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Monday, October 24, 2016

Klassen’s Third, Final Hat Book Is Surprisingly Sweet

We Found a Hat
By Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press, 2016

Jon Klassen’s third in his hat trilogy, “We Found a Hat,” presents a simple problem. Two turtles find a hat in the desert. It looks good on both of them, but there are two turtles and only one hat.

In the beginning, the turtles agree it wouldn’t be right for only one of them to get the hat. The only right thing to do is to leave the hat where they found it and forget all about it.

But then one of the turtles can’t stop thinking about the hat. He considers going back and getting the hat when the other turtle is sleeping.

The turtle is about to secretly pick up the hat, but he asks the other turtle what he is dreaming about. His friend says he is dreaming that both of them have hats that look good on them.

The sleepless turtle looks at the hat and says, “We both have hats?” Then he goes back and falls asleep next to his friend. The last page shows both turtles wearing hats as they float off into the sky.

This book has Klassen’s minimalist style and deadpan humor with the pictures saying something beyond what the words are saying. But here the twist ending is tender and sweet, resolving the conflict through empathy and friendship instead of dark humor.

About the Author/Illustrator

Jon Klassen
is the author-illustrator of “I Want My Hat Back,” a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book, and “This Is Not My Hat,” winner of the Caldecott Medal. He is the illustrator of two Caldecott Honor books, “Sam and Dave Dig a Hole” and “Extra Yarn,” both written by Mac Barnett, as well as “House Held Up by Trees,” written by Ted Kooser. Originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Klassen now lives in Los Angeles.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Gandhi Story Helps Kids See How Their Actions Matter

Be the Change, A Grandfather Gandhi Story
Written by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus and Illustrated by Evan Turk
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016
Ages: 4-8

The author Arun Gandhi is a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who fought for Indian independence from Great Britain and represented a philosophy of bringing about change through peaceful means. In “Be the Change,” Arun tells a story of when he was a boy and lived in his grandfather’s Sevagram ashram or service village.

At that time, 350 followers of his grandfather lived in the village. Their purpose was to live simply and nonviolently. Everyone awoke at sunrise and attended a morning prayer meeting. Then they worked all day in service for one another. They washed clothes, planted vegetables, picked fruit, spun yarn, and did any other tasks that needed to be done.

In this story, Arun learns why his grandfather taught his followers not to waste. After Arun throws away a stub of a pencil, Grandfather Bapuji makes him find it. He tells the boy that waste is a violent action because when resources are low, people hoard. Those who are forced to do without may eventually strike out. Then he has the child draw a tree of violence with physical and passive violence as the branches. “Before you act, think how it would affect others,” he says.

Under physical violence, Arun pastes cards saying, “pushing” and “kicking.” On the passive violence side, he puts “bullying,” “eating more than my share,” and “throwing away the pencil.” Arun realizes that his thoughts and actions are important, not just to himself but to the world. Grandfather Gandhi puts his arm around him and tells him, “Be the change you wish to see in the world, Arun.”

This story helps children to think about the importance of their own thoughts and actions in promoting peace. It is also written well with imagery and dialogue that move the story along. The beautiful, colorful illustrations create mood and help to make the story a powerful one.

About the Authors and Illustrator:

Arun Gandhi is the fifth grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi. A journalist for over 30 years for the “India Times,” he now writes a blog for the “Washington Post.” His first children’s book was “Grandfather Gandhi.” He serves as president of the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute and travels the world speaking to government leaders, as well as university, high school and younger students about the practices of peace and nonviolence. He lives in Rochester, NY. Visit him at

Bethany Hegedus is the author of “Between Us Baxters” and “Truth with a Capital T,” both Bank Street Best Books of the Year, and coauthor of “Grandfather Gandhi.” She owns and operates the Writing Barn, a popular writing workshop and retreat center in Austin, TX. She teaches widely and speaks across the country. Visit her at

Evan Turk is an Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor winner, the author/illustrator of “The Storyteller,” and the illustrator of “Grandfather Gandhi.” Evan is originally from Colorado and loves being in nature, traveling, and learning about other cultures through drawing. He is a graduate of Parsons and continues his studies as a member of Dalvero Academy. Visit him at  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Lift Your Light Tells Untold Story of Slave Cavern Guide

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop Slave Explorer
Written by Heather Henson and Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, September 6, 2016
Ages 4 to 8

“The past is like a cave sometimes, dim and dusty, and full of twisting ways,” begins “Lift Your Light a Little Higher,” which tells the story of Stephen Bishop, a slave who served as a tour guide in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave from 1838 to 1857.

"I know a few things ‘bout leading folks around inside the dark, showing off sights that have never been seen,” the story continues in the voice of its main character.

As a cave guide, Bishop gained notoriety in his day, writes author Heather Henson in an author’s note. Writers who visited the cave said he was eloquent and intelligent in his deep knowledge of the cave, the longest cave system in the world with more than four hundred miles of mapped underground passageways.

Henson wanted to tell Bishop’s story because despite his being known when he was living, his story had been largely forgotten. She had to imagine what he might say because so little had been written about him.

Though it was against the law to teach slaves to read and write, Henson taught himself to write when he showed tourists how to make marks with candle flames on the cavern walls. They wrote their names and he learned his letters.

He was the first person to draw an extensive map of Mammoth Cave and the first to cross a previously impassable chasm called the “Bottomless Pit.” He also discovered a new species of eyeless fish and albino crawfish in the underground rivers of Mammoth Cave.

“Down here, I am Guide – a man able to walk before other men, not behind,” says the narrator, “a man able to school even the brightest scholar: a man able to bring a crowd of folks deep into the belly of the earth and back again, safe and sound. A man – down here, that’s what I am – a man, not just a slave.”

Bishop married and had a son. His master promised him that one day he would free him and his family. It turned out that Bishop wasn’t freed until one year before his death at 37 of unknown cause. He was buried near the entrance to Mammoth Cave.

The story is dramatically and lyrically told. The illustrations are even more beautiful and dramatic. All of the well-constructed images are two-page spreads. They boldly speak to the reader drawing him/her into the story of the slave cave explorer and guide. 
About the Author and Illustrator:

Heather Henson lives on a farm in Kentucky with her husband and three children, and is the author of several picture books and novels, including “That Book Woman” and “Dream of Night.”

Bryan Collier is a two-time Caldecott Honor winner for “Dave the Potter” and “Trombone Shorty.” He is also the author and illustrator of the Coretta Scott King Award–winning book “Uptown,” illustrator of “Martin’s Big Words,” which was also a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book; Rosa, which received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; and the #1 New York Times bestselling “Barack Obama.” Mr. Collier lives in New York.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Inspirational, Funny Book Helps Kids Choose Happiness

Ishi: Simple Tips from a Solid Friend 
By Akiko Yabuki
POW! A division of powerhouse Packaging & Supply, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, 2016

“Ishi: Simple Tips from a Solid Friend” is a self-help book for children. A white rock with two black dots for eyes and a black line for a mouth introduces himself as Ishi, which means rock in Japanese.

The optimistic, good-natured rock offers advice for how to feel better when you’re not having a good day and tells readers they can choose to be happy.

Ishi tells readers “When something feels impossible, I sleep and rest. And try again the next day!” and “When I feel bottled up, I move my body. Run, swim, climb, a tree!” Sometimes the pictures tell a joke with word play. For instance, Ishi is pictured in a bottle when he says, “When I feel bottled up.”

The best thing about the book is the beautiful, colorful, well-constructed photographs that show Ishi lying among puzzle pieces, resting on puffy white sheets, stuck in a bottle, or smiling in a tree. They are expressive as well as beautiful and help the reader make friends with the encouraging rock.

At the beginning of the book, Akiko Yabuki writes, “How to use this book,” and she lists, 1., Enjoy the book. 2. Choose happiness. 3. Share your happiness. 4. Pass Ishi to a friend. 5. Enjoy their happiness. And she writes, “About this book: Stinky days. We all have them. After having one too many, I found Ishi. Ishi bcame my rock. Ishi gave me tips. Simple tips. Tips that made me happy. I hope they make you happy too!”

“Ishi,” first found success as a self-published book. In March 2014, Yabuki did a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to self-publish the book. On her website for the book, she says the campaign raised $9,976 from 153 backers, she calls happiness ambassadors. She lists them by name on the last page of the book.

The author wrote a blog on the book’s website where she kept her Kickstarter backers updated about her progress in publishing the book and its success in being distributed to stores in Europe and the United States. The book also has a Facebook page and Yabuki frequently posts new photographs of Ishi in new environments.  

Last year, the self-published book won several awards including a Gold Award from National Parenting Publications and a Silver Award in the gift book category from the Independent Book Publishers Association Benjamin Franklin Awards.

It is currently being published by POW! a children’s book imprint of powerhouse Packaging & Supply, Inc., a book producer and co-edition publisher whose publishing partners include Chronicle Books, Random House, Sterling, Running Press, St. Martin’s Press and many others.

Akiko Yabuki is a producer of edutainment, entertaining content that educates the audience. Akiko learned the ABCs of edutainment as a global producer for Sesame Workshop, the producer of the Sesame Street programs worldwide. Akiko lives in Brooklyn NY with her husband, a black lab named Pono, and a rock solid friend named ISHI.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Congrats to "On Bird Hill" winner

And the winner is ... Kristie Miner.
Kristie is the winner of a free copy of Jane Yolen's "On Bird Hill" and a window bird feeder.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Light-hearted Story Tells Kids It’s OK to Be Different

A Tiger Tail (Or What Happened to Anya on Her First Day of School)  
By Mike Boldt
Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2016
Ages: 4-8

Anya wakes up on the first day of school and discovers she has grown a tiger tail. She is horrified. What will she do?

Her parents aren’t any help. They tell her not to worry it looks nice with her hair. She’s the same wonderful Anya she’s always been.

She tries to pull it off but it’s firmly attached. She tries to cover it up with clothes, but it pokes through. She’ll pretend to be sick, but mom makes her go to school. She misses the bus on purpose, but dad drives her to school.

At school, she crashes into a boy. They introduce themselves. His name is Ben and he has rabbit ears. In the class picture, she fits right in. Other children are unique too. Another boy has big furry ears. A girl is in a wheelchair. Another boy wears large glasses.

“Maybe a tiger tail wasn’t so bad,” she thinks. “After all, it did go well with her hair.”

The colorful expressive pictures complement the humorous story. They actively move the story along.

Without being heavy-handed, the story tells children that it’s OK to be different.

About the Author/Illustrator:

Mike Boldt is the author and illustrator of “123 versus ABC” and the illustrator of “I Don’t Want to Be a Frog,” among others. He lives in Stony Plain, Alberta, with his wife and three children. The first day of school tended to make him a little nervous too. Learn more at


Friday, July 1, 2016

Charming Story Draws Us in to Chick’s Birth

Welcome to Day #10 of the On Bird Hill Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall (5/10/16), blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Jane, Bob, and Brian Sockin (CEO and Publisher of Cornell Lab Publishing Group), plus 10 chances to win a copy of On Bird Hill and a window bird feeder!

On Bird Hill
Written by Jane Yolen and Illustrated by Bob Marstall
Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2016

“On Bird Hill” by Jane Yolen is a lovely story told in verse that begins with a panoramic picture of Bird Hill and page by page draws in closer as a boy narrator takes notice of a chick hatching from its egg.

“As I was walking on Bird Hill, though it was day, the moon shone still,” the story begins early in the morning. We see a two-page spread of a hilly lime-green landscape. In the bottom right hand corner, a boy walks with his dog. In the top left hand corner, a tiny sliver of moon shines over the scene.

Then page by page, we pull in closer noticing more details as the words draw us closer to the boy’s discovery.

“And on Bird Hill, I saw a tree, as light and bright as it could be.” In the distance, we see a tree glowing.

“And on that tree, so shining bright, I saw a trunk, both dark and light.” The reader also notices other details such as birds flying overhead, seals sunning themselves, and a rabbit poking its head out of a river.

Yolen loosely based her story’s structure on the old cumulative children’s song, “The Green Grass Grew All Around.” Like the old song, her story has a satisfying rhythm. Its shape is useful in emphasizing the magic of noticing small everyday miracles in nature, such as the birth of a bird.

“The chick was tiny, shell was thick, but crick, crick, crack he was so quick.
“He hatched himself and left the egg, he fluffed his wings, he stretched each leg.”

At the end of the story, Yolen shifts to the chick’s perspective and brings her story full circle.

“He saw the twig, limb, trunk, and tree, and then he saw the moon ...
... and me, as I walked down Bird Hill.”

The full-spread, spring-colored illustrations by Bob Marstall perfectly complement Yolen’s story. Echoing her words, he begins with a broad perspective and page by page draws in closer to the hatching of the chick. The illustrations of the chick’s birth express the newborn bird’s wonder and joy, and his mother’s quiet love. The observant reader can find many delightful details on every page.

 About the Author and Illustrator:

Jane Yolen has authored more than 350 books, including the Caldecott-winning Owl Moon, which every budding young ornithologist owns, You Nest Here With Me, which is a popular new favorite, and the New York Times bestselling series How Do Dinosaurs. Jane Yolen’s books have been translated into over 20 languages and are popular around the world. Janes husband, David Stemple, was both a well known bird recordist and a professor of computer science and he taught the entire family how to identify birds. Many of Jane’s books are about wildlife subjects, especially the winged kind. Jane lives in Easthampton, MA. Visit her online at

Bob Marstall is the illustrator of nine nonfiction children’s books, including the The Lady and the Spider, which sold over a quarter-of-a-million copies and was a Reading Rainbow selection. Bob has also been honored with an ALA Notable; an IRA Teachers’ Choice; a Smithsonian Magazine Notable Book for Children; and three John Burroughs selections.
In addition, two of Bob’s books are included in the New York Times Parent’s Guide’s “1001 Best Books of the Twentieth Century.” Bob Lives in Easthamton, MA. Visit him online at

About the Cornell Lab: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. Our hallmarks are scientific excellence and technological innovation to advance the understanding of nature and to engage people of all ages in learning about birds and protecting the planet.

A Note from Jane Yolen

My family has a long history with the Cornell Lab. It began with my husband David Stemple's passion for birding.

At first, he was a Lister, that is he went out with his bird book(s) and made lists of the birds he'd seen, annotating various behaviors and where he saw them. Like many listers he had notebooks of how many birds he saw in a day, or in a week, or in a month, or in a year.

But as he was a scientist himself, with degrees in math, physics and a doctorate in Computer Science, just making lists and observing behavior wasn't enough for him. He took a couple of courses in the science of birds at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst where he taught computer science. He met Don Kroodsma and learned from him how to record birds. And that led him quite naturally (and nature-ly) to Cornell.

Once he saw how they were processing their mammoth amounts of data--on 3x5 cards I believe--he created their first ever computer database system pro bono for them. And began giving them his recordings. And then he got involved with studying ring ouzels, giving scientific papers on their dialects from Scottish glen to glen, from Norwegian fjords, etc.

Somewhere along the way, he mentioned to his friends at the Lab that he was married to me, and that I was the author of Owl Moon (which you may not know is big in birding circles!) and that he was the original of Pa in the book and our daughter Heidi--a great owler by the way--was the prototype for the child. . And the fact that of my over 350 books (mostly for children) a great number are on nature topics and over a dozen--counting upcoming books as well--are specifically about birds.

When David was dying of cancer, Greg Budney and other folks at the Lab came out and wired our deck so that David's last three months in a hospital bed in our TV room were filled with bird song. (And the occasional hough of a bear going by.) After he died, I started a scholarship in his name for the Lab that had to do with recording birds.

I think that short history is why, when Cornell decided to put out a dedicated line of children's books, they thought of me early on. And I jumped at the chance to be involved. My first book for them is On Bird Hill and the two that will follow are On Duck Pond and On Gull Beach. We are also talking about a kind of companion book to Owl Moon called Bird Boy and possibly a couple of other books as well. I will keep writing them if they will keep publishing them.


Today is the the last stop of the tour! Check out the other blogs below for more chances to win!

Blog Tour Schedule:

June 20th – The O.W.L.
June 21st — The Book Monsters
June 23rd  — MamaPapaBarn
June 24th — Rockin' Book Reviews June 27th — Kristi's Book Nook
June 28th — Books My Kids Read
June 29th — Word Spelunking
June 30th — Cracking the Cover
July 1st — Can You Read Me a Story?

Loosely based on the old cumulative nursery rhyme/song “The Green Grass Grew All Around,” a nursery rhyme first published as a song in 1912. But in this version, it’s a boy and his dog who find the bird in a nest on a hill in a strange valley. Following in the footsteps of Jane’s highly acclaimed Owl Moon, winner of the prestigious Caldecott Award, On Bird Hill is a beautiful picture book with an enchanting story, fancifully illustrated by renowned artist Bob Marstall. On Bird Hill is sure to attract interest from millions of readers and fans of Jane’s popular classics.


  • One (1) winner will receive a copy of On Bird Hill and a Window Bird Feeder ($28.99) to get up close and personal with the birds in your backyard! Great for blends, peanuts and safflower, this durable feeder attaches right to your window pane with suction cups, allowing you to see every bird detail. It's easy to fill and easy to clean.
  • US only
  • Ends July 10th at midnight ET
  • Enter via the rafflecopter below
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Children Learn about Body Art along with Numbers

Two Long Ears
Written and illustrated by Jacob A Boehne
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2016
Ages 3 to 6

In this board book, youngsters learn about body art as they count from 1 to 10. One is for one ring in the nose. Two is two long ears. Three is for three rose tattoos on the head.

“At an early age, I became intrigued by tattoos and body modification,” said Jacob A. Boehne in an author’s note. “I used to flip through ‘National Geographic’ admiring the people who were adorned with all sorts of images and jewelry.”

Boehne thought this book would be a simple way to start talking to preschoolers about cultural differences and foster diversity.

With its simple but intriguing illustrations, the book is a good conversation starter. However, it might have been a good idea to add a few facts at the end about which cultures have practiced ear stretching or found symbolic meaning in nose rings or decorated their bodies with tattoos.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Jacob A. Boehne is an early childhood educator, parent, artist, and writer who is interested in body art. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife and two children.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Children’s Book Shows Softer Side of Fairy Tale Villains

Good Night, Baddies
Written by Deborah Underwood and Illustrated by Juli Kangas
Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2016

At the end of the day, do fairy tale villains relax and unwind? This is the question asked by Deborah Underwood’s charming “Good Night Baddies.”

The story is told in a lilting rhyme and beautiful full-page illustrations of medieval scenes of colorful witches, giants, gnomes and dragons in castles and cottages.

“Sun dips down; the day has gone. Witches, wolves, and giants yawn.
Queen and dragon, troll and gnome: tired baddies head for home.”

Though they are nasty during the day, Underwood shows the villains being kind and polite to one another at night.

“Baddies sit politely dining, no one throwing food or whining.
All day long they must be vile; now, at night they chat and smile.”

The evil witch puts on pajamas; the old troll takes a long bubble bath. The big bad wolves brush their teeth; Rumpelstiltskin reads a sweet bedtime story. Dragon takes a refreshing drink.

The witches check for princesses hiding under the scared Giant’s bed. The baddies tuck each other into bed and snuggle tight, reading by candlelight.

“Underneath a starry sky, sing a baddie lullaby.
Day will bring more evil schemes,
Good night, baddies ... Sour dreams!”

This is a fun twist to what is expected. Children will be amused to find their favorite storybook villains at home showing their more human sides. The message that even the least likable people may have their good sides isn’t a bad one either.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Deborah Underwood has published many books for children including the New York Times bestsellers “The Quiet Book,” “The Loud Book,” and “Here Comes the Easter Cat.”

Juli Kangas has illustrated several picture books including “Photographer Mole” by Dennis Haseley.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gentle Norwegian Story Helps Children Understand Death

Life and I: A Story about Death
Written by Elisabeth Helland Larsen and Illustrated by Marine Schneider
Translated by Rosie Hedger
Little Gestalten, Berlin, 2016
Ages 5 – 8

With clear green eyes and a flower in her hair, Death rides a pink bicycle and visits small animals with soft fur and big animals with sharp teeth.

In this Norwegian import, “Life and I: A Story about Death,” death is portrayed as a kind and gentle black-haired girl. The words are poetic and pretty. Colorful pastel drawings create a warm, soft mood for the story.

The story is reassuring for children who may have questions about death. But a parent should read the story first before deciding whether to share it with their child.

Sometimes disturbing ideas, such as many people dying in a fire, are broached. But they are discussed in a tender way, “Shoulder to shoulder we stand in a circle. I put up lights for all to see.”

Another page brings up the death of children: “From time to time I meet those with downy soft hair and little warm hands that I hold in my own.”

And another considers, “Many people ponder all their lives what will happen when I come. Will it be chaotic or quiet, with the loss of a heartbeat and one last breath?”

The story brings up several positive ideas about death. One is that death makes way for new living things to grow. Another is that life and death live together in every body.

Life is portrayed as a red-haired twin to the black-haired Death. The two girls sit quietly together huddling over a town, or resting against tree trunks.

Finally, the narrator Death tells the reader, “If you are afraid of me or of Life, I can whisper something to you ... Love!”

Love does not die, even when it meets Death, the narrator says.

About the Author and Illustrator:

A native of Norway, Elisabeth Helland Larsen studied theater in Paris at the Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq and children's literature in Oslo at the Norsk Barnebokinstitutt. She has worked as a clown for more than 20 years in hospitals and hospices, as well as refugee camps, circuses, and theaters.

Marine Schneider has drawn since she could hold a pencil. The young Belgian illustrator just received her degree from the LUCA School of Arts. “Life and I” is her children's book debut.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Amusing Story Encourages Kids Who Are Toilet Training

The Saddest Toilet in the World
Written by Sam Apple and Illustrated by Sam Ricks
Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s publishing Division, 2016
Ages: 3-7

Parents who are struggling with toilet training their youngsters may find help from “The Saddest Toilet in the World,” a cheeky picture book about a toilet who runs away from home because Danny won’t sit on him.

The story is set in New York City and the active, comic-strip like illustrations show the toilet finding a familiar-looking exhibit at a modern art museum, being photographed with a family in Times Square, playing chess with an elderly man in a park, and riding in a horse carriage at Central Park. 
The morning after the toilet takes off Danny decides he is ready to begin sitting on the toilet. He and his parents discover the toilet is missing and he and his mom go through the city looking for him. They look everywhere, but can’t find the toilet.

On the way home, Danny spots the toilet on the subway. He tells him he’s ready to sit on him. The toilet needs some assurances, but finally decides to come home.  True to his word, Danny sits on the toilet and the toilet is happy and so is Danny. The story ends as the family rides a roller coaster to celebrate.

“The Saddest Toilet in the World” is well written and the colorful, active illustrations perfectly complement the story. Recommended.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Sam Apple teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania and is the author of “American Parent” and “Schlepping Through the Alps.”  His work has appeared in “The New York Times Magazine,” “Financial Times Magazine,” and, among many other publications. A native Texan, Apple now lives in Philadelphia with his wife Jennifer and their three children, Isaac, Lila and Nina. 

Sam Ricks is the illustrator of several books for young readers including Simon & Schuster’s Data Set series. Sam earned his BA from Brigham Young University and his MA from the University of Baltimore. He is a founding member of Cotopaxi: Gear for Good. He lives with his wife and five children in Salt Lake City, Utah. Visit Sam at  


Monday, June 6, 2016

Biography of Early Female Sports Reporter Is Inspiring

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber
Written by Sue Macy and Illustrated by C.F. Payne
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
Ages: 5-8

“Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber” is a wonderful picture book biography: well written, engaging and inspiring in its subject. It is the story of Mary Garber, one of the first American female sports reporters.

Mary grew up in the 1920s and ‘30s, first in New Jersey and then in Winston-Salem, N.C. Even though she was a tiny girl, she always loved sports: playing football with the boys, going to football games with her dad and sister, and following boxing, baseball and football in the newspaper.

She graduated from Hollins College, a women’s school in Roanoke, Va., with a degree in philosophy. Then she struggled to find a job as a newspaper reporter, and finally took a post as a society reporter for the Twin City Sentinel, a paper in Winston-Salem. Reporting on the fashionable dresses rich people wore to social events didn’t interest her though.

Mary got her break during World War II when many young men joined the armed forces, leaving women to take over jobs on the home front.  After the Sentinel’s last sportswriter joined the navy in 1944, the editor assigned Mary to cover sports.
 She continued to write about sports for the Twin City Sentinel, and then its sister paper the Winston-Salem Journal after the Sentinel went out of business in 1985, until she was 86 in 2002, though she officially retired in 1986.

As one of the first woman sports reporters, Mary faced many obstacles, especially in the beginning. In the 1940s, women weren’t allowed to sit in the press box at college games. She had to sit with the coaches’ wives until her editor complained. As a woman, she also wasn’t allowed in the locker room.

When the male reporters interviewed players as they changed into their street clothes, she had to wait outside. It was hard for her to get quotes from the players because they were eager to get home after they left the locker room.

She wrote about Jackie Robinson, who played for the Dodgers as the first black player in major league baseball since the 1880s. Robinson became a role model for her. She felt inspired by how he maintained a quiet dignity despite taunts and jeers from people who couldn’t accept a black man in the major leagues.

Mary’s color blindness came out in her decision to begin covering games at Winston-Salem’s all black schools. At that time, many schools in the South were segregated, with white children attending all-white schools and black children attending all-black schools. When Mary began writing for the sports pages, the Sentinel rarely covered games at the black schools. Mary changed that.

Mary won many awards for her reporting and was voted into sportswriters’ halls of fame. But she said the greatest compliment she ever got happened when she was covering the Soap Box Derby in Winston-Salem. A friend of hers overheard a conversation between two eight- and ten-year-old African-American boys.  The older boy pointed to Mary and said, “Do you see that lady down there on the field?” The other boy nodded.

“That’s Miss Mary Garber. And she doesn’t care who you are, or where you’re from, or what you are. If you do something, she’s going to write about you.”

As strong as this book is editorially, it is equally powerful visually. The mixed media illustrations by C.F. Payne compliment the story perfectly.  They fill the pages with character and movement, and are well composed for dramatic effect.

With its clear writing, nice use of quotations, and inspiring story, coupled with outstanding artwork, this picture book biography is strongly recommended.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Sue Macy enjoys writing about sports for children. Her latest picture book, “Roller Derby Rivals,” was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year and was called “a slam bang offering” by Betsy Bird, who writes the blog, “A Fuse 8 Production,” for School Library Journal. Her previous picture book, “Basketball Belles,” was a Booklist Editors’ Choice for 2011. Before turning to full-time writing, Sue was an editor and editorial director at Scholastic. She lives in Englewood, N.J., and her website is

C.F. Payne is the illustrator of the #1 New York Times bestseller “Mousetronaut” by Mark Kelly and “Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, which earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He has received great acclaim for his work, including awards from the Society of Illustrators in New York and Los Angeles. C.F. is a professor of distinction in the illustration department at Columbus College of Art and Design. He lives with his family in Lebanon, Ohio, and his website is


Monday, April 11, 2016

“Brave Like Me” Helps Kids of Military Personnel

Brave Like Me
By Barbara Kerley
National Geographic Society; April 12, 2016
Ages: 4-8

When a mom or dad is serving in the military far from home, children have to be brave. Simple text told from the child’s point of view is matched with colorful photographs of real children and military personnel from all over the world. The child narrator tells about his struggles with sadness, anger and fear.

But he/she knows his parents have worked hard to learn how to stay safe. The child talks to his parent on the phone and on the computer, and sends letters, photos and drawings. He/she tries to do the best he can at school. The rest of the family makes dinner, reads books aloud and tucks him/her in at night. Neighbors and friends take him/her to the park, the movies and the pool. He/she stays busy with friends, pets and alone. So there will be “lots of things to talk about and a million hugs and kisses to share when they come.”

At the back of the book, the reader learns where every photo in the book was taken. There is more information about dealing with separation and a note to caregivers. Children are quoted telling what being brave means to them. More information is provided about the military services and what military personnel do around the world. Further resources are listed. Finally, a couple of military personnel are quoted telling some things they do to make it easier for their children.

About the Author:

Barbara Kerley is the author of six award-winning books for National Geographic. Her latest is “With a Friend by Your Side,” which Booklist declared is “sure to win hearts.” “The World is Waiting for You,” “A Cool Drink of Water,” and “One World, One Day,” received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly. “You and Me Together“ was named an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book and “A Little Peace” was called “stunningly beautiful” by the “Boston Globe.” Barbara is also the author of “What to Do About Alice?” “A Home for Emerson,” and “The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins,” a Caldecott Honor Book

When Barbara was a young girl, her best friend’s father was in the military, serving in combat far from home. When she grew up, Barbara taught English classes in a program for veterans who were preparing to go back to school. There she met many men and women who were disciplined, hardworking and very brave.      


Monday, March 21, 2016

National Geographic Publishes Kids’ Books for Easter

In time for Easter, the National Geographic Society is coming out with two educational books for youngsters: a paperback version of a children’s book about Easter traditions first published in 2007 and a board book about farm animals.

Holidays around the World: Celebrate Easter with Colored Eggs, Flowers, and Prayer
By Deborah Heiligman with the Rev. George Handzo
National Geographic Society, paperback edition, 2016
Ages: 6-9

The history and traditions of Easter are told in a first-person plural narrative with many colorful vibrant photographs. Children learn about the religious and secular celebration of the holiday throughout the world.

Photos show Sunday services letting out in Ghana; an Easter procession on Marinduque Island in the Philippines; Christians celebrating Palm Sunday in Jerusalem; and thousands gathering for Easter Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in Rome.

More photos depict revelers in New Orleans for a Mardi Gras parade; children at the White House Easter Egg Roll in Washington, D.C.; a dog with a pink hat and pink painted toe nails in the Easter Parade in New York City; and women decorating chocolate Easter eggs in a factory in Sydney, Australia. 
At the back of the book, children can learn more facts about Easter, how to hide messages in Easter eggs, two popular Easter hymns, and how to make Easter cookies. Several children’s books about Easter and educational Web sites are listed. A glossary tells definitions of a handful of words. A map shows all the areas in the world where photos were taken for the book. Finally, the book’s consultant, the Rev. George Handzo, gives parents and teachers more historical and cultural background about Easter.  
About the Author and Consultant:

Deborah Heiligman was a religious studies major in college. Today, she specializes in writing about complex subjects for young people, tackling everything from butterflies to the Titanic. Her award-winning books for National Geographic include “Honeybees;” “Babies: All You Need to Know;” and “High Hopes: A Photobiography of John F. Kennedy." Deborah lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Visit her at and tell her how you celebrate Easter.

The Reverend George Handzo is an associate vice president of the HealthCare Chaplaincy, a center for pastoral care, education, and research around the world. It is based in New York.

National Geographic Kids Look & Learn: Farm Animals
By Catherine D. Hughes
National Geographic Society, 2016
Ages: 2-5

Young children can learn more about some of their favorite farm animals and enjoy colorful photographs in this kid-size board book. The language is simple and age appropriate. In the last pages, the children are quizzed about what they have learned. They can point to the picture of the animal that answers each question.  

About the author:

Catherine D. Hughes is the executive editor of preschool content at National Geographic. She has written several other National Geographic books for youngsters.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Funny Book Pokes Fun at 'Normal'

Normal Norman
Written by Tara Lazar and Illustrated by S. Britt
Sterling Children’s Books, March 2016
Ages: 4+

An eager young scientist, narrating her first book, is tasked with defining the word “normal.” To do this, she describes the appearance, home and family of Norman, who is “exceedingly normal.”

Unfortunately, Norman, a purple orangutan, turns out to be anything but normal. He drives a dune buggy, feels sorry for bananas and oranges when they’re peeled, and sleeps with a stuffed animal named Mr. Scruffles.

Hilarity ensues as the little scientist becomes more and more frustrated with Norman for ruining her demonstration. Finally, she throws her clipboard up in despair and begins to cry. Norman comforts her and invites her to observe him and his friends in their natural habitat. A rhinoceros paints, a lion rides a scooter, a giraffe roller skates, and a crocodile and snake play marbles. Finally, the junior scientist decides normal is different for everyone. She quits her narration and decides to do her normal hobby, riding on the back of a rhino and playing an unusual, new-fangled horn. The head scientist writes on his clipboard, “Results: ‘Normal’ is impossible to define. Assignment complete!"

“Normal Norman” is a fun story with a good message for children. The colorful, vibrant illustrations ratchet up the humor and offer many details for readers to enjoy.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Tara Lazar lives in Basking Ridge, NJ, with her husband, two daughters, and 2,749 stuffed animals including a four-foot-tall Norman.  She’s the author of “The Monstore,” “I Thought This Was a Bear Book” (both Simon & Schuster), and “Little Red Gliding Hood” (Random House). She founded Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) on her award-winning blog at

S. Britt (a.k.a. Stephan Britt) first developed his zeal for drawing in childhood, when he drew on anything and everything that wasn’t dripping wet. He soon decided there was nothing that would make him happier than illustrating children’s books. His first picture book, “Over in the Hollow,” was a Chicago Public Library Best of the Best. He lives in Portland, OR. Visit him online at

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Beautiful Book Sings about Cuban Girl Drummer

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music
Written by Margarita Engle and Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Grade level: Preschool to 3

A Cuban girl dreams of “pounding tall conga drums, tapping small bongo drums and boom boom booming with long, loud sticks on big, round, silvery moon-bright timbales.” But at this time in Cuba, only boys can be drummers. This lyrical story is inspired by the story of  a Chinese-African-Cuban girl named Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who in 1932 at the age of 10, performed with her older sisters in Anacaona, Cuba’s first all-girl dance band. She went on to become a world-famous musician.

The story is told with beautiful, lyrical language in the style of a poem. Drum dream girl lives on the island of music in the city of drumbeats. She goes to outdoor cafes and hears drums played by men. She closes her eyes and hears her own imaginary music. As she walks around her tropical island home, she hears music in parrot wings, woodpecker beaks, and in her own footsteps and heartbeat. At carnivals, she listens to the rattling beat of dancers on stilts and the dragon clang of costumed drummers in masks. At home, she drums on tables and chairs.

Her sisters invite her to join their all-girl band. But their father says only boys should play drums. She keeps drumming and dreaming until her father finally agrees to let her take drum lessons. She practices and practices until the teacher agrees she’s ready to play her small bongo drums at a starlit café. Everyone who hears her “dream-bright music” sings and dances, and decide that girls should be allowed to play drums.

The full-page, colorful illustrations are as full of beauty and movement as the words. Lopez’s luminous acrylic paintings bring the girl’s brave story to vivid life.

This inspirational book will be enjoyed by adults as well as children. It has won many awards including the 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book and a 2016 Pura Belpre Medal for illustration, which goes to a Latino/Latina illustrator whose work celebrates the Latino cultural experience.

The book includes a historical note at the back, giving some information about the child Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who inspired the story. 

About the Author and Illustrator:

Margarita Engle is a Cuban-American poet and novelist whose work has been published in many countries. Her award-winning books include “Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal;” “The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist;” “The Wild Book;” and “The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom,” a Newberry Honor Book. She is a several-time winner of both the Americas Award and the Pura Belpre Medal. Margarita Engle lives in Northern California.

Rafael Lopez grew up in Mexico City, where he was immersed in the rich cultural heritage and color of street life. His vibrant picture books include “Tito Puente, Mambo King,” and “My Name is Celia,” both written by Monica Brown, and “Book Fiesta!” by Pat Mora. He has received the Pura Belpre and Americas awards multiple times. An acclaimed muralist, he has designed community-based mural projects nationwide. He divides his time between San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and San Diego, Calif.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Clever Book Is Fun for Kids

Do Not Open the Box!
Written and illustrated by Timothy Young
Schiffer Publishing, 2016
Grade level: Preschool to 1

A little boy spots a big cardboard box with a note taped to it: “Do Not Open.” The boy, who is the narrator, struggles with his conscience. He knows he isn’t supposed to open the box, but he is so curious. He thinks about all the things that might be inside the box. First he considers, a boring thing: Dad’s papers. Then he considers good things: cookies, a robot or puppies. Finally, he imagines bad things: snakes, a wolverine, a slimy monster. He even guesses this might be one of his sister Annie’s tricks. At last, he decides not to open the box and walks away. The surprise ending is when Annie pops out of the box saying, “Huh? I can’t believe Benny didn’t open the box.”

The title of the book is reminiscent of such titles as “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” by Mo Willems, “Warning: Do Not Open this Book!” written by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe, and “Don’t Push the Button!” by Bill Cotter. It shares some of the same appeal to children’s temptations to break rules. But this book doesn’t speak directly to the reader like these other books do. It has a more traditional format.

“Do Not Open the Box!” is a fun for youngsters. They’ll be able to identify with Benny’s dilemma. They’ll also be amused at the end of the story. Perhaps they also have siblings who like to play tricks on them.

About the Author and Illustrator:

Timothy Young has had a lot of jobs; he’s been an animator; puppet maker; toy designer; sculptor; art director; illustrator; and graphic designer.  He has designed for “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” “The Muppets,” “Disney,” “The Simpsons,” and Universal Studios. Now he is the author/illustrator of six picture books including “I Hate Picture Books!” and “The Angry Little Puffin.” He lives with his family on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Find out more about him and his books at

Monday, February 15, 2016

Youngsters Can Learn about George Washington Carver During Black History Month

George Washington Carver
Written by Kitson Jazynka
National Geographic Children’s Books, January 2016

“George Washington Carver” offers simply written text and colorful illustrations to appeal to beginning readers and younger children. The picture book is a Level 1 reader for children who are starting to read.

Carver was an African American man who was born into slavery but became a respected expert on agriculture. He helped farmers grow sustainable crops, and he found more than 300 uses for peanut plants. These include glue, medicine, gasoline and paper.

The book also tells youngsters that in Carver’s time life was hard for many black people in the United States. Among several words defined in the book is racism.

Carver became the first black student at Iowa State College. Later, he gave advice to U.S. presidents about farming and spoke to the U.S. Congress. The U.S. Navy named two ships in his honor. His face appeared on two postage stamps.

In addition to telling Carver’s story, the book uses pictures and words to teach children several ways life was different in the 1870s. These include using different modes of transportation, using barter instead of money, growing food instead of buying it in a store, learning in one-room schoolhouses, and playing outdoors or with handmade toys.

About the Author:

Kitson Jazyka is an award-winning freelance writer and children's author. Her work appears regularly in National Geographic Kids, American Girl, and Young Rider magazines, as well as the Washington Post's KidsPost. In 2011, she worked with the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation to write a book called The Making of the Memorial, a history of the creation of the memorial to Dr. King on the National Mall. Kitson also contributes to national equestrian and dog magazines including, Dog Fancy, Horse Illustrated, and Dressage Today. Her picture book, “Carrot in My Pocket,” was published in 2001.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Newberry Honors a Picture Book by Latino Writer

Last Stop on Market Street
Written by Matt De La Pena and Illustrated by Christian Robinson
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015

This year’s Newberry Medal, the highest honor in children’s literature, went to “Last Stop on Market Street,” a picture book. This was unusual because the award almost always goes to a novel. In addition, this is the first time a Latino author has won the award. The book is also a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. 

In “Last Stop on Market Street,” CJ and his nana, who are African American, ride a bus as they do every Sunday after church, but today CJ is not happy about it. He peppers Nana with questions: “How come we have to wait for the bus in all this wet?” “How come we don’t got a car?” Nana patiently answers his questions, pointing out things for CJ to appreciate around him. She is friendly to the other bus riders and makes CJ do the same.

When CJ is jealous of older boys with IPods, she points out the man across from them with a guitar. The man begins to play and CJ closes his eyes and enjoys the music. When they get off at the last stop on Market Street, CJ again complains about the dirty neighborhood. Nana tells him, “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” Just then, a perfect rainbow arcs over the soup kitchen, their destination.

This is a gentle twist ending, as the reader learns CJ and his grandmother are on their way to help others who have even less. CJ spots familiar faces at the soup kitchen and he says, “I’m glad we came.”

The book has good messages about volunteerism, appreciating what you have, finding beauty even in poverty, and the love between a grandmother and her grandson. It is written with lyrical prose. Nana says, “Trees get thirsty, too,” and “Don’t you see that big one drinking through a straw?”  The bus “sighed and sagged.” When CJ listens to the guitar playing, he “saw sunset colors swirling over crashing waves.” The illustrations are beautiful too, colorful, flat, blocky in style, and well composed.     
About the Author and Illustrator:

Matt De La Pena is the author of five critically acclaimed young adult novels: “Balls Don’t Lie,” “Mexican WhiteBoy,” “We Were Here,” “I Will Save You,” and “The Living.” He’s also the author of the award-winning picture book, “A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis (illustrated by Kadir Nelson). Matt teaches creative writing and visits schools and colleges throughout the country. Matt lives in Brooklyn, New York. His website is

Christian Robinson grew up riding the bus with his nana – just like CJ He would often daydream during commutes through the city and make up stories as he watched people go about their busy days. Today Christian is very happy telling stories with pictures as an illustrator living and working in San Francisco. His website is