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.

 

 

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Growing up in North Carolina, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten loved playing music.  She learned to play her brother’s guitar, but because she was left-handed, she played it upside-down and backwards.  When her brother moved out, taking his guitar with him, Libba did chores until she had saved $3.75 to buy her own instrument. When she was 12, she wrote a song called “Freight Train”.  But an early marriage and a baby derailed her musical ambitions for many years. In the 1940’s, she took a job as a housekeeper for the musical Seeger family.  When they heard her play, they helped launch her career. She recorded her first album in 1958, then went on tour. “Freight Train” became a hit, and her songs were covered by many artists.  Libba won a Grammy award in 1985, when she was in her 90’s. Includes a lengthy author’s note with additional biographical information and a list of works cited. 48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Kids may not appreciate the “it’s never too late to follow your dreams message”, but it’s an inspiring one for us older readers, and Libba’s unconventional way of playing the guitar will help kids to see there’s more than one path to greatness.  Look on YouTube for a video of Libba playing and singing “Freight Train” to really appreciate her guitar talents.

Cons:  Although the illustrations are lovely, the cover didn’t really grab me, and I had this out of the library a couple times before I finally read it.

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

Lights, Camera, Alice! The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Alice always loved stories, but when her father died and the family business went under, she was forced to become practical and find a job.  She was hired by a camera company and learned about a new kind of camera–one that made moving pictures.  To help sell the camera, Alice decided to capture some of her stories on film.  She created props and costumes, found actors and actresses, and experimented with different film techniques.  She even learned to add sound and color to her motion pictures.  She eventually moved to America, where she opened a studio and eventually made over 700 movies.  But when the film industry became big business, Hollywood put Alice’s little studio out of business, and she moved back to France with her children.  Much of her work was lost, but in 1955, her role in movie making was rediscovered, and she was awarded the Legion of Honor.  She also wrote her memoirs, which were finally published in America in 1986.  Includes additional information and a list of sources, including two of Alice’s films that can be seen on YouTube.  60 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This quirky book tells the unbelievable story of Alice Guy-Blache, who contributed a huge amount to early film, yet was almost completely unrecognized for her achievements.  The story is told in the style of a silent movie, and the illustrations have a good time playing with that genre.

Cons:  All recommendations I saw were for grades K-3 or K-4, but most kindergarteners and first graders wouldn’t have enough background knowledge to understand or appreciate this.

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

 

 

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Published by Graphix

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Summary:  Jarrett Krosoczka spent his first few years with his mother until his grandparents intervened and got custody of him.  It was not until he was a teenager that he learned that she had been a heroin addict from the age of 13.  Jarrett grew up with Joe and Shirley, his mother’s parents.  Despite their drinking, smoking, and occasional unkind words, they loved him deeply and did their best to provide him with a good home and to support his artistic ambitions. This memoir also includes Jarrett’s memories of friends, school, and the first time he met his father and half brother and sister during his senior year in high school.  Determined not to let his past curtail his future, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and has gone on to create many beloved children’s books, perhaps most famously the Lunch Lady series.  Includes an author’s note with more information about his life, the people in the book, and how he came to create this memoir. 320 pages; grades 8 and up.

Pros:  A National Book Award finalist, this graphic memoir is hard to put down (I read it in one sitting).  My already high esteem for Jarrett Krosoczka (whom I once arranged to have visit my school) grew to worshipful admiration as I learned of all the obstacles he has overcome to achieve his success.  The artwork is particularly effective, with the beginning of each chapter including actual documents, many of them letters his mother wrote to him from jail and halfway houses.

Cons:  I was hoping to get this for my middle school library, but the language and subject matter make it more of a high school/adult book.

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

She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lynn Fulton, illustrated by Felicita Sala

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  On a dark and stormy night two hundred years ago, young Mary sat in her room trying to think of a story.  Downstairs, she could hear her friends Lord Byron and Percy Shelley (soon to be her husband) talking about their own stories.  The group had decided to have a contest to see who could write the best ghost story in a week, and the deadline was approaching.  Finally, Mary went to bed, but in her dreams, she saw a huge creature lying on a table, with a terrified young student shrinking away from him.  Mary knew the young man had brought this being to life. Jolted awake, heart pounding, she realized she finally had an idea for her story. Includes an author’s note about Mary Shelley’s story, Frankenstein, with additional information about Mary and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, who is referenced in the book.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  The writing and illustrations create a deliciously creepy feeling as readers learn about the history behind Mary’s famous book.  This would be an excellent supplement to anyone reading Frankenstein.

Cons:  This is a somewhat fictionalized account (the author’s note tells the parts she took some liberties with) and not really a biography, since it only covers a single episode in Mary Shelley’s life.

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

Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art by Hudson Talbott

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary:  Thomas Cole loved nature and drawing from the time he was a little boy growing up in the English countryside.  When the Industrial Revolution hit, his family fell on hard times and decide to emigrate to America. The family settled first in Ohio, then Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t until they moved to New York that Thomas’s luck began to change.  A merchant named Thomas Bruen admired Cole’s landscape paintings and financed a trip up the Hudson.  Cole’s paintings of the wilderness there brought him fame and fortune, enough to support him on a three-year visit to Europe. He was particularly fascinated by the ruins in Rome, and painted a series of landscapes depicting a society moving from wilderness to civilization and back again.  He returned to the U.S., where he married and settled in the Catskills, living and working there until his death at the age of 47. His style, known as the Hudson River school of art, was the first American art movement, and influenced many other American artists for generations. 32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This straightforward biography is illuminated with many of Cole’s paintings, showcasing an important early American artist.

Cons:  A timeline would have been useful, since only one date is given in the text (1818, the year the Coles came to the U.S.).

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

Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Kerascoet

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  An artist creates a girl named Viva, then, dissatisfied, begins to erase her.  Viva grabs the pencil.  “Excuse me, lady, artist, ma’am/but I like me the way I am./Before you change one line or dot,/can I try…to rock what I got?”  Unconvinced, the artist tries tweaking parts of Viva: first her hair, then her body, then the background.  Each time, Viva reappears in her original form, with her reminder to “Rock what ya got!”  Finally, the artist remembers a book with that title that she wrote when she was about Viva’s age.  She hugs Viva, happy with her exactly as she is, and makes a promise to herself not to forget this line again.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A catchy line with a good message of self-acceptance and great illustrations showing the artist’s different attempts at altering Viva.

Cons:  I was hoping there would be an afterword…did Samantha Berger really create such a book for herself as a kid?

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