With the November election looming, many teachers have been hunting for books that address some of the political questions that have been raised this year. While writing my new children’s book, Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger, I became aware of how few titles address issues of politics or social conscience. From the Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac, I’ve selected a dozen that can spark discussion about some of the broader issues of this campaign season.
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. Doreen Cronin. Ill. Betsy Lewin. 2010. Little Simon.
On June 23, 1868, the first American typewriter was patented by Luther Sholes. Beginning in 1937, the dairy industry has dedicated June as National Dairy Month, a time to call attention to the important role that milk and milk products play in our diets and the outstanding contributions made by dairy farmers. So how do these seemingly unrelated topics—typewriters, dairy farmers, and cows—connect to children’s books? In Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, author Doreen Cronin, a lawyer by training, weaves these three elements together so perfectly that once you read the book, cows and typing will become intertwined forever. Farmer Brown is dumbstruck when his cows discover an old typewriter in the barn and begin pecking away at it: “All day long he hears click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo. Clickety, clackety, moo.” Ultimately, typing gives the cows a means to communicate. Rather than placidly chewing their cuds, they take up a mission. Communication skills. Negotiating. Conflict resolution. These heavy matters are rarely presented in a picture book, particularly one that keeps readers laughing from the first page to last. Cronin’s text exemplifies two qualities of great picture book writing: lightness of touch and showing rather than telling. Both the text and art in Click, Clack, Moo come together perfectly to create a small gem that has readers ages 2 through 8 turning the pages to find out how everything is resolved.
Farmer Duck. Martin Waddell. Ill. Helen Oxenbury. 1996. Candlewick.
Poor Duck—he works tirelessly for a lazy, good-for-nothing farmer who spends all day in bed eating bonbons and reading the newspaper. Every now and then the man yells at duck, “How goes the work?” Duck takes care of the farm animals, washes dishes, irons. But no praise for Duck. And then one day, his barnyard friends unite behind him—and the animals take over the farm. Ultimately, the book explores the idea of fairness and can be paired with Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type to talk about power dynamics and taking control.
Imogene’s Last Stand. Candace Fleming Ill. Nancy Carpenter. 2014. Dragonfly.
All of us live in communities rich with history—we just have to champion it. That message lies at the heart of Candace Fleming’s Imogene’s Last Stand. Imogene Tripp, the heroine, lives in Liddleville, New Hampshire, a town so small it “wasn’t even a speck on the state map.” Imogene loves history, and she constantly quotes from great historical speeches. As a kindergartner, she used show-and-tell to deliver the words of important women from the past. When older, she discovers the Liddleville Historical Society, an old house filled with antiques, “unloved and unwanted until Imogene pushed open its creaky front door.” After restoring the society to order, Imogene discovers that the mayor intends to tear the building down—but unfortunately for him, Imogene proves a worthy opponent, one who repeats John Paul Jones’s line “I have not yet begun to fight!” As Imogene works to have the house declared a national landmark, the book emphasizes that important events in history often occur in the smallest of towns. Although it addresses the serious topic of historical preservation, the book is executed with humor and panache.
So You Want to Be President? Judith St. George. Ill. David Small. 2004. Philomel.
November is when Americans vote in national elections. November is also Picture Book Month, a time set aside to celebrate the need for picture books in the lives of children. Both causes merge in So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George (revised in 2004), which both educates and entertains young people—just as good picture books should. Winner of the 2001 Caldecott Medal for David Small’s expressive and extremely funny illustrations, this book explores the backgrounds and personal characteristics of our nation’s presidents. Using telling details and fascinating quotes, St. George reveals one drawback of the job—people get mad at the president. In this witty and clever text, St. George shows the quirks and eccentricities of those who’ve occupied the Oval Office. Even readers who consider themselves quite savvy about American history will find a lot of surprises here. Abraham Lincoln, a poor dancer, once said to his future wife, Mary, “Miss Todd, I should like to dance with you in the worst way.” She later said to a friend, “He certainly did.” If you want to laugh about politics, rather than cry, pick up So You Want to Be President? It will give you, and the 7- to 12-year-olds that you share it with, a lot of reasons to smile.
Home of the Brave. Katherine Applegate. 2008. Square Fish.
For me, Home of the Brave remains one of the most compelling books ever written for children about the immigrant experience. In this easy-to-read, imminently accessible novel for ages 10–14, Applegate creates one of fiction’s most compelling characters—Kek, a fifth-grade boy who has just arrived as a refugee from Sudan to live in Minnesota. In the civil war that ravaged his country, Kek lost his father and brother, and his mother remains missing. So like many of the refugees from his area, he was brought to Minnesota to live with his aunt and cousin. Everything about this strange new world, including the biting, terrible snow, confuses young Kek. He struggles with the strange sounds of a new language. But as Kek struggles with the unfamiliar, he finds one thing in the landscape he can hold on to—an old cow that has seen better days. This is one book about the immigration experience that has been created in a way that children can understand and respond to. Young readers over the years have understood Kek’s devotion to a cow, that reminds him of his life before America. In this character-driven book, Kek pulls readers along with his touching and painful story, his hope for a better life, and his assimilation into his new land. And so in the final chapter, when Kek is reunited with his mother, the last words of the book ring true—“Mama, I say, / welcome home.”
Activism and Changing Laws
Hoot. Carl Hiaasen. 2005. Yearling.
When I think of books set in Florida, Carl Hiaasen’s Newbery Honor Book Hoot, an exciting, page-turning mystery, immediately comes to mind. Roy Eberhardt, new kid in town, has arrived from Montana to Coconut Grove, FL. Because his father works for the Department of Justice and moves frequently for his job, Roy knows the routine—eating by himself, isolation, and bullies waiting to push him around. In fact, the book begins with the local bully, Dana Matherson, squashing Roy’s face against the bus window. While Dana is holding his head against the glass, Roy sees a towheaded boy recklessly running barefoot through the Florida landscape. When Roy decides to find this boy, nicknamed Mullet Fingers because he can catch the fish with his bare hands, Roy discovers that a new pancake house is about to be built over the dens of some extremely cute and very tiny burrowing owls. To save these small members of the biological community, Mullet Fingers has been engaging in ecoterrorism. Soon Roy and Mullet Finger’s sister, Beatrice, get swept up in Mullet Fingers’s obsession. Rather than participate in ecoterrorism, Roy decides to rely on the law and convinces his classmates to fight for the life of these owls and their babies. Not only does this engaging story explore the issues of endangered species and biological diversity, it also shows young people taking action. A perfect choice for 8- to 14-year-olds, the book often appeals as well to fans of Hiaasen’s adult mysteries. After all, a well-written story, with something to say, can appeal to people of many generations.
Nothing But the Truth. Avi. 2010. Scholastic.
Truth, of course, is a slippery thing. What seems true to one person does not appear that way to another. One of our best novels for 10- to 14-year-olds, published in 1991 and already a classic, explores the issues of what is true, what is false, and what is misleading. In Avi’s Nothing But the Truth, ninth grader Phillip Malloy faces problems both at school and at home. His only release comes in running and in his dreams of making the track team. But a “D” in English, from veteran teacher Margaret Narwin, ends his quest—although the track coach suggests that Phillip simply go to the teacher and see if he can make up work. Phillip takes another approach—goading her. In her home room, when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played “for respectful silent attention” over the public announcement system, Phillip starts to hum. After this continues and he refuses to stop, Ms. Narwin sends him to the vice principal, who eventually suspends him for repeated incidents of disrespect. Then Phillip and his father talk to the press—about the unpatriotic nature of the school. At this point, the media coverage all over the country causes the situation to spiral out of control. Well-written, well-paced, and provocative, Nothing But the Truth works brilliantly when read by a group—because everyone will come to a slightly different understanding of the events, depending on how he or she reads the evidence. Avi’s Nothing But the Truth is an engaging story, but it also causes readers to think about truth, lies, and the consequences.
One Crazy Summer. Rita Williams-Garcia. 2010. Amistad.
In One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia has created a powerful book that explores a period in history while it pulls in young readers because of its engaging characters. In the summer of 1968, three sisters—Delphine, age 11, Vonetta, and Fern—find themselves living for 28 days with their mother, Cecile, in Oakland, CA. She had abandoned all of them as children and does not seem particularly excited to see them in her living space. A poet and an activist, Cecile (called Nzila by the Black Panthers) forbids them entry to her kitchen and wants them out of the way all day. Delphine, the oldest and the narrator of the saga, takes things in her own hands, caring for her sisters. In order to obtain breakfast, they spend their days at a summer camp sponsored by the Black Panthers, who provide food and education to those in the community. Although at first they are dismissive of what they hear at camp, the girls begin to comprehend the message of activism preached there. In this character-driven novel, Rita Williams-Garcia brings to life the community of Oakland and the issues of the 1960s. She incorporates a lot of humor into these serious subjects. As the Brooklyn girls respond to utterly new teachings in classes, they are not beyond letting members of the Black Panthers know that they “didn’t come for the revolution. We came for breakfast.” Because the book remains so true to an 11-year-old’s point of view, and because in the end, Delphine finally gets what she had traveled all those miles to find—the acceptance of her mother—the story works as a family saga with history interwoven.
The Cure for Dreaming. Cat Winters. 2016. Harry N. Abrams.
I want to sing the praises of the second novel by Cat Winters, The Cure for Dreaming. Now, I have been an active part of the children’s book world since 1970. And then, as now, nothing makes me more excited than when I find a new creative voice, someone who combines original material with a compelling writing style. Hence I was thrilled to read this book by Cat Winters, one of the Morris Awards nominees for new talent for In the Shadow of Blackbirds. In her second novel, she has brought together seemingly disparate elements—hypnotism and the Women’s Suffragette Movement—in a page-turning, exciting work of historical fiction for readers ages 11 through 14. The protagonist, Olivia Mead, is one of the most appealing I have encountered in recent fiction. A young girl living in Portland, OR, in 1900, Olivia has taken up the cause of women’s suffrage (the Western part of the United States, in fact, gave women the vote long before 1920). But Olivia’s passion for women’s rights conflicts with her father’s stern and unbending sense of a woman’s place in the household. The story begins in a theater, when a traveling hypnotist, Henri Reverie, selects Olivia as his subject for experimentation. She proves particularly susceptible to his craft, remembering little of the events that occurred while she was under his spell. Eventually Olivia’s father comes up with a demonic plan: He wants Henri to hypnotize Olivia to make her repulsed by the ideas of the suffragettes. Weaving multiple plot strands together and creating a vivid sense of the time when women fought to express their views, Cat Winters tells a compelling, truly mesmerizing story.
The Arrival. Shaun Tan. 2007. Arthur A. Levine.
Except for Native Americans, the United States is a nation of immigrants. Consequently, hundreds of books for children present the experience of our ancestors from different perspectives. But none enable readers to experience the emotions of an immigrant to a strange country as brilliantly as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. In this graphic novel, readers follow the story, presented without words, of a lone immigrant, who leaves his wife, daughter, and home, and travels by steamship to a new land. Huddled together with other passengers, he eventually sees his destination, but everything looks bizarre. Even the pets look like they might best be avoided. The language used on buildings and signs perplexes both the immigrant and the reader. Eventually he obtains a job hanging posters but turns them upside down until corrected. Because the reader is always viewing the scene from the immigrant’s eyes, he or she experiences this strange new land just as the man does. The Arrival allows viewers to imagine visually how the world appeared to immigrant ancestors, and it unfolds history in an immediate and striking way. Some fifth- through eighth-grade teachers have integrated the title into immigration units; others have pulled the book into writing classes, so students can tell their own interpretation of the story. Because the entire narrative occurs in the art, there are as many versions of what is happening as there are readers. Like Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, The Arrival can be appreciated both for its artistry and its social and political content.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice. Phillip Hoose. 2009. Farrar Straus & Giroux.
A native of Birmingham, AL, Claudette Colvin was named after the popular movie star Claudette Colbert. A rebellious teenager, she possessed a bit more courage than her peers. On March 2, 1955, in her high school in Montgomery, AL, she had been studying the Constitution of the United States. Going home that day, this young black woman did the unthinkable. When the bus driver yelled for her to yield her seat to a white woman, she refused to get up. “I was thinking. Why should I have to get up just because a driver tells me to, or just because I’m black? Right then, I decided I wasn’t gonna take it anymore. I hadn’t planned it out, but my decision was built on a lifetime of nasty experiences.” Of course, in the South at this time, she was expected, even required, to defer to whites. Even when confronted by policemen, Claudette shouted, “It’s my Constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare!” In Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, winner of the National Book Award, author Phillip Hoose presents the life story of this unsung heroine of the Civil Rights Movement. Since the publication of his book, We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History, Phillip Hoose has been exploring how teenagers can make a difference in the world. In Claudette Colvin, he brings to life one very special young woman, who truly made a difference in the Civil Rights Movement.
The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy. James Cross Giblin. 2009. Clarion.
The fearful ’50s, as they are sometimes called, can be difficult to describe to young people—who have not, after all, grown up believing Communism is the greatest threat to America. In The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy, James Cross Giblin brilliantly re-creates this period and the complex and disturbing character of McCarthy for readers ages 11 through 18. He makes it possible for the young to understand the meaning of the word McCarthyism—guilt by association and unfounded accusation. From an initial cartoon of the period showing McCarthy signing legislation in the White House while President Eisenhower looks on, to the final notes about what happened to those covered in the book, Giblin provides an in-depth analysis of the events and personalities. In his final chapter he poses the question “Another McCarthy?” Can another dangerous leader rise up in the American landscape? Because of the thoroughness of the coverage, The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy is ideal for thoughtful young readers trying to understand the politics of another era.
Anita Silvey has served both as the editor of The Horn Book Magazine and as a publisher of a major children's book imprint. She is the author of several books, including Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot and I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, is an interactive website she describes as a “daily love letter to a book or author,” with each entry offering a glimpse into the story behind the story. Her columns are culled from the reviews on her website.
Spring has sprung—depending where you live, you may or may not have noticed. Spring is the time of International Waffle Day (March 25), Betty MacDonald’s birthday (March 26), and Poetry Month (April) (or all of them). Following are some picture books and novels that will help you celebrate every day of this new season. Happy spring—and reading with your students.
Picture Books and Nonfiction
And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano
It has been an unusually difficult winter in New England this year, with several feet of snow arriving in the region. Although my Bernese Mountain Dog, Lance, has enjoyed every flake, I find myself longing for the first day of spring. That sense of joy—of the brown, dry earth coming to life—has been brilliantly captured in Julie Fogliano’s And Then It’s Spring. A perfect book to use to explain cycles of life, or the seasons, to 2- through 8-year-olds, the text begins “First you have brown, all around you have brown.” Then a young boy plants seeds and wishes for rain, until the color becomes “a hopeful, very possible sort of brown.” As the boy places more seeds in the earth, he worries about them, fearing that birds and bears might have taken them away. But, at the end of the story, just as the boy hoped, the brown earth has been replaced by green.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
Clara Lemlich was born March 28, 1886, in the Ukraine to a Jewish family. Following a pogrom in 1903, Clara and her family immigrated to the United States. She stood a mere 5 feet tall, but as Brave Girl tells us, she had grit and was going to prove it. No one will hire Clara’s father; so to support her family, this intrepid teenager goes to work in the garment industry, carrying her own sewing machine each day. That industry has set up harsh rules for workers—a few minutes late means losing a half-day’s pay, and a girl can be fired for pricking a finger and bleeding on the cloth. Working by day and going to school at night so she could learn English, Clara tries to make her way in the world. But as she begins to understand what is happening in the workplace, Clara finds herself smoldering with anger over the treatment of the women. She becomes an organizer of pickets and strikes; she’s arrested 17 times and has six broken ribs to prove it. Then in 1909, Clara helps women organize the largest walkout of women workers in the history of the United States.
Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge
On March 21, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began the 5-day protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama—a triumphant event in the Civil Rights movement. A few months later, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, outlawing literacy tests and other measures used to keep African Americans from registering to vote. A remarkable book came out in 2009, Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge, which explores in vivid detail the eight tumultuous months in 1965 that ended with the Voting Rights Act. On January 2, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma: “We’re not on our knees begging for the ballot. We are demanding the ballot.” On March 7, Bloody Sunday, troopers turned tear gas and billy clubs on peaceful marchers. By the time readers come to the events of March 21, they completely understand what is at stake—and just how brutal the fight for voting rights was.
Calvin Coconut #9: Extra Famous by Graham Salisbury
March is Humorists Are Artists Month. I totally agree with this sentiment. So often, when children are asked what kind of book they want to read, they respond, “a funny book.” And yet the craft of making this type of book often gets overlooked and is rarely awarded. So I’d like to acknowledge the comic genius of Graham Salisbury in Calvin Coconut #9: Extra Famous. As a writer, Graham demonstrated his ability to craft fascinating and serious historical fiction for older readers, in books such as Under the Blood-Red Sun. But several years ago when he began to write for children ages 7–10, Salisbury used Hawaii—the state where he grew up—for the setting and employed a much lighter touch with the content.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted relies on the content and structure of “Cinderella.” Although this fairy tale can be traced back to the first century BC, the best-known version in the west was created by French writer Charles Perrault in 1697. For anyone hunting for a folk tale to show children how the same story is told in different cultures, Cinderella remains one of the best—with great cultural adaptations such as John Steptoe’s Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Rafe Martin’s The Rough-Face Girl, and Ai-Ling Louie’s Yeh-Shen. For Ella Enchanted, however, Gail Carson Levine took the story and expanded and changed it, making it into something completely new. As a baby, Ella, daughter of a wealthy merchant father and fairy mother, receives a gift from the fairy, Lucinda. She is given obedience—something that proves to be a curse. If someone commands Ella to do something, she cannot refuse, even if it would be in her best interest to do so. While her mother lives, Ella can be protected from the worst problems this gift causes. But after her mother’s death, she suddenly finds herself in finishing school and at the mercy of an odious student who has discovered her secret. In this vaguely medieval land of giants, elves, and ogres (languages that Ella can speak), Ella runs away, searching for Lucinda to get her curse removed.
Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
Waffles have a long, glorious history. In Colonial times, President Thomas Jefferson brought a long-handled waffle iron from France to the United States. In 1869, Cornelius Swarthout, a man with a great Dutch name, patented the first U.S. waffle iron. Polly Horvath’s quirky and funny Everything on a Waffle, is a Newbery Honor Book. Living in Coal Harbour, British Columbia, Primrose Squarp, an 11-year-old with hair the color of “carrots in an apricot glaze,” loses both parents when a typhoon blows them out to sea. She always believes them to be simply lost; her neighbors and those at school insist they must be dead and that Primrose must live in reality. But reality is not Primrose’s strong suit—she excels in imagination and whimsy. Eventually, her bachelor uncle Jack moves to Coal Harbour to care for her. He also seems attracted to the possible real estate development of this now-sleepy little spot. Even under his care Primrose manages to get into a lot of scrapes in chapters entitled “I Lose a Toe” and “I Lose Another Digit.” For a short time, she gets placed with a foster family, but she continues to believe in a happy ending to her plight—when her parents return.
How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor
When I thought about a funny, engaging character who faces an ethical dilemma, Georgina Hayes of Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog came instantly to mind. O’Connor moves with grace through this story of a young girl, abandoned by her father and now facing hard times. Her opening line grabs readers’ attention immediately: “The day I decided to steal a dog was the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.” Thrown out of their apartment because they cannot pay rent, Georgina, her mother, and her younger brother, Toby, all work desperately to keep their lives as normal as possible. Georgina becomes more and more unkempt, begins to fail at school, and loses her friends. But she is a girl with a plan—she wants to help her mother get enough money for a deposit on a place to live. When she sees a sign that offers a $500 reward for finding a dog, Georgina’s mind begins working overtime. If she can’t find this dog, why not steal another one and then claim the money?
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
Because her father worked as a mining engineer, Betty MacDonald spent many years of her childhood traveling around the West. Eventually settling in Seattle, MacDonald attended the University of Washington and wrote The Egg and I, a funny account of her married life on a chicken farm. As accomplished as her adult books were, MacDonald is remembered and celebrated for her series of books for children ages 6–10 about a charming, but no-nonsense widow who lives in a small town named Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Although experts like to say that children want to read books only about other children and are not interested in adults, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is an exception to that rule. She loves children and entertains them in a house she has turned upside down. To these young people she gives sound advice about living with and understanding parents.
Rules by Cynthia Lord
In the past few years, several notable children’s books have included a child with autism or a focus on autism. My favorite book on the topic remains Cynthia Lord’s Rules. Not only does she deal with how autism affects a family but she also writes a compelling story with a believable and totally lovable protagonist. All 12-year-old Catherine longs for is a normal life and a chance to have a reasonable conversation with her young brother David. But he suffers from autism, and the family, slowly and inextricably, begins to revolve around his disability and his needs—rather than Catherine’s. In order to make their life more normal, Catherine tries to help David grow and mature. David’s autism makes him a stickler for rules, so she makes a list of rules for him that include imperatives like: “Don’t stand in front of the TV when other people are watching it.” Or “No toys in the fish tank.” However, no matter how many rules Catherine can think of, David always manages to careen out of control.
Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman
As publisher at Houghton Mifflin, I saw the manuscript for Joyce Sidman’s first book of poems, The World According to Dog, which was sent to me by her editor Ann Rider. I loved Joyce’s voice and her ability to capture the essence of an animal in a few well-chosen words. Also, I was a natural enthusiast for a book of well-written dog poems. Since that time, Joyce’s books have won more major awards than most poets for children ever see, including a Caldecott Honor and a Newbery Honor this year for Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night. When I read this book, and her other title published in 2010, Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors, I realized I still loved her voice. In these 10 years, Joyce has moved from a poet of promise to a seasoned, intelligent craftsperson who selects ambitious subjects for books.
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
If I could make any single volume the book of the month, I would choose Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, published by the Newbery Medal winner author in 2001. In a small volume of 100 pages, Sharon uses free verse to celebrate poetry and the writing of poetry. Love That Dog also provides a lesson in modern poetic forms. And it shows, in a believable way, a young reader who becomes an advocate of poetry — a form he once hated. On the first page we meet Jack, a student of Miss Stretchberry’s. He tells us simply “I don’t want to/because boys/don’t write poetry./Girls do.” But then readers watch Jack make some small attempts and respond to poems being read. (Many of these have been included in the book.) As the school year progresses from September through June, Jack develops as a writer—responding in more sophisticated ways to what has been presented to him. Over time, his own poetry grows in complexity and skill.
Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky
In Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems, Jack Prelutsky, America’s first Children’s Book Laureate, has created 16 poems that combine the animate and inanimate world. “Stardines swim high across the sky,/And brightly shine as they glide by./In giant schools, their brilliant lights/Illuminate the darkest nights.” With her signature collage artwork, Berger places the “stardines” at appropriate spots in the night sky. Then the readers meet a whole group of creatures: bluffaloes who combine attitude and bulk, fountain lions who run water day and night, messy slobsters, noisy magpipes, and happy jollyfish. Each imaginary creature has been given a short but snappy poem to describe its qualities. Prelutsky’s poetry is always fun to read aloud. But this volume is particularly spectacular in its artistic treatment. The entire book has been set up as a scientist’s specimen book or box, and many of the pages are lined as if placed on tablet paper.
With a unique career in children's books, Anita Silvey has served both as the editor of The Horn Book Magazine and as a publisher of a major children's book imprint. She is the author of several books, including Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot and I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. Her latest project, The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, is an interactive website she describes as a “daily love letter to a book or author,” with each entry offering a glimpse into the story behind the story. Her columns are culled from the reviews on her website.
One of the easiest ways to introduce children’s books in the classroom is to celebrate an author’s or illustrator’s birthday along with reading one from his or her books. Here are some Fall birthdays featured on the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac; each features an essay about one of the books created by this talented group.
Tomie dePaola, Strega Nona
On Sept. 15, 1934, in Meriden, CT, a boy who would become one of the world’s best storytellers was born. Although any of Tomie’s 250 titles could be featured on the Almanac, my favorite remains his Caldecott Honor book, Strega Nona, published 35 years ago. Drawing on the magic cooking pot theme in folklore, Strega Nona features a grandmother with a magic touch. But when her assistant, Big Anthony, tries to duplicate her pasta-making spell, he overwhelms the town with a flood of spaghetti.
Bernard Waber, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile
Sept. 27 is the birthday of one of the nicest human beings I ever had the chance to work with, Bernie Waber. In 1965, Bernie took a character that had appeared in another book, The House on East 88th Street, and starred him in his own story: Lyle, Lyle Crocodile. Lyle, a very well-behaved crocodile, lives with the Primm family on East 88th Street. But because of an unfortunate episode, Lyle finds himself incarcerated in the Central Park Zoo—and he just doesn’t cotton to all those other crocodiles.
Donald Sobol, Encyclopedia Brown
Born on Oct. 4, 1924 in New York City, Donald Sobol served in the Army Corps of Engineers in World War II and then attended Oberlin College. Shortly before his 40th birthday, Sobol published the first of the books that would make his fame and fortune, Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective. This book, like the sequels that would follow, contains 10 short but exciting stories about Leroy Brown, son of the police chief of Idaville, FL. Leroy is nicknamed “Encyclopedia” because of his vast knowledge, and he receives help or hindrance from Sally Kimball, his Watson, or Bugs Meany, his nemesis. In each story, the reader is asked to solve a mystery or question by logic, observation, or deduction. Ideal for readers not always enthusiastic about books, the stories have some of the same appeal as Sherlock Holmes sagas.
James Marshall, George and Martha
Were he still living, I’d be sending birthday greetings to Jim Marshall on Oct. 10. He died at the age of 50, much too young and with too many great books still to come. One day, lying in a hammock back home in San Antonio, Jim was sketching and placed two small dots on a page. As he drew around those dots, he developed two ungainly hippos. Editors often tell writers to construct books about what they know. When Jim created the seven books about the delicate relationship of George and Martha, he definitely drew on his area of expertise: friendship. In George and Martha, George pours Martha’s split pea soup in his loafers so he doesn’t offend her. In George and Martha Encore,Jim delivers one of his signature lines, “But George never said ‘I told you so.’ Because that’s not what friends are for.”
Russell Freedman, Eleanor Roosevelt
Oct. 11 marks the birthday of both Russell Freedman and Eleanor Roosevelt. Russell began writing books for young readers in the science and social studies area—books like How Animals Learn and Sharks. Of all Russell’s biographies, I always have loved his Eleanor Roosevelt best. Perfect for 10- to 14-year-olds—I needed this book as a child myself. I once made a fool of myself in class because I thought that “FDR” was a swear word—so vehemently was it used at home. Imagine my surprise when I found out these initials acknowledged a president of the United States. Russell has always admitted that he loved FDR’s wife a bit more than he loved the president, and the resulting tribute to her certainly shows his enthusiasm.
Ed Emberley, Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals
Oct. 19 marks the birthday of Ed Emberley. Ed was born in Malden, MA, graduated from the Massachusetts School of Art, and then painted signs for the army and worked in commercial illustration. In the late 1950s, he began publishing books with the then-Boston firm of Little Brown and Company. For Ed Emberley, working on books was a family affair; he collaborated with his wife, Barbara, and his son, Michael, and daughter, Rebecca, have continued the fine family tradition.
Although Ed Emberley won the Caldecott Medal for Drummer Hoff, his fame and fortune really began in 1970 when he published Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals. Dedicated to “The boy I was, the book I could not find,” this book, and the subsequent volumes, make it possible for any child—and for that matter, any adult—to believe he or she can become an artist.
Bette Bao Lord, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson
On Nov. 3, 1938, Bette Bao Lord was born in Shanghai, China. At the age of 8, she came to the United States with her father and mother and one sister. When Mao Zedong and his Communist party won the Chinese civil war, the Boas were stranded in the United States. Bette’s youngest sister, Sansan, had been left behind with relatives. The family struggled to get her out of China, a process that took more than a decade. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson began as a magazine article, but the author decided to change the perspective of her story, to tell it from a child’s point of view. In 1947, Chinese-born Bandit Wong, 10, must shift from being a pampered child in a very affluent family to an immigrant, struggling to fit in to Brooklyn P.S. 8. Her family still observes their Chinese customs, while she tries to understand the new American ones. As Bandit struggles with English, she finally realizes that the best way to connect with these strange Americans may well be through the sport of baseball—more exactly, with her classmates’ love of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking
Born on Nov. 14, 1907, Astrid Lindgren grew up on a farm just outside Vimmerby, Sweden. Pippi Longstocking, the book for which she became world renowned, published in the United States 60 years ago, arose from stories she told her 7-year-old daughter. Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking, or Pippi for short, lives without parents. Pippi dictates her own rules and nags herself about going to bed at night. With endless money, time, and freedom, she certainly fulfills the fantasy of most children who often think about what life would be like if they had no one to boss them around. After the manuscript was rejected by many publishers, Lindgren decided to enter Pippi’s story into a contest held by a Swedish publishing house. She won first prize! When Lindgren submitted the final version, she added a note: “In the hope that you won’t notify the Child Welfare Committee.” Pippi breaks so many of society’s rules that some reviewers disliked Lindgren’s story: “Pippi is something unpleasant that scratches the soul.”
With a unique career in children's books, Anita Silvey has served both as the editor of The Horn Book Magazine and as a publisher of a major children's book imprint. She is the author of several books, including Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot and I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. Her latest project, The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, is an interactive website she describes as a “daily love letter to a book or author,” with each entry offering a glimpse into the story behind the story. Her columns are culled from the reviews on her website.
One of the most important questions critics ask about a book: “Does the protagonist change in a believable way in the course of the narrative?” Great writers can take a character, real or imagined, and show how they alter because of the events described in the book. My favorite novel of 2014, Ann Martin’s Reign Rain, presents a stellar example of the believable change in a protagonist. Here are some picture books, novels, and nonfiction that also exemplify this idea.
Unspoken by Henry Cole
“In artwork created only with charcoal, paper and pencil, Henry Cole immediately draws readers into his landscape with a dramatic cover image. A young girl walks away from a house holding a lantern. Her image draws readers to turn the page and see where she is headed. At the beginning of the story a group of Confederate soldiers, identified by their flag, pass by a farmhouse as this girl watches. With her faithful cat companion, our unnamed heroine feeds the chickens and does chores around the farm. Then on one arresting page, in the middle of stalks of corn, an eye appears. Obviously shaken, the girl runs back to her house. But then, in the middle of the night, she heads back with food wrapped in a checkered cloth. She comes again and again with more offerings.”
Imogene’s Last Stand by Candace Fleming
“Imogene Tripp, the heroine, lives in Liddleville, NH, a town so small it ‘wasn’t even a speck on the state map.’ Imogene loves history, and she constantly quotes from great historical speeches. As a kindergartner, she used show-and-tell to deliver the words of important women from the past. When older, she discovers the Liddleville Historical Society, an old house filled with antiques, ‘unloved and unwanted until Imogene pushed open its creaky front door.’ After restoring the society to order, Imogene discovers that the mayor intends to tear the building down—but unfortunately for him, Imogene proves a worthy opponent, one who repeats John Paul Jones’s line ‘I have not yet begun to fight!’”
The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan
“In an incredibly spare and lean picture book text, MacLachlan introduces us to young Henri Matisse, who lives in northern France where the skies are gray. But his mother decorates their humble home with flowers, color plates that she creates, and rugs that bring in brightness and light. She allows her son to mix colors and paint. He also helps raise pigeons, and his mother tells him that their color, which changes with the light, is called iridescence. And so Matisse became a painter of color and ‘light and movement and the iridescence of birds.’”
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell
“In 2011 Patrick McDonnell published an exquisite picture book, Me . . . Jane, distinguished by writing, art, and design. The title page displays a girl clutching a stuffed chimpanzee, and we meet both Jane and Jubilee at the beginning of the text. Jane loves the natural world and explores it; she makes drawings and notes of all she observes. In this fascinating world, she stays in the barn to watch how chickens lay eggs—all with her companion Jubilee. And she reads in trees, wonderful sagas of Tarzan, Jane, and the jungles of Africa. In a magical sequence, McDonnell shows Jane going to bed, saying her prayers, and dreaming of being in Africa helping animals. And then one day she wakes as an adult—and all her dreams have come true. She is Jane Goodall.”
I’m My Own Dog by David Ezra Stein
“On the first line of text this canine proudly exclaims ‘I’m my own dog. Nobody owns me. I own myself.’ This pooch is so proud that he will not sit on cue even if someone offers a bone. But all proud heroes have a tragic weakness, and in the case of our protagonist, an itch that he cannot scratch causes him to take a person home with him. Readers will watch with delight as a bond forms between an independent dog and the human whom he has adopted. And with one of those perfect picture book endings, the dog tells us ‘Between you and me, I’m his best friend.’”
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
“‘It was the first day of second grade and Billy Miller was worried,’ begins the saga. That summer Billy has had an accident that leaves a bump on his head. Possibly he won’t be smart enough for second grade. But his father, whom he calls Papa, thinks otherwise. He tells his son that this year will be the year of Billy Miller.”
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
“Living in Fentress, TX, in 1899, 11-year-old Callie Vee doesn’t excel in sewing or cooking, but she has a passion for science. Not really an acceptable calling for a girl in the 19th century, but her penchant truly makes her crotchety grandfather happy. He delights in providing Callie with information from a controversial book, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In their outdoor explorations, the two even discover a new plant, which they have scientifically verified by the Smithsonian. Callie’s voice, feisty and engaging, brings readers along in this saga, one that makes science seem like the most exciting passion a girl, or a grandfather, could ever have. The tension between what society and her mother expect of Callie and what she herself longs to do underscores the action of the novel. Callie emerges as an engaging young girl, whom readers want to succeed.”
Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
“Beautifully written and executed, this gentle novel discusses some serious topics and moral dilemmas while telling a totally satisfying story. The book explores how a photograph permanently captures a moment in time, while real life never remains the same. If you have never encountered Cynthia Lord’s books, Half a Chance is a great place to begin. If, like me, you admire her as much as any writer for middle grade children today, the book will only increase your appreciation of her gifts. She never shows, but tells; she brings complex ideas into the range of children ages nine through twelve, and she relates stories with adventure, humor, and heart.”
Reign Rain by Ann Martin
“We meet Rose Howard, a fifth-grade girl with a hard road ahead of her. Diagnosed with Autism, Rose lives with her father, who has little money or patience to give her. Rose spends her days gathering homonyms and keeps a list of her treasures. Because she has no computer, she must write her list over and over, adding each new gem. And although her father often fails to understand her, Rose has been blessed with an uncle who spends a lot of time with her and provides emotional support. But one night her father brings home a stray dog for a pet. Rain does for Rose what devoted dogs have done for millions of children over the years: provides a source of understanding and love.”
The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
“The protagonist, Olivia Mead, is one of the most appealing I have encountered in recent fiction. A young girl living in Portland, OR, in 1900, Olivia has taken up the cause of women’s suffrage; the Western part of the United States, in fact, gave women the vote long before 1920. But Olivia’s passion for women’s rights conflicts with her father’s stern and unbending sense of a woman’s place in the household. And he has become even more rigid after Olivia’s mother flees to New York to pursue her dream of acting.”
Eleanor Roosevelt by Russell Freedman
“Of all of Russell’s biographies, I have always loved his Eleanor Roosevelt the best. Perfect for 10- to 14-year-olds—I needed this book as a child myself. I once made a fool of myself in class because I thought that “FDR” was a swear word—so vehemently was it used at home. Imagine my surprise to find out these initials acknowledged a president of the United States. Russell has always admitted that he loved FDR’s wife a bit more than he loved the president, and the resulting tribute to her certainly shows his enthusiasm.”
Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose
“A native of Birmingham, AL, Claudette Austin was named after the popular movie star Claudette Colbert. A rebellious teenager, she possessed a bit more courage than her peers. On March 2, 1955, in her high school in Montgomery, AL, she had been studying the Constitution of the United States. Going home that day, this young black woman did the unthinkable. When the bus driver yelled for her to yield her seat to a white woman, she refused to get up. ‘I was thinking. Why should I have to get up just because a driver tells me to, or just because I’m black? Right then, I decided I wasn’t gonna take it anymore. I hadn’t planned it out, but my decision was built on a lifetime of nasty experiences.’ Of course, in the South at this time, she was expected, even required, to defer to whites.”
With a unique career in children's books, Anita Silvey has served both as the editor of The Horn Book Magazine and publisher of a major children's book imprint. She is the author of several books, including Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot and I’ll Pass For Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. Her latest project, The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, is an interactive website she describes as a “daily love letter to a book or author,” with each entry offering a glimpse into the story behind the story. Her columns are culled from the reviews on her website.
The last 10 years have been called “a golden age” for books for young adults and certainly publishers have focused on titles for readers ages 13 on up. Although many of these books will be enjoyed best by older teens, here’s a list of titles from the past few years ideal for ages 13-15.
Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge
“In spare, lean verse, Ron Koertge takes readers on a broken young boy’s spiritual journey. He explores one of the most serious questions of adolescence: ‘Is there a God and what is my relationship to Him?’ He builds a plot almost completely dependent on ideas and philosophy. And he creates a provocative book that challenges assumptions about the son of God and religion. For this is no cardboard, conventional Jesus–but a modern day hipster who could convince even a reluctant adolescent boy that he and God exist. Coaltown Jesus tackles serious questions and does so in an approachable, readable format.”
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
“Over the last decade, because of soccer’s obvious advantages—an exciting game, team play, and inexpensive equipment—the sport has been embraced by American children. Consequently, a lot of books about this sport have been published… Bloor brilliantly explores so many things in this book—sibling relationships, sports drama, the environment, and the tensions of race and economic class. He also creates Paul Fisher, one of the most endearing sports heroes in the children’s literature cannon. In the seventh grade Paul and his family move to Tangerine, FL—once a citrus paradise. But the groves of trees have been burned and new housing developments placed over them. However, because of destruction to the native environment, these new residential areas face severe problems like muck fires that constantly burn, or termites that eat their way out of tree roots. Torrential rains happen every afternoon; lightning strikes all the time, sometimes even killing children. Into this disordered landscape, Paul and his highly dysfunctional family immediately begin to add to the chaos.”
We Were Liars by E. Lockheart
“Exploring the world of the extremely rich, this realistic novel is set on a privately held island off the coast of Massachusetts where four friends, three of them cousins, vacation during the summer… With a protected and well-preserved veneer of wealth and privilege, the Sinclairs are, as the title tells us, not particularly given to truth-telling. In fact, the book has one of the most engaging, unreliable narrators since Holden Caulfield of TheCatcher in the Rye. From the title, readers know that they cannot trust 17-year-old Cadence Sinclair Eastman, who relates the events that take place on her family’s enclave. Slowly, the details of this family’s less than ideal life emerge, and in addition to the mix of alcoholic parents and the estate’s ownership being fought over, four rebellious teenagers bring their own brand of destruction to the family. Much like the adult thrillerGone Girl, We Were Liars twists and turns until its end, pulling readers along at a breathless pace… A spare, lean text makes the book quite accessible for readers aged 13 and up.”
Curse of the Blue Tattoo by L.A. Meyer
“Curse of the Blue Tattoo, set in the early 1800s and the second volume in Meyer’s Bloody Jack Adventures, continues the saga of Jacky Faber, London orphan, who dressed up as a boy and shipped out on the H.M.S. Dolphin. In this book, Jacky has been returned to shore, but not London. Placed in the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls in Boston, the intrepid Jacky, who faced down pirates, meets her most difficult challenge yet: How do you fight like a lady? In an establishment in which Jacky is decidedly common and the other girls born with silver spoons in their mouths, her instructors want her to master embroidery, deportment, music, and art… If you fall in love with Jacky there are many other volumes of her tale. What I particularly love about Curse of the Blue Tattoo is the way Meyer skillfully weaves together American, British, and Boston history. It never overwhelms the story but certainly inspired me to read about the post-Colonial history of Boston. I hope it does the same for some inquiring young readers. All readers can certainly go along for the ride, enjoying the high jinx of an extremely attractive protagonist.”
Krabat & the Sorcerer’s Mill by Otfried Preussler
“For several years, our book of the day—Krabat & the Sorcerer’s Mill by Otfried Preussler—has been available only in libraries. But in September, the New York Review published this singular title in their children’s collection. First appearing in the United States in 1972 under the title The Satanic Mill, the book has long been considered one of the great German masterpieces for children of the twentieth century and has inspired writers such as Neil Gaiman and Cornelia Funke. Since it has never been as widely known in the United States as it deserves, I hope the new edition helps it reach its audience. Krabat was one of those books that changed the way I looked at the world; its imagery has haunted me for more than forty years.”
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
“On the bestseller list in the United States since in appeared in 2006,The Book Thief has been used in classrooms from fifth grade through high school. It answers the question: What should young readers pick up after The Diary of Anne Frank? … Using the audacious narrative voice of death himself (third-person, omniscient in the extreme), Zusak introduces readers first to the character of 9-year-old Liesel Meminger who is being delivered, along with her brother who dies, to the Hubermans of Himmel Street in Molching. A modern Anne of Green Gables, Liesel becomes the foster child of the Hubermans. They shelter her in Nazi Germany even though they are poor and she comes from a Communist family. On her way to them, Liesel steals the first of many books, The Grave Digger’s Handbook. She can neither read nor write, but her foster father, Hans, teaches her how to do both from this slim volume.”
The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds
Various versions of The Odyssey have been created over the years, to make this story accessible to younger readers. In 2010 Gareth Hinds rendered an exciting version of this great story in a graphic novel format. Young readers watch Telemachus try to deal with his mother Penelope’s suitors; they find themselves trapped in claustrophobic illustration panels with the Cyclops; they see Odysseus on the sea, battled by the elements, as he tries to make his way home. Through alternating text blocks that provide the story line with frequent illustration sequences relaying the action, Hinds presents a great hero saga. Now Odysseus can stand beside Spider-Man and all the other action figures beloved to comic book readers. Yet at the same time Hinds protects the integrity of the original text.
Little White Duck by Na Liu
When books for American children focus on other parts of the world, they tend to be in line with accepted American political thinking. But told as a series of short stories, Little White Duckstands apart from that trend presenting a positive portrait of Maoist China … Almost every child has flying dreams, but this version, showing a graceful crane, presents that dream in a different cultural context. …readers experience, from Quin’s perspective, the sad day when Mao died. And they hear stories about her daily life, like the four pests that the children help eradicate. A splendid New Year celebration and feast round out Qin’s narrative. During the book Qin presents a positive message about how the Maoist government made her father and mother’s education possible; and she looks with distaste on the old China, where people have not embraced the new Communist thinking. The final story, ‘Little White Duck,’ explores the issues of the haves/have nots in a Communist society. In the end, Qin emerges as a very real child, one worth learning about and appreciating no matter how different her experiences may be.”
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
“Most of Gene’s brilliant output, which includes Boxers & Saintsand American Born Chinese, was written for a teenage audience. But this year, he teamed up with Sonny Liew to craft a graphic novel for the 11- to 14-year-old set called The Shadow Hero. The book’s backstory is fascinating: The Shadow Hero grew out of Gene’s lifelong passion for comic books, particularly the classic comics of the early part of the 20th century. As a comics fan, he was excited to explore the work of Chu Hing, one of the first Asian Americans to publish comics, who eventually worked for Marvel. Gene had always been intrigued by the idea that superheroes hold particular power for minorities who face discrimination, and found evidence of this in Chu Hing’s story. Hing longed to create an Asian superhero, but his publishers prevented him from moving forward with this idea. After discovering Chu Hing’s World War II superhero, Green Turtle, Gene honored his work by writing a more contemporary script for this Asian-American character.”
The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez
“Now a university professor, Jiménez began his journey toward United States citizenship as a child when he and his family were illegal immigrants and migrant workers in California. … In the The Circuit, he explores his own story, showing it through the eyes of young Francisco. That life begins as he enters the United States, “Under the Wire,” and ends with the immigrant guard (INS) removing him from his eighth grade classroom for deportation. In between, the family constantly moves around searching for work. Francisco struggles with English and has to repeat first grade because he does not understand anything his teacher says.”
Carver by Marilyn Nelson
“Marilyn Nelson has long distinguished herself as a poet for adults. Marilyn met editor Stephen Roxburgh while he was defending a picture book by Margot Zemach, Jake and Honeybunch Go to Heaven, against charges of racism. Later Roxburgh convinced Nelson that she should also attempt to write for a young audience. The resulting book was Carver, which won awards, garnered fabulous critical attention, and convinced Nelson that she had something to say to children and teens.”
The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
“I welcome the unique story that appears in Steve Sheinkin’sThe Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights. The author of Bomb and The Notorious Benedict Arnold, Steve focuses his new book on the American Navy in World War II, and particularly on the black servicemen stationed at California’s Port Chicago. He opens this account with a chilling quote: ‘At some time, every Negro in the armed services asks himself what he is getting for the supreme sacrifice he is called upon to make.’ … With his usual craft and skill, Sheinkin has set out his theme and subject matter in one dramatic chapter. He then takes readers quickly through the history of blacks fighting in American wars and begins his exploration of the conditions for black servicemen in World War II. Readers are introduced to those training for the navy, who must struggle against patterns of discrimination well-worn and accepted.”
The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf
“On July 13, 1864, John Jacob Astor IV was born in Rhinebeck, NY. He would become the richest man in the world—a land developer, inventor, and even author of a science fiction novel. Today Astor is best remembered as one of the victims of the Titanic. … He serves as one of the multiple narrators of today’s book The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf. This amazing re-creation of the journey of the Titanic provides ample opportunity for the rich and poor—even the ship’s rats—to tell their version of the story. When I first read this book, I thought it could be best used in high school. But I was happy to learn from my good friend Betty Carter that it has been extremely popular in Texas middle schools, grades six through eight.”
With a unique career in children's books, Anita Silvey has served both as the editor of The Horn Book Magazine and publisher of a major children's book imprint. She is the author of several books, including Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier Patriot and I’ll Pass For Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War. Her latest project, The Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, is an interactive website she describes as a "daily love letter to a book or author," with each entry offering a glimpse into the story behind the story.