June 27, 2016

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:19 pm by suebe2

The Hired GirlThe Hired Girl
by Laura Amy Schlitz
Candlewick Press

More than anything, Joan looks forward to school each day.  Her teacher, Miss Chandler, encourages Joan in her studies and even given Joan a journal to record her thoughts.  Joan doesn’t realize how important this will be even when her father pulls her out of school.  Joan may be only a young teen but with her Mama dead there is no one else to take care of her father and three brothers.  Joan is needed at home to cook, launder, clean house, scrub the privy, take care of the chickens, garden, and put food up.  Yet when she asks for the egg money so that she can buy books, Father tells her she isn’t good for much.  When she refuses to cook a hot noon meal, he burns the three books she has.

When Joan sees a newspaper and realizes that the can make 6 whole dollars a week as a hired girl — all she’s have to do is housework — she runs away from home. She has to lie and tell people that she’s 18 but fortunately she is big and strong.  Even people who think she is lying think she is 16 and not 13 which is her actual age.

As a hired girl for the Rosenbach’s Joan finds herself living as a shiksa in a Jewish household.  She works hard but also thrives when she befriends the old housekeeper, a woman who may seem harsh and demanding but loves Joan fiercely.  Joan records all that happens in her journal, including her love for the family’s oldest son.  The truth comes out when their snooping daughter reads Joan’s diary and discovers Joan’s age and much, much more.

I don’t want to give everything about this book away so that’s all you’re going to get about the plot.

I was curious when I picked the book up because I knew it had one the 2016 Scott Odell Award for historical fiction but also that it had been criticized because of Joan’s prejudices.  This comes out primarily in her relationship to her employers.  Early in the book Joan writes in her journal:

“It seemed to me–I mean, it doesn’t now, but it did then–as though Jewish people were like Indians: people from long ago; people in books. I know there are Indians out West, but they’re civilized now, and wear ordinary clothes. In the same way, I guess I knew there were still Jews, but I never expected to meet any.”

She also tries to convert her employers and there are several references to dirty Irish.  The funny thing?  The Jewish family is so much better to her than her own family.  By the end of the book she has been befriended by an Irish cook — who is neither lazy or dirty.  The only people who aren’t vindicated are the Native Americans.

Should young readers be given this book.  Yes!   Joan’s prejudices are historically accurate but she also overcomes the vast majority of them.  She learns about anti-Semitism and even stands up to an anti-Semitic priest.  Frankly, I don’t think that the Joan we meet on page 1 would have had the nerve.

I think that this book could lead to some excellent discussions about ethnicity, religion, intolerance and bigotry.  But people have to be willing to listen.  Lucky for young readers, Joan listened, learned and grew.


June 23, 2016

She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell, illustrated by Charlotta Janssen

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 6:17 pm by suebe2

26861970She Stood for Freedom:
The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland
by Loki Mulholland and Angela Fairwell
illustrated by Charlotta Janssen
Shadow Mountain

Joan grew up in Arlington, Virginia and spent her summers in Oconee, Georgia with her grandmother.  She grew up with a lot of contradictory messages.  God loves us all, but black people can’t eat where white people eat.  They have to use different bathrooms.  They go to separate schools.

One day in Georgia, Joan and her friend Mary walked to the black part of town. They knew they were breaking the rules but they went anyway. The first thing that surprised them was the everyone avoided them.  They went inside.  Then the girls reached the schoolhouse. The brand new white school on the other side of town was big and red brick.  This was a one room shack on stone pilings.  Joan realized how wrong segregation was and vowed to fight it wherever she could.

After she went to college, Joan took part in sit ins.  She helped the Freedom Riders and was put in jail.  She spent two months in Mississippi’s most notorious prison – Parchman.  Right around the corner from her cell was the death chamber.

After leaving Parchman, Joan went back to college.  She signed up at Tougaloo, a black school in Mississippi.  Joan found that not all of the black students trusted her because some of them had never been so close to a white person before.  They didn’t know what to think.  She even Marched on Washington with Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Joan never quit working for Civil Rights.  There were several times, including on the way to Parchman, that she expected to be killed, but she wasn’t and she continued to do one small thing after another to further the cause.

As a teacher’s aide, she taught her students one simple lesson: To do what is right.  “Remember, you don’t have to change the world . . . just change your world.”

Charlotta Janssen’s collage art work compliments this story of various people working to piece together a new, improved world.  I especially enjoyed getting to see the photos of a young Joan.  Reading about how her work estranged her from her family brought home just how important this cause was to her and I’m glad that her son, author Loki Mulholland, has worked to bring his mother’s story to light.

Most of the Civil Rights stories that I’ve read have centered on black workers or Northern white activists.  Because of this, Joan’s story seemed to fill in a few blanks.  Most notably, what was it like for a smart white girl to grow up in the segregated south?  How could she not see the injustice? This story clarifies the “how” but also what happens when she does see it and decides to act.


An excellent choice for grade school students who are asking questions about injustice and right vs. wrong.


June 20, 2016

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:40 pm by suebe2

Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
by Chris Barton
illustrated by Don Tate

Lonnie Johnson and his five brothers and sisters grew up in a small, crowded house in Mobile, Alabama.  Ronnie wanted his own workshop but he understood that there just wasn’t room.  Still, he found the time and space to tinker with rocket kits, an Erector set and all kinds of things that he hauled back from the junk yard and in from the shed.

Lonnie’s classmates gathered around when he launched a new rocket.  Lonnie had also built a robot he named Linex although he couldn’t figure out how to use a transmitter to send it commands.  Then one day he thought of his sister’s walkie-talkies.  Using scavenged pieces, he fixed the problem with the transmissions and his team won the 1968 science fair at the University of Alabama.  Five years earlier, African-American students hadn’t even been allowed to compete so when Lonnie’s team won they were happy but the overall atmosphere was hostile even if there was no trouble.

Lonnie went to college at Tuskegee University. He graduated and became a NASA engineer.  Whenever a problem arose, Lonnie would come up with an idea how to fix it.  Some of his ideas worked. Others didn’t.  Still others didn’t work quite as planned but still led to something new.  When Lonnie was working on a new cooling system, he put together a pump and nozzle that created a pressurized spray of water.  Soon Lonnie was working to make the device smaller and more portable — a water gun.

Finding a company to build the water gun wasn’t easy but Lonnie never gave up.  He kept working on his design and working to find a company that would make then.  Eventually, the Super Soaker made its way onto the shelves of stores across the US.

I really liked this book because it showed how much work went into Lonnie’s invention. Yes, he has a creative mind that is also looking for better way to so do things, but he didn’t give up when things didn’t work out.  Personally, I think that’s the most important part of the story since it is such an important part of how inventors and scientists work.  Plan, try, plan again, try again, etc.

This book is illustrated but it is a better choice for third grade plus, rather than younger picture book audiences.  Add it to your classroom or home shelf to help inspired science students, science fair participants and problem solvers of all ages.  This story will challenge stereotypic ideas about who does science and who can solve the world’s problems.



June 17, 2016

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 4:09 pm by suebe2

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs
by Linda Sue Park
illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Clarion Books

Do you have a young reader who likes to play with words?  Whose altogether punny?  Then pick up a copy of Yaks Yak. Each spread contains a homograph pair — two words that sound alike.  I say “two words” because one is the noun form while the other is the verb.  Although the verb may be a bit advanced that’s where Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s illustrations come into play.

In the spread that features bats, the text is super simple.  “Bats bat.”  Then the art shows five bats in flight swinging baseball bats.  Just in case the young reader doesn’t get all he needs from the illustration itself, cozied into the art work is the definition.  In this case, one of the baseballs is printed with the definition of “to bat.”

This is a great book to use when working with language.  It shows how the meaning of a word is context dependent when it has multiple meanings.  The book will also present a challenge for young word hounds — can you come up with something that is both an animal and a verb but isn’t in the book?  I have to admit that I only came up with one (fly).  I’ll have to do some more thinking on this.

The back matter includes the word origin for both the animal and the action.  My favorite?  To hog which was first seen in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fin (1884).

Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s watercolor and ink illustrations do a great job bringing this super simple text to life.  Her animals are happy and silly and do a great job of making the book fun and education vs simply studious.  An excellent choice for bringing language to life.



June 15, 2016

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:10 am by suebe2

25897942The Hole Story of the Doughnut
by Pat Miller
illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

I had heard stories about the Red Cross frying up doughnuts near the battlefields for the soldiers of World War I, but I had never heard how the doughnut was invented.  Lucky for me that Pat is one of my writing students.  I have no clue why I’m so lucky to have such an accomplished student but I jumped at the chance to read her latest book.

The doughnut was invented by ship’s captain Hanson Gregory. Not that he was a captain yet.  At the time he was just a lowly cooks assistant.  Each morning he and the cook would fry up a batch of “sinkers” doughy cakes that never cooked through in the center.  Hanson got the idea to use a canister lid to cut the center out of each cake before cooking it.  With this gap, the doughnut cooked evenly and emerged from the pan as a wonderful treat.

If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know that I’m not going to tell you the whole story.  For that, you have to read the book.  But I will tell you that Pat includes several stories about how the doughnut was invented as well as more than a little history about Captain Gregory’s life.

Kirsch’s watercolor illustrations are cartoony and fun.  Several times they reminded me of School House Rock although Kirsch’s characters never look exactly like those in the cartoon.  Somehow even Kirsch’s depictions of sailors in storm-tossed seas are more silly than scary so this book should be too much for younger readers.

Share this at story time in the classroom and be prepared for a discussion of why there are so many stories about the origin of the doughnut, favorite doughnuts, possible improvements and more.


June 9, 2016

Flying Frogs and Walking Fish by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:09 pm by suebe2

Flying Frogs and Walking Fish
by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

We all have some idea about how animals get from one place to another.  They fly and walk and jet-propel.  That’s right. Animals in water can squirt water to blast themselves away from a predator.

Jenkins and Page discuss these concepts using a variety of animals.  Some like sloths and kangaroos are familiar.  Others, including pangolin and hoatzin, are much less so.  But even familiar sloths can move about in unfamiliar ways (sloth swim!).

The authors lead young readers through these concepts by focusing on one type of movement at a time.  For example, first they highlight walking, staring with an octopus walking across the ocean floor on two legs.  Then, with the turn of a page, young readers get to see more animals that use walking to move around.  While kangaroos and vampire bats are familiar, we don’t think of them as walkers although that’s what they are doing in the book.  Then there are the animals, like the red-lipped batfish that I had simply never heard of before.

If you aren’t familiar with Jenkins and Page’s books, check this one out.  The simple text is brought to life with detailed cut paper collage of each animal.  In all truth, I think my favorite is the octopus.  The image may be static, but in my mind I can picture the arms moving sinuously.  Jenkins just does that good of a job.

Backmatter goes through the types of motion and animals one more time, giving additional detail that can be used by parents and teachers to expand on the lessons in the book.

Pick this one up to share with your class or your own young reader.  But do expect a bit of walking, jumping and tumbling as your listeners strive to act out the various forms of motion.


June 7, 2016

A Story Circle by Diane Gonzalez Bertrand, illustrated by Wendy Martin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:41 am by suebe2

TheStoryCircleCoverLOResWendyMartinHiResA storm causes flooding and damages a grade school. When classes begin again, the classroom had been cleaned up and restored.  There are even new bookshelves but there’s a big problem.  The shelves are empty.  The story books are gone, damaged and destroyed by the flood waters.

During circle time, the clever teacher tells a story that brings a variety of images to mind for her students.  One by one, she allows the students to tell their stories as well.  When the are done the children want to be able to remember their stories so the teacher gets out paper and art supplies and the children get busy.  When they are done, they have created a shelf full of books, stories and pictures, for their classroom.

Today, instead of simply writing about the book myself, we have a special treat.  Wendy Martin, the illustrator of this book, is a friend of mine.  I invited her to come by as part of her blog tour for the book.  She has agreed to share something of her illustration process with us.

SueBE: What made you want to illustrate The Story Circle?

Wendy: Piñata Books have always been on my list of dream publishers. I was so thrilled to be contacted to work with them.


SueBE: There are so many things that you could have painted for some of these illustrations. How do you decide what to depict?

Wendy: The best way I can describe my process here is that the characters talk to me. I had to get to know each child, what made them tick, before I could illustrate the story they were telling. In fact, I even gave them names while creating their personalities and stories. They don’t have names in the book text.


SueBE: Which is your favorite illustration and why?

Wendy: That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. I think the section of the book with all the imagination and portraying of the children’s tales is my favorite section of the book.


SueBE: What would you want to tell young readers about illustrating this book?

Wendy: A: One of the hardest parts of being a children’s book illustrator (for me, at least) is making sure the characters themselves retain a coherent look. It’s easy to make a single illustration, but drawing and painting each individual multiple times takes a special type of skill. If you want to illustrate children’s books or any other kind of sequential art, practice drawing the same character over and over again from many different perspectives.


Sue here: Wendy, thank you for joining us!

Take a look a this book and it is obvious that Wendy sees her characters and individuals.  Each of them has a distinct personality and interests.

My favorite illustration was the glass bottom boat but I also loved the story about using goats to mow the lawn.  My dad always threatened to do that — but then he’d had a goat named Martha Washington when he was a kid.  I always assumed this threat was a “Dad thing.”

For those of you who would like a copy of The Story Circle, you can find it book on

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Story-Circle-El-circulo-cuentos/dp/1558858261/

Publisher’s website: https://artepublicopress.com/product/the-story-circle-el-circulo-de-cuentos/


June 3, 2016

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:22 pm by suebe2

Those Shoes
by Maribeth Boelts
illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Jeremy used to be the fastest boy in his class until one of the other boys showed up in black high tops with two white stripes.  He’s confident that these cool shoes make him the fastest.  One by one, other boys in the class get a pair of these awesome new shoes.  Grandma takes Jeremy to the store, hoping beyond hope that she has enough saved up but the shoes are too expensive.  Besides, he needs snow boots with winter coming.

Then one of Jeremy’s shoes falls apart while playing kickball.  He has to find a new pair in the school’s charity box.  The only pair that fit him are blue with a goofy cartoon character on the side.  They are far from cool and every laughs.  Everyone except Antonio.  He doesn’t have a pair of the cool shoes either and his shoes are taped together.

But Grandma doesn’t give up.  They go to the resale and second hand stores.  Cowboy boots. Women’s dress shoes.  They see all kinds of shoes before they spot a pair of the right shoes.  Jeremy lies to his grandmother, telling her that the too-small shoes fit.  At home, he keeps hoping that they’ll stretch but he still can’t wear them to school.

Eventually Jeremy gives the cool shoes to Antonio who has smaller feet.  But he doesn’t want credit for the gift.  He leaves them on Antonio’s porch for his new friend to find.

Writing a book that teaches a message isn’t easy.  Believe me, I read through a pile of them this week and a lot of them were just painful.  Some of the painful books get good reviews because they teach lessons about bullying or kindness and adults are desperate to teach children about these things.  But those aren’t the books that help children internalize the message.  Books like this are because the message is wrapped up in a characters and a story that young readers enjoy.

Noah Jones illustrations, created from watercolor, pencil and ink, help bring the story to life.  The cools shoes are distinct and easy to spot as boys tear around the playground.  Jones does an equally awesome job depicting the emotions of the various characters.  We don’t need to be told who is braggy and thoughtlessly cruel or who is ashamed or happy.  We can see it right there on the page.

This book is an excellent choice for the classroom or story time.  There is a lesson but there is also a story.  Focus on the story and let the young readers discover the lesson, word by word, page by page.



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