Category Archives: children’s

Never give up

undefeated When I was in a different job and the kids were in first grade, we’d sit together and read in a quiet corner or a loud hallway.  Some would ask me, “Why don’t you just read it?”  Maybe they weren’t interested, didn’t want to, or were afraid they’d do it wrong – it could be any number of things stopping them.  But when you’re learning to read, you need the practice.  You need a lot of practice.

Jim Thorpe practiced constantly.  Even when he sat down, he visualized the next race or what he could do differently the next time. Things might have slowed him down once in a while, but it doesn’t sound like anything stopped him.  Whether on the football field or in an Olympic stadium, he and his teammates worked and prepared for excellence, even when many of the words written and thrown out at them were racist, belittling, and just plain wrong.

I’ve been waiting for this book for several months, because I’ve enjoyed Steve Sheinkin’s past work for young people.  The Port Chicago 50 and Most Dangerous are non-fiction favorites of mine, and this is a great addition.  Even if you aren’t a football fan, you might find yourself reading about the big games with a surprising amount of intensity.

I’m also a fan of Bill Bryson–graduate of the high school up the road from me.  I’m always telling people how much I like his work.  He could write about pineapple plantations or particle physics, and I’d read it.  He can write about things I’m not interested in at all, and I know I’ll still love reading it.  Bill Bryson, here’s your new buddy.  Write about anything, Steve Sheinkin.  I’ll read it.

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Because every octopus should have a ukulele

octopusOne of the many benefits of volunteering with the same teacher for more than six years – I know, SIX YEARS… it’s super fun—is that you can occasionally just show up with a ukulele and a picture book and share it with a class of third graders who do not seem at all surprised to find out you actually have three ukes in your house and can chatter on about the details of picture book art and cool words.

Also An Octopus is a book about writing and art and friendship and cool words, and there’s a really adorable bunny and a despondent octopus.  I could go on and on. There are layers of understanding here and scientists who are musicians.  That’s really all you need to know.  You can probably guess the rest.  Or not.  Still. Perfect for young writers and the whimsical among us.

Also An Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Benji Davies

Tagged , , , , , ,

Infographics to soothe the soul

animalsSome time ago, I taught a college class as an adjunct.  In a somewhat futile attempt to make working with numbers and data interesting and exciting, I did a mini-lesson on infographics and challenged the students to find an interesting way to visually represent some date on refugees and immigrants.  I brought in probably a dozen books, including a few by Steve Jenkins, to show them the really different and interesting ways you can get your point across using accurate information, color and images.  Was this successful?

Hmm.  Not really.  I mostly got back bar graphs and the occasional pie chart, even for a few things you can’t really use a pie chart to represent.  So it might have been a teaching fail, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for great infographics.

When Animals by the Numbers popped up in my stack of holds this week, I could tell from the cover it would be a good one.  (The word “infographics” was my first clue…)  The facts are super cool—want to know about the loudest animals?  Woo hoo, you’re covered!  Whether it’s finding how the cheetah compares in speed to some superfast birds or understanding just how many insects there are in the world, there is a lot to learn here and a lot to look at.

It’s a big, weird world out there.  Get your nerdy hat on and get ready for some fun.

Animals by the Numbers:  a book of animal infographics by Steve Jenkins


Tagged , , , ,

One for the Neanderthal enthusiasts

lucyandy“Cave life is such a pain!” the cover exclaims.  Indeed.

Some reasons why I like this book:

  1. The sibling rivalry and family dynamics. If you’ve read Jeffrey Brown’s Jedi Academy series, you’ll know what I mean.
  2. Humans and Neanderthals together in a graphic novel.  Excellent.
  3. Cartoon archaeologists.They drop in to give us facts and interesting information.  You could put them in just about any graphic novel, and I’d read it.   (Side note – when can I be a cartoon library worker in a book?) I’m not the target demographic, but I think nerdster kids will love this.
  4. There is actually a reference to Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. Again, you could mention him in about any book, and I’d read it.  I’m not from your time.  I don’t understand your ways.

You, Jeffrey Brown, understand this time and your readers’ ways.  Delightful.  And there’s more to come!

Lucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown

Tagged , , , , ,

2 stories about stories

I Am A Story – Dan Yaccarino

Follow a red bird as it travels through history, and you will see what a story can be.  Whether illuminated by monks or shared in a public library, by a campfire, or in a crowd on the street, stories go with us.  Banning, censoring and burning doesn’t stop them; technology doesn’t leave them behind.  This one is definitely worth a look as a conversation starter about how storytelling has changed in different cultures and across the centuries.

A Child of Books – Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

“I am a child of books.  I come from a world of stories and upon my imagination I float.”  It seems like a simple concept:  a girl leading a boy, a new friend, on a trip through stories.  On one level it is simple, and then you look more closely at the pictures.  Words are used to make mountains and branches, fill out a monster, and create a rope to climb down from a castle.  (Using the words from Rapunzel to make the rope – genius!)  The clouds of song are words from lullabies.  There’s so much to love in this for word lovers and story lovers and artists and dreamers.  And I will use my imagination, friends, to find a reason to buy this one and share it with children of all ages.  I’ve already mentioned it to a few!


Tagged , , , , , , ,

3 sweet and funny picture books to lighten up your fall

When the political ads and life’s dramas make you feel a little cranky and down, take a minute and check out these silly reads:

The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon by A.N. Kang – Papillon is so darn fluffy, he floats!  Not even the most ridiculous costume can anchor him, and one day, he follows his heart and drifts away, following a new friend on an adventure.  A delightfully sweet ending ensues.

King Baby by Kate Beaton – King Baby is a bit of a tyrant, at times benevolent and loving, but extremely demanding on occasion, too.  Anyone who’s spent time around an infant lately will laugh a little to see the exhausted parents and King Baby, who wants “not this thing! The other thing!”  Does he look just the slightest bit maniacal at times?  Perhaps, but he is on his way to greater things.

I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt and Scott Magoon – Theodore is a bit of a mystery, hiding out in a cave, not particularly interested in any of the many potential dinners that walk by.  Then a pesky boy arrives.  A nice snack or a new friend?  “I can always eat him later, thought Theodore.” Perfect.




Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

5 imaginative picture books — very different but very wonderful!


As sometimes happens when publishing season hits and I’m blessed with too many books at once – aren’t libraries wonderful? – I’d just been thinking about how much I enjoyed the five books below when it struck me.  They’re really all about imagination in one form or another, whether it’s coming up with a toy that’s a huge hit or singing songs to imagine a better life or solving a problem or taking a walk to the playground or painting a mural.  So, if you need a boost and are looking for something different, find these five and settle in for something wonderful.  Your mind will fill with color and joy and sadness and awe and excitement.

  • The Marvelous Thing that Came from a Spring:  The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation by Gilbert Ford.  Who knew that the Slinky had such an interesting backstory? It’s unexpected, and the art is interesting and fun and wonderfully quirky.  It’s also nice to see a successful partnership between two very different kinds of people who work together to create something memorable.
  • Like a Bird:  The Art of the American Slave Song by Cynthia Grady and Michele Wood.  You might not know all of the songs, but the explanations of their meanings and the art that accompanies them will draw you in. The pictures are powerful and both joyful and sad, and if you can read music, you can also sing along and feel the deep power in another way.
  • Playground by Mies Van Hout.  Bright, happy, zippy, busy, too busy but not really, creative, colorful – I could go on and on. This one is just flat out bubbly joy in a book.  Imagine it and you can be it, and real world might just pale in comparison!
  •  Maybe Something Beautiful:  How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howel and Rafael Lopez.  In a time of expanding interest in diverse picture books—thank goodness!–this a real treat. You see the whole wild variety of a community–ages, jobs, personalities, skin tones and all.  Art is transforming and power and beautiful and joyous!  Yay!
  • Follow the Moon Home:  A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles by Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So.  There’s a new kid, a new school, and a new group project. They’ll have to figure out a problem to solve and work within their community to change something – where to begin?  In this case, it’s keeping the beaches dark on the nights the baby sea turtles are heading into the ocean.  This would be a perfect one for kids who need reassurance that they can be the change that makes the world a better place.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When your vice principal is a little too much like HAL…

fuzzyMiddle school is no fun in a world where standardized testing determines everything.   (This is supposed to be the future, a time when tweens and teens reference slang from fifty years ago like “awesome, bro.”)  Vice Principal Barbara is an automated administrator, charged with monitoring everyone and everything:  students, teachers, hallway behavior, the all-important test scores.  Then Fuzzy arrives.

Fuzzy is a robot designed to learn from others, part of an experiment to see if robots can have independent thoughts, “fuzzy” thoughts which might be outside of their programming.  Things get a little crazy.  Detentions are flying left and right.  Robots are breaking the rules.  Vice Principal Barbara is rewriting her code to get rid of the kids (and adults) who lower her averages.

It’s a funny dystopian take on the usual middle school story, and there are laughs in it for adults, too.  If you’ve ever felt like standardized testing is the opposite of education, you’ll smile.  If you’ve ever had an awful boss or dictatorial teacher or suspected your computer is working against you, you’ll also love the depiction of Vice Principal Barbara.  So, really, there’s something for all of us.   Awesome, bros.

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger

Tagged , , , , , ,

A little light reading with hedgehogs and puppies

buddy-earl-baby_1How did I miss the Buddy and Earl books?  Ok, maybe there are only 3 of them.  Maybe they happened to be released when I just wasn’t paying attention.  Maybe they’re a little wordier than my usual picture book reads.  Who knows?

But Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby?  I’m this close to using OMG in a post, people.  This baby is a disaster!  It eats Earl’s food, licks Buddy’s toy, escapes from its cage (playpen) and washes Dad’s new shoes in the toilet.  Earl’s response?  “Go find something else for the baby to wash.  We need to keep him busy until help arrives.”  Ha!  Earl may be a bit of a drama queen for a hedgehog, but he’s hilarious.  Buddy provides just the right amount of common sense to make things even funnier.  Maureen Fergus, Carey Sookocheff – get to work on the next one.    I’m thinking it can only make the world a better place.

Buddy and Earl and the Great Big Baby by Maureen Fergus and Carey Sookocheff

Tagged , , , , , , ,

5 on getting the vote


The elections are coming.  (Insert your own suggestively menacing sound.)  That makes it a great time to talk with kids, young and old.  These five books address the topic in very different ways, but all speak to the power of having the right to vote.

For younger readers – grades K-3:

  •  Lillian’s Right to Vote, Jonah Winter and Shane Evans – 100 year old Lillian thinks on the history of her African American family’s voting rights as she walks to the polls.
  • One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote, Bonnie Worth and Aristides Ruiz – The Cat in the Hat takes readers through how American’s vote, how parties are formed and interesting facts like why Election Day is in November.
  • Around America to Win the Vote, Mara Rockcliff and Hadley Hooper – Nell Richardson and Alice Burke take a trip across and around America to support votes for women in the early 20th
  • Miss Paul and the President, Dean Robbins and Nancy Zhang – A biography of Alice Paul, suffragist and women’s rights advocate.

For older readers – ages 12 and up

  • Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, Lynda Lowery Blackmon as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, illustrated by P.J. Loughran. Blackmon was the youngest marcher in the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,