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If You Were a Dog Written by Jamie A. Swenson Illustrated by Chris Raschka Farrar Straus Giroux BYR 9/30/2014 978-0-373-33530-4 40 pages Age 3—6
“If you could be any kind of animal, what would you be? Would you be a sod that goes ARRRROOOOOOO? Or maybe you would be a sharp-toothed dinosaur that can CHOMP, STOMP, ROAR! Perhaps you might want to be a hopping frog that goes BOING, BOING, RIBBET! But maybe you would want to be the best kind of animal of all. Can you guess what that is?”[inside jacket]
Review Using sparse text, including exuberant onomatopœia, and characteristics specific to the animal on the spread, Swenson asks young children how they would act if they were a dog, a cat, a bird, a bug, a frog, and a dinosaur. Each two-spread animal begins its question with a recognizable formula:
“If you were a . . . would you be a . . . ?”
For example, the first animal is the dog.
“If you were a dog, would you be a speedy-quick, lickety-sloppy, scavenge-the-garbage, frisbee-catching, hot-dog-stealing, pillow-hogging, best-friend-ever sort of dog?”
The following spread always asks one final question:
“Would you howl at the moon? Some dogs do.”
Youngsters will love the questions, especially each of the activity-type characteristics in If You Were a Dog. While not written in rhyme, the text flows nicely. The individual characteristics are ordered such that the similar suffixes following each other. Raschka’s illustrations are child-like in form, yet lively, and capture the text and the reader’s (listener’s), imagination. Young children will not only contemplate how they would act based on the given charactersitics, but are bound to come up with their own. I like anything that activates and stretches a child’s imagination and If You Were a Dog fits that bill nicely.
The final three spreads in If You Were a Dog acknowledge that we cannot become any animal we want, but we can imitate those around us. Besides, kids are told, the best animal to be is yourself.
IF YOU WERE A DOG. Text copyright (C) 2014 by Jamie A. Swenson. Illustrations copyright (C) 2014 by Chris Raschka. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers—an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, New York, NY.
Full Disclosure: If You Were a Dog, by Jamie A. Swenson & Chris Raschka, and received from Farrar Strauss Giroux BYR, (an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group), is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
The Polar Bear Scientists. Peter Lourie. 2012/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Curious about polar bears? Especially polar bears in the wild? Have an interest in science? Curious about what it is a scientist actually does day to day? Peter Lourie's The Polar Bear Scientist is a reader-friendly book giving readers a behind-the-scene look at several scientists who study polar bears--who have spent most of their lives studying polar bears.
I loved the photographs I did. Yes, the book is packed with information, but, it was the photographs themselves that held my interest. Personally, I found the layout to be a bit difficult on the eyes. Some pages were black text on top of light photographs--snow mainly--but, plenty were white text on a black background. Not every reader will mind this, but, it was hard on my eyes and probably kept me from fully engaging with this one.
Polar Bear Scientists is one of the books in the Scientists in the Fields series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Gingerbread for Liberty: How A German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution. Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: Everyone in Philadelphia knew the gingerbread baker. His honest face...his booming laugh...And, of course, his gingerbread--the best in all the thirteen colonies. His big, floury hands turned out castles and queens, horses and cows and hens--each detail drawn in sweet, buttery icing with the greatest skill and care. And yet, despite his care, there always seemed to be some broken pieces for the hungry children who followed their noses to the spicy-smelling shop. "No empty bellies here!" the baker bellowed. "Not in my America!"
Premise/plot: Gingerbread for Liberty is the untold, near-forgotten story of Christopher Ludwick, a German-born American who loved and served his country during the American Revolution in the best way he knew how: by baking.
My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, LOVED this one. I loved the end papers which feature a recipe for "Simple Gingerbread." I loved the illustrations. Never has a book's illustrations gone so perfectly-perfectly well with the text. The illustration style is very gingerbread-y. It works more than you think it might. At least in my opinion! I loved the author's note. I did. I loved learning a few more facts about Christopher Ludwick. It left me wanting to know even more. Which I think is a good thing. The book highlights his generosity and compassion as well as his baking talents.
But most of all, I loved the text itself, the writing style. The narrative voice in this one is super-strong. And I love the refrain: Not in MY America!
Text: 5 out of 5 Illustrations: 4 out of 5 Total: 9 out of 10
The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War by by David Almond, John Boyne, Tracy Chevalier, Ursula Dubosarsky, Timothee de Fombelle, Adele Geras, et al. | Read by Nico Evers-Swindell, JD Jackson, Gerard Doyle, Richard Halverson, Sarah Coomes, Nick Podehl
(2015, Brilliance Audio) is a powerful collection of short stories that view World Ward I and its repercussions from many different points of view.
The link to my short review for AudioFile Magazine is below. An audio sample is available at the link as well. Publisher recommended for grades 5 and up.
Follow Your Gut. Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler. 2015. Simon & Schuster (TED) 128 pages. [Source: Library]
Just how much microscopic life dwells inside you? If we're going by weight, the average adult is carrying about three pounds of microbes.
Follow Your Gut is reader-accessible science. The book is packed with information--what we know for sure, what we think we know, how much we just don't know quite yet, what we still need to spend time researching. The focus of the book is on microbes: the microbes living in us and on us. How every individual has their own unique combination of microbes. Our microbes can tell scientists where we live and how we live. Most of the book focuses on the microbes living in our guts. The book seeks to convey HOW VERY, VERY, VERY important it is to have good microbes in our gut. How essential gut health is to overall health, but, especially brain health.
Table of contents:
The body microbial
How we get our microbiome
In sickness and in health
The gut-brain axis
Hacking your microbiome
The book is packed with (basic) information. And I think it's information that should be more well known. I think knowledge is the first step, a good solid step in the right direction. I do wish the book was slightly more practical. Yes, it's good to know what microbes do or might do. But which strains of microbes are best for dealing with specific health issues? And how can one add/change one's microbes?!
Having watched a few of these, I then undid the “airlock” into our kitchen and they found this:
And the next hour was spent with M and J experimenting with recipes for meals we might be able to eat on the International Space Station. I (with hindsight: foolishly) promised I would eat anything they prepared for tea.
The velcroed packets of dried and / or powdered food available to the space chefs included:
Instant hot chocolate
Strawberry pudding powder (Angel Delight)
Instant porridge with golden syrup flavour
Dried fried onion bits
Dried coconut chips
Dried banana slices
A tube of tomato purée
A tube of garlic purée
A tube of vegetarian pate
Freeze dried strawberries
Basically I went to the supermarket and just chose a selection of dried and/or powdered foodstuffs, and a few interesting things in tubes…. It was quite eye opening to see what’s available. Alsp, as I couldn’t simulate all aspects of the International Space Station, I provided them with hot and cold water on tap to mix into their ingredients if they wished to.
And here are the final dishes they prepared for me:
Clockwise from top left: Golden syrup porridge and custard, pate and tomato paste tortilla with crunchy banana bits, hot chocolate strawberry pudding and tomato and garlic stew. (!!)
The girls loved measuring out and mixing up the ingredients, but most of all they loved making me squirm as I attempted to eat what they had made.
Do I love my children? Perhaps a funny thing to ask in the middle of a post about space travel, but it was a question I had to repeatedly put to myself as I ate their four course meal….
I do love my children, but eating their food was a challenge. There’s no other polite way of phrasing it… I don’t think I’m cut out to be an astronaut.
But at least once I’d had plenty of water to drink and brushed my teeth several times to get rid of the flavours, we had books to put us all to rights again.
100 Facts Space Travel by Sue Becklake, 100 Facts Stars and Galaxies by Clive Gifford and 100 Facts Solar System by Ian Graham recently arrived in our home and have been the spark for many curious conversations since then. “Mum, did you know that there’s an exoplanet which might be just one GIANT diamond, 4000 kilometres wide?”, “Mum, mum, mum, can I watch this film about a mission to Jupiter’s moon called Europa?”, “Mum, did you know you have to tie yourself to the toilet in space?!”….
An excerpt from 100 facts Space Travel
Each book groups facts around sub-themes. For example, in the book about space travel there are collections of facts to do with spacesuits, space tourists, and even space travel in books and films whilst in the book about stars and galaxies there are facts groups around themes such as the birth of a star, black holes, and the search for extraterrestrial life. A wide variety of images are used to illustrate the facts – photos, drawings, comic strips and even images of historic documents and artefacts, helping to create a collage or pin-board feel to the books. Peppered throughout the pages are mini-quizzes and the occasional practical activity, such as using a balloon to illustrate the expansion of the universe.
An excerpt from 100 Facts Solar System
Perfectly pitched to appeal to my 7 and 10 year old, these are great books for dipping in and out of. The short snippets of information make it easy to read “just one more”, and the range of information included plenty of facts which my kids were delighted by and hadn’t come across before, even though we’ve quite a few space books at home. These books would also, no doubt, work really well in primary schools.
An excerpt from 100 Facts Stars and Galaxies
Whilst we experimented with our space food we listened to:
As I write nonfiction books, I carefully consider sentence length and punctuation. Every sentence is crafted in a way that will support the pacing of my (true) story. Does sentence structure and punctuation affect the pacing of the story? Absolutely! How you write the text makes all the difference.
As an example, let’s consider the opening scene from my book,
I could have begun this book in countless ways. I chose to begin the book with a young man named Von Gammon because I believe it sets the scene for the whole book. I wanted to pull the reader in by giving them a glimpse into Von’s life. Once I decided to open the book with this young man, there were countless ways I could have written the scene.
Consider the following examples and choose which is more compelling:
Von Gammon lay down on the grass. He told his brother to stand on his hands. Von was strong and could prove it. He could lift his brother who was six feet six inches tall off the ground. Von was strong and skilled.
Von Gammon lay down on the grass and told his brother to stand on his hands. Von was strong, and he could prove it. Then he lifted his brother—all six feet and six inches of him—clear off the ground. And Von wasn’t just strong; he was skilled.
The second example is what appears in the published book. The first example communicates the same information, but doesn’t pull the reader into the story. The difference is in the sentence structure and punctuation.
Just a few sentences later, I write about the moment things changed for Von. Which of the following is more interesting?
When Von was a sophomore, he played in a football game that took place on October 30. He was on the University of George team and they were playing the University of Virginia. Von’s team was behind by seven points. The other team had control of the ball. Von was a defensive lineman. When the ball was snapped and the play began, the linemen hit each other. Von laid on the field after all the other players walked away.
On October 30 of Von’s sophomore year, the Georgia Bulldogs were battling the University of Virginia. They trailed by seven points, and Virginia had the ball. Von took his place on the defensive line. The center snapped the ball. A mass of offensive linemen lurched toward Von, and he met them with equal force.
The play ended in a stack of tangled bodies.
One by one, the Virginia players got up and walked away. Von didn’t.
The second example appears in the published book. Again it isn’t the information that is different; it is how the information is presented that is different.
Why did I begin
Fourth Down and Inches:
Concussions and Football's Make-or-Break Moment
with Von Gammon?
Because Von sustained a concussion and died a few hours later. His death caused many to wonder if football was too dangerous. The year was 1897.
Carla Killough McClafferty
Win an autographed copy Baby Says “Moo!” by JoAnn Early Macken. For more details on the book and enter the book giveaway, see her blog entry on June 12, 2015. The giveaway runs through June 22. The winner will be announced on June 26.
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I want to model all sorts of options for girls in my classes--showing them women who have excelled as athletes, scientists, politicians and activists. Kids love playing soccer and many recognize pro players. It's important to share biographies of women soccer players, along with men. Unfortunately, few are published, especially for readers in 3rd through 5th grade. Here are my thoughts on two biographies and one website.
Abby Wambach is one of the current stars of the US women's national team. She scored the winning goal in this week's game against Nigeria, helping her team win their group and advance into the elimination rounds of the World Cup. This biography is clear and straightforward. It starts with an exciting scene from 2012 Olympics to help readers understand Abby's strengths and key role as a player.
Chapters then follow Abby's life in chronological order, looking at the way she played sports as a child, in high school and college, and then finally joining a pro soccer team. Students in 3rd and 4th grade will like the combination of high interest photos, all marked with captions, and widely spaced texts. Take a look at the sample in Google Books to see the print inside the book. We have many books from Lerner's terrific Amazing Athletes series, and many feature women athletes. Unfortunately, this is the only one about a soccer player.
Alex Morgan by Illugi Jökulsson Abbeville Kids, 2015 Your local library Amazonages 9-12
Alex Morgan is very well known, and I was excited to order this biography. Unfortunately, it exhibits the worst types of sports writing about women. While the first chapter starts with her role in the US women's national team, the next chapter focuses on her astrological birth sign. Really?!! The chapter on her childhood talks about other famous celebrities who came from the same town.
Not only does this book send harmful messages, its structure is confusing. Readers expect biographies to proceed in sequential order, starting with a figure's childhood. But this biography jumps from Alex's childhood to the early beginnings of soccer in the 1800s to the first Women's World Cup. This book will draw students in with high quality photographs and bold chapter headings, but it is poorly organized.
Kids will love exploring the US women's national team website. Each player has recorded short heartfelt videos that connect their childhood experiences to their current role as a player on the national team. Short paragraphs model excellent sports writing. But it's the videos that will stick with kids because they'll hear these inspiring stories in the players own voices.
I purchased these review copies came for my personal library. 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.
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved A Mystery That Baffled All of France. Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. 2015. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new--remarkable thrilling and strange. Something called science. Parisians giggled at a gas that nobody could see--till it went up in flames. Voila! They gasped at the balloon that floated high above the rooftops carrying a duck, a rooster, and a very nervous sheep. And they went absolutely gaga over the American in the peculiar fur hat. Because everyone had heard about Ben Franklin's famous kite experiment, which showed that lightning was the same as electricity. But soon all Paris was abuzz about somebody new. Someone remarkable--thrilling--and definitely strange. Someone called Dr. Mesmer.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading Mesmerized. I can't say I came to the book with an interest in the subject. But the storytelling won me over by the end. It is about Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Mesmer, the scientific method, the placebo effect, and hypnosis. The book does more than tell young readers about the scientific method, the book shows the scientific method in action.
This picture book is a good example that nonfiction can be compelling and fascinating. Storytelling doesn't have to be fiction to be good, to be entertaining.
I really enjoyed the text of this one. I did. But I found myself LOVING the illustrations.
As the Women's World Cup gets underway in Canada, I want to share three soccer books that can hook young readers. Soccer continues to be a hugely popular sport among kids around the world. These three books can capitalize on young reader's interest, and provide them with a chance to read nonfiction about the sport they love. I'll share them in order of complexity, starting with the easiest reading level.
With chapters such as "How to Dribble" and "How to Beat a Defender", this book will appeal to kids with a keen interest in playing the game. Clear headings and subheadings make it easy to read, with vibrant photographs illustrating the point.
"Stay in contact with the ball. As long as you have the ball, make sure you control it between your feet at all times. Defenders will have a hard time stealing the ball if you keep it under control."
While this may not be new advice for young players, this book can be an excellent model for students in their own writing. Unfortunately, all of the photographs just feature professional male players. It is disappointing that professional women were not included as well.
High-impact photos will draw kids immediately to this book, and they will like reading the plentiful short facts on topics ranging from stats and championships, to diagrams of a soccer pitch and basic formations. The writing is clear and the use of headings and subheadings is excellent. However, the text is better for older readers, with more complex vocabulary and smaller font size. This text is an excellent example of elaborating to fully describe the role of a defender.
"Defenders (also called fullbacks) are the basis for any winning team. They are the muscle that helps protect the goalie... Defenders also need to excel at tackling, or intercepting the ball. Sometimes, a defender called a sweeper stays by the goal to provide an extra line of defense."
Best of all, Everything Soccer uses examples from women's and men's professional teams from around the world -- as well as kids in action. In the spread below, the referee is a woman holding up a red card, the professionals are from Brazil and North Korea. My only complaint is that there are no captions identifying players or teams.
(click to enlarge)
This will be a book that kids will enjoy reading, returning to it again and again. The short chunks makes it easy to dip into. My only concern is that kids will spend more time looking at the pictures than reading the paragraphs.
I am stunned how few books there are about women's soccer, especially considering how well the United States national team has played in the Olympics. The US women's national soccer team has won the Olympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012--garnering lots of press in the process. This book, originally published in Iceland, is a good choice for kids interested in reading more in-depth about the American team.
Written with a classic sports journalism style, this follows the ups and downs of the US women's national team from 1991 to the present. It follows a clear sequence, noting the difference between World Cup games and the Olympics. The writing is more complex, but clear structure and text features help readers.
"Vast tensions surrounded the 1999 World Cup final between the United States and China. Both teams played cautiously and failed to create proper opportunities for scoring. After 90 minutes, the game went into extra time, and fans of the U.S. team were justifiably anxious."
The games' final scores and opponents are clearly shown on each page, and captions identify each player and their stats. I love how this takes in-depth sports writing and focuses on women who excel in the world arena. This would be a great read-aloud for kids in 3rd and 4th grade, or perfect for 5th and 6th graders.
The review copy of Everything Soccer was kindly sent by the publisher, National Geographic Kids. The other books came from our school library. 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.
The Upstairs Room. Johanna Reiss. 1972. HarperCollins. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
I am so glad I decided to read Johanna Reiss' The Upstairs Room. This one has been on my list of books I needed to read for quite a while--over a decade at least. It is nonfiction--a biography--set during World War II. The author and her sister were Jews that hid for several years from the Nazis.
Readers meet Annie, the young heroine, and her family. She has several older sisters, a mother and father. The war changes everything for the family. The mother, who was close to death anyway--the Nazis invasion of Holland didn't really change the outcome. The family found hiding places, but, separate hiding places. Annie was placed in a hiding place with one of her sisters. Readers meet the two families that hid the two girls. One family became like a second family to her. I found the book to be a quick read, and quite intense.
The book itself was well-written: both compelling and well-paced. What surprised me a little bit, and what might surprise others as well, is the language. I wasn't expecting (strong) profanity in a Newbery Honor book! I really wasn't. That being said, it wasn't a huge issue for me--as an adult reader. But I could see how it might not work for certain families as a read-aloud choice.
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Edited by Pamela Smith Hill. 2014. South Dakota State Historical State Society. 400 pages. [Source: Library] Pioneer Girl is a must-read for anyone who grew up loving, or perhaps, LOVING, Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. Pioneer Girl is an annotated autobiography. The book itself is a draft of an autobiography written by Laura Ingalls Wilder circa 1930. Mother and daughter worked with this draft preparing to send it to various publishers (not just book publishers) for a year or two. (There are several draft versions of Pioneer Girl.) Eventually, the focus shifts from writing an adult autobiography to writing a series of historical fiction novels for children. The adult autobiography was "forgotten" as a book itself, and becomes a source--a good source--for mother and daughter to use in their own fiction. I didn't know that Rose Wilder Lane borrowed generously from her mom's autobiography while writing her adult fiction. Lane wrote Free Land and Let the Hurricane Roar (Young Pioneers).
The autobiography shares Laura Ingalls Wilder's earliest memories through her wedding day. (Those earliest memories are of being a toddler in Kansas.) These memories are, of course, in her own words. The writing is natural and casual. Some paragraphs are great at capturing details and specifics of an event. Other paragraphs are more of a rush, a blend, they seem a bit fuzzier, less exact. These are her very personal reflections written first for her daughter, and, then possibly for a larger audience. Wilder has turned reflective. She's older now, feeling that very much. (Her mom died in 1924, her sister, Mary, in 1928. She's wanting to capture these memories, these stories, to hold onto them perhaps.) One also sees the book itself as an act of love, an expression of love, a way of remembering and honoring.
The annotations are wonderful. They provide background and context. The annotations includes notes on a wide variety of subjects a) people b) places c) events d) nature e) culture (songs, dances, fashion), f) writing, editing, and publishing. There are plenty of notes that compare and contrast scenes and events as they appear in Pioneer Girl and as they appear in one of the original novels. Readers see how a memory recorded in Pioneer Girl is shaped and crafted into a finished product with plenty of detail and even dialogue. Readers see how Wilder carefully--oh-so-carefully--crafted the characters of the family. One gets the definite impression that she was purposeful with every scene, every book. It was no accident that Pa is so noble, independent, strong, and bigger-than-life almost.
I learned so much by reading Pioneer Girl. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who has enjoyed spending time with Laura and her family through the years.
The settings of these narrative nonfiction titles span decades and geography — from WWII Denmark to contemporary Malawi — but the issues they explore are incredibly timely.
When heavy rains, then drought, devastated his country of Malawi and the corrupt government didn’t respond, young William Kamkwamba used his scientific ingenuity to help people in need. His windmill made from “bottle-cap washers, rusted tractor parts, and [an] old bicycle frame” was a success; soon William dreamed of conquering darkness, pumping water to the villages, and fighting hunger. Cowritten with Bryan Mealer, Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition (illustrated by Anna Hymas) is inspiring — a well-told true tale of one young man’s passion for science making his world better. (Dial, 9–12 years)
Phillip Hoose introduces readers to a little-known resistance movement in The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersenand the Churchill Club. When Hitler invaded Denmark, teenaged Knud Pedersen (with his brother Jens and some mates) decided that “If the adults would not act, we would.” First using civil disobedience then employing increasingly dangerous acts of sabotage against the country’s Nazi occupiers, the group inspired widespread Danish revolt. Hoose brilliantly weaves Pederson’s own words into the larger narrative of wartime Denmark, showing how the astonishing bravery of a few ordinary Danish teens started something extraordinary. A 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book and an outstanding addition to the WWII canon. (Farrar, 11–15 years)
Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin’s March: Book Two picks up where the previous volume left off in relating Lewis’s personal experiences of the civil rights movement. Dramatic descriptions, along with Nate Powell’s vivid black-and-white illustrations, relate direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater), Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and the 1963 March on Washington, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. Among the many excellent volumes available on the subject of civil rights this is a standout, the graphic format a perfect vehicle for delivering the one-two punch of powerful words and images. (Top Shelf Productions, 11–15 years)
In Tommy: The Gun That Changed America, Karen Blumenthal traces the history of the Thompson submachine gun (a.k.a. the Tommy gun) and its times. After the Spanish-American War, Army officer John Thompson believed that America needed a lightweight, automatic rifle. The Army did not share his opinion, so Thompson left the service and developed his own weapon, completed with superior bad timing on Armistice Day in 1918. Without a ready military market, the Tommy gun wound up in the hands of crooks and bootleggers. Blumenthal shows the complexity of gun culture then and now with thorough research and impeccable documentation. (Roaring Brook, 11–15 years)
From the June 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.
“Spades for the circling turrets / Clubs for the towers above / Diamonds for sparkling windows / And hearts for love …” (Click to enlarge)
Do you know one reason I like to keep my eye on what Alazar Press is doing? They have previously published the work of Ashley Bryan (see this older 7-Imp post), and they’re doing it again this year. But this time it’s a very unusual collaboration they’re bringing into the spotlight, one that’s been 50 years in the making.
The book is called By Trolley Past Thimbledon Bridge and was released in early May. Once upon a time, Marvin Bileck—illustrator of Rain Makes Applesauce, a 1965 Caldecott Honor Book—created the illustrations for the only children’s manuscript written by Virginia Woolf. However, her estate withdrew the text after more than a decade of Marvin’s work. Ashley Bryan then stepped in to collaborate with Bileck on a new text, securing the help of the legendary Jean Karl, who founded Atheneum Books for Young Readers. Still, though, the book has taken decades to see light of day — and now it is on shelves, thanks to Alazar.
“When [Bileck] told his friend Ashley Bryan,” an opening note from Bileck’s wife states, “they began playfully bantering back and forth with words here and there, in and out of the drawings, and that’s how By Trolley Past Thimbledon Bridge came into being.” It’s a set of ten poems with a hand-lettered text all throughout the book, as well as Bileck’s delicate, whispery illustrations. “Bileck and Bryan capture the stuff of dreams in this mesmerizing and multifaceted pageant,” writes the Kirkus review.
Joseph Gulla of Alazar Press told me a bit about the book:
“Last year, we made two trips to Maine and spent days working on the book, sequencing the pages and discussing other materials that we would like to include. Here [is] an early meeting with Ashley. Rosemarie [Gulla of Alazar Press] and Ashley had a lot of fun working out details and making the first hand-made copy of the book:
It was at one of these meetings that we hatched the idea of taking the poems that are spread throughout the book and placing them on two pages in the early section of the book. So, the poems actually appear twice — once near the beginning of the book and then throughout the body of the book on the pages whose images they accompany:
(Click each to enlarge)
We worked with Emily Nelligan, Marvin’s widow, on some of the details of the book. When we asked for a photo, she sent us a black-and-white of a young Marvin, which we used. We found a photo of Ashley from around the time of his Cooper Union days, so we paired them on the bio page from the book:
(Click to enlarge)
When we think about the book, we think of the friendship between Ashley and Marvin. Marvin had the disappointment of losing the book contract with the Virginia Woolf estate. Ashley spent considerable time helping Marvin shape a new book out of the existing material. Ashley put enormous effort into the wonderfully complimentary poems that are on the pages of the book.”
Judy Blume: Are You There, Reader? It's Me Judy! (Women Who Broke the Rules). Kathleen Krull. 2015. Bloomsbury. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Kathleen Krull has a new nonfiction book series: Women Who Broke The Rules. So far the series features biographies of Sacajawea, Judy Blume, Dolley Madison, and Sonia Sotomayor. Biographies of Coretta Scott King and Mary Todd Lincoln are listed as 'coming soon.' I think the series has some potential for its intended age group. Especially when I think about the oh-so-limited options I had as a child.
I enjoyed reading this biography of Judy Blume. The first chapter takes us from birth through high school graduation, essentially. The next five chapters focus mainly on her writing: her love of writing, the struggle to get published, what she's written, what it's like to be an author, challenges she's faced, etc. I like the balance of this one.
Overall, I'm happy to recommend the series. I think it would be a good choice for elementary students.
"When photography began, it was an elaborate, expensive, time-consuming, elite activity, using heavy, cumbersome equipment. Today, taking photographs can be instant, cheap, and accessible to anyone. Despite the enormous changes in photographic equipment and technology since the nineteenth century, the purposes of photography have remained essentially the same, whether immortalizing, exploring, documenting, revealing, or showing us what we can't see with the naked eye." -- from the introduction of Photos Framed
It's amazing, isn't it, that in less than 200 years, photography has become a universal art form? Children can take photographs before they have learned to hold a crayon. I think I can confidently say that every student in my class has taken a photograph. And because of that, I can't wait to share this book with them and dig into the history of photography and the art of photography.
Photos Framed is divided into four sections: Portrait photography, Nature photography, Photography as art, and Documentary photography. Each of the sections features examples from the 18th through the 21st Centuries. And each of the photographs is explored in the same ways: there is a section of text describing and discussing the photograph, a section that tells about the photographer, three questions ("Photo thoughts") for the reader/viewer to consider, a sidebar ("Blow Up") that features one tiny bit of the photo and a question to consider, and another sidebar ("Zoom In") that helps the viewer to consider the photo as a whole. Finally, there is a quote from the photographer that accompanies the photo.
I'm thrilled to see that there are multiple copies of this book available in our metro library system. I am imagining a whole-class study of this book in the first weeks of school which would lay the groundwork for students to build a photographic/visual portfolio alongside their digital portfolio/notebook (folder in their Google drive) and their pencil/paper writer's note/sketchbook.
Writing that last convoluted sentence made me realize that there just about isn't such a thing as a plain and simple Writer's Notebook anymore. All of these digital and non-digital spaces need to be developed to provide students with opportunities to capture and hold creations of all kinds at all stages of the process. Maybe it really is time to stop calling it Writers' Workshop and call it Composing Workshop.
War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation. Cindy Hval. 2015. Casemate. 240 pages. [Source: Review copy]
I enjoyed reading Cindy Hval's War Bonds. The book is a collection of love stories. Each chapter features a new couple. Each chapter is short in length, but, not lacking in heart. What the chapters all have in common, of course, is that all the husbands fought in World War II. Another commonality is that all the marriages lasted. Each story is worth sharing; each voice deserves to be heard.
I enjoyed meeting all the men and women in this book. I enjoyed their stories: stories about how they met, when and where they met, how they fell in love, their courtships--in some cases years, in other cases mere weeks, their proposals, their weddings, their marriages. The book shares their challenges and struggles: before, during, and after the war.
I really enjoyed the photographs as well!
I would definitely recommend War Bonds. I love reading about World War II both fiction and nonfiction. I love reading love stories. This book was just right for me.
Melissa Stewart, award-winning author of more than 150 nonfiction books for children, steps into our Author's Spotlight today. In her post, she shares about the chunk and check process, which will help your students conduct research.
March: Book Two
by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illus. by Nate Powell
Middle School, High School Top Shelf Productions 192 pp.
1/15 978-1-60309-400-9 $19.95 g
Lewis and Aydin begin this second volume of the graphic memoir trilogy in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2009 (President Obama’s first inauguration), then they move back in time to 1960 to pick up where March: Book One (rev. 1/14) left off. Dramatic descriptions and vivid black-and-white illustrations of SNCC’s direct action campaigns in Nashville (sit-ins at fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, “stand-ins” at a segregated movie theater) are followed by accounts of the Freedom Rides into the “heart of the beast” in the Deep South, and on through the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, where Lewis spoke alongside Dr. King. (Back matter includes the original draft of Lewis’s speech, a more fiery, radical version of the speech he delivered, a debate about which took place up to the moment he stepped onstage.) Since this is Lewis’s personal story, the account has the authority of a passionate participant, and the pacing ramps up tension and historical import. Events and personalities aren’t romanticized in the text or the illustrations, which themselves don’t flinch from violence; in addition to exploring the dream that drove the civil rights movement, the story also portrays its divisions. Flash-forwards to Barack Obama’s inauguration appear judiciously throughout, an effective reminder to readers about the effects of the movement. Among the many excellent volumes available on the subject of civil rights this is a standout, the graphic format a perfect vehicle for delivering the one-two punch of powerful words and images.
Title: A Rock Can Be Written by: Laura Purdie Salas Illustrated by: Violeta Dabija Published by: Millbrook Press, 2015 Themes/Topics: rocks, nonfiction, poetry, rhyme Suitable for ages: 5-8 Opening: A rock is a rock. … Continue reading →
The Sound of Music Story: How A Beguiling Young Novice, A Handsome Austrian Captain and Ten Singing von Trapp Children Inspired the Most Beloved Film of All Time. Tom Santopietro. 2015. St. Martin's Press. 324 pages. [Source: Library]
I enjoyed reading Tom Santopietro's The Sound of Music Story. Did I enjoy each chapter equally? Probably not. But what I was interested in, I was REALLY interested in, and, I was fine skimming the rest.
The book focuses on several things: 1) the story of the actual von Trapp family, both before and after the Sound of Music, 2) the Sound of Music on Broadway (its creation, duration, etc.) 3) the filming and reception of The Sound of Music (focus on the directing, producing, filming, acting, costuming, etc.) 4) the legacy of the Sound of Music, five decades worth of trivia on the film and the soundtrack, etc.
I loved reading about the filming of the movie. I did. I loved reading about the filming of particular scenes and particular songs. It was just fun. There were chapters of this one that were just giddy-making.
Not all of the book was equally captivating to me. But I appreciated the thoroughness of it.
I cannot recommend this one enough. I hope you have time to read at least one version of this inspiring true story of a teenager who created electricity for his impoverished, starving village in Malawi with nothing more than garbage, an elementary education, an old borrowed Physics book (in a language that he did not speak or read!), and a will to make things better!
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (William Morrow, 2009)
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Dial, 2012)
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Penguin, 2015)
Here are William Kamkwamba's two TED Talks. They're short and well worth a listen.