Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu

Published by Sterling Children’s Books

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Summary:  Most people know Hedy Lamarr as a film star, but she was also a dedicated inventor who spent her spare time coming up with ideas like a glow-in-the-dark dog collar and a flavor cube to turn plain water into soda.  Her biggest invention, working with composer George Antheil, was the “frequency hopping” guidance system, designed to prevent the enemy from jamming radio signals on torpedos. She and Antheil received a patent for their work in 1942, but unfortunately the system was never implemented by the Navy during the war.  Forty years later, the idea was declassified, and is used today to help keep cell phone calls and texts private. The two inventors never received recognition or money for their creation, but in 1997, they received the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As Hedy commented, “It’s about time.” Includes a timeline, additional information about frequency hopping, a bibliography, a filmography of Lamarr’s works, and a reading list about other women in STEM.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Who knew Hedy Lamarr was a talented scientist and inventor as well as an actress?  This engaging biography includes information on her both her careers; the lively illustrations incorporate relevant quotes from Lamarr.  I was hoping to include a review of another book on this same topic, Hedy and Her Amazing Invention by Jan Wahl, published the same week, but no one in my library network has gotten a copy of this one.

Cons:  Some of the technical details may be a bit much for younger readers.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.



Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  Growing up in England, Leonora Carrington never conformed to the expectations for a proper young lady.  Instead, she pursued art, creating fantastic pictures inspired by Irish legends her grandmother told her.  As an adult, she discovered surrealism, and became part of a group of artists in France. When World War II started, she fled to Mexico, where she eventually married and had children, but continued to paint.  She spent the rest of her life in Mexico, creating surreal paintings and sculptures until her death at the age of 94. Includes notes from both the author and the illustrator and a short bibliography. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An interesting biography of an artist who is probably unknown to most kids.  The illustrations, inspired by Leonora Carrington’s art, will spark young readers’ imaginations.

Cons:  None of Carrington’s actual artwork is included anywhere in the book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by little bee books

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Summary:  With just 16 lines (or bars) of text, the author and illustrator do an amazing job of introducing the history of hip-hop and rap.  Beginning with a nod to poets Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar and singer James Brown, the narrative continues to the early rappers of the 1970’s, graffiti artists, break dancers, and DJ-run block parties.  The graffiti-inspired illustrations enhance the brief text. Notes from the author and illustrator tell of their personal connection to hip-hop and give a bit more history. Includes a glossary and hip-hop who’s who.  48 pages; grades K and up.

Pros:  This is a brief history, but a good introduction to many artists, portrayed with a huge energy by illustrator Frank Morrison.  

Cons:  It’s difficult to recommend an age range: the format would appeal to preschoolers and early elementary, but the content will probably be of greater interest to older readers, who will want to move on to YouTube or other resources to learn more.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Brave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Ebony Glenn

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  Janet Collins was determined to be a dancer, even though she faced discrimination from an early age.  Her mother was a seamstress who paid for her dance lessons by sewing costumes. Janet was turned away from ballet schools and told she could only join a professional company if she painted her skin white.  She refused, and found other ways to dance. Finally, in 1951, the ballet master at the Metropolitan Opera House saw Janet dance, and hired her to be the first African-American prima ballerina there. An author’s note gives more biographical information, including two photos; sources and websites are also included.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The story is told in simple rhyming text, each verse starting with “This is” (“This is the girl/who danced in the breeze/to the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh/of towering trees”).  Young readers will enjoy the illustrations depicting Janet in various dance costumes, and will be inspired by her perseverance that eventually led to success.

Cons:  The text is so brief that many details are omitted, and some of the people are just referred to as “the teacher” or “the man”; some of those characters are identified in the author’s note, but more information sources would be needed for any kind of research report.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Elvis Is King! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

Published by Schwartz and Wade

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Summary:  “Elvis Is Born!” proclaims the first page, and each page thereafter has a headline that tells what happened to Elvis Presley for the first couple decades of his life.  He grew up in Mississippi in poverty–his father spent 14 months in jail for forgery–and moved to Memphis when he was 13. His mother bought him his first guitar for his 11th birthday, and music proved to be his ticket to a new world.  As a teenager, he dyed his hair black, started sporting some pretty funky clothing, and left his shyness behind every time he got on stage. After making a record for his mom at Sun Records, he was recruited to make a real record and became an overnight star.  The book ends with the release of “Heartbreak Hotel” that became a number one hit, and the simultaneous arrival of the hordes of screaming teenage girls. An author’s note gives more information and includes three photos of Elvis in 1937, 1956, and 1957. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Elvis may have been dead for over 40 years, but the legend lives on, and kids still enjoy reading about him.  The southern twang of the text and the outrageous three dimensional Red Nose Studio illustrations are a perfect combination to tell Presley’s story.

Cons:  A list of resources would have made a nice addition to the author’s note.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.


Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

Published by Knopf

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Summary:  From the author-illustrator team that brought you The Noisy Paint Box and Vincent Can’t Sleep comes this introduction to the life of artist Marc Chagall.  Born Moishe Shagal in Vitebsk, Russia, he changed his name as a young man living and working in Paris.  Many of his paintings showed what he saw through various windows, which is referenced in the title.  Due to the two world wars, Chagall was forced to return to Russia for awhile before getting back to Paris and eventually moving to the United States. He continued to explore new art forms as he grew older, including sculpture, set design, and stained glass.  Includes an author’s note, which includes photos of some of Chagall’s work, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A beautiful introduction to Marc Chagall’s life, both visually and through the text, which the author’s note explains is written the style of Chagall’s poetic autobiography, My Life.

Cons:  The story might be a little confusing without some guidance from a knowledgeable adult.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

A Day with Judy Freeman

I spent today in Bristol, Connecticut at Judy Freeman’s What’s New in Children’s Literature workshop.  Judy was kind enough to invite me as her guest, and I enjoyed hearing what books she recommended and getting some programming ideas to promote them.  Sponsored by the Bureau of Education and Research (BER), it’s always a worthwhile workshop if you get the opportunity to go.

Judy and I have read a lot of the same books this year, but I did hear of a few that I missed and wished I had included on this blog.  Here’s a quick run-down if you want to try to get your hands on them.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Jackie Robinson’s baseball career is a familiar story, but this looks at his early life, growing up with a mother who refused to back down when their white neighbors tried to force the family to move.  The story also covers Jackie’s college and military career, showing how his early years shaped his later life playing baseball and working for civil rights.  32 pages; grades 3-6.


Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube

Published by Abrams

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Mae would rather sit up in a tree all day than face the uncertainties of the first day of school.  Soon she’s joined by another girl named Rosie, who shares Mae’s concerns about the unknown.  Finally, a third person joins them: Ms. Pearl, the new teacher who has her own insecurities.  The three finally decide to face their fears, climb down from the tree, and walk into school together.  32 pages; ages 4-8.


Stegothesaurus by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T. L. McBeth

Published by Henry Holt

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Two of the brothers are stegosauruses, but the third is a stegothesaurus.  Stegosauruses say hi; but it’s “Hello! Greetings! Salutations!” from the stegothesaurus.  A big mountain is “gargantuan, gigantic, Goliath”, and a hot day is “blazing, blistering, broiling”.  When the stegothesaurus meets an allothesaurus, the words really start to fly.  A fun introduction to word choice and thesauruses.  32 pages; grades K-3.


Worlds Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Published by Abrams

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Seventeen children’s poets, plus Hopkins, created works inspired by paintings at The Metropolitan Museum in New York City.  A beautiful and accessible introduction to poetry and art.  48 pages; grades 3-7.


Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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A girl is surprised to find a substitute in her class, and writes disgruntled letters about the changes in the routine.  As the day goes on, though, she begins to appreciate the fun-loving sub, and by dismissal time, she realizes the day has turned out just fine.  32 pages; grades K-3.