The Children's Book Compass

Archive for February 2010

An Egret’s Day: Poems by Jane Yolen.  Photographs by Jason Stemple.  (2010)   Wordsong.  32 pages.  Grades 2 and up.  Poetry.

Teachers often ask me to suggest books that feature metaphors.  Now I have a new title to recommend.  Jane Yolen’s newest book offers fourteen lovely poems about the egret, some with elegant metaphors.  Here is an excerpt from “Great Egret.”

The Great Egret’s wings

are like fresh sheets

hung out upon a line;

its neck is a telescope;

beak as sharp and fine

as a fisherman’s gutting knife;

legs thin dark stalks,

sprung wires, steel skewers.

Yolen is a careful observer and her poems help the reader learn more about the bird.  Here is a sample from the poem, “Some Feet.”

The Great Egret’s  splayed feet walk easily

In water and on land,

Yet strong enough for clinging,

As mobile as a hand.

Stemple’s full–colored photographs of the egret illustrate the poems, some showing close-ups of details mentioned in the poems.  Each poem is also accompanied by a short paragraph with factual information about the egret.  Yolen and Stemple, mother and son, have collaborated on many other books of poetry illustrated by photographs.  Check them out!


January‘s Sparrow by Patrica  Polacco.  (2009). Philomel.  95 pages.  Grades 3 and up.  Fiction

Patrica Polacco has a talent for telling stories with words and illustrations that powerfully touch our emotions.  She has done it again in January‘s Sparrow.  Sadie,  young slave girl, relates how her family, the Crosswhites, escapes from a cruel plantation master.  The family makes an arduous  journey on the Underground Railroad finally arriving in Marshall, a town in the free state of Michigan.  There the citizens help runaway slaves, and the family comfortably settles.  Sadie and her siblings get to go to school and their parents find work.  But then slave trackers arrive in the town ready to take the Crosswhites back into slavery.  The dramatic conclusion demonstrates how the town protects the family with bravery and courage.  The story is based on a true account of how the Crosswhite family escaped from slavery.  It is an excellent choice to read aloud as Polacco’s large size illustrations can be seen by everyone in the classroom.  The dramatic illustrations show the terror and the emotions of the events.  Compare this book with Pink and Say also by Polacco.  Guide the students to consider how Polacco emphasizes facial features and hands to evoke the power of the events in the story.  Another great connection for this book is Christopher Paul Curtis’ novel, Elijah of Buxton.

Fever Crumb by Phillip Reeve. (2010).  Scholastic.  336 pages.  Grades 6 and up.  Science Fiction.

A prequel to Reeve’s series, the Hungry City Chronicles, that begins with Mortal Engines this engrossing novel imagines a future where mankind has been set back into medieval practices.  The people dig for relics of ancient technology, like engines and microchips to reuse or cannibalize.  This society of the future has many echoes of our present world.  Fourteen-year-old, Fever Crumb, is the heroine who is caught up in a fast-paced, gripping adventure that kept me up late to finish the novel.  I am eager to read more about Fever’s adventures I am sure young readers will feel the same.  This book is a great choice for a classroom library.  Booktalk it to entice readers.  Check out other books by Reeve especially those about King Arthur.

Miss Brooks Loves Books! ( and I don’t) by Barbara Bottner.  Illus. Michael Emberley.  (2010).  Knopf.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 1-4.  Picture Book.

Miss Brooks, a school librarian, loves books and shares them with her students in exciting and innovative ways.  However, the narrator of this humorous picture book does not love reading.  She tells Miss Brooks that she will “never love a book the way you do” Miss Brooks replies, “Don’t be so sure,” while she fills the child’s bag with books to read at home with her mom.  But the narrator is determined to not like any of those books either – “They’re too kissy.  Too pink.  And too silly.”  Her mother tells her, “You’re as stubborn as a wart.”  Finally, the girl discovers something that she wants to read about –“WARTS!!”  Luckily, her mother knows a book that includes warts – Shrek!  In the final scenes she dresses up in a costume as the ogre and tells the other children about Shrek, even giving them stick-on warts.  Miss Brooks is thrilled and says that “…even ogres can find something funny and fantastic and appalling in the library.”  The expressive and animated illustrations picture a zany Miss Brooks clothed in costumes to match the books she reads aloud to the children – Barbar, one of the Wild Things, the Hungry Caterpillar, Lincoln, and more.  This book demonstrates that each child has a unique way of discovering books that she will love.

Start the school year with a theme – “Why Read?”  Read aloud and invite the children to read all kinds of books that celebrate reading.  Miss Brooks Loves Books can be shared with such a textset.  It will spark a discussion about choosing books to match your interests.  The connecting books below all celebrate reading.

Connecting Books

Birdseye, Tom.  Just Call Me Stupid.  (Puffin, 1993).

Patrick is in the fifth grade and still can’t read.  He is sent to the Resource Room which makes his problem even worse.  Then a new girl comes to his class and changes his life by reading aloud to him.

Bloom, Becky.  Wolf!. (Orchard, 1999).

A wolf discovers the pleasures of reading as a result of his encounters with a cow, a duck and a pig, all avid readers.

Borden, Louise.  The Day Eddie Met the Author.  Illus. A. Gustavson. (Margaret McElderry, 2001).

Eddie discovers how an author can create a book with parts meant just for him.

Bradby, Marie.  More Than Anything Else.  Illus. C. Soentpiet. (Orchard, 1995).

Nine year old Booker works with his father and brother in the salt works while making his dream of learning to read comes true.

Bunting, Eve.  The Wednesday Surprise.  Illus. D. Carrick.  (Clarion, 1989).

Anna and her grandmother work hard together to prepare an unusual surprise for Dad’s birthday.

Daly, Niki.  Once Upon a Time. (FSG, 2003).

Sarie struggles when her teacher calls on her to read aloud in her South African school.  But then her Auntie Anna finds a book about Cinderella and together they work to make reading fun.

Garland, Michael.  Miss Smith’s Incredible Storybook.  (Dutton, 2003).

When Miss Smith reads a story aloud to her class the characters come to life.  There is trouble when the principal reads from the book and doesn’t know the secret to containing the characters.

Harris, Robie.  Maybe a Bear Ate It! Illus. M. Emberley.  (Orchard, 2008).

A simple picture book that humorously chronicles a little creature’s search for his lost book.  All is well when he recovers the beloved book.

Herman, Gail.  Sam’s First Library Card.  Illus.  T. Petrosina.  (Grosset & Dunlap, 2003).

Sam learns about borrowing books from the library and the pleasure of reading.

Hesse, Karen.  Just Juice..  (Scholastic, 1998).

Nine year old tomboy, Juice, is the capable member of a large family.  Yet she has difficulties with reading and writing and can’t make sense out of letters and words.  As a result she skips school until a caring teacher provides support..

Johnston, Tony.  Amber On The Mountain.  Illus. R. Duncan. (Puffin, 1998).

Amber’s life on the mountain is lonely without friends or even a school.  Then Anna comes to live on the mountain and Amber gains a friend who teaches her to read and write.

McGill, Alice.  Molly Bannaky.  Illus. C. Soentpiet.  (Houghton, 1999).

Molly is a milkmaid in 18th century.  When the cow kicks over the milk pail, Molly is taken to court for stealing the milk from the Lord of the Manor.  Molly’s ability to read saves her from hanging.  She is sent to American to be an indentured servant and later teaches her grandson, Benjamin Banneker to read.

McPhail, David.  Santa’s Book of Names.  (Little, Brown, 1993).

Edward has trouble with reading until Santa arrives on Christmas Eve.  Santa enlists Edward’s help in reading his book of names and making deliveries of gifts to the children of the world.  When the long night is over, Edward discovers he can read!

Miller, William.  Richard Wright And The Library Card.  Illus. G. Christie. (Lee & Low, 1999).

A picture book vignette from Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy.  Wright was not allowed to use the public library since he was African American.  However, he took a risk, borrowed a white man’s library card and satisfied his passion for reading.

Mora, Pat.  Tomas And The Library Lady. Illus. R. Colon. (Dragonfly, 2000).

When his family of migrant workers moves to Iowa, Tomas discovers new stories at the public library to share with his family.

Mora, Pat.  A Library for Juana.  Illus. B. Vidal.  (Knopf, 2002).

A biography of a Mexican writer who lived in the 17th century.  As a child, Juana Ines learned to read at the age of three and was allowed to go to school.

Polacco, Patricia. Thank You Mr. Falker.  (Philomel, 1998).

Patricia’s struggles with reading impact her self esteem until her teacher, Mr. Falker, finds a way to help her overcome her difficulties.

Reiche, Dietlof.  I, Freddy.  Illus. J. Cepeda.  (Scholastic, 2003).

Freddy is a golden hamster that teaches himself to read and then learns to communicate his thoughts using a computer.  A novel, that reads well aloud.

Stewart, Sarah.  The Library. Illus. D. Small (Sunburst, 1999).

Elizabeth Brown loves to read.  When her collection of books takes over her home, she creates a library for the town.

Vaughan, Marcia.  Up the Learning Tree.  Illus. D. Blanks.  (Lee & Low, 2003).

A slave boy risks severe punishment in order to learn to read and write.

Well, Rosemary.  Read Me a Story.  (Hyperion, 2002).

Yoko doesn’t want anyone to know she can read and write.  Both her teacher and her mother are frustrated with her performance until the reason Yoko is afraid to show her ability comes out.

Wilson, Nancy Hope.  Old People, Frogs, and Albert.  (FSG, 1997).

Albert is discouraged with his ability to read in the fourth grade.  A classroom volunteer, Mr. Spear, helps Albert overcome his difficulties.

Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us by Mike Rose.  (2009).  New Press.  177 pages.  For adults.  Nonfiction.

Our public schools are the bedrock of our democracy.  Today they are under assault.  Mike Rose shows us why and makes a compelling case for how we can reclaim our educational system.  He raises provocative questions that can start a national conversation about how to do so:

…how to educate a vast population, how to bring schooling to all, what to teach and how to teach it, who will do it, what the work will mean to them—what we can help make it mean to them.  (p. 164)

He clearly articulates how important it is that as a society we consider the purpose of schooling.

How we think about and voice the purpose of school matters.  It affects what we put in or take out of the curriculum and how we teach that curriculum.  It affects the way we think about students—all students—about intelligence, achievement, human development, teaching and learning, opportunity and obligation.  And all of this affects the way we think about each other and who we are as a nation. (p. 169)

Rose shows how without such a national consideration our current purpose for schooling has been narrowed to:–

… economic competitiveness, our kids becoming economic indicators.  We’ve reduced our definition of human development and achievement—that miraculous growth of intelligence, sensibility, and the discovery of the world—to a test score.  (p. x)

Mike Rose is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at UCLA.  He is the author of several other thoughtful books.  His Lives on the Boundary was a seminal book for me.  Why School? is even more significant.  It is imperative to read and discuss it in order to begin the vital conversations and work needed to reclaim our public education system.  I will use it as a text to start that conversation in my education classes.  I urge others to do the same and then to share it with everyone you know.

Hank Aaron’s Dream by Matt Tavares.  (2010). Candlewick Press.   Pages not numbered Grades 2 and up.  Biography.

The first sentences of this biography of the famous baseball player strikes the tone for the book, “Henry Aaron had a dream./  He wanted to be a big-league baseball player./  He didn’t have a bat, / so he’d swing a broom handle/ or a stick/ or whatever he could find.”  Tavares shows Aaron’s determination to accomplish his dream and his struggles to do so.  He suffered from many racial incidents.  It was hard to even find a place to play baseball since his town, Mobile, Alabama, in the 1940’s only had baseball diamonds for whites with signs that said – “Whites Only. “  The author focuses on Aaron’s early life and ends the account when Aaron joins the major leagues, making his dream come true.   Jackie Robinson became Aaron’s hero who paved the way for other African-Americans to become major league baseball players.  See the connecting books for biographies about Robinson.

This book is an excellent choice to share with a class since everyone can view the large, expressive illustrations that capture Aaron’s emotions, struggles and triumphs.  An Author’s Note at the end together with a bibliography and statistics from Aaron’s career provide more information.

Please note the books under “Connecting Books” about Jackie Robinson.  Students could be invited to read those books and compare the experiences of Aaron and Robinson and how their hard work broke the color barriers in major league baseball.  Also, see We Are the Ship below to provide background for the students about the Negro Leagues.

Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge.  (2009). Viking.  72 pages.  Grades 5 and up.  Nonfiction.

African-American children were instrumental in the struggle for civil rights.  However, except for Ruby Bridges their stories have not been widely told.  This book closes that gap by focusing on children in Selma Alabama during the terrible spring of 1965.  Children and teens became part of the non-violent effort to obtain voting rights and were often beaten, tear-gassed, arrested and jailed.  The teens even influenced their teachers to try to register to vote.  The teachers defied their superintendent and the sheriff when they became outraged by their students’ arrests.   Partridge spotlights the stories of several different children and teens and shows how their bravery helped them to survive the terrible violence that they met in the marches and protests.  The second half of the book details the five day March from Selma to Montgomery.  Some of the children who hadbeen badly beaten on “Bloody Sunday” went along.  One of the girls wanted “Governor Wallace to see he hadn’t hurt her spirit-“even though she was still bandaged from the terrible injuries she had suffered at the hands of state troopers on “Bloody Sunday.”  The back matter in the book provides an Author’s Note, source notes, a bibliography, acknowledgments, and an index.  Archival photographs show the children involved in the efforts as well as leaders in the civil rights movement.

After the book has been shared with the whole class, use it as a model of an inquiry cycle.  Point out how the final sections in the book work together to demonstrate how Partridge did her research.  For example, the Author’s Note describes how Partridge went about her inquiry and the questions that guided her investigation.   Also, the sections on Source Notes, Bibliography and Acknowledgments clearly demonstrate the variety of resources she used.  Finally, the author provides her Web site for students to continue to learn about the topics in the book.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  Illus. by Brian Pinkney.  (2010).  Little Brown.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 2 and up.  Nonfiction.

The Pinkney’s combine their talents to create a powerful chronicle of the lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina during 1960.   Four African-American young college students started the sit-in and soon they were joined by their college friends.  Quotations by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. enrich the text and demonstrate how the students based their protest on non-violent practices.  They learned that “Practicing peace while others showed hatred was tougher than any school test.”  The poetic text has a rhythmic cadence that builds to a dramatic resolution with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The last page features a fold-out that shows three full pages of illustrations that are a visual recap of all that went on in this struggle for equality.   Brian Pinkney’s use of watercolors and India ink effectively expands and compliments the text.  The designers of the book employ varied and colorful fonts for emphasis of some of the quotes and slogans. The last pages of the book feature a time-line of the civil rights movement, a photograph with more information about the young men who first sat down to sit-in and background on the civil rights movement.  Finally, the last page gives a bibliography for further reading and websites to visit.  Click on this link to see one of the recommended websites:  me

This book is an excellent choice for reading aloud and for choral readings.  The repeating refrains especially lend themselves to choral readings.  After you have read the book aloud, share it on the document camera so the students can follow along as you read.  Students then can be guided to recognize how the use of fonts helps the reader emphasize different parts of the text.  Then ask children to volunteer to read different parts with everyone joining in on the reading of the colored fonts.  Give the children lots of time for practice in order to make a powerful presentation.  Finally, see the connecting books below to offer even more opportunities to learn about the struggle for civil rights.

Connecting Books

Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds.  Illus. by Floyd Cooper.  (2010).  Philomel.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 2 and up.  Picture book.

A young boy relates his perspective of the arrest of Rosa Parks from his vantage point at the back of the bus.

Birmingham Sunday by Larry Dane Brimner.  (2010).   Calkins Creek.  48 pages.  Grades 4 and up.  Nonfiction.

Archival photographs and comprehensive text combine to tell the story of the five children that were murdered in the bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963.

Boycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney.  Illus. by Brian Pinkney.  (2008).  Amistad.   Pages not numbered.  Grades  2 and up.   Nonfiction.

Dramatic illustrations and rhythmic text combine to tell the powerful story of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose.  (2009).  FSG.  114 pages.  Grades 5 and up.  Biography.

A National Book Award winner for 2009 this biography focuses on Claudette Colvin who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus, nine months before Rosa Parks’ famous refusal.

Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford.  Illus. by Jerome Lagarrigue.  (2007).  Puffin.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 2 and up.  Picture book.

A young girl relates how desegregation takes place in her town and focuses on how her older brother and his friends stage a sit-in at a lunch counter.

The Hallelujah Flight by Phil Bildner.  Illus. by John Holyfield.  (2010).  Putnam.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 2 and up.  Picture book.

In 1932 an African-American pilot, James Banning and his copilot became the first African-Americans to fly across the United States.

Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed American by Sharon Robinson.  (2004) Scholastic.  64 pages.  Grades 3 and up.  Biography.

Robinson’s daughter recounts how her dad’s courage, talent and perseverance enabled him to break the color barriers in major league baseball.  She combines the history of the period with the events of her father’s life to create an intimate portrait of his life.  Also see: Teammates by Peter Golenblock and Stealing Home: Jackie Robinson Against the Odds by Robert Burleigh.

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles.  Illus. by George Ford.  (1995).  Scholastic. Pages not numbered.  Grades 1 and up.  Picture book.

The picture book version of how a six-year-old girls integrated her elementary school despite the racial slurs and abuse of a white crowd gathered each morning to taunt her.

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson.  Illus. by Eric Velasquez.  (2005). Simon.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 1 and up.  Picture book.

A young girl describes the power of being involved in a civil rights march.

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges.  (1999). Scholastic.  64 pages.  Grades 3 and up.  Nonfiction.

Ruby tells her own story of how as a young child she integrated her elementary school.  She also describes the background of the civil rights movement.  Includes many photographs.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson.  (2008) Jump at the Sun.  96 pages.  Grades 5 and up.  Nonfiction.

Dramatic and powerful illustrations combine with fascinating historical facts about the players in the Negro Leagues before major league baseball was integrated to make an absorbing book.

Visit my other blog,  It features poems by Janet Wong.  Each poem is accompanied by an invitation to comment.  Students from kindergarten through 8th grade have enjoyed reading Janet’s poems on the blog and many have posted their own comments and poems.  Janet Wong often writes back to the students on the blog.   The poems of author and poet, Janet Wong, served as mentor texts on the blog to inspire the writing process on the part of the students.    Teachers whose students participate in the blog report that their students:

  • discovered a purpose for their writing through their interactions with the poet who responded to their comments;
  • became engaged in the revising and editing process through sharing their poetry and comments;
  • increased their enthusiasm for writing;
  • engaged in dialogs with students in other schools by posting their writing and discussing each others’ work.

Invite your students to participate in the blog.  Show them how to access the blog,  Model how to select a poem to read and then how to post a comment or post a poem.  If your students are attending Janet Wong’s presentation in Spokane for Get Lit!  on Saturday, April 17, participating in the blog will support them in preparing for that experience.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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