Princess Lila is a princess who had everything in order to be happy, and yet she wasn’t. She lived in an enormous castle, had all of the material things a princess could hope for and servants to take care of her every need. But she wasn’t allowed outside of the walls of her castle and she had no friends. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be so happy in that situation either.
So begins the story Princess Lila Builds a Tower, by Anne Paradis (CrackBoom! Books, May 2017). Lila tries a variety of ways to get past her parent’s rule about not leaving the castle grounds and still seeing the world outside the walls, until she decides to build a tower with the help of one of her tutors. The tutor is thrilled as it will involve architecture, geometry and mathematics. 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 →
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 →
National Library week occurs every year towards the beginning of April. I may have missed the actual celebration this year, but in my mind, we should always be celebrating the librarian, so I’ve put together a few outstanding nonfiction picture books about librarians for this week’s nonfiction picture book challenge.
One of my all time favorites is Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. It is hard for children today to comprehend that we live in a world where girls are not expected to just stay home and take care of the children. It is also hard for children, and adults for that matter, to comprehend a time when children were not welcome in libraries. When librarians didn’t want kids to touch books for fear that they would hurt them (a la The Library Dragon). It was not until 1896 that the first library room designed for children was even created, and Miss Moore was given free rein to implement her ideas about how it should be run, including a pledge for kids wanting to take out books, story times, and the removal of “silence” signs. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books. This book is full of wonderful history about Miss Moore and about the public library system. 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 →
At the end of April, Jews across the world will take a special moment to pause and reflect about the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Passover, another Jewish holiday that started Monday night, is also a time where we often focus on commemorating and retelling the tragedy of the Holocaust and the amazing efforts that many Jews took to escape the Nazis and start a new life.
There are many truly amazing books for younger readers about the Holocaust. While a number of them are what you might consider middle grade fiction, and sometimes non-fiction, there are also some picture books that tell the story very well. It is a difficult topic to touch on, so all good books have to tread somewhat lightly and focus on the resilience and perseverance of a nation of people rather than on the tragedy itself. Here are a few of the books we have managed to read.
In Japanese culture, sushi is a way of life. In large cities in America, sushi is a wonderful delicacy best experienced in a good restaurant. But if you visit most sushi restaurants, you will notice something – the vast majority of the sushi chefs are male. This stems from the fact that not only were women expected to care for the children, but it was thought that their hands were warmer and could spoil the delicate fish. Hiromi’s Hands, by Lynne Barasch, is the true story of Hiromi Suzuki who became one of the first female sushi chefs in New York City. It is also a fascinating book about Japanese culture and the art of sushi making.
Hiromi’s father, Akira, grew up in rural Japan and had a fascination with the fish market. At an early age, he apprenticed to become a sushi chef. After many years, he was invited to move to New York to be the head chef at a sushi restaurant, and after three more years he opened his own restaurant in NYC.
Hiromi was born in 1978. She learned Japanese traditions but also wanted to act American. By the time she was eight, Hiromi was asking to go to the fish market with her father to be able to spend more time with him. She got her wish and also wound up gaining a vast amount of knowledge. By 13 she wanted to help at his restaurant and because this was American and not Japan, he let her. She worked hard and proved herself as an excellent itamae-san (chef in Japanese).
I have always appreciated the art of sushi even though I didn’t appreciate the taste until I was in my 20s. This book is a fascinating way to teach some of the mysteries of the sushi world and open kids’ eyes to a very interesting subject. This book is published by Lee & Low books, a great source of multicultural picture books. They did a great interview with author Lynne Barasch that you can read here.
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.
Yesterday was Benjamin Franklin’s birthday and my daughter’s kindergarten class has been focusing on inventors and inventions because of it. When we think of inventors, we often think of older white men with crazy hair. But there were a lot of amazing inventions created by children and young adults, male and female, black and white.
Since it was Ben Franklin who got me thinking about this, I did find three very different books about him and his work. For a true biography on the great Ben Franklin, David Adler’s A Picture Book about Benjamin Franklin is a great start! This book focuses less on his inventions and more on the man himself. Some of Franklin’s inventions are cleverly interspersed as he created them with the reasons why he invented them as well.
In Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, Gene Barretta highlights a large number of Franklin’s inventions. What makes this book extra interesting is how Barretta juxtaposes how we use these inventions in the current day to when Franklin was creating them. A great way to show the impact that Benjamin Franklin has had on all of us.
Alan Schroeder brings us an unusual look at Benjamin Franklin and his inventions in Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z. A very interesting way to learn more about this amazing inventor and founding father.
Emphasizing the power of perseverance, The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, alternates between the lives of two inventors, beginning with Thomas Edison, who was 16 years Henry Ford’s senior. Many of Edison’s major inventions are touched on, and young Ford is portrayed as curious as to the secret of Edison’s success. Ford continues to work on developing engines and designing cars and finally seizes the opportunity to meet Edison in person. The two go over Ford’s designs, and Edison urges the younger man to “keep at it!” With that, Ford discovers that “he’d known Thomas’s secret all along!”—a realization illustrated with a light bulb over Ford’s head.
Want a quick, fun rundown of a ton of inventors? That is what you get in So You Want to be an Inventor?, by Judith St. George. This colorful book reminds young minds that they “don’t have to have white hair and wrinkles to be an inventor” and then it gives them a slew of examples. The book features some of the world’s best-known inventors-Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney-as well as lesser-known geniuses like Georges de Mestral (inventor of Velcro), Wilhelm Roentgen (inventor of X rays), and Hedy Lamarr (inventor of a system that became the basis for satellite communication). One page highlights that not all inventors are men and focuses specifically on female inventors. Also highlighted is the fact that some inventors work alone while others work as teams and that one great invention can often lead to another. The bottom line is that your invention could change the work, you just have to take the risk.
Inventions often come out of a specific need. Such was the case for Louis Braille. When we think about famous people who are blind, the first name that usually pops into people’s heads is Helen Keller. But we also need to give credit to young Louis Braille, who invented the Braille alphabet, allowing visually impaired people to read. Six Dots, by Jen Bryant, excellently tells the story of how Braille lost his sight at 5, his constant desire to still be able to read, and his creation of the Braille alphabet. A fascinating read.
Most kids know the thrill of soaking someone with a water gun, or being soaked themselves, so reading about the guy who invented them is an enticing subject. But Whoosh! is more than just a story about how super soakers were invented. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton, tells of a young boy fascinated with how things worked and who loved to create. It tells of the successes and failures that all inventors deal with. It illustrates how unusual it was for an African-American team to win a major science fair at the University of Alabama in 1968. And then it shows how Lonnie Johnson came up with a great idea that got rejection after rejection until he finally had success. A true story of perseverance and innovation.
There are a ton of female inventors out there, but they don’t get the same kind of recognition that men do. In Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, Emily Arnold McCully tells the story of Margaret Knight, aka Mattie, who was a brilliant woman who lived from 1838-1914, during the height of the industrial revolution. Her father’s toolbox and her sketchbooks of ideas were her salvation during a very rough childhood of poverty. When she was a child, no one felt that a woman could have an inventive mind, but she always saw ways to improve things. She probably saved many lives by creating a safety device for looms and was the brains behind the flat-bottomed paper bag. When a man tried to steal her invention before she could get it patented, her methodical notebooks and determination proved to a judge that a woman could and did invent the new bags. This book is a wonderful story that children can relate to and it helps them comprehend the struggles that Mattie and every woman went through so many years ago.
In Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Walmark, girls can see the story of the woman credited with creating the first computer language, way before the actual invention of computers. While she didn’t code in the way that we thing of the terms now, she realized that a machine to solve complex equations created by a fellow inventor could not actually run without a detail set of instructions. By using his notebooks and her knowledge of mathematics, she left her mark on the history of computer science.
A final fascinating story is that of young Wiliam Kamkwamba told in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. This is the picture book version of the autobiography written by Kamkwamba. When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba’s tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season’s crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family’s life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William’s windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. This is a wonderful way to bring a current story to a younger audience.
While I have focused on nonfiction picture books about inventors, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding books by Andrea Beatty. Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect are three of our favorite books and such a wonderful way to show children that they should follow their dreams and believe in themselves. For more information on these books and a few other fiction titles, check out the post I wrote last year.
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 these books every Wednesdays. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.
This is the time of year of giving and of bestowing acts of love and kindness on those around us. I recently discovered The Bake Shop Ghost, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn. This delicious book reminds us that it is the little acts that can often mean the most.
Miss Cora Lee Merriweather ran the best bake shop around, but she seemed to have poured all of her sweetness into her cakes for she never smiled and instead seemed to have the pucker of one who had just eaten a sour lemon. When she died, she had no family to leave her bake shop to.
People tried to take over her shop, but her ghost remained and ran each of them out of town. Years pass and Annie Washington comes to take over the shop. After cleaning the place up and making it ready for business she gets down to the business of baking. Miss Cora Lee of course makes an appearance, but Annie is not afraid of a ghost.
The two battle it out all night long until Annie finally cries enough! She asks Cora Lee what she can do so that Cora will allow her to work in peace. Cora has one request, which sounds simple enough, but has a deeper meaning. “Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me.”
That seemed like an easy enough task for Annie and for the first time in years, the shop was full of warm buttery goodness. Annie bakes up dessert after dessert but none of them “bring tears” to Miss Cora’s eyes. After a month, Annie has run out of ideas and heads to the local library for inspiration. When she finds a section on Miss Cora Lee and the Merriweather Bake Shop, she realizes exactly what kind of cake she needs to make. When she shows it to Cora, her eyes are brimming before she even takes a bite. It was a birthday cake. Annie had learned that it was Cora’s 100th birthday. Not only that, since Miss Cora had been an orphan, there had never been anyone who celebrated her. It wasn’t the perfect cake Cora wanted, she wanted the love that often comes when people buy a cake for someone else.
Cora tells Annie that since she made the perfect cake that she would keep her end of the bargain and leave Annie in peace. But in the time that Annie had been making cakes for the ghost, the two had struck up quite a friendship and Annie had come to appreciate and respect the ghost’s judgement. Rather than wanting Cora to leave her alone in the kitchen, she wanted her to stay on as her partner.