The Best Man

Richard Peck is a master storyteller who delivers laughs, tears, and a full cast of well-developed characters who can all teach us about becoming the best people we can be.

Chapter book, fiction
Interest Level: 4-7; Reading Level: 4.1
Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Winner 2017: Fiction & Poetry
5 out of 5 stars


Richard Peck is truly an amazing creator of stories. His characters are well-developed and he doesn’t require huge actions or majestic scenarios to create a storyline that compels you to keep reading. The Best Man is the story of Archer Magill. Most of the story takes place during his 5th and 6th-grade years at school, where we see Archer start to really notice the world around him.

Archer has three very important men in his life — his grandfather, father, and Uncle Paul. Each of these men, in different ways, contributes to Archer’s understanding of life and development of who he is as a person. Most of the story takes place in school, but school and home life intersect throughout the story.

I love the tone of Richard Peck’s writing. I imagine in real life that he has a very sarcastic sense of humor and his dry wit makes for many laugh out loud moments in this story. Like life though, the laughter is balanced by moments of insight as well as sadness. One of the best ways to describe it is to say this book feels very real.

Archer confronts bullying and homophobia during the story. Peck has his main character navigate these harmful scenes with openness and an insightful manner that encourages readers to not slap labels or definitions on people, but to celebrate everyone’s right to happiness and acceptance.

At 232 pages, the book is a nice length for a full-class read-aloud, and the humor and cast or characters will engage students. I highly recommend this book for the wonderful story, strength of characters, humor, inclusion of diversity, and willingness to address homosexuality.


The Best Man
by Richard Peck
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

Todd Parr is an author who combines fun illustrations with heart-warming messages that affirm the strength and goodness in every person.

Picture book, fiction
Interest Level: Pre-K through 2nd grade; Reading Level: 2.1
4 out of 5 stars


It’s Okay to Make Mistakes lets readers know that everybody makes mistakes and that mistakes can lead to good things, such as discovering something new, or something that might be seen as a mistake could really just be a different way of doing something.

The overall message is that “Everyone has ‘uh-oh’ moments. That’s how you learn!”
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Parr’s illustrations are bright and whimsical and appeal to a wide variety of young readers. I find that students with special needs are often fans of Todd Parr because of the engaging illustrations and the accessible message that he shares.

Adults need to realize that children are often afraid to make a mistake. Whether it’s because they don’t want to appear silly in front of peers or sometimes they just fear not doing something “correct,” children need to learn that mistakes can be good, especially if we learn from them or create something new. This book would make a good intro to a maker space activity in a school library and could lead into a discussion of the engineering design process, where mistakes lead to rethinking and modification, not failure.


It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
by Todd Parr
Little, Brown and Company, 2014

A Dog Wearing Shoes

Mini learns a valuable lesson when she discovers a lost dog wearing yellow shoes.

Picture book, fiction
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.0
4 out of 5 stars


I love this story about a little girl and her mom who find a lost dog who happens to be wearing a yellow pair of shoes. Mini is delighted and wants to keep the dog. During a walk in the park, the dog gets away again, and Mini is extremely distraught. Her mom takes her to the animal shelter where they find the dog, and Mini realizes that as worried and upset as she was when the dog was missing, that must mean that the dog’s original owner feels the same way.

This is a wonderful story that helps children understand that lost dogs are being missed by someone, and as much as you may want to keep one, you should try to reunite them with their owner. The added bonus is that Mini and her mom return to the animal shelter and find a dog that needs a home and is just right for them.

In the back of the book, the author includes information about adopting an animal from an animal shelter, and includes links to some national organizations.
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The pictures are black and white sketches, with splashes of color coming from the dog’s yellow shoes and the red leash Mini and her mom buy. The dog is absolutely adorable with her floppy, fuzzy ears and it’s easy to see why Mini and her mom fall in love. Some of the illustrations are rather small, so this would not be ideal for a large read-aloud group.


A Dog Wearing Shoes
by Sangmi Ko
schwartz & wade books, 2015

Shark lady: The true story of how Eugenie Clark became the ocean’s most fearless scientist

Jess Keating has written another outstanding nonfiction picture book for young readers. This one tells the story of Eugenie Clark, who fell in love with sharks as a young girl and pursued her dream to study them.

Picture book, biography, nonfiction
Dewey: 597.3
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 3.7
4 out of 5 stars


Keating starts the book with young Eugenie Clark visiting an aquarium and seeing her favorite animals, the sharks. Eugenie loves to fantasize that she is swimming with sharks, or that she herself has a fin on her back and is a shark. She reads all the books she can find about sharks, and her mother buys her a fish tank so she can study and understand more about fish.

As she pursues her interest in college by studying zoology, we learn that people tried to discourage her because “some of her professors thought women weren’t smart enough to be scientists or brave enough to explore the oceans. And they said sharks were mindless monsters.” Clark went on to prove all those theories were incorrect — she was smart and brave enough, and through her research and studies she proved that sharks were smart and could be trained the way a dog was trained.

Keating wraps up Clark’s story when she was able to prove that she could train a shark. More details are provided in a timeline at the back of the book. An Author’s Note and Bibliography is also provided to give more interesting details and for further reading.

I read in another review that Keating left out key information about Clark’s mother being of Japanese descent and her father an “American” and how this mixed heritage meant she encountered prejudice. While I was interested in this information when it was presented in the Author’s Note, I did not feel that its absence detracted from the author’s purpose.

The tone of the book is clearly for younger children, I would say from age 4 through 8 primarily. I see this book as being more about encouraging children to pursue their dreams and not to let anyone stand in their way. This is especially true for girls in the field of science. Other books are mentioned in her bibliography that would be more appropriate for older readers who are more able to tackle multiple agendas in a story. For the length of a picture book, Keating has focused on the message that she wanted to share.
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The illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens really match the tone of the text. The sharks in the story have round eyes, giving the animals an innocent look that matches Clark’s feelings towards them. I also love how the illustrator shows Clark as a child always surrounded by sharks. The scne where Clark is reading books about sharks i the library, includes sharks floating through the book stacks, showing the reader that they were always on Clark’s mind.

The illustrations, combined with the text make this a good introduction to a little known scientist in the field of sharks. There are some additional shark facts that are presented in the back of the book that children will also find fascinating.


Shark lady: The true story of how Eugenie Clark became the ocean’s most fearless scientist
written by Jess Keating; illustrations by Marta Alvarez Miguens
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2017

Ada’s Ideas: the story of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer

This is a picture book biography of Ada Lovelace, who could be called the world’s first computer programmer.

Picture book, biography, nonfiction
Dewey: 510.92
Interest Level: 3 and up; Reading Level: 4.3
4 out of 5 stars


Ada has a fascinating background. Her father was Lord Byron, the poet and her mother was a wealthy woman who was a mathematician. Ada’s mother was very controlling, and didn’t want Lord Byron and his “wild ways” to influence their child, so she took Ada away at a month old and never allowed her to see her father.

Young Ada’s days were filled with structured learning and lots of studying numbers. After contracting the measles, she spent three years doing nothing but studying because she was too weak to walk. Ada grew up with almost no friends and was not allowed to pursue her own interests.
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When she was 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, an engineer, mathematician, and inventor. Ada was enthralled with Babbage and his inventions of engines that would do mathematical calculations. Ada worked on complicated algorithms that would work in the Analytical Engine, and envisioned that eventually the Engine could be programmed to do more than just math, but also create pictures, music, and words. In other words, she envisioned the computer.

Ada’s story is one that inspires people to never give up their dreams and to not be held back by the limits society or other people place on your life. This book would have meaning for older students, grades 5 and up. There is a biography in the back of the book. It is rather small, which could be why the book is fairly vague and reads in a general manner.


Ada’s ideas: The story of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer
by Fiona Robinson
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016

Save Me a Seat

Told in alternating points of view, this book offers several unique teaching points.

Chapter book, fiction, diversity
Interest Level: grades 4-6; Reading Level: 4.8
3 out of 5 stars


This book is told in alternating points of view between two fifth-grade boys: Ravi and Joe. Ravi and his family have just moved to America from Bangalore, India. Joe struggles in school and has Auditory Processing Disorder (ADP) which means he has “trouble listening” and attends therapy “to help my ears and my brain agree about what to listen to and what to tune out.” (p. 54)

At first the boys don’t seem to have much in common, but as they each tell their own stories, the readers are able to glimpse many connections they have before the boys in the story realize it themselves. For example, both boys love the whole class novel, Bud Not Buddy, they have doting mothers who take great pride in preparing their favorite foods, they are both outsiders in their class who struggle to communicate with others, and they are both being picked on by the class bully.

Teachers could read this story as a class read-aloud and find many unique topics that would be good for whole-class discussions:

*Both Ravi and Joe have trouble expressing themselves and communicating with peers. Joe because of his ADP is seen as different, and Ravi is misunderstood because of his accent and differences in culture.

*At first, Ravi’s teacher and classmates viewed him as unintelligent because he speaks with an accent.

*Joe’s ADP means he reacts different than his peers in loud situations.

*The format of the novel is each chapter is told in an alternating point of view.

The unique type of characters and alternating point of view are the strong points of Save My Seat. My one disappointment with the story are the stereotypical way the characters are portrayed. None of the characters display any depth outside of the typical role they were set up to play. Ravi is the smart Indian character who excels in math but is physical weak and unathletic. Joe is large and loves to eat. He is a pushover who never stands up for himself. Ravi’s grandparents live with their family and the grandmother constantly criticizes her daughter-in-law’s cooking.

The bully in the story is not original and every moment he is in the story he is doing nothing but tormenting Joe and Ravi. His character has no depth and exists only to antagonize the main characters. Teachers are oblivious to his constant bullying, such as when he hits Ravi with a fastball to the head when they were playing a game that was supposed to be underhand slow-pitch.

While I was personally turned off by the stereotyped character portrayals, their predictability could be something that young readers find relatable. Having a bully with no redeeming qualities provides a clear good guy/bad guy scenario and gives the reader a sense of justice at the end of the book.

Overall, there are good qualities to Save Me a Seat. I was hoping that the story would provide more of a glimpse into the intricate lives of a recent immigrant or a person with ADP, providing more depth and understanding about different cultures and conditions.


Save Me a Seat
by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan
Scholastic Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-84660-8

BIG CAT, little cat

A deceptively simple book that tackles the short life span of pets.

Picture book
Interest Level: Pre-K through grade 3; Reading Level: 2.0
5 out of 5 stars


Using mostly black and white line illustrations, Elisha Cooper has crafted a beautiful story that perfectly portrays cats and the joy and meaning they bring to our lives. The story begins with a white cat enjoying life as an only pet. One day a black kitten joins the family, and the big cat shows the kitten what to do — “When to eat, when to drink, where to go, how to be, when to rest.”
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Time passes and the reader sees the black kitten grow bigger than the white cat, and then watches as the white cat ages. Cooper does not specifically address that the old cat died, but states that one day he left the house and “didn’t come back.” I think the death of the cat is handled very well. The next page shows the black cat sitting all alone and states, “And that was hard.”

Cooper doesn’t dwell on the death of the pet and friend, but does validate the feelings of sorrow and loss that happen. The story is perfect for young children with pets. They need to understand that our beloved pets do not live as long as humans do and that death and grief are part of life. Cooper provides a book that will not overwhelm young readers, yet he doesn’t whitewash the facts and doesn’t talk down to young children.

The story ends on a happy note as the family gets another kitten and the black cat now assumes the role of “big cat.”
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The illustrations manage to be very simple and expressive at the same time. Like the story itself, they balance the line between providing the reader with enough information and not overwhelming the text.

The entire story is very well-done!


Big Cat, Little Cat
by Elisha Cooper
Roaring Book Press, 2017
ISBN 978-1-62672-371-9