Wrap-Up Wednesday: Artists

These artists aren’t world-famous, but each contributed to the world of art in a unique way:

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews.  Published by Clarion Books.

Born to sharecropper parents in Georgia, Benny Andrews was an artist, teacher, and advocate for artists of color.  He started a prison art program and traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to teach art to kids there.  His paintings are used to illustrate the book.


Funny Bones: Posada and his Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh.  Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Jose Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican printer and political cartoonist who became best-known for his prints of Calaveras (skeletons) to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.  The book speculates on the meanings of some of the more enigmatic prints and shows the techniques Posada used to create his art.


Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph.  Published by Albert Whitman and Company.

Growing up in 1920’s Kansas City, Gordon Parks was told he’d be a porter or a waiter.  He did work as a waiter, but buying a $7.50 camera changed his life.  He went on to work for magazines like Life and Vogue, using his photography to work for human rights, and directed the movie Shaft.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: Animal Books

Kids of all ages are endlessly fascinated by animals.  Animal books are often the first informational text children read.  Here are some of the best so far this year:

Trapped! A Whale’s Rescue by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Published by Charlesbridge.

The exciting true story of a humpback whale rescue off the coast of California.  Beautifully illustrated.

The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin.  Published by Henry Holt and Company.

Which ocean animal is the most amazing?  A variety of creatures make compelling arguments about why they deserve the honor.

Hippos Are Huge by Jonathan London, illustrated by Matthew Trueman.  Published by Candlewick.

Hippos ARE huge…and dangerous.  In fact, they’re the most dangerous animal in Africa.  This book is jam packed with fascinating information about them, with illustrations kids will love.

Emu by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Grahame Byrne.  Published by Candlewick.Another fascinating Australian animal book from the author/illustrator team that brought you last year’s Big Red Kangaroo.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: Fifth Grade Favorites

During these first few weeks of school, I’ve tried some “book tastings” with fifth graders.  I put out a lot of the new books and have them sample three different books for a couple minutes each.  I’ve supplemented this with some book talks.  After doing this in seven fifth grades, I’ve gotten a sense of what are some favorites this year:

The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell, published by Harry N. Abrams.

Wimpy kid fans have been checking out this book about two battling pranksters who unite to create the ultimate prank against their principal.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  Published by Nancy Paulsen Books.

Sixth-grader Ally has moved so frequently that her dyslexia has gone undiagnosed.  She feels like an outsider at school until substitute extraordinaire Mr. Daniels gets her some help.  Definitely the sleeper of the new school year, with quite a few fifth-grade girls clamoring for this title.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.  Published by Dial Books.

No surprise here.  Astrid’s story about joining the roller derby has been popular with my Raina Telgemeier fans, and I expect word-of-mouth to play a large role as the school year progresses.

How to Speak Dolphin by Ginny Rorby.  Published by Scholastic.

Any book with a dolphin on the cover is sure to generate some interest.  The story is compelling, too, with Lily forced to make a difficult choice when she suspects the dolphin who is helping her autistic brother is being mistreated.

Ava and Taco Cat by Carol Weston.  Published by Sourcebook Jabberwocky.

I’ve been surprised at the interest in this book.  One reader has already finished it and asked me for the sequel, Ava and Pip (fortunately, I had it).  Ava’s story about her new cat is told in diary format, with some of the wordplay her entire family enjoys.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: Celebrating reading and writing

As September turns into October and the real work of the school year begins, these books can help remind kids that there actually is joy and fun in reading and writing:

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Grosnink.  Published by Schwartz and Wade.

Instead of a lemonade stand, Rufus sets up a story stand, and writes custom-made stories for all of his friends.  The writing process is fun, but the best part is sharing his gifts at the end of the day.

Billy’s Booger: A memoir (sorta)  by William Joyce and his younger self.  Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Okay, I acknowledge the title might be off-putting if you’re over the age of nine, but this is actually a good story about young William Joyce’s first writing attempt.  His story didn’t win the library writing contest, but it was the book all the other kids wanted to read.  And that felt almost as good as winning.

A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas.  Published by Schwartz and Wade.

While the other kids are having fun experimenting with poetic forms, Elinor is stressing about writing the perfect poem.  When a poet comes to school, only Elinor has nothing to share.  The poet gets her on stage, and together they write a poem that shows Elinor there’s no such thing as perfection in writing.

How to Read a Story by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel.  Published by Chronicle Books.These ten steps for how to read a story will make you want to grab a book and a friend and try them right out.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: Girl-Powered Graphic Novels

Inspired by the success of Cece Bell’s El Deafo and Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Sisters, there are some great graphic novels featuring girls this year.

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova.  Published by Yen Press.

The title says it all.  Peppi and Jaime literally run into each other on the first day of middle school, then spend the first half of the book agonizing over how to become friends.  Perfectly captures those tough middle school emotions, with a realistically happy ending.

The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale. Published by Harry N. Abrams

Nathan Hale’s latest Hazardous Tale is girl-powered by Harriet Tubman.  The compelling story of the Underground Railroad’s most famous conductor.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm.  Published by Graphix.

It’s 1976, and Sunny’s unhappy to be suddenly forced to spend the month of August with her grandfather in Florida.  Flashback scenes reveal the family crisis that has led to her trip. Brother-and-sister team Jennifer and Matthew Holm team up for this family drama/comedy based on their own childhood experiences.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.  Published by Dial Books.

Astrid’s having best friend problems as she gets ready to middle school, but a summer of roller derby camp gives her new friends, increased self-confidence, and about a thousand bumps and bruises.  My personal favorite


Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll

When Masha sees an ad for Baba Yaga’s assistant, she recalls her grandmother’s old stories about the witch and decides to apply.  Through skill, luck, and a little magical talent, she manages to prove herself worthy of the job while at the same time healing some of her difficult family relationships.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: Listen to the Music!

Is it just me, or are there a lot of picture book biographies of musicians this year? Here are a few books to share with those kids coming home with their first band instruments:

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Published by Harry N. Abrams.Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews tells how he started his musical career as a young child in New Orleans.  He and his friends made their own instruments from castoffs, and he got his big break when he started playing along at a jazz festival.  Beautifully illustrated by Caldecott medalist Collier.

Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King by Bonnie Christensen.  Published by Henry Holt and Company.Can’t help falling in love with the story of how a poor boy from Mississippi became the king of rock and roll.

Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm by Karen Deans, illustrated by Joe Cepeda.  Published by Holiday House.

The inspiring story of the all-female, almost all African-American jazz band that traveled around the United States and Europe in the 1940’s.  Breaking racial and gender boundaries, the group was a true sisterhood of talented musicians.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.  Published by HMH Books for Young Readers.

Another barrier-breaking musician, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, became a drummer in Cuba when girls and women weren’t allowed to play drums.  More than one blogger has picked this book as a potential Caldecott winner.

Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson.  Published by Henry Holt and Company.

Once upon a time, there were four boys growing up in postwar Liverpool named John, Paul, George, and Richard.  This book looks at the stories of those four, and how they intersected and eventually connected to become the Beatles.

Wrap Up Wednesdays – Can’t we all just get along?

School has started, and, hard as it is to believe, those cherubic children of September will soon be…well, let’s just say it’s never too early to start reading some picture books about celebrating yourself and others.  Here are a few ideas:

Wild About Us by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by Janet Stevens.  Published by HMH Books for Young Readers.

Kangaroo has big feet, Crocodile has a winning smile, Elephant has a long nose…no two animals are alike, yet each one is special. Kids in a classroom can think about what makes them unique and an important part of the group.

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.  Published by HMH Books for Young Readers.

This is Stick and Stones second appearance on a Wrap-Up Wednesday list.  What can I say?  It has a winning combination of a catchy rhyming text, adorable illustrations, and a great message about friendship.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall.  Published by Greenwillow Books.

What happens when a blue crayon gets a red label?  It can’t draw anything it’s supposed to, and everyone has an opinion about how to fix it.  A great parable for being yourself and not using labels (except maybe on crayons, and then only if they’re correct).

Ninja Bunny by Jennifer Gray Olson.  Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Ninja Bunny has ten rules for being a good ninja, including working alone.  But when a bear comes along, he realizes that even ninjas need their friends.

Wrap-Up Wednesdays: Early Chapter Books

It’s back-to-school time, and many kids will experience an exciting first this year: independently reading their first chapter book.  Here are some ideas for what that book might be.  (And yeah, I know Wrap-Up Wednesday is on Thursday this week.  The kids aren’t the only ones going back to school.)

Sprout Street Neighbors: Five Stories by Anna Alter.  Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Five animal neighbors help each other solve their problems with friendship and gentle humor.  Each chapter stands alone and features one of the five friends.

Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon.  Published by Dial Books.

Dory and her wild imagination are back for a second book.  She’s starting school, and her brother and sister recommend she leave her imaginary friends at home and make a real friend.  Dory decides to listen to the voices of experience and takes their advice…sort of.

Space Taxi: Archie’s Alien Disguise by Wendy Mass, illustrated by Michael Brawer.  Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Archie and his dad are back with another adventure driving the space taxi.  This time Archie’s on his own on a mission to rescue a princess, and gets a crazy alien disguise to help him succeed.  Plenty of adventure and humor.

Danger in Ancient Rome (Ranger in Time) by Lisa Messner.

Ranger the golden retriever time travels to ancient Rome where he uses his search and rescue skills to help two young gladiators.  Magic Tree House fans will enjoy the combination of history, time travel, and adventure, all seen through the eyes of a really cute dog.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: Making a Difference

Can one person make the world a better place?  Read one of these books to see the answer is a resounding yes!

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls.  Published by Random House.

Growing up in Ghana with only one leg that worked, Emmanuel refused to believe he couldn’t do what all the other kids could do.  He learned to walk to school, play soccer, and ride a bike.  Eventually he rode that bike from one end of Ghana to the other to raise awareness about disabled people.  His work led to the passage of the Ghanaian Persons With Disabilities Act in 2006.

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin.  Published by Kids Can Press.

Even a simple act like donating your old bicycle can help people thousands of miles away.  Follow the story of this bike, donated by an American boy, as it travels to Burkina Faso for multiple reincarnations.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery.  Published by Dial Books.

The youngest person on the Selma march, Lynda Blackmon Lowery wanted to show Governor George Wallace her injuries from the beating she received at the Bloody Sunday protest on March 7, 1965.  “You have a voice, too,” she tells readers.  “And with determination, you can be a history maker, just like me.”

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon.  Published by Millbrook Press.

When Isatou Ceesay first encountered a plastic grocery bag in her Gambian village, she thought it was a light, strong alternative to the baskets she usually carried.  Years later, the bags were choking the goats who ate them and attracting mosquitoes as they festered in the trash.  Isatou got the idea to crochet the plastic into purses she and other women could sell to make money for improvements in their village.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: American History

Love history? Hate it?  Doesn’t matter.  Just about any kid will be able something to connect with in one (or more) of these books.

The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale.  Published by Harry N. Abrams.

You know those 11-year-old boys who really love history?  Give them Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, impeccably researched graphic novels.  The Underground Abductor, the story of Harriet Tubman, is number five in the series.  (And don’t worry, girls will like them, too, especially this one.)

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Published by Schwartz & Wade.

This is one of my all-time favorite books of the year.  The concept is simple: four families from different time periods in American history make a dessert called blackberry fool.  But the execution is so cool, with loads of details about period clothing, technology, and social norms.  It’s a book to be savored, just like the treat it describes.

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.  Published by Candlewick.

Oh, that Benjamin Franklin!  What eighteenth-century pie didn’t he have a finger in?  This book tells the story of how he debunked mesmerism, a practice the was sweeping France when Franklin was over there drumming up support for the American Revolution.  It’s also a good example of the scientific process, and has amazing illustrations to boot.

The Founding Fathers!: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Barry Blitt.  Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

If you want in-depth information about the founding fathers, look elsewhere.  If you want a book chock-full of interesting facts and tidbits about George, Ben, John, Thomas (and a few others you might not be familiar with), set aside a good chunk of time to spend with The Founding Fathers.