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As a child, I was in awe of Helen Keller. She overcame so many difficulties, but kept persevering, learning and reaching out to people. At my school, children are still drawn to her story. I love sharing Doreen Rappaport and Matt Tavares's stirring biography with them.
Doreen Rappaport gives readers a clear sense of Helen's whole life, from the illness that left her blind and deaf as a child, to her years with Annie, and then her accomplishments as an adult.
Throughout it, Rappaport highlights Keller's own inspiring words in large, bold print. Young readers will be inspired not only by how Helen overcame her own disabilities, but how she used her voice to speak up for justice and equality for all.
I remember when I went to the theater and saw the play The Miracle Worker, which focuses on the early relationship between Helen and her teacher Annie Sullivan. The most electrifying moment in the play, and in the biographies of Helen Keller, was always the moment at the water pump, when Helen connected the water flowing over her hand with the word that Annie was spelling into her other hand.
That moment reminds us of how we learn, and the power of learning; the more we understand things, the larger our world becomes. Annie Sullivan opened up Helen Keller’s limited, dark, silent world; it grew and grew until it truly became a big world.
March 8th marks International Women's Day, a celebration that has been observed since in the early 1900's. On this day, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements.
I have really enjoyed sharing with students the website for the Nobel Prize. Since 1901, prizes have been awarded for remarkable achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. Of the more than 500 prizes 45 have been awarded to women (see the list here), an amount that I think is much too small. But one way to inspire girls of today to reach for greatness is to celebrate the achievement of other women.
The Nobel Prize website provides information for every Nobel Prize since 1901, including the Nobel Laureates' biographies, Nobel Lectures, interviews, photos, articles, video clips, press releases, educational games and more.
Each day this month, I will be sharing different resources to help children learn about amazing women throughout history. What books or websites do you like to share with children during Women's History Month?
Growing up, I used to think that our outlook on life was shaped (in part) by the landscape you saw driving to work or school. I felt so lucky to drive through open, grass-covered hills dotted with oak trees. I immediately felt a kinship to Kate Sessions, when I read The Tree Lady, by H. Joseph Hopkins. It's a wonderful picture book biography that shows a woman taking action to improve her environment.
After becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, Kate Sessions took a job as a teacher far south in the dry desert town of San Diego. Kate decided that San Diego needed trees more than anything else. So this trailblazing young woman single-handedly started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. Now, more than 100 years after Kate first arrived in San Diego, her gorgeous gardens and parks can be found all over the city.
Sessions was determined to pursue her passion and find solutions to problems she saw. She was a trail-blazer thinking about sustainability, important issues especially in California. Want to learn more? I especially liked Lisa Taylor's review over at Shelf-employed.
Kate Session arrives in San Diego
Balboa Park, San Diego, 1915
Do you want to share more with kids? I think they'd be interested in this video from the San Diego Historical Society.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Simon & Schuster. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Clara Barton bravely tended to soldiers during the Civil War, and became known as the Angel of the Battlefield. After the war, she founded the American Red Cross, an organization that continues essential relief during emergencies. Patricia Polacco, one of my favorite authors, has just written a book about Clara Barton's childhood. It provides a lovely introduction to this remarkable woman.
Like Polacco herself, Clara was painfully shy as a child and often teased. She found safety and comfort in animals on her farm, often treating them when they were hurt. When her beloved brother Davie was dreadfully hurt falling off the barn roof, Clara tended to him day after day, determined to help him heal, seeing to his wounds and providing comfort and encouragement. My students were fascinated by the historical context of this story, especially how much medical treatment has changed since the 19th century.
Want to find out more? Head over to Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. Louise Capizzo, a children's librarian from Maine, and I are writing about how to help children learn more about Barton's life. We think that Polacco's book will inspire children to learn more about this remarkable woman.
Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work helping women throughout Africa planting trees to improve the environment and their quality of life. As we celebrate Women's History Month, I make sure to introduce students to women from throughout the world who have worked hard to improve their communities.
Although it was unusual for girls to receive formal education in rural Kenya, Wangari’s parents agreed to send her to school. Wangari’s determination and hard work continued as she went first to high school in the city, and then to university in the United States to study biology.
Wangari returned to Kenya to teach and inspire women scientists, but became concerned when she saw the environmental damage that was occurring throughout the country. Maathai established the Green Belt Movement, bringing about environmental and economic change in Kenya by helping local women plant over thirty million trees.
International Women's Day, March 8th, is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women's Day is a national holiday. Are you celebrating International Women's Day with your children?
The review copy 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 (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Historical fiction has always fascinated me, and I love hooking kids on an interesting period in history though an exciting story. Shadow on the Mountain is a gripping story of a young boy's resistance to the Nazi German occupiers in Norway during World War II. Margi Preus has created an exciting story full of action and adventure, but she also infuses it with a full sense of this period of history.
Espen is just fourteen when German Nazi soldiers occupied Norway in 1940. The occupation has made life hard for all Norwegians, but it has also increased their sense of national identity and pride. At first, Epsen helps the Norwegian Resistance movement in small ways, delivering newspapers, refusing to participate in a Nazi-sponsored school event.
As the story begins, Epsen is riding his bike one evening when he is stopped by a car full of Nazi soldiers. As they search his rucksack, Espen notices that his friend Kjell is sitting in the car with the soldiers, but Kjell refuses to make eye contact with Epsen. The soldiers let him go on his way, believing he is on his way to visit his uncle, but Espen is really carrying coded information for the Norwegian Resistance. As he rides home, he keeps wondering about Kjell.
Preus captures the struggle of Norwegians who resisted the Nazi occupation, showing how ordinary citizens found ways big and small to stand up to the Germans. By centering her plot around a young teen, she draws young readers into the story. She hooks them with action and suspense, as Epsen becomes more and more involved in the Resistance, first as a courier and finally as a covert spy. I particularly agree with Lynn Rutan's review over at Bookends blog:
Epsen "is an ordinary boy who eventually does extraordinary things and this makes Prues’ skillful portrayal of his courage all the more affecting. Espen is frequently terribly afraid – and with very good reason – and yet even while admitting that fear to himself, he does intensely brave things – the very essence of courage." -- Lynn Rutan, Bookends blog
Margi Preus has shared many resources that will interest teens and teachers. Shadow on the Mountain is based on real events and the experiences of real people. The book contains photos, maps, and archival material. I'm especially interested in reading more about Erling Storrusten, the Norwegian man whose experiences in the Resistance movement inspired Preus's novel.
Share this story with young teens and tweens who like adventure stories and war stories, but also share it with kids who are pulled into friendship dilemmas and historical fiction.
Get a sense of it for yourself with this preview from Google Books:
This book will be one of the many I'll be recommending at Mrs. Dalloway's Books for our Fantastic Summer Reading Event next week. Hope you can join us!
Did you love comics as a kid? Do your kids eat them up today like they're candy? Comics capture visual humor, action and adventure -- engaging kids at every step of the way. I particularly love graphic novels for the way they take this visual medium and develop an engaging plot. I see kids reading these novels again and again, soaking up different details each time. If your child loves action and adventure stories, seek out Giants Beware! It is brilliant fun, with a gutsy heroine, a noble quest and plenty of laughs.
Claudette is a feisty warrior-in-training who's determined to follow her father's footsteps and slay a giant. Never mind that she's tiny, hotheaded, prone to irrational outbursts, and a girl. Claudette is absolutely sure that she is the one to find the giant who terrorizes her town.
Claudette does what any would-be-warrior does, she convinces her younger brother and her best friend to join her on a quest to slay the giant. They have to save the town! But, she runs into problems at every step. First of all, her brother only wants to make pastries. And her best friend just wants to be a princess, a real princess. Their doubts won't stop Claudette - just look at her determination:
You see, long ago the marquis defeated a horrible giant who terrorized the town by eating babies' toes. The old marquis chased the giant back to its mountain hiding spot and then built high walls around the town, keeping the people safe (and trapped inside).
Giants Beware! is full of action and visual humor, with the underdog coming out on top. Aguirre and Rosado weave in surprises, tension and plot twists throughout the story. But best of all, I just love the characters of the three friends. As my friend Charlotte wrote, "what made me love this one is the characters, who defy the expectations and normative categorizations most beautifully."
Claudette is a terrific tomboy, one who defies everyone's expectation that she should just be a "good girl". Marie might be obsessed with being a princess, but she is a loyal friend to the end who will risk all to stand by Claudette's side. Claudette's little brother Gaston is terribly afraid, but he's determined to join his sister and ends up saving the day.
You'll have fun watching this trailer for the story:
Intrigued? Do you already love this story? Celebrate and chat with the authors next week on the May Sharp-Schu Twitter Book Club meeting: Tuesday, May 21st at 7pm Central (8pm Eastern; 5pm Pacific). All you need to do is follow the Twitter hashtag #sharpschu. Tweetchat is an excellent way to follow and participate.
Giants Beware! is a great book for summer reading. It's one of the many books that will be on our list at Mrs. Dalloway's this week. I hope you can join us for our Hot Reads for a Cool Summer - summer reading event, Thursday May 16th at 6:30 pm.
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 (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
What draws friends together? Is it that you both love the same music or flavor of ice cream? Or is it that you make each other laugh? Friends understand one another, love spending time together and make each other happy. Kids -- even young kids -- totally get this. And they're going to love Odd Duck, a new graphic novel that celebrates friendship, with all its quirks and eccentricities.
Theodora swims with a teacup balanced on her head, flavoring her meals with mango salsa, and stays put for the winter. She knows exactly what she likes and is happy with everything going as planned.
When Chad moves next door, Theodora is not quite sure about this new duck. His feathers are askew, he has strange sculptures in his yard, and absolutely no manners! "Theodora could not relate to a single thing that he said. But she knew one thing was certain ... she and Chad would not be friends."
Castellucci and Varon develop this delightful story from here, showing how the two bond over their love of stars, but then fall apart over an argument over which one is odd. The illustrations are charming -- quirky, sweet and sunny. Kids will love the way the two friends come back together in the end, realizing that they really do like each other just the way they are.
Here's what my nine-year-old wrote:
"Of course, every duck can't be perfect, but these ducks are more than just not perfect. They're odd. And in this book both of them have never had a true friend, so they are put up to the challenge to make a true friend."
Kids do get it. They understand what it means to be a true friend. Odd Duck will make them laugh, smile and remember how much they value their own friends.
I really enjoyed reading this interview with Cecil Castellucci in the LA Times. It was also really interesting to read about Sara Varon's process creating the artwork, in this guest post at the First Second blog. Cecil originally proposed this as an early chapter book with spot art, but when the two began working together they realized that it might be even more effective told primarily through pictures.
An essential role for school libraries is providing developing readers with increasingly complex books that build on their previous knowledge. We want to help young readers discover that books can feed their natural curiosity, providing them with more and more information as they become experts on their chosen interests. Common Core IRL will highlight books that ladder up in text complexity on a high interest topic.
For our first feature the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we're focusing on frogs. Frogs are fascinating animals, from their amazing metamorphosis as they turn from tadpole to frog, to the sheer variety in their colors, habitats and sizes. Head over to these blogs today to read about:
For 3rd and 4th grade readers who are fascinated by frogs, I would suggest a combination of interesting just-right books to read by themselves and some engaging read-aloud books that provide even more information. Today, I'll share two books to read on their own. Tomorrow, I'll share two wonderful books to read aloud.
Gail Gibbons is one of my go-to authors for clear nonfiction for newly independent readers. She clearly explains how frog spawn changes to embryos, then to tadpoles, young frogs, and finally, mature amphibians. Short sentences are easy to read, and yet she provides plenty of details to fascinate young readers:
"These eggs do not have shells. They are inside jellylike coverings. As they float, the jelly lets the sun's warmth come through to the eggs inside."
The text is clearly easy to read, but detailed enough to make it appropriate for a 3rd grader. The book is designed with relatively large font and plenty of white space. Readers will be engaged by the details Gibbons provides. For example, the section on frogs enemies explains different ways frogs ward off predators:
"A sudden leap is a quick escape from danger. For protection, some frogs have skin glands that make them taste bad or make them poisonous. Sometimes their skin color hides them from enemies. This is called camouflage."
Gibbon's distinctive watercolor and ink illustrations are appealing and clearly labeled. The illustrations are closely connected with the text, providing clear explanations for the main ideas and important terms. A double-page spread at the end presents a labeled illustration comparing frogs and toads. Kids will find it interesting to draw the comparisons themselves.
Have you ever wondered what makes the difference between a frog and a toad? Is it just that a toad's skin is dry and bumpy and a frog's is smooth and moist? Did you know that a frog has teeth in its upper jaw, but a toad has no teeth? I particularly like the way that Rockwood frames this book around a central, interesting question.
Rockwood addresses a slightly older audience, beginning right away with an explanation of the scientific classification of frogs and toads. You'll notice that the sentences are longer than in Gibbon's book, and the vocabulary is more complex.
"Frogs and toads are amphibians that belong to a scientific order, or grouping, called Anura. This is the most widespread order of amphibians. There are around 4,000 species of amphibians in this order."
I was particularly fascinated by the way that frogs' and toads' legs are similar and different. While both have hind legs that are built for jumping and are longer than their front legs, frogs jump much farther. In fact, some frogs can jump 20 times their body length! Toads, on the other hand, have shorter legs designed for walking, with occasional short hops.
Kids will be drawn in by the colorful, sharply focused photographs of many frogs and toads. The photographs are accompanied by detailed captions, but are not labeled in the same way as Gibbon's book. A table of contents, glossary and index provide children with experience using these important text features to access information. PowerKids provides a website with links for further reading.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.8 Describe the logical connection between particular sentences and paragraphs in a text (e.g., comparison, cause/effect, first/second/third in a sequence).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.2 Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.
Please check out the other Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries posts to see how you would ladder up to these books, and what you might follow them with. Tomorrow, I will share two wonderful books to read aloud to students who are fascinated by frogs.
The review copies come from my school library. Many thanks to Travis Jonker, Cathy Potter, Alyson Beecher, and Louise Capizzo for taking this journey to talk about what the Common Core means for us in real life! We look forward to this recurring series.
Our children are fascinated by the world around them, soaking up information about so many different things. I clearly remember how excited my daughter was to learn that birds, snakes and crocodiles are all oviparous, or egg-bearing animals. We can foster this sort of enthusiasm by reading aloud picture books that delve into different nonfiction topics. As the Common Core standards state in ELA Standard 10,
"Children in the early grades (particularly K–2) should participate in rich, structured conversations with an adult in response to the written texts that are read aloud, orally comparing and contrasting as well as analyzing and synthesizing, in the manner called for by the Standards."
"One cannot stress enough the importance of reading aloud. You will want to read aloud to teach children discipline-based concepts that are integral to social studies and science.You’ll also read aloud to create a sense of community and to show children why people love to read. And you’ll read aloud to teach children vocabulary and higher-level comprehension skills. As you conduct a read-aloud session be sure that it includes opportunities for accountable talk." grade 2, page 6
As part of our new series the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we would like to suggest two excellent nonfiction picture books all about frogs that we like to read aloud to students. These books will have different language and text features than those we provide to children to read independently. They might use more figurative language, longer sentences, higher vocabulary. But they will engage students, laying important background for their own reading, and lead to many discussions about these interesting animals.
Frog Song by Brenda Guiberson illustrated by Gennady Spirin Henry Holt / Macmillan, 2013 read aloud: grades 1-3 independent reading: grades 4-5 Lexile 950 AD (adult directed) Amazon your local library
This gorgeous picture book explores eleven different frog species from around the world, from Australia to Borneo to Chile. Each spread focuses on a different species, with a wonderful illustration and an engaging description that focuses on one interesting aspect of that species. Guiberson uses descriptive text to hook readers:
"In Chile, the Darwin's frog sings in the beech forest. Chirp-Chweet! The male guards 30 eggs in the damp leaves for three weeks. When the tadpoles wiggle, he scoops them into his mouth. Slurp! They slither into his vocal sacs, where he keeps them safe and moist for 7 weeks. Then he gives a big yawn, and little froglets pop out."
This book would work very well as a read aloud for 1st through 3rd grade, either to a whole class or a small group. Older children might love reading this as they explore different types of frogs, but I really see this as working best as a read aloud. Guiberson ends the book with an interesting summary of the different species, and a note about how frogs are in trouble from environmental pressures or pollution. I do wish that she included a map identifying where the different species live, providing that geographical context for young readers.
Teachers and school librarians will be interested in this helpful reading guide for Frog Song. Another book for reading aloud that would complement Frog Song is Hip-Pocket Papa, by Sandra Markle.
Sandra Markle and Alan Marks have teamed up to write several engaging narrative nonfiction books about animals throughout the world. These books follow one animal, telling the story of that animal's life. Readers can clearly identify the beginning, middle and end of the story, much like they do in fiction.
Set in an Australian rain forest, Hip-Pocket Papa follows this tiny frog as they watch over and protect their eggs, and then the babies from tadpoles through maturity. Once the eggs hatch, the male scoops the tadpoles up and keeps them safe in hip pockets until they have developed lungs and turned into froglets. The text is both poetic and fascinating, as it follows one father's hazardous journey raising his young. Markle uses long sentences with complex vocabulary to paint a picture with her words:
"Finally, the eggs hatch!The jelly surrounding them turns to liquid -- a birth puddle for the twelve teeny, tiny tadpoles, swimming up and out onto the surface of the forest floor. Her job done, the female crawls away. The male stays. He has an even bigger job to do."
Alan Marks' detailed, realistic watercolor-and-pencil illustrations are perfect for showing to a whole group. The rich colors and close-up scenes draw readers into the forest setting, focusing close up on the tiny frogs and the miniature drama happening each moment. The only problem I had is really getting a sense of the true size of the frogs. Since narrative nonfiction books usually do not have text features like diagrams or labeled illustrations, readers must use the descriptive text to figure out this information.
Check out this preview of Hip-Pocket Papa available through Google Books:
Common Core Standards
Below you can see how standard 3 for reading informational text develops from 1st grade through 3rd grade, as students describe a process like the metamorphosis of a frog, or comparing two different frog species. Both of these books could be used to have students delve into a discussion about frogs' development, either examining the development of one species step-by-step, or comparing and contrasting different species.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.3 Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.3 Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
This post is part our first feature the Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, we're focusing on frogs. Frogs are fascinating animals, from their amazing metamorphosis as they turn from tadpole to frog, to the sheer variety in their colors, habitats and sizes. Head over to these blogs to read about:
The review copies come from my school library. Many thanks to Travis Jonker, Cathy Potter, Alyson Beecher, and Louise Capizzo for taking this journey to talk about what the Common Core means for us in real life! We look forward to this recurring series.
Gennifer Choldenko's series of historical fiction novels set on Alcatraz Island have a large and loyal following in our school. It could be that we can see Alcatraz from nearby streets. But I'm sure what really draws kids to this series is Choldenko's blend of friendship stories and family struggles, with plenty of humor and heartfelt moments.
This month, Choldenko concludes her trilogy with Al Capone Does My Homework. I'm terrifically pleased that my students will love this series finale as much as the others.
In the beginning of these stories, Moose Flanagan and his family move to Alcatraz when his father goes to work as a guard at the notorious prison in the 1930s. Now in January 1936, we find Moose Flanagan trying to figure out who set fire to his apartment. His father has just been appointed associate warden on Alcatraz. Could the fire have been set by an inmate who’s trying to get revenge? Another guard who’s jealous that Moose’s father was promoted? Or did Natalie, Moose’s sister who has autism, really set the fire as so many on the island are claiming?
Moose is a character who sinks into my heart. He's earnest but a real kid, one who struggles with his feelings. He's funny, but also thoughtful. He defends his sister Natalie to everyone, but harbors doubts inside. Best of all, my students really connect to him and enjoy reading about his adventures.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Gennifer Choldenko for this month's Parents Press. You can see the full interview here, but I'm going to share a few snippets:
Scheuer: Bay Area kids have loved the Alcatraz setting in your Al Capone books. How did you first think about setting a book on The Rock?
Choldenko: It actually started in 1998. At that point, I had published one picture book, and I was looking for an idea that might be different enough that it might get an editor’s attention. I saw an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about kids who grew up on Alcatraz because their parents were guards or worked on the island in some capacity. As soon as I saw that, I knew I would write a book about a character like that, because it seemed like so much fun. Right away I signed up to work on the island as a volunteer, so I could get the experience as firsthand as I could make it.
Scheuer: As kids read about Moose’s relationship with his sister Natalie, who had autism, what do you hope they will think about?
Choldenko: I always start out writing a good and true story. I hope kids will respond to that. I don’t try to send a message so directly. Moose comes in part from my brother, because my brother was better at dealing with our sister who had autism than anyone else. To this day, I really admire my brother because he has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve met, and some of that comes through.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Penguin Young Readers Group. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Next week, Americans celebrate Constitution Day and honor the signing of the U.S. Constitution. I've enjoyed finding resources that help students and teachers explore the Constitution, and wanted to share them here.
This year marks the 226th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. This document establishes the basic structure of our government, the responsibilities of each branch of government, and the basic rights afforded all Americans.
PRIMARY -- young students (gr. 1-3): These resources help introduce the Constitution to young students for the first time.
I'd like to embed the video from the American Bar Association here. I found it very moving:
Federal law requires that all schools receiving federal funds hold an educational program for their students on September 17th.
Tomorrow I'll share resources for middle school and high school students, grades 6 - 12. They will include more primary resources. I'd love to hear about resources you like to share with students to help them think about the importance of our constitution.
Women played an essential role on America's home front during World War II. As men joined or were drafted to the military, there was an especially great need to fill manufacturing jobs -- especially with the rapid increase in the production of ships.
The federal government encouraged the creation of motivational posters during the Second World War. One of the most popular featured "Rosie the Riveter." See the site Awesome Stories for more on the story behind Rosie the Riveter.
Video resources can really engage students, both as an introduction to a topic and a way to deepen their thinking. I think they'd be very interested in this video, with a song about Rosie the Riveter and clips showing women in different manufacturing jobs during WWII.
Read more about this video on the Awesome Stories website, a great source of information for kids, ages 8-14. They write about this video:
"Not long after J. Howard Miller - the artist at Westinghouse who created the "We Can Do It!" poster - released his work, "Rosie the Riveter" was born. Personifying American women, who produced war materials on factory assembly lines, "Rosie" became part of popular culture. In 1943, Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb wrote a song about her."
For students and families interested in learning more about women's role on the Home Front during WWII, check out the National Historical Park dedicated to Rosie the Riveter and life on the home front. The park is located in Richmond, CA, site of many shipyards during the 1940s. They also have many primary resources on their website, including photos, artifacts and stories.
I'm curious whether any friends can think of historical fiction that's connected to women's experiences working in factories during World War II. Our students really enjoyed reading Duke, by Kirby Larson, which shows how children lent their dogs to the War Effort. And there are books that show women pilots during the war. But I can't think of historical fiction about working in factories... if you know of one, please let me know!
Throughout America, our communities and families are becoming more and more diverse. I love sharing books that celebrate family history from a wide range of perspectives, because many of my students can connect to them. My students have especially liked reading Sharon Dennis Wyeth's new book, The Granddaughter Necklace, for the way it shares her discoveries of her own family history.
Once long ago, a young girl sailed from Ireland wearing a necklace her mother gave to her. This necklace has been handed down from mother to daughter so they remember all of the women in their family. So begins this heartwarming story that traces a young girl's family story.
The story then switches to modern time, as a young girl admires her mother's shimmering crystal necklace. Her mother then begins to tell her stories of her grandmother and all the other women in her family who had worn this special necklace. Going back, generation by generation, Wyeth shares a slice of her family history. Children get a glimpse of American history, immigration and family stories. Throughout, it has the feel of the oral stories that inspired Wyeth.
Sharon Dennis Wyeth has always identified as an African American, but for many years she wondered about her family history. Through stories from her great-great-aunt and DNA testing, she discovered that her roots go back to Ireland and Africa. Baram Ibatoulline's paintings capture the blending of family backgrounds and races in a way that children will be able to understand, perhaps recognizing themselves or their friends in the portraits. My students, many of whom have family heritage from many continents, connect to this aspect of this wonderful story.
We are celebrating African American history month throughout our whole school. I will continue to share some of the special books we are reading together.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers Arthur Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
I love historical fiction. I can absorb the feel of a particular point in history, and truly gain an understanding of the events. I'm thrilled that a sequel to one of my favorites, Hattie Big Sky, is about to be released. So I'd like to share excerpts from my original post in 2009.
We're thrilled that Kirby Larson is visiting the Bay Area for the release of Hattie Ever After. You can see her at Book Passage, in San Francisco, or Rakestraw Books in Danville.
In 2009, my 10 year old and I really enjoyed reading/listening to Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Lawson - a story that shows what it would have been like to try to "prove" a homesteading claim in Montana. We can't wait to find out what happens next in the sequel Hattie Ever After, being published next week.
Sixteen-year old Hattie Brooks has been an orphan from a young age, bouncing from relative to relative. One day, out of the blue, she receives a letter from her long-forgotten uncle giving her his homestead claim in eastern Montana. He writes,
"You will think I have never thought of the niece in Iowa. But this letter will show you I have. If you come out here to Vida, you will find my claim. I trust you've enough of your mother's backbone to meet the remaining requirements. If you do - an you have one year to do it - 320 Montana acres are yours."
The pull is strong - Hattie has never had a place to call her own, and this is her chance. She dives right in, not realizing what's at stake. When she arrives, she finds out that she must plant 40 acres, and build 480 rods of fence in order to "prove" her claim.
This book will appeal to girls who like historical fiction like the Little House books, Julie of the Wolves, or Island of the Blue Dolphins. Kirby Lawson, the author, has developed characters that I really cared about and could feel for. Hattie could not survive without the help and support of her neighbors, Perilee and Karl Mueller. But the year is 1916, and the United States is consumed with supporting the troops fighting in World War I. In this small Montana community, many are suspicious of Karl because of his German accent. Hattie is torn - she knows that Karl is a good man, but should she risk her own safety to stand up to him?
We're **thrilled** for the release of Hattie Ever After. Larson follows Hattie's journey, seeing where this young girl's dreams will take her. If you're excited for the sequel, take a look at Kirkus Review's starred review. I completely agree: Larson writes "historical fiction with heart."
This review was originally written in 2009 for this blog - one of my early reviews! And yet, Hattie Big Sky is a book that's stayed with me year after year. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Students at our school are fascinated to learn about the Underground Railroad. We use historical fiction and nonfiction to pull our students back in time. Three picture books stand out for me, because of the way that they help young children feel the tension and drama of this time in history.
With sparse text and powerful imagery, Evans brings young readers into the world of a family escaping from slavery. A family gathers to escape, only their wide eyes showing in the blackness of night. They run barefoot through woods, at each step watchful for the patrollers looking for runaways. Use this powerful picture book as an introduction to the Underground Railroad. Evans' powerful illustrations help young children put themselves in the situation, connecting with the intense emotions, drama and tension of the experience.
Young Lindy fiercely clings to her rag doll, Sally, through hard days and nights with her family as slaves on a plantation. The doll Sally tells this story, sharing how Lindy's mama Miz Rachel made her out of "no more'n a bunch of rags" and carefully stitching her face on. When Lindy's father is sold after trying to escape, Lindy hugs Sally "so hard I think my insides'll bust" - and young readers will know how much this doll brings Lindy comfort.
Sally tells of the night when Lindy and her mother escape to freedom, meeting their father and crossing over the river. Sally's voice is at once familiar and colloquial, helping readers connect emotionally to the story. I particularly liked the way that the doll helped readers understand the frightening situations that children went through, while emphasizing the hope and comfort family can bring.
This wordless book makes you think at each step of the way, as you unravel and make sense of the story. A young girl crosses to the barn to do her chores, and she's startled by a noise in the corn husks. But as you look more closely at the corn, you realize that a person is hiding among the stalks. The young girl courageously brings food packages out to the barn, but the two never speak. She knows it's a tense time - she's seen a group of mounted Confederate soldiers pass by, and bounty hunters bring reward posters to the farm.
As the pieces of the puzzle came together for my 2nd graders, they were amazed at the young girl's kindness and courage, and the runaway slave's daunting challenge escaping to freedom. We talk all the time about "reading is thinking" and Henry Cole asks his readers to do just this. On our first read, some of my students were frustrated that we never see the full face of the African American hiding in the corn stalks. But as we talked about it today, those same students talked about how much this story stayed with them. Cole's pencil drawings evoke the girl's emotions and the setting of Civil War Virginia, creating tension and mystery within this quiet book.
The review copies 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 (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
"Determined!" "Independent." "Thoughtful." "He stayed true to himself." These were my students' words about Horace Pippin, an inspiring African American painter. I loved sharing A Splash of Red, Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet's new biography of Horace Pippin, with our 3rd graders. Pippin's inner strength and creativity shone throughout this book. Share this book as you study African Americans and read about American artists. But most of all, read this book to connect with an inspiring individual.
Born over 100 years ago, Horace Pippin loved to draw as a child - everyone asked him to draw pictures for them. But life threw many hard times Horace's way. He quit school after eighth grade to work and support his family. He fought valiantly in World War I, but he was wounded and never regained full use of his right arm. When he returned home, Horace's "fingers itched to draw all the colors and textures he saw," but his right arm was too weak to lift.
Bryant shows young readers how Pippin, through sheer determination, learned how to draw and paint again, using his left hand to guide his right. My students were filled with hope and inspiration as they heard about how Pippin stayed true to his dream and visions, even though painting was difficult for him. One of the aspects that really stuck with my students was that Pippin thought carefully about his paintings before he started drawing, because the act of drawing was so difficult. I loved how Melissa Sweet hand-lettered quotes from Pippin throughout, giving readers a real sense of his beliefs.
"If a man knows nothing but hard times, he will paint them, for he must be true to himself..." -- Horace Pippin
The mixed-media illustrations convey Pippin's warmth and spirit, combining drawings and printed elements with watercolor and gouache paints. Melissa Sweet writes in her illustrator's note that she was "inspired by Pippin's deep, rich colors." Like Bryant's words, Sweet's illustrations fill readers with a sense of Pippin's heartfelt artwork, simple on the surface but thought through at every step.
Finish reading this by taking a careful look at the end matter and endpapers. Bryant and Sweet each write insightful notes and provide helpful resources for further reading. We ended wanting to learn more about Pippin's work. This video, created by students in Philadelphia, lets students see many of Pippin's paintings. Find more resources at the website A Splash of Red.
I fully agree with this starred review from the School Library Journal:
"Bryant’s meticulously researched, eloquent text makes this a winning read-aloud, while Sweet’s vibrant, folksy illustrations, rendered in watercolor, gouache, and mixed media, portray the joys and hardships of the man’s life, using his trademark palette…with just a splash of red."
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Alfred A. Knopf / Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres - I just love the way it transports you back to another place and time. As I wrote recently, Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky was one of my favorite audiobooks ever. And so I was thrilled to read Larson's new sequel, Hattie Ever After. It's a chance to revisit an old friend and see where her journey takes her. This is historical fiction whose character shines with heartfelt spirit. When you get to the end, you'll be sure you've made a friend for life.
We left Hattie on the plains of Montana, having spent a year trying—and failing—to make a home for herself and "prove up" on her claim. I've always admired Larson for not making a sweet ending for Hattie. Life was hard on the plains, and Hattie struggled mightily. As we re-enter the story, Hattie is now 17 and working as a cleaning woman in a boarding house in Great Falls. But Hattie still yearns to carve out a place for herself. She's got big plans for herself: throwing "a lasso around a dream even bigger than a Montana farm,” she has decided to become a reporter.
Hattie leaps at the opportunity to go to San Francisco with a traveling acting troupe. The city draws her even more so, as she's sure she can learn more about her Uncle Chester - was he really the scoundrel he said he was? Nothing in Montana seemed to suggest that he really was. And though her childhood friend Charlie wants to marry her, Hattie worries that “saying yes to him was saying no to myself.” With her head full of questions, Hattie sets off for San Francisco in the summer of 1919.
Larson hits her stride when Hattie reaches San Francisco. The city comes alive with the many details she weaves into the story. From her first glimpse of Newspaper Row, with the Call, the Examiner and the Chronicle Buildings all next to each other, to an exhilarating airplane ride over the bay, Hattie is like a little child soaking in every sight.
Readers will cheer Hattie on as she steps into the Chronicle Building to apply for a job. Hattie has pluck and determination, realizing that she might need to start on the cleaning staff of the newspaper, but with a little luck and hard work she might be able to get a break. Larson builds suspense as Hattie makes new friends, investigates news stories, and gets a lucky break at the Chronicle. Throughout, she is passionate and earnest, following her dream. Many young readers who are drawn to Hattie's story will empathize with her dream of becoming a writer and making her mark on the world.
If I have any hesitations about the book, it's because this is a true sequel. It took me a while to pull Hattie's story back in detail into my mind. I had trouble in the beginning with placing each of the characters. But once I settled into the flow of the story, I was absolutely hooked.
We had the huge pleasure of hosting an event for local students to meet Kirby Larson and hear about how she researches her books. Tomorrow, I'll share some special moments from that wonderful evening.
Funny books draw kids to them, time and time again. Whether it's classics like Ramona the Pest or modern bestsellers like Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid, kids love books that make them laugh out loud or giggle to themselves. Tonight's monthly #titletalk chat on Twitter focused on funny books. As a good friend Cathy Potter wrote about her students, "The more they laugh, the more they read, and the more the read, the more proficient they become as readers. #titletalk" So true.
Timmy Failure is the eleven-year old founder of the detective agency Total Failure with his best friend and sidekick Total, a 1,500 pound polar bear. Timmy is utterly serious and entirely convinced of his own importance, even though readers are constantly aware of his incompetence. Kids love being in on the joke, being able to laugh at Timmy's constant troubles and his clueless arrogance.
Timmy is sure that his detective business will rake in millions, but he's willing to start small with cases of missing Halloween candy or stolen shoes. At each step, though, he blindly ignores clues staring him right in the face - much to the reader's amusement. As Timmy starts investigating his classmate Gunnar's missing candy, he walks down the hallway past Gunnar's little brother's room and notes:
"Gabe is sitting on his bed, surrounded by candy wrappers. There is chocolate smeared all over his face and an empty plastic pumpkin on the floor. Always on the lookout for clues, I make an important note in my detective log: Gabe: not tidy."
My students love the drawings throughout this story - whether it's of Gabe caught in the act with chocolate all over his face, or Total chomping away in the client's garbage cans. Pastis uses his experience creating the popular Pearls Before Swine cartoon for more than visual humor, though. His story relies on the fast pacing and humor that is the mainstay of comic strips. Timmy comes from a long line of losers we love to laugh at, from Charlie Brown to Calvin (and Hobbes).
It takes quite a bit of sophisticated reading skills to get all the humor going on here. Kids will need to be able to see Timmy's perspective and then figure out that other character's perspectives may be different (and actually more believable). Pastis uses fairly sophisticated vocabulary at times, making this better for your 10 and 11 year old than the drawings might initially suggest.
You'll get a sense of Pastis' humor browsing through this preview from Google Books:
I could go on, but I'd just like to share two last things. Here's a note my student Santi left on our copy of the book with his review:
The final thing is a comment on tonight's #titletalk from the amazing 4th grade teacher, Mr. Colby Sharp:
"I love when my class is very quiet during independent reading and a kid just starts busting up laughing. Kids always want THAT book #titletalk" @ColbySharp
For more from Stephan Pastis, check out his site for Timmy Failure. He's headed to California for a tour next month! I also enjoyed listening to a great interview with Stephan Pastis on Apple's Meet the Author podcast, with the ever enjoyable Jenny Brown. Check out her review of Timmy Failure on Twenty by Jenny. You'll also have fun with Betsy's review over at Fuse #8.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. (for more, see Poets.org)
Blue Balliett centers her most recent book around the rhythms and themes of Langston's Hughes poetry, but the story is firmly rooted in today's urban American landscape. Balliet's novel touched me - it's a powerful, emotional story of the way a young girl tenaciously holds fast to her dreams, in the face of terrible circumstances.
One bitterly cold winter afternoon, Early Pearl's father disappears. One minute Dash is riding his bike home from work, and the next he is gone, without a trace. As eleven-year old Early, her brother and mother reel from the news, their apartment is ransacked and they are suddenly on the run without any money.
With nowhere else to go, the Pearls seek refuge in one of Chicago's homeless shelters. Early is certain that her father is still alive and that if she pays attention to the clues, she will be able to find him. Through it all, she is steadfast in her certainty that she needs to hold fast to her father's dream that they are a family that will survive.
Balliett tells her story through Early's point of view, and I slipped into her perspective right away. I loved the way Early thought about situations, turning them over in her mind to look at them from all angles. I loved, loved the way she thought about words. Here's just one of my favorite examples:
"What happened at 4:44 on that grim January day was wrong. Wrong was the perfect sound for what the word meant: It was heavy, achingly slow, clearly impossible to erase. Wrong. The word had a cold, northern root as old as the Vikings.
Where was Dash? How could he have vanished into that icy, freezing moment?" (p. 23-24, ARC)
Balliett's writing is imbued with rhythm, description and meaning -- in a way that got right to my heart. Balliett shares with her readers her love of language, of words, of ideas. But she shares much more. She shares her hope and optimism that even in hard times, we can hold fast to our dreams. Through Early's story, she gives a face to homelessness, making sure that readers think about what it would be like to suddenly lose everything. It might seem cliched to talk about giving a face to a problem, but I was struck by how easy it was for the police to ignore the Pearl family.
There are certainly some flaws to this book. Part of me liked how names had significance (I chuckled when I figured out that Lyman Scrubs was a liar), but part of me found it too obvious. The international crime ring that Dash became innocently involved with seemed stereotyped, a bit out of a James Bond or Tom Cruise movie. And I never, ever figured out Skip Waive's roll (or name). But, I completely agree with the Booklist review:
"But what’s wonderful about this book, overshadowing the plot flaws, is the way Balliett so thoroughly gets inside the mind of a child accustomed to love and protection—and who now sees her life slipping away. Sadness and stoicism mingle freely in ways that will pierce all readers. Early is a clever heroine, and her smarts are enhanced by the poetry of Langston Hughes, which ripples beautifully through the story and infuses it with hope."
Hold Fast is getting positive early reviews, both from students I have shared it with and professional journals. It's gotten starred reviews from Booklist and Kirkus. The Chicago Tribune has a very interesting article on Hold Fast, interviewing Balliett as well as homelessness activists.
Share this with children who love books that get to the heart and make them think about bigger issues, like Rules by Cynthia Lord or Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. But also share it with children who love language, poetry and words.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Laughter is one of the best ways in to reading. I love sharing joke books, silly books and books with word play and puns. But you know what? These are great for developing reading skills, too. Many jokes and puns revolve around double meanings. In order to understand jokes, kids have to have sophisticated reasoning and reading skills.
Most of these books are meant for kids ages 7 and older, in 2nd grade and up. They work best for kids who have already learned to read and can get the jokes.
Here some of my favorite books to share on April Fools Day, or any day I want to hear kids laughing.
Kids still love this classic wordplay book which uses single letters and numerals to make sentences 4 U 2 decode. Steig's clever humor, combined with drawings that give just enough clues, is X-L-N fun. Can you figure out "I N-V U" or "D N S 5 X"? Just in case, there's an answer key in back - but no P-K-N!
“Wri10” and “illustr8ed” by Rosenthal and Lichtenheld, Wumbers will delight kids as they figure out these words cre8ed with numbers. These word puzzles work much the same way as Steig's CDB! -- you'll find yourself saying them aloud to hear the words and figure out the puzzles. The puzzles are fun, just right for 3rd and 4th graders to figure out.
If you like word puzzles, you'll love Agee's collection of palindromes - words and sentences that read the same forwards as backwards. Just try it with the title - go on, I'll wait. Now try these easier palindromes: "Star rats." "Wonton? Not now." With each, Agee pairs a simple, comical drawing that amplifies the humor perfectly. Plenty of white space gives young readers the time and ability to figure out these puzzles. Perfect for making flexible thinkers who have fun with words! I also love, love Jon Agee's out of print Who Ordered the Jumbo Shrimp? and Other Oxymorons. Brilliantly funny, and perfect for kids (find it still at your library here).
Although this collection of Halloween-themed riddles is over ten years old, almost all of the jokes will still make kids crack up laughing. Veteran joke writers Hall and Eisenberg please kids with jokes such as “What do witches like to eat for dessert? ... Ice scream!” and “Why did Granny Monster knit her grandson three socks? ... Because she heard he’d grown another foot.”
The layout and design helps young readers, with only one joke per page, written in large font. The illustrations help children think about the word play and understand the joke. Schindler’s cross-hatched illustrations might remind parents of Edward Gorey’s classic cross-hatched drawings, but they will also appeal to new readers, with just the right amount of gross details to elicit groans and laughs.
Do you have any favorite joke books to share? I love finding new ways to make kids laugh and hook them with reading at the same time!
The review copies came from our local library and our home collection. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Last week, our students were thrilled to spend time with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, learning about her writing process and hearing her passion for her work. As we read books by different authors, we try to think about an author's purpose in writing a story or a piece of nonfiction. We dig into the ideas authors layer in their work. Our students really appreciated hearing directly from Ms. Nelson about her many books.
"Bass Reeves was a true American hero. I felt that everyone should know about him." Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Our students had all read Bad News for Outlaws before meeting Ms. Nelson. She really talked with them, asking them questions and making them an active part of the discussion. This really extended their thinking beyond just listening to the book or hearing her presentation. They could feel just what she meant when she said,
"Bass was honorable; he had integrity; he was strong, smart and clever."
Ms. Nelson told our older students about her newest book, No Crystal Stair, which tells the story of her uncle's bookshop in Harlem. She talked about how he wanted to establish a bookshop that helped African Americans learn about their history, their stories, their literature. We are all looking forward to the picture book which Ms. Nelson is writing about her uncle's bookstore.
Our 2nd and 3rd graders talked with Ms. Nelson about her picture book Almost to Freedom, a story about a young girl's escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She started off by talking about why she writes.
"I know it's because my parents read to me every night. My siblings would argue about going to bed, but secretly I was dying to get into bed because my mom would read the next chapter of our book. My dad loved poetry and would recite poetry from memory to me."
Her parents taught her not only to love stories, but to love words and to understand their power. Our students love Almost to Freedom because it's told from the perspective of a doll. Ms. Nelson really creates the voice of this doll, and students can connect to that voice.
Ms. Nelson talked about how when she looked at the dolls in the museum, she started wondering,
"If those dolls could talk, what would they tell me?"
I loved a 3rd grader's question: "When you write, do you start feeling how your characters are feeling?" Yes, she does very much -- because she needs to feel what it might be like to run away through the forest at night hiding from the slave catchers, to be able to share those feelings in her words and create them for her readers. She brought her collection of African American dolls to share with our children.
Enjoy this Animoto slideshow of our visit with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.
I want to thank the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California for sponsoring Vaunda Nelson's trip to the Bay Area. For a wonderful resource of materials about sharing history with children, check out ACL's resources from their recent Institute. I would also like to thank the Emerson PTA for sponsoring Ms. Nelson's visit to our school. Our children appreciate your support and enrichment. But most of all, I want to thank Ms. Nelson herself for her time, energy and enthusiasm sharing her passion for stories with our children.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
There's something truly special about the time a young child spends getting to know his or her grandparents. I remember soaking up my grandmother's stories, imagining her past and feeling connected to a history larger than myself. The Matchbox Diary captures this special moment, when a great-grandfather shares his stories with a young girl. It's a wonderful picture book to share with children as they start to get to know their own grandparents' stories.
When a young girl meets her great-grandfather, he tells her to pick something and he'll tell her its story. She picks an old cigar box that holds dozens of tiny matchboxes - his diary. The grandfather explains, "When I was your age, I had a lot I wanted to remember but I couldn't read or write." So he started collecting little things to remember each experience.
As they peek inside each box, the grandfather shares his memories from his childhood. They find an olive pit from his home in Italy. As a very young boy, his family was very poor. "When I'd tell my mother I was hungry, she'd give me an olive pit to suck on." Different mementos remind him of his journey across the Atlantic to join his father in America, a frightening inspection at Ellis Island, and his first years in the United States.
As we turn each page, we are swept back into the grandfather's memories. Ibatoulline's illustrations are full of warmth and capture the emotion of each memory. They are large enough to work well reading aloud, and yet full of details that children will love pouring over. The sepia tones of the paintings reflecting the grandfather's memories help children identify that these are flashbacks. Here we see the grandfather working as a typesetter in a printing press.
Children are very aware of how small items carry many memories. My own children can tell you where each stuffed animal came from, where they got a certain bottle cap, which pen came from a special friend. I love the way that Paul Fleischman helps children connect with the stories their grandparents can share, in such a universal way.
Young children will absorb the warm feelings of family, but older children will be able to think about different themes in this story. I particularly like the way the grandfather values writing as a way of preserving memories and stories. "Books are like newspapers. They show you where you've been."
Pair this with Patricia Polacco's The Keeping Quilt in a unit about family stories. Younger children who enjoy this might also enjoy Rosemary Wells' illustrated chapter book Following Grandfather, where a young mouse remembers her grandfather's childhood immigrating from Italy to Boston.
Check out these other great reviews:
Bookends Blog - I especially like the way Cindy ties this book to the importance of family storytelling, and her memory of Alex Haley at the National Storytelling Festival
Librarian's Quest - I absolutely agree with Margie that Paul Fleischman had me hooked with the first two sentences! Margie made me think about how Fleishman told the whole story through dialog between the young girl and her grandfather. That dialog added a real heartwarming touch to the story.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Press. Teachers should check out the teaching guide and author's note on the Candlewick site. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
The flowers all around us astound me at this time of year. It makes me remember hiking through the California hills with my mother, noticing all the different flowers around us. These memories drew me to this picture book biography about Lady Bird Johnson, but what makes it stick in my mind is how it shows us the way that each one of us can make a difference by taking action, starting with small steps and moving larger.
This picture book biography weaves together two tales, one of Miss Lady Bird Johnson's life story, and the other of her passionate work to spread wildflowers and beauty throughout our country.
Lady Bird grew up in eastern Texas in the early 20th century, finding solace in the wildflowers and bayous after her mother died. I loved the image of her as a young girl holding ceremonies for the first daffodils that bloomed each spring. Appelt writes,
"It was as if Aunt Effie's flowers became companions and helped take some of Lady Bird's loneliness away."
After Lady Bird moved to Washington, D.C. when her husband was elected to Congress, she realized that the city parks were dingy and had few flowers. Appelt quotes Johnson as telling a friend,
"It is important for a child to plant a seed, to water it, to nourish it, tend to it, watch it grow, and when he does, and when she does, they themselves will grow into great citizens." -- Lady Bird Johnson
Johnson followed this passion by urging Congress to pass the Highway Beautification Act, and later in her life, establishing the National Wildflower Research Center. Have you ever noticed wildflowers growing along the side of a highway? Or traveled to Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms? Or marveled at a city landscape with native flowers? Much of those are the direct result of Johnson's efforts.
The scene that stands out in my mind is how she stepped in front of her neighbor's tractor on her Texas ranch, imploring him not to plow under a field of pink evening primroses. It's this gusto, this initiative that captures her energy, creativity and determination to keep wildflowers growing throughout our land.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.