Tag Archives: children’s

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.
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One person making a difference

bk_letyourvoiceEvery time I hear “If I Had A Hammer”, I think of three things other than a hammer, a bell and a song.  I think of nuns, protesting, and then Pete Seeger.

Back in the early 1990s, I lived at the Queen of the Holy Rosary convent for a spell.  Not all of the nuns living there were social justice activists, but a few were, and they were my ride to anti-war protests.  I worked with them in a clinic for the homeless and uninsured by day, and by night, they kept living their faith promoting peace.  In the space before I went off to spend two years volunteering full-time, it was eye-opening for me to see how strongly they tried to live their principles.

It was at one of those peace rallies that I first understood Pete Seeger’s influence.  We sang several of his songs – all easy to sing, all songs for regular people to join in on – and I was struck by how powerful it was to sing together of hope, love, and the future.  It all sounds hopelessly idealistic, I know.

Let Your Voice Be Heard brought me back to that time.  Pete Seeger’s long life was filled with social justice activism, from standing up for the poor and working men and women to working for voting rights and against the Vietnam War.  He was also an environmental activist and cared about people just listening to and getting along with each other.  His story may seem far away from young people today – he was actually called before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s—but his life is really the story of all of us.  What do we care about enough to stand up and be heard?  Can we do that and be nonviolent?  Can we create a better future for all children, not just our own?  And what will that demand from us?

There’s a lot to think about after reading this book.  In the author’s note, Anita Silvey comments on the wealth of information out there about Pete Seeger because of his very public life.  I imagine it was difficult to narrow it down into this beautiful and moving remembrance of his life, but I’m glad she took the time, both so I could walk down memory lane a bit, and so I could learn a few new things about an exceptional person who shared the earth with us for a good, long life.

Let Your Voice Be Heard:  The Life and Times of Pete Seeger by Anita Silvey


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Words have power

saving wonderTowards the end of the book, Curley’s Papaw says, “Never take any word for granted… they all have the power to shape our world.”

Throughout the book, we’ve watched Curley learn word after word – eradicate, fallible, gullible, persist, untenable, venerable – as his world is changed.  It’s not just that he might be losing his way of life and the mountain he’s loved.  He’s already lost his parents and little brother to accidents connected with the coal mining in the mountains.  He might also be losing his beloved friend Jules to the new guy in town,as well as Old Charley, the tree they’ve climbed and watched the world from.  To Curley, it sometimes seems like everything is changing, all at once, and at a speed he just can’t keep up with.

Curley’s connection to nature and love for his home carries the story, and the other characters ring true, too – his Papaw’s relationship with an old friend, the new kid in town, the people in the community with mixed feelings about the power of the coal company.  The story doesn’t tie everything up in neat little bows, although there are some convenient revelations here and there, but that’s kind of like life, isn’t it?

Saving Wonder by Mary Knight

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Outsiders, mysteries, friendship

trunelleFinding someone who understands can be a lifelong struggle, no matter you are.  Imagine being a precocious, intelligent boy with a flair for fashion and drama and two unreliable parents who drop you with cousins in Monroeville, Alabama during the Great Depression.  Living in the neighborhood is a girl who has short hair “like a boy”, wears overalls, admires Sherlock Holmes, and is tough as nails.  She’s also bound to be an outsider, but together you could be a formidable team.

Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee, the future authors, spent part of their childhoods together in Monroeville, and this partially imagined set of connected stories about their time as friends is what you’d expect – funny, sometimes witty or snarky, full of bumps up against authority and what society expects.

Much of what happens will already be familiar if you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, but it’s a fun read even so, and an interesting way to start a conversation about people who stand out as Nelle and Truman did.  In this version of their lives, both struggled with figuring out who they wanted to be and how they wanted to be seen, even if they seemed confident in who they were at first glance. Together, their friendship gave them a safe place to figure that out while pushing the boundaries of small town life.

Tru and Nelle by G. Neri

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Read all about it! Spunky girl detective, Al Capone’s Chicago, tough female reporters…

isabelfeeneyLooking for strong characters?  Action?  Clever retorts?  Friendships that aren’t sappy?  Oh, this one’s perfect for you!

Isabel Feeney is an exceptionally plucky newsgirl, trying to help out with the family finances after her father has died in the Great War.  She dreams of being like the lady reporters who do more than write about fashion and society news.  Her idol is Maude Collier, a Tribune reporter who writes about crime, bringing to light the good and bad about the murderesses and other criminals so prevalent in Chicago at that time.

Then one night, one of Isabel’s regular customers is too close when her criminally connected boyfriend is shot and killed.  Did Miss Giddings do it?  Isabel arrives just after the shots are fired, doesn’t believe it, and with the help of Robert, Miss Giddings’ son, and Flora, daughter of the deceased, she sets out to prove it.

Their friendship is not an easy one, but it’s often hilarious and full of snappy dialogue.  Isabel’s got theories, tons of them, and she ropes in anyone close by to help her pull apart what really happened.  Maude realizes Isabel’s got a nose for stories, even as Detective Culhane dismisses her, so she helps.  Nothing stops Isabel from confronting people who might have been out to harm Miss Giddings or Charles “The Bull” Bessemer, and while you might clue in to who did it before the end if you read a lot of mysteries, it doesn’t dampen the joy of the ride with these characters.  Sassy, spunky, 100% fun.

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey

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Of super fans, scandal and big, big hearts — Soar

Soar_Comp2Jeremiah loves his baseball, and until he arrives, so does Hillcrest, Ohio. They are obsessed with the game.  The high school team wins and wins and wins.  Everyone in town looks up to the coach.  Kids dream of being on the team.  Even Jeremiah, who can’t play, dreams of that.

And then, the fall.  A popular player dies.  Why?  Has he been taking performance enhancement drugs?  Is the coach behind it?  Has winning become more important than how you play the game?

Jeremiah tells the story from his own, very unique, point of view.  He loves his dad, Walt, who adopted him after finding him in the company break room.  Jeremiah’s had years of medical complications and constant moves, but through it all, he and Walt have always shared baseball.  When the middle school baseball team falls apart – is there even a team? – Jeremiah starts talking to the players, coaching the kids and even a few adults in how to reach their potential and bring the game (and the joy) back.

Even for people (like me) who are not big sports fans, this is a beautiful book.  Being part of a team, loving something deeply, feeling sadness when people make big mistakes – these are things we can all relate to.  Nicely done, Joan Bauer.

Soar by Joan Bauer

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Buffalo Bill was a Kansan? How’d I miss that?

BB-Book-CoverWidget2Oh, how I wish we’d had a book like this back when I was learning Kansas history! I grew up in east central Kansas, and although I’ve lived in Iowa for most of my adult life, every once in a while something pops up about Kansas history which intrigues me. Andrea Warren’s book, The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas, went on my list as soon as I saw the library had ordered it for just that reason. You never know, I thought. It could be good, right?

I love history, but there’s a lot of blah history for kids out there, especially when it seems to be written as part of a series which will fill in the blanks for school book reports. More on that another day…. Today let’s talk about how cool Buffalo Bill was.

His family moved to Kansas just as the conflicts began over whether Kansas would become a free state or a slave state. Billy Cody’s father was a free-stater, and he became well known enough that those he disagreed with tried to track him down and kill him again and again. Billy Cody helped take care of the homestead and his family, and he was good enough at shooting things and working with horses that he managed to get a job herding cattle as a nine-year-old.  Then he signed on with a supply company to help take a wagon train west when he was just eleven. Through years of work as a trail hand and a guide, he got to know military officials and Native Americans, settlers and trappers. Later, he fought in the Civil War, rode with the Pony Express, shepherded wealthy people on buffalo hunts, and his fictionalized exploits became the subject of dime novels. His Wild West shows eventually took a version of the West to Europe, even performing for the Queen of England.

The West and the United States changed drastically and quickly in just the seventy-one years of his life — 1846-1917. Warren’s book brings so much of this time period to life by telling Billy-later Bill-Cody’s story. It’s well worth a read if you’ve never quite understood that whole “Bleeding Kansas” thing and even if you have.

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365 days – 1,342 items in the book bag, give or take a few

book stack

Why would one person check out this much stuff? Books, magazines, graphic novels, movies, music, picture books, middle grade, teen, mysteries, history, sci-fi, tv series, the occasional puppet and so much more. E-books and e-audiobooks aren’t even included, nor are the things which never end up in my email folder of library receipts. If I actually buy something, it’s not counted – and those are often the books I’m most excited about and can’t wait for the library to get. My husband and son also figure into this number; it’s usually just easier to check out what they want when I’m at work. And some things never get read or watched, even though they come home with me.  So I’m never sure exactly how many books I read.

Still, why so many?  It’s not just that I love the library and work in one. My healthy holds list means that I’m never short on new things to look at. (Often there are 80-90 things on that list in addition to everything I have checked out.) I also follow authors and what’s new in publishing, and I lead a writing group, which frequently has me thinking about storytelling or word choice or past favorite reads. Teaching a college class this fall also meant I needed books to look over and consider for student assignments. Some of those items are books or cds I requested when I was scheduled to lead story time or wanted to talk about a particular topic at one of my volunteer gigs.

When I look at everything the library shared with me (for free!), I see new favorites and things to laugh about, scary stories, great friendships, love, grief, fear, and hope. My life is so much more exciting and full because I read. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds – more books, more tears, more laughter, more joy.

Not everything I read was published in 2015, but many were. Here are just a few of my 2015 favorites, in no particular order, grouped by loose categories:

Picture Books

Wolfie the Bunny

Rude Cakes


Last Stop on Market Street

Please, Mr. Panda

Boats for Papa

Leo: A Ghost Story

Imaginary Fred

Nerdy Birdy

We Forgot Brock!



Middle grade

The Terrible Two


Gone Crazy in Alabama


The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

Beware the Power of the Dark Side

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend

The Thing about Jellyfish

Circus Mirandus


Graphic Novels

The Graveyard Book, vol. 1 & 2


The Sleeper and the Spindle (I’m putting this one with the graphic novels, because it’s such a beautifully illustrated version.)

The Phantom Bully

Little Robot





Teen Fiction

Under a Painted Sky

Silver in the Blood

Carry On

Everything, Everything


Library of Souls


Teen Nonfiction

Symphony for the City of the Dead

Most Dangerous

I Will Always Write Back



Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

A God in Ruins

Between the World and Me

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Another Rumble in Funjungle

BigGame3Big Game by Stuart Gibbs

Teddy Fitzroy’s adventures started a few books ago – first Belly Up, then Poached, now Big Game. Switching between middle school drama and life at FunJungle, a zoo/theme park which is also his home, these stories manage to weave in first crushes, bullies, fun facts about animals, and research on conservation. Big Game continues the exciting ride and throws in appearances from familiar, comic characters like Large Marge and TimJim, the inseparable twin bullies.

This time, Rhonda the Rhino is in danger from someone who might want her horn. (It’s worth a lot of money in Asia for its reputed medicinal qualities, as if it wasn’t enough that she’s endangered and pregnant.) In the past, there were hippo assassins and koala kidnappers to stop. Funjungle still seems ill-prepared to deal with both security logistics and elephant stampedes, although J.J McCracken, its wealthy founder, has expectations of everyone, including Teddy. J.J. McCracken’s daughter, Summer, has come back into the picture after leaving boarding school back east to be middle school queen bee in Texas.

Stuart Gibbs also has two other series – Spy School and Moon Base Alpha – and all are fun for middle grade readers. There’s always a good mix of action, humorous misunderstandings, and silly mishaps in his books, and the fun is blended with really interesting tidbits of information and realistic relationships. The cool kids aren’t always cool. The parents aren’t always clueless. The bad guys aren’t always 100% bad. And the endings aren’t always quite as predictable as you might expect, which is an especially nice twist when you read a lot of middle grade.

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How to Swallow a Pig: Step by Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom

how to swallow


Need to woo a ewe? Unlikely, perhaps, but very interesting and somewhat dangerous, too.

Want to go incognito? Disguises always come in handy.  You could follow the lead of an octopus, and mimic a sea snake, or a lion fish, or even a jellyfish.

Feeling hungry? You could catch a meal like a crocodile. Pretend to be a log, lunge, lunge again. You might just get lucky, even if you’re just lunging across the lunch table.

Or go for a whole pig.  Why not?  Science is awesome.

For these and many other important life choices – decorating, cracking nuts, warning others of danger – How to Swallow a Pig is a go-to resource. Read it, enjoy, and learn a little, too.


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