Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

The Midnight Teacher’s bravery

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by London Ladd, (Feb. 2018, Lee and Low), $18.95, ISBN: 9781620141632

Recommended for readers 7-11

Lilly Ann Granderson was born a slave, taught to read by her master’s children, who played school with her. As she grew up, she practiced her spelling and reading in secret – in some areas, it was against the law to teach slaves to read – and eventually began teaching other slaves. She was determined to teach as many of her people as she could, to give them the chance at freedom made possible through education, and began a midnight school where slaves would gather after dark to learn, risking cruel punishment if they were discovered. Eventually, Lilly Ann won the right to start a school and a Sabbath church school, where she could teach her students with no fear of repercussion.

This picture book biography looks at the life of an overlooked champion for literacy and social justice and makes an excellent addition to biography collections. Lilly Ann Granderson’s determination and perseverance; her desire to to learn and promote learning among others is an important and, sadly, relevant topic today. Talk about how education leads to freedom, and mention that education is not always a right, even today. Malala Yousafzai’s picture book biography, For the Right to Learn, illustrates this and is a good companion to Midnight Teacher.

The artwork is realistic and subdued, made with acrylic paint and colored pencil; London Ladd gives character and expression to his characters, particularly Lilly Ann Granderson, whose determination and inner strength shine through. An afterword provides an overview of Granderson’s life and those of her descendants, who went on to become activists, had life in public service, and found professional success. A nice bibliography has more resources for interested readers, caregivers, and educators. Midnight Teacher has a starred review from Kirkus and is a must-add to collections where picture book biographies are available.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads

Take a nature walk On Gull Beach

On Gull Beach, by Jane Yolen/Illustrated by Bob Marstall, (March 2018, Cornell Lab Publishing Group), $16.95, ISBN: 9781943645183

Recommended for readers 4-7

The latest book in Jane Yolen and Bob Marstall’s On Bird Hill & Beyond series takes us to the beach, where a boy wanders along the shore, observing the wildlife as he goes. He sees a starfish get snapped up by a gull, and he follows along as a group of gulls toss the sea star, trying to grab it as the birds pass it from one to the next. As he follows along, readers learn about the shoreline ecosystem; the tidepools, seaglass, and crabs.

All of the On Bird Hill books are standalone stories, each looking at a different ecosystem through the eyes of a child; all come together to form an early reader science and nature series on habitats. On Gull Beach looks at life on a New England beach, with extra information about different gulls, shorebirds, sea stars, and crabs that make an appearance in the book. There’s also a note about supporting our beaches and wildlife that back up discussions about ecology and conservation. This is a beautifully written and illustrated rhyming story about nature that kids will enjoy and that supports early earth science and habitat study. Have kids point out the different birds they see, and the crabs they spot – that’s my son’s favorite part of the book!

Posted in Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Make #science even cooler with Adventures in Science

My Kindergartener and I like to hang out and relax on the weekends, but I like to make sure that doing something fun doesn’t always involve endless hours of watching Minecraft videos on YouTube (his current obsession). Thankfully, I remembered that I received an Adventures in Science: Human Body kit from the kind folks at Silver Dolphin, so out it came. The first cheer came from me, when I realized that it’s a 6+ kit, not an 8 or 10+ kit, like most of them are: my kiddo could do this! The second cheer came from the kiddo, who saw a skeleton, because I’ve got that kid. (And I’m that mom.) We cracked open the box and went to it.

Adventures in Science: The Human Body, by Courtney Acampora, (Dec. 20017, Silver Dolphin Books), $21.99, ISBN: 978-1684121298

The box was full of stuff that would appeal to kids from ages 5(ish, my kiddo is going to be 6 in June) to about 10 or 11. There are two sheets of stickers; one sheet of bones, the other, of internal organs, including a set of “free play” stickers. The stickers go on a two-sided sheet with an outline of the human body; one side accommodates the organ stickers, one, the bones. There’s a separate bag for a snap-together skeleton model, playing card-sized flash cards about the body, and a booklet on the human body. Kiddo went to work on the sticker sheet, ASAP. The outlines are clear enough that he didn’t need my help at all! The only fiddly part came with the organ stickers, because so many overlap one another. We moved stuff around, covered some stuff up, and were pretty happy with the results.


I tried to read some of the flash cards to him as he was stickering, but realized that I was interested, but he was just sticking his little heart out, so I read them to myself and pointed out any cool stuff I came across. That worked for him.


Okay, next up, was the big guy: the skeleton. It’s a snap-together, and he got the skull, pelvis, and legs together pretty quickly. The really fiddly part came with the rib cage, spine, and arms. The rib cage is delicate, and the little spokes were giving us a hard time getting them in. We ultimately called in the big guns (Daddy), who made it work.


Overall, it was a fun hour spent with two cool hands-on crafts. He learned a couple of things, reinforced some facts he already knew, and ended up with a fun new skeleton to put in his room. I really like the flash cards and accompanying book, which gives a nice introduction to the human body for school-age kids; ideal for maybe around 7 or 8 years old. Younger kids will like the full-color pictures and graphics, and the book is loaded with fast fact Did You Know? boxes you can read to them. At $21.99, it’s a good gift for a curious kid. If you can get some fundraising money or program budget money together, this would be a great project for a small science group at your library; two or three kids can easily work together on one model and the posters. And they’d be pretty awesome to display.


Posted in Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction, picture books

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: An accidental invention!

Kids love Band-Aids, right? My kids have all come to me, asking for a fistful of Band-Aids for some nearly invisible wound. I remember covering my own teddy bears with Band-Aids when I played with my doctor kit. Working around books and paper as much as I do, I can tell you that there have been days where I’m walking around with two or three of the suckers on various fingers, especially when I’m doing program prep and put literal blood, sweat, and tears into a project I’m working on for the kids. Whether they’re the original plain, or decorated with Transformers, Band-Aids are a great example of an invention that fills a need and became so much more – so how did this happen?

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!),
by Barry Wittenstein/Illustrated by Chris Hsu,
(Feb. 2018, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-58089-745-7

Recommended for readers 6-10

In the 1920s, a cotton buyer for Johnson & Johnson named Earle Dickson married Josephine, settled in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and started their lives together. But Josephine was a bit accident-prone; she’d cut herself while cooking, bumped and bruised herself going about her daily business, you get the drift. (C’mon, though: who hasn’t grated knuckles, fingernails, and the occasional fingertip on those savage cheese graters?) Poor Josephine was going through dishrags at an astonishing rate, and Earle, being the loving husband he was, started looking for solutions. He took a long piece of adhesive tape and stuck sterile gauze to them every few inches: voila! The Band-Aid prototype was born! The bandages evolved for easier and quicker application and were made easier to apply and reached worldwide usage, going overseas during World War II to the soldiers fighting in Europe, even as kids were testing their limits with scratches and cuts at home. The End. (Really.)

I enjoy a good nonfiction book I can give to younger readers; I’ve had big success with everyday inventions like hot chocolate and earmuffs, thanks to Easy Readers on the topics, and Boo-Boos is a great addition to younger nonfiction collections. Big enough to spotlight the mixed media and Photoshop artwork, all of which is sepia-toned to give a real vintage-y feel to this story. I love the Band-Aid endpapers that bring you in and escort you out of the story, and the sweet love story at the heart of this invention story is just adorable. I love the kid-like narration, which starts and stops with each major moment: “The End. Actually, no, wait…” It’s like listening to my own 5 year-old, or any of my library kiddos, describing a movie, big happening at school, or family event. There’s an author’s note, Earle Dickson time line, a timeline of medical inventions from the 1920s and 1930s, and a list of further resources for anyone who wants to learn more.

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World is good reading, and just good fun. Hand out some Band-Aids (licensed characters, please, we’re not cruel) at a storytime, or raffle off a box of them for a great reader report! There’s a downloadable curriculum guide on the way, and you can listen to a Charlesbridge podcast interview with author Barry Wittenstein right here. The book has a starred review from Kirkus.


Want a shot at your own copy of Boo-Boos? Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway! (US addresses only, please.)
Author Barry Wittenstein has always been involved with writing, from contributing to his high school and college newspapers, to writing and performing poetry on stage in San Francisco, songwriting, sports writing, and now picture books. He has worked at CBS Records, CBS News, and was a web editor and writer for Major League Baseball. He is now an elementary-school substitute teacher and children’s author.

Barry particularly likes nonfiction, and profiling mostly unknown people and events whose stories have never been told in children’s literature. He is the author of Waiting for Pumpsie and The Boo-Boos That Changed the World. He lives in New York City. To learn more, visit his website: or on Twitter: @bwittbooks




★”Appealingly designed and illustrated, an engaging, fun story about the inspiration and inventor of that essential staple of home first aid.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Black History Month: Trailblazer – The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson

Trailblazer – The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, by Leda Schubert/Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, (Jan. 2018, little bee books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781499805925

Recommended for ages 6-9

Born in New York City in 1935, Raven Wilkinson was a little girl who fell in love with ballet and grew up to become the first African American ballerina to tour with a major American touring troupe. She faced racism at every turn; she auditioned three times for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo before they finally accepted her into the touring company. When they toured the American South in the 1950s, she faced adversity from hotels who wouldn’t allow her to stay, fearing repercussions from the Ku Klux Klan; ignorance in the form of racists running onto the stage to protest the “nigra in the company”; and dining in hotels where families left their Klan sheets in a pile in the back while they ate dinner together. She persisted, even when she was passed over time and again for the starring role in Swan Lake, finally achieving the spot in 1967 with the Dutch National Ballet of Holland. She later joined the New York City Opera, dancing until she was 50. She’s inspired countless dancers, including Misty Copeland, who became the first African American principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater in 2015 AND danced in Swan Lake. Copeland has said of Raven Wilkinson, “She was a mentor in my life before I met her.”

This is a lovely look at Raven Wilkinson’s life and career, especially relevant in our racially charged society – the more things change, the more things stay the same, it would sadly seem. When Raven eats dinner in a hotel surrounded by families who leave their Klan sheets strewn across seats while they eat, it’s horrifying because it normalizes hate. The indignity of Raven Wilkinson having to endure this indignity is like a gut punch to an older reader, and we need to use that nausea, that anger, that outright disgust, as a teaching opportunity to de-normalize this for younger readers. The illustrations are soft, almost comic book-like, while retaining a realistic quality, that will appeal to younger readers.

This is a beautifully illustrated picture book biography of an African American pioneer few people may be familiar with. Let’s change that. If you ask kids to name African American role models, you’ll likely hear the big names, but let’s make MORE big names. Let’s put books like Trailblazer in our displays, showing kids that there are pioneers everywhere. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Mae Jemison, and Katherine Johnson? Heck yes, get them in front of kids. STEM and the sciences are important. And let’s show them Trailblazer and Firebird; Radiant Child and When Marian Sang, DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop and Muddy to remind readers everywhere that there are pioneers in the arts, too. Children need to see inspiration everywhere, and that there are advocates in every walk of life.

This 2015 video features Raven Wilkinson and Misty Copeland when Dance/USA, the national association for professional dance, recognized Raven Wilkinson, the 2015 Dance/USA Trustees Awardee, at the Dance/USA Annual Conference in Miami on June 17, 2015.

Leda Schubert’s most recent picture book biography, Listen, was about singer and activist Pete Seeger. Her website offers more information about her books, including downloadable activity guides and discussion questions. Illustrator Theodore Taylor III is a Coretta Scott King John Steptoe New Talent Award Winner. See more of his artwork and learn about his other books at his website.

Posted in Non-Fiction

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They left Behind

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They left Behind, by Cynthia Grady/Illustrated by Amiko Hirao, (Jan. 2018, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 9781580896887

Recommended for readers 5-10

Inspired by a true story, Write to Me tells the story of Clara Breed, a children’s librarian who corresponded with her Japanese American patrons when they were sent to internment camps during World War II. She gave them postcards to let her know where they were; she visited them, wrote to them, and sent them books and crafts to help ease their minds during their confinement. She advocated for those children by writing articles and attending rallies, advocating for her kids. When the kids came home, she was waiting for them – and they came to her. She was comfort in a cruel time. Write to me tells the story of Clara Breed through conversations with her library kids; muted pencil art illustrates life in the prison camps, with excerpts from actual letters on each page to show the passage of time. Endpapers display photos from the period, including family arrivals at the camps and evacuation notices for Japanese Americans. An author’s note features a photo of Clara Breed and two of her patrons, taken at a reunion in 1991. There’s a timeline of Clara Breed’s life, including links to her articles on the war, relocation, civil liberties, and human rights, and a selected history of the Japanese People in the United States. Source notes, bibliography, and further reading are available. A touching book about a woman who touched lives, and a nice addition to biography collections.



Posted in Non-Fiction

Children in Our World addresses racism, intolerance, and global conflict

Barron’s Educational’s Children in Our World series continues with the release of two more books: Racism and Intolerance and Global Conflict.

Racism & Intolerance (Children of the World), by Louise Spilsbury/Hanane Kai,
(Feb. 2018, Barron’s Educational), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050225
Recommended for readers 6-10

As with the previous titles, Refugees and Migrants (2017) and Poverty and Hunger (2017), these titles provide smart, open social commentary on issues that face our kids every day, in a manner that’s factual, sensitive, and empowering. Illustrations provide examples of everyday intolerance, from someone refusing to provide a bouncy ball to a Jewish child to a group of people who refuse to give up their seats on a bus – or their bags’ seats – for an elderly woman with a cane. Global Conflict explores the reasons for conflict, and the violent ways that conflict can manifest: terrorism and war.

Global Conflict (Children of the World), by Louise Spilsbury/Hanane Kai,
(Feb. 2018, Barron’s Educational), $9.99, ISBN: 9781438050218
Recommended for readers 6-10

Each book also describes the aid efforts of individuals and charities who step into help others, and soothes children who may be afraid of what they see going on around them by encouraging them to talk to a grownup about their fears. Author Louise Spilsbury offers ways that children can help elevate the dialogue: by understanding one another, and by offering ways to help, whether it’s taking part in a bake sale fundraiser for charity or by writing letters to elected officials. There are additional books and resources for readers, caregivers, parents, and educators who want to learn more, glossaries of terms used, and indexes.

Hanane Kai’s artwork creates soft, muted pictures showing individuals working together to create understanding and, in turn, a better world for all.

Originally published in the UK in 2016 and 2017, these books – paired with the first two in the series – contribute to a strong current events shelf for elementary-age students, and a nice addition to collections for burgeoning activists. Add books like Innosanto Nagara’s A is for Activist and Counting on Community, and Maribeth Boelt’s Those Shoes and A Bike Like Sergio’s for a strong social commentary collection.