Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Summary:  The two brothers in the title are Alberto and Diego Giacometti, and their four hands created two different types of art.  Alberto loved art from an early age, and pursued it with a passion, moving from Switzerland to Paris to become the proverbial starving artist at a young age.  Diego had no such passion, spending much of his time outdoors with animals, and having occasional scrapes with the law until his exasperated mother shipped him off to Paris to join his brother.  There, he learned how to help Alberto by creating models for his sculptures and casting them when they were finished. After World War II, Alberto’s art became well-known, but Diego stayed in the background.  After Alberto died in 1966, Diego dealt with his grief by pouring his energies into his own work, crafting metal sculptures and furniture that incorporated the animals he loved, and built his own following over the next two decades.  Includes an in-depth look at Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Walking Man, an extensive timeline, photos, and a bibliography.  64 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A fascinating look at two very different brothers and how they helped each other create their own unique art.  The beautiful paint and ink illustrations help bring the story to life. The authors have received multiple Sibert honors, and may get another one for this book.

Cons:  Reviews I read started the recommended age at kindergarten, but this is definitely a book for older kids.  Nothing inappropriate; it’s just a longer book with subject matter that will be appreciated more by upper elementary and middle school students.

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Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Published by Groundwood Books

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Summary:  Charlie is finishing up eighth grade; Mr. K., her favorite teacher, assigns everyone in the class to perform a favorite song for the end of the year.  As Charlie tries to figure out what her song will be, she reflects on changes that have taken place during the year. Specifically, she can’t forget a boy named Luka who refused to conform to middle school expectations, and was bullied until he left school.  Both Luka and Charlie have had crushes on the same boy, Emile. As the weeks go by, Mr. K. introduces the class to different types of music. Nothing resonates with Charlie until they get to opera. She finds herself drawn to Maria Callas, and connects with some of the details of her early life and singing career.  Maria’s ability to always go her own way inspires Charlie to reach out to Luka, and she is able to help him find his way back to school. Charlie, Luka, Emile, and another friend find the courage to perform a band called Freaks of Feeling; at the end the band gives Charlie tickets to the opera as a birthday gift. 160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This book really captures adolescence, and the tension between conforming and being yourself.  Music fans will enjoy Charlie’s insights about how kids find connections based on the kind of music they enjoy.

Cons:  I didn’t entirely understand the whole Charlie-Emile-Luka dynamic.

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I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (And Cry) by Gary Golio, illustrated by Ed Young

Published by Candlewick

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Summary: Charlie Chaplin’s life is chronicled from his impoverished childhood in London up to his creation of his iconic Little Tramp character in the early days of his movie career.  In spare text, Golio tells how the young Charlie enjoyed his mother’s stories and sometimes earned a few pennies singing and dancing in the city streets. An illness forced his mother and her two young sons into the poorhouse.  When they got out, Charlie was able to help his family when he joined a theater troupe at the age of nine. His stage career continued into adulthood, when he was spotted by Hollywood filmmaker Mack Sennett. Charlie made a movie with Sennett…it was funny, but the director wanted something even funnier.  Rummaging through the prop room, the actor found baggy pants, a small topcoat, and a bowler hat, and the Little Tramp was born. Includes an afterword, additional facts about Chaplin, and resources for further information. 48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Caldecott Medalist Ed Young has created intriguing collage illustrations that complement the brief, poetic narrative of Charlie Chaplin’s life.  Readers will enjoy the flip animation of the Little Tramp that appears in the lower right corners of the pages.

Cons:  Kids may not know who Charlie Chaplin is.

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The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow, illustrated by Steven Salerno

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Consider the humble crayon.  Seems like it has always been with us, but prior to the 20th century, kids were limited to dull slate pencils.  Along came Edwin Binney, an inventor who loved color. Working with his cousin, C. Harold Smith, he created gray slate pencils, white chalk, and black crayons.  But colored crayons eluded him.  At his secret lab in Pennsylvania, he melted paraffin wax, ground rocks and minerals into powders, and mixed in clay to thicken the substance.  One evening in 1903, Edwin announced that he had successfully made colored crayons. His wife Alice combined the French words craie (stick of chalk) and ola (oily…an oily stick of chalk?  hmmm) to come up with the now ubiquitous Crayola brand.  Fortuitously, crayons were created around the same time that cheap paper became available, and the rest is colorful history.  Includes two pages of photos showing how Crayola crayons are made today (at the Binney-Smith factory in Easton, PA, where I did an internship while attending Lafayette College many moons ago); more information on Edwin Binney; and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.  48 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Kids will be fascinated to learn how their crayons were invented.  The illustrations of workers covered in color after laboring over pigments all day are fun, and Edwin Binney’s perseverance is a good lesson in not giving up.

Cons:  The origin of the “Burnt Sienna” color name is not revealed.

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Image result for crayon man This also appears if you do a Google Images search for “Crayon Man”

Because by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren

Published by Hyperion Books for Children

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Summary:  “Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music–a man named Franz was inspired to create his own.”  And that music inspired people to form an orchestra. And individuals worked hard to get into the orchestra.  When a man with a ticket to hear the orchestra got sick, his wife invited their niece to go to the concert instead.  That performance got her so excited about music that she grew up to be a conductor, and eventually, a composer. She named her first symphony “The Cold”, and the last page shows the music wrapping around another child…”And that night, someone else was changed.  That is how it happens.” 40 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A cute story with an interesting message about cause and effect and how we all make a difference in the lives of others.  I loved debut illustrator Amber Ren’s pictures, and hope she will be illustrating more picture books in the near future.

Cons:  Willems’ legion of fans may be disappointed in this story, which is quite different from his usual wildly goofy fare.

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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.

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