The Imaginary Garden

The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher

When Poppa moves into an apartment, he leaves behind his big glorious garden.  But Theo comes up with the idea of them having an imaginary garden instead of a real one.  That way it will fit on his small balcony with ease.  Poppa purchases a large canvas for them to paint on and a pair of matching gardening hats too. The two build the imaginary garden in the same way gardeners really do.  They start with a wall, the blue sky and the rich earth.  From there, they follow the seasons with crocuses and scilla starting out in spring.  But Poppa must leave on holiday just when it is time to paint the newly blooming tulips and daffodils. Will Theo be able to handle the imaginary garden on her own?

This book works on so many levels.  The writing and art are clever and inviting.  Theo and Poppa’s relationship is genuine and winning with no saccharine contrivances.  The use of art to dream, immerse one’s self, and create connections is done with a skillful hand and never becomes didactic. 

Perfection for young art students, grandparents, and for a spring story time.   This one is appropriate for ages 3-5 and grandmas and grandpas too.

Every Human Has Rights

Every Human Has Rights by National Geographic.

In classic National Geographic style, this book is filled with incredible photographs of people from around the world.  Each photo tells a story, which brings the text of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to life.  Powerful and gripping, this book gives readers glimpses of the horrors around the world but also the strength and resilience of its peoples. Each line of the Declaration is accompanied by photographs with captions as well as a poem or statement by a young person that goes with that part of the Declaration.  Readers can modify it depending on their age.  Teens will enjoy the poems and statements while younger children may find them too intense.

Each line of the Declaration is simple and strong.  The accompanying photographs are fascinating and one lingers over them, looking into the eyes and faces and finding kinship there.  When I shared this book with my 7-year-old and 12-year-old we got to talk at length about tough issues like torture, the Holocaust and human rights in general.  Any book that offers me that opportunity is worth reading and sharing.

Appropriate for a wide range of ages depending on how it is used: 7-14.

Books are Key

Professor Maria Nikolajeva gave a lecture at Cambridge University about the importance of children’s books.  She is featured in two online articles that pull from that speech. 

One Press Association article focuses on books being important for child development. 

The creative employment of language in children’s books give the child the power of expression…  By challenging the arbitrary rules of language, especially written language, children learnt to be critically thinking individuals.

I’d take that one step further and say that books also lead to connections between diverse people and a level of understanding simply from seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.

A Telegraph article focuses on the professor’s appreciation of puns, nonsense and made-up words. 

A lot of people presume that writing children’s literature is relatively simple, but in fact it demands great sophistication.

She uses many books to make her case, including Winnie-the-Pooh and its Heffalumps, Harry Potter and the magical language, Dr. Seuss, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Vanishing Cultures


Vanishing Cultures series by Jan Reynolds

This is a series that will have children thinking, questioning and seeing beyond their personal lives.  Each book in the series focuses on a culture that is quickly disappearing.  The culture is seen through the eyes of one specific child who shows readers around their home, family and life in general.  Information is offered matter-of-factly and contains fascinating tidbits that underline the differences between cultures.  Nothing is overly dramatic, nothing pointed out as strange.  Just a real look at a culture with permission to stare, linger and think.


The photographs in the books are just as lovely as the covers above.  Done in a variety of layouts and sizes, the photos really help create a bridge to the reader.  The text is filled with unknown words, but that is part of the fun of reading them.  Children and adults alike will find the About the Journey section at the back interesting and can refer to the map in the back cover to get their bearings. 

Highly recommended, this series is eye-opening and lots of fun.  The text is just the right level for 7-9 year olds to read independently, but the series is also perfect for teachers to share in the classroom with even younger children.

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love by Lauren Tarshis

If you were as charmed by the first Emma-Jean Lazarus book as I was, then you want to make sure to pick up this second novel.  Remembering what went wrong when she tried to help Colleen before, Emma-Jean is amazed when Colleen comes to her and asks for help again.  Emma-Jean now has a little group of friends in her 7th-grade class but she is much more comfortable observing them from afar than being in their midst.  When shown the unsigned love note that Colleen found in her locker, Emma-Jean is immediately drawn into solving the mystery.  But Emma-Jean is distracted by this strange fluttery feeling whenever Will Keeler walks by.  What could be wrong with her?  And will she be able to concentrate long enough to figure out this puzzle?

I adore Emma-Jean.  She is quirky, wildly intelligent, and entirely herself.  Even better, she doesn’t really understand or care that others find her odd.  She does know that she isn’t like the other girls who smell of daisies and bubble gum.  But at the same time, she is not filled with a yearning to be anything but true to herself.  Very refreshing in a heroine this age! 

Tarshis’ writing is filled with sensory touches.  We know what things smell like, sound like, feel like.  This draws readers deeper into the story and offers surprising insight into characters and situations.  The writing is deft, interesting and never dull. 

An ideal novel for those who enjoyed the first, this book is strong enough to stand on its own.  Tweens ages 10-13 will enjoy both novels and both are ideal for classroom readalouds and ripe with things to discuss.

Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards

The 2009 Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards have been announced.  The awards are given each year to children’s books that “effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence.”

The winners are:

For Younger Children:

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola (an amazing picture book!)


For Older Children:

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle (loved this book!)


Younger Children Honor Books:

The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford


Older Children Honor Books:

The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter

Ain’t Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson

NPR Celebrates National Poetry Month

Take a listen to this fun NPR piece on the poetry of Karen Jo Shapiro.  She redoes classical poetry into poems that are friendly for the modern kid.  How Do I Love Thee becomes How Do I Love Ketchup! 


Yes, some purists will be offended by the irreverent tone and style of these poems.  But her use of the form and rhyming scheme make them charming and it is such fun to listen to her read them aloud.  I’ve always thought that poems are best aloud anyway. 

The Vast Fields of Ordinary

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Dade just graduated from high school and his entire life has reached a breaking point.  He has a horrible job at Food World, his parents should be divorced but are hanging on until he leaves for college, and his “boyfriend” Pablo is so far in the closet that he has a girlfriend and won’t acknowledge Dade in public.  Dade drifts through his summer in a haze of marijuana and booze, living in that strange world between high school and college.  On the way he finds both a first true friend, a real boyfriend, and his own voice. 

This book is about making connections and the amazing moments in life that come from making that first leap into fear.  Burd’s writing is a wonderful mix of straight-forward prose and then buttons on the ends of the chapters that rise to another level.  He writes emotional scenes without reveling in the drama but also without denying the emotions that young men feel. 

Dade is a great character who is confused, lost and entirely himself.  He is a person that straight and gay people will relate to easily.  Burd writes beautifully of first love and how tentative it is.  Readers will finally get to read a book where gay teen sexuality is embraced.  Beautifully written, the sexual passages read just like any straight sex scene in a teen novel.  Thank goodness!

Highly recommended, this book offers a gloriously normal but profound look at a gay teen.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Classic Books Chosen by Children’s Laureates

Those of us who enjoy classic children’s lit will cheer when we see the list put together by the 5 British Children’s Laureates.  Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen were asked to select seven great works of children’s literature.

Great reads are timeless as this list shows.  Just reading the list brings back flashes of memories.  Lovely.

Here is the list that happily contains two of my all-time favorite reads: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.  I have read both at least 20 times.

The ones I have read are bolded (not as many as I would like):

Chosen by Quentin Blake:

1. Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain by Edward Ardizzone (published 1936)
2. Queenie the Bantam by Bob Graham (1997)
3. The Box of Delights by John Masefield (1935)
4. Rose Blanche by Ian McEwan and Roberto Innocenti (1985)
5. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (1902)
6. Snow White by Josephine Poole (1991)
7. Stuart Little by E.B. White (1945)

Chosen by Anne Fine:

8. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (1963)
9. Absolute Zero by Helen Cresswell (1978)
10. Just William by Richmal Crompton (1922)
11. Journey to the River Sea by Iva Ibbotson (2001)
12. Lavender’s Blue by Kathleen Lines (1954)
13. A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (1885)
14. Sword in the Stone by T.H. White (1938)

Chosen by Michael Morpurgo:

15. Five Go to Smuggler’s Top by Enid Blyton (1945)
16. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton (1939)
17. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
18. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (1902)
19. A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear (1846)
20. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
21. The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde (1888)

Chosen by Jacqueline Wilson:

22. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)
23. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)
24. What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge (1872)
25. The Family From One End Street by Eve Garnett (1937)
26. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (1906)
27. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1936)
28. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (1934)

Chosen by Michael Rosen:

29. Clown by Quentin Blake (1995)
30. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (1947)
31. Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner (1928)
32. Not Now, Bernard by David McKee (1980)
33. Fairy Tales by Terry Jones (1981)
34. Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear by Andy Stanton (2008)
35. Daz 4 Zoe by Robert Swindells (1990)