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    More Graphic Novels

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Dec 11, 2017

    Graphic novels are visual ways of telling stories using dialogue, thoughts, and narration combined with artwork in sequential panels. Graphic novels belong in literacy-centered classrooms along with other trade books to teach essential skills and to foster reading for both learning and pleasure. The books reviewed this week are representative of the ever-increasing diversity of graphic novels and are engaging and enriching for readers of all ages.

    Ages 4–8

    Andrew the Seeker (Game for Adventure #1). Lee Nordling. Ill. Scott Roberts. 2017. Graphic Universe/Lerner.

    Andrew the SeekerAfter spying a cute-not-scary purple monster outside his window, Andrew (with a safari helmet and butterfly net) goes on a pursuit. He is so intent on tracking the monster that he fails to see it hiding in plain sight. Frustrated, Andrew abandons the hunt, but after spying the monster the next morning, he’s back on. With an adventurous plot that is easy to follow in the colorful and humorous cartoon panels, this wordless book is a strong introduction to the graphic novel for young children.
    —CA

    Crafty Cat and the Crafty Camp Crisis (Crafty Cat #2). Charise Mericle Harper. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Crafty CatSecond grader Birdie is excited about attending the one-day-only Monster Craft Camp on Saturday, but her expectations are dampened as bossy classmate Anya disrupts each of the camp activities. Birdie’s alter ego, Crafty Cat, comes to the rescue and helps her craft her way through the challenges of the day. This second graphic novel in the series with its simple panels of digital sketches in muted colors includes a set of easy-to-follow directions for the five crafts introduced in the story. Crafty kids can look forward to the release of Crafty Cat and the Great Butterfly in spring 2018.
    —NB

    A Tale of Two Kitties (Dog Man #3). Dav Pilkey. 2017. Graphix/Scholastic.

    Dog ManIn a foreword, fifth graders George and Harold relate how reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities inspired them to create A Tale of Two Kitties, and provide a “supa recap” of the origin of Dog Man. In this adventure, Dog Man (with the body of a police officer and a head of dog) defends the city against evil doers: Petey, a mad scientist cat, and the diabolical Flippy the Psychokinetic Fish, who organizes an army of Beastly Buildings to gobble up everything in sight. Silly humor abounds in the dialogue and childlike artwork, and the book ends with illustration lessons and a “Read to Your Dog, Man!” section.
    —CA

    Toby Goes Bananas. Franck Girard. Ill. Serge Block. 2017. Graphix/Scholastic.

    TOBY Goes BananasToby Goes Bananas is essentially a book of jokes tied together by a narrative of a day in the life of young Toby, who always has a snappy comeback ready as he interacts with his parents and younger sister, Zaza, at home and with friends, teachers, and the principal at school. The jokes are silly and eyeroll-inducing—just the kind that young kids love. His teacher, Mrs. Smith, is the perfect foil, setting Toby up for a zinger. For example, his response to her question “Toby, how many planets are in the universe?” is “ALL OF THEM!” Kids will go “bananas” over this graphic/fiction hybrid.
    —CA

    Ages 9–11

    Fish Girl. Donna Jo Napoli. Ill. David Wiesner. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Fish GirlFish Girl, the main attraction in a boardwalk aquarium, believes the stories that King Neptune tells her. After she makes friends with a human girl, Livia, who names her Mira (for Miracle), she realizes that King Neptune is not the god of the seas but, rather, an immoral fisherman who has kept her captive since she was a baby. After Mira discovers her magical ability to transform between mermaid and human, a storm brews that may free her to live the life she deserves. Napoli’s spare text in boxes and Wiesner’s detailed full-color visual images make this an engaging, easy-to-follow graphic fantasy.
    —NB 

    The Sand Warrior (5 Worlds #1). Mark Siegel & Alexis Siegel. Ill. Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller & Boya Sun. 2017. Random House.

    5 WorldsOona Lee (clumsy young sand dancer), Jax Amboy (star athlete), and An Tzu (ingenious poor boy) band together to save their galaxy after the attack at the Starball Game on Beacon Day. Oona believes that her missing sister Jessa, a sand dancer extraordinaire, is the chosen one who, according to the Sand Warrior Prophecy, can save the Five Worlds from dying with her extraordinary summoning sand dancing to light the dark beacons. But as Oona, Jax, and An are hunted by Mimic and his minions, the trio gets a glimpse into their own unexpected destinies.
    Readers magically transported into the Five Worlds in this epic science fiction quest will be eager for the sequel.
    —NB

    Swing It, Sunny! (Sunny #2).Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2017. Graphix/Scholastic.

    Swing It SunnyAfter spending the summer with Gramps in Florida in Sunny Side Up (2015), Sunny Lewin is back home and things are not terrific. She faces the challenges of first year in middle school and the absence of her big brother, Dale, who has been sent to a military boarding school. The short chapters (episodes in The Sunny Show, starring Sunny herself, “a regular girl in a regular world”) include some particularly effective wordless panels that express Sunny’s emotional turmoil as she deals with her problems. Jennifer and Matthew Holms have created a lovable and realistic character in Sunny. Humor lightens things up as Sunny and her best friend, Deb, do what kids did in the 1970s, and her upbeat sunny side continues to shine.
    —CA

    Ages 12–14

    Eagle Strike: The Graphic Novel (Alex Rider). Anthony Horowitz. Adapt. Antony Johnston. Ill. Yuzuru Takasaki & Kanako Damerum. 2017. Candlewick.

    Eagle StrikeSuperspy agent, fourteen-year-old Alex Rider (otherwise known as M16) is on vacation with Sabine Pleasure and her family when their villa is bombed, and her father ends up in a coma. M16 refuses to help him, so Alex is on his own as he searches for the hit man and, in the process, connects a pop star and designer of a video game to a heinous international scheme from which only he can save the world. The story is told through characters’ thoughts and dialogue in digitally colored, manga-influenced panels. This graphic novel adaptation with brilliant action sequences is based on book four of the original Alex Rider series.
    —NB

    Gods and Thunder: A Graphic Novel of Old Norse Myths. Carl Bowen, Michael Dahl & Louise Simonson. Ill. Eduardo Garcia, Tod Smith & Rex Lokus. 2017. Capstone.

    Gods and ThunderThis introduction to Norse mythology in graphic novel format includes four tales of the Norse gods, the Aesirs. In “Thor and Loki,” Thor (the son of Odin) and Loki (a sly, shape-shifting giant who has been raised with Odin’s children) journey into Jütunheim, the land of the giants. In “Thor vs. the Giants,” the thunder god outwits three giants in epic battles. “The Death of Baldur” tells the story of the tragic death of the beloved god of light, the son of Odin and his wife, Frigg. “Twilight of the Gods” chronicles the events of Ragnarök, the final battle that brings an end to the Nine Worlds. A glossary (with a pronunciation guide) is helpful in keeping track of the characters, places, and events in these ancient tales.
    —CA

    The Stone Heart (Nameless City #2). Faith Erin Hicks. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    The Stone HeartHicks’ manga-inspired, watercolor illustrations draw the reader into this imaginative political thriller set in The Nameless City in 13th-century China. Three months after The Nameless City, ends, Kaidu (staying with his father, a general at the Dao Palace) and Rat (an orphan living in the Stone Heart Monastery, which harbors secrets that can destroy or save society) are thrown into danger when the General of All Blades is assassinated by his son, Erzi. After Erzi takes command of the city, he steals the secret book Napatha (containing the lost formula for a powerful weapon) from the monastery, which he burns down. Kaidu and Rat hatch a dangerous plan to defeat this political takeover with consequences that may be deadly. Back matter includes an author’s note and a section on the concept art for The Nameless City series.
    —NB

    Ages 15+

    Shattered Warrior. Sharon Shinn. Ill. Molly Knox Ostertag. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Shattered WarriorWhen the Derichets, an evil alien race, invaded the planet for its mineral rights, they killed all of Colleen Cavanaugh’s family—or so she thinks. While working in an oppressive factory controlled by the Derichets, Colleen learns that her niece, Lucy, survived. Reunited, along with Jann (a Chromatti rebel with whom Colleen has fallen in love), they must decide if they will choose enslaved security or fight against the Derichets in the underground Valenchi rebellion to reclaim their world. Created with a muted palette and environmental detail, the action-filled illustrations expand the narrative, thoughts, and conversations in this complex dystopian, sci-fi graphic novel.
    —NB

    Thornhill. Pam Smy, 2017. Roaring Brook.

    Thornhill2In 2017, Ella, who has moved with her father into a house next to derelict Thornhill Institute, a long-abandoned orphanage, spies a figure wandering Thornhill’s overgrown grounds. In 1852, Mary Baines, a selectively mute orphan beleaguered by bullying, spends her time in her isolated room creating dolls and puppets. Mary’s and Ella’s stories intertwine in alternating sections of text consisting of entries in Mary’s diary and wordless black-and-white graphic sequences of Ella’s exploration of Thornhill that lead to the discovery of Mary’s diary and her repairing of the damaged dolls she finds. Tension builds through both words and images as this engrossing, beautifully-crafted graphic novel/horror story comes to a chilling and disturbing end. 
    —CA

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

     These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily. 

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    Graphic Novels

    Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Dec 04, 2017

    National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang’s Reading Without Walls Challenge encourages readers to go outside their comfort zone and “explore the world through books.” For us, that meant reading books in a format we don’t normally read—graphic novels. As we have been reading graphic novels throughout the fall, we continue to be delighted by the amazing diversity of books in graphic novel format for readers of all ages.

    Ages 4–8

    Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel. L. M. Montgomery. Adapt. Mariah Marsden. Ill. Brenna Thummler. 2017. Andrews McMeel.

    Anne of Green GablesMarsden and Thummler give L. M. Montgomery’s classic story of the imaginative and feisty redheaded orphan Anne Shirley, who charms her way into the lives and hearts of brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Green Gables farm, a fresh reimagining in graphic novel format. The cast of characters and episodes from the original novel, as well as the charm of its Avonlea setting, are preserved in this abridgment.
    —CA

    Betty’s Burgled Bakery: An Alliteration Adventure. Travis Nichols. 2017. Chronicle.

    Betty's Burgled BakeryThe Gumshoe Zoo Detectives are on the job solving panda Betty’s mystery: “A bread bandit burgled my bakery before breakfast!” The adventure unfolds in brightly colored comic panels as different animal sleuths uncover details about the “heinous heist” in clever alliterative narrative that runs through the alphabet, ending with a surprise identification of the culprit. “We zipped this zany zigzagging zinger with zeal!” Back matter includes information about alliteration and a bonus “Hungry Animals” section on the eating habits of five different animals.
    —NB

    Good Night, Planet. Liniers. 2017. Toon/Raw Junior.

    Good Night, PlanetThe nighttime adventure of a young girl’s beloved stuffed toy, a fawn named Planet, unfolds in comic/picture book format. Many of the panels are wordless, but Liniers’ gift for storytelling through his imaginative and engaging artwork, rendered in ink and watercolor, makes this an easy-to-read comic. After the girl falls asleep, Planet heads downstairs, shares cookies stolen from the kitchen with Elliot, the family’s dog, and at the urging of a mouse ventures outdoors and attempts to reach for the moon—“The BIGGEST cookie ever!” Planet, Elliot, and their new mouse-pal, Bradley, return to the kitchen to eat some little cookies before calling it a night. A Spanish edition, Buenas Noches, Planeta, is available.
    —CA

    The Great Art Caper. (Pets on the Loose! #2). Victoria Jamieson. 2017. Henry Holt.

    The Great Art CaperDevious Harriet, the fourth grade’s pet mouse, and her minions plan to ruin the Juried Art Show and frame second grade’s pet hamster, George Washington (GW), for the disaster. It is up to the Furry Friends (GW, guinea pig Sunflower, and bunny Barry) to save the night for GW’s best friend, Carina, who has entered a drawing of her father, the school custodian, in the contest. Vibrant pen-and-ink, digitally colored illustrations capture the hilarity of the action, which ends with an unexpected and satisfying twist.
    —NB

    Ages 9–11

    Dinosaur Empire!: Journey Through the Mesozoic Era  (Earth Before Us #1). Abby Howard. 2017. Amulet/Abrams.

    Dinosaur EmpireWhen fifth-grader Ronnie needs to retake a failed quiz on dinosaurs, she seeks studying help from her neighbor, Miss Lernin, a retired paleontologist, who gives her an immersive learning experience. Readers take a journey through the Time Tunnel in Miss Lernin’s recycling bin, visiting the Mesozoic Era, where they learn about continent formation, climate changes, and the evolution of flora and fauna during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods. Returning home, Miss Lernin tells Ronnie that the portal in the recycling bin will be available for another adventure when she needs to “unravel the mysteries of the past,” a promise of more informative graphic fantasy adventures to come in the Earth Before Us series. The next day, Ronnie gets 100% on the quiz and begins sharing her knowledge of the Mesozoic Era with classmates. Back matter includes a “Cool Animals from Other Times” section, an animal family tree, and a glossary.
    —CA

    Evil Emperor Penguin (Evil Emperor Penguin #1). Laura Ellen Anderson. 2017. David Fickling/Scholastic.

    Evil Emperor PenguinFrom his underground headquarters in Antarctica, Evil Emperor Penguin (EEP) is busy at work in his Invention Room of Evil Proportions. Abetted by his sidekick Number 8, a purple octopus, and his top minion Eugene, a super cute and cuddly abominable snowman clone, EEP plans to take over the world. In sixteen ridiculously funny episodes, deployment of evil inventions (the Evil Emperor-Bot of Icy Doom, the Fearsomitron, and the Spider-Bot 4000) goes awry and EEP must deal with his  arch nemesis, Evil Cat. The bumbling team of evil will return in Evil Emperor Penguin Strikes Back! (2018).
    —CA

    Mighty Jack the Goblin King (Mighty Jack #2). Ben Hatke. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Mighty JackIn this graphic novel sequel to Mighty Jack (2016), a reimagined version of Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and his friend Lilly follow his autistic sister Maddy, who has been kidnapped by an ogre. They travel through a portal to another realm, only to realize that they can’t rescue her if they can’t find her. In nonstop action, represented well in lively comic panels with expressive dialogue, Jack and Lilly, with help from a goblin king, fight to save themselves and Maddy, bringing the fantasy adventure to an exciting ending.
    —NB

    Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True History of Earth. Don Brown & Dr. Mike Perfit. Ill. Don Brown. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Older Than DirtThis “kinda-sorta biography of earth,” told in graphic novel format, begins with the Big Bang and follows the earth’s history through its geologic transformations up to, and including, current concerns about climate change. Readers experience the content of almost 14.5 billion years of history through colorful information-packed cartoon panels with dialogue between a groundhog and an inquisitive worm, mini-bios of scientists, diagrams, and maps. The back matter of this nonfiction graphic novel includes source notes, an extensive bibliography, and a thought-provoking “Is Climate Change a Real Thing?” section.
    —NB

    Ages 12–14

    Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield (Science Comics). Falynn Koch. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    Science ComicsIn this latest addition to the Science Comics series, Elena, a scientist, takes readers into a futuristic Chamber, where researchers communicate with anthropomorphized pathogens and observe their interactions with the human body’s immune system. The focus is on two plague germs: Yellow, a yellow fever virus, and Bubonic (Bu), a bubonic plague bacterium. As Elena tries to convince Yellow and Bu to participate in research designed to use them in developing vaccines to fight other disease-causing germs, the book covers information about germs and the immune system, which combats them. Back matter includes an extensive glossary of terms, diagrams (bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi), a time line of the history of learning about and fighting pandemic plague germs, and a bibliography.
    —CA

    The Road to Epoli (Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo #1). Ben Costa & James Parks. Ill.  Ben Costa. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    Rickety StitchAmnesiac Rickety Stitch is on a quest to discover his past, one musical line at a time, with his best friend—the mostly-silent Gelatinous Goo—by his side. They encounter new friends and enemies as they travel along the road to Epoli, searching for Stitch’s life story. Bold, expressive artwork in vivid jewel tones accompanied by clever repartee and unfolding song lyrics, along with dream sequences in black-and-white, create a creepy and humorous graphic fantasy, which will be continued in The Middle-Route Run (2018). Back matter includes lyrics to “The Road to Epoli” and “Excerpts from The Extraordinarily Exhaustive Encyclopedia of Eem.”
    —NB

    The Space Race of 1869
    (Castle in the Stars #1). Alex Alice. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook. 

    Castle in the StarsThis historical steampunk graphic novel opens in 1869 France with young Seraphim mourning the death of his mother, Claire, who disappeared in her air balloon searching for the aether barrier the year before. When Seraphim and his father, a genius engineer, receive a mysterious letter promising them Claire’s lost logbook if they help King Ludwig of Bavaria with a special task, they hustle off to his castle. Seraphim and two new friends privately form “The Knights of Aether” to defend the king and his secret aethership against spies and political intrigue, throwing them into a cliffhanger for the next volume in the series. Alice creates a memorable visual story through his exquisitely detailed manga-inspired watercolor panels, maps, and diagrams.
    —NB

    Ages 15+

    I Am Alfonso Jones. Tony Medina. Ill. Stacey Robinson & John Jennings. 2017. Tu/Lee & Low.

    I Am Alfonso JonesAlfonso Jones, a 15-year-old African American student, is looking forward to performing in his school’s hip-hop rendition of Hamlet.  But as he is buying his first suit, Alfonso is killed by an off-duty cop, who mistakes the clothes hanger he is holding for a gun. As Alfonso takes a never-ending trip on a train with other ghosts of victims of police violence, readers experience the disturbing, painful reality of class and race discrimination in this timely graphic novel with a focus on police brutality and the origins of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Extensive back matter provides a context for the book and will aid discussion.
    —CA

    Spinning. Tillie Walden. 2017. First Second/Roaring Brook.

    SpinningTillie Walden tells her coming-of-age story in this graphic memoir that is structured around her life as a competitive figure and synchronized skater for twelve years. Divided into sections by definitions of technical skating techniques, the storyline, presented in full- and multiple-paneled pages with pen-and-ink illustrations with spare narration, follows Tillie’s life as a skater, her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, interactions with bullies, and her eventual coming out to her family, as well as school and skating friends.
    —NB

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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    Stories in Verse

    Jennifer W. Shettel and Lesley Colabucci
     | Nov 28, 2017

    From picture books to novels, stories in verse are popular with all age groups. Whether readers come to these stories for the content or for the poetry, they will find a focus on language and sensory images. This week’s collection of books includes rhyming and free verse stories, novels in verse, and a poetic biography.

    Ages 4–8

    Grump Groan Growl. bell hooks. Ill. by Chris Raschka. 2017. Disney-Hyperion.

    Grump Groan GrowlHand-printed in India ink, the words of a spare rhyming text—“GRUMP / GROAN / GROWL / BAD MOOD / on the prowl”—explore what it feels like to be in a monstrously bad mood and how to work through it. Raschka uses the same bold ink technique and a colorful watercolor-washed background to create expressive images of the out-of-sorts curly-headed child and the fierce monster his bad mood creates to evoke a sense of anger, which lightens as the child calms down and controls the monster.
    —JS

    Nothing Rhymes with Orange. Adam Rex. 2017. Chronicle.

    Nothing Rhymes with OrangeThis hilarious book will delight readers with its rhymes and puns. Any child who enjoys hearing or writing original rhymes will laugh out loud at the playful text in which various fruits are paired with words that rhyme with their name. Examples include grapes/capes, kiwi/peewee, and cantaloupe/antelope. Rex’s marker-drawn faces on the fruit and use of messy lettering add to the fun of this story that ends with a satisfying twist.
    —LC

    Watersong. Tim McCanna. 2017. Simon and Schuster.

    WatersongDramatic double-page watercolor and digitally finished illustrations of a rainstorm in a forest habitat draw readers into this picture book, which begins with a “Drip / drop / plip / plop.” McCanna uses onomatopoeia to capture the changing sounds of the storm as a fox (visible in the illustrations but unmentioned in the text) makes its way through the forest. The text is set in the same font throughout the book, but size, color, and position of words vary on the page. For example, “spitter / spatter / splat” at the beginning of the storm is in smaller lettering than “POP! / Crash! / Whish! / Wash! / Wham!” at the height of the storm. In addition, the fox is positioned differently on each page to show how the storm affects the ecosystem as it moves through the forest back to its family. An appended “Listen to the Watersong” page features information and specific terms to guide children in thinking about the science behind the sounds explored in the story. 
    —LC

    Ages 9–11

    Before She Was Harriet. Lesa Cline-Ransome. Ill. James E.  Ransome. 2017. Holiday House.

    Before She Was HarrietThe story begins and ends with Harriet Tubman as an old woman. Each page walks readers through the life of this iconic American hero. “Before she was an old woman,” she was a suffragist; General Tubman, ferrying escaping slaves across a river; a Union spy; a nurse; Aunt Harriet, helping her parents fleeing to Canada; Moses, a conductor on the Underground Railroad; and Minty, a slave in Maryland. And before that, she was Araminta, “a young girl / taught by her father / to read / the woods / and the stars at night / readying / for the day / she’d leave behind / slavery / along with her name / and pick a new one / Harriet.” Astute readers will notice the similarities between the portrait style images on the first and last pages of James Ransome’s double-spread watercolor illustrations, which exquisitely convey Tubman’s character through detailed facial expressions and shifting perspectives. The free-verse text, written in the form of a cumulative tale, is engaging and describes the time period beautifully. Readers unfamiliar with Harriet Tubman will likely leave the book eager to learn more about her role in American history.
    —LC

    Tony. Ed Galing. Ill. Erin. E. Stead. 2017.  Neal Porter/Roaring Brook.

    TonyCaldecott Award-winning illustrator Erin Stead turns the short story poem “Tony” by Ed Galing (1917–2013) into a beautiful picture book that will appeal to young readers and horse lovers of all ages. The unseen narrator of the poetic verse rises at 3:00 am each morning to greet Tony, the strong, white work horse “with a ton of love” who pulls the milk wagon through town for young Tom, the milk deliverer.  Soft pencil line drawings and muted shades of green and yellow create a sense of the breaking dawn as Tony begins his daily work in this warm and gentle story in verse.
    —JS

    Ages 12–14

    Stay. Katherine Lawrence. 2017. Coteau.

    StayThis brief novel in verse captures a time of emotional intensity in the life of eleven-year-old Millie. Her parents are on the brink of divorce and she regularly visits the grave of her twin, who died at birth, seeking his advice in her struggles. Would a puppy make things better for her? Will her father move out? Does her mother really have a boyfriend? Readers will worry along with Millie and connect to aspects of her everyday life as well as her moments of crisis. In particular, they will relate to her reflections on her school friends and her relationship with her sister, Tara. For instance, when she and Tara find themselves spending weekends with their dad, Millie notes, “We’re not best friends, my sister and me, / But at Dad’s we share a bedroom, whisper.”
    —LC

    Stone Mirrors: The Sculpture and Silence of Edmonia Lewis. Jeannine Atkins. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Stone MirrorsEdmonia Lewis (1844-1907), the daughter of an African-American father and an Ojibwe mother, became a respected sculptor in the 1800s, a time when female artists of color were not encouraged to create art. This fictionalized biography in free verse delves into different phases of the artist’s life. The book begins with Lewis’s exit from Oberlin College (where she is falsely accused of poisoning two school friends and suffers an assault by a group of men), moves to her time in Boston, and then to Rome where she studies as a sculptor, and ends with her eventual rise to fame.  Back matter incudes a list of sources and an author’s note.
    —JS

    Ages 15+

    Long Way Down. Jason Reynolds. 2017. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Long Way DownWhen his brother Shawn is shot and killed, fifteen-year-old Will sets out to follow the rules of the neighborhood: No Crying. No Snitching. Seek Revenge. He retrieves Shawn’s gun from its not-so-secret hiding spot and heads to the elevator to descend seven floors to the street. However, time slows down inside the elevator, and as it stops on every floor, a different ghost from the past who has been a part of the cycle of urban violence (including a childhood friend, his Uncle Mark, his father, and finally Shawn) joins Will and asks some hard questions about his plan. When the elevator reaches the ground floor, Will’s has made his decision. Or has he? The startling and disturbing imagery conveyed in Reynold’s free verse poems creates a beautifully-crafted novel to read and discuss.
    —JS

    Solo. Kwame Alexander (with Mary Rand Hess). 2017. Blink/HarperCollins.

    SoloSeventeen-year-old Blade loves playing his guitar, and he loves his girlfriend, Chapel.  But Blade’s larger-than-life, rock star father is an addict, his sister is a mess, and Blade finds himself marked as “guilty by association.” After finding out he’s adopted, Blade decides to take a solo journey to track down his birth mother in Africa. When Blade’s father shows up in the African village where Blade is staying, he can’t believe it and is sure that his father is going to ruin things for him once again. Told in verse novel-format and with Blade’s intermingled song lyrics, this story about family and finding oneself will resonate with teen readers.
    —JS

    Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of PA where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for pre-service and practicing teachers.  Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.

    Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor of early, middle, and exceptional education at Millersville University. She teaches classes in children’s literature at the graduate and undergraduate level. Her research interests include multicultural children’s literature and response to literature. 

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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    Picture Book Biographies

    By Sandip Wilson and Carolyn Angus.
     | Nov 20, 2017

    November is Picture Book Month, and it’s the perfect time to celebrate that books in picture book format are for everyone. The picture book biographies reviewed this week introduce readers of all ages to creative individuals who have made contributions in the visual, literary, and performing arts. These books make great read-alouds for students at different grade levels to spark interest and discussion in a topic and to pair with related books and works in other media.

    Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton. Sherri Duskey Rinker. Ill. John Rocco. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Big MachinesBig Machines is both a biography of children’s book author and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton (1909–1968) and an introduction to the stories she created for her sons about “the things they loved best: BIG MACHINES.”. Rinker and Rocco’s telling of Burton’s creation of the adventures of Choo Choo (train), Mary Anne (steam shovel), Katy (snow plow), and Maybelle (cable car) is the perfect companion to Burton’s books about these big machines and The Little House 75th anniversary Edition.

    —CA

    A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White. Barbara Herkert. Ill. Lauren Castillo. 2017. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.

    The Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider“E. B. White / celebrated life through / a mouse’s journey, / the pact between a pig and a spider, / and the power of words.” Herkert’s poetic text, complemented by Castillo’s warm ink-and-watercolor illustrations, expresses beloved author E. B. White’s love of animals and words. After a career writing for various newspapers and The New Yorker, White made a farm in Maine his home. It was there that he wrote his first two children’s book featured in the biography, Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte’s Web (1952). An author’s note about the life of Elwyn Brooks White (1899–1985) includes a mention of White’s revision of William Strunk Jr.’s book on writing well, The Elements of Style, in 1957 andhis third children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1968).

    —CA

    Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico México. Duncan Tonatiuh. 2017. Abrams.

    Danza!Enthralled with the dancing she saw on the streets of Mexico City as a child, Amalia Hernández (19172000) convinced her parents to support her study of ballet and modern dance. As a choreographer and dance teacher, Hernández created dances inspired by the traditional folk dances of Mexico. Tonatiuh’s signature Mixtec-inspired illustrations depict graceful, energetic, and colorful folklórico performances, representing traditions of celebration and community. The dance company Hernández founded in 1952 grew and was celebrated in her homeland and globally. The back matter includes a glossary of Spanish terms, bibliography, and an author’s note.

    —SW

    Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos. Monica Brown. Ill. John Parra. 2017. NorthSouth.

    Frida Kahlo and ;her Animalitos Brown and Parra’s colorful child-friendly biography of Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) focuses on the relationship between the famous Mexican artist and her animalitos (monkeys, parrot, dogs, turkeys, cat, and many others), which were her companions in her childhood home, La Casa Azul, and throughout her life. Although she was always in poor health due to illnesses and a serious accident, she created hundreds of folk art paintings influenced by Mexican culture, including more than fifty self-portraits, many of which include her animalitos. The author’s note contains a selected list of Kahlo’s paintings that feature her pets.

    —CA

    Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat. Judy Sierra. Ill. Kevin Hawkes. 2017. Random House.

    Imagine That!In 1954, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was asked to write a book that would help children enjoy reading as they learned to read. Thinking the task would not take long, he soon discovered he had to rethink everything he knew about writing a story. Sierra’s engaging text and Hawkes’s illustrations, which combine Dr. Seuss’s whimsical drawings and paintings of the famed author at work, show Geisel’s processes of creating a first-grade reader that incorporated a “No-Nonsense List” of simple words. Lines such as “I will draw two nice kids to have fun with the cat, / And two naughty Things, and a keen cleaner-upper” reflect his clever language. The back matter includes tips on writing and illustrating from Dr. Seuss, notes from the author and the illustrator, and a list of books by written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss.

    —SW

    John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien. Caroline McAlister. Ill. Eliza Wheeler. 2017. Roaring Brook.

    John Ronald's DragonsLiving in the English midlands, the young John Ronald loved trees, words, and—above all—fairy-tale dragons. When his mother died, he and his brother went to live with their distant, cold aunt, he longed for dragons, but his life as a student at school, and later at university, came first. After World War I, as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, he had the idea for The Hobbit and told his four children stories of Bilbo Baggins. Wheeler’s fanciful illustrations depicting moments in Tolkien’s life show how he created Smaug, the dragon who first appeared in The Hobbit. The back matter includes McAlister’s extensive note about her writing process and Wheeler’s illustrator’s note, which explains references in the illustrations.

    —SW

    Mama Africa!: How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song. Kathryn Erskine. Ill. Charly Palmer. 2017. Farrar Straus Giroux.

    Mama Africa!Miriam Makeba (19322008) grew up feeling free in her singing, but not free in her homeland of South Africa, where she and all nonwhite people lived in increasingly oppressive conditions of apartheid.  Encouraged by singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, she sang songs of protest in other African languages to disguise the lyrics. Bright paintings depict her powerful voice, while somber hues depict the oppressive conditions of nonwhite people living in danger of being imprisoned in South Africa. Having left the country in 1959, Makeba was forbidden to return and began a thirty-year campaign to draw global attention to apartheid. The back matter includes an author’s note about her life in South Africa, a timeline of Makeba’s life along with events of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, a bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and a glossary.

    —SW

    Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters. Michael Mahin. Ill. Evan Turk. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Muddy“But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told” is a refrain that runs throughout the blues-infused lyrical text of this picture book biography of McKinley Morganfield (1913–1983), who became Muddy Waters, the blues legend who left his childhood home in Mississippi and went north to Chicago. Even though his style of music didn’t fit in with “the bebop jazzing swing of horns and strings” popular in the clubs, Muddy, “never good at doing what he was told,” continued to play his own kind of music. Persistence paid off, and Muddy’s blend of traditional Mississippi Delta blues and jazz became the basis for the Chicago blues. Turk’s energetic, boldly colored mixed-media artwork gives Muddy’s story visual expression. Back matter includes an author’s note, bibliography, and a suggested list of collections of the “best of Muddy Waters” for listening. 

    —CA

    The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano. Elizabeth Rusch. Ill. Marjorie Priceman. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    The Music of LifeThe Music of Life tells two stories, one about Cristofori, an Italian builder of harpsichords, and one of his invention, the pianoforte: a musical instrument that combined the loudness of the harpsichord and the soft sound of the clavichord. Prince Ferdinand de Medici of Florence, a musician and patron of the arts, retained Cristofori to repair and build harpsichords and clavichords. Rusch’s integration of primary and secondary sources in the text gives a sense of the culture in which Cristofori worked, and the integration of the language of music—pianissimo (softest) and crescendo (becoming louder)—in Priceman’s lively gouache-and-ink illustrations convey the meaning of each double spread of this beautifully-crafted picture book. The extensive back matter includes an author’s note detailing Rusch’s writing process and notes on the history of the pianoforte and the modern piano.

    SW

    Silent Days, Silent Dreams. Allen Say. 2017. Scholastic.

    Silent Days, Silent DreamsSilent Days, Silent Dreams is a tribute to James Castle (18991977), American artist, born into a poor Idaho farm family, who was deaf and never learned to speak. In his silent and solitary lifetime, Castle created thousands of pieces of art. Say’s extensive author’s note details how he was introduced to the work of Castle, learned more about his life, and came to create this book in which he emulated the artist’s style in many of the illustrations, using the same kind of materials that Castle did— burnt matchsticks, soot mixed with spit, shoe polish, and laundry bluing—to make drawings on used grocery bags and scraps of paper. The result is what Say describes as “an imagined biography of a most original and enigmatic artist, whose fame continues to grow.”

    —CA

    Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky. Barb Rosenstock. Ill. Mary GrandPré. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

    Vincent Can't SleepA lyrical text accompanied by stunning illustrations, rendered in acrylic, pen, and watercolor, chronicle the life of Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890), “A sensitive boy. / A hidden genius. / A brilliant artist.” Throughout his life, insomnia led to his wanderings and contemplation of the nature of the nighttime sky. One year before his death, Van Gogh created “The Starry Night,” which captures the colors, textures, and rhythm of the darkness of night that he perceived. Back matter includes an author’s note and photographs of his famous paintings.

    —CA

    Sandip LeeAnne Wilson serves as professor in the School of Education and the English Department of Husson University, Bangor, Maine. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
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    More Poetry, Please

    By Lesley Colabucci and Mary Napoli
     | Nov 13, 2017

    There’s no need to wait until National Poetry month in April to share poetry with young people. Make poetry a part of classroom and library activities throughout the year. The recently published books reviewed this week include collections of poems and verse novels that invite readers to celebrate nature, reflect on their experiences, and learn from history. 

    Ages 4–8

    Cricket in the Thicket: Poems About Bugs. Carol Murray. Ill. Melissa Sweet. 2017. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.

    Cricket in the ThicketOver 25 interesting insects and arachnids are captured in this lighthearted and enchanting poetry collection. With internal rhyme, wordplay, and clever end rhyme and meter, Carol Murray’s creative poetry about bugs will captivate young readers. Each poem highlights information about the insect’s characteristics or behavior. For example, in the jumping spider poem, readers glean information about its behavior: “He spins and winds / a silky thread, / and lets it all unravel.” On every page, readers will find a text box with nuggets of interesting facts and insights about each insect. The playful and creative poems are accompanied by Melissa Sweet’s eye-catching, humorous, and collage-inspired mixed media illustrations. The back matter includes further information about all of the creatures featured.  This whimsical poetry collection will surely be a favorite to read aloud and perhaps even inspire a budding entomologist.

    —MN

    My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Dads. Hope Anita Smith. 2017. Christy Ottiaviano/Henry Holt. 

    My Daddy Rules the WorldThrough fifteen heartwarming poems told from a child's perspective, Hope Anita Smith celebrates and honors the treasured moments between fathers and their children. There are poems about learning to ride a bike, sharing Sunday breakfasts, playing catch, and reading books together. The poems present a diverse array of people and the roles dads play in children's lives. "Some dads go to meetings / and spend hours on the phone. / But my dad has the greatest job—he's a dad that stays at home." Accompanied by Smith's beautiful torn paper collage illustrations, the poems in this collection, which are well-crafted, insightful, and heartfelt, will resonate with young readers. Smith employs accessible language, rhyme schemes, and natural line breaks that make the poems perfect for reading aloud.  

    —MN

    Once in a Blue Moon. Danielle Daniel. 2017. Groundwood/House of Anansi.

    Once in a Blue MoonThis beautifully illustrated book is comprised of 14 short poems, each starting with “once in a blue moon.” The book opens with the image of a double rainbow and closes with a tree and child in an embrace. Together, the poems serve as an homage to nature as narrators, depicted as children of a variety of races, pay tribute to animals, stars, and other natural phenomena. In one poem, a young girl on a bike spots “a row of ducks” while in another a child sits “deep inside the forest” and watches an eagle overhead. Each four-line poem is paired with a richly colored, folk art-style painting, rendered in acrylics. Poems could be read individually, or the collection shared as a whole, to celebrate connections to the natural world.

    —LC

    Ages 9–11

    Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and Don Quixote. Margarita Engle. Ill. Raúl Colón. 2017. Peachtree.

    Miguel's Brave KnightIn this collection of narrative poems, Margarita Engle explores the early beginnings of the great Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes and why he is revered as an essential figure in the Western canon. Cervantes's imagination and love of storytelling is detailed throughout this book. As a young boy, Cervantes dreamed of a bumbling knight slaying imaginary monsters. Despite a difficult upbringing, his love for books and stories allowed him to persevere. Engle’s extraordinary wordsmithing captures the spirit and creativity of a young Cervantes in her beautifully crafted lyrical verses: "But when I close my eyes, / the spark of a story flares up. /A tale about a brave knight / who will ride out on / a strong horse / and right /all the wrongs / of this confusing / world." Raúl Colón's pen and ink-and-watercolor illustrations pair perfectly with the text and enhance the subject. The back matter includes author and illustrator notes, and historical and biographical notes. Engaging and exquisitely illustrated, this poetry collection will surely inspire and educate readers.

    MN

    Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library. Carole Boston Weatherford. Ill. Eric Velasquez. 2017. Candlewick.

    SchomburgIn a series of twenty poems, Weatherford offers readers a biography of the life and work of Arturo Schomburg (1874-1938). Since no other children’s books featuring Schomburg exist, this book will likely function as an introduction for most young readers to this African American historian and book collector. The first poem, “Fifth Grade,” tells of an experience Schomburg had in school during which his teacher tells him that “Africa’s sons and daughters / had no history, no heroes worth noting.” As the story unfolds, readers learn of Schomburg’s move from Puerto Rico to New York City, his jobs and marriages, his obsession with history and founding of the Negro Society for Historical Research, and his devotion to the New York Public Library. Velasquez’s expressive oil paintings capture the time period beautifully. Readers will learn about other neglected figures of African descent as they learn about Schomburg. The book includes ample back matter with a timeline, source notes for quotations, and a bibliography.

    —LC

    Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea. Lee Bennett Hopkins (Ed.). Ill. Bob Hansmen & Jovan Hansmen. 2017. Seagrass Press.

    Traveling the Blue RoadTwelve poets contributed pieces to this collection of 14 poems focused on events at sea. The book is organized chronologically starting in the 15th century and ending in present day. The poems highlight historical periods and some offer detailed context. For instance, Georgia Heard’s poem focused on people fleeing Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine describes “90 days they slept / four to a bunk in a dark hull. / Dazed, dirty, stench in every pore.” The poem goes on to mention a seisún (a traditional Irish music session), adding to the authenticity and historical specificity of the poem. Several of the poems include esoteric words that are translated in a footnote, and some are complemented by quotes about the sea interspersed on the page. The illustrations are rendered in pastels and feature deep blues, thick lines, and a variety textures. The back matter contains photo and quotation credits as well as notes on the poets, typography, and art.

    —LC

    Ages 12–14

    Forest World. Margarita Engle. 2017. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

    Forest WorldEdver, who lives in Miami with his mom, is obsessed with video games. Luza, who lives in Cuba with her father, loves art and their forest home. When Edver is sent to Cuba to visit his father, he meets his half-sister, Luza. Through alternating poems in each character’s voice, readers get to know these two young people as they discover each other and try to figure out their family history and make a difference in the future of the forest. In the style that earned her the status of Young People’s Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle tells the story of Edver and Luza through the use of metaphors and rich description. As Luza debates how much of herself to reveal to her brother she wonders “if butterflies recognize themselves / while they’re still all wrapped up / inside motionless cocoons.” As Edver learns more about the threats to the environment, he notes, “That’s all it takes to wipe out a species. / Just a few ordinary people making a string / of greedy / decisions.” The varying perspectives of the two narrators will keep readers interested as they learn about Cuba and threats to the environment.

    —LC

    Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess. Shari Green. 2017. Pajama Press.

    Macy McMillanIn this poignant verse novel, readers will be touched by the humor and heroism of Macy McMillian, who faces unwanted changes in her life as her mother is remarrying and she soon will be forced to move into a different home with her new stepdad and two stepsisters. The move also means a new school and a new sign language interpreter for her. To make matters worse, a fight with her best friend leaves her feeling even more isolated. Things start to change when her mother asks her to help their elderly neighbor Iris, also known as "the Rainbow Goddess." Iris doesn't know any sign language but it doesn't take long for the pair to find ways to communicate about their shared love of books. Iris also shares life lessons through cookie metaphors, such as: "Oatmeal cookies say / you're strong enough . . . you can do this” and “Peanut butter cookies send joy / and laughter.” While Macy’s deafness is a feature of the book, the focus is her gradual acceptance of the changes in her life. This novel in verse is an accessible read about the families we chose for ourselves and the power of stories. 

    —MN

    Ages 15+

    This Impossible Light. Lily Myers. 2017. Philomel/Penguin.

    This Impossible LightAs she enters her second year of high school, Ivy finds her life falling apart. Her parents have divorced, her brother has moved out, and her best friend, who was away for the summer, may not be her best friend anymore. The series of short poems in Ivy’s voice take on a wide range of issues from depression to eating disorders. Ivy excels in school, especially in math, and one teacher invites her to participate in a scholarship competition. Will her eating disorder stop her from making it into the competition? The book is divided into sections based on mathematical concepts, and Ivy describes her binging and purging in those terms: “And I know / that the lower my x is / the less I put inside of me / the better / my output / will be.” Ivy’s language is honest and raw as she navigates her pain and confusion. While the book’s ending is a bit too tidy, Ivy’s perspective will resonate with young readers, especially those who may be struggling with similar problems.

    —LC

    Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor of early, middle, and exceptional education at Millersville University. She teaches classes in children’s literature at the graduate and undergraduate level. Her research interests include multicultural children’s literature and response to literature. Mary Napoli is an associate professor of Reading and Children’s Literature at Penn State Harrisburg, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate literacy courses.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
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