One of the best things that has come out of blogging is being a part of the blogging community of amazing children’s literature reviewers. Learning about new books and getting other takes on how to encourage a love of books in all children is why I do this. Since we don’t live in a city with tons of great book stores and large libraries, there are many times that the only way I know a book exists is through the pages of other people’s blogs.
As long-time readers will know, I try really hard to be a part of the nonfiction picture book challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy every week. This week, Alyson posted about three books she had recently read, but one stood out to me, partially because this week also happens to be Children’s Book Week. The book was Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books, by Michelle Markel. I happened to be at one of our local libraries that evening for a CBW event and did a happy dance when I found a copy there.
Balderdash! is a great biography about a man whose name is synonymous with children’s literature. The cover of the book even has such a wonderful illustration by Nancy Carpenter that the book screams out to be read. But even with Newbery being such an important name in children’s literature, I admit that I didn’t know much about him before reading this book. Continue reading →
The Story of Ann Cole Lowe is not one that I probably would have ever heard of if not for the new biography, Fancy Party Gowns, by Deborah Blumenthal. Her story, however, is important in the world of fashion, women, and African-American history.
Ann Cole Lowe learned how to sew from her mother and grandmother who were both dressmakers in Alabama. When Ann was 16, her mother had been working on a dress for the governor’s wife when she died. “Ann thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change.” So Ann finished the dress.
Ann continued to work hard and in 1917 was sent to a design school in New York, but she had to study alone, in a separate room, because of the color of her skin. This image alone in the book is exceptionally powerful to help get the notion across to children just how unfair laws and practices were when it came to segregation. This didn’t stop Ann, if anything, it might have made her stronger. Continue reading →
My younger daughter’s current favorite book is the Usborne Illustrated Stories of Princes and Princesses. We are big fans of the Illuustrated Stories series in general because of their gorgeous illustrations and ability to take well known stories and bring them to younger audiences at an age appropriate level (Shakespeare for an 8 year old!). What sets this particular book apart is the fact that it brings forth many lesser known fairy tales from a variety of cultures and it is a book focusing on princesses, but without that common thread of princess needs saving from prince.
E found this book in our catalog and started begging for it, so of course I bought it, since I’m a sucker for that desire. We were quickly surprised by the content of the stories. Many are well known tales like Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Sleeping Beauty, and the Frog Prince. But then there are stories that have never made their way into my fairy tale loving family – The Princess and the Glass Hill, Princess Nobody, and the Seven Ravens, for example. Each story is beautifully told with illustrations and an easy to read font. Continue reading →
Being a kid is hard. Every day a new challenge comes around that might stop you in your tracks. How you deal with it is key.
There are a lot of books out these days about believing in yourself. I’ve written a bunch about the idea of believing in yourself in the past, but it is a topic that resonates with me and with children. When you are learning to do something new, it is so easy to just give up when it is hard, but where would that get you?
Not giving up is the main focus of Ashley Spires’ new book, The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do (Kids Can Press, May 2017). In this story, Lou and her friends are brave adventurers who have big dreams and can do anything. Except that one day when they decide to play pirates, her friends suggest that the pirate ship be a tree and she has never climbed one before. Lou suggests other games, comes up with excuses why she can’t climb the tree, and finally admits to her friends that she just doesn’t know how. With a little help and encouragement, she decides that she will give it a try. What’s even better? Spires doesn’t actually show Lou getting up the tree. She gives it a go, still doesn’t make it, but she will be back another day to attempt it again. We loved Spires’ earlier book The Most Magnificent Thing, and this is a great addition to books about perseverance and determination. Continue reading →
Many cultures have notions of who can do certain jobs. There is a long-standing history of women being expected to be housewives and caretakers. We have seen, however, that many men excel in that role and there have been times when women excel in historically male dominated professions.
In Alma Fullerton’s new book, Hand over Hand, we are told a simple story of a young girl who wants to fish with her grandfather, but who is repeatedly told that a fishing boat is no place for a girl. Continue reading →
For a long time, a lot of this blog has focused on my older daughter’s insatiable reading habits and my own adoration of all things children’s literature. But I have a younger reader who is finding her own way in the world of books right now and plowing through series like no tomorrow! It is great to be getting back into some of the younger chapter books to see how much they have changed in just a few years and how a different child approaches them.
When hanging out in a book store recently, we discovered the series Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliot. When E’s class was doing their latest Scholastic group order, I purchased a set of the first four books from the series in hopes that E would enjoy them. The books arrived Friday and by Saturday she had read through all 4. Continue reading →
There is a strong movement to encourage young girls to pursue careers in science and technology. While we are pushing our next generation of great thinkers, some picture book authors are putting together absolutely brilliant biographies of women who were ahead of their time and who made great advances in their individual fields. One of the books in this category is The Shark Lady – The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Álvarez Miguéns. (June 2017, Sourebooks).
From a very young age, Eugenie Clark was fascinated with sharks. She longed to swim with them and see the world through their eyes. She also wanted to show people that they were beautiful. Eugenie read book after book on sharks and filled many notebooks. Continue reading →
Fractured fairy tales are so much fun. They take an old story that you know quite well and change the characters, setting, points of view, or plot. Sometimes a story needs a little bit of modernizing and sometimes you are just getting a completely different spin on the story. One of the newest in this genre is Twelve Terribly Active Princesses Who Were Not Exactly Dancing, by Michael Ann Dobbs.
This story is a retake of the classic Twelve Dancing Princesses. In the classic Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale, Twelve princesses, each more beautiful than the last, sleep in twelve beds in the same room. Every night, their doors are securely locked. But in the morning, their dancing shoes are found to be worn through as if they had been dancing all night. The king, perplexed, promises his kingdom and each daughter to any man who can discover the princesses’ midnight secret within three days and three nights, but those who fail within the set time limit will be put to death. An old soldier heeds the king’s call and discovers that the princesses are secretly going into another realm where they dance the night away with twelve princes. He shares his findings with the king, is given the hand of one in marriage, and all of the princesses are put under a curse for as many nights as they had danced with the princes.
In his new book, Michael Ann Dobbs imagines the twelve princesses going to a magical world to play baseball instead of dancing with princes. In this story, the king gets frustrated when his 12 daughters fall asleep all over the castle – at breakfast, at their lessons, even while practicing their musical instruments. He also is annoyed that every morning their beautiful satin slippers are covered in mud and worn to shreds and that their bloomers have tears in the knees. But when one falls asleep in her soup at a state dinner he has had enough. He starts by trying to move them to less lush living quarters, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference. He decides to take more drastic measures.
At the same time a soldier, who wasn’t very good at soldiering, is looking for work. He hears of the decree from the king and, with help from an old lady he meets, decides to try to solve the mystery. He discovers that the princesses are going through a magic mirror to play baseball, a sport he has never seen before and doesn’t understand. After a brief explanation of the game and a few delicious hot dogs, he sits back and enjoys the show. When the princesses win their game, he also sees the sheer happiness on their faces.
The soldier wants to tell the king what he has discovered, but he also doesn’t want to take baseball away from the princesses – a very interesting twist on the original. He figures out a way to make everyone happy and avoids having his head cut off for not solving the mystery. He also chooses not to marry one of the princesses, allowing them to be saved from a rather ridiculous concept.
The story was a fun read and my 6 year old really enjoyed it. As the reader, there were some parts that I found incredibly repetitive, such as listing all twelve princesses names over and over as well as some of the parts when the king keeps moving the princesses from room to room thinking it will get them to sleep more. I really liked the fact that the princesses weren’t sneaking out to dance with princes, but rather had found a sport that they loved to play as a team. It was also nice to have the soldier work hard to find the princesses, and himself, a happy ending. He realized how much pleasure the girls got out of playing baseball and he knew that it shouldn’t be taken away from them. An additional fun twist was the little old lady who helped the soldier turned out to be the girls’ grandmother and quite the little manipulator herself.
The book reads like an extra long picture book which makes it especially nice for the older child who still likes to listen to stories, but wants more plot. For the middle grader reader who is looking for an interesting take on this classic tale, I would recommend The Princess Curse, by Merrie Haskell.
*Note – I received a digital copy from netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
“There is a unique kind of magic that comes from hearing a story told. With only the power of a voice, an entire world can be created. Suddenly, the audience becomes the hero, the villain, or the magic djinn commanding the desert sand storm.”
So says Evan Turk in the author’s note to his book The Storyteller. Apparently, it is also an old Moroccan saying that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns.” I thought that sharing this book on Read Across America day was especially important.
There is power in telling a story, especially to an audience. While we now have easy access to books, television, movies and so on, we have historically learned from tales passed down orally from generation to generation. Stories teach us the ways of our cultures and feed our souls. Evan Turk shows that feeling in a literal way through this vivid tale.
Long ago, the kingdom of Morocco was formed on the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of water to quench the thirst of the desert and storytellers to bring the people together. But just like everywhere else, modernity came and people soon forgot their storytellers and the land soon became parched.
As a young boy walks home, searching for water, he is given a brass cups from a water seller in the hopes that he might just be lucky enough to find something. What he finds is an old storyteller who calls out to him, assuring him that his thirst will be quenched if he listens to a story. The storyteller spins a tale of the terrible drought and how one family always had enough water to share. The young boy is enthralled, and by the time the old man has finished speaking, the boy’s cup is miraculously filled with cool water.
Through the power of a magical brass cup and the voice of a storyteller, a young boy once again learned the history of his people and slowly brought water back for his own parched thirst. What he didn’t realize was that not only was he physically thirsty for water, he was spiritually thirsty as well.
At the same time that the storyteller is weaving the story for the young boy, a sandstorm is forming. Just as the boy is quenching his thirst with the power of the story, the sandstorm comes to destroy the city in the form of a djinn. He has the power to destroy the city because the fountains have run dry and the fountains have run dry because the people have stopped listening to the storytellers. The boy, realizing the power that the story holds, tricks the djinn into listening to a story before destroying the land. It takes him multiple days to tell the story, but through the power of his tale and the fact that he is telling it in front of an ever expanding audience, the boy refills the city’s fountains and quenches the physical and metaphysical thirsts making the djinn powerless.
As the author notes, “Morocco, like countries all over the world, including the United States, is at a crossroads where the future threatens to eclipse what is beautiful about the past.” Evan Turk gave us a beautiful reminder to keep the past alive through the power of a good story.
The Storyteller was a beautiful book with haunting illustrations. You can also get a sense of it from the following trailer. May we continue to shine a light on the power of the story.
It is hard for children to comprehend the notion of slavery as it once was in this country. However, slavery, and the horrors that went along with it, is something that we need to retell so that it never happens again. It is also an important part in understanding how divided this country has always been in terms of race. When looking for books on strong female figures in our history, I came across two really wonderful books about Harriet Tubman that not only tell her story, but tell the story of slavery for future generations to understand.
In An Apple for Harriet Tubman, author Glenette Tilley Turner does a marvelous job telling the story of young Harriet Tubman and how she became a conductor for the Underground Railroad. Through beautiful illustrations by Susan Keeter and words that are meant for a child to understand Tuner tells the story of what it was like to be a slave, to endlessly work but never taste the fruits of your labor, to constantly fear being whipped, to fear that you will be sold and separated from those you love. These are things that children can understand and relate to.
Harriet Tubman had promised herself that one day she would be free. Through the kindness of strangers along the Underground Railroad, she finally got a taste of freedom. But rather than stay safely in the North, she risked her life repeatedly to save others. Additionally Harriet Tubman loved apples, but as a slave was never able to eat them. In her freedom, she planted apple trees and every fall she invited the town around her to pick their fill. Those apples “were a symbol of freedom for everyone to share.”
Through lyrical text and conversations with God, this book shows Harriet Tubman as a Moses figure for slaves. She leaves her family behind to avoid being sold and to finally gain her freedom. All she takes with her is her faith in God. She is guided North and into the helpful hands of workers on the Underground Railroad. She is led to church where she finds that it is a stopping place for the Underground Railroad and where she learns how to be a conductor herself.
This version is more complex for a young child to understand, but is still a beautiful way to look at such a remarkable woman. Older children can also get a wealth of information from a very well written and researched author’s note.
I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post a nonfiction picture book, or at least nonfiction, every Wednesday. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.