Children's Books

Article excerpt

In my inaugural column as editor of "Books for Children," I begin by offering a discussion of resources and trends in the field of children's literature, coupled with reviews of outstanding children's books. I hope this column will energize, inspire, and support teachers in their endeavors to bring wonderful books into their classrooms. If you are interested in reviewing recently published children's books, please e-mail me at to request reviewer guidelines.

Beginning With the Best

Children's books that receive recognition for quality from various book award committees can be counted on as good choices for inclusion in elementary classrooms. The majority of teachers are likely familiar with the Newbery and Caldecott Awards, the "Academy Awards" of children's literature given annually by the American Library Association (ALA) to the author and illustrator, respectively, of the most distinguished contribution to American children's literature during the previous year. (The 2010 Newbery and Caldecott winners are both reviewed in this column.) However, a number of other awards--some recent, some in existence for decades--bestow accolades on a wide range of children's books. Teachers will want to become familiar with both the annual ALA Notable Children's Book List and the CCBC Choices, published by the Cooperative Children's Book Center from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As elementary classrooms become increasingly diverse, teachers need to be continually on the lookout for books that will help students better understand themselves and the similarities and differences of others. Three awards given by the American Library Association help educators meet this goal. The Coretta Scott King Award has been presented annually since 1969 to an African American author and since 1979 to an African American illustrator whose books are outstanding reflections of the African American experience. The Pura Belpre Award, established in 1996, is presented every other year to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. One recent award created by ALA is the Schneider Family Book Award, given to an author or illustrator for an artistic portrayal of the disability experience in books for children. (Information about all children's book awards given by the American Library Association can be found on the organization's website at www.

Awards that celebrate specific cultures given by other groups besides ALA include the Sydney Taylor Book Award, recognizing the best in Jewish children's literature each year; the Tomas Rivera Award, established in 1995 by the College of Education at Texas State University-San Marcos to encourage authors, illustrators, and publishers of books that authentically reflect the lives of Mexican American children and young adults in the United States; and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, first awarded in 2004, for books of literary and artistic merit that honor Asian/ Pacific American culture.

While fiction remains the most common genre to be included in elementary classrooms, nonfiction for children has improved significantly in the past decade. The number of nonfiction works that include engaging features and innovative formats has increased tremendously, and two awards can help teachers locate the best of these books: the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award from ALA, and the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Nonfiction can be incorporated into instruction in virtually every content area. Teachers looking for outstanding books related specifically to science should peruse the annual list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, selected by a committee of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Likewise, the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) publishes an annual list of the best children's books related to social studies, titled Notable Trade Books for Young People.

Other awards for individual books and lists of noteworthy titles can be invaluable in helping teachers meet a variety of curricular goals. The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award was established in 2004 by ALA to recognize authors and illustrators of the most distinguished beginning reader books, perfect for children just beginning to read on their own. A committee of the Children's Literature Assembly of NCTE annually selects the Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts, a list of 30 outstanding trade books for enhancing a love of language for students K-8. A committee of the Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association (IRA) annually selects the list of Notable Books for a Global Society, 25 outstanding trade books for enhancing K-12 student understanding of people and cultures throughout the world. While this list recognizes books published in the United States that foster global consciousness, the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) creates an Outstanding International Books List that recognizes the best children's books published outside the United States each year. The Jane Addams Children's Book Awards are given annually to excellent children's books that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races. The Amelia Bloomer Project of ALA selects outstanding children's books from a feminist perspective.

In addition to awards for children's literature selected by adult experts in the field, teachers should consider those books selected by children themselves as their favorites. The Children's Choices List from IRA is published annually in The Reading Teacher, and most states give their own children's book award, often chosen by the children from that state. An excellent resource to find out more about all of the above awards (including how to involve children in the awards for various states) is the website maintained by children's author Cynthia Leitich Smith ( More information about each of the awards also can be found by Googling the award names.

Blogging About Books

One of the hottest trends in the field of children's literature is the emergence of the "blogosphere." In the past five years, blogs about children's literature have exploded onto the scene, with publishers, authors, illustrators, editors, teachers, professors, parents, and other adults interested in children's literature each claiming a place in cyberspace. In a recent article in School Library Journal, New York City children's librarian Elizabeth Bird discusses this trend as well as her selection of 10 of the best blogs about children's literature (www. CA6703692.html). I'd also like to make a few recommendations of my own:

* A Year of Reading ( Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn are, as their blog states, two elementary teachers who read. A lot. They have been blogging together about books since 2006, and they provide a wealth of resources and links to other children's lit blogs, in addition to their reader-friendly reviews, which invite conversation.

* Educating Alice (http://medinger. Created by 4th-grade teacher Monica Edinger, this blog includes incisive reviews of books both new and classic; recommendations for and links to current events in the children's literary world; and descriptions of Monica's teaching--including the blogs about books her individual students develop each year.

* Jacket Whys (http://jacketwhys.wordpress.corn). Hosted by former graphic designer Linda Williams, this unique blog is devoted to discussions about the cover art of children's and young adult books.

* Poetry for Children ( A number of engaging blogs specifically about children's poetry exist. This one, maintained by children's literature professor Sylvia Vardell of Texas Woman's University, is exceptional.

These are just a few of my favorite blogs. Lest I offend (or forget) any fantastic authors or illustrators who blog about their lives and work, I won't mention any specifically, but I urge readers to check out links provided on some of the blogs above. Chances are your favorite writer or artist just might have a blog of her or his own. One more tip: I know teachers are incredibly busy and keeping up with even a few choice blogs can be overwhelming. I suggest setting up a free account at Google Reader ( com/reader) that will compile whichever blogs you like for daily reading.

Becoming Better Teachers of Children's Literature

I often read professional books for pleasure, particularly books about teaching with children's literature. The following three titles offer practical suggestions, inspirational messages, and teacher appeal.

Silvey, Anita EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A CHILDREN'S BOOK: Life Lessons From Notable People From All Walks of Life. ISBN 1-5964-3395-7. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2009. 240 pp. $29.99. Former Horn Book editor Anita Silvey interviewed 110 "society leaders" in a variety of fields and collected their memories of beloved children's books, organizing them into six sections: Inspiration, Understanding, Principles & Precepts, Vocation, Motivation, and Storytelling. Each brief essay describes why a particular book was so memorable to the narrator and is accompanied by a synopsis of the book itself.

Miller, Donalyn THE BOOK WHISPERER: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. ISBN 0-4703-7227-3. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009. 240 pp. $22.95. In this affirming and practical book, 6th-grade teacher Donalyn Miller describes how she inspires the reader in every one of her students, offers strategies for creating readers in spite of testing mania, and shares numerous tips that teachers will find irresistible. Incidentally, Donalyn has her own Book Whisperer blog at http://blogs.

Layne, Steven L. IGNITING A PASSION FOR READING: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers. ISBN: 978-1-5711-0385-7. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2009. 184 pp. $19.00. Filled with strategies for turning reluctant readers into passionate devourers of books, this book by teacher and children's author Steven Layne is a must-read for elementary teachers. Childhood reminiscences of reading by children's authors and illustrators are sprinkled throughout and can be shared with elementary students.

Children's Book Reviews

The books reviewed in this issue of Childhood Education include the most recent Caldecott and Newbery winners; a number of picture books, both fiction and nonfiction; and a handful of novels for upper elementary and middle school readers.

Award Winners

Pinkney, Jerry THE LION AND THE MOUSE. Il. by Author. ISBN 978-0-316-01356-7. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2009. 36 pp. $16.99. This familiar Aesop fable is set in the African Serengeti of Tanzania and Kenya. The tale begins with the wee mouse escaping the talons of an owl. The mouse goes hunting but accidentally disturbs a napping lion. The lion grants the mouse a reprieve and sets her free, and the mouse remembers the kindness of the lion when poachers capture the lion. This captivating, wordless version of the fable is intensified by gorgeous, detailed watercolors. The paintings reveal the lion's power and majesty and the mouse's courage and compassion. The exquisite artwork earned author/ illustrator Jerry Pinkney the 2010 Caldecott Medal. Ages 3-8. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Stead, Rebecca WHEN YOU REACH ME. ISBN 978-0-385-7342-5. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2009. 199pp. $15.99. Winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal, When You Reach Me is part historical fiction, part science fiction. Miranda and Sal live in New York City and are best friends. They walk home from school every day and know they must stay clear of the "laughing man" on the corner. They share everything until the day Sal gets punched in the stomach and face by Marcus, a kid in a green army jacket. As a result, Miranda ends her friendship with Sal and begins one with Marcus. Then all sorts of strange things start to occur that defy time and space. Miranda finds mysterious notes and her house key is stolen. The notes become more and more intense. Can Miranda solve the mystery before it is too late? Is there such a thing as time travel? These are questions that Miranda tries to unravel. Ages 10 & up. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Picture Books

Sanderson, Ruth GOLDILOCKS. Il. by author. ISBN 978-0-316-77885-5. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. 32 pp. $16.99. This classic tale follows the traditional story line until the Bear Family discovers Goldilocks asleep in Little Bear's bed. Instead of running away, Goldilocks goes to work, at Mama Bear's direction, remaking the beds. When Goldilocks sees Mama Bear weaving the seat for Baby Bear's broken chair, she asks to help. When the Bears announce they are hungry, Goldilocks offers them her freshly picked blueberries. Papa makes his famous blueberry muffins, and the Bear Family and Goldilocks have tea and muffins. Papa Bear's muffin recipe is found on the last page. Sanderson's oil paintings are luscious. Ages 3-7. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Doyen, Denise ONCE UPON A TWICE. Il. by Barry Moser. ISBN978-0-375-86125-9. New York: Random House, 2009. 32 pp. $16.99. Playful language in verse introduces the reader to this cautionary tale of an adventurous young mouse named Jam.

   Once upon a twice,
   In the middle of the nice,
   The moon was on the rice,
   And the mice were scoutaprowl

Like many youth, Jam thinks he is invincible and does not heed the advice of his elders. Taking chances, he finds himself in an opening when there is a Ssssssssnake attack, a splash, and silence. Is this the end of Jam's adventures? Dark, rich illustrations create an authentic mouse world. Ages 5-8. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Auch, Mary Jane THE PLOT CHICKENS. Il. by Herin Auch. ISBN978-0-8234-2087-2. New York: Holiday House, 2009. 32 pp. $16.95. Henrietta is a chicken who loves to read. She thinks that if reading is so wonderful writing must be eggshilarating. Thus, with the help of her three aunts, she begins following the rules of good writing by finding the correct character and plot. Henrietta adds suspense and uses the five senses to create an eggsiting tale. When she receives a rejection letter from the publisher, Hunter Fox, Henrietta prints her own book and shows how illustrations are printed. A terrible review of her book in the Corn Book deflates Henrietta, until she finds a surprise at the library. Ages 6-10. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Raczka, Bob THE VERMEER INTERVIEWS: Conversations With Seven Works of Art. ISBN978-1-5801-3882-6. Minneapolis, MN: First Avenue Editions, 2009. 32 pp. $9.95. In fictional conversations with the subjects of seven of Johannes Vermeer's paintings, as well as an imagined interview with the artist himself, the author reveals numerous details about the artist's works. Art theory, such as how to read a painting and the importance of reflections and lighting, is explained. These intriguing characters provide valuable insight into painting, history, and the life of the artist. Ages 7-12. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Krull, Kathleen HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Dreams Taking Flight. Il. by Amy June Bates. ISBN 1-4169-7129-7. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Children, 2008. 38pp. $16.99. Dreams can come true, as this picture book biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton proves. As a young girl, Hillary dreamed of becoming an astronaut and flying high above the Earth. With encouragement from her parents, she kept chasing her dreams. Hillary is depicted as putting forth her best effort in her schoolwork and always looking for ways to lead. She met such prestigious people as Martin Luther King, Jr. The simple text shares Hillary's childhood dreams and is complemented by simple quotes that offer encouragement, hope, and empowerment. This book allows children to see that they can achieve their goals by doing their best. The text is enhanced by beautiful pencil and watercolor illustrations. Ages 9-12. Reviewed by Angela McCrary Steele, Whitnel Elementary School, Lenoir, NC.

Winter, Jonah PEACEFUL HEROES. Il. by Sean Addy. ISBN978-0-4396-2307-0. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009. 60 pp. $17.99. What are heroes? This inspiring book sheds light on men and women who risked their lives through peaceful means for the lives of others. Fourteen people are extolled here for their compassion, bravery, passion, and non-violence. Some are famous, like Jesus, Mahatma Ghandi, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr., and Clara Barton, and some are not--Aung San Suu Kyi, Marla Ruzicka, Ginetta Sagan, and Paul Rusesabagina. Their memorable stories are enhanced by rich oil and collage illustrations. This is a truly inspiring book for the entire family. Ages 9-12. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA


DiCamillo, Kate THE MAGICIAN'S ELEPHANT. ISBN 978-0-7636-4410-9. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2009. 201 pp. $16.99. Questions. Wishes. Dreams. Magic. The impossible all becomes possible when Peter Augustus Duchine discovers the fortune-teller in the market place. Peter has always wondered if his sister is alive. The fortune-teller confirms his greatest hope--she lives! Peter is told, "You must follow the elephant." An elephant magically appears when a magician performs his greatest trick. Peter embarks on a series of remarkable events that lead him on surprising discoveries that at first seem impossible, but ultimately are truly possible. Ages 8-12. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Kelly, Jacqueline THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE. ISBN978-0-8050-8841-0. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2009. 304 pp. $16.99. Calpurnia loves nature and science and develops a powerful relationship with her grandfather, a naturalist. Her mother, however, is trying to train her in the art of being a young lady. Studying nature and science is not considered acceptable for a girl living in Texas in the 1800s, especially a girl with six brothers. Although Callie tries her hand at cooking, sewing, and knitting, her heart is always at the river or in grandfather's laboratory. Callie and grandfather eventually make an important scientific discovery as they enter a new century. Ages 10 & up. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA

Peck, Richard A SEASON OF GIFTS. ISBN 978-0-8037-3082-3. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2009. 164 pp. $16.99. Grandma Dowdel makes a return appearance in this companion to A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way to Chicago. Twelve-year-old Bob Barnhart and his family have moved next door to Mrs. Dowdel. Bob's father has accepted a ministry at the local church. Self-reliant Mrs. Dowdel comes to the aid of every member of the Barnhart family, although they have not asked for help. Mrs. Dowdel rescues Bob from the town bullies and teaches him to drive, in a rather unusual set of circumstances. She becomes a role model to his youngest sister, Ruth Ann. Mrs. Dowdel also works her magic when it comes to Elvis-crazed Phyllis, Bob's older sister. Even the Barnhart parents are the recipients of Mrs. Dowdel's helping hand. It is a true season of gifts for every member of the Barnhart family. Ages 10 and up. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Phelan, Matt THE STORM IN THE BARN. Il. by Author. ISBN 978-0-7636-3618- O. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2009. 203 pp. $24.99. It is 1937 in Kansas, and Jack Clark faces the same challenges encountered by many 11-year-old boys--bullies, two sisters, and a demanding father. If that isn't enough, the Dust Bowl has devastated the family farm. Jack's concern grows when he begins seeing a mysterious figure in the abandoned Tallbott barn and wonders if he is suffering from "Dust Dementia." The figure Jacks sees keeps growing and has a face like rain, but there is no rain. How will he confront this terrifying figure? Will he ever be able to prove his bravery to his father? This graphic novel is part historical fiction, part fantasy, and part thriller. An author's note reveals the background for this story. Ages 10 & up. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

Cushman, Karen ALCHEMY AND MEGGY SWANN. ISBN 978-0-5472-3184-6. New York: Clarion Books, 2010. 167 pp. $16.00. Meggy Swann leaves her mother's country inn and arrives in London at Crooked Road to live with her father, the alchemist. He is anxious to meet his child and new apprentice until he finds out she is a girl, and crippled besides. He wants to send her back to her mother, but the wagon has left. In Elizabethan England, being a cripple is considered a curse from God. Meggy is not easily accepted anywhere she goes, but her sharp tongue serves her well. She befriends Roger, her father's past helper, but he leaves to be an actor and has little time to help Meggy. Eventually, she aids her father as he seeks to change metal into gold. She also learns the ways of a filthy city filled with thieves and those who fear her, lest they, too, become cursed. Meggy conceives an ingenious plan to prevent an assassination in which her father is involved, and ultimately aids some of her newly made friends as well as herself. Ages 10-14. Reviewed by Terre Sychterz, Kutztown University, Kutztown, PA.

April Whatley Bedford, Editor