The Children's Book Compass

Posts Tagged ‘Houghton Mifflin

I have been sick for most of the last month, and haven’t been able to post any reviews.  However, I have been reading and found some terrific books to recommend.  Since there are so many, I will just give a brief reviews over the next few days.  Please note that most of these books have a wide age appeal.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Slobhan Dowd.  Illustrated by Jim Kay.  (2011).  204 pages.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 11-adult.

This powerful book enthralled me from the first pages.  I think it is one of the most compelling and honest novels I have ever read.  Colin’s mother is dying of cancer and he is haunted by a monster.  Is the monster part of a nightmare or, is it real?  Will the monster help Colin face the truth of his mother’s situation?  The ending is tremendously moving and brought me to tears.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.  (2011).  312 pages.  Walden Pond Press.  Ages 9-12.  Fantasy.

Breadcrumbs is an intriguing mix of realistic fiction and fantasy with the theme of the power of friendship.  Eleven-year-old Hazel and Jack are the best of friends in our contemporary world.  They love to read fantasies.  When Jack suddenly disappears, Hazel goes into a magic wood to rescue him from a white witch who has frozen his heart.  The story is enriched by many references to beloved fantasies.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt.  (2011).  360 pages.  Clarion.  Ages 11-15.  Historical/Realistic Fiction.

Eighth grader, Doug Swieteck surmounts difficult challenges in 1968 when his family moves to a new home in upstate New York.  Doug’s perseverance, hard work, discoveries in art and kindness to others blesses himself his family and the people in his new community.  Schmidt tells the story in Doug’s voice which is humorous and endearing.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.  (2011)..  422 pages.  Greenwillow.  Ages 12-adult.  Fantasy.

What a captivating, fantastic romance and adventure.  The heroine is a princess who has always believed that she is nothing compared to her older sister.  How she discovers her own strength, intelligence and ability to lead makes an engrossing  and enchanting story.

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak.  Illustrated by Philip Hopman.  (2011).  145 pages.  Eerdmans.  Ages 10-adult.

Here is a story based on real events of a troop of Polish soldiers in World War II.  The soldiers discover a small bear cub and adopt him.  The bear travels with the soldiers from Iran to Egypt and finally to Scotland at the end of the war.  In the midst of war, the bear provides a relief from tragedy with his humorous antics.  Maps of the soldiers’ journey and photographs at the end enrich the story.  Winner of the Mildred Batchelder Award which is given to book originally published in another country in a language other than English.

The Lily Pond by Annika Thor.  (2011).  217 pages.  Delacorte Press.  Ages 10-14.

A sequel to A Faraway Island, winner of the Mildred Batchelder Award in 2010.  This book follows thirteen year old Stephie Steiner, as she goes to school on the mainland.  Her Jewish parents have sent Stephie and her sister to Sweden to protect them from the Nazi persecution.  Stephie must please her foster parents, navigate through the difficulties of a new school and the responsibilities of being a scholarship student while she experiences her first love.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales by Chris Van Allsburg.  (2011).  221 pages.  Houghton Mifflin.  Ages 11-adult.  Short Stories.

When I last taught sixth grade my students were inspired to tell the stories they saw in the gripping pictures of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.  Now fourteen talented authors have created their own stories that are evoked by each the pictures.  The original pictures are included with each short story.  Young people will enjoy the stories and want to compare them with their own versions.  Read the some of the stories aloud to hook listeners who will want to read more who will want to read more on their own.


The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris.  Illus. by Aaron Renier.  (2011). 118 pages.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades 2-6.  Fantasy Novel.

This is the third book in Morris’ The Knight Tales series.  After children read this one, they will want to go back to read the others in the series.  Morris retells the stories from the King Arthur legends with humor and verve.  His retellings make the stories accessible for younger children.  Large size font, a small book size and action-packed line drawings also make these books attractive for younger readers.  The story of how Sir Gawain the Undefeated takes on the challenge of the fearsome giant, The Green Knight, makes a rousing tales.  The adventures come tumbling out of the pages.  Readers will be glued to the story of how Sir Gawain meets the challenge of the Green Knight and discovers wisdom and grace along the way.

Sea of Dreams by Dennis Nolan.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Roaring Brook Press.  Grades P-5.  Wordless Picture Book.

Nolan’s magical adventure starts on the title page where a young girl comes to a vacant beach to spend the day building a sand castle.  At the end of her day, she has created an enchanted castle complete with turrets and towers.  As she walks away a gorgeous sunset colors the sky.  The tide comes to wash the sand castle away.  But before it does a light comes on in the castle tower window.  It is held aloft by a tiny bearded man who joins his family in escaping the incoming waves in a small sail boat.   Gigantic waves toss the young boy in the family into the ocean.  There he meets a huge fish, sea horses and mermaids who save him and return him to his family.  The family finds refuge on a rocky island off the beach that the sand castle builder can see the next morning as she begins building another castle.  This fantastic wordless, story celebrates the beauty of the oceanic world while creating a fantasy that will endure as a classic.

Bee & Bird by Craig Frazier.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Roaring Brook Press.  Grades P-2.  Wordless Picture Book.

This wordless picture book has a cinematic feel as a bee and bird take off on a journey.  The camera swoops in for a close-up – the stripes in the bee’s body and then pulls back to show the bee on a large red sphere, pulling back farther with the next picture  showing the bee is on the head of a red bird.  The simple, bold graphics pull the reader into predicting what will happen next to the bird and bee.  There are surprises along the way that will surprise and delight young readers.

The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades 1-4.  Wordless Picture Books.

Reading  the detailed illustrations in this book is like solving a puzzle.  The illustrations require careful perusal to find the secret clues.  Three children discover a hiding place where a small box has been secreted by a boy before their time.  The artifacts including a map lead them on journey of discovery through their city and back in time to the Seahorse Pier.  There they find a gathering of children from different times and cultures.  Lehman captures the reader’s attention with various ways she arranges the illustrations.  Some pages feature a double page picture of a big scene; others show six or seven smaller action-packed frames.  The satisfying ending shows a new set of children in a future time finding the box and setting off on their own adventure.  This is a book children will enjoy looking at and sharing again and again.

These three books celebrate grandparents and emphasize the strength of the relationships between the generations.  They are distinguished by the waves of love they portray between grandparent and child.   Grandparents will want to read aloud the books to their youngsters.  Each book is an outstanding example of how a beautifully crafted text and illustrations can be melded together into a luscious and memorable picture book.


Your Moon, My Moon: A Grandmother’s Words to a Faraway Child  by Patricia MacLachlan. Illus. Bryan Collier.  Simon & Schuster.  Grades P- 3.  Picture Book.

MacLachlan lives in New England, her grandchild in Africa.  Her lyrical text celebrates the things they have enjoyed together on visits to each other and the things that are unique about the places they each live.  “Where I live we sleep under/quilts/and wear wooly socks/when it is cold.”  Then she contrasts how her grandchild sleeps, “Where you live you sleep under a netting/like a royal child, safe from buzzing mosquitoes.” Collier’s elegant illustrations in watercolors and collages extend the text and add a story of the grandmother preparing and then traveling to Africa to see her beloved grandchild.

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason.  Illus. Floyd Cooper.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades P-3.  Picture Book.

In a repeating refrain a grandpa tells his grandson about all the things his hands can do and have done.

Look at these hands, Joseph.

Did you know these hands

used to make the ivories sing

like a sparrow in springtime?

Well, I can still show a young fellow

how to play “Heart and Soul”

–yes, I can.

The grandpa describes all his talents from playing baseball to card tricks.  He also tells how because of racism his hands “were not allowed to mix/the bread dough/in the Wonder Bread factory.”  His hands

..were only allowed

to sweep the floors

and work the line

and load the trucks.

Because the bosses said

white people would not want to eat bread

touched by these hands.

Then, the grandpa explains how he joined with others to achieve civil rights and “Now any hands can touch the bread dough . . . ”  The grandson brings the story full circle with recounting all the things he can do with his hands and grandpa affirms that his grandson’s “hands can do anything./ Anything at all in this whole wide world.”  An Author’s Note at the end explains how racism in the past caused other inequities.  Cooper’s uses an oil wash in sepia tones finished with kneaded erasers that give a soft, evocative look to the illustrations.

Ladder to the Moon by Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng Illus. by Yuyi Morales.  Candlewick Press.  Grades P-3.  Picture Book.

Here’s a book to share at bedtime with a beloved child.   A young child,  Suhaila, asks her mother what her grandma was like.  Her mother answers, “She was like the moon, . . . Full, soft and curious.  Your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could.”  Later in bed the child imagines that her grandmother descends from the moon on a golden ladder and takes her back to the moon.  Together they gazed down on the earth and embraced those that were experiencing troubles and needed love and support.  Grandma Annie brings the troubled folk up the golden ladder.  “One by one, every person was finding his or her own path to the moon, each path connecting with the others in hope’s massive stream.”  Together grandma and child bring healing to the people.  Finally, they part with “a snuggle and a smooch.”  Suhaila feels “proud for having helped others heal – for having helped others learn to move forward and upward and around.” In  Soetoro-Ng ‘s note at the end she explains how the book was inspired by her mother, Ann Dunham, who is also the mother of President Barack Obama, and her daughter’s questions about her late grandmother.   Morales illustrations are amazing, capturing the moon’s glow, the healing touch of Grandma Annie, and the caring embrace of those who love.

This last summer was filled with teaching summer school classes and a dream vacation to Europe.  One of the best parts was attending the IBBY conference in Santiago De Compostela, Spain.  Since returning home, I have been reading some wonderful books.  This post will focus on the excellent nonfiction and biographies I found.  These titles will tantalize the reading taste buds of youngsters who like to read about things that are “real and have really happened.” So I am back to blogging this time about biography and nonfiction.

Dave the Potter Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban C. Hill.  Illus. by Bryan Collier.  (2010).  Little, Brown and Company.  Pages not numbered.  All Ages.  Biography.

This unusual and stunning biography touches the heart as the sparse, lyrical text and powerful illustrations team to unfold the story of a slave, whose pottery and the poems he inscribed on them made him an important American artist.  The poetic text concentrates on Dave’s process of making the pottery.  The book ends with, “But before the jar/completely hardened,/Dave picked up a stick/and wrote to let us know/that he was here./I wonder where/is all my relation/friendship to all–/and, every nation.”  Collier uses collage and watercolors to show different perspectives of making the pots.  Some are a series of close-ups of Dave’s hands molding the pots.  Other images show the environment where Dave worked.  At the end Hill provides more information about Dave, his poems and a photograph of five pots.  Both the author’s and illustrator’s notes tell about the inspiration and research for the book.  A bibliography and list of websites offer ways for students to learn more about Dave.

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy.  (2010).  Simon & Schuster.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 1-5.  Biography.

This book has lots of kid appeal from the endpapers that feature colorful bubble gum balls on a bright pink background to the last pages with “Facts about Gum” and “More Facts About Gum.”  McCarthy concentrates on how Walter Diemer, an accountant for a candy and gum factory, got stuck on inventing a new kind of gum, bubble gum.  Walter “spent months playing with different mixtures” until the mixture “bubbled and popped.”’ Walter thought the mixture needed some color.  ““Pink coloring was the only one I had at hand,”” so bubble gum became pink!  Walter’s “Dubble Bubble” became a success and Walter was promoted to Vice-President of the company.  The colorful comic illustrations add to the fun.  The facts at the end will intrigue children, i.e. “If you chew gum nonstop for a year straight you will lose eleven pounds (good luck with that, though!).”

Bulu: African Wonder Dog by Dick Houston. (2010).  Random House.  323 pages.  Grades 5-9.  Biography.

This is a great dog story but also an account of a remarkable couple, Anna and Steve Tolan.  The Tolans, former police officers, left their comfortable life in England for new adventures in Zambia.  There they created a refuge for orphaned animals and a wildlife education center for the children of the area.  The Tolans acquired Bulu as a puppy and he is the star of their story.  They were warned about having a pet in the African bush, and some of Bulu’s harrowing adventures show why that warning was accurate.  He has encounters with a cobra, crocodile and lions.  Bulu has heart and unusual courage and he survives.  He fosters and nurtures many of the orphans – monkeys, warthogs, a baboon, a bushbuck, a baby elephant.  Black and white photographs enrich the text and show Bulu with the other animals.  There is humor and suspense in this book.  It would make an excellent choice to read aloud.

How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look At Unusual Animal Partnerships by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page. (2010).  Houghton Mifflin.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 1-4.  Nonfiction.

Jenkins and Page provide young readers with fascinating facts about animal symbiosis.  The text describes how the animals have formed relationships in which each animal helps the other.  For example, the oxpecker bird “debugs” large African animals like the giraffe, rhino, deer and buffalo by searching “for ticks and insects, pulling them off with its beak.”  The bird also warns its host when predators are approaching.  The collage illustrations feature each host animal and its partner with appealing details.  The book design makes it readable and attractive.  The back matter provides more information about each featured animal and symbiosis.  This is a book that children will pour over and return to again and again.


The next three books are outstanding new entries in the “Scientists in the Field” series.  Together the books demonstrate how scientists around the world are working toward saving our environment and the creatures that dwell in it.  Each book features stunning, full color, photographs that show close-ups of the creatures, the environments they live in and the scientists at work.  The writing in each book gathers the reader into the narrative with stories from the field.   These books are also outstanding in the way their text features, like sidebars, captions, insets, glossaries, indexes, further resources, guides to helping save the creatures, maps, bibliographies, appendixes are used to develop and extend the informative texts.

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns.  Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz.  (2010).  Houghton Mifflin.  66 pages. Grades 5-8.  Nonfiction.

The first sentence in this book makes the reader an active participant in the story.   “Put on your veil, grab your hive tool, and light up your smoker… …we’re going into a beehive.”  Burns first explains the vital role played by honey bees in pollinating crops, fruit and nut trees and vegetable plants.  Then she describes colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious scourge that is wiping out hives all over our country, and how scientists are working to understand how to combat it.  The reader learns about bees and the ways bee keepers are taking care of them.  Photographs of the bees in the hive and at their work are detailed and exciting to see.  It is especially intriguing to learn about the scientists’ careful detective work in addressing the possible causes of CCD.  An appendix provides more information about this amazing insect.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery.  Photographs by Nic Bishop.  (2010).  Houghton Mifflin.  74 pages. Grades 5-8.  Nonfiction.

Montgomery and Bishop have other prize winning books in this series.  This is sure to be another winner for them.  This book tells about a project on a remote island off the New Zealand coast to save the last ninety-one kakapo parrots on earth.  Compelling writing paints visual portraits of the unique parrots and the scientists’ efforts to save them.

It’s hours past midnight.  You’d think any self-respecting parrot would be asleep.  But not Lisa.

No, despite the late hour, this huge, soft, moss-green bird, looking somewhat like a parakeet who has eaten one side of the mushroom in Alice in Wonderland and grown into an eight-pound giant, decides this is a great time to waddle out of her nest—a nest that’s not in a tree, like a normal parrot’s, but underground.

A large size photograph of the bird accompanies these opening paragraphs.  Montgomery and Bishop became part of the story because they spent ten-days on the island learning about the work of New Zealand’s National Kakapo Recovery Team.  One of the last photographs shows Montgomery in “a dazzling encounter” with one of the parrots.

Project Seahorse by Pamela S. Turner.   Photographs by  Scott Tuason.  (2010).  Houghton Mifflin.   57 pages.  Grades 5-8.  Nonfiction.

This book also profiles an animal, the seahorse, which is in trouble because of environmental damage and overfishing.  The underwater photographs of the appealing creatures dazzle.  A variety of the species are pictured.  This book focuses on the coral reefs off Handumon, a small village on an island in the Philippines.  There the two women scientists who have founded Project Seahorse work tirelessly with local fishermen, villages and their research team to protect the seahorses and the livelihood of local fishing families.  The photos of the scuba divers, fishermen at work and the gorgeous life of the coral reef compel the reader’s attention.  Some chapters are just devoted to describing the unique aspects of the life cycle of the seahorse like the way the male seahorse gives birth from his brood pouch.  Other chapters outline the threats to this gentle creature like traditional Chinese Medicine that uses dried, ground up seahorses for medicine.  A final chapter describes the positive outcomes that have come about through the efforts of Project Seahorse.

Children who are becoming readers need to be exposed to a wide range of books and experiences.  First, they need to hear books read aloud by teachers and parents.  Then they need to have a variety of books to read themselves.  They especially need books that will match their interests and their reading capabilities.  The following books are great examples of the variety of books that will appeal to young readers and support them in becoming successful readers.

Three Little Bears Play All Day by David Martin.  Illus. by Akemi Gutierrez.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.   Grades P-3.  Beginning Readers.

The four slim books in this slip-jacketed set are part of the “Brand New Readers” series – excellent choices for children just taking their first steps as independent readers.  The “Brand New Readers” series features four short books in each set.  Each booklet is no longer than eight pages.  The four books in each set are all about the same character(s) and their adventures.  Each book includes tips for parents and teachers to guide them on supporting their “brand new reader.”  This set is about three sibling bears but not the characters we know from Goldilocks’ adventure with the three bears.  The text is simple and the pictures provide clues to the reader in order to be successful.  One of the four titles is “Three Little Bears Eat.”  It reads: “Brother Bear and Sister Bear eat peas./ “Green food is yucky!” says Baby Bear./ Then they eat broccoli.  “Green food is yucky!” says Baby Bear./ Then they eat mint ice cream./ “Green food is yummy!” says Baby Bear.”  The other three titles in the set tell about more fun with the bear siblings.  Children who read these books are excited because they have read a book!  Go to the website: to read some of the books in the series online and to view the illustrations.

When Jack Goes Out by Pat Schories.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Boyd Mills Press.  Grades P-3.  Wordless Book.

This is the fifth book about Jack, an adorable puppy.  The wordless story features an evening encounter between Jack, who has been chained to his dog house, and visitors from outer space.  The same characters were featured in Jack and the Night Visitors. This time the space men unchain Jack to romp, play and swim him.  Then they decide to chain him to their space ship and take him away into space, but Jack figures out a way to escape.  Children love to tell the story carefully observing the animated illustrations.  This is a book to encourage early reading skills of observing details, understanding characterization and building a sense of story.

I Am Going! by Mo Willems. (2010).  57 pages.  Hyperion.  Grades P-3.  Beginning Reader.

Elephant and Piggie are back in another comedy that tickles the funny bone.  This story is just as much fun as the ten others about the two friends.  This time, Piggie announces, “I am going.”  Immediately Elephant assumes that “I am going,” means Piggie is leaving forever.  The silliness unfolds as the two keep miscommunicating until they finally achieve understanding with Piggie saying, “I am going to eat lunch.”  They end up sharing an elaborate picnic lunch.  Willems is a master of understatement in his text and expressive, spare line drawings that feature the two friends.  The careful use of different font sizes helps new readers give expression to their reading.  When I read this one to the second grade class, I asked them – “We have enjoyed so many stories about Elephant and Piggie, but I am wondering how they became friends?”  The children then created a whole back story of how Elephant and Piggie could have become friends.

Mouse and Mole Fine Feathered Friends by Wong Herbert Yee.  (2009)  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades P-3.  Beginning Reader.

Here is another humorous story about two friends, Mouse and Mole.  This new one is the fourth in the series.  This time Mouse and Mole combine their talents to create a bird book through their careful observations of the winged creatures.  However, whenever they get close to a bird they scare it a way.  They can’t make their sketches or observations for the books unless they can get close to their subjects.  Then Mouse comes up with an ingenious disguise that will allow them to get very close.  The book they create features Mouse’s poems and Mole’s sketches.  Yee shows the fun of doing careful observations, creating a book and working together.  The illustrations add humor and details to the story.  The author’s use of onomatopoeia enriches the text, “Critch-CRUNCH! Mole stepped on a dried leaf.”  Young readers will feel very accomplished in reading this book because it is a chapter book.  Guide the students in enjoying the other books in the series.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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