Category: Elementary School

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris

I'm Just No Good at Rhyming by Chris Harris

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith (9780316266574)

We need more silliness in our lives and this book provides it. Page after page is worthy of giggles and guffaws. Share it out loud and it comes alive, turning small moments in classrooms and families into a shared frolic of fun. This is Harris’ first collection of poems and each one is a delight. He mixes outright funny with tenderness, elevating this collection into something very special.

Illustrations are provided by the incredible Lane Smith, offering jumping frogs, frowning crustaceans, still rocks, and much more. The illustrations serve to enhance the poetry, never taking front stage, but instead being stunning scenery.

Give this one to fans of Shel Silverstein, it is sure to impress and entertain. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

3 Art-Filled Books for Children

Art Up Close From Ancient to Modern by Claire dHarcourt

Art Up Close: From Ancient to Modern by Claire d’Harcourt (9781616894214)

This large format picture book invites readers into a Where’s Waldo type exploration of art. Exploring over twenty works of art, children can search for over 200 details, asking them to look more closely at art than they may have before. Along the way, they will discover new details too. The back of the book provides more information on each piece of art as well as a clever lift-the-flap way to give answers. This book is gorgeously done, the images are crisp and large and span a vast number of years and cultures. A great introduction to art through a vehicle that children will find irresistible. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Princeton Architectural Press.)

Fallingwater The Building of Frank Lloyd Wrights Masterpiece by Marc Harshman

Fallingwater: The Building of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece by Marc Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Leuyen Pham (9781596437180)

This picture book focuses on just one on Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings, Fallingwater. It looks at the process that Wright used to design the building, from viewing the site itself to thinking for a very long time about what he would design. It was at the very last moment that Wright actually put the design on paper so that the owner of the site could see his vision. That vision came to life in Fallingwater, where you can hear the waterfall from every room in the house, stand outside on the balconies, and the floor feels like rocks in a streambed. All of these details will help children better understand the architectural process and how it begins with a vision and idea. The illustrations have a lovely vintage sepia tone and feel with the blue water of the site flowing from page to page, swirling and enlivening the images. A lovely and focused look at a famous architect’s work, this picture book is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Vincent Can_t Sleep Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock

Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (9781101937105)

The duo that created The Noisy Paint Box, which won a Caldecott Honor, return with this look at the childhood and work of Van Gogh. The book focuses on the insomnia that plagued Van Gogh his entire life, even in his childhood when he would head outside in the middle of the night and go out into the heath to watch the stars. He spends much of his time at board school alone and working on his art. As a young man, he has problems working in his uncle’s gallery because of  his moods. The book shows him becoming a full-time artist and heading into the countrysides of Belgium and England. He is a man who understands darkness and night more profoundly than most. This picture book carefully captures the symptoms of Van Gogh’s mental illness, showing him struggling with mood and even hospitalized for a time. The book doesn’t dwell on this, but shows it as part of the complexity of the artist and his gifts. The illustrations are rich and layered, paying homage at times to Van Gogh’s work but at other times standing apart as a witness. Another strong artist biography from this pair that is worth the read and the space on your shelves. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (9780545927611)

This is a picture book biography of James Castle, an artist who lived in Idaho. But it is so much more than a biography, thanks to the work and talents of Say, who has recreated the story of Castle’s life and also his art. Castle was born premature and was deaf, mute, and autistic. He never learned to speak, write, read or use sign language though he was sent to school. Castle instead communicated via his art, created in lofts and sheds on his family’s property. Drawing on scraps of salvaged paper using matchsticks, he created the spaces he wanted to live in, filling his bare attic with furniture drawn on paper. He drew friends to be with him. At least twice, Castle’s work was left behind as the family moved. Later in life, after being denied art at the school’s insistence, Castle’s work was discovered and he was given space in a gallery. Still, he continued to live much the way he always had, creating art with spit, soot and scraps.

In Say’s Author’s Note, the wonder of this book becomes even more apparent. Say had been asked to draw a portrait of Castle to donate to a library. Upon discovering Castle though, Say was intrigued by the lack of details on the artist and the conflicting tales about him. Thanks to that interest, this book was created, telling the story of Castle’s quietly tragic life that resulted in amazing works of original art. Say writes with a compassion that makes this book shine, never languishing in moments of loss or opportunities that failed to come to fruition, instead it is a testament to the power of art to transform lives in large and small ways, to communicate despite a lack of words.

The art by Say is quite simply astonishing. Using the same materials that Castle used, Say has recreated some of his work, drawing the small lonely spaces that Castle worked in, showing his time at school. The art that depicts Castle’s life flows together with works meant to show Castle’s artwork, creating a scrapbook of sorts that leads the reader through the artist’s life.

Filled with grace and a deep understanding, this picture book biography is truly exceptional work from a master. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.

3 Picture Book Biographies about…Books!

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9781627792455)

A picture book biography of E.B. White, this book focuses on White’s love of animals and how that combined with his love of writing to become the stories he is known for. Featuring moments from his life, including a friendship with a mouse as a young child, White returns to his beloved Maine to continue to write and soon discovers a story of a pig who needs a hero to save him. Herkert uses a lovely spare poetic tone in this picture book, allowing White’s personal inspirations to shine from his animals to his sense of place. The illustrations by Castillo are wonderful, creating moments of time and beautiful spaces that show White on his journey to becoming one of the most beloved children’s authors. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Review copy provided by Henry Holt.)

Miguels Brave Knight by Margarita Engle

Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Raúl Colón (9781561458561)

This picture book biography of Miguel de Cervanes Saavedra shows his childhood in Spain. He grew up the son of a barber and surgeon. His father though had a gambling habit and was even jailed for his debts. Just as the family rebuilt after each loss, his father would once again gamble and send the family into debt and moving to a new town. Along the way, Miguel got to attend school sometimes and once he was older his writing gained some attention. Even as a child, he dreamed of fantastic stories to counter the disarray of his family. Engle writes with a natural poetry in this book, showing the brutality of life for Miguel but also the way in which his unique upbringing created his love of stories for escape. The art works to tie the entire book together, showing Miguel’s imagination and scenes from Don Quixote. A great introduction to a legendary Spanish author, this picture book is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 7-10. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Peachtree Publishers.)

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (9780763680466)

This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

 

 

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (9780316439954)

Morrigan has grown up apologizing for her existence because she is a cursed child. Her lifespan is shortened, and she knows she is doomed to die on the midnight before her eleventh birthday. But when that night arrives, Morrigan is rescued and taken away to Nevermoor. There she lives in a vast and magical hotel powered by Wunder with her rescuer, Jupiter North. Jupiter enters Morrigan into a series of trials to gain entrance into the Wundrous Society, but everyone who competes and gets accepted must have a knack. The only knack that Morrigan has is creating disasters with her curse, but Jupiter won’t tell her what her gift is. Soon the police are after Morrigan as a refugee and only passing the trials will keep her alive, if she can survive them.

Townsend has created a gorgeous new world with nods to Harry Potter but entirely its own magical place. Nevermoor is a delight to explore along with Morrigan from the hotel that customizes the rooms the more you stay in them to the holiday season come to life to jumping off of buildings with umbrellas. The details woven into the rollicking story create a world that is vibrant and interesting. Still, there are monsters and secrets and scares too, a delectable mix that keeps the pages turning.

Morrigan is a great heroine. A girl who was doomed to death and never appreciated is suddenly thrust into a world of her dreams. She refuses to change, wearing black when others are in bright colors, figuring things out on her own, and yet also forging strong friendships along the way. The secondary characters are also well drawn and complex, adding even more depth to the book.

Recommend this one to fans of fantasy and Harry Potter, it’s a magical read. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Little Brown.)

2 Magical Books for Young Readers

Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins

Brave Red, Smart Frog by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason (9780763665586)

A fresh retelling of classic fairy tales that ties them together into a single world, this book for elementary readers makes these stories accessible. Beautifully told, the stories all come together around a frozen woods and the magic of kisses, some of which break an enchantment and such of which create one. Around these central themes and settings, beloved stories spin. The stories include Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, The Frog Prince, and Hansel and Gretel. Other lesser known stories are also there, including one of my favorites Toads and Pearls. Jenkins invites readers into her stories and honors the classic tale, but also inserts a touch of humor, a feeling of convergence, and a dynamic storytelling style. Perfect for sharing classic stories with slightly older children, this book is fresh and exciting. Appropriate for ages 6-8. (ARC provided by Candlewick Press.)

Good Night, Planet by Liniers

Good Night, Planet by Liniers (9781943145201)

A little girl goes to sleep with her favorite stuffed animal, Planet, at her side. Once she is sleeping, Planet gets out of bed and starts his own adventures. They involve visiting with the dog, eating some cookies together, climbing a tree and seeing the full moon. Getting down from the tree is an adventure in itself and takes a bit of a run and a leap. They befriend a mouse along the way, share some more cookies together and then return to bed. Based on Liniers’ own daughter’s stuffed animal and their family dog, this book is gentle and lovely. It’s a great introduction to graphic novels for young children and a way to get new readers more confident. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Toon Books.)

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller (9781419727245)

This novel by an Australian author is enticingly Gothic and ghost-filled. Elizabeth and her father move back to his childhood home, Witheringe House. With them comes Zenobia, Elizabeth’s not-so-imaginary friend whom only she can see. Zenobia loves Witheringe House since she hates sunshine, enjoys dust, and wants to find a “Spirit Presence” in the home. The two girls spend time trying to detect the spirit and even hold seances with a Ouija board. But no one replies. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Zenobia begin to explore their new home from the weed-choked garden to the overgrown hedge maze and even the forbidden East Wing. It is there that Elizabeth feels a presence, but Zenobia won’t listen to her. What if there really is a ghost in Witheringe House?

Miller has crafted a Gothic ghost story just right for elementary school children who enjoy a good shiver. The use of Zenobia, who is downright ghost-like herself, is an interesting foil for Elizabeth and adds a creepy yet friendly dimension to the book. Elizabeth tends to be more timid and would likely not have explored the house without Zenobia’s prodding. Still, Elizabeth tends to stick with a mystery and follow through, while Zenobia is forever abandoning projects and moving on to the next idea. Elizabeth is brave though scared, while Zenobia just doesn’t feel fear.

The setting of Witheringe House is well drawn and eerie. The house itself becomes almost a character in the novel, the strange wallpaper, the suddenly-appearing housekeeper, the library filled with odd books. There is a melancholy that is echoed in Elizabeth’s loneliness and a strong sense of grief and loss that pervades the novel.

A delightfully creepy Gothic read for elementary students. Get this in the hands of those who enjoyed The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Amulet Books.