Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka (9781484750223)
When Mrs.Giordano has to stay home sick, a substitute comes to run the classroom. Unfortunately though, all of her changes are really disruptive for the very young students in the class. So one of the students writes a series of poems to Miss Pelly, the substitute. Miss Pelly doesn’t know how to pronounce their names, doesn’t collect the homework that is due. The class doesn’t visit the library on their scheduled day, the turtle tank isn’t cleaned, and turns at being line leader are disrupted. Miss Pelly even laughs too often, but she does share a great book of poems with the class and it might just be alright if Mrs. Giordano takes another day off to get well.
The authors capture the confusion at having routines disrupted by a substitute teacher. Through the vehicle of short poems, this picture book is approachable and gives voice to a child’s frustration at things being changed and grappling with being flexible and understanding. The illustrations have a childlike whimsy to them, with noble turtles, red-glasses wearing crocodiles, and a substitute who looks kind even when the child is unsure.
A winner for classrooms preparing for substitutes or other big changes. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.)
This weekend my blog turned 15 years old! It’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing this for that long. It started when my son was a toddler and now he’s about to enter his senior year of high school. My daughter was just entering school, now she’s starting her final year of college.
The landscape for children’s literature has changed as well. The focus on diverse voices telling their own story is the most gratifying to see happening. I’m hoping that my focus on sharing my favorites of these books is a small help in getting them seen and available in libraries. Our libraries need to reflect our communities, show them diverse voices from around the world, and celebrate our differences as we build a strong community for children.
Thank you for joining me on this journey through children’s books and literature. I appreciate my readers, the publishers who share their books with me, and all of the authors and creators who do the hard work of dreaming and writing for us all.
The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law (9781580897464)
The whole family gathers for the Mid-Autumn Festival to give thanks for the harvest. They will look at the moon and then each person makes a wish for the upcoming year. As the mooncakes are served, Ah-ma tells the story of Chang’e, the Spirit and Lady in the Moon. It was in a time when there were ten suns in the sky, baking the earth. The suns would not listen and stop shining so hard, so a young archer, Hou Yi, shot down nine of the moons. The last one he asked to share the sky with the moon. Hou Yi was given a magic potion for his courage by the Immortals. When a thief came to steal the potion, Hou Yi’s wife, Chang’e, drank it rather than have it fall into the wrong hands. The potion turned her into the Spirit and Lady in the Moon. Hou Yi discovered what had happened and would sit in the garden and look up at the moon, providing mooncakes on the anniversary of the day she transformed. After the story, the girls are ready to light their paper lanterns and make their wishes, inspired by the heroism of Hou Yi and Chang’e.
Matula merges a modern tale of a Chinese family with the legend that inspired this festival. The two stories are clearly separate, which works really well for a young audience. Her writing is clear, describing the mooncakes in a mouthwatering way and the inspiring actions of the legendary characters in a way that allows the melancholy yet beautiful tale to shine. The illustrations also make a clear distinction between the stories. The modern family is shown on white backgrounds that are clean and crisp. The legend is shown with primarily deep jeweled colors as the background, inviting readers into the richness of the tale.
A wonderful and warm introduction to Chinese festivals, this picture book offers a look at how festivals carry on in modern society while also telling the story behind it all. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.
Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (9781481476843)
The childhood of Venus and Serena is told in this picture book biography. As the youngest of the Williams children, they started playing tennis alongside their older sisters. Then they became the two who continued on. Growing up in Compton made their practices more challenging, including sometimes having to stay down when guns were fired in the neighborhood. The two remained dedicated to their sport, quickly climbing the ranks and becoming ranked players. Trained from a young age to ignore the taunts from the crowd, the two of them became two of the best players of all time, both in doubles and singles. There has been drama when the two sisters had to play one another in tournaments and still they showed a joy in one another’s accomplishments even when they were the loser.
A look at two girls who shared their father’s dreams for them, putting in the hard work, showing resilience and silencing critics. The book focuses on Venus and Serena themselves and also on the way that they have supported one another through wins and losses, staying close and being true sisters. The illustrations are exceptional works of collage that have strong colors and graphic elements that pop on the page. Small touches add interesting details, like the girls’ socks being made from paper with words and lines.
Beautiful, strong and inspiring, this look at two modern legends is a pleasure. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
First Laugh – Welcome, Baby! By Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (9781580897945)
In Navajo tradition, the person who gets a baby to laugh first gets to host the First Laugh Ceremony. So an extended family spends time with their baby attempting to get him to laugh out loud. In a variety of settings from a city home to where he is too hungry to laugh and then too busy eating to giggle. He spends time on the Navajo Nation with his grandparents, time on horseback. Music is played, water splashed, tummies tickled and still no laugh. Until his grandfather lifts him high, his grandmother whispers a prayer. So the ceremony is held on the Navajo Nation and filled with family and more laughter.
There is such love on each page of this book, filled with people spending time with a baby. There are quiet times of weaving and before getting up. There are active times of play. It all comes together into a rich family experience that leads directly to a Navajo tradition. The end of the book offers more information on the settings of the book, the ceremony and ceremonies from other cultures for babies. The illustrations focus on the family as well, depicting the different settings of the book warmly. Just as with the text, there is love on each page.
A warm look at the Navajo First Laugh Ceremony and a great depiction of a modern Native American family. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399252525)
Released August 28, 2018.
In her first middle-grade novel since her award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson speaks to the greatest challenges of our society through the viewpoints of six children. When their teacher creates a special time every Friday for six of her students to spend time together with no expectations and no adults, a safe space is created. It’s a space where Esteban can share that his father has been picked up and taken for deportation. It’s a space where Amari can talk about racial profiling with his best friend who happens to be white. Haley records their conversations, capturing them all so that they can remember this time. But she too has a secret to share, if she is brave enough to tell the truth.
Woodson writes with such ease, digging deeply into the emotional state of these young people as they share their stories with one another. She shows the United States through their eyes. It’s a place of opportunity worth risking your life and family to come to, but it’s also a place of immense danger. People are deported, families separated, and others are shot. Woodson captures all of this through the eyes of Haley, a girl who lives with her own secret. Through Haley, the story of children visiting parents in prison and eventually reunited with them is told in all of its mixed emotions.
Each of the children in the story is so very different that they can never be confused with one another. Woodson gives each a distinct voice and set of opinions, shares their stories. They are presented as full human beings with histories, families and struggles uniquely their own. Woodson also offers here a voice for children who are not great at school for one reason or another.
A book that celebrates diversity and asks deep questions about our modern society, this is a novel that so many children will see themselves reflected in and others will learn something from. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
A boy heads to stay with his grandfather and is clearly not excited to be there. The two of them eat different foods, the grandfather has ramen and the boy has a hotdog and fries. When they try to talk together, they don’t even speak the same language as one another. When they try to watch TV, the language barrier reappears and the grandson walks away. He gets out his sketchpad and markers and starts to draw. Quickly, his grandfather joins him with his own pad of paper, brushes and ink. Soon the two of them are drawing together, communicating and seeing one another for the first time. It’s not all perfect, sometimes the distance reappears but it can be bridged with art that combines both of them into one amazing adventure.
The story here is mostly told in images with many of the pages having no text at all. The text that is there though moves the story ahead, explains what is happening at a deep level and fills in the blanks for readers. Santat’s illustrations are phenomenal. He manages to clearly show the child’s art and the grandfather’s art as distinct and unique while then moving to create a cohesive whole between them that is more than the sum of the two. This is pure storytelling in art form and is exceptionally done.
Look for this one to be on award lists! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (9781250137524)
Katherine loved counting and math as a young girl. She was a brilliant student who skipped three grades. However, there was no high school in her town that accepted black students. So her father worked day and night to afford to move them to a town where Katherine could attend high school. She became an elementary school teacher, because there were no jobs for research mathematicians who were women. Katherine did not give up her dream, eventually becoming a mathematician working for NASA. She worked on the Mercury missions and the Apollo missions, doing the math that allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to return safely.
Filled with the determination and resilience it took for Johnson to become a NASA mathematician, this picture book shows the barriers that were and are in place for scientists and mathematicians who are women and people of color. Make sure to check out the note at the end that provides even more information on this incredible mathematician. The art in the book is incredibly appealing with mathematics adding complexity to the simple style.
A picture book biography that soars to great heights. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (9780316278201)
Sophie loved math from the time she was a small girl. Her parents had to take away her candles and her warm dresses to keep her in bed at night and not at work at her desk. But nothing stopped her, not even the French Revolution when she was growing up. There were no opportunities for Sophie to study in a university, so she did her homework by mail using a male name. Her work was extraordinary, but when her identity was discovered no mathematicians would return her letters, though she became very popular at dinner parties due to her reputation. In her thirties, Sophie discovered a mathematical problem that would become her focus for many years. A challenge was set to figure out the mathematics behind vibrations and the patterns they made. Years later, Sophie was the only one to submit a solution which she then worked to perfect for additional years. This time though, she worked under her own name.
Bardoe has written a lovely biography of a fascinating woman who demonstrated that women are just as good at mathematics as men are. Her math has a blend of science and math with its focus on vibrations, making it all the more complex. The book shows again and again the resilience and determination that it took for Sophie to succeed. The writing is accessible and celebratory in tone. McClintock’s illustrations incorporate collage in a subtle but profound way. She also uses numbers and formulas in the art itself, creating scenes from a scaffold of digits and action from vibration patterns.
A great picture book biography about an inspiring woman. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.