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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