Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for paper sun the inspiring story of tyrus wong

Image result for paper sun the inspiring story of tyrus wong

Summary:  In 1919, Wong Geng Yeo immigrated to the United States with his father.  Since only Chinese citizens of high status were allowed to come to America, the two of them traveled under assumed names and had to learn a complicated backstory so their answers would match when questioned by immigration officials.  His “paper” name was Tai Yow, which was Americanized to Tyrus. Both father and son worked hard, Tyrus learning art and working as a janitor. He eventually got a job as an in-betweener at Disney Studios, doing the tedious work drawing the frames between the key scenes in films.  When Tyrus heard the animators were struggling with the backgrounds in the new movie Bambi, he drew on the Chinese style of painting he knew to help out.  Although his work became a key to the film, he was only credited as a background artist.  Back matter tells of Tyrus’s long life–he died in 2016 ate age 107–and of the many different forms of art he created.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  The Disney aspect will make this appealing to kids, but it really is much more of an immigrant story.  The illustrations are an interesting combination retro-Disney cartoon and Chinese art.  

Cons:  The spare text seems appropriate to the story, but I wish there were more details of Tyrus Wong’s life.  For instance, when working on Bambi, the author states, “Tyrus thought about the mother he had left behind in China,” but that’s the only information about his mom.

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Caught! Nabbing History’s Most Wanted by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

Image result for caught nabbing history's most wanted

Summary:  From the team that brought you How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous and How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous comes this collection of 14 profiles of interesting criminals.  Some will be known by just about everyone (John Wilkes Booth, Joan of Arc), while others are less famous…or infamous (Vincenzo Peruggia, Bernard Otto Kuehn).  Each profile is several pages long, with two additional pages of “Facts and Stats”. Black and white illustrations throughout match the humorous, irreverent tone of the text.  Includes separate bibliographies of print and online sources for each person as well as an index. 224 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  History buffs and reluctant readers alike will enjoy these funny, breezy profiles of notorious criminals from all ages.  The author does a good job of adding some historical context which often makes the dastardly deeds a bit more understandable.  The extensive back matter could lead to a lot more research on any one of them.

Cons:  The most recent subject is Al Capone, born in 1899.  We can hope that a sequel is in the works for more recent criminals.  

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Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Published by Norton Young Readers

Image result for free lunch rex ogle

Summary:  Rex Ogle’s memoir recounts the first half of his sixth grade year.  The problems of the average middle schooler–mean teachers, lockers, changing friendships–are dwarfed by his problems at home.  Both his mother and stepfather are out of work, debts are mounting, and they tend to take out their frustrations on Rex and his two-year-old brother.  The greatest burden falls on Rex, who tries to help out by cooking, babysitting, and balancing the family checkbook, but somehow it’s never enough for his parents, who regularly beat and verbally abuse him.  Rex is afraid of his own anger, but tries to see the good in those around him. A caring grandmother and a new friend help him, but ultimately he has to find his own way. He often feels alone, surrounded by kids who appear to be better off than he is, and ashamed when he has to tell the lunch lady each day that he’s on the free lunch program.  By the time the holidays roll around, both parents have found work, and Rex is feeling optimistic about the second half of sixth grade–even though the reader suspects he still has a lot of difficult years ahead. Includes an author’s note encouraging kids in similar situations to be strong and not feel ashamed of their circumstances. 208 pages; grades 6-9.

Pros:  This is a powerful and disturbing memoir that will open many eyes to what kids may be going through when they come to school each day.  Kudos to Rex Ogle for so honestly sharing what couldn’t have been an easy story to write. Many kids will benefit from reading this, including those who may be going through experiences similar to Rex’s.

Cons:  The scenes of abuse make this more of a middle school book, although I’m sure there are elementary kids who would benefit from reading it.

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16 Words: William Carlos Williams and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by Lisa Rogers, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for 16 words william carlos williams and the red wheelbarrow

Image result for 16 words william carlos williams and the red wheelbarrow

Summary:  “Look out the window. What do you see?” After this invitation to the reader, the author tells the story of Dr. William Carlos Williams, a physician who enjoyed scribbling poems on his prescription pad or as notes to his wife.  When he looked out the window of his New Jersey office, he saw his neighbor, Thaddeus Marshall, working in his garden or carrying his vegetables to market in a red wheelbarrow. Williams wrote about what he saw in the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”.  “Those sixteen words do not describe Mr. Marshall’s chicken coop, or the train rattling nearby. They do not describe Mr. Marshall hefting that wheelbarrow, or the aches and pains he suffers from stooping to care for his plants. They do not describe Mr. Marshall’s life of work or caring or love.  But somehow they say just that.” Includes an author’s note, bibliography, and a list of six other poems by Williams. 40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  I wasn’t super excited at the prospect of reading a picture book about William Carlos Williams, but this tells a gentle, beautiful (and beautifully illustrated) story that also shows how an ordinary man fit poetry into his everyday life.  It makes his poetry accessible to even early elementary students. This would be a perfect read-aloud in conjunction with Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog, which includes “The Red Wheelbarrow” as one of the poems the class studies.

Cons:  No photos of either Williams or Marshall. 

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Image result for red wheelbarrow william carlos williams

Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh, illustrated by Scott Campbell

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Image result for skulls blair thornburgh

Image result for skulls blair thornburgh

Summary:  It may seem alarming to think that every person you’ve ever seen has a skull, but this is a good thing.  Skulls might look a little scary, but they protect our brains. The holes in our skulls allow us to see, hear, and eat.  They give our faces shapes, allow us to open and close our jaws, and hold our teeth in place. By the time you reach the last page, you will be thanking your skull for all it does and shouting along with the girl in the book, “I love my skull!”  Includes a page of cool skull facts. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Pair this book with Kim Norman’s Give Me Back My Bones! to make an excellent story hour for Halloween or any time.

Cons:  In this age of concussions, some safety tips for protecting your skull would have made a nice addition.

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Thurgood by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for thurgood jonah winter

Image result for thurgood jonah winter

Summary:  Thurgood Marshall’s path to legal greatness began at the age of six, when he convinced his parents to legally change his name from Thoroughgood to Thurgood.  Growing up in 1920’s Baltimore, he saw injustice on a daily basis; at home, he learned from his father to back up his statements with factual evidence. After leading his high school debate team, Thurgood went on to college and then to law school at Howard University.  He became a lawyer for the NAACP, and argued 29 cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education.  The book ends with that decision, simply mentioning on the last page that Marshall became the first black Supreme Court justice in U.S. history.  Includes an author’s note with more information about Thurgood Marshall’s Supreme Court appointment and career. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A powerful narrative about Thurgood Marshall’s life, presenting much of the information in legal terms (“Fact:”; “Verdict:”; “Injustice:”).  Bryan Collier’s illustrations boldly bring to life many dramatic scenes from Marshall’s life, in the courtroom and in unjust, sometimes dangerous settings growing up in Baltimore and traveling through the South.  

Cons:  The author’s note states, “A forty-page picture book such as this cannot possibly convey the magnitude of his legacy”, yet there are no resources for additional research.

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Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island by Jennifer Thermes

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Image result for manhattan jennifer thermes

Image result for manhattan jennifer thermes

Summary:  From Henry Hudson’s discovery in 1609 to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, this history looks at the changes made to the island of Manhattan.  Before the arrival of the Europeans, the island was inhabited by the Lenape who called it Mannahatta, meaning “islands of many hills”.  That landscape changed in the early 19th century, when city planners created a grid of roads that flattened hills and straightened curves.  When life in the grid became too congested, Central Park was created to bring some green space to the city. Blizzards, fires, skyscrapers, and bridges have all changed the look of the city over the years, and with close to 4 million people living or working in New York City every week, you can be sure that those changes will continue.  Includes an afterword; an extensive timeline crammed onto a single page; and a list of books, websites, and museums with more information. 64 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  As she did in Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail, Jennifer Thermes has created a picture book featuring beautiful maps that show a changing landscape.  There are plenty of other interesting illustrations as well, but the maps of Manhattan, all with the same shape, but gradually evolving over time, really tell the story of the city’s history.  Plan on putting aside a substantial chunk of time to enjoy this book in its entirety.

Cons:  I was surprised there was no mention of 9/11, except as an entry in the timeline.

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