Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Books from Quarantine: Civil War Hero Robert Smalls

The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by Duane Smith, (Feb. 2020, Lee & Low Books), $9.95, ISBN: 9781643790169

Ages 7-11

I really like Lee and Low’s “The Story of…” series: for me, it’s easily a companion series to the more well-known “Who Was…?” series from Penguin Random House, and the subjects of the “Story of” books shine spotlights on people of color that we may not hear about as often. The biography of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls, by Janet Halfmann (The Midnight Teacher) and illustrated by Duane Smith (Seven Miles to Freedom), is a concise, thorough biography of Robert Smalls, an enslaved steamboat wheelman who saved his family and crew when he used the captain’s hat and cover of darkness to commandeer a Confederate ship and steer it directly to the Union – and freedom. Filled with illustrations and photos, readers get a great picture of Robert Smalls and his nighttime ride through Confederate waters, and his life afterward, including his further actions in the Civil War, where he took part in 17 battles, and his post-War life, when he founded the Republican Party i South Carolina and helped write the new democratic state constitution and a proposal on education, his activity in the state militia, where he attained the rank of major general, and his political life, winning seats in both the South Carolina house and senate. The book includes a timeline of of Smalls’s life and a glossary of terms, plus references and a list of further reading.

Treat yourself to this book, and this series, and treat yourself to more books about Robert Smalls, including Janet Halfmann and Duane Smith’s picture book, Seven Miles to Freedom, also published by Lee & Low, and Be Free or Die, by Cate Linberry, is available for teens and adults. Smithsonian Magazine has an excellent article on Smalls.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

I loved Under My Hijab!

Under My Hijab, by Hena Khan/Illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel, (Feb. 2019, Lee & Low), $17.95, ISBN: 9781620147924

Ages 4-8

This rhyming tale stars a young girl who observes members of her family and her scout leader, when they wear hijab, and when they don’t. Grandma wears it to work at the bakery, but at home in her kitchen, her hair is up in a bun. When Mama, a doctor, is seeing patients, she wears a pretty, bright hijab tucked into her coat, and at home, her hair is down as she plants her flowers. Auntie, an artist, has a funky hijab with a jewel, and when she’s home helping our narrator hang her own paintings, she’s got an equally funky hairstyle, complete with pink and purple streaks! Each woman in our main character’s life wears a hijab as individual as they are, and as our little friend tries on her own hijab at home, she plays with accessories and dreams of the bright future in front of her.

What a wonderful way to explain hijab to young readers! The colorful, bright Photoshop artwork speaks of individuality and fun, giving realistic, playful life to the upbeat, lively, and informative rhyme. Back matter explains the meaning of hijab and how some women choose to wear it, while others may not, noting that “it can be a beautiful expression of the Islamic faith”.

An absolutely must-add to your collections and storytimes.  Display and booktalk with Saadia Faruqi’s fabulous second grader, Yasmin, author Hena Khan’s award-winning middle grade novel, Amina’s Voice, and Aisha Saeed’s Amal Unbound. There are great Muslim middle grade and YA resources out there, too: here’s a list of picture books from No Time for Flash Cards; list of books from Diversity in YA; here’s a list from Goodreads, and a great list from Teaching While Muslim. There’s a great interview with author Hena Khan on kidlit ambassador extraordinaire John Schu’s blog, too!

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words

Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words, by Karen Leggett Abouraya/Illustrated by Susan L. Roth, (Jan. 2019, Lee and Low), $19.95, ISBN: 9781620148389

Ages 6-10

This latest biography of activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks to younger, intermediate readers on their level: she grew up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, lovingly referred to by Malala as “my Swat”. Her father was the principal of a school for girls, and she grew up loving books and learning. In 2007, when the Taliban came to power and tried to ban education for girls and women, Malala began blogging, under a pen name; her blog was picked up by the BBC’s website in 2009. Her family fled the Swat Valley when Pakistan’s army fought the Taliban, but they returned when the fighting was over, finding much of their home destroyed. In 2012, Malala and two friends   were shot by Taliban soldiers who boarded their school bus. She was taken to a hospital in England, and her activism became a worldwide phenomenon, speaking at the United Nations and receiving a Nobel Prize for her work.

The text is straightforward, describing the Taliban’s policies and even Malala’s shooting in plain language. The Taliban doesn’t get to take Malala’s story away from her: she shines here, with her accomplishments and her dedication to education for all being the main focus of the book. Her awards and her studies are lauded, as is her love of the color pink and her love for her family and her home. Back matter includes information on Pakistan, the Taliban, The Malala Fund, and a spotlight on youth activism and organizations.

The collage art is outstanding. Most of the artwork is soft, using felts and fabrics with warm and soft colors to create Malala, her family, her world, and the diversity of the United Nations and our world; even when women must don black clothing to avoid notice by the Taliban, the crisp blacks and whites of the characters clothing are felt: soft, warm. That all changes for the two pages introducing the Taliban, which depicts them using photo art with crudely drawn, mask-like faces. It made me sit up the first time I read the book, and on subsequent readings, I realized how brilliant illustrator Susan L. Roth is. It’s a subtle, but jarring change that lets readers experience just a fraction of the discomfort, the fear, that these figures brought with them. Incredible artwork by an award-winning illustrator, and it supports and gives life to Karen Leggett Abouraya’s informative reporting. Add this to your picture book biographies.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Bookjoy, Wordjoy, Reading Joy!

Bookjoy, Wordjoy, by Pat Mora/Illustrated by Raúl Colón, (May 2018, Lee & Low), $17.95, ISBN: 9781620142868

Recommended for readers 5-9

Fans of words and language will enjoy this book of poems by award-winning author and poet Pat Mora, beautifully illustrated by award-winning children’s book artist Raúl Colón. Each spread presents vibrant, colorful artwork with accompanying wordplay celebrating books, words, and the fun of playing with language; English and Spanish words come together like old friends; or, as Mora would have it, “toast and jelly/o queso y tortillas”. Most of the poems flow in free verse, and every selection is upbeat and loaded with a sense of play. Artist Raúl Colón’s images have a lovely Mexican influence, with bright colors coming together and communicating in rich visuals.

This is a great jumping-off point for introducing younger readers and writers to poetry, particularly free verse poetry, which demands less rigor and allows more freedom and imagination. Give kids visual points and ask them to think up their own poems, or flip the tables and introduce them to mural art by taping some butcher paper (or the blank side of an old roll of wrapping paper) across a wall, a table, or another long, flat surface. Let them go wild, and then ask them to talk about what they see. You’ll be amazed at a kid’s natural poetry.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, picture books, Preschool Reads

June Picture Book Roundup

There are so many good books for Summer Reading hitting shelves in June! Let younger readers explore new worlds and meet new friends with some of these picture books.

Seven Pablos, by Jorge Luján/Illustrated by Chiara Carrer, Translated by Mara Lethem, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702534

Seven boys share the same name. Seven short vignettes share the stories of seven lives, taking readers from the copper mines in Chile to a refugee family living in Mexico, from a garbage dump in Peru to a streets of the Bronx, New York. Seven Pablos sheds light on the living conditions of children around the world in sparse, quietly powerful text. Graphite pencil art creates a dreamlike atmosphere for this lyrical story by Poet Jorge Luján.

Seven Pablos is deeply moving and continues to call attention to the plight of migrant and refugee families around the world. One scene expresses the rage these kids hold within them, as one Pablo tells a visiting poet that he wants to be a “big guy in a uniform” so he can “beat people up and get away with it”. A refugee Pablo recites a poem – in actuality, written by a 9-year-old Argentine child – where he imagines soldiers crushing roofs with their boots. Luján ends his story with the beautiful reminder that there are many Pablos in the world, and each one has a heart that beats with the rhythm of our world.

The Turtle Ship, by Helena Ku Rhee/Illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage, (June 2018, Lee and Low Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781885008909
Recommended for readers 6-12
This folk tale is based on Korean history. A boy named Sun-sin dreams of seeing the world with his pet turtle, Gobugi, and discovers his chance when the king announces a contest: design the best battleship to defend the land. The winner will receive ten bags of copper coins and the chance to travel with the royal navy. After a few failed attempts at a design, Sun-sin notices that his turtle is strong, slow, and steady, and decides that the best design will be based on Gobugi. At first, he’s laughed at in the king’s court, but when a cat tries to attack the turtle, the king and his court all see that there is something to the boy’s idea. Thus, the Korean Turtle Ships were created, and the boy grew to be famed Admiral Yi Sun-sin.
The story is best served by the incredible paper collage artwork, created using paper from all over the world. The art gives the story drama, color, and texture, and the story itself is as good for read-alouds as it is for independent reading. This is a nice addition to historical collections and cultural folktales. An author note on the Korean Turtle Ships provides some background on the legend of Yi Sun-sin and the Turtle Ship design.

Johnny, by Guido van Genechten, (June 2018, Clavis Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781605373775

Recommended for readers 3-5

Johnny is an adorable spider with a secret to share, but everyone’s afraid of him! Wanna know his secret? It’s his birthday, and he wants to share his cake! This adorable book by Guido van Genechten is a good story to read when talking to kids about judging others based solely on appearances.

I have to admit, I needed to read this one a couple of times because I felt so bad for Johnny! It’s his birthday, and he’s all alone because everyone’s afraid of him! And then I figured it out: that’s the point. I mean, I know it was the point to begin with, but having Johnny celebrate with only the reader by the story’s end leaves a reader feeling badly – and that’s the time to talk about empathy. Ask kids how they would feel if people didn’t want to be near them because someone didn’t like the way they looked. Ask how they would feel if they had a birthday party and no one came! And then, for heaven’s sake, throw Johnny a birthday party: have some cupcakes and fruit punch, and sing Happy Birthday to the poor guy. He deserves it. Guido van Genechten’s cute, expressive, boldly outlined artwork is instantly recognizable and appealing to younger readers.

 

Swim Bark Run, by Brian & Pamela Boyle/Illustrated by Beth Hughes, (June 2018, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510726963

Recommended for readers 3-7

Daisy the Bulldog is so proud of her humans, Brian and Pam, when they compete in triathlons. She wonders if she could train and compete like they do, and decides to enlist the help of her fellow doggie buddies, Rascal, Atticus, and Hobie, to hold their own Dog-Athlon! Daisy is full of energy at first, but when she starts getting tired, a familiar face at the finish line gives her the boost she needs!

Swim Bark Run is a cute book about physical activity, competition and cooperation, and determination. The digital artwork is bright and cute, giving the dogs happy, friendly faces and includes a nice amount of action as the pups train for their big day. There are positive messages about working together and encouraging one another. This is a cute additional add for readers who like animal books and books about physical fitness.

Seven Bad Cats, by Moe Bonneau, (June 2018, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492657101

Recommended for readers 4-7

A child gets ready to go out on a fishing boat, but seven bad cats make progress very difficult. I love this rhyming, counting tale of seven cats who do what cats do best: get in the way! They eat from the traps, take naps on the oars and steal the child’s gloves, and generally make themselves a nuisance until the boat flips over, and the cats band together to save the day. The book counts up from one to seven until the boat flips everything over, including the story, and the countdown from seven back to one ends the fun. The watercolor artwork adds a nice, watery feel to this seafaring tale, and the cats are hilarious, using their whole bodies to get up to all sorts of no good; even appearing in mug shots on one page. They sprawl, they curl, they stretch, and they swim – they may not like it, but a cat’s gotta do what a cat’s gotta do! This one is a thoroughly enjoyable add to storytime and concept collections. Give this to your cat loving kids! (Also good for a readaloud with flannels or beanie babies.)

 

Finn’s Feather, by Rachel Noble/Illustrated by Zoey Abbot, (June 2018, Enchanted Lion), $17.95, ISBN: 9781592702398

Recommended for readers 4-8

In this touching story about grief, loss, and remembrance, a young boy named Finn finds a feather at his doorstep. It’s white, amazing, perfect. It has to be from his brother, Hamish, and Finn tells his mother and his teacher, who take a deep breath and smile; Finn doesn’t understand why they aren’t as excited as he is. His friend Lucas is, though: it’s got to be an angel’s feather, it’s so perfect, and the two friends take Hamish with them on the playground, running with the feather as if it were an additional friend. Finn uses the feather as a quill to write a note to Hamish that evening, and sets the envelope holding the letter in a tree, so the wind will carry it to Hamish.

Inspired by author Rachel Noble’s loss, this moving story about a sibling grieving and remembering is gentle, understanding, and an excellent book to have available for children moving through grief. The soft pencil artwork and gentle colors provide a calming, soothing feel to the story.

 

Ready to Ride, by Sébastien Pelon, (June 2018, words & pictures), $17.95, ISBN: 9781910277737

Recommended for readers 3-7

A young boy finds himself bored on a day home, until his mother sends him out to play. An imaginary friend joins him, and together, they learn to ride a bike! This is a fun, light story about imagination and getting outdoors to play. The imaginary friend is a big, white, two-legged figure – think yeti without the shag – wearing a pointy pink hat and protectively towers over the boy, helping him learn to ride the bike. When the boy heads home after a day of play, his new friend disappears, which is a bit of a letdown. Maybe he’ll show up again. There’s a “Certificate for a Super Cyclist” at the end of the book; a cute prize for kids who learn to ride. This one is an additional add if you’ve got kids who like bike-riding.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Lion (Forge), Tigers, and Bears… Oh, My!

In a twist on the classic Wizard of Oz quote, I found myself with a tiger book, a bear book, but no lion book. Lion Forge came to the rescue with a hilarious (and animal-related) picture book! Enjoy!

This is a Taco!, by Andrew Cangelose/Illustrated by Josh Shipley, (May 2018, Lion Forge), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1941302729

Recommended for readers 4-8

Lion Forge Comics also puts out some really good kids’ books. This is a Taco! is a laugh-out-loud take on a nature book about squirrels that breaks the fourth wall. Taco is a squirrel who loves tacos. As the nonfiction narrative on squirrels progress, Taco is there to disabuse readers of any facts they may be picking up about squirrels. Squirrels eat tree bark? This is news to Taco, who really wants to know where his tacos are. Great climbers? Taco’s terrified! He lives in a bush! Taco has enough by the time a section on hawks – the greatest squirrel predator – shows up on the scene, and decides to change the story. Grabbing a red pen, Taco writes his own happy ending and imparts serious wisdom to readers: “if you want tacos in your story, then YOU make sure there are tacos in your story”.

Kids are going to love this hilarious book. Taco the Squirrel is right up there with Mo Willems’ Pigeon in terms of characters who take charge of their stories and bring the laughs. This makes for a great creative writing exercise with older kids; let them “rewrite” their own stories with weeded picture books or some photocopied pages. Show them Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s Battle Bunny for another example of a picture book taking on a life of its own. And for taco-loving readers, get those Dragons Love Tacos books on the display shelves. This book is way too much fun – get it into the hands of kids, ASAP! There’s a companion book, This is a Whoopsie, coming out in October.

 

The Tiptoeing Tiger, by Philippa Leathers, (Feb. 2018, Candlewick Press), $14.00, ISBN: 9780763688431

Recommended for readers 3-7

Everyone knows that tigers are sleek, silent, and totally terrifying. Except for Little Tiger. He can’t seem to get anyone in the forest to notice him, let alone be afraid of him! After his brother bets that he can’t scare any animal in the forest, Little Tiger sets off, determined to frighten someone. He tiptoes his way through the book, trying to scare boars, elephants, and monkeys, with no luck. Isn’t there anyone he can scare before the day is out?

This is a great book for the littles, who LOVE “scaring” people. I remember I couldn’t walk out of my bathroom without my little guy jumping and “boo!”-ing me starting around the age of 3. (He’s 5 now, and still tries it; these days, it’s usually with a Nerf sniper rifle.) The author speaks to a child’s desire to be seen as someone bigger, and the frustration at being ignored, or worse – laughed at – when they’re trying to be like the bigger folks. The repetition of Little Tiger’s tiptoeing up to his prey invites readers to be part of the story, whether they tiptoe with their toes or walk their fingers on a surface. Let them give their best ROAR! to see how they’d match up with Little Tiger.

The pencil and watercolor illustrations are adorable; very kid-friendly, and leave a lot of open space to show the size differences between Little Tiger and the rest of the animals. Green endpapers with fern leaf patterning bring readers into the story. The Tiptoeing Tiger is a fun story about being small, but determined. A fun additional book for animal lovers.

 

The Curious Cares of Bears, by Douglas Florian/Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, (Aug. 2017, little bee books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0462-1

This rhyming story takes readers through the four seasons with a group of bears and how they spend their time. In the spring, they love to climb trees and steal honey from bees, play and chase each other; in the summer, there’s swimming and games, family reunions, and parties; in the fall, they play all day and sing by a campfire at night; and when winter arrives, it’s time to make their way to their den to hibernate, until the spring thaw comes, and they get ready to explore their world all over again.

This is a gentle, fun read about the seasons. The group of cuddly bears pass their time in similar ways to our own families, which makes for some fun questions to pose to readers, especially near different seasonal school breaks. The rhyming text has a nice, steady rhythm for readers and the soft art makes the bears look fuzzy and cuddly, like the best bear books do. Endpapers feature an extended family group of bears wandering around the forest, setting the tone for the story. Give this to your teddy bear loving readers, and booktalk with some easy reader season books, like those from Rookie Readers.

 

Great Polar Bear, by Carolyn Lesser, (Apr. 2018, Seagrass Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781633225022

Recommended for readers 5-8

I had to add an extra bear book here, because Great Polar Bear is just beautiful. A nonfiction book written in verse, Carolyn Lesser takes readers through a year in the life of a polar bear. Originally published in 1996 as The Great Crystal Bear (illustrated by William Noonan), this new edition features all-new collage artwork by Lesser; it gives beautiful texture and depth to the illustrations. The narrative brings facts to readers through rhythmic verse, rather than terse statements: the bear’s fur, for instance, “gathers sunlight, to heat your black skin and thick layer of fat”. We also learn about the endangered environment and problems caused by climate change. Back matter contains “Explorer’s Notes” and emphasizes conservation. This is a good additional text for nonfiction collections where bears are popular.

 

Africa Calling, Nighttime Falling, by Danny Adlerman/Illustrated by Kim Adlerman, (March 2018, Lee and Low Books), $9.95, ISBN: 9781620147955

Recommended for readers 3-7

For my Oh My! book, I’ve got the bedtime story, Africa Calling, Nighttime Falling; a mellow story about African animals in their habitats as the sun sets for the day. The rhyming text leads includes quiet accompanying phrases for each animal: “As moonlight cloaks the desert land, Viper slinks across the sand… swiftly sliding, vipers gliding”. I read them as whispered phrases, between stanzas, because it seems to really work with my Kindergartner. The artwork includes collage over paintings, with what looks like some photographic media mixed in. The twist at the end brings this full circle when readers see that it’s a little girl’s imagination, before bedtime, and that she’s surrounded by her jungle’s worth of stuffed animals. It’s a nice additional add where bedtime stories and animal books are popular, and a good one to test out with stuffed animal sleepover storytimes.

 

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

The Midnight Teacher’s bravery

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by London Ladd, (Feb. 2018, Lee and Low), $18.95, ISBN: 9781620141632

Recommended for readers 7-11

Lilly Ann Granderson was born a slave, taught to read by her master’s children, who played school with her. As she grew up, she practiced her spelling and reading in secret – in some areas, it was against the law to teach slaves to read – and eventually began teaching other slaves. She was determined to teach as many of her people as she could, to give them the chance at freedom made possible through education, and began a midnight school where slaves would gather after dark to learn, risking cruel punishment if they were discovered. Eventually, Lilly Ann won the right to start a school and a Sabbath church school, where she could teach her students with no fear of repercussion.

This picture book biography looks at the life of an overlooked champion for literacy and social justice and makes an excellent addition to biography collections. Lilly Ann Granderson’s determination and perseverance; her desire to to learn and promote learning among others is an important and, sadly, relevant topic today. Talk about how education leads to freedom, and mention that education is not always a right, even today. Malala Yousafzai’s picture book biography, For the Right to Learn, illustrates this and is a good companion to Midnight Teacher.

The artwork is realistic and subdued, made with acrylic paint and colored pencil; London Ladd gives character and expression to his characters, particularly Lilly Ann Granderson, whose determination and inner strength shine through. An afterword provides an overview of Granderson’s life and those of her descendants, who went on to become activists, had life in public service, and found professional success. A nice bibliography has more resources for interested readers, caregivers, and educators. Midnight Teacher has a starred review from Kirkus and is a must-add to collections where picture book biographies are available.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction

Say Gracias-Thanks! every day!

graciasGracias ~ Thanks, by Pat Mora/Illustrated by John Parra. Translated by Adriana Dominguez, (2005, Lee & Low Books), $17.95, ISBN: 9781600602580

Recommended for ages 4-8

Told in English and Spanish, a biracial boy gives thanks for everyday things, from the bee that didn’t turn him into a pincushion to his brother making him laugh so hard he fell off his chair; for his friend, who showed him a book with a great idea about what to do with troublesome parents, to his abuelita, who always has a dollar to give him. It’s a sweet, lyrical look at the little things we encounter daily, but may not remember to be grateful for. A note from the author asks readers what they’re thankful for and notes that making a list helps keep track of all the little things to be thankful for.

The book is a gentle reminder to be thankful for things all year long – we don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to say “thank you” for things that make us happy! This can be a jumping-off point for a discussion about being grateful and saying thank you more often. Have the kids contribute with three things that they are grateful for today.

Gracias ~ Thanks received starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus Reviews, and is a Pura Belpre Honor Book (2010). It has received numerous awards and honors, including the 2010/2011 Gelett Burgess Award – Children’s Book of the Year and the 2009 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration.

Pat Mora’s author website includes some ideas and activities to use when reading Gracias, and a page dedicated to the book lists its multiple awards and honors, includes a video from the author.

I love anything by Pat Mora – she writes instant classics that draw focus to small moments, as with Gracias, folklore (Doña Flor), and love for our families (so, so many books). Her books, by virtue of being bilingual, invite all readers to sit down and enjoy a story. Together.