s well-researched historical nonfiction novel, I’ve been educated and kids can be, too. Oh and by the way, this occurred during the War of 1812 (which incidentally lasted until 1815).

Told from various perspectives, because what better way to convey the complexity of history than from more than one angle, Grove’s book introduces readers to a host of British and American characters. We meet Mary Pickersgill, (a sewing business owner specializing in flags or colors), Thomas Kemp (a Baltimore shipyard owner), Francis Scott Key, (a thirty-five-year-old lawyer with six children), Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (a top British military officer in the Chesapeake Bay region), and 10 others whose stories are woven together to bring the full picture of the intense battle to light. Star-Spangled also addresses the background of the war and events leading up to battle to help put its significance in context. If America lost Baltimore, our young country’s independence could be at stake. Grove notes that Pickersgill, Kemp, and Key were all slave owners and that Key, was a “tireless opponent of the slave trade” yet in his role as a U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., opposed abolitionists. He was also “a leading proponent” of the colonization movement, something I definitely did not know about.

As we meet each person, we learn the role they played in the the book’s subheading, The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem. In fact, Star-Spangled reads like an Erik Larson novel where all the events are building up to the major one so anticipation is high despite knowing the outcome. And don’t be surprised if you become so engrossed that you finish the book in one go!

I had an advance review copy so I was unable to see the full-color photographs from the final edition, but my copy did contain the fascinating archival material interspersed throughout the book. There’s actually a photo of the “flag that Key saw. Over the years, before the flag came to the Smithsonian Institution, people cut various pieces off for souvenirs.” There’s also a photo of Francis Key’s “original draft of his poem.” This contains four verses and is preserved at the Maryland Historical Society.

Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline, a glossary, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. Don’t miss your chance to get a copy of this enlightening book. I hope it finds its way onto bookshelves in classrooms and libraries around the country so our rich history can be better understood and discussed. •Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – One Last Shot

ONE LAST SHOT

Written by John David Anderson

(Walden Pond Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

One Last Shot cover

 

 

In John David Anderson’s One Last Shot, twelve-year-old Malcolm Greeley navigates life carefully. School is endured, and his home life is a minefield where he painstakingly interprets what’s said—and what’s not said—to keep the peace between his contentious parents. He’s sure that if he can just do everything right, then things between his mom and dad will get better, that they have to.

Malcolm doesn’t realize he needs a friend until Lex’s miniature golf ball and her comical call of “Five!” lands at his feet. With an unwanted push from his wacky golf coach, Malcolm soon finds a something in Lex he’s been sorely missing. While his steadfast mother accepts and understands him, Malcolm is unsettled around his father, an award-winning jock of many sports, who pushed Malcolm into Little League. When Malcolm is given an out, he takes it, only to be subtly pressured into competition mini golf. With Dad, it’s all about winning, but Malcolm’s not wired that way no matter how he tries. He’s a natural at putting, yet dreads the competitive aspect. The voices in his head add to the stress of executing each shot perfectly.

Though I don’t typically gravitate stories centered around competitive sports, I picked up One Last Shot because I’m a fan of Anderson’s other books Granted and Posted (also middle grade). One Last Shot’s a winner with its fully developed, imperfect characters. I appreciated the creative manner in which the story unfolds; the structure adds interest. Each of the eighteen chapters opens with the description of a mini golf hole and closes with how Malcolm scored on that hole. Sandwiched between, we’re shown Malcolm’s life in flashback scenes.

This would be an ideal read for a kid with parents in the bitter pre-divorce stage since Malcolm comes to understand his parents’ troubles are not about him and cannot be fixed by him. Sometimes, parents need to split up for their own good—an upsetting time that’s hard to live through, but, hopefully, better in the long run.

Click here to read a sample.

 

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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An Interview with Susan Lendroth About Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones

AN INTERVIEW WITH PICTURE BOOK AUTHOR

SUSAN LENDROTH

 

dinosaur bones cover

 

HERE WE GO DIGGING FOR DINOSAUR BONES
Written by Susan Lendroth
Illustrated by Bob Kolar
(Charlesbridge; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

spot pull
Interior spot art from Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Bob Kolar, Charlesbridge ©2020.

SUMMARY

Young paleontologists and dinosaur enthusiasts are invited on a fossil dig, set to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush.” Hike the trail, scan the ground, and make a find – then discover how to build a T. Rex from its bones. Includes hand-play motions for sing-alongs and bite-size science sidebars.

INTERVIEW

GoodReadsWithRonna: There are a lot of dinosaur picture books on the market; how did you try to make your new book Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones stand out from the rest?

Susan Lendroth: Obviously, one of the main differences is that you sing it! The primary verse is set to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush,” but there are also additional bite-sized facts in smaller text on each page, making it a “twice-through” book. Sing it once for the primary verse, and then page through it a second time for the additional text. 

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The focus on paleontology is also less common, describing the science of excavating fossils, studying them and reconstructing what dinosaurs were like for a very young audience.
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here we go digging spread-1
Interior spread from Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Bob Kolar, Charlesbridge ©2020.

GRWR: Besides the additional facts on each page, I noticed the book had extensive back matter. Can you tell me a little about that?
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SL: This is my third book for Charlesbridge, and I love that my editor likes to load in more science to the back of the book. I was given room in Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones for such additional tidbits as the theory that many dinosaurs may have had feathers. Plus, the book’s wonderful illustrator, Bob Kolar, included a page identifying all the modern day birds and animals that he scattered through his fossil dig illustrations. You could page through the book a third time just to hunt for and name each of those critters.

GRWR: You included one more thing in back matter, didn’t you?
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SL: Early literacy practices emphasize five elements for reading stories with children: reading, singing, writing (looking at words together), talking and playing. By illustrating interactive arm movements children can make to mime the actions in the book, play was added to the other four practices that the book already encourages.

 

here we go digging spread-2
Interior spread from Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones written by Susan Lendroth and illustrated by Bob Kolar, Charlesbridge ©2020.

 

GRWR: In our current situation where many communities may still be on lockdown with libraries and book stores closed or offering curbside pickup, are you doing anything different to market your book?
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Susan Lendroth Instagram
Plastic Dino and Cat, photo courtesy  ©Susan Lendroth 2020.       

SL: Funny you should ask! My book was released just a couple of weeks before the area where I live was put on lockdown. I was fortunate enough to do readings at two book stores before that happened, but by the time a box of plastic dinosaurs that I had ordered for props arrived, my other readings had been cancelled.

So the dinos and I are having fun on Instagram instead. I am pretty new to posting, having just started my account six months ago. I am learning to market the book without being too heavy-handed by posing dinos around my apartment and patio. Not only am I sharing the title with a broader community, and gaining a few new followers, but I am also relieving the tedium of lockdown. That’s a win win in my books! (Pun intended) Check out dinosaur antics at susanlendroth.

Click here for an activity guide.
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Susan Lendroth with Pippi at Once Upon a Time Bookstore.

BIO

Author of eight picture books, Susan writes about everything from dinosaurs to history to an exuberant little girl in Japan. NASA flew her book Hey Ho, to Mars We’ll Go! to the International Space Station where Astronaut Christina Koch read it for for Story Time from Space (https://storytimefromspace.com/hey-ho-to-mars-2/). Susan works for the Los Angeles Public Library and shares her news on Instagram (@susanlendroth) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SusanLendroth).

Susan, Good Reads With Ronna would like to thank you for channeling your inner paleontologist with us. We truly dug what you had to say!

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Children’s Activity Book – This Is How I Do It

THIS IS HOW I DO IT:

One Day in the Life of You
and 59 Real Kids from Around the World

Written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe

(Chronicle Books; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

This Is How I Do It  by Matt Lamothe is a great activity book to open kids’ eyes to the lives of children around the world and get them thinking about their own. Following the success of his picture book, This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World, Lamothe was inspired by how one teacher in particular in Fiji was using the book to have children document their lives. The result is this unique activity book that focuses on different aspects of 59 real children’s lives from countries as varied as America to Vietnam, Bangladesh to Uruguay. 

 

This Is Me int
Interior illustration from This Is How I Do It written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

This hands-on 56-page book not only documents almost 60 kids’ lives from around the globe, but it provides an opportunity for young readers to get introspective and fill in the blanks about their daily life (when not in a pandemic). There’s even a die-cut opening in the cover, an inviting feature for children to put in a picture of themselves or draw one. Kids will also find the cool looking postcards and stickers in the back matter appealing for use in their own artwork or on the postcards Lamothe’s designed. A bonus is a fold-out map both in color and labeled with all the countries covered in the book. There’s also a blank map kids can fill in with the names of the places where they’ve visited, lived or want to see in the future. Parents or teachers might want to share with kids/students the website www.thisishowwedoitbook.com where “great resources for communicating with other kids” can be found.

 

Who I Live With int
Interior illustration from This Is How I Do It written and illustrated by Matt Lamothe, Chronicle Books ©2019.

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From the very beginning of the book, in the “This is me,” illustration, Lamothe welcomes readers into the book with the warm faces of four international children. This is followed by a spread of “Hello” labels featuring the greeting shown in different languages from China, Kenya, Ukraine, Israel, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Greece. Readers will see different types of housing, beautiful views from out the windows, as well as assorted clothing the kids wear, what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, how they get around, where they learn, who their teachers are, how their food is cooked, and what they get up to in the evening.

I like that the examples given are never boring, sometimes unexpected, and always thought provoking. In “This is how I get around” children learn that Lurongdeji, from China, “lives with his mom and grandmother, who are both farmers. They use a modified motorcycle to get around.” The front is a motorcycle, but the back has been altered into an open truck bed for carrying crops, tools, animals or whatever! In a mouthwatering spread titled “This is a fruit or vegetable that grows near me,” I was surprised to see a picture of a red seaweed called dulse that is dried and eaten as a snack on the west coast of Ireland. My favorite illustration would have to be the one showing some favorite books read around the world with blank lines for kids to fill in with their favorite book, too. It’s nice that Lamothe ends the tour with bedtime and the places where some of the children in the story sleep at night. But this is anything but a bedtime book. It’s ideal for daytime reading and dreaming and will definitely give children stuck indoors a chance for interesting armchair travel.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read Dornel Cerro’s review of This Is How We Do It.

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Earth Day Books for Kids – A 2020 Roundup

RECOMMENDED READS FOR EARTH DAY

A ROUNDUP OF PICTURE BOOKS

 

Wednesday, April 22, is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day which will be celebrated around the globe. Read below about some new picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, that Christine Van Zandt recommends to help your children understand the significance of this holiday.

 

One Little Bag coverONE LITTLE BAG: AN AMAZING JOURNEY
by Henry Cole

(Scholastic Press; $18.99, eBook available, Ages 4-8)

One of my favorite things about Henry Cole’s gorgeous, wordless picture book, One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey, is the prologue. I was hooked from the first image: a forest where one tree—colored brown—stands out. Cole’s amazingly detailed black-ink drawings are juxtaposed by brown-colored items: the tree, first made into paper, becomes an unassuming lunch bag.

In the Author’s Note, Cole shares how, in 1970 for the first Earth Day, he decided to not throw out has lunch bag that day. Or the next one. Eventually, he used that bag about 700 times! Then, when he went to college, he passed the velvet-soft bag to his younger friend who used it for another year. Wow! This really hit home with me. I’m conscientious about noncompostables, but will now consider the possibilities of paper products.

Using a humble brown bag as its central element, the story follows the bag’s journey from creation to conclusion. We are emotionally engaged with the little boy as he grows to adulthood and the family members we meet along the way. This story drives home the messages that even seemingly insignificant choices matter and that kids have the power to change things. These workhorse lunch bags are relatively inexpensive and typically don’t garner a second thought. Cole’s true-life story brings this simple item to the front page of his book and the forefront of our attention. Bravo!  Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

 

SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE:
THE STORY OF BEATRIX POTTER AND PETER RABBIT
Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati
(Little Bee Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

When I think of the mischievously adorable Peter Rabbit, of course his creator, Beatrix Potter, comes to mind. But, who was the woman behind this famous character? Linda Elovitz Marshall’s picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit fills in the blanks.

Potter was a bright artistic girl who lived in the city but cherished the family’s summers in the country. Too soon, it was back to the constraints of being a Victorian-era girl. Focusing on her drawings, Potter, later, was able to land a job—but only because the publisher thought she was a man. Throughout the story, we see Potter pushing against and past the bonds of what a woman was “supposed to do.” While these actions were commendable, Potter also took on the role of conservationist, buying up more than 4,000 acres of beloved land to keep it peacefully undeveloped; her donation to the UK’s National Trust allowed the area’s preservation.

The illustrator, Ilaria Urbinati, enlivens Potter’s story in a muted old-fashioned style complementary to the text. Be sure to check beneath the cover for a clever second image: a before-and-after of Potter in her cherished landscape.

This behind-the-scenes look at Potter’s life will engage kids because it’s relatable and inspirational—showing you can make a career doing what you love, break through societal limits, and care for our planet. What Potter managed in her 77 years was exceptional. Starred Review – Foreward Reviews

 

THE GIRL WHO SPOKE TO THE MOON:The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon cvr
A STORY ABOUT FRIENDSHIP AND LOVING OUR PLANET
Written by Land Wilson
Illustrated by Sue Cornelison
(Little Pickle Press; $17.99, Kindle eBook available, Ages 4-8)

Land Wilson’s rhyming picture book, The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon: A Story About Friendship and Loving Our Planet, is a gentle story packing a powerful message. Little Sofia befriends the Moon and, one night when he’s blue, she imagines herself up there, seeing the Earth from a new perspective. The Moon sadly tells her, “With dirty waters, land, and air, it looks as though she’s in despair. Her people seem so unaware that what Earth needs is better care.”

Sue Cornelison’s soothing images are in the muted tones of a bedtime book, yet, the swoops of sparkles throughout give the story movement and feeling. Once Sofia realizes she must share her findings, we’re shown glimpses of children from around the world doing their part to help our planet.

The end matter provides explanations of how the Earth’s air, land, and water are polluted, followed by simple suggestions such as creating less trash and eating less meat. In the Author’s Note, Wilson shares how astronauts love looking back at our planet, but how that distance also brings an understanding of Earth’s vulnerability and precious importance. Wilson urges us to make the Earth’s well-being a priority: “When people work together, our power grows. But we need to work faster, harder, and smarter”—a message that should be taken to heart as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I like how Wilson’s commentary is both realistic and optimistic, hopefully inciting readers to action.

 

Christine’s also reviewed If We Were Giants, a middle grade novel ideal for Earth Day reading.

Read an illustrator interview here for Greta and the Giants.

Click here for another recommended read for 🌎Earth Day.

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An Interview with Author Alexis O’Neill About Picture Book Bio Jacob Riis’s Camera

 

AN INTERVIEW

WITH AUTHOR ALEXIS O’NEILL

 

RIIS Cover from BMK

 

 

JACOB RIIS’S CAMERA: BRINGING LIGHT TO TENEMENT CHILDREN

ILLUSTRATED BY GARY KELLEY

(Calkins Creek/Boyd Mills & Kane; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

I’m so happy to share this interview with popular SoCal author, Alexis O’Neill. Her new picture book biography introduces Jacob Riis, a determined New Yorker born in Denmark, to a new generation of readers. It’s hard not to feel as though you’ve traveled back in time as you learn about Riis, who is best known for his moving photographs of the plight of the poor tenement dwellers in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

SUMMARY

In Jacob Riis’s Camera, a penniless immigrant, who becomes a reporter and social activist, uses new flash powder technology to illuminate desperate tenement living conditions and brings about changes for children and their families.

INTERVIEW

GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Did you happen upon Jacob Riis’s photos one day and find inspiration to write this picture book or did you intentionally set out to write his story?

Riis Interior with Flash
Interior illustration from Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Gary Kelley, Calkins Creek ©2020.

ALEXIS O’NEILL: I’ve always been interested in photography and photographers. I used to live pretty much with a camera in my hand, and when I lived in central New York, I belonged to the Syracuse Camera Club, one of the oldest in the nation. I met Riis’s photos when I was researching child labor issues for other projects. Then later, I read his autobiography, The Making of an American. He wrote so vividly and personally that I felt as if he were right beside me, chatting with me in my living room. That’s when I knew I wanted to write a book about him.

GRWR: Despite my familiarity with Riis’s haunting b + w photos, I had no idea how influential he had been during his lifetime. What fact or facts about Riis surprised you the most?

AON: I was really surprised that Riis didn’t consider himself a photographer. In fact, he later carelessly tossed his glass plate negatives into his attic. Then, just before a wrecking ball was about to destroy the family home, the images were rescued, thanks to photographer Alexander Alland, Sr., and donated by Riis’s son, Roger William, to the Museum of the City of New York.

GRWR: Riis was a champion of the poor as early as his youth in Denmark. What impact would you say his photos have had on the way this segment of our society is treated?

AON: Riis’s photos were revolutionary. They inspired accountability and gave documentary evidence that helped force compliance of landlords with sanitary and building regulations.

GRWR: How big a role did Riis’s immigrant background play in his career?

AON: Like most immigrants, he had a driving work ethic. He was an educated Dane with carpentry skills, but he had a hard time finding work in America. He did all kinds of menial tasks in order to survive. He experienced homelessness and hunger. He experienced injustices and wanted to fix themnot just for himself, but for others.

 

RIIS Tenement Neighborhood
Interior spread from Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Gary Kelley, Calkins Creek ©2020.


GRWR:
Is there a particular photo of Riis’s that particularly resonates with you?

AON: To me, his most heartbreaking photo is “The Baby’s Playground.” A toddler with a shaved head and filthy dress stands in front of an overflowing public sink at the top of a dark staircase that has a railing held together with rope. The wall behind the baby is coming loose. No child should have to live like that.

p23 RIIS Book116
Interior illustration from Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Gary Kelley, Calkins Creek ©2020.

GRWR: Obviously this nonfiction bio involved a lot of research. How did you choose what to include or leave out when his rags to not-so-riches-but-fame story is so fascinating? Was there a portion or time period of his life that was most difficult to nail down?

AON: Riis’s relationship with his Danish sweetheart was complicated, so I treated that with a broad brush stroke.

GRWR: Why do you think no professional photographer had captured the lives of shelters and tenement dwellers prior to Riis?

AON: At the time, most photographers made pretty portraits or, like Matthew Brady, recorded historical events. Riis, in contrast, showed the underbelly of life. I think that when Riis read about the invention of flash powder, it came at the right time for him. Photographs taken with this new technological tool helped him convince officials to make changes in the tenements.

RIIS Five Cents a spot
Interior illustration from Jacob Riis’s Camera: Bringing Light to Tenement Children written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Gary Kelley, Calkins Creek ©2020.

GRWR: Do you attribute Riis’s success to his talent as a photographer, his perseverance, good timing or all three?

AON: I believe Riis’s success can be attributed to his determination and tireless work to tell a complete story of the social injustice experienced by impoverished city inhabitants. He lived during a time of great interest in social reform.

GRWR: As a former New Yorker and lover of NYC’s Tenement Museum, I’ve always admired Riis’s photos. Why do you think his accomplishments are not better known today?

AON: Riis’s photos continue to impress people, and his contribution was unique. In his advocacy for improving substandard housing, he was one among many of his contemporaries who also advocated for changing laws on child labor, suffrage, public health, housing, and schools.

GRWR: What’s one of your favorite illustrations by Gary Kelley in your book?

AON: I love Gary’s illustration of Jacob giving a lecture and pointing to his photograph of a tenement mother holding her swaddled infant. As he talks, Jacob gestures to the poignant image. This image makes me wish I could have heard Jacob in person!

BIO

AON Headshot2 by SonyaSones
Alexis O’Neill, photo by ©Sonya Sones.

Alexis O’Neill is the author of several picture books including The Recess Queen, the winner of several children’s choice awards, and The Kite That Bridged Two Nations, a California Young Reader Medal Nominee. Her new picture book biographies are Jacob Riis’s Camera; Bringing Light to Tenement Children and The Efficient, Inventive (Often Annoying) Melvil Dewey (due Fall 2020). Alexis received the California Reading Association’s award for making significant and outstanding contributions to reading throughout California and is an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.

Website: www.alexisoneill.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/alexis.oneill.9

Twitter: @AlexisInCA

Instagram: @Alexis2017

Thank you so much, Alexis, for sharing your insights about Jacob Riis and giving us the inside scoop about your new picture book biography, Jacob Riis’s Camera. It’s so great to know how many children will now have a chance to learn about Riis’s important contributions to society.

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For Women’s History Month – Suffragette: The Battle for Equality

 

SUFFRAGETTE: THE BATTLE FOR EQUALITY

by David Roberts

(Walker Books/Candlewick Press; $25.00, Ages 7-10)

 

Suffragettetbfe book cover

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

INTRO:
The right to vote in one’s own country was an international issue. In 1920 American women won the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. However “black women in the American South were still denied the franchise” with myriad obstacles put in place to prevent both men and women of color from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In Great Britain, propertied women, women married to property owners, and university graduates over age 30 won the right to vote in 1918. It wasn’t until the Equal Franchise Act in 1928 that women over the age of 21 could vote. Limited access to education, unequal pay and other discriminatory practices at home such as child custody in cases of divorce, and in the workplace including long factory hours and unsafe conditions, made the fight for a woman’s right to vote more important than ever. As we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment in America, it’s important to recognize that although much has been achieved in terms of women’s rights due to countless women’s (and men’s) tireless efforts, we still have a long way to go.

REVIEW:
I found myself so engrossed in this beautifully illustrated picture book that I lost all track of time. Roberts takes readers back to the early 20th century by combining engaging art and prose to shed light on the suffrage movement both in the U.S. and in the U.K.

Suffragette begins with a helpful foreword by Crystal N. Feimster, PhD of Yale’s Department of African American Studies. It focuses on the fledgling U.S. and U.K. suffrage movements in the 19th and early 20th centuries and briefly details efforts all the way up to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Then, Roberts’ intro tells readers how he accidentally first learned about suffragettes (he didn’t mention Mrs. Banks from “Mary Poppins”) when he was 14-years-old and had to both write and illustrate an end-of-year exam project. In class a striking black and white book cover illustration of imprisoned women caught his attention. Roberts grew more passionate about women’s heroic campaign to get the vote as he researched the brave suffragettes. His dissatisfaction with gender inequality began then and still remains thirty years on which is why he embraced the opportunity to write and illustrate this book.

 

Suffragette int26 27
SUFFRAGETTE. Copyright © 2018 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

In addition to the history behind women’s right to vote, readers also learn about key events and individuals in the suffrage movement from 1903 to 1928. Suffrage offers insights into famous historical figures such a Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst, Ida B. Wells, and Susan B. Anthony. While more of the book covers the U.K. since this book was originally published there, there is still quite a lot about the U.S. suffrage movement and every example is fascinating regardless of which country. For example, how many people know that Queen Victoria was against women votingand that her daughter Princess Louise secretly supported suffrageor that Frederick Douglass was one of the few men in attendance at the historic 1848 Seneca Falls Convention? Suffragette also delves into the philosophies of different groups that emerged during the campaign for women’s rights. It’s no surprise that some factions chose civil disobedience while others preferred a more peaceful approach. Then, of course, there were those strongly against giving women the vote. These people were referred to as “Antis” or anti-suffrage and even included at one point Winston Churchill who ultimately changed his mind but “voted in favor of limited women’s suffrage in 1918.”

From attention-seeking tactics like going on hunger strikes in prison to going up into the sky in a hydrogen-filled airship emblazoned with the words THE WOMEN’S FREEDOM LEAGUE on one side and VOTES FOR WOMEN on the other while dropping leaflets, there seemed to be no limit to what these determined women would get up to for their cause. On November 18, 1910, aka Black Friday, British Prime Minister Asquith abandoned a Conciliation Bill that would have given some women the right to vote. What followed were brutal attacks on suffragettes waiting outside Parliament. The newspapers printed pictures of women hurt by police. But while the government optics were awful, with no headway made, the suffrage movement felt they had to resort to more extreme measures. 

 

Suffragette int80 81
SUFFRAGETTE. Copyright © 2018 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

The unrelenting struggle for women’s right to vote continued until WWI when hundreds of thousands of men left home to fight. Over a million women in both the U.K. and the U.S. went to work to support their countries. “For the first time, women became police officers and firefighters, railway porters and ticket collectors, carpenters and electricians, street car and bus conductors, even chimney sweeps and gravediggers—all jobs that had previously been thought exclusively as “men’s work.” The tide began to change for the suffrage movement. After all, “If a woman was as capable as a man of doing a job, surely she was as capable of voting.” Soon there was no looking back.

This highly recommended 128-page nonfiction book is eye-opening reading. It’s divided into more than 40 mini-chapters usually no more than two pages long, and presented chronologically inviting a quick read or a deep dive in. I enjoyed learning more about the heroes of the women’s suffrage movement, primarily in the U.K., not only because as a woman this topic resonates with me, but also because these women changed the world. I hope young people find Suffrage as inspirational a book as I did and I hope teachers will consider Roberts’ book when seeking resources about the suffrage movement.

 

HOORAY FOR WOMEN
Written and illustrated by Marcia Williams
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Check out Hooray for Women which highlights over 70
inspirational and amazing women including Marie Curie,
Joan of Arc, Wangari Maathai, Elizabeth I, Mae C. Jemison,
Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Cathy Freeman and Jane Austen.
Presented in a 48-page graphic novel format with colorful panels
filled with interesting information, this entertaining middle grade
picture book is perfect for Women’s History Month or any time of year.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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