Ada’s violin: the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

This is an amazing story about a young group of magicians who discovered compassion, creativity, and music among the trash in a landfill in Paraguay.

Picture book, non-fiction, informational
Interest level: K-5; Reading level: 4.0
5 out of 5 stars

Ada’s Violin is an absolutely amazing story of a young girl who lives in Cateura, Paraguay. Her town is the main garbage dump for the capital city of Asuncion, and her family works in the landfill, picking through the trash and hauling away items that can be recycled and sold.

For the youth of Cateura, there is not much to do so gangs and fighting are a way of life. Until Favio Chavez comes to town and offers to teach the children to play music. There are not enough instruments to go around, so he got the people in the community to help him make instruments out of trash they could recycle from the landfill.

Word of this amazing Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay began to spread, and the children were invited to travel all over to play. They have performed in concerts around the world, and even opened for Metallica.

Sally Wern Comport’s collage illustrations perfectly fit the tone and style of the book.

The back of the book contains an Author’s Note with more details about the Recycled Orchestra, a photo, and sources for more information.

Book trailer:

Ada’s Violin: The story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
by Susan Hood; illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
ISBN 9781481430951

The Princess and the Warrior

Duncan Tonatiuh crafts his own version of the origin story of the two volcanoes that are located just outside of Mexico City.

Picture book, folktale
Interest level: K-5; Reading level: 2.9
Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor, 2017
5 out of 5 stars

Outside of Mexico City there are two majestic volcanoes, Iztaccihautl and Popcatepetl. Duncan Tonatiuh tells the legend of their origin in a well-crafted picture book that pays tribute to the images found in the ancient Mixtec codices. In the Author’s Note in the back of the book, Tonatiuh outlines the research behind the creation of the book, and a bibliography is included.

The story focuses on the love between a beautiful and kind princess named Izta and a brave soldier named Popoca. Many suitors traveled from far away trying to woo Izta with expensive and rare gifts, but she was not interested in them. Even though she was a princess, she preferred to spend her time with people in the field, teaching them poetry.

Popoca comes to see her and promises to love her for who she is and to always stay by her side no matter what. They fall in love, but the king wants Popoca to prove himself worthy to marry his daughter. So Popoca goes off to battle an enemy tribe. As the enemy is about to be defeated, they hatch a plan to defeat Popoca’s spirit and send word to Izta that he has died in battle. Believing this lie, she drinks a potion and falls into a sleep that she cannot be awoken from.

When Popoca returns victorious, he is distraught to find his love could not wake up, so he carries her to the top of a mountain believing that the cool air will revive her. As he laid her on the mountaintop, he knelt beside her and refused to move, even when the snows came and covered them both.

In time, where once there was a princess with her true love by her side, two volcanoes emerged. One is known as Iztaccihuatl, or sleeping woman. The other one is known as Popocatepetl, or smoky mountain. Iztaccihuatl continues to sleep. But Popocateptl spews ashes and smoke from time to time, as if attempting to wake his sleeping princess.

Throughout the story, Tonatiuh has included some foreign words in the Nahuatl language, since that is the language that Popoca and Izta would have spoken. A glossary is in the back to provide translations.

This is a well-done origin story that should be included with any lesson on stories in the oral tradition. Tonatiuh’s attention to detail with regard to the illustrations and language make this book stand above others.

The Princess and the Warrior
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016
ISBN 978-1-4197-2130-4

Around America to win the vote: two suffragists, a kitten, and 10,000 miles

One of the lesser known stories about some of the suffragists who worked to persuade others that women deserved the right to vote.

Picture book, non-fiction, informational
Candlewick Press, 2016
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 3.3

Published in 2016, this was a timely book that coincided with the first woman candidate for president of the United States. The author, Mara Rockliff, researched news articles from 1916 that told of two women and a cat who drove a yellow car from New York City to California, and back. Today that doesn’t sound so newsworthy, but in 1916 there were not regular gas stations and travel by car was not always easy or reliable. Nell Richardson and Alice Burke drove across the country trying to incite crowds with “Votes for Women!”

Overall I liked reading about these two suffragists that I had not heard of before. This book can be used as a way to introduce women’s voting rights to children.

Unfortunately, while the women’s journey is interesting and I admire their perseverance, the story is somewhat weak in stressing the voting rights aspect of the journey. I felt the car and the difficulties of transportation at the time was the central focus of the story, and the campaigning the women were doing was not stressed enough.

Around American to win the vote: two suffragists, a kitten, and 10,000 miles
Candlewick Press, 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-7893-7


This fascinating book reads like a child’s fantasy, but is a great introduction to gravity for young children!

by Jason Chin
A Neal Porter book, Roaring Brook Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-59643-717-3
Picture book, nonfiction, narrative
32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 23 x 29 cm
Dewey: 531; Int Lvl: K-3; Rd Lvl: 5.3
YHBA 2016-2017 picture book nominee
5 out of 5 stars

This book is a wonderful hybrid between a fantastical story and an informational text. It is a great way to introduce the concept and study of gravity to young children. The story begins up in the sky and through a series of five pages explains that “gravity…makes…objects…fall…to earth.” The object falling to earth turns out to be a book about gravity.

The book falls to the spot where a young boy is playing on the beach with a toy astronaut and rocket ship. The lesson on gravity continues with learning that “without gravity, everything would float away.” As with the book being pulled to earth as we read about that gravity fact, everything on the beach now floats away as we learn about lack of gravity. The young boy manages to hold onto a boulder, and the reader now accompanies the astronaut, rocket ship, and other beach items as they float into space.
The book then explains that gravity keeps the sun, earth, and moon in alignment and ends with restating that gravity makes objects fall to earth. The twist to the story is that the spaceman and astronaut have not fallen back to the boy on the beach, but have landed amidst young girls operating a lemonade stand.

Chin’s whimsical and close-up, super-real, style of illustrations, combined with the fanciful story, remind me of Bill Thomson books: Chalk, Fossil, and The Typewriter. Be sure to read the final page, where we see the boy on the beach in shock as he catches a pitcher of lemonade that falls from the sky. The boy and girls have inherited each others’ items that defied gravity. Once readers understand the switch that occurs, they need to go back to other images in the story and they will see hints they might have missed during the first reading.

The story itself is not going to replace any classroom lessons about gravity, but the book would make a fun introduction or accompaniment to such a unit. There is additional information about gravity in the back of the book, as well as a bibliography.

Welcome to Mars: making a home on the red planet

Welcome to Mars: making a home on the red planet
National Geographic Kids, Washington DC, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4263-2206-8
96 pages : color illustrations ; 26 cm.
Dewey: 523.43
Interest Level: grades 3-6; Reading Level: 5.6
Lexile measure: 900
2.5 out of 5 stars

Recently, I have seen several magazines that have covers featuring “Mission to Mars” and the National Geographic Channel has a special airing soon as well. As I began to read Welcome to Mars I wondered if I had missed some recent announcement from NASA that dealt with sending a manned mission to Mars. From the tone of the book it really seems that this travel and colonization is imminent. I actually did some research and found that while there is a goal to send a human to Mars in the 2030s, there are no concrete space programs planned beyond further exploratory rover missions.

So while I am still not sure about the glut of recent Mars literature, I will speculate that it has something to do with increasing the PR for the space program and encouraging young people to still be fascinated with space travel. With that thought in mind, I tried to look at this book as it relates to building excitement and inquiry in a younger generation of potential astronauts and space travelers.

On the positive side, many elementary schools use National Geographic in classroom reading programs, so kids will be familiar and comfortable with the layout and style of the book. Here is the magazine:


As you can see, the colors and format are very similar to what can be found in the book (below):


There are lots of photographs included in the book, and the text blocks are kept to shorter lengths. These are appealing features to elementary age readers.

Overall though, I felt the book was confusing in its flow and intent. This is one of those books that I would question about placing in the nonfiction section of the library. The parts of the book that directly suggest you are a space traveler colonizing Mars, are clearly made up, and it wasn’t really clear from formatting or transitions which parts of the book were made up and which were informational. For example, on page 55 is a section titled “The Interplanetary Spaceport.” This section begins in the fictional realm by stating, “The two previous missions identified the best place to put our first spaceport,” however immediately following this there is factual information about the topography of Mars and areas that would be more habitable than others. Then we switch to fiction and read, “The spaceport we’re landing at will be located near the Martian equator,” and then more factual information.

As an adult, I struggled with the movement back and forth between fiction and nonfiction. On page 32 the text says “when you observe Mars through our telescope here on the cycler,” and I couldn’t remember if the cycler was real or imaginary. I had to flip back to page 20 to remind myself that it was a concept presented by Aldrin.

Welcome to Mars wouldn’t be one of the “must-have” books that I would recommend for an elementary school library. I feel that the purpose of the book is not clearly defined from the beginning for young readers and therefore gives them incorrect messages about the current state of the United State’s space program as it relates to exploring Mars.

An interesting side note is that the National Geographic Kids Magazine that features “Mission to Mars” is very well done, and even includes some of the same visuals as the Welcome to Mars book. The magazine article starts out clearly stating its purpose, “It’s the year 2035, and you’ve been selected to join NASA’s newest astronaut class. Your assignment: Travel to Mars…Here’s your guide to everything you need to know about surviving life on Mars.” Very concise in its purpose and the information that it shares with young readers, I would highly recommend the magazine article.


Best Foot Forward: exploring feet, flippers, and claws; 5 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Ingo Arndt
Holiday House, New York, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8234-2857-1
Description: 28 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 23 cm
Dewey: 591.47
Subject: Informational nonfiction; animal adaptations; question and answer format
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 3.5
Lexile measure: 920
5 out of 5 stars
Summary from jacket flap: “Whose foot is this? An intriguing close-up of an animal’s foot invites you to guess. Turn the page to find out if you’re right. You’ll discover that feet aren’t only for walking. Some feet are made for climbing, others for digging, or swimming, leaping, or grasping. A tiger silently stalks its prey on velvet paws. A gecko’s ribbed feet enable it to climb walls as smooth as glass. This book’s guessing game format makes learning about natural adaptation fun.

Evaluation: Overall, <i>Best Foot Forward</i> is an amazing picture book that centers around animal feet and the adaptations that make them well-suited to perform different tasks.

Similar to other question and answer books that I have looked at, this book features an opening two-page spread that repeats the question, “Whose foot is this?” An extreme close-up of the foot accompanies the question. This enables the reader and listener to really examine the foot and see the features that make it unique. Once you turn the page for the answer, you find out what animal’s paw we are examining, as well as a general category that fits the paw. The categories include: feet that walk, feet that climb, feet that swim, feet that dig, feet that jump, and extraordinary feet.

In addition to a full-page view of the featured animal, there is brief information about what makes the paw unique and suited to that animal. There is also a text box that talks about the category of feet and where this type of foot is particularly useful. For “feet that swim,” the text box tells us that “animals that swim need feet that help propel them in water.” Each section doesn’t just focus on one animal; up to four animals and their feet may be discussed.

What makes this book exceptional, is the incredible close-up photographs of the different animal feet. Even the foot of a common animal, like a duck, is fascinating when viewed up close.

<i>Best Foot Forward</i> is not as strong of a read-aloud as <i>What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?</i> While the stunning photographs will engage the same age group and are large enough to be seen in a group setting, the text is not as suited for a read-aloud. There is no narrative flow, so the reading is very choppy.

I would really recommend this book to individual readers, especially if they have just listened to a read-aloud of <i>What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?</i> If they liked the question and answer format of that one, this would make a good recommendation for pleasure reading. The short bursts of text are suited to reluctant readers or those who want to stretch themselves and read something a little above their independent level. The close-ups of feet invite the reader to spend time studying the photographs, which is something that is not suited for a read-aloud. There is also an index to the many animals included in the book, so readers can jump around and read about what interests them most.

Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg; 4 out of 5 stars #bookaday

by Mia Posada
Millbrook Press, Minneapolis, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-8225-6192-7
Description: 29 p. : col. ill. ; 27 cm.
Dewey: 591.4
Subject: Narrative and informational nonfiction; eggs/baby animals; question and answer format
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 4.0
Lexile measure: 890
4 out of 5 stars

Summary from jacket flap: “Look! Animal babies are hatching from their shells. Study the picture and read the clues to find out what animal it will be. Can you guess? The charming verse and enchanting watercolor collages portray the many ways animals care for their eggs and young. This book is filled with fascinating facts about animals, hatchlings, and their environment.”

Evaluation: This book is very similar in style and format to What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? The illustrations are done in a collage format with a close-up on the questioning page, and then a full-view of the animal that hatches from the eggs on the follow-up answer page.
Posada also employs the use of repetition by beginning each section with a four-line hint that rhymes, followed by the question, “Can you guess what is growing inside this/these egg(s)?” The answer is provided by the animal being named, accompanied by a short paragraph that provides basic information about the animal, such as where it lives, how it hatches, and what it does as a baby. Six different animals are featured.

Additional information is at the back of the book. There is a visual that shows the actual size of the eggs compared to each other, a look at the inside of a duck egg, with information about incubation times for each of the animals.

With slightly more text that What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, this book would be suited for a slightly older audience, or you could select just a few sections to read. Young children would probably get a little restless if you read the entire book.

The rhyming sound, combined with the repeated question, exclamation of the animal name, and informational paragraph all combine to make for different reading sounds. The rhyming hints are sometimes a little awkward to read, so practice beforehand is essential.

The illustrations are visually appealing and little clues to the animal are just visible enough that children will enjoy guessing the animal. The different sounds of the text, combined with the question and answer format and some repeated phrases, make this a good read-aloud with the potential for a lot of interaction with the listeners.

Guess What is Growing Inside This Egg is just as suited for a read-aloud as What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? The audience for Guess should be older than for What, or only portions of the book should be read in one sitting.