Archive | Reading Ahead

The Next President

The Next PresidentWho the next U.S.A. pres­i­dent will be is pre-occu­py­ing many minds around the world right now. This book takes a stance by telling us about the dis­tinc­tive pres­i­dents of the past, a cou­ple of sen­tences about every one of them, #1 through #45, and asks us to real­ize that the next ten pres­i­dents are prob­a­bly alive right now. Who will they be? Such an intrigu­ing ques­tion.

The struc­ture of this book is fas­ci­nat­ing. We are intro­duced by won­der­ing who the pres­i­dents of the future will be. Then we are sit­u­at­ed in four time peri­ods: 1789, 1841, 1897, and 1961. We look at what the pres­i­dents or soon-to-be pres­i­dents are doing in that year. Some of them are accom­plished men and some are still chil­dren. How does what they’re doing in that year shape their lives?

In 1789, Thomas Jef­fer­son (#3) is serv­ing as sec­re­tary of State. “In 1776, he had writ­ten the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, which includes the words ‘all men are cre­at­ed equal’ — even though Jef­fer­son enslaved hun­dreds of peo­ple on his Vir­ginia plan­ta­tion.” Nei­ther the author nor illus­tra­tor side­step uncom­fort­able truths in this book. Rex depicts African Amer­i­can slaves build­ing Wash­ing­ton, D.C., behind the future pres­i­dents.

The Next President

illus­tra­tion © Adam Rex, The Next Pres­i­dent, writ­ten by Kate Mess­ner, pub­lished by Chron­i­cle Books, 2020

In 1897, Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt (#32) “was a col­lec­tor, too. He kept detailed records about his postage stamp, bird nest, and egg col­lec­tions.”

The book fin­ish­es by ask­ing us to con­sid­er where the next pres­i­dent is now. The illus­tra­tions show a diverse group of peo­ple walk­ing through a gallery of pres­i­den­tial (and near-pres­i­den­tial) paint­ings. “When vot­ers choose the next pres­i­dent, they won’t look to the past, but to future — and the ever-hope­ful vision of what Amer­i­ca could be.”

We need to con­sid­er our future now … and always. For­ward-think­ing. Vot­ing is our duty as cit­i­zens. Hav­ing knowl­edge of our his­to­ry and look­ing ahead to what this coun­try needs in its lead­ers … that’s our respon­si­bil­i­ty. This is a good book for the class­room and at-home dis­cus­sions. We’re giv­en some way to dif­fer­en­ti­ate each of the past pres­i­dents, hope­ful­ly inspir­ing fur­ther explo­ration, and most impor­tant­ly we are asked to think. Chil­dren or adults, we all have to think care­ful­ly.

The illus­tra­tions suit the text admirably. Each pres­i­dent is iden­ti­fi­able whether they’re chil­dren or adults, and they’re each thought­ful­ly num­bered. There are sub­tle facial expres­sions that por­tray char­ac­ter … and even pres­i­den­tial pets get a dou­ble-page spread.


The Next Pres­i­dent
The Unex­pect­ed Begin­nings and Unwrit­ten Future of America’s Pres­i­dents
writ­ten by Kate Mess­ner
illus­trat­ed by Adam Rex
Chron­i­cle Books, 2020


Girls Garage

Girls GarageI love this book SO MUCH. When Bookol­o­gy was sign­ing off for its sum­mer hia­tus, this book land­ed on my desk (thunk!) and I knew right away it would be my first rec­om­men­da­tion in the fall.

When I was grow­ing up a mil­lion years ago, my grand­fa­ther was a car­pen­ter who built every­thing from hous­es, bridges, church­es, and fur­ni­ture to bird­hous­es. I want­ed to learn what he knew but … girls didn’t learn those skills. I could help him by lay­ing down glue or paint­ing but no pow­er tools and no ham­mer­ing because I might hurt myself.

When I was in sev­enth grade there were two choic­es offered for girls at our mid­dle school: home ec or art. I want­ed to take shop. I had many teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors explain to me why I couldn’t. It was a good les­son in advo­ca­cy but it failed as an exer­cise in per­sua­sion.

Times have changed (sort of).

Now we have Girls Garage and I want to do this. Writ­ten by Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton, the sub­ti­tle is How to Use Any Tool, Tack­le Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See. In 2013, Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton found­ed Girls Garage, a non­prof­it, to “give girls the tools to build the world they want to see.” Girls Garage is also a build­ing in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, “the first ever design and build­ing work space for girls in the coun­try, because I noticed that on con­struc­tion sites or in the class­room, in a mixed-gen­der envi­ron­ment, my young female stu­dents often act­ed dif­fer­ent­ly than when it was just a few of us women. (I am guilty of this as well.) We some­times cen­sored our com­ments, or gave up respon­si­bil­i­ties, even though we knew how to use the miter saw as well as any­one.”

Girls Garage

the begin­ning of the Pow­er Tools sec­tion in Garage Girls, writ­ten by Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton, illus­trat­ed by Kate Binga­man-Burt, pub­lished by Chron­i­cle Books, 2019

A big por­tion of this book is a descrip­tion of the tools used to con­struct any­thing. We see a draw­ing of each type of tool (screw, nail, screw­driv­er, vise, mason line, and more) accom­pa­nied by a descrip­tion of what it’s used to do and how to use it. For exam­ple, under “torque screw­driv­er,” we learn “What the heck is torque, any­way? Think about the arm strength it takes to open a stub­born jar of pick­les. Torque is the force required to rotate or turn an object. Using a torque screw­driv­er, we can reg­u­late how much force is applied to turn­ing a screw.” The casu­al, friend­ly, infor­ma­tive text is just per­fect for stick­ing the con­cepts in my brain. Yours, too, I’ll bet.

There are short pro­files of girls and women who love build­ing as much as Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton does. Simone Parisi is a stu­dent at Girls Garage. She describes her­self as an intro­vert. She says, “As a Girls Garage builder over many years, I have learned how to use a chop saw, jig­saw, drill, dri­ver, speed square, table saw, and how to weld and draft by hand.” She’s learned so well that when Mandy Moore and Melin­da Gates vis­it­ed Girls Garage in 2019, Simone demon­strat­ed to them how to use a drill and dri­ver.

We meet Kay Mor­ri­son, a jour­ney­man welder dur­ing 1943 to 1945, at a navy ship­yard in Rich­mond, Cal­i­for­nia, dur­ing World War II. Today, in her nineties, she and her fel­low “Rosie the Riv­et­ers” still meet to dis­cuss their lives and accom­plish­ments since that time. Kay says, “In my era there were many peo­ple who made it chal­leng­ing. Peo­ple were afraid of change. But I had a hus­band who was all for the rights of women. Equal rights, equal pay — and that gave me sup­port and incen­tive. But I was always the type of per­son who knew I could do what I want­ed to do, and I wouldn’t let peo­ple stop me or deter me.” Her advice to young girls and women? “Just do what you want to do. You have to real­ly want some­thing bad enough, and then just go and do it.”

Chap­ters such as “How to flip a cir­cuit break­er back on (and why it flips in the first place)” and “How to Jump-Start a Car” have clear, order­ly instruc­tions and illus­tra­tions … and safe­ty alerts!

There are Build­ing Projects at the back of the book like mak­ing your own “Go-To Tool­box” and “Sawhors­es.” I feel con­fi­dent I could build any of these things with the instruc­tions Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton has pro­vid­ed. She even shows how to make a stud-framed dog­house. Can a house for humans be far behind?

This book is writ­ten for the upper end of Bookol­o­gy’s age range (they rec­om­mend 14 and up with adult super­vi­sion), but I know the ten-year-old me would have want­ed to learn about the tools, under­stand the mechan­ics, and pre­pare for my first con­struc­tion project. In shop class?

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Girls Garage
writ­ten by Emi­ly Pil­lo­ton
illus­trat­ed by Kate Binga­man-Burt
Chron­i­cle Books, 2019
ISBN 978−1−4521−6627−8


Bedtime for Sweet Creatures

Bedtime for Sweet CreaturesSuch a charm­ing book! From Nik­ki Grimes, we hear the sto­ry of a young boy stalling his bed­time, all the while col­lect­ing a menagerie of imag­i­nary crea­tures. This is a child who has well-prac­ticed ploys for avoid­ing bed­time. His par­ents respond with play­ful­ness and good humor. Mom and dad are patient but, final­ly, the child is too sleepy to stay awake.

Eliz­a­beth Zunon’s imag­i­na­tion-fueled crea­tures are vivid­ly pat­terned, cre­at­ing cap­ti­vat­ing images of a lion, a bear, a snake, an owl … just right for nam­ing out loud.

Nikki Grimes' Bedtime for Sweet Creatures

The blend of Grimes’ smile-induc­ing accu­ra­cy about bed­time rit­u­als and Zunon’s exu­ber­ant ani­mals cre­ates a book that par­ent and child will glad­ly read each night. It’s fun!

Bed­time for Sweet Crea­tures
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Eliz­a­beth Zunon
Source­books Jab­ber­wocky, 2020
ISBN 978 – 1492638322


Equality’s Call

Equality's CallWrit­ten by Deb­o­rah Diesen in read­able-out-loud verse with a refrain that reflects the cumu­la­tive action in the pre­ced­ing pages, this pic­ture book traces the dili­gent efforts of those who worked for decades to make Amer­i­ca’s vot­ing rights more inclu­sive. There is his­to­ry here for every­one to know.

The illus­tra­tions add pas­sion and under­stand­ing to the text, help­ing us with more infor­ma­tion. Mag­dale­na Mora cre­at­ed them with gouache, water­col­or, ink, pas­tel, pen­cil, and dig­i­tal col­lage. The results are movi­ing. There is a soft­ness and an edge, the faces are dis­tinct and diverse, the col­ors are warm, invit­ing us to under­stand that we are part of the ongo­ing effort to make equal­i­ty the law.

The jour­ney’s not over.
The work has­n’t end­ed.
Democ­ra­cy’s dream
must be con­stant­ly tend­ed.”

Equality's Call illustration

illus­tra­tion from Equal­i­ty’s Call: The Sto­ry of Vot­ing Rights in Amer­i­ca,” writ­ten by Deb­o­rah Diesen, illus­trat­ed by Mag­dale­na Mora, pub­lished by Beach Lane Books, Feb­ru­ary 2020. Illus­tra­tion copy­right Ⓒ Mag­dale­na Mora.

Read this book in the class­room, your library, and at home to start dis­cus­sion and piqué curios­i­ty. In this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year, the more our chil­dren (and future vot­ers) under­stand about the ongo­ing his­to­ry of our democ­ra­cy, the more they will feel a part of nec­es­sary deci­sions and under­stand the mean­ing of their right — and respon­si­bil­i­ty — to vote.

Equal­i­ty’s Call: The Sto­ry of Vot­ing Rights in Amer­i­ca
writ­ten by Deb­o­rah Diesen
illus­trat­ed by Mag­dale­na Mora
Beach Lane Books, 2020
ISBN 978 – 1534439580


Under Threat

Under ThreatThis over­sized book is unfor­get­table. Both the art and the text are strong tes­ta­ments about ani­mals that are “threat­ened with extinc­tion: crit­i­cal­ly endan­gered (the most threat­ened), endan­gered, and vul­ner­a­ble (the least threat­ened).” There are also cat­e­gories for species that are extinct, extinct in the wild, or not thought to be threat­ened at the moment.

Each two-page spread describes the char­ac­ter of the ani­mal, the rea­sons why its num­bers have dwin­dled dra­mat­i­cal­ly, and the efforts being made to save the species.

A map shows the area where the ani­mal per­sists and an infor­ma­tion box states its class, fam­i­ly, IUCN sta­tus, and pop­u­la­tion.

The art­work by Tom Frost is a full-page, styl­ized draw­ing of the endan­gered ani­mal, each on pre­sent­ed as a postage stamp. The art­work is so strong and so beau­ti­ful that each page could be a framed poster (but don’t take the book apart!). 

Under Threat Indri

Tapan­uli Orang­utan, Kem­p’s Rid­ley, Sun­da Pan­golin, Large­tooth Saw­fish. Each one moves my heart.

It’s a book well worth own­ing at home and at school. Ani­mal lovers will be drawn in auto­mat­i­cal­ly, but the writ­ing is so inter­est­ing and the art so mag­net­ic that every­one will be fas­ci­nat­ed and moved to action. 

Under Threat: an Album of Endan­gered Ani­mals
writ­ten by Mar­tin Jenk­ins
illus­trat­ed by Tom Frost
Can­dlewick Stu­dios, 2019
ISBN 978 – 1536205435


A to Zåäö

A to ZaaoThis 96-page pic­ture book wraps many pur­pos­es between its cov­ers. It’s an alpha­bet book, a muse­um exhib­it cat­a­log, an intro­duc­tion to the Swedish lan­guage, and a pic­ture book illus­trat­ed  by a moth­er’s water­col­ors and her son’s pen-and-ink draw­ings. The lus­cious water­col­ors por­tray a muse­um object and the pen-and-ink draw­ings are lay­ered over the water­col­ors, invit­ing the read­er to imag­ine sto­ries.

On the page for “P,” the Swedish phrase “pig­ga upp dig!” are trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish as “perk up!” The water­col­or por­trays a three-legged chair in the ASI’s col­lec­tion, carved by a woman who emi­grat­ed from Swe­den to Amer­i­ca before 1939. The pen-and-ink draw­ings on this two-page spread sug­gest many sto­ry pos­si­bil­i­ties, depict­ing fig­ures of knights, a late-eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry cou­ple, a troll in shorts, a drag­on, a rein­deer, a man in a dol­phin cos­tume, and a mod­ern-day fam­i­ly hav­ing a beach pic­nic, all of them inter­act­ing with each oth­er. The ideas for sto­ries abound!

In the back mat­ter, there are full-col­or pho­tos and descrip­tions of the fea­tured items from the ASI’s col­lec­tion, graced by more pen-and-ink draw­ings. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to play with. Designed to be a trea­sure for all ages, the book suc­ceeds in its mis­sion.

It’s an enchant­i­ng, infor­ma­tive, and fun book, one that invites you to spend a few hours with your imag­i­na­tion. It’s a keep­er! 

A to Zåäö: Play­ing with His­to­ry
at the Amer­i­can Swedish Insti­tute
illus­trat­ed by Tara Sweeney
and Nate Christo­pher­son
his­tor­i­cal text by Inga Thiessen
Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta  Press, 2019
ISBN 978 – 1517907884



HumanimalsLet me start this book rec­om­men­da­tion by say­ing that I believe every class­room, school library, and home should have this book on your shelves. As the author, Christo­pher Lloyd, states in the Fore­word, “the ances­tors of today’s indige­nous peo­ples lived close to wild ani­mals. They passed along cul­tur­al tra­di­tions of respect for ani­mals as the equals or some­times the supe­ri­ors of humans.” And then, he goes on to say, humans decid­ed we were smarter and bet­ter than ani­mals because moved to farms and cities and saw less of wild ani­mals, rais­ing them so we could make use of them.

Sci­en­tists decid­ed on “a sim­ple def­i­n­i­tion of humans that went like this: Humans are tool mak­ers. Mak­ing and using tools sets us apart from the rest of the ani­mal world.” If you’ve been fol­low­ing along with stud­ies of the nat­ur­al world, you’ll know that around about the 1960s, Jane Goodall com­mit­ted to study­ing chim­panzees for years, observ­ing that they did make and use tools. “Yikes! Our def­i­n­i­tion of humans was out the win­dow.”

This thought­ful, obser­vant, and astound­ing book looks at all the ways that ani­mals are like humans: they live and work in com­mu­ni­ties, even liv­ing in cities, they like to have fun, they show off, and they love each oth­er. Hav­ing and dis­play­ing intel­li­gence is anoth­er group of behav­iors that make us more alike than dif­fer­ent: they are self-aware, we’ve rec­og­nized that many ani­mals com­mu­ni­cate with a lan­guage, and they can solve puz­zles.  

Humanimals illustration

illus­tra­tion copy­right Mark Ruf­fle, from Human­i­mals, pub­lished by What on Earth Books, 2019

Spe­cif­ic exam­ples are giv­en to back up each of these asser­tions, tak­en direct­ly from the stud­ies of sci­en­tists who are pho­tographed and sum­ma­rized in the back mat­ter of the book, along with a con­cise glos­sary of terms that you’ll find use­ful for teach­ing. They’re easy to remem­ber!

Who among your read­ers could resist this kind of detail? “It’s not just chimps who use tools. In Aus­tralia, black kites use a very dra­mat­ic one. They car­ry burn­ing sticks from for­est fires to near­by grass­lands and drop them to start fires in the grass. Why on earth would they do this? The answer is that it’s a super clever form of hunt­ing. …”

Mark Ruf­fle’s illus­tra­tions are dra­mat­ic, get­ting to the heart of each page of infor­ma­tion, show­ing us pre­cise­ly what we prob­a­bly won­der about while we’re read­ing. What hap­pens when dol­phins are put in front of a mir­ror? When ravens roll down a snowy hill to have fun? When an octo­pus turns a dif­fer­ent col­or when it’s feel­ing aggres­sive? Ruf­fle cap­tures the behav­iors with the right touch­es of whim­sy and infor­ma­tion.

This book is a page-turn­er in all of the right ways. It’s an immense­ly read­able non­fic­tion book that deliv­ers mem­o­rable infor­ma­tion. Best of all, I believe it will change hearts and minds about our rela­tion­ship to ani­mals, a nec­es­sary step in our evo­lu­tion if we’re engaged in sav­ing our plan­et.

Here Christo­pher Lloyd is inter­viewed on Sky News, shar­ing the way bees vote demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly.

Human­i­mal: Incred­i­ble Ways Ani­mals Are Just Like Us!
writ­ten by Christo­pher Lloyd
illus­trat­ed by Mark Ruf­fle
What on Earth Books, 2019
ISBN 978−1−912920−01−3


A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky

A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky

A dear­ly drawn cat named Felic­i­ty — hon­or­ing Félicette, a stray cat in Paris who became the first cat in space on Octo­ber 18, 1963 — takes us on an explo­ration of stargaz­ing. As a book on obser­va­tion­al astron­o­my, it’s an  excit­ing book for kids and adults alike.

Short para­graphs cov­er what to wear when stargaz­ing, where to go for max­i­mum view­ing, the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of stars, con­stel­la­tions, plan­ets, galax­ies, and short-short sto­ries behind the con­stel­la­tions of each sea­son. The sun, the moon … what exact­ly are we see­ing when we gaze up at the stars?

This book will whet appetites for fur­ther study but, more impor­tant­ly, I believe it will encour­age kids to ven­ture out­side, to open their eyes, to explore the unknown … because this book is friend­ly, under­stand­able, and sump­tu­ous. It’s so invit­ing that I know that, as a child, I would have returned to it again and again, mem­o­riz­ing facts, and doing my best to under­stand the large con­cepts of the space sur­round­ing our earth.

A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky

A Cat's Guide to the Night Sky

A glos­sary and an index make this book use­ful for home and class­room ref­er­ence. And there’s so much inspir­ing infor­ma­tion!

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky
writ­ten by Stu­art Atkin­son
illus­trat­ed by Bren­dan Keaney
Lau­rence King Pub­lish­ing, 2018
ISBN 978−1−7862−7073−3


Riding a Donkey Backwards

Riding a Donkey BackwardsRid­ing a Don­key Back­wards:
Wise and Fool­ish Tales of Mul­la Nas­rud­din

Retold by Sean Tay­lor and The Khay­al The­atre
illus­trat­ed by Shirin Adl
Can­dlewick Press, 2019
ISBN 978−1−5362−0507−7

The wise fool or the fool­ish wise man? As the authors explain, “Nas­rud­din is the wis­est man in the vil­lage and also the biggest fool. … If he does­n’t make you laugh, he will cer­tain­ly make you think — and per­haps think side­ways instead of straight ahead.” Mul­la Nas­rud­din is an ancient Per­sian folk char­ac­ter, dis­cussed in Sufi stud­ies, famil­iar through­out India, Syr­ia, Turkey, Iran, and the Mid­dle East.

These two-page sto­ries are just right for read­ing out loud and then talk­ing over what hap­pened. You can have great dis­cus­sions about rea­son­ing, log­ic, and cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing. This will work with young read­ers as well as col­lege stu­dents and adults, per­haps in an ELL class.

When a man across the riv­er asks Mul­la Nas­rud­din how to get to the oth­er side, Nas­rud­din mut­ters, “What a bird­brain.” Then he shouts, “You are on the oth­er side.”

These are two-page sto­ries, each of which will pro­duce an eye roll, but always encour­ag­ing ques­tions. Side­ways think­ing indeed!

The illus­tra­tions in this book are wor­thy of close exam­i­na­tion, iden­ti­fy­ing the many objects the artist includes. The riv­er is rep­re­sent­ed by glass beads and paper. There are paper fish and a stick from a tree for a fish­ing rod. In anoth­er spread, the camel’s sad­dle is bead­ed, as is his teth­er. There are rich fab­rics, cro­cheted pieces, woven rugs, bas­kets, and cloth bags. The result is both con­tem­po­rary and ancient.

Why is the Mul­la rid­ing a don­key back­wards? The last page reveals all.

Mul­la Nas­rud­din should be on your book­shelves!


The Night the Forest Came to Town

The Night the Forest Came to TownThe Night the For­est Came to Town
Charles Ghigna
illus­trat­ed by Annie Wilkin­son
Orca Book Pub­lish­ers, 2018
ISBN 978−1−4598−1650−3

A city can be all hard sur­faces, con­crete, brick, pave­ment, and glass. Adults can be pre­oc­cu­pied with their devices. Bill­boards, street lights, every kind of dis­trac­tion. There’s a dis­tinct sep­a­ra­tion from nature, a dis­con­nect.

In this semi-mag­i­cal book, nature blows into town overnight, wind-borne seeds take root, and birds and ani­mals fol­low. A cen­ter spread gives us a glimpse into apart­ment win­dows where we see indi­vid­u­als engaged in their arts, notic­ing what’s chang­ing out­side their win­dows.

Ghig­na’s rhyming poet­ry invites read­ers and sto­ry­tellers to turn the pages. 

Beneath the swirling shroud of night
A fer­tile field was found
Where once there was a vacant lot
new seedlings held their ground.”

He helps us notice details with his descrip­tive lan­guage, his rev­er­ence for nature.

Wilkin­son cre­ates a shad­ow-filled, deeply-toned night­time city. Her tex­tures evoke a tac­tile expe­ri­ence. Touch these pages, reach into nature, appre­ci­ate the star-filled sky, the life-sprout­ing rain, the charm­ing ani­mals. But it’s the panoply of flow­ers, sophis­ti­cat­ed but rem­i­nis­cent of those a child would draw that tie togeth­er text and images into a sooth­ing, con­tem­pla­tive sto­ry of the dif­fer­ence nature brings into our lives.

Com­bine the read­ing of this book with plan­ning for a school or com­mu­ni­ty gar­den. Plant a flower seed that will grow indoors and can be tak­en home once it’s estab­lished. Take pho­tos of your neigh­bor­hood and print them out on full sheets of paper so stu­dents can add their own flow­ers and ani­mals and trees. Then have them try a poem with Ghig­na’s struc­ture to tell the sto­ry of their own vision of the for­est com­ing to town.

This is a charm­ing book.


My Grandma and Me

My Grandma and MeMy Grand­ma and Me
Mina Java­herbin
illus­trat­ed by Lind­sey Yankey
Can­dlewick Press, 2019
ISBN 978−1−4263−3304−0

If you were for­tu­nate to have one or two or three lov­ing grand­moth­ers, this book will touch your heart. Grand­mas can be the most lov­ing peo­ple in our long lives, teach­ing us about life, pass­ing along tra­di­tions, shar­ing sto­ries, help­ing us become whole­some adults.

While the grand­ma in this book is Iran­ian,  read­ers will find sim­i­lar­i­ties to their own grand­par­ents, with exquis­ite details about a spe­cif­ic cul­ture.

Grand­mas are often our faith teach­ers. Here prayers, atten­dance at mosque, and Ramadan are an inte­gral and heart­warm­ing part of the sto­ry.

The illus­tra­tions are stun­ning. Iran­ian motifs, rich fab­rics, woven rugs, and embroi­dery are all woven into the sto­ry­telling, sub­tly giv­ing depth to grand­moth­er and grand­daugh­ter’s rela­tion­ship.

The nar­ra­tor, a young girl who is first depict­ed with a space poster above her bed, inspires lat­er art of con­stel­la­tions and the moon that are breath­tak­ing, in con­trast with the soft col­ors of life at home.

Make sure you seek out this book. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.


Explorer Academy: The Falcon’s Feather

The Falcon's FeatherExplor­er Acad­e­my: The Fal­con’s Feath­er
Tru­di Trueit
illus­trat­ed by Scott Plumbe (with a blend of pho­tos)
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, 2019
ISBN 978−1−4263−3304−0

I’ve writ­ten a pri­or Read­ing Ahead essay about my love for The Neb­u­la Secret, the first book in the Explor­er Acad­e­my series. Now book two, The Fal­con’s Feath­er, con­tin­ues the sto­ry and I think it’s even more excit­ing. I can­not wait for the next install­ment in the series, The Dou­ble Helix, which won’t be avail­able until Sep­tem­ber 3, 2019. Do you remem­ber that kind of excite­ment as a young read­er, wait­ing for a book by your favorite author?

In this book, Cruz Coro­n­a­do, his friends and fel­low Explor­ers, Emmett, Sailor, and Brandys, and their entire class embark on The Ori­on, a superb high-tech­nol­o­gy ship that will vis­it var­i­ous trou­bled spots on the Earth, teach­ing the stu­dents about ecol­o­gy, con­ser­va­tion, sci­en­tif­ic inquiry, and involv­ing them in cur­rent exper­i­ments. A con­gru­ent sto­ry­line finds Cruz and his best friend in Hawaii, Lani, putting clues togeth­er that Cruz’s sci­en­tist moth­er left before she dis­ap­peared. It’s all very involv­ing, page-turn­ing, and will appeal to peo­ple who love mys­ter­ies, non­fic­tion, puz­zles, sci­ence, and Har­ry Pot­ter.

I am so excit­ed by this book that I asked if I could inter­view the author, Tru­di Trueit. How on earth does she write a book, much less a sev­en-book series, of this cal­iber? Here’s how she answered me:

Trudi Trueit

Tru­di Trueit

What’s in your back­ground that prompt­ed Nation­al Geo­graph­ic to ask you to write The Explor­er Acad­e­my series?

Many writ­ers will tend to choose a genre, but I’ve always had a pas­sion for writ­ing both fic­tion and non­fic­tion. My work includes more than nine­ty non­fic­tion library titles for kids on every­thing from video gam­ing to storm chas­ing for pub­lish­ers like Scholas­tic and Lern­er. I’ve also writ­ten nine mid­dle grade fic­tion titles, includ­ing the Secrets of a Lab Rat series for Simon & Schus­ter. I will go back and forth between the two gen­res, writ­ing a fic­tion title, then writ­ing a short series of non­fic­tion books. It’s the per­fect mix. Just when I am eager to fin­ish writ­ing about a non­fic­tion top­ic, it’s time to switch and let my cre­ative juices take over. Explor­er Acad­e­my is a com­bi­na­tion of those worlds, allow­ing me to cre­ate a fast-paced adven­ture series that’s root­ed in sci­ence.

I recent­ly saw you on WCCO in Min­neapo­lis with Eri­ka Bergman, sub­mersible pilot, a Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Explor­er. When you’re writ­ing each book in the series, do you pull the plot togeth­er with actu­al Nation­al Geo­graph­ic projects as the basis for your scenes … or do you and your edi­tor work out the projects to fea­ture in each book?

The plots aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly based on actu­al Nation­al Geo­graph­ic projects, how­ev­er, I do look to expe­ri­ences from the explor­ers and real-world tech­nol­o­gy to enhance the sto­ry­line. Some­times, a sto­ry is sparked by some­thing an explor­er shared with me, a project they are work­ing on, or an arti­cle they wrote. Oth­er times, it’s an issue that has touched my heart, like help­ing marine ani­mals caught in fish­ing nets. I research and learn what we are (or aren’t) doing to address the prob­lem and then cre­ate a mis­sion for the explor­ers to go on.

Are you some­one who enjoys puz­zles and mys­ter­ies? Do you like to play games?

I adore games, puz­zles, and mys­ter­ies! As a kid, one of my favorite books was called Two Minute Mys­ter­ies and it was exact­ly that: short sto­ries where you had to fig­ure out who­dunit. I also devoured pret­ty much every Nan­cy Drew book out there (Hardy Boys, too!). I love games, too, espe­cial­ly word games and triv­ia.

Your plots are jam packed with adven­tures. How do you orga­nize your plots, phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly?

I try to keep things orga­nized through an out­line, scene list, and what I call Thread Notes. These are notes that I car­ry through from book to book, to remind me of the dif­fer­ent threads that I have start­ed so that I can decide when and how to wrap them up as the series pro­gress­es. For each book, I will do a gen­er­al four to five page syn­op­sis to estab­lish the main plot ele­ments and how I want it to end. I do try to keep as much in my head as pos­si­ble, because if you’re expect­ing a read­er to remem­ber details as they read, it’s only fair that you do the same. I don’t do an extreme­ly detailed out­line because I find it tends to sti­fle cre­ativ­i­ty. Half the fun of get­ting up in the morn­ing is see­ing what will pour out of my head and onto the page!

What does your work­space look like?

My work­space is noth­ing fan­cy — my home office with a desk, book­shelf, and lit­tle flo­ral sofa. The sage green walls are dec­o­rat­ed with can­vas prints of some of my book cov­ers. It’s pret­ty neat, because I can’t write in chaos. I do have three edi­tors, who see to it that I stay on track: my cats Pip­pin, Emmy­lou, and Woody. They snooze (and some­times, snore) the day away next to my com­put­er and occa­sion­al­ly steal my pens and pen­cils. Woody is a twen­ty-pound boy, so he takes a bit of room. I think I need a big­ger desk!

Trudi Trueit's cats

What are your five top go-to ref­er­ence sites or ref­er­ence books while you’re writ­ing?

It varies, depend­ing on the top­ic and book. Sources that I’ve looked to while writ­ing Explor­er Acad­e­my include The Smith­son­ian, Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion (NOAA), U.S. Geo­log­i­cal sur­vey, NASA, NOVA, Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, Dis­cov­ery, and, of course, first and fore­most, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

Map of Orion

I love maps! This one is so detailed that I’ve spent quite a lot of time refer­ring to it. Map of Ori­on from Explor­ers Acad­e­my: The Fal­con’s Feath­er, illus­tra­tion copy­right Scott Plumbe, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Books for Kids, 2019

The Ori­on Ship Map at the begin­ning of The Falcon’s Feath­er is one of the coolest things ever. Did you draw a ver­sion of that map to help you with writ­ing the scenes on board The Ori­on?

Yes, I did a very basic ver­sion of the ship so I could visu­al­ize where every­thing was and keep track of things. Thank­ful­ly, tal­ent­ed artist Scott Plumbe took my crude draw­ing and craft­ed an incred­i­ble illus­tra­tion for the book. I love its futur­is­tic look!

You explain the gad­gets so well. Are these sci­en­tif­ic inno­va­tions some­thing you’ve been able to see to help with describ­ing them or are they fic­tion?

Some gad­gets I have been able to see, such as minia­ture drones and smart glass­es, but things like the time cap­sule, octo­pod, or shad­ow badge are fic­tion­al. Often, the gad­gets are a com­bi­na­tion of both. Because the explor­ers are liv­ing in the not-too-dis­tant future, I will often take ele­ments of the famil­iar and expand them via my imag­i­na­tion. For instance, the CAVE (Com­put­er Ani­mat­ed Vir­tu­al Expe­ri­ence) is a vir­tu­al real­i­ty room, which we are all famil­iar with, that gives off an actu­al sen­sa­tion when you touch an object, which is some­thing that we are not famil­iar with – yet!

Taryn Secliff, the kids’ school res­i­dent assis­tant, has a High­land White Ter­ri­er named Hub­bard, who’s affec­tion­ate­ly regard­ed by Cruz, Emmett, and Bryn­dis. Do you have a pet?

Yes, I have three pets. I think you met them on my desk: Pip­pin (snow­shoe), Woody (gin­ger tab­by), and Emmy­lou (Siamese mix). They all get along great and are so much fun. Pip­pin has his own Face­book page, because you can nev­er have too many cat pic­tures, right?

What’s your best hope for this series of books?

I hope that read­ers have as much fun read­ing Explor­er Acad­e­my as I am hav­ing writ­ing it (I’m writ­ing Book Five in the series now!). It would be won­der­ful if some read­ers see them­selves in its pages, per­haps, even dis­cov­er a pas­sion that leads to a career. More than any­thing, I hope the series spurs kids to par­tic­i­pate and con­tribute, just the way the Nation­al Geo­graph­ic explor­ers I have met seek to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in the world.

Scott Plumbe's illustration for The Falcon's Feather

One of Scott Plumbe’s excit­ing illus­tra­tions for The Fal­con’s Feath­er, copy­right Scott Plumbe, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, 2019

Vis­it Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Explor­er Acad­e­my web­site.

Trudi TrueitTru­di Trueit has writ­ten more than 100 books for young read­ers, both fic­tion and non­fic­tion. Her love of writ­ing began in fourth grade, when she wrote, direct­ed, and starred in her first play. She went on to be a TV news reporter and weath­er fore­cast­er, but she knew her call­ing was in writ­ing. Trueit is a gift­ed sto­ry­teller for mid­dle-grade audi­ences, and her fic­tion nov­els include The Sis­ter Solu­tionSteal­ing Pop­u­lar, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Her exper­tise in kids non­fic­tion encom­pass­es books on his­to­ry, weath­er, wildlife, and Earth sci­ence. She is the author of all the nar­ra­tives for the Explor­er Acad­e­my series, begin­ning with Explor­er Acad­e­my: The Neb­u­la Secret. Born and raised in the Pacif­ic North­west, Tru­di lives in Everett, Wash­ing­ton. Vis­it her web­site.


Make This!

Make This!Make This! Build­ing, Think­ing, and Tin­ker­ing Projects for the Amaz­ing Mak­er in You 
Ella Schwartz, pho­tographs by Matthew Rako­la
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, 2019

When pre­sent­ed with this book, wheels start turn­ing, ideas begin pop­ping, and your tem­per­a­ture ris­es! This is going to be fun.

And a care­ful­ly thought-through learn­ing expe­ri­ence … but who needs to know that?

By the book’s def­i­n­i­tion, “A mak­er is some­one who tin­kers, fix­es, breaks, rebuilds, and con­structs projects for the world around them.” With great empha­sis, it is evi­dent that “A mak­er is you!”

We are shown mak­er spaces and we learn that mak­ers reuse, recy­cle, and cre­ate.

You know these kids. (You prob­a­bly know some who grew up to be adults.) There are some kids who are mak­ers but don’t know it yet. Give them this book if they’re old enough or sit down with them on an oth­er­wise bor­ing after­noon or work these projects into your class­room lessons or library pro­grams.

Sam­ple chap­ters are “Sim­ple Machines,” “Optics,” “Acoustics,” “Forces,” and “Motion.”

The book is col­or­ful­ly and thought­ful­ly designed, allow­ing the mak­er to ful­ly focus on def­i­n­i­tions, facts, step-by-step num­bered instruc­tions, warn­ings, and pho­tos that are excep­tion­al­ly clear in delin­eat­ing the steps in case the ver­bal direc­tions don’t answer all of your ques­tions. You’ll find a dif­fi­cul­ty meter, a box with the num­ber of peo­ple it takes to do the project, and some­times an admo­ni­tion to “grab an adult.”

Make This! Interior page

from Make This!: Build­ing Think­ing, and Tin­ker­ing Projects for the Amaz­ing Mak­er in You, © Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Chil­dren’s Books, 2019, used here with per­mis­sion

Projects include “Rolling Pin Pul­ley” (using a rolling pin, rope, and two friends to lift a heavy book), after which we’re chal­lenged to keep a list of the pul­leys we see through­out one day.

For “Pen­cil Push­er,” we’re intro­duced to The Mys­tery of Stone­henge. How did ancient mak­ers move those huge stones 160 miles from Wales to near Sal­is­bury, Eng­land? Work­ing with pen­cils and a pile of heavy books offers one pos­si­ble solu­tion (and the cur­rent the­o­ry).

We’re asked why any­one would care about the col­or of a roof in “Pow­er Col­ors.” This project requires two small bal­loons, two 2‑liter soda bot­tles, black paint, white paint, and a sun­ny day. Applied knowl­edge.

On “Clean & Clear,” there’s a warn­ing about fil­ter­ing water “It’s impor­tant to keep in mind that even though the water looks clean, it is not safe for you or your pets to drink. There may be oth­er harm­ful things in the water, like bac­te­ria or microor­gan­isms, which are too small to see.” Even the warn­ings are instruc­tive!

This book teach­es sci­ence with­out mak­ing a big deal out of it.

Sign­ing off. I need to go make a con­vey­or belt, a periscope, a skee-ball game, and a mar­ble maze. Irre­sistible!


Books Books Books

Books Books BooksBooks Books Books 
Mick Man­ning and Bri­ta Granström
Can­dlewick Press, 2017

Book lovers appre­ci­ate the beau­ty, rar­i­ty, inven­tive design, and con­tent of all types of books. Those in the vast col­lec­tion of the British Library (more than 150 mil­lion lit­er­ary arti­facts on 15 floors and 400 miles of shelv­ing) will help to make book lovers of the chil­dren in your life. The clever and reveal­ing spreads in this book will hold the atten­tion of bud­ding book lovers, rais­ing ques­tions that will inspire read­ing the books and doing fur­ther research.

Who could resist see­ing The Klencke Atlas which is 7 feet by 5 feet 10 inch­es when opened. It is “so heavy it takes 6 peo­ple to lift it.”

The small­est book in their col­lec­tion is Lady Jane Grey’s prayer book. It is 2−3÷4″ x 3−3÷8″ inch­es. She was queen of Eng­land for 9 days before Mary had her “impris­oned and sen­tenced to death. She car­ried this lit­tle hand­writ­ten book to her exe­cu­tion.”

We learn that many of the rooms in the Library are bomb-proof. 

Shake­speare’s First Folio is stored deep under­ground. On Shake­speare’s pages of Books Books Books, there are small, hand-drawn sketch­es with dia­logue bub­bles pro­vid­ing humor and infor­ma­tive tid­bits.

Books Books Books and Charles Dickens

The col­or­ful col­lages include frag­ments of each book so there is a great deal to study and absorb, just the right amount of busy-ness. The design is fresh, col­or­ful, lay­ered, and invit­ing.

You’ll find infor­ma­tion about Jane Eyre, the Brontes, Charles Dick­ens, sci­ence with da Vin­ci and Dar­win, fan­ta­sy by Lewis Car­rol, sheet music, Sher­lock Holmes … The authors have cre­at­ed a tempt­ing sur­vey of the world’s most influ­en­tial books with child-rel­e­vant facts, humor, and col­lectible tid­bits.

Books Books Books da Vinci

This is a good book for open­ing dis­cus­sions about books, muse­ums, and what it means to pre­serve cul­ture and his­to­ry for present and future gen­er­a­tions. Rec­om­mend­ed for the class­room and home.



Storm by Sam UsherThat irre­sistible urge to jump into a cush­ioned pile of waist-high leaves, sink­ing into the vivid col­ors, the smell of earth and sky, the sounds of nature embrac­ing you?

Don’t miss Storm by Sam Ush­er (Tem­plar Books). The glow­ing reds and golds of fall jump off the cov­er, invit­ing you to open the book and set­tle in for an autumn sto­ry. Grand­son and Grand­dad rev­el in the approach­ing storm.

When I woke up
this morn­ing,
the wind was rat­tling
the win­dows.

I could­n’t wait to
go out­side.”

Ush­er cre­ates his sto­ry with illus­tra­tions rem­i­nis­cent of Quentin Blake, with a line that’s firmer, more defined. They’re yum­my.

This is a book about leaves and love and mem­o­ries and adven­tures. The col­ors are bright and invit­ing. The approach­ing storm is the star of the book. As blus­tery clouds gath­er, kite fly­ing becomes dan­ger­ous. Time to go home. Home, safe from the storm.

Storm by Sam Usher

illus­tra­tion copy­right Sam Ush­er, Storm, Can­dlewick Press

This is a gor­geous, heart­warm­ing book. Ush­er pre­vi­ous­ly cre­at­ed Rain, Sun, and Snow, all set in the same loca­tion. They are reas­sur­ing books. Good read-alouds for weath­er dis­cus­sions or a cozy day at home.

Sam Ush­er
Tem­plar Books / Can­dlewick Press, 2018
ISBN 978−1−536202−823


History’s Mysteries

History's Mysteries Freaky PhenomenaYou pick up the bright­ly col­ored book lying on the table and open it near the mid­dle. What’s this book about? In 1848, the HMS Ere­bus and the HMS Ter­ror set out to find the link between the Pacif­ic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean by sail­ing into the Arc­tic waters. The ships and the crews dis­ap­peared in the Arc­tic. The search to find them went on for 11 years. It wasn’t until 2014 that one of the ships was found; the sec­ond was found two years lat­er. The captain’s nick­name was “the man who ate his boots.” What hap­pened to them? Facts are pre­sent­ed, the­o­ries are offered, and the accom­pa­ny­ing illus­tra­tions make every­thing real. (pages 50 – 53)

Turn­ing to anoth­er page far­ther into the book, you come across Paul Kruger, who was pres­i­dent of South Africa from 1883 to 1900. He led the resis­tance to British rule near the end of the Anglo-Boer War. He gave orders to bury the nation­al trea­sury, “mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of gold and sil­ver bars, coins, and dia­monds,” if the British attacked Pre­to­ria, the cap­i­tal, in 1900. No one knows what hap­pened to that trea­sury. The short write-up offers “the details, the clues, and the the­o­ries,” among pho­tos and draw­ings, the for­mat for the entire book. (pages 122 – 125)

It’s an excit­ing, fast-paced book, pre­sent­ing teasers of infor­ma­tion that will inspire fur­ther research. Many of the mys­ter­ies are new to this read­er. Some of them are famil­iar but I learned more in this com­pact pre­sen­ta­tion than I had known before.

China’s clay war­riors, with a won­der­ful draw­ing of the bur­ial plot, labeled with par­tic­u­lars such as “sec­ondary palaces” and “office for sac­ri­fi­cial offer­ings.” What have sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered? What about the curse that some believe was cast over the site?

King Tut’s tomb? Lord Carnar­von, its dis­cov­er­er, is said to have died from this tomb’s curse … from an infect­ed mos­qui­to bite. Or did the tomb con­tain killer tox­ins? Details, clues, and the­o­ries. A pho­to of Carnar­von and Howard Carter draws the read­er into the tomb. (pages 126 – 129)

Crazy craters in north­ern Rus­sia, the Uff­in­g­ton White Horse in Eng­land, the lost city of the Turquoise Moun­tain in Afghanistan? There’s even an inter­view with a mod­ern-day Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Explor­er, Jørn Hurum.

This book will set imag­i­na­tions on fire. It’s per­fect for every read­er because the con­tent and the for­mat make it irre­sistible for dip­ping in and get­ting lost inside the infor­ma­tion. It would make a sat­is­fy­ing read-aloud on a car trip, a good con­ver­sa­tion starter at home or in the class­room, and a great gift for any­one ages 8 and up.

Good news: once this book has been devoured, there’s a com­pan­ion title, His­to­ry’s Mys­ter­ies: Curi­ous Clues, Cold Cas­es, and Puz­zles from the Past, also writ­ten by Kit­son Jazyn­ka.

Go for it!

History’s Mys­ter­ies: Freaky Phe­nom­e­na
Kit­son Jazyn­ka
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, LLC, 2018
ISBN 9−78142633164−0


A World of Cities

A World of CitiesA World of Cities
text by Lily Mur­ray
illus­trat­ed by James Brown
Can­dlewick Stu­dio, 2018
ISBN 978−0−7636−9879−9

Those kids in your life, your school­room, your library who are Fact Hunters? They col­lect facts to savor, share with oth­ers, and build their knowl­edge of the world around them. This is a book for them.

Not every child can trav­el to the major cities of the world, but this book will leave an impres­sion, a yearn­ing for explo­ration.

It’s a Very Big Book, a folio, 10.9″ wide by 14.5″ high. We don’t often include a book’s mea­sure­ments in a rec­om­men­da­tion, but the size of this book makes it fun to open and read, invit­ing read­ers to become wrapped up in the book. Open this to any page and more than one child can enjoy dis­cov­er­ing the facts about each city.

A World of Cities, Rio de Janeiro

illus­tra­tion copy­right James Brown, Can­dlewick Press

The illus­tra­tions are strik­ing, mem­o­rable, invit­ing deep exam­i­na­tion. Aren’t the col­ors gor­geous?

Facts are wound through the illus­tra­tions in a way that will have the read­er turn­ing the page this way and that, seek­ing out each detail. In Rio de Janeiro, we learn that the pic­tured stat­ue of Christ the Redeemer was com­plet­ed in 1931. “The stat­ue is made of con­crete and cov­ered in thou­sands of small stone tiles. All the mate­ri­als had to be car­ried up Cor­co­v­a­do Moun­tain by rail­way.” Cor­co­v­a­do Moun­tain is 2300 feet above sea lev­el. That sparks imag­i­na­tion! 

There are pop­u­la­tion fig­ures, flag facts, hol­i­days, quotes from famous cit­i­zens, and his­to­ry, every­thing that will whet the desire to learn even more. 

Between 1808 and 1821, Rio housed the Por­tuguese roy­al fam­i­ly. In 1815, the city was declared the cap­i­tal of the Por­tuguese Empire.” I did­n’t know that. Did you?

A World of Cities, Paris, Candlewick Press

illus­tra­tion copy­right James Brown, Can­dlewick Press

Vis­it­ing Paris, we learn that “more than 800 years old, the win­dows of Notre Dame Cathe­dral con­tain 50,000 glass pieces” and “Paris’s old­est café, Café Pro­cope, opened in 1686.” Vic­tor Hugo is quot­ed as say­ing “There is no lim­it to Paris.” Find a pho­to of Notre Dame Cathe­dral online. Who is Vic­tor Hugo? This book will launch a scav­enger hunt for more infor­ma­tion.

Geog­ra­phy buffs? Fact Hunters? Bud­ding artists? There are many rea­sons to add this book to your shelves. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.


Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret

Explorer Academy: The Nebula SecretExplor­er Acad­e­my: The Neb­u­la Secret
Tru­di Truett
illus­trat­ed by Scott Plumbe (with a blend of pho­tos)
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, 2018
ISBN 978−1−4263−3159−6

Done with the Har­ry Pot­ter series, maybe not quite ready for the Alex Rid­er series, what do you sug­gest?

Explor­er Acad­e­my. Emphat­i­cal­ly. 

The book opens in Hawaii, where Cruz Coro­n­a­do (not quite 13) is get­ting packed and say­ing good­bye before he heads to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to attend Explor­er Acad­e­my. His moth­er worked there. His aunt Marisol is a pro­fes­sor of anthro­pol­o­gy, pale­on­tol­ogy, and cryp­tol­ogy. Cruz des­per­ate­ly wants to go. Out for a last surf before his dad dri­ves him to the air­port, some­one grabs his ankle and tries to drag him down. Cruz sens­es dan­ger and man­ages to escape.

That’s just the first few pages. Arriv­ing at the Acad­e­my, we are treat­ed to sat­is­fy­ing descrip­tions of Cruz’s fel­low stu­dents, his teach­ers, the fan­tas­tic build­ings of the Acad­e­my, and the library with its spe­cial col­lec­tions room. Cruz meets his room­mate, Emmett Lu, who is inven­tive and great best friend mate­r­i­al.

The stu­dents are vying for the North Star award, giv­en to the most promis­ing stu­dent at the end of their first year. That sets up some ten­sion but it’s the sim­u­lat­ed envi­ron­ment explor­ing they do, much of it to aid in con­ser­va­tion efforts, that proves to be risky and turn-the-page engross­ing.

There are sev­er­al lay­ers of sto­ry here. Cruz’s moth­er died at the Acad­e­my sev­er­al years ear­li­er but no one knows why. She left clues in code for Cruz because she’s con­fi­dent he’ll fig­ure out what’s going on. Some­one always seems to be fol­low­ing Cruz and there are sev­er­al char­ac­ters who pop up along the way who are unset­tling. All of this and his class assign­ments are dif­fi­cult but fas­ci­nat­ing. Who would­n’t want to go to this school?

The char­ac­ters will become the read­er’s friends: Sailor, Bryn­dis, and Emmett will become close friends, a team, and Dugan, Zane, Ren­shaw, and Ali round out their explor­er group. Back in Hawaii, Cruz’ best friend Lani helps him  think things through, do inter­net research, and whips up life-sav­ing mea­sures because she sens­es he needs them. There’s even a dog! 

Each of the chap­ters is chock full of cool gad­gets, cut­ting-edge sci­ence, astron­o­my, anthro­pol­o­gy, every bit of which had me look­ing things up on the com­put­er. At the end of the book, there’s a thought­ful sec­tion of real-life sci­en­tists pur­su­ing the research and inven­tions described in the book, let­ting us know what’s real and what’s near­ly real. 

As always, this Nation­al Geo­graph­ic book is so well designed that it becomes anoth­er ele­ment of the sto­ry, pulling us through. (At one point, I flipped through to see what oth­er intrigu­ing illus­tra­tions there might be.) Scott Plumbe com­bines good char­ac­ter stud­ies with cool maps and exam­ples, some of which are blend­ed with pho­tos. Alto­geth­er the look and feel of the book sup­port this fast-paced, well-writ­ten thriller of a sto­ry.

I can’t wait for book two, The Fal­con’s Feath­er, because Cruz’s moth­er chal­lenges him to a quest that will take him and the explor­ers all around the world and this read­er wants to be by their side.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.



ImagineThere are times when I open a new book that my pulse quick­ens and times when I need to be con­vinced. Some­times I can sense myself slid­ing com­fort­ably into the sur­round­ings of a pic­ture book, feel­ing wel­comed, under­stand­ing every­thing about the book because it is so well craft­ed. That’s this book.

First off, this is an auto­bi­og­ra­phy … so as a men­tor text it is ide­al. 

Bookol­o­gy has been focus­ing on sto­ries of immi­grants and refugees this fall and this is an excel­lent sto­ry to share for engag­ing empa­thy.

Most of all, it is writ­ten so lyri­cal­ly, so evoca­tive­ly, that you and your stu­dents will be charmed by Mr. Her­rera’s sto­ry. He paints word pic­tures so well — and cap­tures emo­tions we all share in com­mon — that we believe in this lit­tle boy. We can imag­ine our­selves tak­ing a jour­ney like his, attain­ing our dreams. 

If I helped Mom­ma feed
the hop­ping chick­ens
and catch the crazy turkey 
in the front yard
of our new vil­lage,


This lit­tle boy, Juan Felipe Her­rera, grows up to become the Unit­ed States Poet Lau­re­ate (2015−2017) and win recog­ni­tion far and wide. This is the jour­ney he takes from a small child play­ing among chamomile to stand­ing on the steps of the Library of Con­gress, read­ing his poet­ry to the nation. (It’s also a good men­tor text for telling a life sto­ry in an under­stat­ed man­ner, with­out brag­ging.) It is an encour­ag­ing book, a fine exam­ple of what can come true if you imag­ine, if you work to make your dreams come to life.

Lau­ren Castil­lo’s illus­tra­tions are at once soft and strong, using a defin­ing black line against a warm, tex­tured back­ground. I found myself reach­ing out to touch the pages to expe­ri­ence the set­tings as they changed through­out Mr. Her­rera’s life. Each illus­tra­tion invit­ed me to linger, to look at the home the boy is leav­ing behind, the creekbed he explores, the fre­quent changes in his sur­round­ings. These illus­tra­tions pro­vide depth and won­der and detail in all the right places. 

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed. This book belongs on tables in libraries, class­rooms, and homes where it can be eas­i­ly picked up and read again and again.

Juan Felipe Her­rera
illus­trat­ed by Lau­ren Castil­lo
Can­dlewick Press, 2018
ISBN 978 – 0763690526


Anna and Johanna

Anna and JohannaAnna and Johan­na: a Chil­dren’s Book Inspired by Ver­meer
Geral­dine Elschn­er
illus­trat­ed by Flo­rence Koenig
Pres­tel Pub­lish­ing, 2018
pub­lished in French in 2016
ISBN 978−3−7913−7345−4

Delft. Delft blue. The book begins
with blue and yel­low. 1666.

Two friends born on the same day.
This day, their birth­day.
They are each mak­ing gifts for the oth­er.
Lace and choco­late.
One the daugh­ter of the house,
the oth­er the daugh­ter of the maid.

This is how the sto­ry begins. It unfolds with a sur­prise. A very dra­mat­ic sur­prise. It makes for a mem­o­rable sto­ry.

And yet, this book is more than that. It unwraps itself in lay­ers, invit­ing us to dig deep­er, turn pages back and forth and then again, exam­in­ing close­ly, uncov­er­ing those reward­ing lay­ers.

You prob­a­bly noticed the sub­ti­tle. This is a sto­ry devel­oped by the author from two of Jan Ver­meer’s paint­ings, The Lace­mak­er (1665) and The Milk­maid (1658÷60).

Imag­in­ing a sto­ry about what’s depict­ed in a paint­ing is a sat­is­fy­ing way to under­stand the work when the artist leaves no notes, no mem­oir.

The author points out in the book’s back mat­ter, which is crit­i­cal for this book, that almost noth­ing is known about Jan Ver­meer. He did not leave notes.

Ver­meer paint­ed every­day peo­ple doing ordi­nary things with extra­or­di­nary results. He saw, and con­veyed, light in a way which illu­mi­nates life, no mat­ter how mun­dane the task he depicts.

Anna and Johanna, illustration by Florence Koenig, Prestel Publishing, 2018

Anna and Johan­na, illus­tra­tion copy­right © by Flo­rence Koenig, Pres­tel Pub­lish­ing, 2018

Shar­ing this book at home or in the class­room will inspire young lis­ten­ers, young read­ers to write their own sto­ries about art­work. The back mat­ter will inspire teach­ers. A trip to the muse­um to see the art in the prop­er light, the depth of the paint, the tex­ture of the brush strokes? While it may not be pos­si­ble to see a Ver­meer paint­ing in per­son, going to an art gallery or muse­um to see paint­ings in per­son will add to the inspi­ra­tion and the under­stand­ing.

This is a beau­ti­ful book. The art­work tells the sto­ry as much as the words do, all the while evok­ing Ver­meer while true to Koenig’s style. The col­or palette con­veys the city of Delft, a time long ago, draw­ing our eyes to the water, to the sky … there is much to admire.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.


Summer Reading

When I say “sum­mer read­ing,” you think about … a good nov­el, right? I have a cou­ple of sug­ges­tions.

Every kid should have these two books tucked in their beach bags, ready for a car trip, or packed for sum­mer camp. Seri­ous­ly.

In between the read­ing out loud of those nov­els you’ve been sav­ing up all year, or the lis­ten­ing to an audio book on the car radio, or the flash­light read­ing in the pitched tent in your back­yard, I hope you will share these books. They’re stuffed with facts pre­sent­ed in the most deli­cious ways.

Some­times a sto­ry is over­whelm­ing dur­ing a busy day but your read­ers and non-read­ers can dip into these books, read one para­graph … and they’ll be hooked. If they only read two pages at a time, so be it, but the dis­cus­sions that will fol­low can be price­less. 

I have not failed 10,000 times; I’ve suc­cess­ful­ly found 10,000 ways that will not work.” (Thomas Alva Edi­son)

Life will be up, life will be down … You can laugh at it or you can cry at it, and laugh­ing feels bet­ter.” (Rachael Ray)

I love that there are inten­tion­al mis­takes on these pages, dar­ing the read­er to find them … and I appre­ci­ate that there’s an answer key.

There are out­ra­geous inven­tions memo­ri­al­ized. Red­di-Bacon? Coca Cola, that headache reliev­er? McDon­ald’s Hula Burg­er?

Many peo­ple stand firm­ly on these pages. Michael Jor­dan. Tina Fey. Albert Ein­stein.

You can read about one top­ic, laugh, learn, ques­tion, dis­cuss … and find it irre­sistible to turn the page for more.

Every­thing is pre­sent­ed in a high­ly visu­al way with graph­ic design and lay­out that makes read­ing eas­i­er.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Happy Accidents from Famous Fails

Hap­py Acci­dents” from Famous Fails, Crispin Boy­er, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids

For your sec­ond mag­ic act, you can add Mas­ter­Mind, anoth­er Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids book. In case any­one won­ders why you’re hand­ing them a book on fail­ures, this book finds your inner genius.

Once again high­ly visu­al, this book relies on read­ing, math, sci­ence, and com­mon sense to address the games and puz­zles. Many of the pages include a lit­tle-know fact. Do you know about super­tasters? Do you sus­pect you are one? Enjoy that next anchovy piz­za.

While you’re play­ing the games and tack­ling the exper­i­ments, you’ll learn about how the brain works … and we all need to fig­ure that out.

It’s anoth­er ide­al book­ing for dip­ping into when time allows, but espe­cial­ly per­fect for lazy days at the cab­in and long car trips. 

Don’t miss out on pro­vid­ing a well-round­ed read­ing expe­ri­ence for your young ones.

Secret Sens­es” from Mas­ter­mind, Stephanie War­ren Drim­mer, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids

Both books will work well for that mid­dle grade, ages 8 to 12 group, but I sus­pect the adults in your fam­i­ly won’t be able to keep their hands off of them either.

Famous Fails!
Crispin Boy­er
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016
ISBN 978−1−4263−2548−9

Mas­ter­mind: Over 100 Games, Tests, and Puz­zles to Unleash Your Inner Genius
Stephanie War­ren Drim­mer
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, 2016
ISBN 978−1−4263−2110−8


What’s So Special about Shakespeare?

What's So Special about Shakespeare?We cel­e­brate William Shake­speare’s birth­day on April 23rd (or there­abouts). Con­sid­er read­ing excerpts of this book to your class­es.

In What’s So Spe­cial about Shake­speare?, the author, Michael Rosen, walks into a house with us, peek­ing into rooms where Shakespeare’s plays are being enact­ed. Such vari­ety! It’s an inspired way to place young read­ers among the peo­ple of Shakespeare’s time.

Here’s a strik­ing state­ment: “All this may sound extra­or­di­nary, but Shake­speare lived in extra­or­di­nary and dan­ger­ous times.”

Rosen shows us those dan­gers, the propen­si­ty for war over land, mon­ey, and pow­er, and the very real threat of hav­ing one’s head chopped off.

Reli­gion and pol­i­tics were all mixed up in Shakespeare’s day, in Eng­land and on the Con­ti­nent. It was easy to be found guilty of trea­son, to lose your life. Rosen’s live­ly text helps us under­stand that when Shake­speare wrote his plays, there was polit­i­cal and reli­gious com­men­tary woven into through his dia­logue. He placed him­self in dan­ger.

It’s inter­est­ing to won­der what effect this might have had on audi­ences in Shakespeare’s time. After all, when the play was writ­ten [Mac­beth], many peo­ple still thought that kings and queens were almost like gods. What hap­pens if they’re also crim­i­nals?”

What was school like for Shake­speare? How did ordi­nary peo­ple live? Why did they go to the the­ater? What do we know about Shake­speare’s life? (Not much.)

Plac­ing Shake­speare with­in his world, explain­ing that world, we see that print­ed books were rel­a­tive­ly new, and peo­ple who knew how to read … that was fair­ly new as well. Shake­speare was well read. He was often inspired by oth­er texts, some­times bor­row­ing the ideas and the sto­ry. Rosen shows us a com­par­i­son between a Plutarch pas­sage and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopa­tra. It is evi­dent that Shakespeare’s ver­sion is more inter­est­ing. He was a very good writer who knew how to hold an audi­ence.

Then you’ll see that Shake­speare didn’t real­ly write books, he wrote scripts — scenes and speech­es for peo­ple to say out loud and act out in front of oth­er peo­ple.”

There are in-depth expla­na­tions of four plays: Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, Mac­beth, King Lear, and The Tem­pest. In-depth? Four to six heav­i­ly illus­trat­ed pages are devot­ed to each play. This is read­able!

Sarah Nayler’s draw­ings are down­right fun­ny, often reit­er­at­ing the text but under­lin­ing it with broad and ram­bunc­tious humor.

The type is big with a good deal of space between the lines, mak­ing this quite easy to read. And those draw­ings! They break up the text.

A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this book, Shake­speare: His Work & His World, writ­ten by Michael Rosen, was pub­lished by Can­dlewick in 2006. That vol­ume was intend­ed for ages 12 and up. What’s So Spe­cial About Shake­speare? sees a change in book design and it’s appro­pri­ate for younger read­ers. The trim size is just right for tuck­ing into a back­pack. A Shake­speare time­line and bib­li­og­ra­phy are appre­ci­at­ed.

Do you have stu­dents who love the the­ater, act­ing, plays? This books tells the his­to­ry of the­ater in a much short­er fash­ion than the semes­ters I sat through in col­lege! For stu­dents who are reluc­tant to study Shake­speare, this book will enliv­en their curios­i­ty about his plays. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Here’s an effec­tive book­talk for this book by the author him­self!

What’s So Spe­cial about Shake­speare?
Michael Rosen
Sarah Nayler, illus­tra­tor
Can­dlewick Press, 2018
ISBN 978 – 0763699956


The Enchanting Boggarts

The Dark is Rising

When­ev­er any­one asks the title of my favorite book, it’s a toss-up between two: A Wrin­kle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Dark is Ris­ing by Susan Coop­er. A Wrin­kle in Time because it opened the whole wide uni­verse to my young mind and The Dark is Ris­ing because I under­stood for the first time what a per­fect sto­ry could be. I admire the writ­ing of these two women enor­mous­ly. But there are books by each of them that I had not read.

Fol­low­ers of this col­umn will rec­og­nize that I don’t enjoy books in which ani­mals talk. I love fan­ta­sy but I couldn’t bring myself to read Water­ship Down or The Wind in the Wil­lows. (I know. Gasp. I have now read The Wind in the Wil­lows. And I didn’t care for it.)

So when I saw that Susan Coop­er had pub­lished a book called The Bog­gart (1993), I made the assump­tion that it was about a cute crit­ter. I didn’t read it. When the sequel came out, I couldn’t moti­vate myself to read The Bog­gart and the Mon­ster (1997). Even though I have such great respect for The Dark is Ris­ing.

Now the third book in the series has come out. The Bog­gart Fights Back was released in Feb­ru­ary of this year. The pub­lish­er has made the cov­ers of all three Bog­gart books look even younger with their car­toon-like illus­tra­tion draw­ing. But some­thing about the phrase “fights back” made me curi­ous. Isn’t it inter­est­ing how you can pick up a book years after it has tak­en up res­i­dence on your shelf, read it, and won­der what on earth took you so long?

WHY did I not read these books before? I fin­ished The Bog­gart Fights Back in one sit­ting (it was that good) and imme­di­ate­ly knew I need­ed to read the first two books. And even though The Bog­gart was writ­ten 25 years ago and it has a dif­fer­ent feel­ing, I loved all three books.

In the first Bog­gart book we meet the chil­dren who live on the Loch in the west­ern Scot­tish High­lands. The own­er of Cas­tle Keep has just died and the heirs, who live in Cana­da, come to vis­it. What will become of the Cas­tle? What will hap­pen to the tra­di­tions of this vil­lage, the close-knit com­mu­ni­ty? And the Wild Thing that lives in the Cas­tle, the Bog­gart? Invis­i­ble, not at all human, the Bog­gart is a trick­ster. He enjoys play­ing pranks on humans and ani­mals, with­out care for feel­ings or destruc­tion of prop­er­ty. He caus­es hav­oc! The sto­ry is live­ly, smart, and engag­ing. Susan Coop­er writes with Wild Mag­ic her­self … and this book is imbued with the sto­ry­telling that young read­ers who crave more fan­ta­sy sto­ries will gob­ble up.

In The Bog­gart and the Mon­ster, Emi­ly and Jes­sup Vol­nik vis­it Scot­land once again, stay­ing with the new own­er of Cas­tle Keep, explor­ing with Tom­my Cameron, but they have a prop­er vaca­tion, tour­ing to Loch Ness in order to see Nessie, the mon­ster.

It turns out that the Loch Ness mon­ster is anoth­er bog­gart, a cousin to the bog­gart of Cas­tle Keep! This book is excit­ing as Nessie hunters and chil­dren and bog­garts are drawn to the same area. Will they be able to awak­en Nessie to pro­tect her? I real­ly enjoyed this plau­si­ble expla­na­tion for the Loch Ness mon­ster and, of course, this read­er was cheer­ing for the bog­garts. (Who could have pre­dict­ed that?)

And now, twen­ty-five years lat­er, it’s the chil­dren of Tom­my Cameron, twins Allie and Jay, who are stay­ing with their grand­fa­ther, Angus Cameron, and explor­ing Cas­tle Keep in The Bog­gart Fights Back. Angus owns a com­mu­ni­ty store on the shores of the Loch. The Bog­gart and Nessie are time­less so they are dream­ing up new pranks. In a sto­ry that is all too real for many peo­ple around the world, an Amer­i­can devel­op­er, William Trout, decides that the pris­tine charm of the Loch, the Cas­tle, and the sur­round­ing envi­rons is the per­fect place for his lux­u­ry resort and golf course. He moves right in and begins demol­ish­ing every­thing the res­i­dents cher­ish. Bull­doz­ers, con­struc­tion crews, they tear up the land­scape. Can the chil­dren moti­vate the two bog­garts to help stop the destruc­tion? This book is grand. It’s fun­ny, it’s appalling, and it is enveloped with enough mag­ic to sat­is­fy any­one who craves the very best in fan­ta­sy writ­ing.

Why did I wait so long? I rec­om­mend that you do not.

The Bog­gart Fights Back (Book 3)
writ­ten by Susan Coop­er
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, Feb­ru­ary 27, 2018
978 – 1534406292

The Bog­gart and the Mon­ster (Book 2)
writ­ten by Susan Coop­er
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, 1997
978 – 0689813306

The Bog­gart (Book 1)
writ­ten by Susan Coop­er
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, 1993
978 – 0689505768


With My Hands

Some­times, a book comes across my desk that sparkles like a gem, attract­ing my atten­tion, insist­ing that I stop what I’m doing and read it. This hap­pened when With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things arrived last week. I thought I’d take a peek. Next thing you know, I was clos­ing the last page of the book, sigh­ing with con­tent­ment. And then I knew I had to read the book all over again.

I’ve been inter­est­ed in mak­ing things since I can first remem­ber. Whether I was cre­at­ing a peg­board town with my Playskool set or help­ing my grand­moth­er make pie crust or giv­ing my grand­fa­ther a hand in his shop, or sewing small items to dec­o­rate my Bar­bie doll house … I still feel best when my hands, mind, and heart are busy. When cre­ativ­i­ty is awake and sat­is­fied.

This book will serve as inspi­ra­tion, recog­ni­tion, and encour­age­ment. It will awak­en a dor­mant mak­er and help a per­sis­tent mak­er sit up and feel good about what they do.

VanDerwater’s poet­ry is under­stand­able. It reads out loud well. It is often brief. Her word choice is pal­pa­ble … I find myself cheer­ing her selec­tions.

The illus­tra­tions by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er are bril­liant. From the first spread, “Mak­er,” with the art based on fin­ger­prints (I can do that!) and a hill­side of clover, to the last spread “Shad­ow Show,” with its exam­ple of a shad­ow pup­pet that echoes spi­rals, the inspi­ra­tion for art-mak­ing is full of detail and sub­tle ideas to launch your own work. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy those spreads where two dis­parate poems are unit­ed by the illus­tra­tions. That pro­vides inspi­ra­tion, too!

My excite­ment lev­el after read­ing this book was high. Much like the Olympics cre­ate pos­si­bil­i­ties in young minds, this book encour­ages the can-do spir­it.

Poet­ry? Give the dif­fer­ent forms a try. Craft with words. Origa­mi? Leaf pic­tures? Mak­ing a piña­ta? Tie-dying? Soap carv­ing? The sub­tle humor in VanDerwater’s poet­ry and the John­son Fanch­ers’ art keeps read­ers’ spir­its high.


I cut a para­chute from plas­tic
tied my guy on with elas­tic
threw him from a win­dow (dras­tic)
watched him drift to earth — fan­tas­tic!”

The Army Guy tied to the plas­tic para­chute, drift­ing down to the boat fea­tured in the next poem … this is the kind of poet­ry every­one can enjoy, the inspi­ra­tion every­one needs.

With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things
writ­ten by Amy Lud­wig Van­Der­wa­ter
illus­trat­ed by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er
Clar­i­on Books, March 27, 2018
978 – 0544313408


The Magic Misfits

The Magic MisfitsI’m one of those peo­ple that often reads a celebri­ty-writ­ten book because I’d like to find one that defies the odds. How about you? Did you get over the won­der­ing at a cer­tain point? Or do you still give a new star-pow­ered book a try?

Sad­ly, I don’t often find a celebri­ty book I can rec­om­mend. This time, though, I’m prac­ti­cal­ly shout­ing: Read this book! It’s that good.

Neil Patrick Har­ris wrote The Mag­ic Mis­fits. As pres­i­dent of the Acad­e­my of Mag­i­cal Arts from 2011 to 2014, I sus­pect­ed the “mag­ic” might be more than a word for fan­ta­sy. It’s an inte­gral part of this mys­tery, woven deft­ly into the sto­ry. What’s more, there are mag­ic tricks after many of the chap­ters, pro­vid­ing step-by-step instruc­tions and tips for mak­ing the illu­sions seem real. And Har­ris intro­duces the book by let­ting read­ers know there are codes and ciphers with­in the text. Pay atten­tion!

Carter Locke is a young boy who loves mag­ic … and he’s taught him­self to be good with illu­sions. When he’s quite young his lov­ing par­ents dis­ap­pear, after which he goes to live with his uncle … who is a crook! Sylvester “Sly” Beat­on is self­ish and cru­el. He demands that Carter act as his shill in con­fi­dence games. Carter learns all of Uncle Sly’s moves but Carter makes a firm rule that he will nev­er steal. He has a strong com­pass for right and wrong. Life is intol­er­a­ble with Sly and Carter runs away, with­out hav­ing any idea where he’s going.

Rid­ing the rails, he ends up in Min­er­al Wells (There’s a MAP! I love maps.) where he meets Mr. Dante Ver­non, which is a very lucky hap­pen­stance. Carter is intro­duced to five oth­er young peo­ple his age, all of them prac­tic­ing some form of mag­ic. They are the Mag­ic Mis­fits, the first friends of his young life.

Min­er­al Wells is cur­rent­ly caught up in the fer­vor over B.B. Bosso’s Car­ni­val Spec­tac­u­lar. Tempt­ing peo­ple with cir­cus acts, sideshow odd­i­ties, and promis­es of prizes, Carter quick­ly real­izes the show is all based on fak­ery. When Bosso invites him to be a part of the Spec­tac­u­lar because of his mag­ic skills, Carter feels uncom­fort­able. He refus­es. Carter and the Mag­ic Mis­fits are deter­mined to save Min­er­al Wells from Bosso’s spell. There’s a strong sense of dan­ger in Har­ris’ sto­ry. He’s writ­ten a true page-turn­er.

I enjoyed the way the author speaks direct­ly to the read­er. From the begin­ning of Chap­ter Two:

Sur­prise! It’s time for a flash­back!

I under­stand how frus­trat­ing it is to pause a sto­ry right in the mid­dle of the action, but there are a few things you should know about Carter before I tell you what hap­pens next. Things like: Who is this kid? And why was he run­ning? And who is the man he was run­ning from? I promise we’ll get back to Carter’s escape soon enough. And if we don’t, I’ll let you lock me up in a tight strait­jack­et with no key. Oh, the hor­ror!”

The book reads like a movie: Lis­sy Mar­lin’s illus­tra­tions are pep­pered through­out, help­ing the read­er visu­al­ize just enough. Her char­ac­ters’ faces con­tribute depth to the sto­ry.

I hope this book wasn’t ghost-writ­ten. I want to know that Har­ris wrote the whole thing. I could hear his voice through­out the sto­ry, so I’m choos­ing to believe this is a celebri­ty-writ­ten book that far sur­pass­es oth­er star-pow­ered efforts. It’s a sol­id mid­dle-grade book. It’s charm­ing, fun­ny, com­pelling, and a tes­ta­ment to the pow­er of friend­ship. And I can learn mag­ic. Mag­ic Mis­fits: The Sec­ond Sto­ry comes out in Sep­tem­ber 2018. I already have it on order.

Mag­ic Mis­fits
Neil Patrick Har­ris
Little,Brown Books for Young Read­ers
Novem­ber 2017
ISBN 978 – 0316391825


The Secret Kingdom

The Secret KingdomThis book is irre­sistible. For all kinds of rea­sons.

Remem­ber when you were a kid, or maybe you do this now, how you’d take what­ev­er was at hand and cre­ate a house, a camp, an entire set­ting for you to play in? Where you could act out your sto­ries? Did you do this with found items from nature? Or things your fam­i­ly was throw­ing away? Did you scoop up cool fab­ric or papers to use when you need­ed them? Then this book is for you.

The author and illus­tra­tor tell the sto­ry of Nek Chand. It begins this way:

On the con­ti­nent of Asia, near the mighty Himalayas, in the Pun­jab region of long ago, sat the tiny vil­lage of Berian Kalan, the place Nek Chand Sai­ni called home.”

Claire A. Nevola, who is, I con­fess, one of my favorite illus­tra­tors because she knows how impor­tant the details are and seems to read my mind about what I need to know, begins with this illus­tra­tion.

from The Secret Kingdom, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

sculp­ture by Bri­an Mar­shall

As you can see on the cov­er of the book, there are bro­ken pots and rib­bons and warped bicy­cle wheels, just the sort of thing you and I might have col­lect­ed. Per­haps you still do. (Anoth­er con­fes­sion, I have a Pin­ter­est board where I keep exam­ples of char­ac­ters made from Found Objects, so col­lect­ing bits and scraps is always on my mind. Here’s one of the char­ac­ters I find so charm­ing.)

Barb Rosen­stock tells the sto­ry. Nek Chand is born a sto­ry­teller. He notices the peo­ple and the world around him. He appre­ci­ates his vil­lage and the peo­ple, the com­mu­ni­ty, with whom he lives. Until the Pun­jab is split into two coun­tries, Pak­istan and India. Nek’s vil­lage is in Pak­istan, which is now Mus­lim. His fam­i­ly is Hin­du. “The Sai­ni fam­i­ly fled at night, walk­ing for twen­ty-four days across the new bor­der into India. Nek car­ried only vil­lage sto­ries in his bro­ken heart.” 

We have seen cur­rent pho­tos. The night­ly news tells us sto­ries (not enough of them) of the peo­ple who are leav­ing their much-loved homes. The Secret King­dom takes place in 1947. It could be tak­ing place today.

What is most impor­tant about this book is that it the true sto­ry of what one man does to wrap him­self in the mem­o­ries of home. With much effort, Nek finds a spot in the jun­gle near his new town. Patient­ly, he begins to clear a space, col­lect dis­card­ed trea­sures and boul­ders from riverbeds, and “half-dead plants from the city dump.” He began to tell his sto­ries by cre­at­ing art, a sanc­tu­ary, a place he could feel at home. 

He’s built all this on gov­ern­ment land. After many years, he is dis­cov­ered, and the gov­ern­ment intends to demol­ish all of his art­work. 

Every­one in Chandi­garh learned his secret. Offi­cials were out­raged. Nek Chand Sai­ni should lose his job!

His King­dom would be destroyed.

Until the peo­ple of Chandi­garh came.”

That stopped my breath­ing. It was the peo­ple who rec­og­nized imme­di­ate­ly how impor­tant this secret king­dom of Nek Chand’s tru­ly was. And it was the peo­ple who worked to save it. 

At the end of the sto­ry, there is a tru­ly appro­pri­ate fold-out sec­tion with pho­tographs that will have you say­ing, “Yes! I under­stand why this had to be saved. I would have worked with the com­mu­ni­ty to do this.”

Nek Chand (pho­to: Gilles Prob­st, Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

A biog­ra­phy of Nek Chand is in the Author’s Note, help­ing the read­er under­stand how impor­tant and vital this man was. He died at age 90 in 2015. His art remains.

This is the sto­ry of what one per­son can do to pre­serve our sto­ries. It is also the sto­ry of how a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple can pro­tect, defend, and pre­serve what is tru­ly impor­tant to them. It is an irre­sistible true sto­ry.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for school and home.

The Secret King­dom: Nek Chand, a Chang­ing India, and a Hid­den World of Art
writ­ten by Barb Rosen­stock
illus­trat­ed  by Claire A. Nivola
pub­lished by Can­dlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978−0−7636−7475−5


Mighty Jack

Mighty Jack and the Goblin KingWe are thrust into the midst of the action, which nev­er stops until the epi­logue. This is how Ben Hatke tells a sto­ry.

We don’t know what’s going on. There’s no set­up. Instead, we quick­ly learn that Jack is climb­ing some veg­e­ta­tive mat­ter to find the ogre who kid­napped his sis­ter Mad­dy and take her home. His friend, Lil­ly, no side­kick, is climb­ing along­side him.

The vil­lains of the piece are rats, giants, and that ogre. They have con­trol of a nexus point that exists out­side of time and space, a con­nect­ing link between worlds. It looks like the tow­er of a cas­tle built on an aster­oid. The place has lost its lus­ter because of the giants’ nefar­i­ous choic­es, among them the need to feed a human child to the machine that blocks the bridges between worlds. It’s sat­is­fy­ing to dis­cov­er these plot points through­out the sto­ry.

Jack and Lil­ly are split up when Lil­ly falls from the vine (a rat is respon­si­ble). Jack vows to come back for her but he is com­pelled to find Mad­dy.

This is not earth,” illus­tra­tion from Jack and the Mighty Gob­lin King by Ben Hatke

The adven­ture takes off in two direc­tions. Lil­ly is seri­ous­ly hurt by the rats … and saved by the gob­lins who inhab­it the low­er reach­es of the nexus point. The Gob­lin King demands that Lil­ly will be his bride. She has oth­er ideas. In the “trash from all worlds,” she finds a Shel­by Mus­tang. She will find a way to take it with her. Lil­ly is a hero in the truest sense of the word.

The gob­lins are the most endear­ing char­ac­ters in the book. They are fun­ny, resource­ful, knowl­edge­able, and they care for Lil­ly. Their lan­guage is not exact­ly Eng­lish and it suits them. Now we know how gob­lins com­mu­ni­cate.

There are unan­swered ques­tions. Why can’t Mad­dy talk? Where did the mag­ic seeds come from that give Jack and Lil­ly short bursts of need­ed pow­er? Why is Jack’s mother’s house being fore­closed? These are the intrigu­ing bits that encour­age the read­er to fill in the sto­ry, becom­ing one with the sto­ry­teller.

Hatke’s art­work is so much a part of the sto­ry that the book couldn’t be read out loud with­out show­ing the frames of the graph­ic nov­el. His brain cre­ates exot­ic set­tings that invite lin­ger­ing to absorb their odd­ness. His vil­lains are das­tard­ly, fear­some, invit­ing us to defeat them. The gob­lins are oth­er-world­ly but a lit­tle cud­dly. (Just a lit­tle.) The col­or palette is spacey where appro­pri­ate,  con­vinc­ing­ly sub­ter­ranean when we’re in the goblin’s habi­tat, and quite rich­ly appeal­ing when the veg­e­ta­tion trans­forms. And that Shel­by Mus­tang!

The book is filled with sur­pris­es. A turn of the page often brings an unex­pect­ed turn of events. Even the epi­logue, often used to wrap up a sto­ry and tell us about the future, leaves us with a  sense of urgency: what will hap­pen next?

There is a first book, Mighty Jack, which I have not read. It most like­ly cre­ates the world in which Lil­ly, Jack, Mad­dy, and Phe­lix the drag­on (!) live, but I’m very glad that a read­er does­n’t have to first read that book to enjoy this one. I always hat­ed going to my cousin Sig’s house, read­ing his com­ic books, nev­er know­ing where the sto­ries were com­ing from or how they would end because they were pub­lished episod­i­cal­ly. 

This is sto­ry­telling at its very best. Appeal­ing, fun, hold-your-breath sto­ry­telling. I could have revealed that this is a re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk sto­ry but it is so much more than that. Ben Hatke’s pow­ers enchant his read­ers once again.

(Please be advised that this might have a PG13 rat­ing because of some vio­lence and one swear word. You’ll know best if this fits for your fam­i­ly.)

Mighty Jack and the Gob­lin King
a graph­ic nov­el by Ben Hatke
col­or by Alex Camp­bell and Hilary Sycamore
pub­lished by First Sec­ond, 2017
ISBN 978−1−6267−226−68


Me, All Alone, Reading This Book

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World

Some­times, the illus­tra­tions are won­der­ful but the lan­guage is cap­ti­vat­ing. You know how you read a pic­ture book and you can’t decide which part to focus on? Should you look at the pic­ture first? Should you read the sto­ry because it’s the thread that’s pulling you through?

Well, when you read “He was a long-leggedy man with a wide, wide hat and a beard in a cir­cle around his head. His glass­es reflect­ed the clouds,” the impe­tus is strong to read the sto­ry first and come back to look at the illus­tra­tions lat­er.

But then you peek at the illus­tra­tions and you real­ize there is always some­thing extra-ordi­nary going on in them. A branch is real­ly a worm-like crea­ture about to devour a pot of gold.

There is being alone, and there is lone­ly, and there is being busy, and there is a world of daz­zle and FUN. This is a book that explores each of those parts of life. The noise and the qui­et. The rau­cous gai­ety and the art of lis­ten­ing. The fun you sign up for and the joy you find and the nev­er-before-noticed amaze­ments you explore.

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World

This is a sto­ry book. It has a longer text which I believe is just right for read­ing out loud. The lan­guage is a rev­e­la­tion. It’s a para­ble of our mod­ern world. And then you real­ize, the sto­ry and the illus­tra­tions are vital to each oth­er. You can read this book again and again to notice a new phrase in Mr. Anderson’s writ­ing, a small ele­ment of won­der in Mr. Hawke’s art. This is a book that tells a sto­ry that means some­thing. It’s a trea­sure.

I missed this book when it was first pub­lished in 2005. Can­dlewick has reis­sued it. Don’t you miss it now.

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World
writ­ten by M.T. Ander­son
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Can­dlewick Press, 2005; reis­sued, 2017


The Best Wish of All

World PizzaOnce in awhile I find a book on my read­ing pile that I’ve passed by a few times. It might be that the cov­er doesn’t make sense to me and I shuf­fle through to choose anoth­er title. Or the title might be sil­ly (in my mind) and I don’t open the book because some­thing else catch­es my inter­est. And then one day I open that book and I dis­cov­er that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cov­er. (Is there a truer tru­ism?)

This time that book is World Piz­za. It’s going to be about the dif­fer­ent kinds of piz­za around the world, right? It is not. There’s a clever play on words in the title which I wouldn’t have dis­cov­ered if I hadn’t opened the book and read it. (Note to self: open the book and read it!)

You see, World Piz­za is a love­ly book. It’s a tiny bit sil­ly, enough to keep those being read to smil­ing, but it’s real­ly a book about peace (I can’t fig­ure out how to rec­om­mend this book with­out giv­ing that away). A moth­er makes a wish and sneezes, result­ing in piz­zas for every­one, every­where. It’s a book about what we have in com­mon and how that brings us togeth­er and how that’s more impor­tant than what keeps us apart.

Cece Meng’s sto­ry is told with the right kind of words, words that tell the sto­ry as it should be told, which are words that get the read­er think­ing. And smil­ing. They are not preachy words. Not at all. It’s a hap­py book and we all need hap­py books.

Ellen Shi’s illus­tra­tions of a diverse pop­u­la­tion of char­ac­ters around the world eat­ing and cel­e­brat­ing piz­za, as well as piz­za com­bi­na­tions you’ve nev­er con­sid­ered before, open the reader’s mind to all the pos­si­bil­i­ties of World Piz­za. They are some­times fun­ny and some­times gen­tle in all the right ways, cre­at­ing a sto­ry that leaves an impres­sion. And her col­or palette is yum­my.

I can eas­i­ly see this book being asked for again and again. Who doesn’t want to hear a sto­ry about piz­za for every­one? And who doesn’t want to be reas­sured about the good­ness in this world we live in?

World Piz­za
writ­ten by Cece Meng
illus­trat­ed by Ellen Shi
Ster­ling’s Chil­dren’s Books, 2017


Summer Travel

Kids' Book of QuestionsHere are three words that may be loom­ing large in your mind: Long. Car. Trip. You’re pack­ing games, snacks, an audio book or two, sev­er­al books to take turns read­ing out loud, and … The Kids’ Book of Ques­tions.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid and we went on long car trips (near­ly every week­end), I read a lot (which must have been bor­ing for my mom), but the two of us also sang songs, talked over the week we had just explored, and, if we were head­ing to fam­i­ly, expec­ta­tions for behav­ior. But that only took so long.

It would have been great to have this book to delve into. Depend­ing on your kids’ ages, it would be a good idea to let fam­i­ly mem­bers browse through the book to pick a ques­tion to have each per­son answer in turn.

TKids' Book of Questionshe author, Dr. Gre­go­ry Stock, Ph.D., has an inter­est in life sci­ence, med­i­cine, tech­nol­o­gy, and dis­cus­sions about val­ues. He speaks fre­quent­ly at schools and on radio and tele­vi­sion. This book was first pub­lished in 1988, a fol­low-up to the adult ver­sion, The Book of Ques­tions. Now it’s been updat­ed to include ques­tions about the inter­net and school vio­lence and cli­mate change.

If you were rid­ing your  bike and acci­den­tal­ly ran into some­one else’s bike and wrecked it — but no one saw you — what would you do?”

What is the wildest and cra­zi­est thing you’ve ever done? Would you like to do it again?”

Whether you use them as con­ver­sa­tion starters, com­po­nents of a game, or just a way to pass the time, you might find this book a handy tuck-in for your Long. Car. Trip. this year. I know we’re tak­ing it along.

The Kids’ Book of Ques­tions
writ­ten by Gre­go­ry Stock, Ph.D.
Work­man Pub­lish­ing, 2015


Superheroes and Bad Days

Even Superheroes Have Bad DaysI don’t know about you, but I’ve been wish­ing for an hon­est-to-good­ness super­hero to save the day.

If adults are feel­ing that way, kids, who pick up all of our emo­tions, are wish­ing for the same thing. Bat­man and Won­der Woman led the list of most pop­u­lar Hal­loween cos­tumes in 2016. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of super­hero movies is hard to ignore. But there are very few books about super­heroes that are appro­pri­ate for the 3 – 7 year age range.

With rhyming text and a car­toon illus­tra­tion style that has a sophis­ti­cat­ed palette and deli­cious details, Even Super­heroes Have Bad Days is a book every­one can use right NOW. For kids of that cer­tain age, Shelly Beck­er and Eda Kaban have teamed up to give us a row­dy, exu­ber­ant book filled with images of super­heroes in action.

We first learn what they could do when they’re hav­ing a bad day: kick­ing, punch­ing, pound­ing, shriek­ing. They could be quite destruc­tive with their super­pow­ers.

But upset heroes have all sorts of choic­es …
Instead of destruc­tion and loud, livid voic­es
They burn angry steam off with speed-of-light hik­ing
Or super-Xtreme out­er space moun­tain bik­ing. “

They clean up oth­er people’s mess­es, they pro­tect peo­ple from harm.

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days

There’s no deny­ing that super­heroes could use their pow­ers to wreak hav­oc, make may­hem, but:

Instead they dig down to their super-best part,
The strong super-pow­ers con­tained in their heart!”

There are lots of images to look at while you read togeth­er, includ­ing eight super­heroes cre­at­ed just for this book. Beast­ie, Zing, Thrash, Laser­man Mag­nifique, Screech­er, Typhoon, and Icky are good writ­ing prompts, espe­cial­ly for dif­fi­cult days.

Every sin­gle one of us has those crab­by days, down days, exas­per­at­ed days. How are we sup­posed to act? We can look to these super­heroes for inspi­ra­tion to be our best selves.

Cap­tain Amer­i­ca and Avengers star Chris Evans chose to read this book on the CBee­bies ‘Bed­time Sto­ry’ on the BCC!

Fun and emo­tions and resilien­cy and good read­ing all in one pack­age! It’s a mes­sage book but one that will res­onate with many kids. Rec­om­mend­ed for school libraries, pub­lic libraries, and exu­ber­ant book­shelves every­where.

Even Super­heroes Have Bad Days
writ­ten by Shelly Beck­er
illus­trat­ed by Eda Kaban
Ster­ling Chil­dren’s Books, 2016


Chef Roy Choi’s Story

Chef Roy ChoiEvery time I re-read this book, it makes me hap­pi­er. I’ve grown quite fond of the books being pub­lished by Read­ers to Eaters and I eager­ly antic­i­pate each new book.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is anoth­er food arti­san biog­ra­phy from Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin, this time co-writ­ten with June Jo Lee. Jack­ie writes the fla­vor­ful essence of the artist in an irre­sistible recipe of words. June Jo is a food ethno­g­ra­ph­er, “study­ing how Amer­i­ca eats,” and the co-founder of Read­ers to Eaters. As a kid-at-heart, I want a biog­ra­phy writ­ten about her next. Study­ing food?

But this book is about a boy born in South Korea who trav­els to Amer­i­ca at age two with his fam­i­ly and attends school in Cal­i­for­nia. His moth­er is a tal­ent­ed cook, spe­cial­iz­ing in kim­chee, a Kore­an food sta­ple. Her cook­ing is so good that she and her hus­band open a restau­rant. And Roy is fas­ci­nat­ed by what hap­pens there.

He becomes a chef. The authors relate his jour­ney in a way that every kid will under­stand. Even­tu­al­ly, Chef Roy Choi launch­es the Kogi BBQ Taco Truck with a mix­ture of Kore­an and Mex­i­can food. He pre­pares ingre­di­ents by hand, with love, to share with his com­mu­ni­ty. Healthy fast food is a rare thing in his neigh­bor­hood and Kogi is a hit.

One of the main ingre­di­ents for this LA-con­nect­ed book is street art turned into book art by Man One. Don’t miss the authors’ and illustrator’s notes in this book. They will have your stu­dents want­i­ng to know more about these tal­ent­ed book cre­ators. The art in this book (I’m para­phras­ing from his Note) start­ed with spray-paint­ing the back­grounds on large can­vas­es, pho­tograph­ing them, and then work­ing with them dig­i­tal­ly, adding pen­cil and Sharpie to cre­ate tru­ly unique pic­ture book art. He includes many scenes from his com­mu­ni­ty — you can sense the love imbu­ing these pages. His palette, the tex­tures … they’re yum­my.

This is a book filled with so much respect for read­ers, eaters, and kids with aspi­ra­tions … it’s com­plete­ly sat­is­fy­ing.

Don’t miss this for your inspi­ra­tional school and class­room library!

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
writ­ten by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and June Jo Lee
illus­trat­ed by Man One
Read­ers to Eaters, 2017.


March Shorts

Oooo! Here in Min­neso­ta, shorts in March mean chills. These books will give you chills – in a good way!

Cat Goes Fiddle-I-FeeCat Goes Fid­dle-I-Fee
Adapt­ed and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gal­done
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1985
(reis­sued in April 2017)

I rec­og­nized the title imme­di­ate­ly as I song I know well, sung as “I Had a Roost­er” by Pete Seeger on Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Lit­tle Fish­es in 1968. Turns out, I remem­ber the rhyme more than the words. Gal­done wrote a dif­fer­ent adap­ta­tion of this folk tale, one that is irre­sistible for read­ing out loud. In fact, even if you’re sit­ting alone in a room by your­self, you’re going to want to read this out loud. The words and the rhyme scheme are fun. Kids at sto­ry­time and kids in a class­room and kids sit­ting on your lap will want to sing along … and quite pos­si­bly dance. In this new edi­tion, Gal­done’s illus­tra­tions are friend­ly. Find the snail. Who shares the page with the dog? There are many ani­mals to exam­ine and they don’t always make the expect­ed sounds: “Hen goes chim­my-chuck, chim­my-chuck.” As the tale builds cumu­la­tive­ly, it’s a good exer­cise in mem­o­ry and rep­e­ti­tion, and just plain fun. Turns out it’s a dif­fer­ent sto­ry than Seeger’s so both of them could be used. 

Hoot & Honk Just Can't SleepHoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leslie Helakos­ki
Ster­ling Chil­dren’s Books, 2017

Two eggs, one from an owl’s nest and one from a goose’s nest, tum­ble to the ground dur­ing a wind storm. When the mamas take home the wrong eggs, the hatch­lings are con­fused. The owlet does­n’t like the food the oth­er goslings like and the gosling does­n’t want what the owlets are hun­gry for. And their sleep pat­terns are quite dif­fer­ent. A won­der­ful way to open up the dis­cus­sion about dif­fer­ent birds with young lis­ten­ers, this is a gor­geous book with a hap­py-go-lucky spir­it. Illus­trat­ed by Helakos­ki with pas­tels on sand­ed paper, the col­or is sump­tu­ous, the views have depth, and every­one’s going to want to touch the bird’s feath­ers. And who can resist the main char­ac­ters’ names? Hoot. Honk. Hoot and Honk. 

Charlotte the Scientist is SquishedChar­lotte the Sci­en­tist is Squished
writ­ten by Camille Andros
illus­trat­ed by Bri­anne Far­ley
Clar­i­on Books, 2017

I squealed after I read this book. This is exact­ly the book I would have read and re-read when I was a kid. The fly papers are dia­grams of the inside of a rock­et, labeled care­ful­ly so there’s much to pon­der. Char­lotte is a bun­ny rab­bit with a prob­lem. She is a seri­ous sci­en­tist with no room to con­duct her work. She has a large fam­i­ly, as some bun­nies do, and they’re always under­foot. So Char­lotte employs the Sci­en­tif­ic Method to solve her prob­lem. She cre­ates a hypoth­e­sis and tried her exper­i­ment and draws a con­clu­sion. And all of this is done with a great amount of humor sup­plied by the author and the illus­tra­tor, a seam­less sto­ry. That car­rot-shaped rock­et is delight­ful and so is the bun­ny in the fish­bowl. At the end of the book, there’s a fea­ture “In the lab with Char­lotte,” that uses Char­lot­te’s exper­i­ments for a dis­cus­sion of the sci­en­tif­ic method. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Anywhere FarmAny­where Farm
writ­ten by Phyl­lis Root
illus­trat­ed by G. Bri­an Karas
Can­dlewick Press, 2017

Where can you farm? Any­where! Togeth­er, Root and Karas present con­vinc­ing argu­ments for grow­ing your own food wher­ev­er and how­ev­er you can. “For an any­where farm, here’s all that you need: soil and sun­shine, some water, a seed.“With soft vignettes that look close­ly at ways and means to plant seeds, “Kale in a pail, corn in a horn,” to cir­cu­lar depic­tions of neigh­bors tend­ing their small-scale farms, to two-page spreads that show an urban com­mu­ni­ty involved in gar­den­ing, the blend of poet­ry and illus­tra­tions make this book an appeal­ing invi­ta­tion to try your hand at farm­ing … any­where. Read­ers will have fun detect­ing all the places grow­ing plants can be sup­port­ed. As kids and adults of all ages and abil­i­ties work togeth­er, the lush end to this book is a sat­is­fy­ing one. Excuse me, won’t you? I’m off to ger­mi­nate my seeds!

writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Anna Walk­er
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017 paper­back

I pro­nounce this a Pic­ture-Book-of-the-Absurd, delight­ful­ly so. “Peg­gy lived in a small house on a qui­et street.” Her chick­en coop in the back­yard of a sub­ur­ban house has a tram­po­line out­side. “Every day, rain or shine, Peg­gy ate break­fast, played in her yard, and watched the pigeons.” In a series of nine “slides” (do you remem­ber slides?) on each page, we observe Peg­gy doing just these things … with joy and When Peg­gy is blown off her tram­po­line by a strong wind into the unfa­mil­iar envi­ron­ment of down­town, does she pan­ic? No. She takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore. In vignettes, Peg­gy eats spaghet­ti, she rides an esca­la­tor, and she shops for bar­gains. The soft, mut­ed water­col­or palette of the book is punc­tu­at­ed by Peg­gy’s black feath­ers, mak­ing her easy to fol­low as she ulti­mate­ly decides she’d rather be at home. But how will she get there? Clues plant­ed ear­li­er in the sto­ry give her ideas and ulti­mate­ly she finds her way back to her chick­en coop with new-found friends. This is an ide­al book for shar­ing one-on-one, exam­in­ing the humor on every page as the intre­pid Peg­gy shares her sto­ry.

writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Taee­un Yoo
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017

Do any of us spend enough time notic­ing the nat­ur­al world around us? Do we look at the shape of things? Do we won­der enough about why they are in the shapes they are? What about all of the round things in the world? The moon. water, lily pads, rocks … so many spe­cif­ic things to notice, observe, and appre­ci­ate. Joyce Sid­man’s poem leads the lis­ten­er into this explo­ration: “I love to watch round things move. They are so good at it!” Yoo’s illus­tra­tions find things to show us that are not in the text … words and illus­tra­tions blend­ing togeth­er into a book that is more than its parts. Col­or­ful and charm­ing, the book’s design gets every­thing right. Even the author’s bios on the back jack­et flap are pre­sent­ed in round shapes! Two pages in back ask “Why are so many things in nature round?” Short para­graphs from the author will broad­en your vision, lead­ing to dis­cus­sions and notic­ing more each time you walk out­side.

If You Were the MoonIf You Were the Moon
writ­ten by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas
illus­trat­ed by Jaime Kim
Mill­brook Press, 2017

From the glossy cov­er to the moon’s expres­sive face to the brack­et­ed, you-did­n’t-know-that facts, every­thing about this book is appeal­ing. Salas has a way of look­ing at some­thing as famil­iar as the moon while encour­ag­ing us to think about it in fresh ways, poet­i­cal­ly obser­vant, wak­ing-you-up ways. The moon as a bal­le­ri­na? Of course, and for very good rea­son. In brack­ets, the facts: “The moon spins on its invis­i­ble axis, mak­ing a full turn every twen­ty-sev­en days.” Kim illus­trates this spread with a con­tent­ed, bal­let-danc­ing moon that can’t help but make the read­er smile. “Weave a spell over won­der­ers.”? The brack­et inspires us with “Claire de Lune” and “The Moon is Dis­tant from the Sea.” The illus­tra­tion shows the Baule peo­ple of the Ivory Coast in fes­ti­val masks. All of this is set in the vibrant col­ors of a moon­lit night. It’s an inspir­ing book pre­sent­ed with the right bal­ance for kids who love a poet­ic pre­sen­ta­tion as well as fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion.


I’ve Been Enchanted

The Hotel CatThis is a rare admis­sion from me because it’s about a book whose main char­ac­ters are ani­mals. I’ve stat­ed before in this col­umn that ani­mal books have nev­er been a favorite of mine, even as a child. Sure­ly there are oth­ers of you out there who are too shy to admit the same thing?

In my deter­mi­na­tion to read old­er children’s books that I haven’t read before, I’ve just fin­ished a book that has shown me I can adore books about ani­mals: The Hotel Cat by Esther Aver­ill, a Jenny’s Cat Club book. First pub­lished in 1969, this is the penul­ti­mate book in Averill’s 13-book series that begins with The Cat Club, pub­lished in 1944.

I liked this one so well that I’m going to track down all of the oth­er books that come before it and some of Averill’s oth­er books as well.

Her cats are always cats. Even though they speak cat talk, and at least in The Hotel Cat they can talk with a human who under­stands cat talk, their thoughts and dia­logue and actions always seem cat-like.

Tom, the stray who wan­ders into the Roy­al Hotel, an old­er but gen­teel 300-room hotel in Green­wich Vil­lage, is wel­comed by Fred, the jan­i­tor, and giv­en a place to stay. Tom even­tu­al­ly explores the hotel, stay­ing out of sight of the humans, until kind and thought­ful Mrs. Wilkins, a long-term res­i­dent of the hotel, dis­cov­ers him in the ball­room. The two become ten­der-heart­ed friends because Mrs. Wilkins is that char­ac­ter who under­stands cat talk. She meets Tom late each night for a con­ver­sa­tion, always remem­ber­ing to bring Tom a treat.

It’s the win­ter of the Big Freeze, and neigh­bor­ing res­i­dents are mov­ing to the hotel with their cats because their boil­ers are burst­ing. Tom is very pro­tec­tive of his hotel until Mrs. Wilkins encour­ages him to be friend­ly, an accom­mo­dat­ing and com­pas­sion­ate host. Three of the new hotel guests are Jen­ny Lin­sky and her broth­ers Edward and Check­ers.

Esther Averill

illus­tra­tion copy­right Esther Aver­ill

It’s a book about mak­ing friends and shar­ing and learn­ing how to talk in a kind and thought­ful way. Tom wor­ries about los­ing his new friends when all the boil­ers are fixed. He learns about the Cat Club and tries hard not to feel left out. These are all feel­ings every child knows well.

Because Averill’s writ­ing is so spare, with words appro­pri­ate­ly evoca­tive, this book (and pre­sum­ably the oth­ers) would make a great read-aloud for class­rooms and fam­i­lies. What fun it is to read the cat talk out loud!

Esther AverillAnd now that I’ve fall­en in love with her writ­ing, I had to know more about the author and illus­tra­tor. I’ll keep look­ing for more infor­ma­tion about Esther Aver­ill but I’m already fas­ci­nat­ed by what I’ve found.

She grad­u­at­ed from Vas­sar Col­lege, wrote for Women’s Wear Dai­ly, then moved to Paris. There, she found­ed Domi­no Press to pub­lish children’s books with Euro­pean illus­tra­tors. She paid as much atten­tion to book design and pro­duc­tion as she did to con­tent and illus­tra­tion — the books were top­notch. When Nazis threat­ened to over­take Paris, Aver­ill returned to the Unit­ed States and once again pub­lished books through Domi­no Press. She went to work at the New York Pub­lic Library and then began writ­ing and illus­trat­ing her own books. Don’t you want to invite her to lunch?

Here’s an arti­cle that Ms. Aver­ill wrote for The Horn Book in 1957. If you won­der about the dis­tinc­tion between pic­ture books, illus­trat­ed books, and pic­ture sto­ry­books, this arti­cle will enlight­en you. In it, she crit­i­cal­ly reviewed the Calde­cott win­ners from 1938 to 1957. 

I enjoyed this arti­cle by Ani­ta Sil­vey about Jen­ny and the Cat Club for Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac

You can research Esther Aver­il­l’s work, includ­ing The Hotel Cat, at the Ker­lan Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta and at the DeGrum­mond Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Mis­sis­sip­pi.


The Hotel Cat 
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Esther Aver­ill
The New York Review of Books, 2005
orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1969


Those Kennedys

Patrick and the PresidentAmer­i­ca has a fine tra­di­tion of elect­ed offi­cials who care deeply about the peo­ple, places, and poli­cies of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Two recent books high­light the good works of, and respect for, Jacque­line Bou­vi­er Kennedy Onas­sis and John Fitzger­ald Kennedy, the First Lady and Pres­i­dent from 1961 to 1963. Although Pres­i­dent Kennedy was assas­si­nat­ed just two short years into his term as Pres­i­dent, the First Lady con­tin­ued her work for the ben­e­fit of the peo­ple through­out her life.

In Patrick and the Pres­i­dent, Ire­land’s Late Late Show host, Ryan Tubridy, has writ­ten his first chil­dren’s book about Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s vis­it to his ances­tral home­land, Ire­land. In June of 1963, Pres­i­dent Kennedy spent four days in var­i­ous cities, vis­it­ing sites and meet­ing peo­ple. This book shares one boy’s expe­ri­ence of meet­ing the Pres­i­dent.

Patrick Kennedy, John’s great-grand­fa­ther, left Ire­land in 1848 aboard a famine ship. Many peo­ple in Ire­land relied sole­ly on pota­toes as their food source, so when a blight affect­ed the pota­to crop, near­ly one mil­lion peo­ple starved to death and one mil­lion peo­ple emi­grat­ed to Amer­i­ca. The immi­grants retained a strong love for their orig­i­nal coun­try, which they passed along to their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. John F. Kennedy’s deci­sion to vis­it Ire­land was her­ald­ed by Irish peo­ple on both sides of the ocean.

The lan­guage of this sto­ry beau­ti­ful­ly por­trays the excite­ment the entire town felt as they wel­comed this world-famous Irish descen­dant back to the land of his roots. Patrick, the boy in the sto­ry, will be part of the chil­dren’s choir singing “The Boys of Wex­ford” when the Pres­i­dent vis­its … and his father nego­ti­ates a chance for Patrick to help serve tea to the Pres­i­dent when he vis­its the Ryans and Kennedys in New Ross. Emo­tions are high and expec­ta­tions are tense: who will get to talk with “Him­self”?

Tubridy is the author of a book writ­ten for adults: JFK in Ire­land: Four Days That Changed a Pres­i­dent. The infor­ma­tion here is dis­tilled in a way that feels per­son­al and imme­di­ate. Every child will iden­ti­fy with young Patrick, know­ing full well what it feels like to have high hopes for some­thing.

P.J. Lynch, cur­rent­ly the Chil­dren’s Lau­re­ate of Ire­land, con­tributes near­ly pho­to­graph­ic illus­tra­tions of Patrick, his fam­i­ly, the heli­copters, the Pres­i­dent, and the food.

There are two pages in the back mat­ter that list Kennedy’s itin­er­ary dur­ing his four-day vis­it, along with three sepia-toned pho­tos. Don’t miss read­ing this infor­ma­tion — it’s quite inter­est­ing.

The close­ups and focus on Patrick and his fam­i­ly bring a pal­pa­ble excite­ment to the book, which encour­ages read­ing through­out a some­what long but ulti­mate­ly sat­is­fy­ing text. This would make a good read-aloud for dis­cussing sev­er­al things in class. Who was Pres­i­dent Kennedy? What do fam­i­lies mean to us? From where did our fore­bears immi­grate? What do these con­nec­tions across oceans and time mean for our world?

Patrick and the Pres­i­dent
writ­ten by Ryan Tubridy, illus­trat­ed by P.J. Lynch
Can­dlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978−0−7636−8949−0, $16.99

The inte­ri­or of Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion in New York City, © Char­lotte Leaper | Dreamstime.com

Natasha Wing wrote one of my favorite pic­ture book biogra­phies, An Eye for Col­or: the Sto­ry of Josef Albers, so I was excit­ed to learn that she has writ­ten a book about his­toric preser­va­tion, star­ring none oth­er than Jacque­line Kennedy Onas­sis.

When Jackie Saved Grand CentralAs First Lady of the Unit­ed States for two years, she cap­tured the atten­tion and imag­i­na­tion of every news­pa­per, mag­a­zine, and news­reel in the land. Women adopt­ed her fash­ion sense and hair­style. She did a great deal to restore the grandeur of the White House and would undoubt­ed­ly have done more had she been in res­i­dence there longer.

Return­ing to live in New York City, the city in which she grew up, Mrs. Kennedy learned that Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion was in dan­ger of being altered with a sky­scraper built on its roof!

Like a pow­er­ful loco­mo­tive, Jack­ie led the charge to pre­serve the land­mark she and New York City loved. She joined city lead­ers and found­ed the Com­mit­tee to Save Grand Cen­tral. She spoke at press con­fer­ences and made head­lines.

She inspired cit­i­zens to donate mon­ey. When peo­ple across the Unit­ed States saw their fash­ion­able for­mer First Lady cham­pi­oning her cause, New York City’s fight became Amer­i­ca’s fight.”

In oth­er words, only Jacque­line Kennedy could pro­mote a cause in a way that result­ed in the Nation­al His­toric Preser­va­tion Act of 1966, under which Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion could find the pro­tec­tion it need­ed to be restored to its for­mer grandeur. 

The text is writ­ten with such clar­i­ty and verve that the read­er will want to look for an his­toric build­ing of their own to save! An exten­sive author’s note pro­vides more infor­ma­tion that will prompt some chil­dren to adopt this as a cause of their own.

The illus­tra­tions by Alexan­dra Boiger are ener­getic and whim­si­cal, all the while using col­or to sub­tly empha­size parts of the sto­ry. In “A Note from the Illus­tra­tor,” you’ll find much to dis­cuss about the col­ors she uses while you pore back over the book to find exam­ples.

For a class­room, this is a ter­rif­ic way to begin talk­ing about the build­ings we see every day, why they are impor­tant to a com­mu­ni­ty, and what they mean for our future.

When Jack­ie Saved Grand Cen­tral:
The True Sto­ry of Jacque­line Kennedy’s Fight for an Amer­i­can Icon

writ­ten by Natasha Wing, illus­trat­ed by Alexan­dra Boiger
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017


Graphic Storytelling


Fish GirlA good graph­ic nov­el should pose a mys­tery.

As it opens (last pos­si­ble minute), the read­er often has no clue what’s going on.

It’s often an unknown world, even if it looks like our world.

This isn’t that dif­fer­ent than the open­ing of a con­ven­tion­al print book but, for some rea­son, peo­ple often react to graph­ic nov­els by telling me, “I can’t read them! I nev­er know what’s going on.”

What is there about adding con­tin­u­al visu­als that caus­es some oth­er­wise avid read­ers to throw a graph­ic nov­el aside with such dis­fa­vor?

This ques­tion is an intrigu­ing one for me. In our Chap­ter & Verse Book Club, we read at least one graph­ic nov­el each year, usu­al­ly with an under­cur­rent of grum­bling. I know which of our mem­bers won’t like the book, which of them won’t open the book, and which of them will do their best to like the book. Some will even love the book.

Why such a wide range of respons­es based on the visu­al aspect of the book? And the dia­logue nature of the sto­ry?

I recent­ly fin­ished David Wies­ner and Don­na Jo Napoli’s Fish Girl. The open­ing is bewil­der­ing. What is going on? I find this sat­is­fy­ing.

When I fin­ished, I turned imme­di­ate­ly to re-read it, to fig­ure out where I first fig­ured it out. What were the clues? Were they visu­al or ver­bal or a com­bi­na­tion of both? I’m not going to tell you, of course. That’s your read­ing jour­ney. But I was par­tic­u­lar­ly fond of the way in which Fish Girl (dare I say it?) unwinds.

As a long time fan­ta­sy read­er, I’m famil­iar with sto­ries in this seg­ment of the genre. (I’m try­ing not to reveal too much so I’m pur­pose­ful­ly not nam­ing that seg­ment.) 

About the  book, David Wies­ner writes, “I tried sev­er­al times to devel­op a pic­ture book around these com­po­nents (draw­ings of char­ac­ters, scenes, and set­tings to go with an image of a house filled with water where fish are swim­ming) but the house full of fish turned out to be a com­plex image, sug­gest­ing sto­ries too long and involved for the pic­ture book for­mat. The log­i­cal next step was to see it as a graph­ic nov­el.”

Many of the peo­ple who don’t care for graph­ic nov­els love pic­ture books. Per­haps under­stand­ing graph­ic nov­els as a pic­ture book for telling longer, more com­plex sto­ries will help them appre­ci­ate this form more?

In Fish Girl, the water­col­or-paint­ed frames are clear and visu­al­ly beau­ti­ful. The char­ac­ters are well-delin­eat­ed. The dia­logue is involv­ing. The mys­ter­ies lead the way. Why does this girl, who lives with fish and an octo­pus inside of a house filled with water, named Ocean Won­ders, seem to be a pris­on­er? Why can’t she leave? Why does Nep­tune set so many rules? Are sto­ries the true rea­son that Fish Girl stays in her prison?

Wies­ner’s paint­ings pro­vide focus in an involv­ing way through­out the book. The ocean is brood­ing, beau­ti­ful, and beck­on­ing. Fish Girl is lone­ly, a lone­li­ness every read­er will rec­og­nize. The expres­sions of lone­li­ness, bewil­der­ment, friend­ship, and long­ing are beguil­ing. When I con­sid­er how long it would take me to draw and paint just one of these frames and then look at how many frames are employed to tell this sto­ry, I could well imag­ine that David Wies­ner has been work­ing on this book for five years. I won­der what the truth of that is? 

It’s a book that many read­ers, young and old, will enjoy. I believe it would be a good read-aloud if all lis­ten­ers can see the book and help turn the pages. Fish Girl is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. And I will keep look­ing for graph­ic nov­els that will con­vert even their most reluc­tant read­ers!

Fish Girl
David Wies­ner and Don­na Jo Napoli
Clar­i­on Books, March 7, 2017
(I read an Advanced Read­er’s Copy.)
ISBN 978−0−544−81512−4 $25 hard­cov­er
ISBN 978−0−547−48393−1 $18 paper­back


The Delight of Reading Older Books

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?

One of my favorite types of read­ing is to go back and read books I’ve missed from years ago. I once spent an entire sum­mer read­ing books that were pub­lished in the 1950s. I had such a strong feel­ing of the decade after read­ing those books that I felt more con­nect­ed to peo­ple who lived then. That feel­ing of con­nec­tion is very sat­is­fy­ing to me.

Do you do a sim­i­lar kind of read­ing?

This last hol­i­day sea­son, I did anoth­er dive into books pub­lished in decades past. There’s some­thing very com­fort­ing about read­ing these books. I fre­quent­ly scout out arti­cles where peo­ple talk about the books they’ve loved from their child­hood. If I haven’t read them, they go on a list and I seek them out. Some­times I have to scout used book stores but the books are all eas­i­ly obtain­able.

My most recent delight was Who Stole the Wiz­ard of Oz? by Avi. It was first pub­lished in 1981. I had­n’t read it before. It holds up well today. In fact, I would read­i­ly put this book in the hands of any child, aged 7 and old­er, who enjoys a mys­tery. Set in a small town, twin sib­lings Becky and Toby set out to solve a crime that’s pre­sent­ed on page one and is wrapped up neat­ly 115 pages lat­er.

The crime takes place in a library and so does much of the action. Becky and Toby solve the crime on their own, with­out help from grown-ups. They ques­tion adults. They apply their brains. They dis­cuss (and bick­er) and ulti­mate­ly end up on a stake-out.

To arrive at the solu­tion, they read five clas­sic books: Through the Look­ing Glass, The Wind in the Wil­lows, The Wiz­ard of Oz, Win­nie-the-Pooh, and Trea­sure Island. By the time they’re done dis­cussing what they’ve read, I knew I’d have to re-read each of those books myself! (I’ve nev­er read Win­nie-the-Pooh. I know. Gasp!)

What do each of those books have in com­mon? That’s the deli­cious part of the sto­ry so I won’t spoil it for you. Read this book!

We focus on new books because peo­ple love to guess which books will win awards.  We for­get that there are thou­sands (mil­lions?) of kids who are read­ing these books for the first time. Draw­ing books off the shelf from the rich canon of children’s lit­er­a­ture is a gift we can keep giv­ing again and again.

Stay tuned. I’ll share more of my read­ing-of-books-past in upcom­ing columns.

Who Stole the Wiz­ard of Oz?
Alfred A. Knopf, 1981
(I read a Year­ling paper­back.)
ISBN 978 – 0394849928, $6.99


Irresistible Reading: How Things Work

How Things WorkNow, if that Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia wasn’t cool enough, here’s anoth­er sure-fire hit for kids who love to read facts, true sto­ries, and know how things work.

In fact, the book is called How Things Work and it’s anoth­er pow­er­house from Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

As the book admon­ish­es, “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dan­ger­ous. It might make you think you can do impos­si­ble things.” Fol­lowed close­ly by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.”

Do you know one of those kids? End­less ques­tions? On the trail for the real sto­ry? Won­der­ing all the time? Lucky you. Lucky them if you give them this book.

How do hov­er­boards work? This comes with a “Try This!” that encour­ages exper­i­ment­ing with the attrac­tion and repelling of mag­nets.

How do microwaves work? There are info­graph­ics, fun facts, dia­grams, anoth­er Try This with ice cubes, Myth vs. Fact, a short biog­ra­phy of Per­cy Spencer whose melt­ing peanut clus­ter bar sparked his imag­i­na­tion … and it’s all ter­ri­bly excit­ing.

The visu­als that accom­pa­ny every fact in this book, the lay­out, the col­ors, all of this put togeth­er makes me want to devour this book. There are so many cool things explained that it makes me breath­less.

Don’t you want the kid in your life to feel the same way about learn­ing?

How Things Work
T.J. Resler
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016
ISBN 978 – 1426325557, $19.99


Feeding the Naturally Curious Brain

Science EncyclopediaYou’ll dis­cov­er mouth­less worms and walk­ing ferns … ” (pg. 13) And with those words, I’m charged up for the hunt. Along the way, I can’t help being dis­tract­ed by a sat­is­fy­ing amount of irre­sistible infor­ma­tion in Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia.

If you learn best visu­al­ly, there is a sur­feit of images to stim­u­late a curi­ous mind. If you learn best ver­bal­ly, then this book is chock full of words arranged in the most inter­est­ing ways. And the pho­tos! This is Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, after all.

The book is so visu­al that infor­ma­tion leaps into the reader’s brain. Col­or­ful text box­es help the eye and mind focus.

You’ll find page-long intro­duc­tions to the var­i­ous sec­tions on mat­ter, ener­gy, forces and machines, elec­tron­ics, the uni­verse, life on Earth, plan­et Earth, and the human body. The way I approach these is to look at all of the pho­tos in the sec­tion, read the text box­es, and then go back to read the intro­duc­tions because by that time I would need to know every­thing on this sub­ject.

Each dou­ble-page spread (and some­times a sin­gle page) includes “Try This!” for prac­ti­cal, do-at-home-with-sup­plies-on-hand exper­i­ments, “Per­son­al­i­ty Plus” fea­tur­ing a small, true, bio­graph­i­cal tid­bit about some­one impor­tant in that field, “LOL!” a rid­dle per­tain­ing to the sub­ject (!), and a “Geek Out!” fact with which you can amaze your friends and draw new friends into your geek cir­cle.

One set of pages fea­tures a time­line: Amaz­ing Sci­ence! Mile­stones, Atom Smash­ing. The ear­li­est entry from 1897 is “Eng­lish­man J.J. Thomp­son dis­cov­ers the first sub­atom­ic par­ti­cle, the elec­tron, using a gas-filled tube that cre­ates a glow­ing beam.” The lat­est entry is “2012−2015, in which the Large Hadron Col­lec­tor “accel­er­ates pro­tons to just below the speed of light and smash­es them togeth­er.” (pgs 22 – 23)

The way the pages of this time­line are laid out helps the read­er focus and absorb infor­ma­tion. It’s not a straight line with words on tick-points. Oh, no! It’s a vibrant, image-filled, dou­ble-paged spread of com­plete­ly cool tid­bits. A time­line to get excit­ed about!

Every­thing about this book is a launch­pad for fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion.

I grew up believ­ing that I didn’t like sci­ence. What a nut! How can you not like this stuff?

The Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia is such an excit­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of infor­ma­tion that it belongs in every house­hold, whether or not there are chil­dren in said house.

Don’t have any chil­dren? Buy your­self a copy of this book.

Then, buy a copy for each ele­men­tary school and mid­dle school where you live. This book is that good. You’ll be charg­ing up the curios­i­ty of young minds for years to come.

Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia:
Atom Smash­ing, Food Chem­istry, Ani­mals, Space, and More

Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. 2016
ISBN 978 – 1426325427, $24.99


Essential Holiday Giving: Books

Hands down, there is no bet­ter gift for hol­i­days or birth­days than a book. You can find a book to suit every inter­est, every taste, and your bud­get. You can always feel good about giv­ing a book (unless you’re giv­ing a gift to some­one who lives in a Tiny House … ask first). 


Here’s my list of sug­ges­tions for the hol­i­days. It’s filled with books that are infor­ma­tive, beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed or pho­tographed, use­ful, well-writ­ten, but most­ly books that can be savored or cher­ished, with uplift­ing sto­ries.

And if you’d like more sug­ges­tions, my best advice is to walk into your pub­lic library and talk to the chil­dren’s librar­i­ans there. Tell them about the chil­dren in your lives, their inter­ests, the kind of books they like to read, or if they haven’t yet met the right book to turn them on to read­ing. You’ll be amazed by the good sug­ges­tions these library angels will give you.

I’m going to break these out into the type of read­er I think will be most appre­cia­tive. You’ll find links to longer reviews scat­tered through­out. And I’m going to keep adding to this list up until the end of the year. Peo­ple are cel­e­brat­ing hol­i­days at many dif­fer­ent times.

In love with pic­ture books

Before MorningBefore Morn­ing
writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016

I think this ranks up there in my list of favorite pic­ture books of all time. It works on so many lev­els, but most­ly it speaks of love and yearn­ing and beau­ty and grace. It is a sim­ple sto­ry of a lit­tle girl who wish­es for a snow day so her fam­i­ly can be togeth­er. Joyce Sid­man’s sto­ry is exquis­ite. Beth Krommes cre­ates a win­ter every­one can love and appre­ci­ate with her scratch­board illus­tra­tions. The col­or palette, the tex­ture on the page, and the snow! Has there ever been such glo­ri­ous snow? A per­fect gift book for young and old.

Frank and LuckyFrank and Lucky Get Schooled
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lynne Rae Perkins
Green­wil­low Books, 2016

One day when Frank could not win for los­ing, he got Lucky. And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank. Both of them were just pups. They had a lot to learn.” Life, at its best, is one big learn­ing adven­ture. Frank and Lucky grow togeth­er, each teach­ing the oth­er. We hear the sto­ry in both of their voic­es. Life is explore through learn­ing: Chem­istry, Tax­on­o­my, Read­ing, Math. So many ques­tions and so lit­tle time. Learn­ing fol­lows these two wher­ev­er they go. They have fun. But how does it all fit togeth­er? Ah, that’s the adven­ture. There is so much to look at and think about in this book … and Lucky makes the adven­ture fun. A great book for explor­ing togeth­er as the first step in plan­ning your own learn­ing adven­tures. Inspired!

Henry & LeoHen­ry & Leo
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Pamela Zagaren­s­ki
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016 

This is such a won­der­land of a book. I fin­ished it and imme­di­ate­ly start­ed again at the begin­ning. And yet again. The pages are filled with details that are irre­sistible, incit­ing curios­i­ty and sto­ry­telling. The sto­ry is a com­fort­ing one about a young boy, Hen­ry, who fero­cious­ly loves his stuffed lion, Leo. The fam­i­ly goes for a walk in the Near­by Woods and … Leo is lost. Hen­ry is beside him­self, wor­ried about Leo alone in the woods. His fam­i­ly com­forts him by say­ing that Leo isn’t real, which is no com­fort at all of course. But some­thing very real and mys­ti­cal hap­pens in those Woods and Leo finds his way back to Hen­ry. Pamela Zagaren­s­ki paints this book with lucious foresty and night-time col­ors, with pages so soft and tex­tured you know you can walk into the scene. She includes her trade­mark crowns, crit­ters large and small, win­dows, and those teacups. What does it all mean? As our brains look for answers, we cre­ate our own sto­ries. It’s mag­i­cal.

Ganesha's Sweet ToothGane­sha’s Sweet Tooth
writ­ten by San­jay Patel and Emi­ly Haynes
illus­trat­ed by San­jay Patel
Chron­i­cle Books, 2012

A sto­ry based on Hin­du mythol­o­gy, an adorable Gane­sha and his friend Mr. Mouse are all about the can­dy. In par­tic­u­lar, Gane­sha wants a Super Jum­bo Jaw­break­er Ladoo (can­dy) and he wants to bite down on it. Mr. Mouse warns him that it’s a jaw­break­er. And soon Gane­sha has bro­ken his tusk. Luck­i­ly, he hap­pens upon a poet who advis­es him to use his tusk to write down the Mahab­hara­ta, a long, ancient, San­skrit poem about the begin­ning of things. Gane­sha is described as a “Hin­du god. He’s very impor­tant and pow­er­ful. And a tad chub­by.” And that sets the tone of the book. Gane­sha’s Sweet Tooth is a feast for eyes, mind, and imag­i­na­tion. Patel, an artist and ani­ma­tor with Pixar, cre­ates illus­tra­tions unlike any­thing I’ve ever seen before … you’ll enjoy por­ing over them.

Luis Paints the WorldLuis Paints the World
writ­ten by Ter­ry Far­ish
illus­trat­ed by Oliv­er Dominguez
Car­ol­rho­da Books, 2016

When an old­er broth­er enlists in the army to “see the world,” young Luis is uncer­tain. How could his broth­er want to leave their fam­i­ly and their neigh­bor­hood? How could he want to leave Luis? Will he come back again to play base­ball and eat his Mama’s flan? Luis begins paint­ing a mur­al on a wall in their neigh­bor­hood, hop­ing to paint the world so Nico won’t need to leave home. He paints and paints with a good deal of skill. Yet Nico does leave home. Miss­ing his broth­er, Luis con­tin­ues to paint his heart onto the wall. Soon his friends, fam­i­ly, and neigh­bors join him in paint­ing. Will Nico come home again? The author, Ter­ry Far­ish, based her sto­ry in Lawrence, Mass­a­chu­setts, where she was a pub­lic librar­i­an. The city is famous for the murals and out­door art found through­out the town. For a heart­warm­ing sto­ry of love and artis­tic expres­sion, this is the right choice.

Monster & SonMon­ster & Son
writ­ten by David LaRochelle
illus­trat­ed by Joey Chou

This is an ide­al book for dads to read aloud to their lit­tle sons. Yetis, were­wolves, mon­sters of every shape and shiv­er, this is a bed­time sto­ry in spite of the sub­ject mat­ter. The illus­tra­tions are calm­ing and detailed, even sparkling, yet per­fect­ly suit­ed to the mon­ster fan. David LaRochelle’s text is fun to read out loud and Joey Chou’s art­work is paint­ed with calm blues and pur­ples and sleepy mon­sters.

NorNorth Woods Girl
writ­ten Aimée Bis­sonette
illus­trat­ed by Clau­dia McGe­hee
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press, 2015

For any­one who loves the North Woods, no mat­ter where those woods may be, this is a heart-call­ing tale of a grand­moth­er who knows she belongs in the woods and a grand­daugh­ter who is fas­ci­nat­ed by what her grand­moth­er knows and how she lives. Aimée Bis­sonet­te’s sto­ry is so well told that it feels uni­ver­sal. We all know some­one like this girl and her grand­moth­er. We hope we under­stand what it means to be so con­nect­ed to place. Clau­dia McGe­hee’s scratch­board illus­tra­tions are an inte­gral part of the expe­ri­ence of this book. The ani­mals, trees, plants, the bound­less night sky, the warm fire … there’s so much to love here. North Woods Girl will lead to good inter-gen­er­a­tional dis­cus­sions and fos­ter good mem­o­ries of your own spe­cial places.

On One Foot

On One Foot
writ­ten by Lin­da Glaser
illus­trat­ed by Nuria Bal­a­guer
Kar-Ben Pub­lish­ing, 2016

A famil­iar tale to many Jews, this sto­ry of the not-quite-a-fool who seeks a rab­bi (teacher) who can teach him while stand­ing on one foot (I’m guess­ing because the stu­dent would like the teach­ing to be short, even though he says it’s because he wants his teacher to be the best) is an active para­ble for the most impor­tant les­son in the world. Each suc­ces­sive teacher derides the stu­dent for ask­ing them to teach the Torah on one foot, telling him that not even the famous Rab­bi Hil­lel could do such a thing. When the stu­dent final­ly meets Rab­bi Hil­lel, he is astound­ed by the sim­plic­i­ty of the les­son, one that each of us can live and share. The cut paper and mixed media illus­tra­tions are fit­ting for long-ago Jerusalem, show­ing both wit and empa­thy.

A Poem for PeterA Poem for Peter
writ­ten by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illus­trat­ed by Lou Fanch­er & Steve John­son
Viking, 2016

Prob­a­bly my favorite pic­ture book of 2016, A Poem for Peter tells the sto­ry of the grow­ing up and old­er of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, who is “Born under Hard­ship’s Hand, into a land filled with impos­si­ble odds.” He began paint­ings signs for stores when he was eight years old. An intro­duc­tion to the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library opened the world to him. It’s a biog­ra­phy writ­ten poet­i­cal­ly and every word is worth savor­ing. We know him now as Ezra Jack Keats and he cre­at­ed A Snowy Day, which is one of the most beloved books of all time. His life is paint­ed here by Fanch­er & John­son, who small touch­es on each page of their illus­tra­tions that remind us of Keats’ genius, his work with col­lage and col­or and shapes and tex­tures. It’s a love­ly, beau­ti­ful, mag­i­cal book. It should be on your fam­i­ly’s book­shelf, ready for read­ing again and again.

Storm's Coming!Stor­m’s Com­ing!
writ­ten by Mar­gi Preus
illus­trat­ed by David Geis­ter
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press, 2016

The weath­er! In many parts of the coun­try, it is increas­ing­ly a fac­tor in our every­day life. Here in Min­neso­ta, it is what strangers talk about before any­thing else. Friends exclaim in e‑mail and by phone about the effect weath­er has on their lives. When fam­i­ly gath­ers, the first top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion is the weath­er (and how they drove to the gath­er­ing place). Mar­gi Preus tells the sto­ry of a storm approach­ing with tra­di­tion­al weath­er signs and folk say­ings. Bees fly­ing in large num­bers into their hive? “Look at those busy bees,” Sophie exclaimed. “They know it’s going to storm.” Dan watched the bees fly­ing into their hive. “That’s true,” he said. “You know what they say: A bees was nev­er caught in a show­er.” All kinds of intrigu­ing tid­bits are woven into this weath­er sto­ry, set at Split Rock Light­house on Lake Supe­ri­or at the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. David Geis­ter’s oil paint­ings are suf­fused with light, fam­i­ly love, the vary­ing moods of the Lake, and the final, sat­is­fy­ing storm scene. You know the weath­er-watch­ers in your fam­i­ly. This will make a wel­come gift.

savors poet­ry

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for KidsEmi­ly Dick­in­son: Poet­ry for Kids
edit­ed by Susan Snive­ly, PhD
illus­trat­ed by Chris­tine Dav­e­nier
Moon­Dance Press, Quar­to Pub­lish­ing Group, 2016

For a beau­ti­ful intro­duc­tion to the poems of Emi­ly Dick­in­son, this book invites read­ing out loud, dis­cus­sion, and turn­ing the pages in appre­ci­a­tion of Chris­tine Dav­e­nier’s art. The poems are acces­si­ble by chil­dren and their adults. Arranged by the sea­sons of the year, the pages offer com­men­tary and def­i­n­i­tions for impor­tant words to aid in your con­ver­sa­tions about the poems. It’s a book that will be read and re-read in your home.

Miss Muffet, or What Came AfterMiss Muf­fet, or What Came After
writ­ten by Mar­i­lyn Singer
illus­trat­ed by David Litch­field
Clar­i­on Books, 2016

Think you know all about Miss Muf­fet? That tuffet? That spi­der? Think again, mes amis!

This oh-so-delight­ful book will have you smil­ing, laugh­ing, heart fill­ing with awe at the poet­’s and illus­tra­tor’s mas­tery … but most of all falling in love with a sto­ry you nev­er knew. That short nurs­ery rhyme? Pull back from the scene (I eas­i­ly see this as a staged play, read­ers the­ater or with props and cos­tumes) and real­ize that Miss Muf­fet (Patience Muf­fet) and the spi­der (Web­ster) live in a larg­er world of sis­ter, moth­er, roost­er, fid­dlers, a king, and many live­ly neigh­bors. These are eas­i­ly under­stand­able poems and poet­ry that is fun to say out loud and poems that tick­le our fun­ny bones. David Litch­field man­ages to use mixed media in a way that pulls us into the sto­ry and has us tour­ing Pat Muf­fet’s world. Just gor­geous. It’s all so sat­is­fy­ing. Chil­dren will enjoy read­ing this them­selves, with friends, act­ing it out, and tak­ing part in a class­room per­for­mance. Such pos­si­bil­i­ties!

good fam­i­ly read-alouds

Garvey's ChoiceGar­vey’s Choice
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Word­Song, 2016

Gar­vey feels as though he’s con­stant­ly dis­ap­point­ing his father. Sports are his dad’s way of relat­ing and he has high hopes for Gar­vey becom­ing a foot­ball play­er or a base­ball play­er or … some­thing in a sport uni­form. Gar­vey, on the oth­er hand, enjoys read­ing and music and sci­ence. How does he show his dad what mat­ters to him? This is a book that is opti­mistic and fun­ny and hope­ful. Even though Gar­vey con­soles him­self with food, becom­ing heav­ier and heav­ier, he is drawn out­side of his funk by his inter­ests. He can’t resist. And his father final­ly sees what’s impor­tant to his son. A nov­el writ­ten in verse, this makes a good book for the fam­i­ly to read out loud. 

Making Friends with Billy WongMak­ing Friends with Bil­ly Wong
writ­ten by Augus­ta Scat­ter­good
Scholas­tic Press, 2016

When Aza­lea’s moth­er and father dri­ve her to Arkansas to help her injured grand­moth­er, Aza­lea is not thrilled. She con­tem­plates being lone­ly for an entire sum­mer and hav­ing noth­ing to do … and her grand­moth­er, whom she hard­ly knows, is cranky. Even though she yearns to go home, she is drawn into the neigh­bor­hood by a boy with a bound­less spir­it and a curios­i­ty to match her own. There is a mys­tery to solve and the two kids become friends while they’re fig­ur­ing things out. It’s a heart­warm­ing book and one that brings to light an immi­grant sto­ry that isn’t well-known. 

Saving WonderSav­ing Won­der
writ­ten by Mary Knight
Scholas­tic Press, 2016

Cur­ley Hines lives with his grand­pa in Won­der Gap, Ken­tucky, set­tled in the Appalachi­an Moun­tains. His Papaw gives him a word each week to learn and decide where it fits into his life. For peo­ple who love words, this is a book that enchants with its word choic­es. Cur­ley has a best friend. He believes he’s in love with Jules but at 15 it might be a lit­tle ear­ly to know. And then Jules is entranced with the new kid in town, an urban kid, J.D., and Cur­ley’s life is tak­ing an unex­pect­ed turn. Even these changes pale in the face of a more threat­en­ing change: the coal com­pa­ny that employs so many of Won­der Gap’s res­i­dents wants to tear down Cur­ley and Papaw’s moun­tain in order to get at the coal inside cheap­ly. All three of the kids get involved in Sav­ing Won­der. This is an uplift­ing sto­ry that will have you cheer­ing while you’re read­ing.

writ­ten by Bar­bara O’Con­nor
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2016

Char­lie Reese is a girl whose par­ents have aban­doned her. Her father is in jail and her moth­er suf­fers from a depres­sion that has her for­get­ting about Char­lie for days on end. Child Pro­tec­tion Ser­vices sends Char­lie to live with her Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha who are as nice and lov­ing as any kid could want. But Char­lie wants to go home. She wants a fam­i­ly who loves her. In fact, she search­es every day for some­thing lucky that allows her to make that wish. She’s angry about her new home. She hopes it’s tem­po­rary. So she’s resis­tant when Howard, a kid with an up-and-down walk, does his best to reach her, to make her his friend. And she’s a lit­tle resis­tant when a stray dog, who she names Wish­bone is as hard to reach as she is. It’s a won­der­ful sto­ry of a group of peo­ple com­ing togeth­er to form a fam­i­ly that’s made with love. These char­ac­ters will take up a place in your mind and your heart for a very long time. And isn’t that a mag­i­cal book cov­er?

can’t get enough of biogra­phies

Let Your Voice Be HeardLet Your Voice Be Heard:
The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

writ­ten by Ani­ta Sil­vey
Clar­i­on Books, 2016

At this very moment, many of us, chil­dren and adults alike, are look­ing for a way to make a dif­fer­ence in our world. We’d like to show that love is stronger than any talk or action done in hatred. Young and old, we’d like to show that we are will­ing to stand up and let our voic­es be heard. There is no bet­ter exam­ple than the life of Pete Seeger. Ani­ta Sil­vey writes this book in a way that shows how hard it was for him to perser­vere but he stood by his prin­ci­ples for near­ly nine decades! Even when he was beat­en down by the gov­ern­ment, he was res­olute. And he sang songs by the peo­ple, for the peo­ple, to inspire the peo­ple and bring them togeth­er. This book is writ­ten so it can be read by any­one ages 9 and old­er (adults will find this book worth­while, too). I high­ly rec­om­mend it as a fam­i­ly read-aloud and dis­cus­sion starter but it’s so good that read­ing it indi­vid­u­al­ly works, too.

Six DotsSix Dots: a Sto­ry of Young Louis Braille
writ­ten by Jen Bryant
illus­trat­ed by Boris 
Ran­dom House, 2016

When a ter­ri­ble acci­dent blinds him as a child, Louis Braille’s world turns dark. He sets out to get along in the world. “My fam­i­ly did what they could. Papa made a wood­en cane. … My broth­er taught me to whis­tle … My sis­ters made a straw alpha­bet. Papa made let­ters with wood­en strips or by pound­ing round-topped nails into boards” With his moth­er, he played domi­noes. But he want­ed to read books. Six Dots is the sto­ry of Braille’s jour­ney to cre­ate a code that the blind could read. Louis Braille was a child inven­tor and this biog­ra­phy leads us to appre­ci­ate how sig­nif­i­cant his inven­tion was and how much it con­tin­ues to mat­ter in the world today. Bryan­t’s text, writ­ten in free verse, makes the read­ing lyri­cal. Kulikov’s illus­tra­tions give an under­stand­ing of the dark­ness and the light in this blind inven­tor’s world. Six Dots fits well into our list of uplift­ing gifts. [Hid­den Give­away: the first per­son to send us an e‑mail request­ing this book will receive a copy of Six Dots, signed by the author. Be sure to include your mail­ing address so we can send you the book.]

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. WhiteSome Writer! The Sto­ry of E.B. White
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Melis­sa Sweet
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016

Are you a fan of Char­lot­te’s Web? Stu­art Lit­tle? The Trum­pet of the Swan? One Man’s Meat? Here is New York? E.B. White wrote books that are con­sid­ered clas­sics today, loved with a fierce won­der for their char­ac­ters and emo­tions. In a work of love and art, Melis­sa Sweet shares the sto­ry of his life from child­hood through adult­hood as he learned to love books and writ­ing. It’s the sto­ry of a man of words who lives so close­ly with them that he co-authors Ele­ments of Style, a stan­dard ref­er­ence. There are details here that every fan of his books will want to know. Best of all, the book is done as per­haps only Melis­sa Sweet could, mak­ing col­lages out of found objects, White’s papers, and orig­i­nal (and charm­ing) draw­ings. There are Garth Williams’ orig­i­nal sketch­es and pho­tos of the peo­ple in E.B. White’s life. This book is a trea­sure, one you can share with many peo­ple on your gift list. Per­haps you can bun­dle it up with a copy of one of his books list­ed ear­li­er, choic­es for both chil­dren and adults.

just the facts, please

Science EncyclopediaSci­ence Ency­lo­pe­dia: Atom Smash­ing,
Food Chem­istry, Ani­mals, Space, and More!

Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016

I think every per­son on your gift list should get one of these! Seri­ous­ly, whether you love sci­ence or don’t want any­thing to do with it, you will like this book. You will dip into the book some­where and then you’ll find your­self thumb­ing through, being caught by this and that tid­bit. Here’s my full review of this ency­clo­pe­dia.

How Things WorkHow Things Work
T.J. Resler
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016

As if the Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia isn’t cool enough, this book, also pub­lished by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, has astound­ing infor­ma­tion in it. This quote from the begin­ning of the book wraps things up so well and tempts you to pull at the tail of the bow: “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dan­ger­ous. It might make you think you can do impos­si­ble things.” Fol­lowed close­ly by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.” Read the full review and buy this book for every kid (and maybe an adult or two) who love to know how things work. Because this book reveals all.

adults who breathe more ful­ly around chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture

Comics ConfidentialComics Con­fi­den­tial: Thir­teen Nov­el­ists Talk
Sto­ry, Craft, and Life Out­side the Box

inter­views by Leonard S. Mar­cus
Can­dlewick Press, 2016

If you have the small­est bit of inter­est in com­ic books and graph­ic nov­els, you will find your­self drawn in by the inter­views in this book. Mar­cus is a vet­er­an at ask­ing the right ques­tions and his cho­sen sub­jects are the peo­ple who cre­ate books that kids and adults stand in line to read. You’ll hear from Har­ry Bliss, Catia Chien, Geof­frey Hayes, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Lar­son, Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off, Matt Phe­lan, Dave Roman, Mark and Siena Cher­son Siegel, James Sturm, Sara Varon, Gene Luen Yang. Each one of them con­tributes a self-por­trait, a com­ic writ­ten and drawn espe­cial­ly for this book, and there are sketch­es that accom­pa­ny the inter­view. It’s a visu­al book about a visu­al medi­um cre­at­ed by visu­al artists who know how to tell excep­tion­al sto­ries.

Picture This: How Pictures WorkPic­ture This (25th anniver­sary edi­tion)
Mol­ly Bang
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

If you’ve ever felt that you like the art in a book but you don’t know why, this is the book for you. If you know teach­ers who reg­u­lar­ly read out loud to chil­dren, this is the book for them. First writ­ten 25 years ago, Mol­ly Bang has revised her guide to show us in clear lan­guage and pic­tures how the art in our favorite books works its mag­ic. The way a page is arranged, the per­spec­tive, the focal point, the emo­tion, the mood, all of these can change the way we expe­ri­ence a book. We can under­stand what it is that we’re look­ing at in ways we nev­er under­stood before. This is a very spe­cial book to give as a gift to some­one you love or to your­self.

cook it up!

Betty Crocker's Cooky BookBet­ty Crock­er’s Cooky Book
by Bet­ty Crock­er (!)
illus­trat­ed by Eric Mul­vaney
Hun­gry Minds, 2002

I received this book in 1964 with an inscrip­tion from my grand­moth­er, who want­ed me to have “the gift of cook­ing food every­one will love.” It’s hard to go wrong serv­ing cook­ies and the recipes in this book are clas­sics. You’ll find Choco­late Chip Cook­ies, Tof­fee Squares, Krumkake, and Sug­ar Cook­ies. Good pho­tographs show you how to dec­o­rate them and sug­gest how to serve them. Your bur­geon­ing bak­er will spend hours plan­ning, con­sid­er­ing which cook­ies to make, and mix­ing things up in the kitchen!

Kids in the Holiday KitchenKids in the Hol­i­day Kitchen
by Jes­si­ca Strand and Tam­my Mass­man-John­son
pho­tographs by James Baigrie
Chron­i­cle Books, 2008

For those who cel­e­brate Christ­mas, this book has loads of recipes that are fun to dec­o­rate, good to give as gifts, and will help to keep the hol­i­day buf­fet well-sup­plied. And it’s not just food. There are crafts includ­ed to dec­o­rate a soap bar for a gift or dress up gift tins. A good idea for the cook­ing-inspired child on your gift list.

Everyday Kitchen for KidsEvery­day Kitchen for Kids: 100 Amaz­ing Savory and Sweet Recipes Your Chil­dren Can Real­ly Make
by Jen­nifer Low
White­cap Books, Ltd.

If your child’s wish is to appear on Food Net­work, here’s a head start.  In addi­tion to being deli­cious and easy to make, these 100 recipes are all about safe­ty. None of the meth­ods call for sharp knives, stove­top cook­ing,  or small motor­ized appli­ances. All the recipes are kid test­ed and each one is accom­pa­nied by a full-col­or pho­to­graph.

crafts are the stuff of life

Ed Emberley's Book of Trucks and TrainsEd Ember­ley’s Draw­ing Book of Trucks and Trains
Ed Ember­ley
LB Kids, 2005

Using sim­ple shapes and lines and putting them togeth­er in thou­sands of dif­fer­ent ways, any­one can draw. And in con­struct­ing these pic­tures out of those shapes and lines, they will find con­fi­dence in cre­at­ing their own draw­ings. A part of it is prac­tice, but a part of it is see­ing how things are put togeth­er and Ed Ember­ley is a mas­ter at this. He is a Calde­cott Medal win­ner and the author of many fine pic­ture books, but it is his draw­ing books that many chil­dren cher­ish because that’s how they learned to draw! It’s an ide­al book for a gift because with a pack of col­ored pen­cils and paper the fun can begin imme­di­ate­ly!

51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes51 Things to Make with Card­board Box­es
Fiona Hayes
Quar­to Pub­lish­ing Group, 2016

Gath­er up cere­al box­es and choco­late box­es and match box­es and large box­es and small box­es and paint and goo­gly eyes … to cre­ate dinosaurs, chick­ens, hous­es, and robots. Then make a giraffe and a hip­popota­mus and a con­struc­tion crane … all out of box­es! The book has step-by-step instruc­tions in both words and pic­tures that will help you and your chil­dren cre­ate fifty-one dif­fer­ent projects. My only quib­ble with this book is that I would like mea­sure­ments so I know which kind of box­es will work best … but per­haps the author want­ed the size to be vari­able. I would have loved this book as a child. I sus­pect there’s crafty and build­ing chil­dren in your life as well. There’s hours and hours of fun (and cere­al-eat­ing) ahead.

Look for this com­pa­ny’s 51 Things to Make with Paper Plates as well. Using paper plates and paper bowls (and goo­gly eyes) there are many more crea­tures to be brought to life with these inex­pen­sive con­struc­tion tools.


Orbiting Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in OrbitThat live­ly, quirky-think­ing duo from Plan­et Kinder­garten have teamed up once again for Plan­et Kinder­garten: 100 Days in Orbit. Many schools use the 100-day mark­er to reflect on how far they’ve come since the first day of kinder­garten. Social graces, eti­quette, mind­ful­ness, assign­ments, singing, pledges … they’re all includ­ed in this new book.

But the extra-fun twist is that our hero recounts the entire sto­ry as a trip into space aboard a star­ship filled with aliens and a thought­ful com­man­der. 

A class­mate who becomes sick doing “anti-grav­i­ty exer­cis­es” is kind­ly accom­pa­nied to the Nurse’s Office by our hero. Shane Prig­more, the illus­tra­tor, reminds us of the excit­ing scene from Star Wars, the first movie, in which Luke Sky­walk­er zeros in on the Death­star, with a hall­ful of doors, slight­ly askew, and the red-doored office at the end. Adults and old­er sib­lings will get the ref­er­ence and con­tin­ue look­ing for more. 

Wait­ing for show-and-tell, our hero says “Then, like the Apol­lo astro­nauts, we wait to be called up. It takes for­ev­er before my turn.” May­hem ensues when there’s a tricky maneu­ver … but these chil­dren aliens are quick to lend a hand, because that’s what they’ve learned in Plan­et Kinder­garten!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit

The illus­tra­tions are bold and fun­ny and cued-up with plen­ty to notice and appre­ci­ate. The sto­ry is clever but that nev­er gets in the way. It’s a very good sto­ry to read out loud, savor as a child-and-adult read­ing book, or use in the class­room to inspire space-themed play and imag­i­na­tion. Count me in as a moon cir­cling this plan­et!

Plan­et Kinder­garten: 100 Days in Orbit
writ­ten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illus­trat­ed by Shane Prig­more
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016


Tucked In for the Winter

Sleep Tight Farm

Sleep Tight Farm by Euge­nie Doyle illus by Bec­ca Stadt­lander Chron­i­cle Books ISBN 9781452129013

Every detail in this book is heart­warm­ing. You know that the author and the illus­tra­tor and the book’s pub­lish­ing team put a lot of love and respect into bring­ing this sto­ry to read­ers.

From the moment you see the open­ing end papers, a for­est and pas­ture ablaze with fall col­or, until you dis­cov­er the clos­ing end papers, that same for­est with the snowy skele­tons of those trees, you sense the care with­in.

It’s a sto­ry of a farm fam­i­ly who are very busy tuck­ing their farm in for the win­ter. Unless you live on a farm, you like­ly have no idea there’s so much to do! Har­vest­ing, putting food by, pro­tect­ing the fields, prepar­ing the hoop house, keep­ing the bee­hives safe from mice and wind … from big chores to small, this fam­i­ly’s love for their farm wraps around the read­er like a fluffy quilt.

The book will open eyes for chil­dren who don’t know about farm life, but it also neat­ly tucks the details around us, giv­ing us a sat­is­fy­ing look at a fam­i­ly who raise a vari­ety of veg­eta­bles for them­selves, win­ter mar­kets, and their own farm­stand. You sense the fam­i­ly’s deep lev­el of car­ing for the land, the birds and ani­mals, and the farm that sus­tains them.

Dad cuts back the rasp­ber­ries before wind and snow can crack the canes. … The promise of late sum­mer’s plump fruit lies in roots tucked under­ground. Good night, rasp­ber­ries, rest­ing below.” So fine.

I was drawn to this book by the cov­er and illus­tra­tions. It’s those fine­ly detailed, draw-the-read­er-into-the-world-of-the-book, gen­tly instruct­ing paint­ings that com­plete the spell of Sleep Tight Farm.  Those details include the icy white­ness of the book’s title on the cov­er and the infor­mal friend­li­ness of the body text. The farm kitchen is fas­ci­nat­ing with stacked wood, a col­lec­tion of paint­ed pot­tery, rugs on the floor, and a fire in the pot-bel­lied stove.

Sleep Tight Farm

When “We board up chinks in the chick­en coop and set a timer to give the hens the light they need to lay eggs all win­ter” even the straw that lines the chick­en coop and the feed for those chick­ens are includ­ed in the details. We learn a great deal about the farm by obser­va­tion. How are eggs col­lect­ed from the coop? Mom is pound­ing nails to “board up chinks.” There’s a vari­ety of hens and a beau­ti­ful roost­er. The fam­i­ly is wear­ing boots for their work. There’s a fence around the chick­en yard. A chick­en-strut­ting ramp leads from the coop to the ground. “Good night, chick­ens, snug in your coop.” 

After read­ing this book, I feel calmer about the win­ter to come. And I want to vis­it this farm. Warm thanks to author Euge­nie Doyle (whose fam­i­ly oper­ates The Last Resort Farm in Ver­mont) and illus­tra­tor Bec­ca Stadt­lander and the team at Chron­i­cle Books for cre­at­ing this respect­ful, lov­ing, and infor­ma­tive book. What a joy to read! It’s a keep­er.


Women Can Be Magicians, Too!

Anything But Ordinary AddieIn a sump­tu­ous pic­ture book biog­ra­phy, author Mara Rock­liff and illus­tra­tor Iacopo Bruno give us the life of Ade­laide Scarcez Her­rmann, a real per­son who lived from 1853 to 1932. Dur­ing her 79 years, she was an actress, a dancer, a vaude­vil­lian, and she was shot out of a can­non. As the title says, she was Any­thing but Ordi­nary Addie. In 1875, Addie mar­ried Alexan­der Her­rmann, a magi­cian, and became his assis­tant. They added oth­er acts to their show and trav­eled the world as Her­rmann the Great. When Alexan­der died of heart fail­ure in 1896, at age 52, Addie decid­ed to car­ry on as the magi­cian in the act. A female magi­cian was uncom­mon, so her first solo show includ­ed a dar­ing and dan­ger­ous mag­i­cal feat. It was good enough to keep her on vaude­ville stages as Madame Her­rmann for 25 years. She kept per­form­ing until she was 75. Four years lat­er, she passed away and out of mem­o­ry.

In the Author’s Note, Rock­liff laments that “Gen­er­a­tions of girls grew up think­ing all the great magi­cians had been men.” With a daugh­ter inter­est­ed in mag­ic, Rock­liff says “This project start­ed when I went look­ing for a biog­ra­phy of a woman stage magi­cian for my daugh­ter and found to my dis­may that none exist­ed.” She began research­ing women magi­cians and ran across a very inter­est­ing research sto­ry. (Yes, I think you should read this in her book.)

It’s an inspir­ing sto­ry appro­pri­ate for chil­dren. It does­n’t include the finan­cial ups and downs of the Her­rmanns, focus­ing instead on Addie’s suc­cess­es. A deter­mined lit­tle girl and woman, she accom­plished admirable feats, includ­ing The Bul­let-Catch­ing Trick. Although the book shares the high­lights of her career, I’m intrigued to find out more. Oth­er read­ers will be as well. Isn’t that what we want out of a good book?


Iacopo Bruno’s illus­tra­tions are rich­ly col­ored with glow­ing ele­ments that light the pages much as foot­lights would light a stage. Addie’s cos­tumes and hair adorn­ments are peri­od-per­fect. Even the let­ter­ing on the hand­bills and posters trans­ports read­ers to the Gild­ed Age era. Bruno has a curi­ous way of pro­vid­ing depth to his illus­tra­tions by sur­round­ing peo­ple and objects in the fore­ground with a thick, white bor­der, almost as though they were cut out of paper. It’s a style that grew on me. It adds focus to the page, direct­ing the read­er’s eye to tru­ly see what’s on the page. 

I’d rec­om­mend this book for school libraries, class­rooms, and for homes where mag­ic and accom­plished women are inter­ests.


Everything You Need to Ace Five Subjects

bk_everything_series_300pxI’ve had this TBR pile of five very attrac­tive, come-hith­er-look­ing books beg­ging to be rec­om­mend­ed for weeks now. The spines are bright pri­ma­ry col­ors so I know that even when I shelve them they will be call­ing to me. And I think they’ll be call­ing to your stu­dents as well.

I open what are for me the two scari­est vol­umes (eat your veg­eta­bles first — oops, as an adult, I find I LOVE veg­eta­bles), Every­thing You Need to Know to Ace Sci­ence in One Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher) and Every­thing You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher). Did you catch that? Bor­rowed from the “Smartest Kid” in the class.

When I was a kid I had ency­clo­pe­dias from the gro­cery store of the high­ly visu­al, dip­ping-in-and-out vari­ety. I could sit for hours, flip­ping pages, look­ing at some­thing that caught my eye, devour­ing infor­ma­tion.

These books remind me of those ency­clo­pe­dias although they’re more focused on a sub­ject area.

If you have kids who suck up facts and infor­ma­tion like a vac­u­um clean­er, these are the books for them. They’re also self-chal­leng­ing. Each chap­ter ends with a list of ques­tions which you can respond to before you turn the page to find the sup­plied answers.

bk_everything_science_200pxSo, in the Sci­ence book, my eyes light imme­di­ate­ly on Chap­ter 5: Out­er Space, the Uni­verse, and the Solar Sys­tem, with sub­sec­tions of The Solar Sys­tem and Space Explo­ration (which every self-respect­ing Star Wars nerd needs to study), The Sun-Earth-Moon Sys­tem, and The Ori­gin of the Uni­verse and Our Solar Sys­tem.

In all of the books, impor­tant names and places are bold­ed in blue, vocab­u­lary words are high­light­ed in yel­low, def­i­n­i­tions are high­light­ed in yel­low, and stick fig­ures pro­vide the enter­tain­ment.

Look­ing fur­ther, I dis­cov­er the first chap­ters in the Sci­ence book are about think­ing like a sci­en­tist and design­ing an exper­i­ment. I need a LOT of help with those activ­i­ties, so I’m glad to be put at ease.

It’s a bright and col­or­ful book, with great eye-appeal. Even for the most reluc­tant­ly curi­ous mind, these books hold a great deal of promise.

Everything I Need to Ace Math

In the Math book, we explore ratios, pro­por­tions, equa­tions, prob­a­bil­i­ty, and more. Although my brain bawks at look­ing at this stuff, I find my eye rest­ing longer and longer on some of the high­ly visu­al infor­ma­tion, want­i­ng to under­stand it bet­ter. The book is work­ing its mag­ic.

Everything You Need to Know American History

Vol­umes on Amer­i­can His­to­ry, Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts, and World His­to­ry sim­i­lar­ly offer an overview of many top­ics with­in their dis­ci­plines. The Amer­i­can His­to­ry note­book begins with “The First Peo­ple in Amer­i­ca EVER” and ends with the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, with many stops along the way for famous and not-so-famous parts of America’s his­to­ry.

Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts explores every­thing from lan­guage and syn­tax to how to read fic­tion and non­fic­tion, includ­ing poet­ry, explic­it evi­dence, and using mul­ti­ple sources to strength­en your writ­ing.

World His­to­ry cov­ers 3500 BC to present times in 502 pages, light­ing on ancient African civ­i­liza­tions, the Song Dynasty in Chi­na, 1830s rev­o­lu­tions in Europe, and so much more.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language ArtsNone of the infor­ma­tion is exhaus­tive. In fact, it’s quite light. Toe-dip­ping is an apt descrip­tion. But the infor­ma­tion is enough to intrigue the read­er and lead them on to oth­er resources.

There are no bib­li­ogra­phies or sources or sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing in the books. I can see where that would have been a mon­u­men­tal task. I sup­pose I’m going to have to look it up myself. Oh, maybe that’s part of the expe­ri­ence? I’m guess­ing it is.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for grades 6 through 9 (the cov­ers say “The Com­plete Mid­dle School Study Guide”) and espe­cial­ly for your home library. I think this would be a per­fect start­ing place for choos­ing a research top­ic or enter­tain­ing your­self with read­ing an expos­i­to­ry text. I envi­sion whiling away many hours look­ing through these books. Good job, Work­man and pro­duc­tion team.



Those Alluring Comics Storytellers

Comics ConfidentialWhen I began work­ing as, and think­ing of myself as, a graph­ic design­er, I assumed that all of my ideas would have to spring out of my mind … and that was ter­ri­fy­ing. (Think of the oft-asked ques­tion, “Where do your ideas come from?”) I didn’t think I was cre­ative enough or wide­ly trav­eled enough or even edu­cat­ed enough as a graph­ic design­er to come up with ideas that would trans­late into smart, pleas­ing designs on paper or a com­put­er screen.

Then I talked and worked with oth­er graph­ic design­ers. I learned that they had fold­ers full of “ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al,” designs they admired, cut out of mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, along with pho­tos they’d tak­en and words type­set in inno­v­a­tive ways. And that sound­ed liked cheat­ing to me. Were they just copy­ing oth­er people’s designs?

I began col­lect­ing my own ref­er­ence mate­ri­als (books, mag­a­zine pages, type, col­or swatch­es) and orga­niz­ing them into fold­ers and note­books.

As I became more expe­ri­enced, I under­stood that look­ing at ref­er­ence mate­ri­als was not copy­ing because some­where dur­ing the cre­ative process my brain added its own con­cepts and my design sel­dom looked any­thing like the ref­er­ences I had used for a project.

So many young peo­ple are inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing their own comics and graph­ic nov­els. They have sto­ries to tell and they want to do it in a visu­al way. There’s a learn­ing curve. They’ve prob­a­bly read enough “ref­er­ence mate­ri­als” when they begin, enough that they intu­itive­ly under­stand sequence, the gaps in time and sto­ry, and the con­ven­tions of dia­logue bub­bles and frames. They may begin by copy­ing their favorites, but what they’ve read informs their sto­ry­telling and what they cre­ate will be entire­ly their own.

Leonard Marcus

Leonard S. Mar­cus

How refresh­ing to have Leonard Mar­cus’ book of inter­views, Comics Con­fi­den­tial: Thir­teen Graph­ic Nov­el­ists Talk Sto­ry, Craft, and Life Out­side the Box (Can­dlewick Press). It’s a ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al of a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent type, invalu­able real­ly, because it shares how these thir­teen much-admired artists tell their own sto­ries. We get a peek into their lives, their expe­ri­ences, their notions of art and the work they’ve done before they achieved their much-admired sta­tus.

Every inter­view, whether I know the work of the artist or not, held me riv­et­ed to their sto­ry, their expe­ri­ences, their gain­ing of knowl­edge. I loved read­ing that many of them worked with a group of like-mind­ed comics artists, learn­ing and devel­op­ing togeth­er. These inter­views instill con­fi­dence and sure­foot­ed­ness. As a young and bud­ding sto­ry­teller, I know that tid­bits from these biogra­phies would change how I work and how I think about my images and scripts.

For instance, Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off shares that, for The Under­tak­ing of Lily Chen, “I would envi­sion each scene as a scene in a film. Some­times I would have to stop myself and real­ize, ‘This is not going to work in a draw­ing. I am going to have to write it dif­fer­ent­ly.’ I wrote a scene, for instance, with an emp­ty gray stone city in which mist was ris­ing through the streets. I thought, ‘You can’t actu­al­ly make mist rise in a draw­ing, can you?’ I tried it and it didn’t work out near­ly as well as it had in my mind! It would have looked beau­ti­ful in a film.”

What you see clear­ly in your mind fre­quent­ly doesn’t trans­late well into your draw­ing or screen. You have to do a lot of eras­ing. Much as the con­cept of revi­sion is taught by edu­ca­tors in thou­sands of class­rooms, this idea of work­ing on the frames in a com­ic book page until they are telling the best sto­ry pos­si­ble, both in words and pic­tures, can be enor­mous­ly free­ing and encour­ag­ing.

Comics Confidential, Danica Novgorodoff

Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off, “Turf,” Comics Con­fi­den­tial, inter­views by Leonard Mar­cus (Can­dlewick Press)

In this book, each inter­view sub­ject cre­at­ed an orig­i­nal two-page sto­ry. Both the fin­ished com­ic and an orig­i­nal sketch are shared. Mar­cus tells us in the cap­tion for the “Turf” sketch that Nov­gorod­off “not only spec­i­fied more back­ground detail but also moved more action to the fore­ground and turned more of her char­ac­ters to face us.” That’s essen­tial infor­ma­tion!

Comics Confidential James Sturm

James Sturm, self-por­trait, from Comics Con­fi­den­tial, inter­views by Leonard Mar­cus (Can­dlewick Press)

The com­ic artists telling many of our favorite graph­ic sto­ries are inter­viewed for this book:

  • Kazu Kibuishi, who keeps his fans breath­less with antic­i­pa­tion for the next vol­ume in the Amulet series.
  • Hope Lar­son, astound­ing sto­ry reteller of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrin­kle in Time.
  • Matt Phe­lan, who has graced us with excep­tion­al sto­ry­telling and art in books like Bluffton and The Storm in the Barn.
  • James Sturm, the bril­liant sto­ry­teller and instruc­tor behind the Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing series.
  • Sara Varon, well-loved for Odd Duck and Pres­i­dent Squid and Robot Dreams.
  • Gene Luen Yang, whose Avatar, Shad­ow Hero, and Secret Coder series all show the bril­liance for which he was award­ed a MacArthur Genius Grant.

These are just a few of the mighty tal­ents inter­viewed for Comics Con­fi­den­tial. Mar­cus, who is a mas­ter at ask­ing ques­tions that bring forth the infor­ma­tion Every Read­er wants to know, has cre­at­ed a book for­mat­ted beau­ti­ful­ly, brim­ming with ele­ments that read­ers will pore over, with a help­ful bib­li­og­ra­phy in the back mat­ter.

If you’re an edu­ca­tor, this book will open your eyes to the skill and imag­i­na­tion and well­springs of cre­ativ­i­ty from which our very best graph­ic nov­el­ists for young read­ers draw (tired pun, but apt). You’ll under­stand and appre­ci­ate graph­ic nov­els and com­ic books in a way you haven’t done before read­ing these inter­views.

Your youngest bud­ding artists may have a hard time read­ing the book if their read­ing lev­el doesn’t match the book’s vocab­u­lary but Comics Con­fi­den­tial is also a pow­er­ful incen­tive to per­se­vere so you can learn from the mas­ters.

If you have a small group of inter­est­ed comics cre­ators in your room, read­ing the inter­views out loud and dis­cussing them, par­tic­u­lar­ly with some of that artist’s books at hand to review, would inform those stu­dents … and make you look awful­ly smart.

Donald Duck Officer for a DayI have loved comics since I read my first Don­ald Duck com­ic book in the first decade of my life. I quick­ly became enam­ored of super­hero comics. I wasn’t allowed to buy them but thank­ful­ly my cousins were. I often spied one under a cof­fee table and took myself sur­rep­ti­tious­ly into a qui­et room to read it before we went home. As an adult, I con­tin­ue to love the visu­al nature of the sto­ries and the dif­fer­ent, inven­tive ways in which sto­ries are told by comics artists. Comics Con­fi­den­tial is a dream-come-true, allow­ing me to “meet” the visu­al sto­ry­tellers I admire great­ly. I con­sid­er this book an essen­tial pur­chase for every library and class­room.


Apples, Well-Being, and Family

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieBring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Sto­ry about Edna Lewis is a mem­o­rable book about grow­ing food through­out the sea­sons and liv­ing off the land in Vir­ginia. Wild straw­ber­ry, purslane, dan­de­lions, sas­safras, hon­ey. As spring rides the breeze into sum­mer, this extend­ed fam­i­ly tends to their larder, tak­ing full advan­tage of the fruits, nuts, and veg­eta­bles grow­ing around them. Sum­mer sub­dues itself into fall. Time to bring in the corn and beans, take a last har­vest of pecans before win­ter sets in.

This way of life may be unfa­mil­iar to a large per­cent­age of chil­dren, but even though the book is set in the 1920s, every­thing about the sto­ry feels con­tem­po­rary. Per­haps it is a way of life that with­stands time.

Food is the focus because this is a glimpse of the ear­ly life of Edna Lewis, renowned chef and South­ern cook­book author. As the author and water­col­or illus­tra­tor Rob­bin Gour­ley writes, “But her most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion was to make peo­ple aware of the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table.” With our cur­rent resur­gence of inter­est in a farm-to-table lifestyle, this book is a good way to talk about food and nutri­tion with your chil­dren.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie

Quite a few tra­di­tion­al say­ings are includ­ed in the book:

Rac­coon up the pecan tree.
Pos­sum on the ground.
Rac­coon shake the pecans down.
Pos­sum pass ‘em round.”

Your mouth will water so much while you’re read­ing this book that you’ll be glad there are five recipes in the back of the book, from Straw­ber­ry Short­cake to Pecan Drops.

The water­col­or illus­tra­tions through­out are charm­ing and infor­ma­tive, warm and lov­ing. The col­or palette of clear, bright tones adds to the feel­ing of health and well-being.

It’s a worth­while addi­tion to your home, school, or pub­lic library.


Welcome to Roy’s House

Roy's HouseWhat bet­ter way to famil­iar­ize one’s self with the work of pop cul­ture artist Roy Licht­en­stein than to walk through his house from liv­ing room to snack bar, from bath­room to bed­room, and final­ly into his stu­dio, where we can try our hand at paint­ing?

Susan Gold­man Rubin and her team at Chron­i­cle have cre­at­ed a book illus­trat­ed by Roy Lichtenstein’s paint­ings, Roy’s House, which lets us see up close his style of art, the col­ors he used, and the tech­nique of shad­ing col­or in dots.

printer's loupeIf you look at a news­pa­per or a mag­a­zine or a brochure, and you use a loupe (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: a small mag­ni­fi­er used espe­cial­ly by jew­el­ers and watch­mak­ers), you can dis­tin­guish among the dots used to lay the col­or down (the “halftone” tech­nique).

Dur­ing print­ing, when the col­or is laid down, those dots grow in size a bit. That’s called “dot gain” and print­ers expect it, com­pen­sat­ing on the orig­i­nal.

Licht­en­stein exag­ger­at­ed those dots, and the tech­nique of cross-hatch­ing, to make his paint­ings bold, bright, and mem­o­rable. His style is instant­ly rec­og­niz­able. As the back mat­ter states, “His first show shocked crit­ics in 1962.”

Roy's House

The text is min­i­mal (in keep­ing with Lichtenstein’s paint­ings) but the author still man­ages to imbue those words with warmth and humor, spark and spir­it. Mak­ing use of the artist’s dis­tinc­tive, jagged-edged thought bub­bles pro­vides ener­gy.

This is a book for the very young, the bud­ding artist or art col­lec­tor, and yet it’s also a book for those who love art, teach art, and are edu­cat­ing them­selves about the infi­nite styles with­in art. Lichtenstein’s work is icon­ic … and so is this book. (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: “wide­ly known and acknowl­edged espe­cial­ly for dis­tinc­tive excel­lence”)

Also take a look at the author’s book Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy Licht­en­stein (Abrams), writ­ten for an old­er child.

For read­ers 12 and up, find a copy of Marc Aron­son’s Art Attack: a Brief Cul­tur­al His­to­ry of the Avant-Garde (Clar­i­on Books).


August Shorts

Warn­ing: There’s a lot of enthu­si­asm ahead for these books!

Where Do Pants Go?Where Do Pants Go?
Writ­ten by Rebec­ca Van Slyke, illus­trat­ed by Chris Robert­son
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Well, this is just adorable … and I can already hear house­holds through­out the Eng­lish-speak­ing world chant­i­ng:

Where do pants go?

On your arms? No.

On your neck? No.

No, no, no.

Pants go on your legs, that’s where pants go.”

We all know how much kids love say­ing “NO!” This book depicts a charm­ing cast of kids in a row­dy les­son on get­ting dressed from under­wear to jack­et and hat. It’s a cumu­la­tive text so lan­guage skills are a part of the mix. The illus­tra­tions are boun­cy and full of humor. Get­ting dressed will be filled with gig­gles.

Sky Stirs Up TroubleThe Sky Stirs Up Trou­ble (Tor­na­does)
writ­ten by Belin­da Jensen, illus­trat­ed by Renee Kuril­la
Mill­brook Press, 2016

I won­der if a sci­en­tif­ic study has ever been done to deter­mine how many kids want to grow up to be the weath­er fore­cast­er on local or nation­al news. Cer­tain­ly the weath­er is just as much a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for chil­dren as it is for adults. This brand-new, six-book series about Bel the Weath­er Girl is writ­ten by a tele­vi­sion mete­o­rol­o­gist with an eye toward enter­tain­ing and edu­cat­ing the read­er. In this book, Bel and her cousin Dylan head to the base­ment with Bel’s mom when a tor­na­do siren goes off. They learn how to react to the warn­ing and Bel explains, by bak­ing a Tor­na­do Cake, how the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions must be just so in order to cook up a tor­na­do. A recipe for the cake is includ­ed as are inter­est­ing fact bub­bles. The illus­tra­tions are friend­ly and engag­ing. I know I would have read and re-read this series in ele­men­tary school.

D is for Dress-UpD is for Dress Up: The ABCs of What We Wear
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Maria Car­luc­cio
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

This charm­ing alpha­bet book is just right for some­one who will grow up to col­lect fab­ric, care­ful­ly study fash­ions, and find joy in cre­at­ing “a look.” A won­der­ful­ly diverse group of chil­dren are dressed in cloth­ing and acces­sories that depict each word from apron (for a chef) to zip­pers (for two friends’ jack­ets). In between, we find leo­tards and over­alls and rain­coats. It’s the illus­tra­tions that are most invit­ing: so much for the eyes and brain and heart to notice and absorb. There’s tex­ture and pat­tern and detail (notice those galosh­es) cre­at­ed by a tex­tile and prod­uct design­er result­ing in a warm and enchant­i­ng book. You’ll know just the child to give it to.

This is NOT a Cat!This is NOT a Cat!
writ­ten by David LaRochelle, illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

LaRochelle and Wohnout­ka (Moo!) are at it again: a book that has very few words but a lot of laughs! I love these books with few words because kids are so good at telling the sto­ry them­selves. With gen­tle prompt­ing from the adult read­ing with them, kids can be encour­aged to tell the sto­ry in dif­fer­ent ways. Per­haps the most fun is say­ing the five words in the book in so many dif­fer­ent ways with vary­ing empha­sis and LOUD­ness! It’s just plain fun to read this book out loud. And because there are only five words, every child can have the sat­is­fac­tion of read­ing this book on their own. The live­ly, humor­ous pic­tures con­ceived by Mike Wohnout­ka invite study­ing close­ly as the details add to the fun. Bring your own knowl­edge to this book: do cats like cheese?

The Bot That Scott BuiltThe Bot That Scott Built
writ­ten by Kim Nor­man, illus­trat­ed by Agnese Baruzzi
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Great Scott! I love this book. For any child the least bit sci­ence-mind­ed who loves to exper­i­ment or build things or cre­ative­ly com­pile what-ifs, this is a must-have book. It’s an awe-inspir­ing feast for the eyes and the ears and the fun­ny bone. The set­ting is a Sci­ence Day, in which stu­dents show their sci­ence projects to their teacher and the rest of the class. In a House That Jack Built style, the “what can go wrong, does” sto­ry pro­gress­es with much laugh­ter thanks to the spot-on rhyming text and the col­or-infused illus­tra­tions. The end­ing is inge­nious. I won’t spoil it for you and your small­er read­ers. But Scott’s sci­ence project saves the class­room from the brink of destruc­tion. I’m inspired to make my own “bot” right now and so will you be!


Books Like This Are Convincing

Lives of the ScientistsI’m more com­fort­able with mag­ic than I am with sci­ence. Mar­ried to a sci­ence guy, I work hard­er to be inter­est­ed in sci­ence. It gives us some­thing to talk about. When I find nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion that tells a com­pelling sto­ry, I’m thank­ful … and intrigued. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly hap­py to find books that fea­ture less­er-known aspects of sci­ence, there­by taunt­ing my curios­i­ty.

Do you know the Lives of … series, writ­ten by Kath­leen Krull and illus­trat­ed with dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly big heads by Kathryn Hewitt? First pub­lished in 2013 and now in paper­back for less than $10, I had a ball read­ing Lives of the Sci­en­tists: Exper­i­ments, Explo­sions (and What the Neigh­bors Thought). It reminds me of Peo­ple mag­a­zine in tone, lean­ing toward gos­sipy aspects of these most curi­ous of peo­ple past and present but bal­anced by the right amount of tan­ta­liz­ing infor­ma­tion about their work (for many of them, their obses­sion). And you may not have heard of many of these peo­ple.

For instance, William and Car­o­line Her­schel, broth­er and sis­ter, earned their liv­ing as musi­cians until they had sold enough of their hand­made tele­scopes (they used horse dung for the molds!) and their cat­a­log of new­ly dis­cov­ered heav­en­ly bod­ies attract­ed the atten­tion of England’s King George III, who paid them both a salary.

The gos­sipy part? Appar­ent­ly William was a bossy guy who didn’t have his sister’s well-being at the top of his pri­or­i­ty list. Dur­ing a long night of astro­nom­ic obser­va­tion, Caroline’s leg was impaled on a hook but he couldn’t hear her cries of pain. He was con­cen­trat­ing hard!

After each pro­file, there are “extra cred­it” points that didn’t fit into the nar­ra­tive but they’re awful­ly inter­est­ing.

Don’t you love this tid­bit about Grace Mur­ray Hop­per, com­put­er sci­en­tist? “When Grace Mur­ray Hop­per was sev­en, she took her alarm clock apart to see how it worked. Her par­ents were impressed — until she took apart sev­en more. They lim­it­ed her to dis­man­tling one clock at a time, but they ful­ly sup­port­ed her edu­ca­tion.”

Rachel Carson, Lives of the Scientists, illustration copyright Kathryn Hewitt

Rachel Car­son, Lives of the Sci­en­tists, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kathryn Hewitt

Do you know the work of Chien-Shi­ung Wu, Zhang Heng, and Edwin Hub­ble? There are more famil­iar sci­en­tists as well, peo­ple like Jane Goodall, Albert Ein­stein, Rachel Car­son, and George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er.

This book sup­ports curios­i­ty, inves­ti­ga­tion, and the pur­su­ing of dreams … your kids will enjoy these three- to four-page biogra­phies even if they’re more inclined to mag­ic than sci­ence.


Dear Peacemakers

In recent weeks, we’ve had many requests for books about anger and fear and con­flict res­o­lu­tion.

Book by BookI was imme­di­ate­ly remind­ed of an excel­lent resource pub­lished in 2010 called Book by Book: an Anno­tat­ed Guide to Young People’s Lit­er­a­ture with Peace­mak­ing and Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion Themes (Car­ol Spiegel, pub­lished by Edu­ca­tors for Social Respon­si­bil­i­ty, now called Engag­ing Schools).

Peace edu­ca­tor Car­ol Spiegel has gath­ered a use­ful, impor­tant, and intrigu­ing-to-read list of 600 pic­ture books and 300 chap­ter books that will spark your imag­i­na­tion and help you find just the right book to use in your class­room, library, or home.

When Sophie Gets AngryAs she says so well, “Sto­ries can gen­tly steal into the lives of young peo­ple and show the way to peace and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. Children’s lit­er­a­ture is rich with such tales. As an exam­ple, pic­ture this. Annie strug­gles with her anger and then she hears about Sophie who gets just as angry. Annie is heart­ened when she learns how Sophie copes. Had some­one tried to talk direct­ly with Annie about ways to deal with anger, Annie may have been defen­sive. This pos­ture was unnec­es­sary when Sophie was being fea­tured.”

Of course, the book Ms. Spiegel is describ­ing is Mol­ly Bang’s book, When Sophie Gets Angry — Real­ly, Real­ly Angry … (and check out the 2015 book When Sophie’s Feel­ings Are Real­ly, Real­ly Hurt).

There is an Index of Book Themes in the back mat­ter that will help you find books with themes such as:

  • Elder­ly, respect for
  • Emo­tion­al lit­er­a­cy: accept­ing lim­i­ta­tions and gifts
  • Explor­ing con­flict: nature of con­flict, con­flict styles
  • Friend­ship, inclu­sion and exclu­sion

You’ll find good books that will be use­ful for your read­ing and dis­cus­sions, such as:

  • First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez, illus by Robert Casil­la (Over­com­ing Obsta­cles, Bul­ly­ing)
  • Why Mos­qui­toes Buzz in People’s Ears by Ver­na Aarde­ma, illus by Leo and Diane Dil­lon (Lis­ten­ing, Rumors or Sus­pi­cion)
  • Prob­a­bly Still Nick Swan­son by Vir­ginia Euw­er Wolff (Accept­ing Lim­i­ta­tions and Gifts, Respect for Elder­ly or Dis­abled, Rumors or Sus­pi­cion)
  • The Reveal­ers by Doug Wil­helm (Bul­ly­ing, Prej­u­dice or Dis­like, Non­vi­o­lent Response)
  • REVOLUTION is Not a Din­ner Par­ty by Ying Chang Com­pes­tine (Non­vi­o­lent Response, Oppres­sion)

Book by Book books

In our cur­rent world, where books have a shelf life of less than five years, you may not read­i­ly find some of these books (because they were pub­lished six or sev­en years ago). Get the book you’re inter­est­ed in on inter­li­brary loan from your pub­lic library, read it, con­sid­er whether it’s impor­tant to have it in your school or class­room library, and then find a used copy online.

The folks at Engag­ing Schools were kind enough to send me two down­load­able PDFs that may help to con­vince you to obtain this book: Table of Con­tents and Sup­ple­men­tal Index. You can order the book from Engag­ing Schools online.

I hope they will update this book … it’s a crit­i­cal ref­er­ence in our unset­tled, grow­ing wis­er, open­ing our minds world.

Seri­ous­ly, you’ll won­der why you don’t already have this ref­er­ence book on your shelf.