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Showing posts from February, 2017

Life on Mars by Jon Agee

Life on Mars by Jon Agee is a delight to read out loud and a marvelous conversation starter on so many levels. With Life on Mars, Agee does two of my all-time favorite thing in picture books. For most of the book, the words and illustrations tell two different stories and there is a twist at the end. Agee's illustrations are immediately evocative of the surface of Mars. Swaths of black sky are paired with light grays and browns of the surface of Mars, adding to the cold atmosphere of the planet.

An astronaut travels to Mars, sure he will find life despite the fact that everybody thinks he's crazy. He wanders the planet, a somewhat mysterious white box tied with red string in one hand. Mars is a bit desolate and more gloomy than the astronaut expected. Passing a crater, a creature emerges, eyes and ears peeking out. The creature follows behind the astronaut, sometimes mimicking the movements of the astronaut. The astronaut begins to fear he won't find anybody to share the co…

The Time Museum by Matthrew Loux, 256 pp, RL 4

In 2012 I reviewed Salt Water Taffy, a five book graphic novel series by Matthew Loux. My son was just taking off as a reader at the time and while he was able to tackle them on his own, we also enjoyed reading these graphic together. The story of two brothers spending the summer in a village on the coast of Maine in the company of a crusty old sea captain and the town's supernatural forces like a giant lobster, the ghost of a huckster and a haunted whaling ship had us enthralled. Five years later and my son and I are both SO excited to be reading the first book in Loux's new series, The Time Museum!

I love historical fiction, especially when time travel is involved. The Time Museum brings both full force. Delia Bean is a science-obsessed teen with a long, dull summer spread out in front of her. That is, until she finds a very out of place kiwi running through the woods and follows it and stumbles upon the Earth Time Museum. 
The Earth Time Museum holds artifacts from all of Ear…

Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born, written by Gene Barretta and illustrated by Frank Morrison has a fantastic narrative structure that helps young readers begin to understand the historic importance of Ali by focusing on the childhood incident that lead him to the boxing ring and a future as the People's Champion. Morrison's oil illustrations are painterly and full of energy and action.


Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born begins powerfully with a lone punching bag in an empty gym (and an explanation for young readers regarding Ali's name change) and ends with an empty boxing ring. Three two-page spreads begin the narrative, giving details of Ali's famous matches with Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Leon Spinks and including his most famous quotes. Then the narrative jumps back to 1954 where twelve-year-old Cassius Clay has his brand-new bicycle stolen while visiting the Louisville Home Show for black merchants. This life experience makes up the bulk of Muhammad Ali: A Cham…

egg by Kevin Henkes

egg marks Kevin Henkes' 50th book, and it echoes, in palette and deceptively simple tone, one of my all-time favorite books by him, A Good Day.
Repetition of words and images in egg, some pages divided into four or even sixteen panels, creates anticipation and, best of all, makes it a book that, like A Good Day, is a treat for beginning readers. egg begins, "egg, egg, egg, egg / crack, crack, crack, egg." Three eggs hatch, the fourth doesn't.


There is, "waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting," then, when the hatchlings return, listening and "peck, peck, peck." A crack leads to a hatch which leads to a SURPRISE! Henkes ends his book with camaraderie between the hatchlings and a little sunshiny twist on the final page.

I have read egg over and over, to kindergarteners and with first and second graders struggling to learn to read. For these children especially, Henkes' books are a treasure trove when compared to the ancient primers we have on the shelve…

Hidden Figures: Young Readers' Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly, 232pp, RL 4

Hidden Figures: Young Readers' Edition byMargot Lee Shetterly is the "untold, true story of four African-American women who helped launch our nation into space." While I am very unlikely to read a non-fiction (even a young readers' edition) book about science and/or the space race and almost equally unlikely read a biography about mathematician, I found Hidden Figures: Young Readers' Edition highly readable and hard to put down.
What kept me reading were the continual challenges faced by Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden during their time working at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, VA at what was NACA and became NASA. Shetterly provides excellent back matter in her book, starting with a timeline of important historical events, and including a glossary, index, source notes and further reading section, as well as an index. The loss of manpower on the home front during WWII spurred President Roosevelt to desegregate the defense in…

Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeanne Atkins, 208 pp, RL 4

Verse novels have proven to be a great way to get my students, mostly girls, reading longer, more complex books. My students are predominantly English Language Learners and reading at grade level, especially a book that is 200+ pages long, is a challenge to their comprehension skills and perseverance. The distilled style of writing found in verse novels allows them to persevere and comprehend what they are reading, while also tackling a more challenging text. Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins is a perfect example of this. A non-fiction book about any of these subjects might be overwhelming for my students, as would a traditional novel. But, writing a verse novel allows the author an immediacy and intimacy that other genres might not. Jeanne Atkins brings this quality to Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, doing a marvelous job setting the stage for times and places where superstitions and religious beliefs, along with discrimination agai…

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie SIma

Not Quite Narwhal is the debut picture book from Jessie Sima. With a title and pictures that are equally charming, it is easy to overlook the slim story that reminds me of an under-the-sea-ugly-duckling tale, sort of. 


Kelp was born, quite adorably, in the ocean and is doted on by his family. One day, a strong current sweeps Kelp away from home where he spots a, "mysterious, sparkling creature" that looks like him.



Although he is nervous about walking for the first time, Kelp comes ashore and his life changes forever when he discovers LAND NARWHALS! The unicorns set Kelp straight and show him a good time. He returns home to the welcoming embrace of his family, telling him he is not an narwhal, which, of course, they knew. Torn between two worlds, Kelp and his pod of narwhals find a way to enjoy the best of both worlds.
There is probably a message about having two families or being different and fitting in to be teased from Not Quite a Narwhal, but it's just so magically ill…

Dormouse Dreams by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Renata Liwska

In Dormouse Dreams, Karma Wilson's superbly rhyming story is perfectly paired with Renata Liwska's richly detailed, gently magical illustrations. The story of Dormouse Dreams begins before the text when, on the dedication page, we see a dormouse in pink pearls and a pink pillbox hat getting help closing a suitcase. The narrative begins with a dormouse curled up in his "dry leaf bed," dreaming about the return of spring and his friend, then alternates between the winter world outside, the dormouse sleeping inside and the imagined arrival of a new season and an old friend. Liwska's illustrations follow this pattern, with the added treat that readers get to see the dormouse's friend as she makes her way to her friend's house.

From his cozy corner, the dormouse dreams of seeing his friend again, of the day when they can "play hide-and-seek in the tall green grass by the whispering creek." He doesn't, "hear the creaking as the ice breaks free…

A Crack in the Sea by H. M. Bouwman, illustrations by Yuko Shimizu, 368pp, RL 4

A Crack in the Sea is a stunning, unforgettable novel by H.M. Bouwman with superlative, generous illustrations by Yuko Shimizu. I delightedly read and listened (narrated by the excellent Bahni Turpin) to this novel of which storytelling is a central theme in January, when the ALA Awards (Newbery, Caldecott, etc) are announced and it was hard not to imagine this book as a strong contender for the Newbery medal out of the gate.
At first, the world of A Crack in the Sea feels as huge as the ocean that it is set in. But Bouwman draws her story in quickly, shifting between sets of siblings living at various times and in various worlds. We first meet Kinchen, sister and protector of her brother Pip, who has face blindness - all faces are new to him and they all look the same, in their home, known as the second world, where no one goes intentionally. The people of the second world, the (mostly) lighter skinned inhabitants of the islands and the (mostly) darker skinned inhabitants of Raftworld…

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky, 128 pp, RL 4

The introduction to Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky, begins with a story about Barbara McClintock, a cytogeneticist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983, some 20 years after she discovered jumping genes, or "transposons." Intelligent, self-confident and willing to break the rules, McClintock persevered, despite the discrimination she experienced at every turn. Of her, Ignotofsky writes, 
Barbara McClintock's story is not unique. As long as humanity has asked questions about our world, men and women have looked to the stars, under rocks and through microscopes to find the answers. Although both men and women have the same thirst for knowledge, women have not always been given the same opportunity to explore the answers.
As adult readers in 2017, stories of discrimination against women are not new. But, as an adult reader I do find myself continually surprised that these stories are not that far in…

The Day No One Was Angry by Toon Tellegen, illustrated by Marc Boutavant, 80 pp, RL 3

Toon Tellegen is a Dutch poet, writer, physician and widely read author of children's books, most of which feature anthropomorphized squirrels and ants. In 2010 I discovered two of his books on the shelves while working as a bookseller and fell in love. I was instantly taken back to my childhood favorites - Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, and anything by Beatrix Potter or Tasha Tudor. These authors and illustrators created lush, sometimes dangerous, pastoral worlds where animals spent time thinking about things. And packing and having magnificent picnics. The Squirrel's Birthday Party and Other Parties &Letters to Everyone and Anyone, with their small trim size and superb production values (embossing on the bookcase, ribbon bookmarks, illustrations by the marvelous Jessica Ahlberg on every thick, creamy page) impressed me greatly and reading them to my youngest, who was five at the time, was a joy. I was SO excited to find The Day No One Was Angry, with superlati…

Soldier Song: A True Story of the Civil War by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

Soldier Song: A True Story of Civil War by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Gilbert Fordreminds me of why I love (and need) non-fiction narratives. I wish it wasn't true, but my tastes in reading didn't mature and I need incentives like marvelous illustrations, superb writing and 32 page length books in order to make it through most non-fiction. Soldier Song: A True Story of Civil War delivers on all these marvelous qualities while also revealing a little know piece of history and that is also a reflection of what is best about humanity, especially in the midst of some of our worst moments.


With engaging text, Levy sets the stage, cluing readers into the details of the Civil War and the importance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Hoping to gain a "bold military victory over the rebels" a month before the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect in January of 1863, President Lincoln sends tens of thousands of troops to the Rappahannock River where they will cross …