August 3, 2018

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing by Kay A. Haring, illustrated by Robert Nuebecker

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:15 pm by suebe2

Keith Haring:
The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing
by Kay A. Haring
illustrated by Robert Nuebecker

Because people asked Kay A. Haring what her brother the artist was like as a child, she wrote The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing. The title kind of says it all.  Keith Haring drew.

He drew as a child. He drew as a teen.  He drew as an adult.  When he saw a flat empty space, he drew whether it was a piece of black paper on the wall of the subway or a blank brick wall in his neighborhood.  Painting that particular mural meant that he had to pay a fine because although his neighbors loved it, he hadn’t gotten permission or filled out the proper paperwork.

Not to worry.  He kept drawing.

When people started seeking out his work, a gallery put on a show. Everything sold!  Haring gave the money away because he had heard a news story about kids who didn’t have enough food.  They needed help and, really, he just wanted to make art.  Being rick wasn’t on his radar.  He kept drawing.

When the Statue of Liberty was 100 years old, Haring drew the statue’s outline on a huge piece of vinyl.  He invited 900 children to help him finish the drawing.  His instructions?  “Draw anything.  Whatever you want.  No one can say it’s bad or good. It’s yours.”  People questioned why someone as famous as he was wanted to work with a bunch of kids.  Haring didn’t answer.

He kept drawing.

Although I recognized some of his work, specifically the crawling baby and a row of dancing figures, I didn’t know anything about him. I’m not an enormous fan of modern art – I love glass and textiles from various cultures more than anything else – but I’ve requested library books about Haring.  He took such joy in creating his art and it was his.  He did it his way wherever he felt like doing it.

What a great message and the book gets it across without preaching.  Why?  Because his sister simply told his story.  And what an amazing story it is.  Definitely a book to have on your shelf at home and in the classroom. Get it out when young learners are discouraged and need a gentle nudge.



July 28, 2018

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 5:12 pm by suebe2

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl
by Stacy McAnulty
Random House Books for Young Readers

Lucy Callahan doesn’t get why her grandmother is obsessed with the idea of sending her to middle school.  She’s been homeschooled for years and at 12 years-old has all the credits she needs to go to college. Still her grandmother is convinced that what Lucy needs is to spend some one-on-one time with her peers – not the math-geeks Lucy spends time with online but her fellow 12 year-olds.

Lucy is certain this is a bad idea.  And take it from a 12-year-old whose been hit by lightning, she knows a bad idea when she sees one.  She may not be good with people but she’s amazing with numbers and this adds up to one of the worst ideas Lucy has ever heard.

But her grandma stands firm.  Go to middle school for 1 year.  Make 1 friend.  Try 1 activity.

Reluctantly Lucy decides to give it a try.  And as long as she is reinventing herself where she can.  She can’t do anything about some of her quirks – having to sit-stand-sit-stand-sit and her need to wipe down shared desks and tables that certain people seem to think are OCD.  Lucy doesn’t think she’s OCD. It is simply her way to keep the numbers in her head at a manageable level.   It’s how her brain has worked since the lightning strike. Try to ignore her ticks and the digits of Pi take over.  If she wants to focus she has to follow these routines.

A school project throws her in with her would-be best friend and the boy who cheated off her in math, getting them both in trouble.  Lucy isn’t enthusiastic at the thought of working at an animal shelter.  Then she realizes that none of the shelters records have been computerized. How can they tell how likely a dog is to be adopted with such sloppy records?  Soon she is keying them in and developing a means of calculating how long before that big black, super friendly dog finds a home.

I’m not saying a whole lot about the plot because really your young reader will want to experience it for him or herself. This is a book about friendship, individuality and passion.  In it a young girl learns that everyone has struggles and if you put yourself out there you will find people who will help you along the way.  Funny and touching, this book is a great choice for class reading and discussion.




July 11, 2018

Life on Mars by Jon Agee

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:23 pm by suebe2

Life on Mars
by Jon Agee
Dial Books for Young Readers

When the young astronaut arrives on Mars, he carries a package across the landscape as he searches for life.  Others have told him there is no life on Mars but he is certain he will find it and walks along leaving a trail of foot prints.

As is always the case with Agee’s books, half the story takes place in the illustrations.  We learn what the main character hopes and believes in the text.  We see what takes place in the illustrations.

As the astronaut is followed through the landscape by “martian life,” he grows more and more discouraged because he still hasn’t found anything.  Eventually he even misplaces his spaceship.  Not to worry!  He spots a martian flower and, climbing up the hillside to pick it, sees his spaceship in the distance.

Young readers will love this book because Agee gives them a chance to know more than the astronaut.  Why?  Because he never spots the creature that is following him!  Never.

I’m not going to reveal the ending because I want you to experience that for yourself.  As is so often the case with one of Agee’s books, it will make you laugh out loud.  What a surprise!

But my favorite part is when the creature is following the astronaut.  Not only is it following, it is mirroring his expressions – worried and curious.  As always, Agee’s illustrations are both simple and expressive.  Heavy black lines give weight to drawings lightened with the subtle colors of the landscape.

As simple as this book appears, there is so much for young readers to love.  The setting is unusual.  No one tells the main character that, although a child, he cannot be an astronaut.  He proves that he is right, there is life on Mars.  But the book is also funny since he misses the biggest “life.”  And then there’s that surprise ending.

This is definitely a fun book that you will want to share with your young reader.


July 6, 2018

Who Am I? An Animal Guessing Game by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:08 am by suebe2

Who Am I? An Animal Guessing Game
by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

As soon as I saw this book on a recommended reading list, I requested it from my library.  Even when I was a young reader, I was a sucker for the photo quizzes that show the reader a close-up of an animal and challenge the reader to figure out what it is.

In Who Am I?  one two page spread provides readers with the clues in the form of text and images.  For example, one pair of pages says, “I have . . . a sticky, flicky tongue . . . bumpy green skin . . . two bulging eyeballs  . . . ten webbed toes . . . a floating lily pad . . . and a fly for lunch! Who am I?”   Each written clue is paired with an close-up view of a long pink tongue, green skin, etc.

Readers turn the page to find a frog.  Seven different animals are featured in this way.  Then at the end of the book is a section with mor eon each animal including how big it is, what it eats, where it lives, an interesting fact, and more.

In only seven animals they have descent variety including an amphibian, two birds, an insect, and a crustacean.  Some of the animals are pretty straightforward (frog) but some are a bit more exotic (crab and flamingo).  Then again, if you live in the right part of the country a flamingo might not be particularly exotic.

Page and Jenkins work together on the writing. The illustrations are created by Jenkins in torn and cut-paper collage.  I have to admit that I’m a fan of their work.  I love the simplicity of the text paired with the gorgeous textures of the paper and the details portrayed in the illustrations.

This book will not take long to read but expect sharing the book to take some time.  After reading the book, your young reader will most likely want to look for the image clues in the larger illustration of each animal.  You might also want to have a variety of papers on hand, including scrap and recycled, to encourage your young learned to try creating their own animal themed collages.



June 15, 2018

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Erin McGuire

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:12 pm by suebe2

Alabama Spitfire:
The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird
by Bethany Hegedus
illustrated by Erin McGuire

I have to admit that I wouldn’t have automatically been drawn to a picture book about Harper Lee.  I like To Kill a Mockingbird just fine but my son loved her novel when he read it in middle school.  Loved.  It.

Little did I know that Harper Lee was my kind of girl.  She wasn’t about lace and frills as a girl – she called that life the pink penitentiary.  She was all about “dungarees,” the jeans I coveted but wasn’t allowed to wear until I was 11.  She spent her time with her older brother, climbing and playing and scraping herself up.

Her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama never had much money to spare.  Oddly the Great Depression didn’t hit Monroeville the way it hit the big cities.  Maybe it was because people were used to helping each other.  In spite of this, segregation ruled and it was obvious that separate was not equal.

Harper Lee went by Nelle and she spent a lot of time with her father, a lawyer.  It was from him she learned to love words and justice.  That’s why she was willing to stand up for the new kid, Tru.  With his white linen suits, it was obvious Tru was a city boy but they hit it off, spending time together making up stories.

Eventually Tru moved back to New York where Nelle, by then a young woman, would look him up when she made it to the Big City.  Tru, now known as Truman Capote, encouraged her to keep writing.  Eventually she drew inspiration from the soil and people of Alabama, writing To Kill a Mockingbird.  Even after her death, the book is still popular and still speaks out against injustice.

Books are funny things.  I read this as a whole stack of picture books from the library.  I expected to like several other books more but this one outshone them.  Hegedus has done a great job creating a biography that will help young readers see the importance of justice and being our own people.

Erin McGuire digital Photoshop illustrations do a great job bringing the story to life.  And this is definitely a story young readers need, about a girl who turned into a woman who did things her way, using her art to speak out against injustice.  A great choice for readers in the 3rd through 6th grade.  Add this to your classroom shelf today!



June 11, 2018

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective by Jason Gallaher, illustrated by Jess Pauwels

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:21 am by suebe2

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective
by Jason Gallaher
illustrated by Jess Pauwels
Margaret K. McElderry Books

Whobert Whoever, Owl Detective is bound and determined to keep his neck of the woods safe.  Because of this, he is always on the lookout for crime.  It isn’t surprising that he’s the one who found Perry the Possum lying awfully still in the forest.

Whobert examines Perry for signs of life, poking and prodding the poor possum.  Astute young readers will note that Perry’s eye moves as he keeps track of what Whobert is doing.  The first clue that Whobert finds are feathers, red feathers.

Again, young readers are most likely a step ahead of Whobert who accuses Debbie Duck of whacking Perry with her wings.  In the background, Perry is watching with both eyes open.  From one would-be clue to another, Whobert proves that what he’s the best at is jumping to conclusions.

Jason Gallaher has created a funny main character who so wants to be a big help but is actually a big problem.  Young readers who often dream big and then have troubles executing their plans will identify with Whobert, but they will also loving being one or more steps ahead of the Owl Detective.

For the most part, the clues are provided in Jess Pauwels’ illustrations.  Brightly colored and full of expressive secondary characters, Pauwels keeps the discovery of the possum’s body from being frightening both because the characters are cartoonish and it is obvious the possum is still alive.

The adult reader will appreciate the story’s puns including the character’s name but the story is an age appropriate mystery for preschool and kindergarten readers.  This book could work for story time with a small group but a larger group might have problems seeing the clues in the illustrations if they are too far from the book.

But expect this book to launch a discussion about clues and detectives and just how much better these young readers would be than Whobert.  A picture book mystery that is both fun and funny.


June 7, 2018

Wait for Me by Caroline Leech

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:56 am by suebe2

Wait for Me
by Caroline Leech
Harper Teen

Farm life is anything but idyllic in 1945 Scotland.  Both of Lorna Anderson’s brothers are in World War II.  That means that it is just Lorna, her father, and Nellie to get everything done.  Nellie is a Land Girl, sent from the city to the countryside to help out on one of Scotland’s undermanned farms.  Nellie’s learned small engine repair and she’s great with the cattle, but there is just too much work for one man and two girls. Lorna can see how exhausted her father is.

She’s still shocked when an Army truck pulls up and leaves behind a prisoner.  Lorna knows her father needs help but she does not want a Nazi on her farm.  Her first surprise is the prisoner’s face.  One side looks almost like it has melted and she realizes he has recovered from horrible burns.  Then he tells her in English that he is no Nazi.

Lorna tries to nurse her hatred, after all the Germans are the reason for this war that has taken away her brothers.  But her father befriends the young man giving him gloves to ward off the cold and making sure he has plenty to eat.  During lambing season when they work late into the night, Mr. Anderson arranges for Paul to stay on the farm instead of returning to the base prison each night.  Lorna sees how good he is with the lambs and watches him joking with Nellie and working beside her father.

When he comforts her after a date goes horribly wrong, Lorna realizes that she too cares for the young German, perhaps as more than a friend.

I don’t really want to say anything else about the plot because I don’t want to give it away.  But Leech has woven together a story that does an excellent job of examining issues of right and wrong and who is really a friend or an enemy.  Leech did her research, not wanting to create romantic tension where none was possible.

The characters in this book are three-dimensional and realistic.  Lorna’s fellow Scots are not all good people.  The Germans are not villainous caricatures.  And the emotions?  They are real.

Share this title with your young reader who likes history, romance or a great fictional story.  Leech has created a winner.


June 1, 2018

Bloom by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:38 pm by suebe2

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designers Elsa Schiaparelli
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Julie Morstad

I have to admit that I had no clue who Elsa Schiaparelli was when one of my students recommended Bloom. No idea.

But in just a few sentences I was pulled into the story of a little girl whose parents wanted a boy and hadn’t even chosen a girl’s name. No big deal.  A lot of parents have been caught in such a situation.  But a lot of parents don’t call one daughter beautiful and the other ugly.  Right away I wanted this little girl to show them what true beauty was.

Granted, some of her ideas don’t succeed. At one point, she tried to plant flowers on her face.  This girl had a vibrant imagination!  Fortunately she has an uncle who is an astronomer and he encourages her ideas.  She discovers that when she dresses up, she can be many things.

She discovers dress making and she and her baby daughter move from city to city, settling in Paris. Soon Elsa has made friends with the group of visionary artists that include Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Her first big success is a sweater with a trompe l’oeil design.  It looks like a black sweater over a white blouse with a large bow at the neck.  It is really a sweater of two colors.  Women can now look fancy while riding their bikes through the city streets!  She encourages them to use their imaginations and they encourage her.

She combines materials – leather and lace, decorates her dresses with bold images, and even encourages a chemist to invent a new color just for her clothes.

Whether or not you are into clothing, Kyo Maclear has created a story about a visionary artist who did not let other people’s harsh words hold her back.  The story is enhanced by Julie Morstad’s illustrations.  I especially love the one where the chemist is inventing a new pink dye.

Elsa Schiaparelli is definitely someone who could inspire a young artist.  She was wildly creative, even wearing a shoe as a hat.  Hopefully children will also look at her photo in the back of the book and realize that hurtful words are so seldom true.

Share this book with your young visionary.  Give it a place in your home library and your classroom library.  Young readers need internalize the message.


May 24, 2018

Catwings Return by Ursula K. LeGuin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:35 pm by suebe2

Catwings Return
by Ursula K. LeGuin
illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Orchard Books

In this, the sequel to Catwings, the four winged cats, Thelma, Roger, Harriet and James, have settled into life on the farm.  They are being cared for by Hank and Susan who check out the young cats daily and are careful to keep them a secret.  They are afraid how people would react to the wonder of flying cats.

For their part, the cats are curious about how their mother is doing.  James and Harriet decide to make the trip.  It is longer and more tiring than they remember, perhaps because James isn’t as strong as his sister because of an old injury.

In the city, they discover that their old neighborhood, a group of ramshackle slums, is being torn down.  The problem is that Mom is nowhere to be seen but they’ve discovered a winged kitten.  Finally she let’s them approach.  Together, they are reunited with their mother and discover that this is their little sister.

James and Harriet promise to care fo the kitten and slowly they make their way back to their new home.  All of the necessary background information can be found in this book, but the first book is such a pleasure. Why skip it?

Given the short format of this story, it is only 48 pages long, the characters are not as fleshed out as they would be a longer book.  But the writing is lyrical and poetic.  The short format and spot illustrations will be a great draw for third-grade readers who are still intimidated by full-length novels.

As in so much of Le Guin’s work, she explores good vs evil and what it is to belong.  She also delves into reality and how we perceive it because, although two workmen see the flying cats they do not think it was cats that they saw.  How could it be?  Cats don’t fly unless you are reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s Catwing books.


May 6, 2018

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:27 am by suebe2

ghosts of greenglass houseGhosts of Greenglass House
by Kate Milford
Clarion Books

A year has past since the events of Greenglass House.  It is time for Christmas but Milo just isn’t feeling it.  Frost is not the same as snow and he’s missing Meddy.  Sure, his friend is a ghost, but she promised she’d be back and it has been a year.

Once again, Christmas isn’t going to be a peaceful time.  There’s someone at the end to study the stained glass and he just won’t leave.  He seems pleasant enough but something about him just isn’t right.

Then a group of carolers show up.  They are from the local asylum.  Tradition says that they can come inside and your home will be blessed.  When he was younger, Milo was afraid to invite them inside – one caroler poses as a skeletal hobby horse.  But this year Milo invites them in and things begin to go wrong.  Two carolers are clonked on the head, one is mildly poisoned and things start to go missing.

If your young reader likes mysteries, fantasy and adventure, pick this book up.  But you might want to start with the first title, Greenglass House.  Milford does a great job with the characterization but there are a lot of characters to keep track of.  That said, they are delightfully quirky and worth the effort to keep straight.

As in the last book, the plot is full of twists and reversals including who is a good guy, who is a bad guy and what is the difference?  And how do you tell the real ghosts from tricky living humans? Readers will also have the opportunity to examine the multiple meanings of the word asylum.  Things are not always as they seem in or near Greenglass house.

This would make a great book for family reading but don’t be surprised when no one wants to give you a break.  This is a tough book to put down.


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