Revered poet and artist Ashley Bryan was awarded a 2017 Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for his book in verse Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan. The celebrated author/illustrator once said, “If you don’t hear a poem spoken, it’s like never hearing a song sung.” The books included in this review are certainly poems that beg to be spoken.
A Song About Myself. John Keats. Ill. Chris Raschka. 2017. Candlewick.
Caldecott Medal and Honor winner Chris Raschka brings a playful poem by John Keats to life with his vibrant watercolor paintings. While visiting Scotland at the age of 22, Keats wrote “A Song About Myself” in a letter to his younger sister. In an illustrator’s note, Raschka shares that this delightful poem reveals Keats to be “a loving brother, who wanted to make his sister laugh with a funny little rhyme.”
Steppin’ Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times. Lin Oliver. Ill. Tomie dePaola. 2017. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin.
Toddlers can find the mundane amazing and the ordinary an adventure, and Lin Oliver conveys their sense of wonder in this collection of poems. These 19 rhyming poems employ different rhythms sure to hold the attention of little ones and the adults who read to them. The “day” (and book) begins with the couplet “When I open my front door, / There’s a whole world to explore” and ends with the lines “Every day is full of fun, / And tomorrow is another one.” Throughout the day, young children go to the library, the car wash, the mall, and the beach. They experience pancakes with dad, a family barbecue, a first haircut, and unexpected treasures on a walk. Tomie dePaola’s signature style is evident in the faces of the multicultural cast of children in the illustrations.
Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market. Michelle Schaub. Ill. Amy Huntington. 2017. Charlesbridge.
In Fresh-Picked Poetry, two friends and their rambunctious canine companions spend a day at an urban farmers’ market. The delights of the market, and the poems that describe them, include not only fresh produce but also lemonade, honey, free-range eggs, and baked goods as well as musicians, a knife sharpener, and face painter. The illustrations extend the poems with additional story lines and feature a multicultural cast of farmers and shoppers. “Wild Dreams in Two Voices” offers an excellent opportunity to involve young readers in spoken poetry. The book ends with an author’s note, “Fresh Picked Reasons to Spend a Day at the Market,” enumerating the benefits of fresh, local produce.
Round. Joyce Sidman. Ill. Taeeun Yoo. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
A young child shares her love of round things by taking the reader on a tour of all that is round in the natural world. Newbery Honor-winning poet Joyce Sidman explains why so many things in nature are round. Round is cozy and sturdy; it spreads out and rolls; it is balanced and beautiful. Yoo’s mixed media illustrations are made with printed texture, lending a whimsical quality to the book.
Thunder Underground. Jane Yolen. Ill. Josée Masse. 2017. WordSong/Highlights.
The prolific Jane Yolen celebrates the wonders secreted underground and the “beating heart of the earth” in this collection of poems that are meant to be savored. The first poem explores a house basement; others explore the sounds corn makes as it grows, the sounds animals and insects contribute, geologic forms such as lava and tectonic plates, and man-made wonders such as subways and sewers and lost cities. Masse’s illustrations complement the poems with a pair of young children exploring underground. Yolen begins the book with “UNDER—ground” and ends with “UNDER—stood” to effectively bringing readers full circle in a quest to learn more about what exists unseen beneath our feet. The book closes with “Notes on the Poems: Both Scientific and Personal.”
Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics. Margarita Engle. Ill. Rafael López. 2017. Henry Holt.
The author and the illustrator of the multiaward-winning Drum Dream Girl (2015) are back with a stunning tribute to “Amazing Hispanics.” Engle states these biographical poems are “about a variety of amazing people who lived in geographic regions now included in the modern United States.” Organized chronologically, the poems celebrate those who are known, little known, and unknown from Juan DeMiralles (1713–1780) to Thomás Rivera (1935–1984): healers, activists, scientists, pilots, and chefs. López makes full use of a palette rich in yellows, reds, and oranges to create expressive, full-page portraits of each featured person. Alongside each poem, he provides a smaller illustration symbolizing the person’s area of achievement. Engle provides brief but highly informative notes about each person’s life as back matter. A Spanish-language edition, ¡Bravo! Poemas sobre hispanos extraordinarios (2017), is also available.
Feel the Beat: Dance Poems That Zing From Salsa to Swing. Marilyn Singer. Ill. Kristi Valiant. 2017. Dial/Penguin.
This new offering by Marilyn Singer definitely zings! Our journey through the world of dance begins with complementary poems “All Over the World, Dancing Is Joy” and “Joy Is Dancing All Over the World.” Many of the poems encourage young readers to join in as they see children in the poems overcome self-consciousness and feet that “feel like hooves” to join family and community members to “glow—star of the show.” The poems mimic the rhythms of dances as diverse as hip-hop, square dance, the hora, and the two-step, while the illustrations reflect the diversity of these dances and the people who enjoy them. Valiant’s bold palette is particularly stunning in her illustration for the Bhangra. It is visually obvious that characters in the poems “feel the beat.” A CD (which was not available for review) accompanies the book, and a “Notes About the Dances” is included.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. Kwame Alexander (with Chris Colderley & Marjory Wentworth). Ill. Ekua Holmes. 2017. Candlewick.
The title of this “lyrical homage to 20 famed poets” was inspired by Lucille Clifton’s quote, “Poetry comes out of wonder, not out of knowing.” The featured poets range from Robert Frost and Gwendolyn Brooks to Okot p’Bitek and Rumi. In “Part I: Got Style,” the authors recreate poems in the styles of the featured poets. “Part II: In Your Shoes” shows the poets’ influences on the authors’ own writings. In “Part III: Thank You,” the authors speak back to those whose work has spoken to them in a “highly personal way.” The book ends with highly readable notes about each famous poet. Ekua Holmes, award-winning illustrator of Carole Boston Weatherford’s Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement (2015), creates mixed media art that is as evocative as the poems they complement and that demand we look as deeply into them as we do the poems.
One Last Word: Wisdom From the Harlem Renaissance. Nikki Grimes. 2017. Bloomsbury.
Nikki Grimes’s unique poetry collection is inspired by the poets of the Harlem Renaissance. In the preface to her book, Grimes shares that she wishes to celebrate these poets, add her voice to theirs, and introduce their work to a new generation of readers. Using the Golden Shovel poetic form (explained in an introductory “Poetry Form” note), Grimes writes an original poem in response to poems from master poets such as Langston Hughes and Georgia Douglas Johnson. The book is organized in poetic pairs: a poem from a Harlem Renaissance writer and Grimes’s Golden Shovel poem created with words seeded with a line or stanza of the poem, and sometimes even from the entire poem—quite a creative feat! Background information on the Harlem Renaissance helps situate the poems in their historical context. The powerful poems are paired with artwork by some of today’s most inspiring African American illustrators. Short biographies of the poets and artists are included at the end of the book along with sources and an index.
Mrs. Nelson's Class. Marilyn Nelson (Ed.). 2017. World Enough Writers.
In 1954, the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public school segregation was unconstitutional in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Marilyn Nelson’s mother became the teacher of a second-grade class of 20 white children near Salina, Kansas. The idea for the book was inspired by a class photo of Johnnie Mitchell Nelson, a young African American teacher, and her students. Marilyn Nelson (winner of the 2017 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children) recruited other poets, all of whom are white, to choose a child from the photograph and then write persona poems from their perspective. Marilyn Nelson wrote the poems that represent her mother’s voice. An “About the Authors” section is included at the end of book.
For All Ages
Let's Clap, Jump, Sing, & Shout; Dance, Spin, & Turn It Out! Games, Songs, & Stories From an African American Childhood. Patricia McKissack. Ill. Brian Pinkney. 2017. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.
Newbery Honor winner Patricia McKissack has collected her favorite games, songs, poetry, and stories for a new generation of children. Drawing on her own experiences growing up in the American South, McKissack hopes readers will have fun exploring the games she played with her childhood friends. Brian Pinkney, winner of two Caldecott Honors, uses his signature watercolor and ink style to create playful illustrations, adding color and movement throughout the book. In a note from the illustrator, Pinkney shares that creating the art “was pure joy.” Extensive source notes and a bibliography are included.
For Teachers and Librarians
Here We Go: A Poetry Friday Power Book. Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong. 2017. Pomelo.
The creators of The Poetry Friday Anthology series have published a new resource for readers interested in discovering the power of poetry. Vardell and Wong collaborated to design an interactive model for reading, writing, thinking about, and responding to poetry. The book is organized into “PowerPack” groups, each of which has an activity, anchor poem, response poem, mentor poem, and a Power2You writing prompt. Many helpful resources are included at the end of the book. Filled with poems by a variety of award-winning poets, this engaging resource invites readers to “power up” and explore the world of poetry.
Nikki Grimes will be at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits as part of the Young Adult Putting Books to Work workshop, which takes place Monday, July 17, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., and the Young Adult Meetup on Saturday, July 15, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Kwame Alexander will be at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits as part of the Children’s Choices session “Characters With Character: Using the 2017 Children's Choices Award Winning Reading.”
Linda T. Parsons is an Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University, Marion, where she specializes in middle childhood literacy and young adult literature. Lisa D. Patrick is a Literacy Coach Trainer at The Ohio State University’s Literacy Collaborative where she specializes in children’s literature and early literacy.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
Having friends, whether one best buddy or a group, is important no matter how old you are. Navigating these critical relationships can be challenging at times, especially for young people. The recently published books reviewed in this week’s column explore making and keeping friends as well as highlighting the power of those relationships.
Muddle & Mo. Nikki Slade Robinson. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Muddle, a duck, and Mo, a goat, are best friends. The only problem is that Muddle thinks Mo is a duck and is confused by his friend’s un-duck-like characteristics. Muddle finally realizes Mo is, indeed, a goat. After a bit of confusion about whether he is possibly a goat too, Muddle understands they can still be best friends even though they are different. Expressive mixed-media illustrations featuring Muddle and Mo on textured blue paper and minimal text consisting of the dialogue between the two animals make this a fun story with a gentle lesson on identity and friendship.
Pen Pals. Alexandra Pichard. 2017. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
Pen pals Oscar the ant and Bill the octopus love writing and receiving letters and small gifts from each other as they participate in a school project. Despite their differences, they find they have much in common as they correspond with each other by mail. The text consists solely of the letters written by Oscar and Bill. Pichard’s simple digital illustrations—done entirely in red, yellow, blue, and black, and combined with collage—follow the pen pal’s exchange of letters throughout the year. Readers will enjoy identifying the small changes that occur in the repeated scenes of the two friends sitting at their desks penning letters. The depictions of the posting of letters by Oscar and Bill and their delivery by mail carriers, a mouse and a penguin, add to the fun of this story that celebrates the pleasure of sending and receiving handwritten letters through the mail.
Stef Soto, Taco Queen. Jennifer Torres. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Estefania “Stef” Soto has a love/hate relationship with her family’s taco truck business. On the one hand, she is proud of her father for the hard work he has put into starting his own business; on the other hand, Stef is reminded every day by her seventh-grade peers that she smells like tacos and is even nicknamed “The Taco Queen” by her former friend Julia. Stef is thinking it might just be time for her father and Tia Perla, the taco truck, to retire. Then Stef finds herself faced with two conflicts: her art class needs to figure out a way to raise money for new supplies to carry them through the school year and the city food-truck vendors find themselves faced with a possible shutdown due to new regulations. She must search deep within herself to figure out how she can help find a solution to both issues. Told with Spanish words and phrases integrated into the text, this is a heartwarming story of friendship, family, and food.
The Trouble With Friends (The Nora Notebooks #3). Claudia Mills. Ill. Katie Kath. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Fourth-grader Nora Alpers loves ants, science, and writing in her notebook. She does not like to try new things. So, when Coach Joe, her fourth-grade teacher, presents the students with “newness challenge,” Nora is skeptical about participating. And when she begins to suspect that classmate Emma’s newfound interest in becoming her friend means that she is Emma’s challenge, she isn’t sure she wants to be the center of Emma’s project. As the story unfolds in the short chapters of this last book in Mills’ series about budding scientist Nora, Nora discovers that trying new things—and making new friends—can be fun.
Posted. John David Anderson. 2017. Walden Pond/HarperCollins.
Middle school is a tricky time for friendships, and finding your “tribe” is an important part of a middle-school student’s identity. This is the case for Frost, Deedee, Wolf, and Bench, four boys who find their group identity challenged when the new girl at school, Rose, sits at their lunch table, causing a shift in their relationship. Anderson’s coming-of-age novel captures the angst of middle school friendships as well as both the hurtful and the healing power of words when a sticky-note war erupts after the principal bans the use of cell phones in the school.
Velocity. Chris Wooding. 2017. Scholastic.
Get your engines revved up for this high-speed, futuristic novel that features two best friends and fearless car-racing power team Cassica and Shiara, who are discovered after they win a race in their small hometown. The girls are quickly brought into the world of Maximum Racing star-power, but they are unprepared for the treachery and corrupt world in which they find themselves. With their sights set on winning the Widowmaker race, with its coveted prize of a lifetime free of care and worry as a Celestial, Cassica and Shiara must decide if winning the race is worth dying—or killing—for. Fans of The Hunger Games and NASCAR racing will enjoy this dystopian adventure.
Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done. Andrea Gonzales & Sophie Houser. 2017. HarperCollins.
When teens Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser met at the Girls Who Code summer program in 2014, they had no idea they would become friends and create a video game that would rocket them into the world of tech phenoms, changing their lives! Girl Code explores the world of coding as well as the limited role that females play in the world of computer programming. In this nonfiction book, told in alternating voices, Andy and Sophie share their journey as high school students thrown together in a world largely dominated by males. Wanting to do something important, they created a video game called Tampon Run, which demystifies menstruation; the game brought them more opportunities than they could ever have imagined. This inspirational dual memoir of determination and perseverance will appeal to teens interested in coding. Back matter includes a Coding Appendix with a glossary and a few basic tutorials for anyone who wants to give coding a try.
Goodbye Days. Jeff Zentner. 2017. Crown/Random House.
Eli, Mars, Blake, and Carver call themselves the Sauce Crew and are the best of friends at the private arts-focused high school they attend. One evening, as Carver is impatiently waiting for the guys to pick him up after work, he sends Mars a text to see where they are and to tell them to hurry up. And that’s when the terrible accident happens that takes all three of his friends’ lives and leaves Carver alone with his grief and guilt, as well as the possibility of facing criminal charges for sending a text, knowing his friend was most likely driving. This story takes place in the days and months immediately following the accident as Carver embarks on a series of “Goodbye Days” with the other boys’ families and Eli’s girlfriend, Jesmyn. Told in present-day action combined with flashbacks, this novel captures the raw consequences of texting while driving in a way that is both real and meaningful.
Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of PA where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.
Biographies are unsung heroes in the reading lives of children. Well-written biographies can provide memorable and pleasurable experiences as much as they can insight into the lives of the people depicted. The books reviewed in this column will engage children in thinking about how these life stories contribute to their knowledge of events and other times and places.
Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books. Michelle Markel. Ill. Nancy Carpenter. 2017. Chronicle.
The first page of Balderdash! welcomes readers with the statement, “Lucky, lucky reader. Be glad it’s not 1726.” Why? Because at that time children had to read “preachy poems and fables” and “the future champion of children’s books was just a lad.” That lad was John Newbery, who loved books and went on to become a publisher and London bookseller. Newbery believed that reading should be a treat for children, and his first book for children, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, was just that. Newbery’s success in publishing delightful books for children led other publishers to produce children’s books and earned him the title of “Father of Children’s Literature.” Nancy Carpenter’s illustrations, rendered in pen and ink and digital media, are filled with details that set the scene and match the wit of Michelle Merkel’s text. An end note provides more information about John Newbery (1713–1767) and the books mentioned in Balderdash! and lists resources.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Ann Cole Lowe. Deborah Blumenthal. Ill. Laura Freeman. 2017. Little Bee.
Throughout her life, Ann Cole Lowe (1898–1981) “thought about what she could, not what she couldn’t change.” She used her energy, creativity, and resourcefulness to create beautiful gowns. Her great-grandmother had been a slave, her mother became a dress maker for fashionable women, and, from an early age, Ann loved using scraps of fabric in her mother’s shop to make beautiful flowers. Later, she fulfilled the orders for gowns left by her deceased mother and began her own career as a fashion designer in New York City. Although she faced discrimination, she learned that doing what one loves sets the spirit soaring. Ann continued to make beautiful gowns (including the wedding gown for Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy) and became a celebrated couturière. Drawings of gowns on the end sheets add interest, and the author’s note provides additional biographical detail.
Waiting for Pumpsie. Barry Wittenstein. Ill. London Ladd. 2017. Charlesbridge.
In Boston in 1959, young Bernard, the fictional narrator of the story and an avid baseball fan, wanted Elijah “Pumpsie” Green (b. 1933), a minor-league shortstop, to be the first black player for the Red Sox. Jackie Robinson had been retired already, yet Pumpsie was kept out of the game. The story is as much about the times in which Bernard lived, with the people’s growing sense of civil rights and integration, as it is about Pumpsie. The illustrations, rendered in acrylic paint with colored pencil, capture the excitement of the games and the expressions of Bernard and his family as they cheer for the team. After the game in which Pumpsie finally plays and the Red Sox becomes the last team in the Major Leagues to integrate, Bernard says, “One day I’ll tell my kids how long we waited for Pumpsie Green.” The back matter includes an author’s note and sources.
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History. Walter Dean Myers. Ill. Floyd Cooper. 2017. Harper/HarperCollins.
Walter Dean Myers centers this eloquent tribute to Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) around major life decisions Douglass made: teaching himself to read, escaping to freedom and taking refuge with abolitionists in New York City, becoming a voice for the anti-slavery movement and the rights of black people and women, and urging black men to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War. These decisions shaped Frederick Douglass’s life and the history of the United States. Floyd Cooper’s illustrations are dramatic portraits of this important figure in American history, who’s voice, “born in the soft tones of the slave population, truly became a lion’s roar.” Back matter includes a timeline and a bibliography.
Noah Webster’s Fighting Words. Tracy Nelson Maurer. Ill. Mircea Catusanu. 2017. Millbrook/Lerner.
In this cleverly designed book, Noah Webster (1758–1843) takes up a red pencil and edits Maurer’s story of his life and work. A staunch patriot, Webster had strong opinions about everything. He believed that a complete break from Great Britain should include the way in which Americans spoke and spelled words in the English language. Believing that change needed to start with school children, he wrote a speller in which words were spelled the way they sounded. He also insisted that a dictionary must change as people changed the way they used language. His An American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. Collage-style illustrations with excerpts of books, newspapers, and Webster’s letters and humorously detailed mixed-media cartoonlike images enhance the lively text of this biography of Noah Webster. Back matter includes author’s and illustrator’s notes, a timeline, sources of quotes, a selected bibliography, primary sources, and websites.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist. Cynthia Levinson. Ill. Vanessa Brantley Newton. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks (1952–2009) was accustomed to having Sunday dinner with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, and Jim Bevel as well as attended the meetings with Reverend King at Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham. It was 1963, and she wondered what she could do against injustice and inequality. When Reverend King asked who would be willing to go to jail in a civil rights protest march, Audrey had her chance to do something. What she didn’t know about were the harsh conditions of being in jail. The illustrations, rendered in digital collage, recount the Children’s Crusade March, which filled the town’s jails with arrested marchers, and Audrey’s week in jail. The back matter includes sources, a timeline, and an interview with Audrey Faye Hendricks, whose involvement as a civil rights activist is also part of Levinson’s (2012) We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March, a longer nonfiction book.
Higher, Steeper, Faster: The Daredevils Who Conquered the Skies. Lawrence Goldstone.2017. Little, Brown.
Aviation history of the beginning of the twentieth century often features Orville (1871–1948) and Wilbur Wright (1867–1912) and their Flyer at Kitty Hawk, but this book highlights the life of aviator Lincoln Beachey and tells the stories of men and women, who, in their passion for flying, experimented with aircraft. They flew airplanes in daring high stakes competitions in what Goldstone calls the exhibition era, testing the aerodynamics, speed, and power of aircraft, and engaging growing numbers of spectators, on both sides of the Atlantic, fascinated by what the airplane could do. By 1915 airplanes routinely flew “one hundred miles without refueling, attaining altitudes of more than twelve thousand feet, and reaching speeds greater than one hundred miles per hour.” Archival photographs of pilots, improvements to the airplane, and inventors, memorable moments of aerial daring, and entrepreneurs who financed the competitions illustrate the drama and purpose that drove invention and inspired pilots and airplane developers, including the Wright brothers. Back matter includes a timeline, glossary, source notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d. Mary Losure. 2017. Candlewick.
Isaac Newton (1642–1727) was a curious child and a loner, “living at a time when no one knew where magic ended and science began.” Isaac was intrigued by the writings of alchemists, who were searching for the miraculous philosopher’s stone. The largely self-taught Newton kept notebooks on his questions, observations, and experiments. His discoveries in mathematics and science, once kept secretively in his notebooks, became the foundation of physics. In the prologue Mary Losure affirms, “He would become the world’s greatest alchemist. He would also (by following his own odd and lonely path) become one of the greatest scientists who ever lived.” Illustrated with engravings and pages from Newton’s notebooks and published works, Losure’s narrative account of Isaac Newton’s life and work supports these statements in an accessible and engaging fashion. Back matter includes an author’s note, source notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Alice Paul and the Fight for Women’s Rights. Deborah Kops. 2017. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
Deborah Kops introduces readers to Alice Paul (1885–1977) in a well-researched biography that celebrates not only her life dedicated to the fight for women’s rights but also U.S. women’s history. Alice Paul was a tireless organizer of rallies and protest marches as leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and later of the National Woman’s Party. Picketing of the White House in support of the federal suffrage amendment resulted in numerous arrests and incarcerations for Paul and other suffragists. Paul’s fight for women’s rights did not end with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. She went on to write the Equal Right Amendment, which would have made all laws discriminating against women unconstitutional, and tirelessly worked for its passage in Congress and in support of its ratification until her death. The engaging narrative, with numerous quotes from Paul’s letters and journals, is enriched by a wealth of captioned archival photographs. Back matter includes a “Who Is Who” section, an author’s note, source notes, a bibliography, and index. This is an important and inspiring book for today.
Sandip Wilson serves as associate professor in the College of Health and Education of Husson University in Bangor, ME. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA.
National Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Day is celebrated annually on Beverly Cleary’s birthday, April 12. Teachers, librarians, and parents can find resources related to D.E.A.R. to encourage everyone to put other things aside everything and take time to read every day. The recently published fiction and nonfiction books reviewed in this column invite readers to explore engaging stories and information that will spark discussion and further inquiry.
Life on Mars. Jon Agee. 2017. Dial/Penguin.
This humorous book will keep young readers guessing as they consider both the words and the images. The story starts on the front endpaper, which shows a ship rocketing to Mars. On the following page readers meet the young boy who has just landed; he carries a box with a red ribbon around it and is searching for life. The boy tells us exactly what he is thinking and doing (“I can’t believe it. I’m lost!”). The text is simple, sparse, and straightforward. However, based only on the text, readers would only learn part of the story. The real action takes place in the art. Agee’s cartoon-style illustrations not only add to the humor but also advance the plot in a way young readers will find engaging and satisfying. Life on Mars isthe kind of picture book that begs to be read again and again.
My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis. Paul Meisel. 2017. Holiday House.
Did you know that the adult praying mantis can eat almost anything it finds or that it uses camouflage to hide from predators? In this cleverly designed book, P. Mantis takes readers on a journey through her life cycle. Written in a first-person diary format (“May 17: I was born today!”) with embedded facts about the praying mantis’ habitat, food preferences, protective instincts, and life cycle coupled with colorful acrylic paintings, this is an engaging and informative book. Meisel’s illustrations extend the text and add humor while inviting readers to search for P. Mantis, who is hidden among the leaves and branches in her habitat. Front and back matter include facts, diagrams, a glossary, and websites for more information about this fascinating insect.
The Banana-Leaf Ball: How Play Can Change the World (CitizenKid). Katie Smith Milway. Ill. Shane Evans. 2017. Kids Can.
Young Deo Rukundo and his family flee from war in Burundi, in East Africa. Displaced from his family, Deo finds his way to a refugee camp in Tanzania, where he keeps to himself, worries about his family, and reminiscences about playing soccer with his friends with balls made from banana leaves. When a coach from the Right to Play organization visits the camp and organizes a soccer game using a leather ball, Deo and Remy (a playground bully) end up on the same team. Deo’s natural soccer ability and sportsmanship shine on the field. When Deo passes the ball to Remy to score the winning goal for their team, they build a new understanding and respect for each other. Soon, Deo is teaching Remy and other boys how to make banana-leaf balls. The universal message of patience, tolerance, respect, and kindness will inspire readers. Shane Evans’ expressive paintings add depth and richness to the powerful and emotional narrative. The author’s note includes information about Benjamin Nzobonankira, the inspiration for the story. Benjamin, a former child refugee, now trains Right to Play coaches, who support youth, foster confidence, and build understanding and empathy through teamwork. The back matter contains photographs and resources about Right to Play and other organizations with the mission of teaching kids to trust and include others through play.
Grand Canyon. Jason Chin. 2017. Roaring Brook/Macmillan.
The lush watercolor illustrations will attract readers to this informational text about the geology and ecology of the Grand Canyon. Narrative elements combine with a variety of visual and textual features to make for an engaging read. The pictures tell a story of a father and daughter on a hike through the canyon while the text describes its geological features. Double-page spreads showing the young hiker in scenes millions of years ago alternate with pages on which scientific information is provided in sidebars. Using die cuts and sentences ending in ellipses, the art and the text encourage the reader to turn the pages. The story ends with a dramatic gatefold that captures a panoramic view of the canyon and the two explorers. Curious readers will find a wealth of additional information about the Grand Canyon, sources (books, websites, and articles), and a list of suggested reading in the back matter.
Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly into the Twentieth Century. Sue Macy. 2017. National Geographic.
Organized in five well-written and informative chapters, Sue Macy’s latest nonfiction selection chronicles the history of the automobile and the intricate paths, situated across politics and gender expectations, that opened opportunities for women of the early twentieth century to drive motor vehicles. Alice Ramsey, the first woman to drive a car across the United States, and other “Motor Girls” who revved up women’s place behind the wheel are featured. Glossy photographs, sidebar features, archival clippings, and period advertisements grace the pages. Macy masterfully weaves research and her unique writing style to inform readers of the significant contributions of women throughout history. Detailed back matter includes resources and an epilogue.
Short. Holly Goldberg Sloan. 2017. Dial/Penguin.
Julia Marks is short—very short—and it gets in her way until one summer when she reluctantly tries out for and gets cast as a munchkin in a community play. She makes some unlikely friends among members of the cast and crew in addition to her quirky and creative elderly neighbor, Mrs. Chang. Julia works her way through the pre-adolescent angst of her dog’s death, coming to terms with her height, and figuring out what’s important in life with wit and heart. She is a likable character, who will appeal to a variety of readers, and the story has enough complexity and action to hold readers’ attention.
American Street. Ibi Zoboi. 2017. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins.
Fabiola finds herself in Detroit on her own after her mother is detained as they enter the country from Haiti. Living with her three cousins and their mother, Fabiola begins to navigate life in the United States without letting go of her connections to Haiti, her spiritual life, or her mother. She makes friends, faces dangers within her new community, and is forced to make a difficult decision that might help her mother. American Street provides a glimpse into the immigrant struggle, as well as the urban landscape, with honesty and authenticity. Readers may recognize typical school and peer experiences in the story but will also be exposed to specific aspects of Haitian culture from an insider’s perspective.
The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power. AnnBausum. 2017. National Geographic.
When thinking of the Civil Rights Movement, there are people and events that immediately come to mind. The March Against Fear, a well-researched exploration of the 1966 march across Mississippi, is one of these. The march was the brainchild of James Meredith, but was organized and led by civil rights giants Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and Floyd McKissick after Meredith was shot at the beginning of the march. Captioned archival photographs and quotes throughout the text paired with vivid, unflinching descriptions of the sometimes almost unbelievable injustices and humiliations visited upon the marchers make the tension, fear, and determination they accessible to the reader. This book offers another avenue to enter the timeline of the Civil Rights Movement and highlights some lesser-known activists. Back matter includes an author’s note, source notes, a bibliography, and index.
Author Jason Chin will be at ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits as part of the Primary Author Meetup, which takes place Saturday, July 15, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor of early, middle, and exceptional education at Millersville University. She teaches classes in children’s literature at the graduate and undergraduate level. Her research interests include multicultural children’s literature and response to literature. Mary Napoli is an associate professor of Reading and Children’s Literature at Penn State Harrisburg, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate literacy courses. Hannah Oberg is a graduate student in the literacy education program at Penn State Harrisburg and a secondary English teacher.
Reading trade books is an important component of an interdisciplinary approach to developing literacy skills and learning STEM content. This week’s column includes recently published books that are good choices for introducing STEM topics and initiating discussions and activities as well as for encouraging independent reading in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
All Ears, All Eyes. Richard Jackson. Ill. Katherine Tillotson. 2017. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
A spare lyrical text and beautiful impressionistic illustrations, created using a combination of watercolor and digital techniques, invite readers to listen attentively to the sounds and look closely at the sights of the forest from twilight to dark of night. With a mix of rhyming phrases, questions, and onomatopoeia, the gentle text reads aloud well. “What surprises? / What sings? / Crick-crick-crickets / chirring / in the thick-thick-thickets / Whoo–whoo.” Young readers will enjoy spotting creatures hidden in the illustrations with each rereading.
Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs. Helaine Becker. Ill Marie-Ève Tremblay. 2017. Kids Can.
William Playfair (1759–1823), a Scott who dreamed big, invented graphs—line graphs, bar graphs, and pie charts—as ways of making data easier to understand. The scientists of his day, however, scoffed at his graphs. “Numbers showed serious works, colorful illustrations did not,” they declared. Playfair was also an entrepreneur who came up with numerous schemes for fulfilling his dreams of riches, fame, and glory, all of which failed. It was not until almost 100 years later that his graphs came into wide use. Digitally-created cartoon artwork adds humor to this picture book biography and provides a lesson in interpreting graphs.
Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper. Anastasia Suen. Ill. Ryan O’Rourke. 2017. Charlesbridge.
Young readers can join a small group of children in hardhats as a supervisor gives a tour of a construction site. Major steps in building a skyscraper are presented in double-page spreads with simple rhyming verses and brief paragraphs superimposed on digitally created illustrations. For example, an illustration showing a concrete mixer pouring out wet concrete is paired with “Pour, pour, pour! / Wet concrete / A line of mixers / Along the street” and an explanation (in smaller type) that it takes a lot of concrete to fill the trench in which the rebar cages have been placed. The final page folds out to reveal the completed skyscraper. Young children can learn more about skyscrapers by reading Libby Romero’s Skyscrapers (2017), a National Geographic Kids Reader.
What Will Grow? Jennifer Ward. Ill. Susie Ghahremani. 2017. Bloomsbury.
Rhyming couplets followed by the question “What will grow?” and gouache-on-wood illustrations offering visual clues to the answers introduce twelve seeds and the trees, flowers, fruits, or vegetables they grow into. Four gatefolds that open either up or down add to the fun of discovering whether readers’ answers are correct. For example, for “STRIPY BLACK. / CRUNCHY SNACK,” the right-hand page reveals a tall sunflower. Back matter includes information on planting each of the seeds and a “From Seed to Plant” section showing the life cycle of a sunflower.
The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park. Celia Godkin. 2017. Pajama Press.
With an engaging, accessible text and expressive mixed-media illustrations, Godkin tells the environmental success story of the reintroduction of the grey wolf to Yellowstone National Park. In 1995–1996, 23 grey wolves from Canada were released in the park, after more than 70-year absence. Godkin chronicles the subsequent recovery of the landscape and the positive effects of the reintroduction of this top predator over the years, as plants and animals native to the area thrived in the ecosystem. An endnote, “The Wolf in North America,” provides history of the wolf and a map of the pre-European and current North American wolf range.
Karl, Get Out of the Garden!: Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything. Anita Sanchez. Ill. Catherine Stock. 2017. Charlesbridge.
As a child growing up in Sweden, nature-loving Karl Linné (1707–1778) wanted to know the name of everything, but that could be confusing because a plant might have numerous common names. He set out to give everything a clear and simple name and to develop a classification system for all living things that is the basis for nomenclature and classification used by scientists today. In his lifetime, Karl classified and named more than 12,000 species of plants and animals, giving each a unique two-part name in Latin. He even gave himself a Latin-based version of his name: Carolus Linnaeus. Back matter includes additional information on scientific classification, a time line, source notes for quotations, resources for young readers, and a bibliography.
Skateboards (Made by Hand #1). Patricia Lakin. 2017. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
After an identification of the parts of a skateboard (deck, trucks, and wheels) and a history of the skateboard, readers are introduced to Jake Eshelman, who designs custom skateboards for his company, Side Project Skateboards. The step-by-step process—everything from choosing the material for the deck to crafting shock absorbers—is explained and illustrated with color photographs. Back matter includes a skateboard time line, glossary, and resources.
Things That Grow. Libby Walden. Ill. Becca Stadflander. 2017. 360 Degrees/Tiger Tales.
This beautifully designed book, with its small trim size, heavy paper, accessible narrative, and colorful, realistic illustrations, invites curious readers to explore the processes of development and growth of things in our diverse and ever changing world. The three sections—“Plants and Trees,” “The Animal Kingdom,” and “The Universe”—contain double-page spreads that introduce key concepts of the development of plants, animals, and features of our planet along with examples, such as the growth and survival of plants in extreme conditions; the unusual life cycle of the axolotl (the Mexican walking fish), a neotenic aquatic salamander; and the creation of islands.
Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animal Think, Talk, and Feel. Nancy F. Castaldo. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Following an introduction to the human brain in comparison to the those of other animals and a history of theories on animal intelligence, Castaldo delves into recent research exploring animal cognition. In a conversational tone, she presents information on numerous studies on problem solving, communication, tool use, and emotions in various animals. Castaldo ends with a “From Thinking Animals to Protected Animals” section about how the recognition of the intelligence of animals is changing how we see animals and affecting our treatment of them. Back matter includes activities for young people, lists of organizations and resources, a glossary, source notes, a bibliography, and an index.
Botanicum (Welcome to the Museum). Kathy Willis. Ill. Katie Scott. 2017. Big Picture/Candlewick.
A “Welcome to Botanicum” extends an invitation to visit a botanical museum to “discover the strange and wonderful kingdom of plants, in all its colorful, surprising majesty.” A tour through the seven galleries—“The First Plants,” “Trees,” “Palms and Cycads,” “Herbaceous Plants,” “Grasses, Cattails, Sedges, and Rushes,” “Orchids and Bromeliads,” and “Adapting to Environments”—introduces readers to the extraordinary diversity of the plant world. Each double-page spread of this beautifully crafted, oversize volume consists of a plate of pen-and-ink, digitally colored drawings of plants (or plant parts) accompanied by an introduction and key to the plate, with common and scientific names and brief descriptive and environmental notes on each plant. Back matter includes an index and internet resources.
A Dog in a Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human. Kay Frydenborg. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In this exploration of the human–dog relationship, Frydenborg considers how a shared history has influenced the development of both humans and canines. Recent paleontological discoveries show that humans have been living with dogs for thousands of years longer than was previously thought, and there is evidence that this close relationship has shaped the evolution of both species as they coevolved. Frydenborg also considers present-day scientific research on dogs that supports this concept. An abundance of color photographs with extensive captions and inserts on related topics add interest. Back matter includes a glossary, source notes, a selected bibliography, internet resources, and an index.
Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future. Rob Dunn. 2017. Little, Brown.
Rob Dunn, a professor of applied ecology, offers an accessible, well-researched history of the world’s food system in which relying on just a few crops to sustain populations throughout the world and our desire for consistency, uniformity, and abundance in our food —“having the food we want when we want it”—threatens agricultural sustainability. Dunn provides details of examples of how the dependence on genetically identical crops and cloning have led to greater susceptibility to pathogens, crop failure, and even famine, as in the case of the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. World-wide monoculture remains the norm: corn in North America, rice in Asia, cassava in Africa, and wheat in Europe. In highlighting the efforts of scientists to preserve biodiversity, Dunn provides a compelling argument for changes in agricultural practices to save our food supply and our future. Back matter includes extensive chapter notes and an index.
Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, CA.