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<<May 2015>>
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1. Dead Wake (2015)

Dead Wake. Erik Larson. 2015. Crown. 448 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson? I'm not sure "enjoy" is the right word. But I certainly found it absorbing and compelling. It reads quite quickly despite the large cast of narrators and various perspectives. (I didn't miss a central narrator.)

It is abounding in detail: details about the ship, the captain and crew, the passengers, the cargo, about U-boats (submarines), about the war in Europe, about England, about Germany, about the United States.

One thing in particular that I found fascinating was "Room 40" the oh-so-secret British code-breakers that were decoding German transmissions and such. They were able to keep track of so much and make predictions about where the Germans might strike next. (But no warnings were sent to the Lusitania about all the recent activity by German submarines in their path just hours before.)

Another interesting aspect of the book is the focus on President Wilson--his personal private life and his public life. (Though it would be a huge stretch to say it is the most interesting aspect of the book.) Why was America so reluctant to enter the war? Why were they so sure they could avoid it no matter what? Did the loss of American lives really help change the general perception of the war and make the average American ready to enter the war? If it was, why wait almost two years to declare war?

The book definitely provides readers with a rich perspective of the times. It was suspenseful and full of tension in part because of all the questions that have no easy answers.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Putting Into Practice What I Learned about Authentic Information Writing From Ralph Fletcher

The Monday morning after Ralph Fletcher’s presentation on Authentic Information Writing at Vassar College, I gathered my sixth graders at our reading area and shared what I had heard and learned....

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3. Solve the Outbreak app review

solve the outbreak menuWork your way up the Center for Disease Control’s ranks from trainee to master “disease detective” by uncovering the causes of disease outbreaks in Solve the Outbreak (CDC, 2013).

Every chapter presents background on a fictionalized outbreak and five clues, each followed by a multiple choice question to narrow down the outbreak’s source. The clues are supplemented with patient profiles and charts of data, notes on the diseases’ characteristics, tips for avoiding the featured disease, maps and stock photos, and clear definitions of unfamiliar terminology. After each chapter’s fifth Q&A, receive the “results” with your points and achievement badges — and hopefully a promotion! There’s also an opportunity to read about the real case(s) that inspired that chapter’s outbreak mystery.

As you investigate the cases, you’ll learn about specific diseases — culprits include E. coli, lead poisoning, West Nile Virus, Legionnaire’s disease, and norovirus — and their transmission as well as methods for tracking and containing outbreaks. The tone is light and engaging (e.g., snappy CSI-worthy chapter titles such as “Up Sick Creek” and “Connect the Spots”) without minimizing the dangers of disease epidemics or the importance of preventative measures.

solve the outbreak spring break

Earn a perfect score solving the twelve outbreak cases in level 1 (don’t worry; you can do-over as much as needed) to access the four cases in recently added level 2 and earn specialist honors.

A few of the Q&As are gimmes; here’s an example from “Midterm Revenge,” the case of college students with a stomach bug:

“What should you do now?

  • Tell the sick students to stop partying so hard and go to class
  • Keep the sick students in the same area until their symptoms are gone
  • Find out if others are sick as well”

But overall, the information is solid, the mysteries are satisfying, and the format promotes both critical thinking and understanding of the scientific method. An “About the CDC” section and interspersed links to the CDC’s website provide additional health tips and contextual information on the CDC’s mission and programs.

If (like me) you liked American Museum of Natural History’s The Power of Poison app, give this one a try. Solving the cases will have you feeling like legendary disease detective George Soper — or possibly just feeling a little more germophobic than before.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 6.0 or later), for Android devices, and on the web; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.


The post Solve the Outbreak app review appeared first on The Horn Book.

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4. This Changes Everything, Part Two

coverartClimate change is happening right now and it is only going to get worse unless we take drastic steps immediately. Yesterday was the bad news portion of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Today is the small ray of hope.

It is entirely possible to make the switch to 100% renewable energy for the entire world by as early as 2030. We have the technology to do this, what is lacking is the will and the money. The free market as it currently functions will not get us there nor will our politicians. What needs to happen, Klein says is a mass social movement. She believes it is the only thing that will save us now. There are precedents, remember the Arab Spring? The US Civil Rights Movement? The Women’s Movement? Granted, none of these brought about a complete revolution, but they made an impact and perhaps a world-wide social movement could take hold and save us all.

There are places where it is already beginning. Klein calls the movement “Blockadia.” Currently much of it exists in areas where people are trying to protect land from being fracked. In the United States and Canada there are arising coalitions between indigenous peoples and their traditional opposition: ranchers, hunters, large farming operations. There is also a growing movement begun in Totnes, UK called Transition Town. It is a community led project to build resilient, sustainable communities.

Then there is the divestment movement that seems to be growing rapidly especially among universities. Divestment is about large institutions getting rid of their investments in fossil fuels. Yes, someone else buys the shares when they are sold, however, the more places that divest, the more public awareness it gets, the more unacceptable it becomes to make money from fossil fuels.

The bad news is there is nothing we can do alone that will make a difference. The good news is that together we can make change happen. Klein understands the difficulty in this:

For most of us living in postindustrial societies, when we see the crackling black-and-white footage of general strikes in the 1930s, victory gardens in the 1940s, and Freedom Rides in the 1960s, we simply cannot imagine being part of any mobilization of that depth and scale. That kind of thing was fine for them but surely not us — with our eyes glued to smart phones, attention spans scattered by click bait, loyalties split by the burdens of debt and insecurities of contract work. Where would we organize? Who would we trust enough to lead us? Who, moreover, is ‘we’?

The key to it all is a change of mindset. We much let go of our extractivist thinking that allows us to believe we can take and take and take, that we can control and dominate nature. There must, as Klein says, be a “fundamental shift in power relations between humanity and the natural world.” We must give up taking and dominating and become caretakers focused on renewal and regeneration.

It won’t be easy, if it were, we would have changed our ways already. But it isn’t impossible and we shouldn’t give up. One of the great things about a mass movement is when you start to feel overwhelmed and like your work isn’t making a difference, you are surrounded by people who can help bolster and renew your spirit. So find a local group already active in your area, or if there isn’t one, start one. Talk to your neighbors, your friends, they probably feel the same way you do and are just waiting for someone to light the fire. You could be the spark that gets it going.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: climate change

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5. This Changes Everything, Part One

Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything was a seriously depressing book for me. It took a long time to get through because I could not bear to read more than twenty or so pages at a time. The book can be more or less broken up into two parts, the bad news and there is still a chance to do something news. This will be the bad news post.

Of all the things I have read about climate change, Klein’s book stands out for a number of reasons. First and foremost, she takes the economic angle and attacks capitalism, particularly the neoliberal kind we have been living under since the 1980s. Second, she presents a viable economic alternative that would not only save us from cooking the planet, but that would raise the living conditions of not only poor countries but also the poor in wealthy countries to a level where everyone had enough — food, decent housing, and good health care. Yes, this takes a massive redistribution of wealth and a good many people won’t like it, but such a move is part of a social justice issue that addresses many of the wrongs wealthy countries have perpetrated against poor, undeveloped and developing countries for hundreds of years.

Klein’s book is filled with lots and lots of facts and numbers. I won’t go into the details of those, if you want them, read the book or do some Googling or visit 350.org. I’m going to stay high level or else there will be more than two posts about this book. So let’s start where we are right now:

So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate change disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us. Gentle tweaks to the status quo stopped being a climate option when we supersized the American Dream in the 1990s, and then proceeded to take it global.

In other words, if we had begun immediately cutting emissions after the World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in 1988, we’d be in pretty good shape right now because we could have gone about the whole thing gradually. But since we haven’t done that, in order to limit global warming to 2C (which is still huge and will cause, and is already causing as we move toward that number, untold disasters) we have to make drastic changes immediately and take less than a decade to get to the targeted reduction in emissions required. What kind of cuts are we talking about? Try 8-10% every year.

I was not surprised to learn about the horrors perpetrated by the extraction companies (coal, gas, oil) against the environment, people and even governments. I was, however, surprised to learn that some of the largest and most respected environmental groups take money from extraction companies and in the case of The Nature Conservancy, even have their own oil well on land that they are supposed to be protecting from oil drilling. I have lost all respect for them as well as WWF (World Wildlife Fund), World Resources Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Conservation International. The Sierra Club was also extraction friendly for quite some time until a few years ago when they got a new president who put an end to that.

Unless we leave the oil and coal and natural gas in the ground there is at this point no “safe” emissions level. The free market is not going save us nor is technology. “Buying green” has become a thing, and yes, it is good to buy recycled products when you need them. The trouble is the free market tells us to buy in the first place. Buying green is not going to buy us into a livable environment. Not buying at all is what helps. But our economy is based on consumption and if we don’t buy, things go wrong. If we do buy, things go even more wrong.

Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Richard Branson (Virgin Group) among others are convinced technology will save us. They don’t think we should have to change anything we are doing at all and are funneling money into research that is looking for ways to suck carbon from the air. Still others are seriously considering geoengineering as a viable solution. Let’s make giant mirrors to reflect the sun away from our atmosphere! No, better yet, let’s go for the “Pinatubo option” and spray sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere! Problem is, while we know volcanic eruptions like Pinatubo had a cooling effect on the climate, we have no idea how it works and have no control over what happens up in the atmosphere and if we screw up there is nothing we can to about it. Not only that, climate models (and studies from the Pinatubo eruption) tend to reveal that such a maneuver would cause severe drought over a large area of Africa and South Asia. But somehow that is okay because why? The industrialized north will be saved and we can continue on our merry way without making any sacrifice other than then maybe sending food aid to all the starving millions. Of course, this is only a guess as to what would happen, we could also find ourselves suddenly in a Snowpiercer-like situation.

So if technology or the free market won’t save us, if the extraction companies refuse to cease operations and our politicians aren’t doing anything at all or not nearly enough, what can possibly be done? It looks pretty bleak but there is a small crack of hope. More on that tomorrow.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: climate change

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6. 17 Carnations (2015)

17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History. Andrew Morton. 2015. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy reading 17 Carnations: The Royals, The Nazis, and the Biggest Cover-Up in History? Yes and no. I enjoyed reading the first half very much. It was fascinating and informative. I couldn't put it down. The second half, however, felt both rushed and prolonged. Rushed in that the last few years of war were covered quite quickly and with no real detail. Prolonged in that the coverage of the "secret files" recovered seemed to go on forever and ever. And at the expense of covering the lives of the Duke and Duchess after the war.

I definitely am glad to have read it. It was my first book about Edward VIII (later Duke of Windsor). And I felt I learned much from reading it. I just wish it had stayed focused more on him and less on decades of cover-up. Or that it had handled the cover-up aspects a bit differently--in a more engaging way.

So the book isn't quite satisfying as a biography or as a "war book." Though it is almost both. I would say the book is definitely rich in detail and provides a unique perspective of the war and the royal family.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. The Soda Bottle School: Creative problem solving led by kids & teachers (ages 7-10)

Our 3rd grade teachers are also focusing on persuasive writing this month, and they are asking kids to identify problems and suggest solutions. The challenge for kids is to explain how their solutions will work and persuade others that it's a good idea. We read The Soda Bottle School as an example of how kids and teachers in one community identified an important problem and led the way with a creative solution -- and the kids loved it.
The Soda Bottle School
by Seño Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Aileen Darragh
Tillbury House, 2014
Your local library
ages 7-10
The town of Granados has a problem: they don't have enough room in their school to teach all the kids. But they have another problem, too, that kids can relate to: there is too much trash all around their community. One day, teacher Seño Laura notices that a soda bottle is the same width as the beam of an unfinished school building. She has a crazy idea: what if they used empty soda bottles to create walls for a school? It could take care of two problems at once!

The whole community pulled together to support the teachers and children, gathering thousands of empty plastic bottles and stuffing them with trash to create “eco-ladrillos” (bricks). These bricks were stacked between the framing for the building, held in place by chicken wire fencing. A thin layer of concrete was slapped on top as a final layer.

Slade and Kutner draw young readers right into the story, helping them relate to the protagonist, young Fernando. My students especially liked the photographs and authors note included at the end of the story. I just found this news clip that would be another great way to share this story.

My students were interested and inspired to think of problems they would want to solve around our school. I especially liked this example because Kutner and Slade emphasize the importance of teamwork and thinking outside the box.

The review copy came from our school library collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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8. WWF Together app review

wwf together menuWith Earth Day‘s 45th anniversary celebration yesterday, it seems a good time to review the World Wildlife Fund’s lovely awareness-raising app WWF Together (2013).

The app introduces sixteen endangered species from around the world, each characterized with a quality emphasizing its uniqueness: e.g., panda (“charisma”), elephant (“intelligence”), marine turtle (“longevity”), tiger (“solitude”). Each animal receives its own interactive “story,” comprised of stats (population numbers in the wild; habitat; weight and length; and “distance from you,” the user, if you enabled your iPad’s location services), spectacular high-def photos, information on threats to its survival, and conservation efforts (particularly WWF’s). Tap an info icon at a photo’s bottom corner to trigger a related pop-up fact — did you know gorillas live in stable family groups, or that bison have been around since the ice age? Many of the stories also include “facetime” (close-up videos with narration) and/or educational activities. At the conclusion of each animal’s section is an opportunity to share it via email or social media and to explore symbolic adoption options.

wwf jaguar menu

wwf together jaguar stats

In addition to truly gorgeous photographs and video of these endangered animals, a cool animated-origami design element illustrates the text throughout. Disappointingly, every time I tried to access the (real-life) origami folding instructions from the app, it crashed — which may well be the fault of our iPad. But they’re easy enough to find and download (for free, although email registration is required) on WWF’s website.

From an unobtrusive menu along the left side, you can access a globe — also with a “folded paper” look — which shows locations of all of the featured species for a global perspective and supplies information on additional endangered species. A news section frequently updates the app with current information. Soothing acoustic music by Copilot rounds out this informative and moving app.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and Android devices; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.


The post WWF Together app review appeared first on The Horn Book.

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9. A Raschka Moment



Last week, I chatted over at Kirkus with Paul B. Janeczko about The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects (Candlewick, March 2015), illustrated by Chris Raschka. So today I am following up with two spreads from the book.



(Click to see spread in its entirety)


(Click to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

THE DEATH OF A HAT. Compilation copyright © 2015 by Paul B. Janeczko. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Chris Raschka. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. “The Dismantled Ship” by Walt Whitman. “Street Lanterns” by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. “From Mercutio’s Queen Mab Speech” by William Shakespeare.

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10. Review of Trombone Shorty

andrew_trombone shortyTrombone Shorty
by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews; illus. by Bryan Collier
Primary   Abrams   40 pp.
4/15   978-1-4197-1465-8   $17.95

In New Orleans parlance, “Where y’at?” means “hello.” As an opening greeting (repeated three times, creating a jazzy beat), it also signals the beginning of this conversational and personable 
autobiography. Andrews, a.k.a. Trombone Shorty, concentrates on his younger years: growing up in Tremé, a neighborhood of New Orleans known for its close-knit community and commitment to music; making his own instruments before acquiring and learning to play the trombone; practicing constantly; appearing onstage with Bo Diddley; and finally forming his own successful band. Collier’s expressive watercolor collages layer and texture each page, creating a mix of images that echo the combination of styles Andrews uses to create his own “musical gumbo.” Strong vertical lines burst from his trombone like powerful sounds, while circular shapes float through the pages like background harmonies spilling out of homes and businesses. Hot colors reflect the New Orleans climate, while serene blues are as cool as the music Trombone Shorty produces. An author’s note adds detail to the text; two accompanying photographs of Andrews as a child reinforce the story’s authenticity. Collier discusses his artistic symbolism in an illustrator’s note. Read this one aloud to capture the sounds and sights of Trombone Shorty’s New Orleans.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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11. Review of How Jelly Roll Morton 
Invented Jazz

winter_how jelly roll morton invented jazzHow Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz
by Jonah Winter; 
illus. by Keith Mallett
Primary   Porter/Roaring Brook   32 pp.
6/15   978-1-59643-963-4   $17.99

Much like jazz itself, Winter has created a book filled with ebbs and flows, rhythm and rhyme, darkness and light, shadow and sunshine. Opening with a dreamy spread set in a dimly lit New Orleans with the city on the right-hand page and a small house on the left, the hushed second-person narration begins, “Here’s what could’ve happened if you were born a way down south in New Orleans, in the Land of Dreams a long, long time ago.” Facts about Morton’s life are sprinkled into the gentle prose: a stint in jail — as a baby! — when his godmother was arrested (he would not stop crying until the incarcerated men “commenced to singing”); a disapproving great-grandmother; and later the audacious claim, by Jelly Roll himself, that he invented jazz. Textured acrylic-on-canvas illustrations are punctuated by musical notes that create rivers and roads of music, allowing readers to imagine the beats, blues, and marvelous improvisation that were such a big part of the birth of jazz. Performers in silhouette — cornet-playing Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll at different ages — add to the dreamy feel. An informative author’s note provides some (age-appropriate) background information and is written in the same loose conversational style as the book. This is a beautiful tribute to one of the parents of jazz (sorry, but Morton can’t claim sole ownership!) — and a fitting introduction for a new generation of jazz lovers.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


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Invented Jazz appeared first on The Horn Book.

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Invented Jazz as of 1/1/1900
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12. EARTH DAY, 2015 on Miss Marple’s Musings – How will you celebrate?

Earth Day’s 45th anniversary could be the most exciting year in environmental history. The year in which economic growth and sustainability join hands. It’s our turn to lead. So our world leaders can follow by example. I have very excited … Continue reading

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13. Common Core IRL: Looking at Persuasive Writing & Mentor Texts (ages 9-12)

Students and teachers around the US are writing persuasive essays with renewed interest, as the Common Core explicitly calls on students to write opinion pieces that support a point of view with reasons and information. See, for example, the ELA Writing Standard 5.1.

At the Emerson Library, we have been reading Can We Save the Tiger?, by Martin Jenkins, to see how he develops his argument and supports it with reasons and information. Read my full review of this terrific nonfiction picture book. Today, I want to take you into our concluding library lesson, where we examined Jenkins' text to see how we could learn from his writing.

We read the concluding two pages, projected on the screen. For each page, I asked students what key phrases they noticed that were particularly powerful. You'll see their responses in green below.

Students noticed that Jenkins began his conclusion with, "So you see, trying to save just one endangered species..." Their teacher drew this back to a phrase they had used in class: "As you can see..." Other students noticed the way he wrapped up his conclusion (see below) with a question to pull readers in: "And I think that would be a shame, don't you?"

We wanted a little more specifics about helping tigers, so we turned to online research. The World Wildlife Fund has several very helpful pages about problems tigers are facing and action we need to take. This makes terrific model writing. Here's just one of the sections we looked at and the students' responses.

This paragraph is written in the same form that students are using in their writing. The claim or argument is "One of the biggest threats to tigers in poaching." WWF supports this with evidence and then elaborates their reasons. Students noticed the way facts were included within this paragraph, as well as explanations. They drew attention to the following phrases:
  • "One of the biggest threats..."
  • "Poaching has reached critical levels..."
  • "Governments around the world must combat poaching..."
  • "Nepal has already proved..."
We talked about how they can use similar language in their own writing, regardless of the topic.

School librarians play an essential role in helping students develop their persuasive writing skills. We help identify mentor texts, for students to read on high-interest topics. Much of my work in this area has been influenced by Melissa Stewart's writing on mentor texts. I definitely recommend reading her wealth of posts about this topic.

School librarians also help students dig deeper into topics they care about, guiding them on authentic research. So much information is available on the Internet, but it is critical that we help students effectively find information they can read and understand. I used our library catalog's Destiny Web Path Express to target the WWF article.
This post is part of my larger body of work: Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries. My thinking and work in this area is greatly helped by conversations with fellow bloggers and friends, Alyson Beecher, Cathy Potter and Louise Capizzo. See our full presentation from last summer here.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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14. Hippos Are Huge! (2015)

Hippos Are Huge. Jonathan London. Illustrated by Matthew Trueman. 2015. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

 Hippos are huge! Except for elephants, no other land animals are as large as hippopotamuses. They can weigh as much as fifty men!

I really enjoyed reading this nonfiction picture book about hippos. I loved the narrative--the larger font. I loved the additional details and descriptions--the smaller font.

I found the book to be informative and entertaining. (I love it when a book is packed with a I-didn't-know-that facts. True, I didn't know much about hippos before picking this one up. So it was easy to intrigue me, I suppose. But still. I think the book is well-written.)

I really love, love, love the illustrations by Matthew Trueman. I think my favorite illustration was of the baby hippo paddling to the surface and taking a first breath. (Did you know a newborn hippo (a calf) weights 100 pounds?! Did you know in just six months, he'll weigh 500 pounds?!) 

I would definitely recommend this one if you're looking for nonfiction picture books to share with younger children. 

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Novels in Verse: my top ten + two more to read (ages 9-12)

Novels in verse have particular power speaking to kids. Some really like the way that there are fewer words on the page. It can make reading them feel less overwhelming. Others like how much they can "read between the lines", letting their imaginations fill in the gaps. Others love the way these poets play with language.

Today, I'd like to share my personal top ten favorites (in alphabetical order). I adore sharing these with students. But know that there are many others that my kids love. At the end, I'll share two books on my "to be read" (TBR) pile.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
I have loved talking with my students about this book, how they can relate to Jackie's experiences, how they can see themselves in the book, how they can feel some of her own journey even if their experiences are different. Winner of the 2015 Coretta Scott King Award, the 2014 National Book Award, and the 2015 Newbery Honor.
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
You can read this incredible novel as a basketball story, as a family drama, or as a novel written with a modern ear using rhythms and rhymes infused with music and motion. It speaks to kids in all sorts of different ways. Winner of the 2015 Newbery Award, and the 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor.
Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech
In flowing free verse, Annie describes her love of running, the changes in her best friend Max, the birth of her baby brother and her grandfather's growing confusion and dementia. Annie's world feels as if it's unraveling with all this change. As she runs for the pure pleasure of running, thoughts and questions race through her mind.
Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech
Oh, how I love this book. We start with Jack, who's dreading writing his own poems, forced to keep a poetry journal for his teacher. But as we get to know Jack and as he gets to know different poems, we start to see a fuller picture of a boy, his dog and his feelings. Check out this terrific reader's theater through TeachingBooks, starring Sharon Creech, Walter Dead Myers, Avi and Sarah Weeks.
The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
I was fascinated when I asked Andrea Davis Pinkney about why she chose to write this story in verse. She explained how she wanted to tell a story for elementary students about the Sudanese conflict, and she felt that a novel in verse would allow them more space. She was able to keep some of the more difficult scenes quite spare, so that students could infer the tragedies rather than be faced with the brutalities that her character experienced. My students continue recommending this to each other, talking about what a powerful story it is.
Rhyme Schemer, by K.A. Holt
Kids are attracted to Kevin's attitude and sass, but it's his journey that stays with them. Kevin is bullied by his older brother at home, but he then turns to bullying classmates at school. By taking pages torn from library books, he makes funny but oh-so-cruel found poems and tapes them up at school. When another student discovers Kevin's journal, he turns the tables and Kevin must find a way to make peace with his victim-turned-aggressor. This is a great choice for 5th and 6th graders who might have liked Love That Dog when they were younger.
Serafina's Promise, by Ann E. Burg
Our students were immediately drawn to Serafina and could connect with her situation, even though it was so different from their own. Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How can she do this when her mother needs her help at home, especially with a new baby on the way? Ann E. Burg writes in free verse poetry, conveying Serafina's struggles in sparse, effective language.
The Way a Door Closes, by Hope Anita Smith
This slim book reads almost like a short play in three acts. In the first 12 poems, CJ describes how he feels warm and content as part of his close-knit family. But then, everything changes as his father loses his job and then abruptly leaves home. In the 13th poem, when his dad leaves, CJ describes how it felt: "The door closed with a / click. / I felt all the air leave the room / and we were vacuum-sealed inside. / - I can tell a lot by / the way a door closes." This is a powerful book that takes readers on CJ's roller-coaster emotional journey.
Words With Wings, by Nikki Grimes
As a friend of mine wrote, this is a "peek into the mind of a daydreamer" and a wonderful teacher who encourages her in just the right way. Her teacher recognizes that Gabby is coping with her parents separation, and that daydreams are a way she escapes. He helps channel her imagination, encouraging her to let her daydreams come to life in her writing. This is a wonderful, uplifting story of a young girl finding her own voice, staying true to herself.
Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston
I loved the inventive poetry, the rhythm and rhyme, the creative fantasy. Best way to it: Dr. Seuss meets Lemony Snicket, with a healthy dose of Roald Dahl throughout. The story is fantasy, macabre, silly, and truly great fun to read aloud. The illustrations and book design add a tremendous amount to the story. Absolutely terrific wordplay, combined with a plot that keeps kids racing along with it.

My own "to be read" pile: 2 new novels in verse:

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose
Historical fiction, showing the friendship between a Native American girl and an English girl who's traveled with her parents in 1587 to Virginia. From the publisher's description: "Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind."
Red Butterfly, by A.L. Sonnichsen
Friends are including this in their favorites of 2015: a beautiful story, beautifully told. From the publisher description: "Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more?"

I just love it when a character's thoughts and moods meld with mine in my mind, growing and becoming part of me. Novels in verse - usually written in free form poetry - have a particular way of doing this, where the narrator's voice almost flows into me.

If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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16. And Now For Something Entirely Different

In order to take a break from all this environmental thinking we've been doing, let's talk picture books.

I'd heard of The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee, and it's a book that does live up to its hype. The story of the farmer who sees a little clown fall from a circus train and takes him in is told totally in pictures. It's one of the easiest to follow wordless books I've ever seen.

I "read" this is as a sad story about the farmer. But when I finished, I looked at the front flap and found a much more upbeat interpretation, one I think that works. One that's much more from the clown's point of view.

So two stories going on here, all without a word.

I snatched up Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate with illustrations by G. Brian Karas because I'd already read  Applegate's The One and Only Ivan. My interest was in seeing an author use the same material in different ways. The picture book really is quite good. I almost thought I might like it better than the novel, but than I remembered Ivan's voice in The One and Only Ivan.

Both novel and picture book are very well done.                        


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17. Encouraging words and recommended reading

I’m pausing just a moment to catch my breath between last week’s whirlwind (my first school visit for The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

Reilly visit cropped

— the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, and the San Antonio Book Festival) and this week’s excitement of the Texas Library Association annual conference here in Austin.

While I’m pausing, I’m happy to share a few things published elsewhere recently either about my new book or written by me, starting with this generous review by Margie Myers-Culver at Librarian’s Quest:

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Don Tate is a remarkable biography. This is a man with whom we should all be familiar. The blend of narrative and pictures is compelling from beginning to end. After the two pages of his speech a single page shows an older John Roy Lynch with a continuation of his beliefs about this country. There is a single page Historical Note about Reconstruction, a Timeline of important dates in John Roy Lynch’s life alongside historical dates, an Author’s Note, an Illustrator’s Note, sources For Further Reading and two maps. This is a back matter goldmine.

School Library Journal also has good things to say about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch:

Tate’s illustrations, rendered in mixed media, ink, and gouache on watercolor paper, are extraordinary and carry the lengthy story well. The excellent cartoon-style paintings soften potentially disturbing details, such as the Ku Klux Klan burning a church. The book concludes with a thorough historical note. Teachers will find this remarkable story of hope and perseverance a valuable supplement to social studies lessons on the Civil War and Black History Month.

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy with a couple of guest posts. At The Little Crooked Cottage, I was asked to write about my favorite picture book biographies:

There are too many excellent picture book biographies — and too many excellent authors and illustrators working in this field — for me to narrow them down to my all-time favorite five. But there are a handful that have been especially meaningful to me at one time or another, so I’m going to limit my list to those.

And Austin Reading Mama asked for my reading recommendations for grown folks. I was happy to offer up a handful — all of them nonfiction, as it turned out. And the list doesn’t event include the book I’m in the midst of loving right now, Tomlinson Hill, Chris Tomlinson’s fascinating exploration of the histories of his white Texas family and of the African-American Tomlinsons whose ancestors had once been owned by the author’s forebears. It’s eye-opening and well worth your while.

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18. Drum Dream Girl (2015)

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music. Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl
of pounding tall conga drums
tapping small bongo drums
and boom boom booming
with long, loud sticks
on big, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.

 Margarita Engle's Drum Dream Girl is a picture book biography of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. Millo and her older sisters formed Cuba's first all-girl dance band. (The historical note adds that she performed at a birthday celebration for FDR.)

She grew up at a time and in a place where women were not allowed to play drums, or professionally play drums. The book highlights her ambitious dreams, her diligence and perseverance. It is a beautifully written biography. I've always been a fan of Margarita Engle's narrative style, her rhythmic way with words. Drum Dream Girl did not disappoint!

I loved the bold, colorful illustrations by Rafael Lopez. This one is easy to recommend!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Why Are The Ice Caps Melting? The Dangers of Global Warming Written by: Anne Rockwell Illustrated by: Paul Meisel Published by: Harper Collins, 2006 Themes/Topics: Global warming, the greenhouse effect, science, conservation Suitable for ages: 7-11 Let’s Read And Find Out Science, Stage … Continue reading

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20. #666 – When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses by Rebecca L. Johnson



When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses

Written by Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook Press          9/1/2015
Nonfiction Picture Book
48 pages       Age 9 to 14

A Junior Library Guild Selection

“In nature, good defenses can mean the difference between surviving a predator’s attack and becoming its lunch. Some animals rely on sharp teeth and claws or camouflage. But that’s only the beginning. Meet creatures with some of the strangest defenses known to science. How strange? Hagfish that can instantaneously produce oodles of gooey, slippery slime; frogs that poke their own toe bones through their skin to create claws; young birds that shoot streams of stinking poop; and more.” [book jacket]

“On Earth the challenge of survival is a real and serious business. In the wild, every living thing is constantly at risk of being eaten by something else.”

Life is a bed of strange abilities as explored in When Lunch Fights Back. These animals—and one plant—have incredible defense mechanisms. You will wonder what other odd defense mechanisms other animals might possess. I do. It also made me wonder why humans have limited natural defense abilities. Hitting, screaming, and kicking are all fine defenses, but wouldn’t it be fantastic to have some of these abilities.

1. Cover your predator with thick, slimy, goo. (Atlantic Hagfish)
2. Extend your fingers so the bones protrude through the skin like sharp claws. (African Hairy Frog)
3. Bulge out your eyes and shoot a deadly stream of blood into a predator’s mouth. (Texas Horned Lizard)

Stuff of science fiction? Nope. When Lunch Fights Back contains animals with these abilities and much more. This nonfiction picture book for older kids is a fascinating read. There is enough “yuck” to entertain kids and the author supplies the science behind those incredible abilities, making this a great adjunct text for science teachers. Author notes, a glossary, index, bibliography, and extra resources are included.


Johnson writes in a manner that should be accessible to most middle grade aged kids. She introduces researchers and scientist in the “Science Behind the Story” sections. There is so much to learn and see it just might develop a child’s interest in the natural word. If the title does not peak a child’s interest, the images will. The color photographs highlight the noxious defenses and info-boxes give additional information about each animal (scientific name, location, habitat, and size).

Still, would it not be terrific if humans could spew putrid contents at a predator, much like a fulmar? Or, and this is a tad gross, turn our other check and “shoot streams of foul-smelling feces” at an attacker, much like a hoopoe chick can do? If you had the ability to slime an attacker, like the hagfish (aka “snot eel”), I doubt anyone would mess with you.

When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses is an amazing look into some crazy species. Kids will love this book and teachers can use that interest to bring out the zoologist, biologist, or naturalist in her (or his) students. While a tad gross, and most definitely with a yuck value of 9, kids will enjoy When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses. This kid did!
WHEN LUNCH FIGHTS BACK: WICKEDLY CLEVER ANIMA DEFENSES. Text copyright © 2015 by Rebecca L. Johnson. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Millbrook Press, an imprint of the Lerner Publishing Group, Minneapolis, MN.
Purchase When Lunch Fights Back at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryLerner Books.

Learn more about When Lunch Fights Back HERE.
Meet the author, Rebecca L Johnson, at her website:  http://www.rebeccajohnsonbooks.com/
Find more MG Nonfiction at the Lerner Publishing Group website:  https://www.lernerbooks.com/

Millbrook Press is an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews

Filed under: 5stars, Books for Boys, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, NonFiction, Picture Book Tagged: biology, Lerner Publishing Group, Millbrook Press, naturalist, quirky animal defense mechanisms, Rebecca L. Johnson, When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses, zoology

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21. Winners: 2014 Best Books on Kid Lit Review



Well, it’s a little later than it should be,  . . . .but the voting is done and the winners have been chosen. Thank you to everyone who voted for the 2014 winners.   It was an honor to review each of these books.

To become a Top Book, and in the running for Best Book, a book must receive a 6-star review here at Kid Lit Reviews, released within the 2013 and 2014, and have been reviewed between December 1, 2013 and November 30, 2014. Voting normally occurs in December and the results announced in January. This year the only variation was the actual voting, which took place in March. Hopefully 2015 will be a healthier year and all will go as planned.

So, without any further delay, here are the winners.  Congratulations to all.

2014 PB hi resBest Picture Book

The Grudge Keeper

Author:  Mara Rockliff

Illustrator:  Eliza Wheeler

Publisher:  Peachtree Publishers    (April 1, 2014)


2014 MB hi resBest Middle Grade Novel

The Guardian Herd #1: Starfire

Author:  Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Cover Artist:  David McClellan

Publisher:  HarperCollins Children’s Books    (September 23, 2014)


2014 NF hi resBest Nonfiction Book

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

Author: Patricia Hruby Powell

Illustrator: Christian Robinson

Publisher: Chronicle Books    (January 14, 2014)


2014 poetry hi resBest Poetry Book

Rhyme Schemer

Author:  K. A. Holt

Publisher:  Chronicle Books (October 1, 2014)


2014 holiday hi resBest Holiday Book

Lobo’s Howliday (The Adventures of Loveable Lobo #5)

Author:  C. L. Murphy

Illustrator:  C. L. Murphy

Publisher:  Peanut Butter Prose    (December 1, 2013)


cat-reading-bookWINNERS: I can offer you the files for your “stamp,” if you are interested. Otherwise this is more bragging rights than anything. Please email (or use contact form). Once again, congratulations to all the winners!


(flags and reading cat © Laura Strickland @ My Cute Graphics)

Filed under: Children's Books, Holiday Book, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, NonFiction, Picture Book, Poetry, Top 10 of 2014 Tagged: 2014 best books on KLR, C.L. Murphy, Christian Robinson, Chronicle Books, David McClellan, Eliza Wheeler, HarperCollins Children’s Books, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, K.A. Holt, Lobo’s Howliday (The Adventures of Loveable Lobo #5), Mara Rockliff, Patricia Hruby Powell, Peachtree Publishers, Peanut Butter Prose, Rhyme Schemer, The Grudge Keeper, The Guardian Herd #1: Starfire

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22. A Girl from Yamhill (1988)

A Girl from Yamhill. Beverly Cleary. 1988/1996. HarperCollins. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

If you grew up reading Beverly Cleary, you should make time to read her autobiography, A Girl From Yamhill. This first autobiography covers her life from her earliest toddler memories through high school.

In Cleary's books for children, she often focuses on what it's like to BE a kid: to go to school, to spend time with friends, to encounter not-so-friendly kids, to play, to 'get along' or not with your family. But also to THINK like a kid. I thought she was always really good at capturing childhood anxieties and worries. So in A Girl from Yamhill, readers get a chance to find out what Cleary's own childhood was like, what her home life was like, what her school experiences were. Reading A Girl From Yamhill gave me a greater appreciation for the Ramona books. It's not as if you could say that Beverly was Ramona. She wasn't. Though she did play BRICK FACTORY. (Also Beverly had a doll named after a car.) But I could see some correlation between the two certainly. For example, she writes of the financial difficulties, and of the stress her father was under when he was in-between work or out or stuck in a miserable job. So there were certain things that reminded me of the Ramona books. I do feel the Ramona books are timeless.

This one covers so many years. I'm not what the 'perfect' audience age would be. It isn't a light read or a funny one.

So I really enjoyed reading this one. Perhaps I enjoyed it so much because I read and reread Cleary's books so often.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Behind Every Great Man

I’m over at a site called Bitter Empire today with a review of a new nonfiction book:

Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller, offers a collection of short biographies, usually six to ten pages, of the wives of famous men. From Johanna Bertha Julie Jenny von Westphalen (aristocratic wife of Karl Marx) to Eva Gabrielsson (common-law wife of Stieg Larsson), from artists and scientists to dictators and activists, Wagman-Gellar investigated women who were both married to historically significant men and seemed to have “dwelled in the shadows.” With her investigations she aimed to pay tribute to the women who influenced their famous husbands. Many of the women profiled were equal partners in the events that brought their husbands’ fame only to find themselves left on the sidelines of history.

Also, it is the final day of my long, four-day weekend. Sigh. It is cold and rainy outside and bookish folk know what that means: perfect reading weather. So please excuse me while I go curl up with a few good books.

Filed under: Books, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews

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24. Top Secret Files of History: Spies, Secret Missions & Hidden Facts from World War I by Stephanie Bearce

In October 2014, I reviewed a book called Top Secret Files of History: Spies, Secret Missions, & Hidden Facts from World War II.  It is such an interesting book, and I discovered all kinds of new information about the hidden workings and wartime secrets that helped end the war.   Now, the author, Stephanie Bearce has followed it up with a similar book about World War I.

Bearce has once again culled little known information about WWI and combined it with more well-known details and events in a book that will fascinate young readers.  For instance, they will read about the secret society, the Black Hand, formed by the Serbian Army for the purpose of freeing Serbia from being ruled by Austria-Hungary, which led to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife and the start of WWI.

And then, in the section on Spies, there is the prospector/mining engineer Howard Burnham, who had lost part of his leg before the war in an accident.  Working for the Allies, Harry traveled into German territory to do learn enemy troop positions.  Howard has a photographic mind and didn't need to put anything on paper.  In addition, he cleverly hid his surveying tools in his prosthetic leg and no one was ever the wiser.  Readers will also read about brave women like Nurse Edith Cavell and Nurse Marthe Cnockaert, whose professions helped them spy for the Allies.  After the war, Cnockaert went on to write spy novels.

One of my favorite stories in the Special Missions section are the dazzle ships.  Radar was unknown in WWI, and the Germans had developed their submarines or U-boat to such an extent that Allied ships were being successfully torpedoed by them.  A British naval officer named Norman Wilkinson came up with a unique way to confuse the Germans: camouflage the ships by painting the bright geometric patterns so the U-boats couldn't zero in on their position.  See what I mean:

HMS London (1918 Public Domain)
Spies, Secret Missions & Hidden Facts from WWI is chockablock with interesting facts, people and events.  Towards the end of the war, as planes were being used more and more, the French were afraid that Paris would be bombed.  What to do?  Readers will discover the unusual solution the French come up with in this book.  And speaking of airplanes, remember the World War I flying ace, Snoopy and his foe, the Red Barron.  Well, readers will meet the read Red Barron in the section on Secret Forces.

And they will learn about some secret weapons that were used, like carrier pigeons and dogs, and Little Willie, the tank that was able to put an end to trench warfare.  How?  Here's a hint:

The newly invented tank could easily cross over a trench 
Like it companion book, this one is also divided into five sections: Secrets, Spies, Special Missions, Secret Weapons and Secret Forces, each packed with all kinds of interesting information, and within that, readers will find inserts with even more unusual facts.  And at the end of each of the five sections, there are activities and projects for kids to do that corresponds to the topic covered.

A Bibliography of Books and Websites is included for further exploration.  Like Bearce's book on WWII, this volume is also sure to please young history buffs, or anyone else who like a good secret.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Prurock Press

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25. 100 Great Children’s Picture Books by Martin Salisbury

100Martin Salisbury is a Professor of Illustration and course leader for Anglia Ruskin University’s MA in Children’s Book Illustration. To say he knows a thing or two about art in children’s books is something of an understatement. So back last Christmas, when I first heard rumours of his new book, 100 Great Children’s Picture Books, I knew it was going to be a 2015 highlight, a book that would open doors into new worlds, spark curiosity and… likely cause a run on my bank account.

Having enjoyed his past books (Illustrating Children’s Books, Play Pen: New Children’s Book Illustration and Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, written in collaboration with Morag Styles), I knew Salisbury’s selection wouldn’t focus on books which you’d find on sale in supermarkets or filling the weekly Top 10 list in The Bookseller. But I also knew I would make lots of discoveries and that I’d be challenged (so many books and illustrators I perhaps hadn’t heard of before, so much art which I might wonder about how children would respond to rather than adults). I knew it would be an exciting book.

And indeed it is.

Salisbury has chosen 100 books from approximately the last 100 years, using a “luxuriously subjective approach... [with] rather un-academic, unscientific criteria, ultimately based on the ‘wow’ factor.” Whilst the curator of this collection acknowledges that “the successful picture book is about much more than good art and design“, his focus is illustration alone. These books have not been chosen because they work well as complete books, where the storytelling and the interplay between words and illustration is as important and finely honed as the artwork. Rather, they have been highlighted because Salisbury is passionate about the pictures.


Gloriously international in its coverage, with books from Italy, France, Switzerland, Russia, Germany, Japan, China, Belgium as well as a large UK and US contingent, and with the added bonus of some historical contextualisation (the books are presented in chronological order so you can follow changes in printing techniques and the impact that’s had on illustration), this is a gourmet buffet for those with an adventurous palette. Even the inclusion of illustrators you’d place bets on having entries comes with surprises; Salisbury chooses books that are generally not the first associated with these big names. So Bemelman’s Hansi, and not Madeline is highlighted, Sendak’s The Moon Jumpers rather than Where The Wild Things Are, Velthuijs’s The Monster from Half-way to Nowhere rather than his Frog books.


Some illustrators get two entries, whilst others you might anticipate being included are absent (Shaun Tan and Anthony Browne for example), but this doesn’t matter. The aim of this book is not the provision of a definitive list; this is not a best 100, but rather a more honest and subjective, more playful simply great 100. Alongside interior spreads from the book in question Salisbury explains his choice, flavoured with opinions (you can look for entries including “appalling” or “extraordinarily naive“, for example), often with a brief biography of the artist.

This is a book for making discoveries, brilliant for collectors, those with a passion for viewing or creating art, and anyone with an inquisitive mind. It isn’t really a book for parents wanting to find the next great book to read to their four year old however. Many of the books included are not available in English translation, some are out of print and extremely expensive to buy and Salisbury’s tastes are probably more avant-garde than most who don’t live and breathe children’s books. I would have preferred the more honest title “Art from 100 Great Children’s Picture Books”.


But this is a minor quibble. 100 Great Children’s Picture Books, an intellectual and visual treat, does what every exceptional book does: it nurtures deeper engagement and sets you off on paths you didn’t previously know about but now want to follow.

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