The Children's Book Compass

Archive for April 2011

The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman.  Illus. by Ros Asquith.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Dial.  Grades K-4.  Nonfiction

Hoffman  and Asquith celebrate the diversity of families and their activities.  The words and illustration joyously team to show how “in real life, families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. … Lots of children live with their mommy and daddy, but lots of others live with just their daddy or just their mommy.  Some live with their grandma and grandpa.  Some children have two mommies or two daddies.  And some are adopted or live with foster families.”  Hoffman describes twelve topics that involve families:

  • Who’s in Your Family?
  • Homes
  • School
  • Jobs
  • Holidays
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Pets
  • Celebrations
  • Hobbies
  • Transportation
  • Feelings

Each topic is featured on a two-page spread.  Asquith uses small, animated, colorful cartoon-like pictures to illustrate the multiple activities.  Each item mentioned in the text has an accompanying picture.  Many pages are bordered with items that expand the topic of that page.  The text ends with “So families can be big, small, happy, sad, rich, poor, loud, quiet, mad, good-tempered, worried, or happy-go-lucky.  Most families are all of these things some of the time.  What’s yours like today?”  Children will enjoy answering that question to tell about their own families.


Seabird in the Forest: The Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet by Joan Dunning.  (2011)  Pages not numbered. Boyds Mills Press.  Grades 3-7.  Nonfiction.

Dunning hooked my interest on the first page of her detailed account of the life cycle of a marbled murrelet.  The ocean from the coast of Northern California into Alaska is the home of this small bird.  It floats and dives among the giant kelp pursuing tiny silver fish.  “The location of the nesting place of the marbled murrelet was the last of any bird in all of North America to be discovered.”  That nesting place was found high in the canopy of the coastal Redwoods, miles from the ocean.  The small bird raises it young 320 feet above the forest floor in these high trees.  Dunning tells the story of how the parents who mate for life raise their single chick over one month.  The author includes fascinating facts.  “Although a murrelet is only as big as a robin, it lays an egg that is nearly as big as a chicken’s.”  The adult bird “might fly a hundred mile round trip to deliver just one small fish to its chick.  Dunning also describes the ecosystem of the canopy in the redwood trees with animals and plants thriving high above the ground.  Sidebars add additional information and details to the story of how the chick survives finally flying to the ocean to begin the cycle again.  The paintings are detailed with varied perspectives that add to the information in the narrative.  The endpapers feature more facts about the Redwoods and the biologists who study them.  The back matter lists sources and web sites for future exploration.  Team this book with Redwoods by Jason Chin.

Jane Goodall writes in her message at the end of Me…Jane,  that, “The life of each one of us matters in the scheme of things …”  The following biographies of women demonstrate how each woman made contributions that still matters to us today.

Me … Jane by Patrick McDonnell.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Little Brown.  Ages 6-12.  Biography.

This beautifully crafted biography tells the story of Dr. Jane Goodall’s early life in simple pictures and text.  McDonnell emphasizes Jane’s zest for learning about nature, and how her talent for making observations in nature began.  In her investigations, Jane takes her stuffed toy chimpanzee, named Jubilee, everywhere.  A black and white photograph on the title page shows Jane as a child holding Jubilee.  The title is taken from the books Jane read about Tarzan of the Apes, “in which another girl, also named Jane, lived in the jungles of Africa.  Jane dreamed of a life in Africa, too.”  The book ends with a color photograph of Jane in Africa reaching out to a baby chimp – her dream realized.  Two pages of actual notes, drawings and puzzles made by Jane as a child show her childhood explorations.  More information about Jane’s life and her discoveries is in the back matter with another photo of her with Jubilee and a message from Jane today.  She writes,  “… I encourage everyone, especially young people, to make the world a better place for people, animals and the environment.”  The last page in the book features a cartoon that Jane made of her life in the forest at the Bombe Stream Game Reserve.  Ornamental engravings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries enrich the pages throughout narrative.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter. (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Schwartz & Wade Books.  Ages5-12.  Biography.

This book compliments Me … Jane.  Winter’s graceful narrative describes more about Jane’s life in Africa and her perseverance, patience and hard work to learn about the lives of the chimps.  It also explains how her talent for observation made her discoveries possible, “Now Jane watched every day, all day – even huddled in the rain.”  Winter includes quotations from Jane’s journal – “I wanted to learn things that no one else knew, uncover secrets…” she wrote.  Winter’s patterned, detailed illustrations provide even more information about Jane’s life.  Guide children in comparing the two biographies of Jane’s life and give them opportunities to examine these books as mentor texts.

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto by Susan Goldman Rubin.  Illus. by Bill Farnsworth.  (2011). 40 pages.  Holiday House.  Ages 11 and up.  Biography.

This biography of a little known heroine of the Holocaust begins with a quote from Sendler, “I was taught by my father that when someone is drowning, you don’t ask if they can swim, you just jump in and help.”  Her quote captures the nature of Sendler’s unselfish work in smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto starting in 1942.  She worked with the underground to find ways to save the doomed children.  “Barely 4 feet 11 inches tall, she risked her life when she disguised herself as a nurse and used a forged medical pass to enter the ghetto.  Irena planned ingenious ways to smuggle out the children.”   Rubin’s Afterword tells how Sendler’s story finally was told when the Communist regime collapsed in 1989. Extensive back matter lists a variety of resources, source notes and testimonials.

Tillie The Terrible Swede: How One Woman, A Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History by Sue Stauffacher.  Illustrated by Sarah McMenemy.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Knopf.  Ages 6-11.

When we see woman cyclists today in their tight racing togs, let’s remember Tillie who first created an outfit that discarded the voluminous dress of the period for a tightly fitted garment to become a “whirling sensation!”  She won races and set records earning for herself the nickname – “Tillie the Terrible Swede.”  In the late 1890’s she began her recording breaking career and continued through the early 1900’s.  McMenemy’s illustrations energize the story with drawings that show Tillie sprinting across the page in her races.  The back end papers show a time line of “Tillie’s Cycling Victories.”

Liberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus by Erica Silverman.  Illustrated by Stacey Schuett.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Dutton.  Ages 8-12.

Emma Lazarus penned the poem engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty.  This book emphasizes her life as a writer and her work to help impoverished immigrants in New York City..  Silverman describes how she kept a writer’s notebook, “Emma found inspiration everywhere.  She filled up one notebook after another with poetry.”  She was inspired and taught by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He gave her advice and recommended books for her to read.  Her work for immigrants and her skill as a poet came together when she was asked to write a poem to help raise money for the statue’s pedestal.   Schuett’s color infused illustrations extend the text.  The back matter gives more details about the poem and an extensive bibliography with websites and books for further reading.



These biographies are each about men who made major contributions.  All of these books will interest a wide range of ages.  Since children today are so oriented towards visual expression, the picture book format of these books will make them more appealing.

Ben Franklin His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z by Alan Schroeder.  Illustrated by John O’Brien.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Ages 8-14.

What a clever format – a biography in the form of an alphabet book. Schroeder chronicles Franklin’s inventions, contributions, and life experiences with items for each letter of the alphabet.  For example, D includes: Deborah his wife, the Declaration of Independence, Doll – the French made a Franklin doll, and a Duet, he played with his daughter.  Each entry is explained with a short annotation.  Quotations, and adages from Franklin’s almanacs and writings are sprinkled throughout the pages.  There is humorous drawings, one for each of the entries, on each page.  They add to the fun of discovering the genius and amazing versatility of one of our country’s Founding Fathers.

The Adventures of Mark Twain by Huckleberry Finn with considerable help from Robert Burleigh and Barry Blitt.  (2011).   Pages not numbered.  Atheneum.  Ages 9-14.

Burleigh sparks his biography of Twain with a narration in the voice of Twain’s character, Huckleberry Finn.  A “Warning to the Reader” at the beginning advises that the author of the book “… is NOT A WRITER!”  The warning goes on to explain that the reader needs to be prepared for the way Mr. Finn speaks.  Finn’s colorful first person dialogue enlivens the account of Twain’s life.  “This ain’t intendin’ to be some windy bioografy.”  Finn divides his account into logical chunks, “About When Sam Was a Boy,”  “About Sam the Steamboat Captain.”  About Sam Becomin’ a Writer” and more.  Children will chuckle over Twain’s adventures and learn about his colorful life at the same time.  Blitt’s action-packed illustrations feature Twain cavorting through his life all the time watched over by Finn.  A timeline at the end fills in some of the gaps in the chronicle..

When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio.  Illustrated by Marc Burckhardt.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Little Brown.  Ages 8-12.

This account of the early life of musician, Bob Dylan, will introduce him and his hero, Woody Guthrie, to young readers.  Golio explains, “Woody was everything Bob wanted to be: a roamin’ and ramblin’ singer and storyteller who’d played for striking miners and starving farmers.  … he had written more than a thousand songs – about dust storms and tornadoes, heroes, hobos, and gunslinging outlaws.  He played country, blues, and folk music.  His song “This Land Is Your Land” was a national favorite.”  When Dylan learns that his hero is alive and ill he travels to New York City to meet Woody.  There he plays for Woody who is in the hospital and keeps visiting him.  The Afterword tells how in “meeting Woody, Bob came to know some of the most talented and important figures in American folk music.”  He then went on to become a famous musician.  The acrylic and oil portraits and illustrations flesh out the characteristics of the two men.  Sources & Resources are listed in the back matter for children to find out more about these musicians by reading more, listening to their audio recording and watching videos.  .  An author’s note describes how Golio was inspired to write the book by Bob’s search for his guiding star.  Finally, the back matter lists the sources of the many quotations from Bob and Woody that appear throughout the text.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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