The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  In this companion book to Trombone Shorty, Troy Andrews tells the story of a day he forgot to meet his band for their daily performance through the streets of New Orleans.  He wanders through the streets, fearing he may not have what it takes to become a great bandleader.  Along the way he meets musician Tuba Treme, chef Queen Lola, and Big Chief from the Mardi Gras Indians.  Each one gives Shorty advice about what it takes to be a leader: respect for tradition, love, and dedication.  When he finally catches up with his band, Shorty tells that them that he’s learned that they have what they need to be a success.  They invite him to take the lead, and off they go, playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” and parading through their neighborhood to the delight of their fans. Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes with additional information about the people and places in the story. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Another winning effort by Troy Andrews and Bryan Collier that conveys Andrew’s love for music and his hometown of New Orleans.

Cons:  The story was a little long and rambling.

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Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Summary:  When the boy’s mother drops him off at his Thai grandfather’s house, he faces an evening of missed communications.  Grandpa only speaks Thai, and watches Thai movies on TV.  Bored, the boy pulls out paper and markers from his backpack.  When his grandfather sees what he is doing, he brings out his own sketchbook, and the two finally have a connection. They create a magical world of warriors and dragons; even when the old distance between them threatens, the boy isn’t afraid.  Wielding a paintbrush, he creates a bridge that brings them together again. When Mom comes back for her son, he and his grandfather embrace, leaving with the promise of many new adventures just ahead. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This simple but powerful story celebrates art as a connection between generations and cultures.  The illustrations could put Dan Santat in contention for another Caldecott.

Cons:  Don’t go too fast, or you’ll miss the exquisite details of the illustrations.

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When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon and Garfunkel by G. Neri, illustrated by David Litchfield

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  This story of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel begins at their Central Park concert on September 19, 1981, then travels back in time 30 years to when the two boys were growing up in 1950’s Queens.  They became friends in a sixth-grade production of Alice in Wonderland, and were inspired by Elvis and other early rockers to try harmonizing, later adding Paul on guitar. At 15, they had their first hit record as Tom and Jerry (Simon and Garfunkel was deemed to Jewish-sounding for 1950’s America), but later recordings failed to catch on.  They met up again in the early 1960’s and released another record, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., another flop, except that one song, “The Sound of Silence”, slowly started climbing the charts.  The book ends on New Year’s Day, 1966, when that song reached number one. Includes an afterword, discography, bibliography, and list of musical connections.  48 pages; ages 10 and up.

Pros:  An absorbing history of one of the greatest duos of the rock and roll era.  Each page is a poem titled with one of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs, beginning with “My Little Town”, describing the suburb of Queens where the two grew up.  The illustrations are occasionally goofy, as the two boys were, but really capture the changing times from the 1950’s to the 1960’s. Any fan of their music will enjoy this history and undoubtedly learn a few things as well.

Cons:  Although this looks like an elementary school purchase, it would probably be more interesting to middle schoolers and older, and definitely requires some familiarity with Simon and Garfunkel’s music to be fully appreciated.

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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Maria Merian faced some tough obstacles to studying science in the 17th century, not the least of which was the risk of being painfully executed for practicing witchcraft.  Fortunately, she had a supportive family who was pretty tolerant of her obsession with insects.  Her father was a printer and engraver; after he died, she had an artist stepfather.  Both included her in the family business, and Maria used her artistic skills to capture what she observed in nature.  She set about disproving the theory of spontaneous generation by studying the life cycles of as many moths and butterflies as she could.  As an adult she produced books of her subjects, usually in their natural habitats, making connections between plants and animals that few of her contemporaries observed.  In her 50’s, she traveled with her daughter to Suriname, where she was among the first European naturalists.  Her final masterpiece, an illustrated guide to the insects and plants she observed there, was well-received throughout Europe and influenced John James Audubon and other naturalists more than a century later.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index.  160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A fascinating biography of a woman who was many centuries ahead of her time, balancing family and running a household with her art and science careers.  Her paintings and engravings throughout the book are almost unbelievably detailed and realistic.  Newbery poet Joyce Sidman named each chapter for a stage of a butterfly’s life and wrote an appropriate poem for each.

Cons:  While the book seems like it could appeal to third and fourth graders (only 120 pages of text and lots of pictures), the subject matter makes it more appropriate for grades 5-8.

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The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Nek Chand grew up in a tiny village in the Punjab region of Asia, collecting stories from family members and the traveling minstrels who visited during holidays.  Those stories inspired him to create his own world from rocks, sticks, and clay.  As a young man, he was forced to leave his home in 1947 when the Punjab was divided into India and Pakistan, and those who practiced the Hindu religion had to leave Muslim Pakistan.  Nek settled in the city, but longed for his home.  He found a deserted plot of government land and created a secret kingdom from trash that he found along the roads.  He kept his creation hidden for 15 years until government officials discovered it and threatened to tear it down.  When people from the city came to see it, though, they knew it was a work of art worth saving.  They convinced the officials to preserve it, and have continued to do so following Chand’s death in 2015.  Includes an author’s note about Nek Chand and an extensive bibliography.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fascinating story of an artist who worked to create his vision without much hope of ever profiting from it or even being able to share it with others.  The beautiful illustrations bring the story to life, including a foldout page with photos of the actual “secret kingdom”.

Cons:  A map of the region and additional historical information about India and Pakistan would have been useful.

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Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery by Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Summary:  Growing up in segregated North Carolina, Ernie Barnes wasn’t allowed to go to art museums.  He loved to draw, though, and his mother often took him with her when she worked at a wealthy lawyer’s house so that Ernie could see the paintings hanging on the walls.  In high school, his size caught the attention of the football coach, and he did well enough on the team to earn 26 college scholarships.  After college, he played professionally, but his first love was always art.  In 1964, he quit football to pursue painting full time, eventually winning fame for his portrayal of sports scenes (he was the official artist of the 1984 Olympics) and African Americans that he remembered from his childhood.  Includes an historical note, notes from the author and illustrator, and a substantial list of additional resources.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The large, beautiful illustrations by Bryan Collier pay homage to Ernie Barnes, and include copies of some of his work.  Barnes’s story is an inspiration to follow your dreams.

Cons:  Although a few of Barnes’s works are reproduced with the endnotes, Sugar Shack, one of his most famous that is mentioned several times in the notes, isn’t shown.

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The Idea Jar by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Deb Pilutti

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Image result for idea jar lehrhaupt amazon

Summary:  “This is my teacher’s Idea Jar.  We keep our story ideas in it.”  The narrator explains how ideas can be about anything.  They can be used to create stories that are told, drawn, or written down.  There’s no such thing as a bad story idea.  But if the ideas stay in the jar, they can get bored and rowdy.  So it’s important to keep them under control by using them in stories, where they want to be.  On the last few pages, the class works together, starting with one idea, then weaving in others to create one big story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The story jar is sure to find a home in many classrooms.  This would be a good read-aloud to encourage young writers.

Cons:  It looks so easy…just pick an idea, and you will be able to create a story.

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