The United States v. Jackie Robinson

Picture book, biography
Interest level: elementary and middle school
5 out of 5 stars

It is well-known that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, but this book does not focus on that part of his life. The author has chosen to focus on Robinson’s time in the military and the stand he took against racism during that time.

This story is important for children so they can see that Robinson was more than a gifted athlete, and that he faced racism while serving in the U.S. military. It makes him a multidimensional civil rights icon.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson
written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Balzer + Bray, 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-2287847

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Picture book, autobiography
Interest level: grades 1 through 5
5 out of 5 stars

This is the autobiography of a young boy who taught himself how to turn trash into a working windmill to generate electricity and pump water for his family’s farm in Malawi, Africa. During a famine, his family can no longer afford to pay for William Kamkwamba to attend high school. He discovers the local public library, where his fascination with machines and how they work leads him to read about windmills. His perseverance and ingenuity enable him to help his family and village learn to survive the seasons of drought.

Kamkwamba’s story is a story in perseverance and using resources around you. The story makes a perfect addition to a maker space and is ideal for a real-world example of the engineering design process.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer; pictures by Elizabeth Zunon
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN 978-0-8037-3511-8

The Big Bed

Someday, the main character of this book will rule the world…Today, she just wants to rule The Bed.

Picture book; fiction
Interest level: Pre-K through grade 2
5 out of 5 stars

The main character and narrator of this story is a young girl who has identified a problem in her family. She deftly identifies the issue, researches it, and creates a very persuasive presentation of possible solutions. It boils down to the fact that Mommy’s bed is not big enough for all three of her family members to fit, so, even though Daddy is “gifted at the art of the horsie ride,” he has to go.

While this book can be used for families with young children who do not want to sleep in their own beds, it also would make a good mentor text in writing workshops that focus on persuasive writing or opinion writing. The book could also be a fun way to kick off a research project, or use it in a maker space to highlight the engineer design process in a fun way.

The Big Bed
by Bunmi Laditan; pictures by Tom Knight
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018
ISBN 9780374301231


This book would make a great mentor text for teaching young students how to write about small moments.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: Pre-K through grade 1
3 out of 5 stars

Windows captures that moment, as the sun starts to set in the evening, when people turn lights on in houses and the scenes of daily life are clearly illuminated to anyone passing by. The story begins as a child takes a dog for a walk and the reader tags along on a tour through the neighborhood.
As we move along, we witness “an early raccoon taking a bath in squares of yellow light,” someone playing piano, people two people hugging, and others eating dinner or watching TV. These are scenes of everyday life that feel celebrated in Windows. The setting of the story is based on a culturally diverse neighborhood in Somerville, Massachusetts, where the illustrator lived. Certainly one of the strengths of the book is the diverse set of characters that fill the pages.

The story ends with the main character coming back home. The bright colors that once lit the sky at the beginning of the story, are now inside as the child sits with a parent and shares a book. Readers should take a moment and compare and contrast the front and back endpaper images, as they capture the transformation of the story.

The illustrations do a great job helping to tell this story. E.B. Goodale uses ink, watercolor, letterpress, and digital collage to depict an ordinary neighborhood at dusk, when buildings appear mostly as gray or black shapes against the brilliant colors of the setting sun. As much as I love the peeks into windows, which is the main idea of the story, I feel that Goodale’s sunset is really the star of the book.

This is a quiet book that would make a great bedtime read with a child, or could be shared in a small group setting. Some of the window details are rather small, so it might not work well with larger groups.

by Julia Denos; illustrated by E.B. Goodale
Candlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978-0-7636-9035-9


There is so much to see in these illustrations as readers witness snowballing accidents.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: Pre-K through grade 1
3 out of 5 stars

The story starts on the title page, where Lola the armadillo is doing cartwheels through a living room where the word “ACCIDENT” is spelled out. She bumps into the pitcher of orange juice that is sitting on the “T” and spills it all over the white chair. As many children do, Lola feels that the worst thing ever has happened and she decides to “hide in the library! They have books and bathrooms. And I’ll stay there till I’m a grownup.” Frankly, I can’t blame Lola! Libraries pretty much have all that you need!

Lola rushes from her house, and away from the mess she made, and discovers that she is now in the middle of a whole lot of messes made by a whole lot of other animals. Lola encounters a bear who breaks a swim, a sheep who shears a hose, and a puffer fish whose cake is ruined when the sheep trips and lands in it. Together, the four friends make their way to the library to hide until they are grownups.
Andrea Tsurumi’s illustrations remind me of traditional Richard Scarry scenes, full of lots of anthropomorphic animals involved in countless mini-scenes. A rabbit shoes a bull carrying broken china out of her shop, a narwahl pops a balloon on his horn, two mice driving cars crash into each other.

Finally, the four friends get through all the turmoil outside and reach the library, where further turmoil ensues inside. Lola rolls into a ball to escape the flying books and creatures, she bounces outside and encounter a red bird. Lola yells “Disaster! Fiasco! Mayhem! Calamity! Cat-as-tro-phe!” to which the red bird replies, “Accident.”
And with that one word, calm comes over the story. The bird shows Lola that saying I’m sorry and helping to make things right can make accidents better. In reverse, we see Lola and her friends returning through the city where now all the animals are cleaning up and helping each other. Lola returns home, and encounters her mother, who has had her own accident, and together they make it right.

There is so much to see in the illustrations that readers will be entertained for a long time. This is a book that you can read many times and continue to discover new things. Words are minimal, so this book is accessible to young children who may not be reading on their own.

Be sure to examine the endpapers at the back of the book for one final accident.

by Andrea Tsurumi
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
ISBN 978-0-544-94480-0

Baabwaa & Wooliam

Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are perfect for this fun twist on the wolf in sheep’s clothing tale.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: Pre-K through elementary school
4 out of 5 stars

Baabwaa and Wooliam are two sheep who like their rather boring life, where Baabwaa knits and Wooliam reads. One day, after reading a pirate book, Wooliam proposes they go on an adventure. The two friends set off to find explore their walled-in pasture. The only thing they find however, is that they are now hungry.
While munching on some grass, they are approached by another strange looking sheep, with a long tail, sharp snout, a filthy wool coat, and poor dental hygiene. Wooliam, who had read a book about a wolf in sheep’s clothing, recognizes the wolf and tells Baabwaa to run. The wolf gives up the chase as he ponders that Wooliam has read a book about him.

Wooliam realizes the wolf does not know how to read, and offers to teach him. Baabwaa is going to knit him a new coat to replace the ugly one he is wearing. Thus begins a new friendship.

What makes this friendship story different from others is that the wolf never fully gives up his natural tendency to chase sheep. In the middle of reading lessons, he would suddenly chase the two sheep around the field. Wooliam was annoyed by the behavior, but Baabwaa understood that “he is just following his nature. Besides, all that reading and knitting has taken its toll. We can use the exercise.” Sure enough, if you examine Melissa Sweet’s illustrations, the once very fluffy sheep are now much more svelte!

The book ends with Baabwaa and Wooliam discussing how they did indeed find a wonderful adventure, and the wolf asks them to keep it down because he is trying to read. Althogether a very smile-inducing twist on wolf in sheep clothing stories.
Melissa Sweet’s watercolor, gouache, and mixed media illustrations are a perfect fit for the whimsical tone of the story, and Baabwaa and Wooliam are absolutely adorable. This would make a fun read-aloud, or could be used in a lesson that examines different versions of the big bad wolf story.

Baabwaa & Wooliam
by David Eliott; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Candlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978-0-7636-6074-1

Fuzzy Mud

There’s a lot packed into this short intermediate/middle grade novel from Louis Sachar. In 181 pages, Sachar creates a plausible biohazard mystery that is focused on a well-developed central character, tackles tough topics such as divorce, bullying, environmental issues, and Hobson’s Choice, having to choose between two bad options.

Chapter book, fiction, suspense, mystery, environment
Interest level: grades 4-7; Reading level: 5.0
4 out of 5 stars

Tamaya is a fifth grader at a private school in Pennsylvania. She is dealing with her parents’ divorce, and with the hard parts of moving from childhood into preadolescence. Tamaya isn’t allowed to walk home from school alone, but her older friend Marshall isn’t thrilled with her tagging along with him.

One day, Marshall takes a shortcut through the woods behind the school. He is trying to avoid a fight with the school bully, Chad. Tamaya is worried because they are not supposed to go into the woods, but she follows along. This detour sets into play a series of events that puts Tamaya, Marshall, and Chad in serious danger.

The kids stumble across fuzzy mud puddles in the woods. Strangely, even though it is getting colder and the trees are shedding their leaves, no leaves lie on top of the fuzzy mud. After Tamaya gets home that evening, she realizes that where some of the strange mud got on her hand, she has a tingling sensation and rash. When Chad is missing from school the next day, the story picks up tempo and pulls the reader into the intrigue and suspense that seems to surround the strange mud.

Fuzzy Mud features short chapters that alternate between Tamaya’s story and testimony from a U.S. Senate inquiry into a form of alternative energy called Biolene. The testimony portion of the novel may be slightly confusing to some young readers, but they should get the gist. Scientists, looking for a clean form of energy to power the planet, developed man-made microorganisms that can be burned as clean fuel. But is it safe?

What I really liked about Fuzzy Mud was that Sachar didn’t hold back in providing difficult topics or positions for his young readers to tackle. He presents the idea that science, even sometimes with the best intentions, can sometimes be bad for people or the environment, and lawmakers need to determine if some bad is okay for the greater good of society. Hobson’s Choice.

He also crafts multi-dimensional characters that are very real. Chad, the bully in the story, is
not a sympathetic character in the beginning, yet Sachar thrusts him into a role that shows his vulnerabilities. His victims have to decide whether they will help him at a time when he is showing his ugliest side. Again, Sachar puts his characters in difficult positions that require young readers to think about how they might react.

This book would be good for students who like suspense or mysteries, or who are interested in environmental issues. Its shorter length makes it appealing to a wide audience. The length and tough questions that readers encounter make this an optimal class read-aloud for 5th grade and up.

Fuzzy Mud
by Louis Sachar
Delacorte Press, 2015
ISBN 978-0-385-74378-5