Trade books support learning across the curriculum in classrooms at all grade levels. The books reviewed in this week’s column include recently published books that are strong choices for introducing units as well as for delving into topics and issues of interest. They enrich instruction, encourage discussion, and stimulate interest in further exploration through independent reading.
Don’t Let Them Disappear: 12 Endangered Species Across the Globe. Chelsea Clinton. Ill. Gianna Marino. 2019. Philomel/Penguin.
Through colorful, full-bleed, gouache paintings, this book introduces 12 animals (giraffes, gorillas, blue whales, rhinoceroses, giant pandas, whale sharks, polar bears, lions, sea otters, orangutans, tigers, and elephants) that are in danger of becoming extinct. A paragraph provides information about the characteristics and behavior of the featured animal, ending with “Don’t let them disappear!” as well as an inset listing range, endangered status, and why. Back matter includes additional information about reasons these animals are endangered, a “What Can You Do?” list things to do to help endangered species, and a list of 12 days of the year to celebrate such as Endangered Species Day (May 18) and World Rhino Day (September 22).
Home, Sweet Home: What Makes a House a Home? Moira Butterfield. Ill. Clair Rossiter. 2019. Kane Miller.
“The world is full of different homes, from tents and huts to bobbing boats, and apartments high up in the sky. What’s your home like?” Double-page spreads with colorful, richly detailed illustrations and accessible text invite readers to consider how the houses in which people live around the world today and in the past are similar and different to their own houses. The illustration on the final spread is the same as that on the first page but with the scene of different types of homes now filled with the people who live in them, which provides the perfect answer to the question as to what makes a house a home: “…it’s the people we love and share our homes with.”
Riding a Donkey Backwards: Wise and Foolish Tales of Mulla Nasruddin. Sean Taylor & the Khayaal Theatre. Ill. Shirin Adl. 2019. Candlewick.
Master storyteller Sean Taylor teams up with the British Khayaal Theatre and British–Iranian illustrator Shirin Adl to present tales of the beloved trickster of Middle Eastern folklore, Mulla Nasruddin. The 21 short tales and vibrant mixed media illustrations in this collection will leave readers both laughing and thinking about the wisdom and foolishness so playfully imparted by Nasruddin, such as why he’s thankful after losing his donkey, and what he’d like to hear being said about him at his funeral. The book ends with Nasruddin answering the question as to why he rides his donkey backward and a glossary.
Spend It! (Moneybunny). Cinders McLeod. 2019. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin.
Every Saturday, Sonny earns three carrots. Of course, he wants to buy EVERYTHING (a toy rocket—2 carrots, a pogo stick—3 carrots, and a bouncy castle—100 carrots), but his allowance only goes so far. With a little advice from his mom about making choices, Sonny turns to math and logic for help. After he chooses the pogo stick, his mother declares, “Wow, Sonny! You’re getting good at this money stuff,” and he boings all over the page with glee. “Yes, I’m a smart spender! And I LOVE it!” Part of the Moneybunny series that teaches young children simple facts about money, Spend It!, with its colorful illustrations featuring an adorable bunny (drawn with pencil and then digitally colored), is sure to be worth every penny!
Flights of Fancy: Creative Inspiration from Ten Award-Winning Authors and Illustrators. 2019. Walker/Candlewick.
This anthology celebrating 20 years of the British Children’s Laureate program includes contributions by the 10 Laureates to date—Quentin Blake (the first Laureate from 1999–2001), Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen, Anthony Browne, Julia Donaldson, Malorie Blackman, Chris Riddell, and Lauren Child (the 2017–2019 Laureate)—that use a variety of formats including poems, short stories, and pictures to offer creative inspiration on writing and illustrating. Back matter includes a “20 Ideas for Creative Projects” section based on the Laureates’ tips and prompts and “More About the Laureates” biographical notes (including caricatures by Chris Riddell). Flights of Fancy is a valuable resource of inspiring activities as well as engaging introductions to the work of these award-winning British authors and illustrators.
A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park. Ashley Benham Yazdani. 2019. Candlewick.
In 1858, New York City developed so quickly that forests and fields disappeared overnight as buildings and roads took over. The winning team of a design contest for the perfect park to be built in a deserted bog—architect Calvert Vaux (1822–1903) and Frederick Law Olmstead (1824–1895), the new park’s supervisor and landscape architect—created Central Park, “the green place to be” that people needed. Their design included parkland, ponds, a lake, walking paths, play areas, fountains, pagodas, entertainment venues, a Children’s District (with a petting zoo), and other features. The vibrant watercolor and pencil illustrations capture the details of the park with cartoon-like figures engaged in interesting activities. Back matter includes mini-biographies on Vaux and Olmstead, a trivia page with items to spot in the pictures (for example, people, buildings, 34 arches, trees, and a recurring squirrel), an author’s note, and a bibliography.
Hooray for Women! Marcia Williams. 2019. Candlewick.
With her signature colorful, richly detailed comic book panels filled with facts, quotes, and witty conversations, Marcia Williams celebrates the accomplishments of inspirational women from around the world and throughout history. She presents comic-strip style profiles of 16 women chronologically from Queen of Egypt Cleopatra VII to children’s and women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai, followed by three double-page spreads with thumbnail sketches of leaders, world changers, athletes, creatives, scientists, pioneers, and adventurers. Along the side borders, birds chirp comments about what’s happening in the panel and add facts, while two children (and a mouse) frolic across the bottom of the pages, adding their opinions and moving readers along to the next entry. Back matter includes a “Dear Reader” letter in which Williams talks about the difficulty she had in choosing her favorite inspirational women and challenges the reader to identify their own list and an index.
Beast Rider: A Boy’s Journey Across the Border. Tony Johnston & Marîa Elena Fontanot de Rhoads. 2019. Amulet/Abrams.
La Bestia, the train that travels between Mexico and the United States, is sometimes the only way that people can get from one country to another without papers. After his brother Toño hops on the beast to Los Angeles to begin a new life, 12-year-old Manuel Flores, who can’t stop thinking about him, decides to be a beast rider and leave his family of farmers to join him. This disturbing saga that takes place over three years begins with Manual’s almost immediate arrest by Mexican police, his being robbed, and, later, being brutalized by thugs on the trains. He also meets with kindness by people in most unlikely places. After Manual finally reunites with his brother, he learns something he didn’t realize about himself, which leads to a surprising decision. Back matter includes an author’s note about La Bestia and a glossary of Spanish terms.
Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World. David Macaulay. 2019. Roaring Brook.
This fascinating story of the development of steam engines is told against the backdrop of David Macaulay’s personal narrative of his family’s trip across the ocean from England to the United States in 1957 at age 8, and concludes as his family settles into their new home in a New Jersey neighborhood, where this “foreign land became home.” Historical information is accompanied by detailed drawings and schematics of pumps and pistons, early steam engines, steam-powered paddleboats, river steamboats, compound engines, steam turbines, and the building of the SS United States (the ship the Macaulay family sailed on). Back matter includes an afterword with Macaulay’s nostalgic look at how his past has twined with transportation advances, a timeline (from 1497–2011) detailing pivotal events in the history of steam engines and transportation, and a reading list.
The Magnificent Migration: On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herds. Sy Montgomery. Ill. Roger Wood & Logan Wood. 2019. Houghton Mifflin.
Readers join Sy Montgomery on the safari she took with Dr. Richard Estes, the leading expert on wildebeests, to study the antelope’s year-round clockwise migration of over 800 miles from Kenya’s Masai Mara south to Tanzania, west and north across the Serengeti Plains, and north to Kenya again, “the largest mass movement of animals on land.” Maps, numerous captioned full-color photographs, and brief biographies of the safari team complement the narrative. She also includes inserts on other “magnificent migrants”: Arctic terns, Christmas Island red crabs, loggerhead sea turtles, monarch butterflies, pilchard sardines, and zooplankton. In an epilogue, Montgomery addresses the endangered status of the wildebeest and the vulnerability of the Serengeti ecosystem. Back matter includes a bibliography, a “Get Involved” section, and an index.
You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks. Evan Turk. 2019. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Evan Turk’s stunning landscapes, created with pastels on black paper, and the expressive lyrical text of his ode to the National Parks are both awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. The words “to the child whose / family has just / left its first footprints / on new shore; / to the child whose ancestors / lived on these lands before / the star and stripes / took them as their own / you are still home” beautifully express that the parks are home to everyone. In his author’s note, Turk considers the history of the National Parks as a symbol of our country’s best ideals and the importance of protecting the parks “under threat from so many pressures—pollution, climate change, and politics.” A map of the National Parks and a list of those shown in the book are included.
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English, Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
As students head to school—some for the first time—with their backpacks filled with new school supplies, it is time to round up some new school-themed stories for teachers, librarians, and parents to share with pre-K to sixth-grade students as they start the new school year.
Clothesline Clues to the First Day of School. Kathryn Heling & Deborah Hembrook. Ill. Andy Robert Davies. 2019. Charlesbridge.
“High on the clothesline / hang clue after clue. / It’s the first day of school! / Who wants to meet you?” This picture book features rhyming riddles about the people children may encounter on their first day of school such as different teachers, the custodian, the crossing guard, the cafeteria worker, and fellow students. Double-page spreads featuring a clothesline hung with colorful clothing and items associated with each individual and a riddle offer children visual and textual clues to answer the recurring question “Who wants to meet you?” With a turn of the page, they see if their answer was correct.
Did You Burp?: How to Ask Questions (or Not!) April Pulley Sayre. Ill. Leeza Hernandez. 2019. Charlesbridge.
“Questions are the beginning of learning about the world. So be brave. Be bold. Ask questions!” This ask-out-loud story is perfect to teach young, curious children how to formulate questions. The book is divided into sections with headings like “Why ask questions?” or “How to ask a question” that teach effective question-asking strategies. April Pulley Sayre explores question words—who, what, when, where, how, and why—and helps readers know the right time to ask (or not ask) their questions. She even addresses what a question is not (for example, a story or comment). Leeza Hernandez’s digitally created illustrations feature children asking and responding to questions in accompanying speech bubbles.
The King of Kindergarten. Derrick Barnes. Ill. Vanessa Brantley-Newton. 2019. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin.
It’s the first day of kindergarten and enthusiasm is high for a little boy who is headed off to school for the first time. The second-person narrative invites the reader to feel like the little boy in the story—a young “prince” (as his mother calls him) ready to make his mark on the world, confident in his ability to be “the King of Kindergarten.” Filled with royal-themed phrases, this book takes the reader on a joyful journey into the “Kindergarten Kingdom” while details in brightly colored mixed-media illustrations keep the setting in a modern classroom and school.
Linus The Little Yellow Pencil. Scott Magoon. 2019. Disney-Hyperion.
Linus the Pencil is determined to win the grand prize at the family art show, but his eraser, Ernie, is complicating matters. Ernie didn’t like a single mark Linus made. “Rubba-dubba-rubb went Ernie, and Linus’s lines were gone.” Scott Magoon’s artistic puns bring an inanimate protagonist to life as jealous Linus sees other supplies creating their artwork. While watching Brush paint, he bristles with envy and thinks, “Must be nice to brush those cares aside.” The humor continues as Linus and Ernie struggle to create their own masterpiece. Frustrated, Linus is “drawn to the very edge” where, feeling “dull,” he enters a cave he has spied. Linus leaves the cave (a pencil sharpener) feeling much “sharper” with an artistic idea that just might work!
Lola Goes to School (Lola Reads). Anna McQuinn. Ill. Rosalind Beardshaw. 2019. Charlesbridge.
In Anna McQuinn’s latest book, charming, book-loving Lola is starting school. First-time school-goers will relate to Lola’s feelings of excitement and anticipation as she packs her school bag, picks out her first-day outfit, and walks to school with her mom. During the day, Lola reads books, participates in group activities, and goes outside to play with her new friends. At the end of the day, mom arrives to walk her home and after a having a snack, a happy but tired Lola falls asleep. A simple text and brightly colored acrylic artwork perfectly depict the school setting and Lola’s diverse group of classmates.
Nugget & Fang Go to School (Nugget & Fang #2). Tammi Sauer. Ill. Michael Slack. 2019. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.
In this story about an unlikely ocean friendship between Nugget, a mini minnow, and Fang, a vegetarian shark, Nugget and the other minnows, who are thankful to have Fang as a friend, want him to attend Mini Minnows Elementary with them. Fang has his reservations. “What if I yawn and accidentally swallow someone? What if a whale accidentally swallows me?” Nugget tells him, “You’ll be fine.” As Fang struggles in every subject at school, his small friend is there to offer reassurances and shows him how special it is to have a best friend. Young readers will delight in the ironic twists of Tami Sauer’s first-day-of-school story and the warm humor of Michael Slack’s colorful, digitally created cartoon illustration.
Pencil: A Story With a Point. Ann Ingalls. Ill. Dean Griffiths. 2019. Pajama Press.
Young Jackson loves Pencil! They draw, sketch, and doodle all day until Tablet moves in and tries to take Pencil’s place as Jackson’s new go-to tool. When Pencil is banished to the dreaded Junk Drawer, he meets up with other discarded tools like Scissors, Eraser, Ruler, and Marker. What will it take for Pencil to make his mark and win his way back into Jackson’s heart? Dean Griffiths’ digitally rendered cartoon illustrations featuring animated school supplies complement Ann Ingalls’ clever, pun-filled story which has a point to make: New tools are not always better than old ones.
The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! Mo Willems. 2019. Disney-Hyperion.
“WAIT! Don’t read that title! / Too late. Rats . . . / Why do I have to go to school?” The hilarious pigeon returns with his notorious excuses and rebuttals to convince young readers that he doesn’t need to go to school. After all, he already knows EVERYTHING! “Well, I know almost everything,” he admits. Readers can expect the usual format of Pigeon front and center on bright backgrounds, surrounded by wildly shaped speech bubbles. Mo Willems also adds lines, loose feathers, and other symbols to his illustrations to capture Pigeon’s frantic emotions, adding to the fun of the reading experience. The front endpaper features empty desks and chairs, while the back endpaper shows all kinds of birds (including Pigeon) sitting at desks, ready to learn.
When Pencil Met Eraser.Karen Kilpatrick & Luis O. Ramos, Jr. Ill. Germán Blanco. 2019. Imprint/Macmillan.
Did you ever wonder how Pencil and Eraser came to be linked with each other? This humorous picture book takes a stab at explaining how the two friends started out as separate entities and eventually paired up to become the handy writing tool we all use. Readers of this imaginative story (with illustrations drawn in pencil, of course) watch the drama of this fortuitous meeting unfold as Pencil’s drawings are changed and improved upon with the help of Eraser.
Bigger, Badder, Nerdier (Geeked Out #2). Obert Skye. 2019. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt/Macmillan.
In this sequel to Geeked Out (2018), Tip and his nerdy friends Owen, Mindy, and Xen return with their secret vigilante group, the League of Average and Mediocre Entities (aka LAME) to save their school, once again, from the evil secretary, Mrs. “Darth” Susan. With their world facing semi-apocalyptic conditions after the release of a terrible movie, the foursome must use their “mediocre” powers—super hearing and glowing eyes (Owen), deadly claps (Mindy), destructive burps (Xen), and electronic mind control (Tip)— to unveil Darth Susan’s mysterious plan and out-geek an imposter LAME group, before their school is doomed! Obert Skye uses spoof tactics in his text and graphics, transitioning smoothly between the two, to poke fun at the comical similarities of occurrences in the book and the real world.
The Friendship War. Andrew Clements. 2019. Random House.
Sixth grader Grace returns home from a visit with her grandfather right before the start of the new school year with boxes of buttons from an old mill he is planning to renovate. When her teacher announces that they will be studying the Industrial Revolution, Grace brings a few buttons into school to show her classmates. Her friends are intrigued by the buttons and before you know it, Grace has inadvertently started a new fad of button collecting, causing the sixth graders to go bonkers for buttons! Swept up in a button-trading frenzy, Grace finds herself in a feud with her best friend, Ellie, while also making a new friend named Hank, who shares her love for data collection and history. Upper elementary readers will enjoy finding out how Grace discovers a way to stop the fad and save her friendship in Andrew Clements’ newest school story.
Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship. Cynthia Platt. Ill. Rea Zhai. 2019. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin.
Parker Bell loves all things science and hopes to be a famous scientist someday, just like her idols Jane Goodall and Mae Jemison. She even has a Mad Science Lab in her house to create fantastic contraptions and conduct experiments. So, when her teacher announces that they are going to participate in the Science Triathlon, Parker’s enthusiasm level is through the roof. She’s excited to pair up with her best friend, Cassie, but isn’t sure what to think when Cassie invites Theo to join them. Will Theo prove to be a valuable partner in their quest for the gold medal? Readers find out in this story about friendship, teamwork, and the scientific method.
President of Poplar Lane (Poplar Kids #2). Margaret Mincks. 2019. Viking/Penguin.
Poplar Lane neighbors Clover O’Reilly and Michael Strange find themselves running against each other for class president, but are they each running for the right reasons? Clover, whose family of seven is about to include yet another sister, likes the idea of having an office to decorate since she must continue sharing a bedroom. Alternating chapters reveal Clover’s and Mike’s points of view. Mike “the Unusual” prefers performing magic over playing sports and hopes a presidential win will please his disapproving father and boost his Magic Camp application. Occasional inserts provide additional context in the storyline such as daily online posts from blogger Mel Chang as she follows the week-long election campaign.
Skye Deiter is an elementary classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a recent graduate from Pennsylvania State Harrisburg’s Masters in Literacy Education Program.Jennifer W. Shettel is a professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).