Eleanor Roosevelt

April 17, 2015

eleanorEleanor Roosevelt played a fascinating role in world history. As a child, her mother sometimes called her Granny because of her quiet and studious nature. While she spent a great deal of time alone because she was shy with other children, the adults in her life did expose her to conditions of those less fortunate than her. Eleanor’s father brought her to help serve Thanksgiving at a lodging house for newsboys, and she learned that other street children lived in dilapidated housing or were homeless. Her aunts and uncle brought her to sing for homeless men in the poorest sections of New York City. Barbara Cooney depicts Roosevelt’s childhood in a picture book biography, Eleanor (Viking, 1996), that has become a classic.

hotLeslie Kimmelman’s recent title, Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic (illustrated by Victor Juhasz, Sleeping Bear Press, 2014) depicts an event in her life when Eleanor was the First Lady of the United States. As a confident woman, Eleanor served as her husband Franklin’s eyes and ears, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. In 1939, the King and Queen of England visited the United States, and the Roosevelts hosted them at their private home in Hyde Park, New York. When it was learned that Eleanor planned a menu that included hot dogs, one of her favorite childhood foods, thousands of Americans wrote letters about the propriety of serving them to royalty. In her daily newspaper column, Eleanor answered those who were “…worried that ‘the dignity of our country will be imperiled’ by inviting royalty to a picnic…” The rest of the menu had been carefully planned with smoked turkey, baked ham, cranberry jelly, brown bread, baked beans, green salad, and strawberry shortcake. Hot Dog! Is an entertaining addition to our collection.

Books for “Foodies”

April 10, 2015

There are some people who quietly, or with great acclaim, have made a difference in the areas of food and history. Two newly published picture book biographies celebrate a man and a woman who have influenced changes in society through their cooking.

gingerMara Rockliff’s spare text is complemented by Vincent X. Kirsch’s cut-paper illustrations in the delicious book, Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution (HMH, 2015). Christopher Ludwick was a German baker from Philadelphia who is a forgotten hero from the American Revolution. Ludwick had come to America as an adult who had grown up baking with his father in Germany and serving as a soldier and sailor for his homeland. When he established a bakery in Philadelphia, he became especially known for his gingerbread. Even though he was a bit old to fight, Ludwick went to join George Washington and serve the Continental Army by baking for the hungry troupes. He even went on a secret mission to lure some of the British soldiers over to the American side. In 1785, George Washington wrote a letter praising Ludwick for his service and describing him as a “true and faithful servant to the public.” Today there is a scholarship for needy children in Philadelphia that is given by the Christopher Ludwick Foundation.

aliceIf one wants to eat at Alice Waters’ restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, CA, it might take weeks to obtain a reservation. Waters is responsible for the important food movement in the United States where cooks depend on fresh and local food. Jacqueline Briggs Martin joined illustrator Hayelin Choi to share Waters’ life in Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious (Readers to Eaters, 2014). Waters has taken her philosophy to schools with her project, Edible Schoolyards.

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award 2015 Winner

April 2, 2015

MCBA_rdax_230x150Salem State University announced the winners for the 2015 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award this week.

lionsThe Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (Putnam, 2012) was chosen as the winner. This work of historical fiction chronicles the racism and discrimination that existed in our society, especially in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1958. Marlee, an extremely shy girl watches as her city, and even her family, are divided in their opinions over school integration. Marlee becomes friends with Liz, a new student who is everything that she isn’t. Marlee is so quiet that she borders on being mute, and Liz is outgoing and brave. Through Liz’s friendship, Marlee gains self-confidence. When Liz suddenly stops coming to school, her friend discovers that it is because Liz was actually a light-skinned African American who had been passing for white. Even though there was a federal school integration order, the local authorities were still maintaining all white schools.

Levine’s novel explores a story of friendship and morality. It challenges our older readers to question authority, but to understand that sometimes comes with consequences.

The 2015 MCBA Honor Books are The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan, I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 by Lauren Tarshis, Dewey the Library Cat: A True Story by Vicki Myron, and The Familiars by Jay Epstein Adam and Andrew Jacobson.

son    tlccontentDeweyfamiliars

2015 MA Children’s Book Award

March 12, 2015

MCBATwenty-two of our fourth and fifth graders celebrated reading at this week’s Massachusetts Children’s Book Award voting party. In order to participate in this voluntary reading incentive, our requirement for the children was that they had to read at least six of the nominated books. While they didn’t vote with us, the sixth graders have been reading many of the titles as part of their English class. The more books the children read, the better they were able to discuss the strength of the plots of the books. Four children read all twenty-five titles on the list. There was a spirited discussion of the merits of many of the titles. It was energizing to hear the girls and boys recommend the books to each other, as well as comment on similar books or other books by the authors under discussion.

flagThe clear winner was Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (Scholastic, 2012). In this contemporary mystery, three seventh graders, who never met previously, join forces when they learn that the flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner is missing from The Smithsonian. Anna, Jose’, and Henry team up to try to find this important piece of Americana. When they are snowed in at the D.C. airport, they begin a quest that opens their eyes to more than they expected.

The children also voted for “honor books”. These were other books that also received top votes or might have been a second favorite book. DCD’s honor books are The Familiars, Liar and Spy, and The Son of Neptune.

familiarsThe Familiars by Adam Epstein (Harper Collins, 2010) is a magical fantasy about an ordinary cat that is mistakenly chosen as a young wizard’s pet. The alley cat joins forces with a blue jay and tree frog that have supernatural gifts. They form an alliance to rescue their owners.

liarLiar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2012) is another story about a new friendship that is developed between two very different seventh graders. They track a mysterious man who lives in their Brooklyn apartment building.

sonRick Riordan continues to be a favorite author with The Son of Neptune (Disney, 2011). After many read this volume in The Heroes of Olympus Series, they discussed the strengths and weaknesses of various Greek and Roman gods and their half-blood children.

We look forward to the results of the statewide voting which will be released in a few weeks.

Steve Jenkins

March 6, 2015

jenkinsSteve Jenkins continues to inspire readers with his non-fiction books. As I share his work with students, I talk about him as both an author and illustrator. It’s tempting to say that his illustrations are the stars of all of the titles, but that would do an injustice to the informative and insightful text.  On his website, Jenkins describes his childhood and student years that explains why he is so talented in writing and illustrating.

My father, who would become a physics professor and astronomer (and recently my co-author on a book about the Solar System), was in the military and, later, working on science degrees at several different universities. We moved often. I lived in North Carolina, Panama, Virginia, Kansas, and Colorado. Wherever we lived, I kept a menagerie of lizards, turtles, spiders, and other animals, collected rocks and fossils, and blew things up in my small chemistry lab.
Because we moved often, I didn’t have a large group of friends, and I spent a lot of time with books. My parents read to me until I could read myself, and, up until the time I discovered girls in high school, I was an obsessive reader.
My interest in science led me to believe that I’d be a scientist myself. At the last minute, I chose instead to go to art school in North Carolina, where I studied graphic design.
eyecreatureIt’s difficult to choose a favorite title by this prolific author/illustrator. Two recent additions to our school collection are Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) and Creature Features (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).

(Picture of Steve Jenkins from his website)

Dr. Seuss

February 26, 2015

Dr. Seuss

Ted_Geisel_NYWTS_2_cropYears after he wrote his books, Theodore Seuss Geisel continues to be a favorite author for young and old alike. Whether you are a child enjoying his books for the first time or an adult finding deeper meaning in them, his talent is obvious. Born in Springfield, MA and a graduate of Dartmouth College, Geisel was a political cartoonist before he became famous for his children’s books. While many of his books have a moral to them or feature a character who has integrity, empathy, or determination, Geisel said, “…kids can see a moral coming a mile off…” While his writing is fun, and even silly with made-up words, it is quite sophisticated as he wrote in a poetic meter of four rhythmic units.

In 2014, a new collection of Seuss’ “lost” stories was published, Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories (Random). Charles D. Cohen, an expert on Seuss, introduces a number of stories that had been published in various magazines during Geisel’s life. This new collection is a sequel of sorts to The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories (Random, 2011).

bippolo       horton

In 1997, the National Education Association suggested using Geisel’s birthday, March 2, as “Read Across America Day”.

Photo of Dr. Seuss from Wikipedia

Melba and Josephine

February 20, 2015

In recent years, publishers have featured many picture book biographies that bring to life historical characters that are unknown to today’s children. Two fine examples of these feature women of color who faced hardship and prejudice because of their race and gender. Both women had extraordinary talent.

melbaLittle Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison (Lee & Low) introduces young readers to Melba Doretta Liston (1926-1999). Melba’s story is so inspiring that it seems to be fiction. When she was seven, Melba wanted to sign up for music class at school. Music was already a part of her soul, as she listened to the radio and dreamed of rhythms. She convinced her mother to buy her a trombone at the traveling music store, and Melba went home and began to practice. Even though her arms were barely long enough, Melba taught herself how to play the large and difficult instrument. By the time she was eight, she played a solo on a local radio station. When Melba and her mother moved to Los Angeles, she played with a famous after-school music club, The Melodic Dots. Her talent continued to grow, and after high school, Melba wrote her own music and joined touring bands. When she traveled to perform in the South, as a person of color, Melba faced the prevailing conditions of racism. Band members were denied hotel rooms and couldn’t eat in restaurants. Undaunted, Melba kept performing, and by the 1950s, she and her music were in high demand by jazz musicians worldwide.

josephineJosephine Baker  (1906-1975) was a talented singer and dancer who also battled prejudice that was almost insurmountable. Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle) chronicles this amazing woman’s struggles in the United States and triumphs in France. Even though she became one of the highest paid performers on Broadway, Josephine played roles that fit a stereotype for performers of color. She was feted so widely in Europe that 20,000 mourners lined the streets of Paris for her funeral procession.

Josephine Baker

Award Season 2015: The Newbery

February 13, 2015

NewberyThe Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. (From the ALA webpage)

When the professionals on the award committee review books that are under consideration, they have much to discuss. Among the criteria listed are discussions of the characteristics of theme, plot, characters, setting, and style. Part of the definition of the award that presents a challenge for the committee members is that the books can be published for readers up to fourteen years old. Thus, books that are awarded and honored can represent a range of ages.

This year’s award and honor books are published for our older readers within that age range. It is also an unusual award year because two books, the award book and one honor book, are both written in verse. The other honor book is a biography that is written in graphic form where sequential art tells the story.

crossoverCrossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is one of those books that is just plain great. I don’t usually gravitate to novels written in verse, but I knew that I had to read it because of the buzz that it was getting from all of the children’s book reviewers and bloggers. Now, I can’t decide who will enjoy it more – a boy who is a reluctant reader or a girl who is an avid reader. The plot and themes are that gripping. The narrator is Josh, a boy who lives for basketball, but is also always rhyming and rapping in his head. He and his twin brother have been playing with their father, a former semi-pro player, since they could hold the ball. His parents and his brother are as fully developed as characters as Josh is. Adolescence and life present him with challenges that could be insurmountable, but Josh perseveres because of his strong family. While parts of this book are tragic, they are also uplifting because of Alexander’s talented storytelling.

The honor books are El Deafo by Cece Bell (Amulet) and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin). Each of these books deserve a discussion of their own.

brown           el deafo

Award Season 2015

February 6, 2015

No, I’m not writing about The Grammy Awards or the The Oscars. The most exciting event in the world of children’s literature is the annual announcement of the Caldecott Award and the Newbery Award. This past Monday wasn’t just Groundhog Day, it was also when the American Library Association announced the 2015 Caldecott and Newbery winners and honor books.

calThe Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  (From the ALA webpage)

It was a banner year for picture books in 2014, and the Caldecott Committee named the winner and chose 6 honor books. 6 honor books!

beekleThe Caldecott 2015 winner is The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (Little, Brown 2014). Many children go through a stage of having an imaginary friend, and Santat’s story celebrates the joy a young child may have with this special friend. Beekle helps Alice to be brave and venture into the world of real friends, which was previously “unimaginable”.

The honor books are:

Nana in the City, written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo ( Clarion Books)
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock (Alfred A. Knopf)
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett (Candlewick Press)
Viva Frida, illustrated and written by Yuyi Morales ( Roaring Brook Press)
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant ( Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)
This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki (First Second)


January 21, 2015

There are many intriguing books about art and artists that open up new possibilities for children and young adults.

noisyThe Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (Knopf, 2014) is a picture book biography that examines the life and passion of Vasya Kandinsky. When Vasya’s aunt gave him a paint box as a gift, the young boy discovered that he could escape “proper” expectations and create. Kadinsky felt that he heard the sounds of the colors, and his paintings were not images of objects. They were a riot of color, and throughout his life teachers and artists didn’t understand his abstract art. Kadinsky’s style was unique, and when the art world recognized his genius, he became an influential leader.

everybodySusan Goldman Rubin introduces our older readers to the Wyeth family in Everybody Paints! The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (Chronicle, 2014). This family of artists contributed extraordinary works of American art. N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and Treasure Island are iconic. His son Andrew’s best know work may be “Christina’s World”. Grandson Jamie’s portraits of figures from John F. Kennedy to Andy Warhol continue the artistic family’s legacy.

Adults will be as fascinated by these selections as children are!