July 20, 2017

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:38 am by suebe2

TThe quickest kid in clarksvillehe Quickest Kid in Clarksville
by Pat Zietlow Miller
illustrated by Frank Morrison
Chronicle Books

In Clarksville, Tennessee in the 1960, a group of girls are determined to be the next Wilma Rudolph.  Alta is dreaming about what it would feel like to wear Gold medals and have a parade just like the one set to welcome Wilma home the next day.

Then she meets the new girl.  Charmaine’s shoes have a fast pink stripe.  And they’re new.  So new that Alta knows that no one but Charmaine has ever worn them. But Alta’s having none of it and soon she and Charmaine are racing down the sidewalk. Alta wins the first race but in the second race her feet tangle and she takes a spill.

Alta and her sisters are ready to run their banner to the parade but Alta soon realizes she has a problem.  The banner is bulky and she can’t do it on her own. But her sisters are awfully small.

Then Charmaine grabs the other end.  She points out that Wilma won the relay with three other runners.   The four take off running and pass the banner back and forth.  Soon they are perched on the curb waiting for that special convertible to pass by.  When Wilma waves at them, they know that together they are the quickest kids in Clarksville.

This is a fast-moving text as befits a book about a fast moving woman.  The girls are oh-so realistic, competing to be the fastest and save the day.  But their joy at working together is just as realistic.  Frank Morrison’s water color illustrations are full of life and personality, just like the kids he depicts.  I may not have been in gradeschool in the 1960s but Alta reminded me of the quickest girl in my fifth grade class.  Charmaine could sail around the track like everone else was at anchor.

Read this to launch a discussion about team work, sportsmanship, or Wilma Rudolph.  It has all of the qualities of a sure-fire read aloud and young character who is hard not to love.


July 17, 2017

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:20 pm by suebe2

antsy anselAntsy Ansel:
Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature
by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
illustrated by Christy Hale
Christy Ottaviano Books

Both of this week’s books feature historic figures.  The first is a picture book biography of Ansel Adams.  Ansel was a lively boy.  He didn’t walk.  He ran. He could never sit still and his thoughts went everywhere at once.  Indoors, Ansel attracted a lot of negative attention so his father would suggest that he go outside.

Smart man, dad.

The Golden Gate Beach near his house allowed Ansel to explore nature.  He loved the booming surf and the gusting winds. Sometimes the strong forces of nature got out of hand. During the 1906 earthquake, Ansel was thrown into a wall and broke his nose.

But often nature was quiet.  Ansel spent hours in Lobos Creek, listening and looking.

School caged Ansel in and it wasn’t a good match.  Finally, when he was 13, his father withdrew him from school. “Give him open air,” explained Dad.

Ansel didn’t spend all of this time outside.  He studied piano and was tutored in French, Greek and algebra. When Ansel was 14, his aunt gave him a book about Yosemite Valley.  Ansel longed to see the mountains and the water for himself.  “It was love at first sight.”

His parents gave him a camera and his passion grew.  He often journeyed back to Yosemite which is where he met his wife. The pair worked and lived in Yosemite, raising a family there and helping give voice to the natural world.

Share this book with the nature photographer in your life.  Share it with the child who would rather be outdoors than in.  Share it with the young reader who is having troubles fitting in.

Yes, it is all about Ansel Adams but this book is truly about so much more.  Give it a place on your shelf and use it to introduce nature and photography into a young reader’s life.


July 14, 2017

Fearless Flyer by Heather Lang, illustrated by Raul Colon

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 6:55 am by suebe2

Fearless FlyerFearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine
by Heather Lang,
illustrated by Raul Colon
Calkins Creek

The second book for this week is also about pushing boundaries but this particular book is nonfiction. It is the story of Ruth Law and her 1916 flight, in a biplane, from Chicago to Hornell, New York.

Few of these early pilots flew very far.The biggest problem was that if an engine developed a problem, and cut out, they would have nowhere to land.  Find someplace to land and you’d still be too far from someone who could repair your plane.

Law had a solution.  She learned everything she could about her plane’s engine.  She could fix it but she still couldn’t fly very far.  In fact, she’d never flown over 25 miles because her plane only held 16 gallons of fuel.  She tried to get the maker of her plane, Glenn Curtiss, to sell her a larger plane but he didn’t think she could handle such a powerful plane on such a long flight.

And it would be long.  Victor Carlstrom had just flown Curtiss’s new plane from Chicago to Erie, Pennsylvania for a total of 452 miles.  Law was determined to break that record but she couldn’t do it in her current plane.  At least not as Curtiss had configured it.

She added gas tanks.  She added a metal guard to protect her from freezing wind. She charted her course on a special map that she attached over her trousers (trousers!) to her leg.

At 8:25 in the morning she took off.  Yeah, you know me by now.  I’m not going to tell you exactly what happened.  I want you to read the book!

Lang’s text is simple and straightforward.  She gives enough detail to interest readers who are into flight history and women’s history, but not so many that she’ll lose young readers who just want a good adventure.

Colon’s illustrations have an old-time feel.  He created them with pencil and crayon on lithograph paper.  This means that they have the paper’s swirling texture as well as the short ethereal colors of the pencils and crayons.

Together the have created a top-notch book for kids who dream big.  Read this book to your adventurer – the child who simply does not see why that line, that one right there, cannot be crossed.


July 13, 2017

Jack and the Geniuses at the Bottom of the World by Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and Gregory Mone

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:57 pm by suebe2

jack and geniusesJack and the Geniuses
at the Bottom of the World
by Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and Gregory Mone
Amulet Books

This week I’m reviewing two books about pushing limits.  This particular book is about three kids who journey to Antarctica to solve a missing person mystery.

Jack may not be a genius but he’s used to dealing with them.  After all, his siblings Ava and Matt are flat-out brilliant.  The three found each other in the foster system and emancipated themselves.  Now they home school and look for things that need their attention – like the mysterious entrance-less building in their run down neighborhood.  What the heck is going on behind those sleek, high-tech walls?

They use Ava’s drone to find out but something grabs the drone as it flies over the balcony. In their quest to retrieve the drone, the trio make their way through a hidden entrance into a world of science and gadgets.  They have discovered the home and laboratory of Dr. Hank Witherspoon, scientist and inventor.  And it isn’t just the geniuses who adore Hank.  After all, he’s the inventor of the Nose Vacuum (no more stopped up heads!).

Jack is enamored and agrees when Hank invites them to work with him.  But while Ava and Matt work on science (robotics and more), Jack finds himself answering e-mail and fetching coffee.  Its boring and tedious and he’s writing his letter of resignation when Hank suggests that the three journey with him to Antarctica.  Hank has to judge a science competition and this is the perfect opportunity for them to see something of the world.

When they arrive, they discover that Hank’s friend, a fellow scientist, who was conducting research in this frozen world, has gone missing.  Jack doesn’t believe that she just out on the ice.  He corresponded with her and she knew they were coming.  So he sets out to solve a mystery that many of the adults don’t believe exists.

Whether your young reader loves science, mysterious or exploration, this is a great choice for summer reading.  It is all about science and how scientists work without ever being preachy or overt in any way.  Observation, theories, exploration, experimentation and revision are simply worked into the story.  Although many of the gadgets seem like science fiction, they are science fiction in the old school sense – cutting edge science in a new literary application.

There characters are also extremely well drawn.  Jack may not be a genius, but he is a problem solver and explorer.  He’s the one who steps out and tries things.  Ava and Matt are brilliant but that doesn’t make them flawless.  These are real kids who have found their way onto the page.

In truth, the book reminded me of a highly scientific version of the Boxcar Children.  Orphans connect with monied guardian and have adventures.

Share this with the young reader in your life today!


July 6, 2017

Henry and the Cannons: An Extraordinary Story of the American Revolution by Don Brown

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:37 am by suebe2

henry and the cannonsHenry and the Cannons: 
An Extraordinary Story of the American Revolution 
written and illustrated by Don Brown
Roaring Brook Press

Since I’ve been doing theme weeks, I decided to go with a second patriotic type book for the 4th of July.  You may not have heard of Henry Knox but it turns out that he was a pivotal figure in the Revolutionary War.  Who knew?  I sure didn’t.

The British Army held Boston.  They knew that Washington and his modest army had little chance of taking the city from them.

Cannons would make all of the difference.  Colonel Benedict Arnold had taken Ft. Ticonderoga in New York for the Americans.  There were plenty of cannons there but it was also 300 miles away.  Getting the cannons from there to Boston would be impossible.

Fortunately, no one was able to convince Henry Knox of this.  You’re going to have to read the book to discover how he did it but is it well worth the read.  Let’s just say that it involved ships, oxen, horses and quite a bit of sweat in spite of the freezing temperatures.

If you have a young history buff who is all about George Washington, pick this book up.  If you have a young reader who loves a tense story with a struggle to victory, this is a great book.  And the best thing is that the story is 100% true.  How cool is that?

Don Brown’s water-color paintings are soft and muted but pen and ink add the level of detail necessary to show just how great  was this struggle through snow and mud and ice.

This book is an excellent choice for together reading with an early grade school child.  It would also be a great introduction for learning about Washington and the struggles of the Revolutionary War.  This book seller turned self-taught soldier may have been an unlikely hero but he was up for the job when Washington needed him and is sure to inspire readers today.


July 3, 2017

Top Secret Files: The American Revolution by Stephanie Bearce

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:34 pm by suebe2

The American RevolutionTop Secret Files: 
The American Revolution
by Stephanie Bearce
Prufrock Press

To celebrate the 4th of July, let’s delve into some history.  And why not?  I’m a history buff so I read a lot on various periods, both fiction and nonfiction.  When an author comes up with things I don’t know about well-known figures, it surprises me and Bearce did it with this book.

As with the other books in the series, this one is all about spies, secret missions and facts long hidden.  I was a little surprised when she started with George Washington.  Seriously?  Washington?  I may know a lot about ol’ George, but I didn’t know he had worked as a spy for the British.

In addition to giving readers little known information on big names like Washington, Bearce also sets the record straight about a few people who readers may have heard of but actually know very little about.  Everyone knows Benedict Arnold traitor, but Bearce fills in the details about how he first fought for the US and then later turned spy.  The one that really pulled me in was Paul Revere.  Bearce not only fills readers in on the details of the big ride but she also tells a bit more about Revere’s day job as a silver smith.  It wasn’t just fancy dishes.  Revere also did dental work and had worked as on early forensics investigator.

In addition to well-known figures, Bearce pulls in heroes I had never heard of including Nancy Morgan Hart from Georgia who not only spied but fought hand to hand.  Then there was Peter Francisco, a giant of a man who carried a canon on his shoulders to keep the British from capturing it.

As always, Bearce’s books are peppered with hands on activities from sharp shooting (safe to do indoors) and writing invisible messages.

The information is quirky and fascinating which will help turn young readers on to history. Written in brief chapters, this book is suitable for reluctant readers who will be able to read for a while and then take a break.

Unlike some series, each of these books stands on its own.  You can start with the American Revolution since it came first.  Or read about World War II if that is a favorite time period.  Wherever you start, you are going to want to pick up the other books in the series to see what other authors haven’t been telling you!


June 30, 2017

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 4:37 pm by suebe2

Summer Birds:
The Butterflies of Maria Merian
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Henry Holt and Company

Way back when, and no this isn’t fiction, people in Europe thought that insects were evil.  They believed that they spontaneously generated from mud as did frogs.

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Germany in 1647.  By the time she was thirteen years old, she was well on her way to disproving this belief.  She loved to collect insects, especially summer birds, what we call butterflies. But she had to do it quietly so that her neighbors didn’t accuse her of being a witch.

Still, her parents encouraged her studies and her painting.  Maria studied how insects transformed from one form to another. She documented it carefully to show that this was a natural, not a magical, occurence.

Marian Merian is definitely a scientist that young readers need to know about.  She made her first discoveries before she was an adult.  And at a time when many women were sheltered by their families she and her daughter journeyed to South America to study and paint nature.  Why did I not know about this amazing woman?

Fortunately Engle has written a book that explains not only the beliefs common at the time that Merian lived but also what this woman did to push our knowledge and science to new levels.  The spare text is complimented by the art of Julie Paschkis. Her paintings reflect not only the history but also the natural world.  It can’t have been an easy balance to achieve yet she manages to pull it off using bright vibrant colors.

Add this book to your shelf for young readers who are interested in art and science.  Read it to anyone who is challenging the status quo.  Use it as a jumping off point for discussions regarding false beliefs, following ones dreams and making new discoveries.  This book is brief enough to read aloud but do have art supplies handy.  Once you are done, challenge your listeners to depict the world of nature as they see it.


June 28, 2017

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:32 am by suebe2

Drum Dream Girl
by Margarita Engle
illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Houghton Mifflin

Last week was bear week.  This week is biography week.

The first book for the week is about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga.  For those of you who haven’t heard of her, she is a female drummer from Cuba.  What makes her noteworthy is that she is the first female drummer from Cuba.

Growing up in the 1920s and 1930s, the message was clear.  It was okay to love music.  It was even okay to play music as long as she didn’t play the drums.  When her sisters first invited her to join their all-girl dance band, it was her father who put a stop to it.

So she continued to practice and play but always alone.  Finally her father recognized how important music was to his daughter.  Not only would he let her play, he would find a teacher who would be willing to take her on.

Her teacher was surprised by how much she knew but he taught her even more. Soon she was enchanting audiences who danced to the beat of her bongos.

Don’t know much about music in general or Cuban music in particular? That’s okay.  This book is about so much more than music.  It is about inspiration and living the dream.  It is about not giving up and inspiring those around you.  It is about what can be even when people are saying “it has never been done.”

Engle’s text isn’t flowery or complex.  That said is has a beat that pulls you forward from page to page.

The illustrations are bright and vibrant, acrylic paint on wood board.  They bring a lively, colorful tone and a sense of dreamlike magic to the story.

If you have a child who is a dreamer, this is the perfect book to inspire them and send them spiraling upward!


June 23, 2017

BunnyBear by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Carmen Saldana

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:02 am by suebe2

by Andrea J. Loney
illustrated by Carmen Saldana
Albert Whitman and Company

Obviously, it is bear week here at Bookshelf.  Why not?  If they can have shark week, we can have bear week.

Not that BunnyBear is typical.  Yes, he’s furry and shaggy and can be super loud.  But when he’s alone, he loves to bounce, wiggle his nose, and nibble on strawberries.The other bears didn’t understand.  They told him to catch fish and eat meat and act like a bear.

On the lookout for someplace he can truly belong, BunnyBear spots a bunny.  He follows the bunny down a rabbit hole and into the warren.  But it wasn’t exactly a flawless entrance and one of the adult bunnies sends him away.

But this time BunnyBear isn’t alone.  He’s being followed.  She may look like a bunny but she’s burly and loud and eats whatever she wants. To her surprise, BunnyBear immediately recognized that, yes, in spite of her cotton tail, she is a bear.  ‘You just look one way on the outside and feel another way on the inside. That’s okay,” he tells her.

Can I just say WOW.  There’s more to the story but even this much is so powerful.  It is a story about inclusivity without once mentioning . . . whatever.  It could be about religion or gender or culture or bunnies and bears.  Of course, it is just this inclusivity that will set some people free.  That said, this is a book that belong on every book shelf.

It is a top choice for the child who just doesn’t feel understood, who questions whether she belongs.  And, in truth, haven’t we all felt that way at one time or another?

Carmen Saldana’s illustrations are silly and cartoony without being too silly are cartoony.  They allow you to giggle as BunnyBear squeezes into the warren without making the whole thing utterly ridiculous.  Yet they aren’t too silly because they contribute perfectly to the sweet vibe of this story.

Share it with the readers in your life and be prepared for a conversation about acceptance, belonging and the assumptions that people make.


June 22, 2017

Horrible Bear written by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:31 am by suebe2

Horrible Bear!
written by Ame Dyckman
illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Little, Brown and Company

When a little girl’s kite string breaks, her kite floats into a cave and lands on the belly of a sleeping bear.  Unfortunately, the bear rolls over and CRUNCH goes the kite. The girl is furious and she isn’t about to let him sleep through this disaster. “Horrible Bear!” The girl stomps down the mountain, across a meadow and all the way home.

As bear finally comes fully awake, he realizes how angry he is.  After all, he isn’t horrible.  It was an accident!   Bear practices being loud and obnoxious and when he has perfected his technique, he sets off to find the girl.

In the meantime, she’s still in an awful mood and storming around her own room.  Let’s just say that she realizes just a little too late how easily an accident can happen.

I’m not going to talk about the plot anymore because I don’t want to give it away but this is a great book for toddlers and preschoolers and anyone who is still working to master their temper.  Not that it is a prolonged tantrum.  There’s plenty in here to love with the girl apologizing and bear helping to cheer her up.

In fact a full range of emotions are depicted.  Thus it would be a great book to use in the classroom or at home to launch a discussion on kind words vs cruel words, as well as emotions and even oop-sidents, what my son always called those uh-oh moments when you OOPS break something.

This nuanced and layered story is complemented by OHora’s paintings which are painted in acrylic. The bright bold images offer another way to draw readers into the story but have art supplies ready so that you can challenge your young book lovers to create characters of their own showing an equally wide array of emotions.


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