Sunday, July 29, 2007


KEEKER series by Hadley Higginson, illustrated by Maja Andersen (Chronicle)

They say a horseshoe is good luck, and it certainly is a lucky day for second grade booklovers who have ever dreamed of having their own pony (this encompasses quite a few little girls, by the way). The dream is vicariously realized in this truly charming series featuring Keeker, a little girl clip-clopping in and out of adventures in the Vermont countryside with the help of her trusty four-legged sidekick, Plum. Straightforward stories use some old plot chestnuts (is the neighbor lady a witch? Is mom having a baby?) but always underscore familiar feelings, independence and the making and keeping of friendships, all fodder for future Girl Power. Every page has illustration, drawn with such clear, round lines that the artwork looks like stylized versions of drawings girls actually do make, with long-eyelashed girls and curlicue hair. Each book is short enough for emergent readers to find confidence, a picture-book amount of text in a chapter book format, so slightly older kids who still need skills won't feel stigmatized. I don't bandy the word "delightful" around lightly, but the retro flavor with contemporary appeal wins the Delightful Derby, and I am so happy to be able to recommend a romp down a reading trail that little girls will really enjoy. A few faves: KEEKER AND THE PONY CAMP CATASTROPHE, KEEKER AND THE SUGAR SHACK, KEEKER AND THE SNEAKY PONY, and KEEKER AND THE HORSE SHOW SHOW-OFF. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
My all-time favorite horse scene in a book is from Beverly Cleary's sleeper ELLEN TEBBITS , in which Ellen talks big in front of a friend about her equestrian knowledge, only to be scared out of her saddle when that friend takes her riding. Ahhh, I'm always a sucker for realistic fiction, but more seasoned fans of animal fare will find what they are looking for in HORSE STORIES edited by June Crebbin, illustrated by Inga Moore (Candlewick). I was never one of those "horsey girls," but even so, I could not resist this handsome volume of fourteen stories divided under such enticing headings as "Difficult Horses," "Dream Horses," "From the Horse's Mouth," "Horses in Danger" and "Horses to the Rescue." It includes selections from such classics as Marguerite Henry's MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE and Anna Sewell's BLACK BEAUTY, as well as tales that gallop through history and geography, like the moving Native American legend of the Mud Pony, the Horse of Milk White Jade of fourteenth century Mongolia, the legend of the steed chosen to carry Alexander the Great and the loyal gray palfrey that serves a knight of Medieval times. The equestrian backgrounds of both author and illustrator are evident in the loving care of the selections and the elegant full color plates capturing every flick of tail and toss of mane. Prepare for adventure and romance as you gallop through the pages of this gorgeous gift book. (8 and up)

Though KEEKER is a charmer, maybe you need a series with just a little more testosterone/gender balance? Find the ANDREW LOST SERIES by J.C. Greenberg and illustrated by Debbie Palen, adventures that take place in the harrowing microscopic world with the help of a shrinking machine. Excitement unfolds in a variety of settings (on pets, in the water, in the garden, in the kitchen and bathroom, caves, desert, and ...ugh!...garbage can ) and will open kids' eyes to the diminutive drama unfolding all around them. Imaginative and highly exclamatory, the author really did her homework, and as children learned a lot of history via Mary Pope Osborne's MAGIC TREE HOUSE, so will they learn a lot of science via ANDREW LOST. (7 and up)

On a personal note
When my son was very little and I groaned over Barney, my father, overhearing, gently corrected me by pointing out, "if a child likes something, there must be some good in it." Now I try to look for the good in what children like, and in doing so, I happily find more and more of what's good and likable in children. Affirming children's choices whenever possible really does seem to bring out their best.
I think both KEEKER and ANDREW LOST, like Barbara Park's good old JUNIE B. JONES, are books that adults may deem imperfect, but kids enjoy. (Though I am always wary about getting my news from the newspaper, see recent New York Times article, "Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?" for the peek-a-boo at the generational divide. By the way, I didn't fall in love with Junie until I heard the audio version read brilliantly by Lana Quintal, making clear to me the study of voice that is Junie...have you tried it?) What books have you found kids really like that don't float your boat, and vice versa? Please feel free to share in the comments section!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


GINGER BEAR by Mini Grey (Knopf)

"...the cookie-bear was golden-colored and smelled lovely, and Horace wanted to take a bite, but-- 'No Horace," said Horace's Mum, 'it is too hot. You must wait for it to cool down.' An hour later, Horace remembered the cooled gingerbread bear and was about to take a bite, but-- ' No, Horace,' said Horace's Mum, 'you are just about to have dinner. You will spoil your appetite.' Before bedtime, Horace thought of the golden cookie bear and he was just gazing at it, but-- 'No, Horace,' said Horace's Mum, 'you have just cleaned your teeth.' Horace put the bear in a little tin and put it on his pillow."

These narrow escapes set the stage for Ginger Bear's awakening and a night of galavanting in the kitchen, creating a delectable circus of cousins, whose show comes to a crumbly end by the family pet ("Bongo the Dog liked cookies. But not in a way that is necessarily good for the cookies"). Where in the world can a cookie be safe? Though this story has no shortage of sugar icing and sprinkles, it is far from saccharine; fans of Leo Lionni's classic SWIMMY will recognize the high drama and mortality rate that motivates the creative problem-solving of the protagonist. Wry storytelling leads us to an ending is as satisfying as a whole plateful of pastry, but most delicious are the illustrations, with absolutely vibrant watercolors, acrylics and collage, visually kinetic without feeling cluttered, elements combining to make a world as solid and opaque and bright and real and dynamic as any child's imagination. The double-page spread of a cookie-like Guernica is suitably stirring ("no cookies were harmed in the making of this book," the author consoles on the copyright page), and how she could make a cookie with two eyes, a nose and no mouth at all so darn expressive is a mystery to me. I wonder if Mini Grey fretted about how to top the toy story that was TRACTION MAN IS HERE, well, she can sleep like a baby knowing with this latest title she is undeniably the Queen Empress of Anthropomorphism. There is something fearless about this book as there is something fearless about Ginger Bear, unshakable in her own faith that she can create a happy ending. Make sure you have plenty of cookie dough on hand to follow this reading...or heavy brown cardboard in case children prefer to cut out Ginger Bear creations that won't crumble. Mini Grey knows how to write books kids will not only like, but love, and this latest is as necessary in your picture-book pantry as salt and sugar is to the kitchen. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
Still hungry for more reading?
THE GINGERBREAD GIRL by Lisa Campbell Ernst (Dutton) Why should boys have all the fun? In this entertaining parody of the GINGERBREAD BOY, his smarter sister gives the classic ending a licorice twist. Add Jan Brett's THE GINGERBREAD BABY, and it's a family affair; visit the author's website for a printable board game! (5 and up)

THE GINGERBREAD RABBIT by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Garth Williams (Dutton) I am concerned that you might not know this oldie but great-ie, a charming collaboration of a legendary poet/author and illustrator! Lonely for her daughter while she is at school (know how that goes, pre-school moms?), a doting mother makes a gingerbread cookie in the shape of a rabbit as a surprise for her little girl when she comes home, but alas, the cookie creation makes a getaway into the world that is a little wider than expected. Will the fox nab him, or will a real family of rabbits hop to his rescue? In this book, the good intentions are really good and the bad intentions are really bad, and the chases are squeal-worthy. With all the old-fashioned flavor of Howard Garis' UNCLE WIGGLY'S STORYBOOK and the warmth of a pre-heated oven, this is a perfect chapter book read-aloud for the very young. (4 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I recently was so very fortunate to attend the Association of Jewish Libraries conference in Phoenix, Arizona, for the honor of receiving a Sidney Taylor silver honor award for an outstanding contribution to the field of Jewish Literature for Children for my book, VIVE LA PARIS. It was the first time this award was given for a book featuring an African American protagonist, and I must say it was one of my proudest professional achievements. During the conference, besides making many new friends, laughing with old ones and getting to enjoy a lot of good food, I attended some amazing booktalks and came away with gems. Here are just a bissel of the best that landed in my luggage!

I AM MARC CHAGALL by Bimba Landmann (Eerdmans) 3-D collage scenes populate the pages with cows, chickens donkeys, musicians and angels, the dreamlike populations of Chagall's Russian childhood and artistic imagination that insisted, "painting is as necessary as bread." Based on the artist's autobiography, the story is a great adventure of a poet-artist, a testament to possibility. Chagall speaks about children, "I was delighted to see that they understood that the world inside us is at times more real than the world outside." That line alone is worth the price of the book. (5 and up)

by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Greg Harlin (Dutton) All right, it's definitely early, but if we can have Christmas in July, why not Hanukkah? I had the great pleasure of hearing both author and illustrator speak about how this book came to fruition. With a great sense of humor, Krensky shared how he once was learning to write under none other than Natalie Babbitt (author of TUCK EVERLASTING), and shared with his audience a critique of his manuscript in which she had made a remark or correction for nearly every line. Instead of being thwarted by the criticism, he was grateful, realizing that in writing, "everything counts." His well-researched prose of a likely event in which George Washington comes upon a Hanukkah celebration during the Revolutionary War is coupled by the graceful and accomplished watercolors by Harlin. Though this very sweet illustrator was shy when faced with the roomful of people, his talent came through loud and clear as he walked around "sketches" worthy of an art museum's walls and oohs and ahhs from everyone in the audience. More than a holiday story, this Sydney Taylor gold-medal winner for picture books is a piece de resistance of author/artist collaboration, and a nice reminder that America has always been a melting pot. (5 and up)

by Ellen Schwartz (Tundra Books) Some bad luck and tragic outcomes leave nine-year-old mixed-race Joey Sexton to live with his aunt, a Jewish woman from the Bronx, and his bigoted grandfather who has trouble getting past the choices of his daughter. Can the support of members of his newfound family and the rise of a baseball star named Jackie Robinson keep Joey from striking out? Though some of the baseball history fact-checking could have been tightened, strong dialogue and characterization make this a grand slam for realistic fiction, and the paperback format and manageable size make it a good warm-up for reluctant readers; the last teacher I gave it to bought a classroom set of thirty. A solid choice for read-aloud, classroom lit circles or book clubs, and fun to compare and contrast with Bette Bao Lord's IN THE YEAR OF THE BOAR AND JACKIE ROBINSON (one of my all-time favorites, incidentally) and Dan Gutman's JACKIE AND ME. (10 and up)

by Dave Horowitz (Putnam) Though I did not encounter this book at the conference, I would like to nominate it for consideration for next year's notable books! Based on the popular preschool fingerplay "Five Little Ducklings," readers follow along as five pieces of gefilte (a bit like a fishy matzoh ball) go out of their jar and far away, taking in plays (next weekon the marquee: "Goldie Lox and the 3 Shmears"), crash a deli buffet ("such chutzpah!" complain the knishes), and shelp around New York's garmet district in a taxi cab. "Oy vey," kvetches Mama Gefilte who is so lonely without them, but she shouldn't worry because she has raised mensches (good people) who don't forget to come back. Full of wit and visual jokes, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy this very funny multicultural piece of children's lit, especially thanks to the dandy glossary at the back which serves as a JOYS OF YIDDISH for kids. Even if gefilte fish seems less than deelish, so what? You don't have to eat it, you just have to read it! (4 and up)

Also of interest:
If you enjoy these picks, be sure to get a Sydney Taylor Book Award kit, which includes a brochure, 20 bookmarks, a Quest for the Best CD-ROM (a truly amazing resource for booklovers of any faith), and enough gold and silver seals for the most recent year’s winner and honor books!

On a personal note:
An 2007 AJL convention photo album! Thanks to Kathe and Etta for snapping and sending!

Okay, first things first! I had the out-of-body experience of meeting super-glammy Jo Taylor Marshall, the daughter of Sidney Taylor (legendary author of the timeless ALL-OF-A-KIND FAMILY series that celebrated the urban experience of a Jewish family in the early part of the 20th century). I had the infinite honor of sitting at her table along with members of her family during the award ceremony, though I was really too star-struck to strike up a conversation (and for me, that's saying a lot).

This year the Taylor family generously underwrote a new teen category for the award, which went to Markus Zusak for her masterpiece THE BOOK THIEF, Alice Hoffman's INCANTATION and Dana Reinhardt's A BRIEF CHAPTER IN MY IMPOSSIBLE LIFE. I got to have a lovely informal lunch with Mark and Dana (above) and also attended their very engaging session in which they teamed up to lend considerable insight into their work and the genre, answering the age-old question: what is the real difference between young adult and adult literature? Answer: well, I'm still not sure, but books that feature young adults are a clue, and maybe it doesn't matter in the end, so long as the book is terrific. In the session, women in the audience struggled mightily to ignore Mark's apparent disfigurement, Australian accent, wedding ring and accompanying love-of-wife, and focus instead on his thoughtful comments. Keep fighting the good fight, ladies! And hey Dana, what are you, chopped liver?! You're plenty pretty and smart, too...and the woman can write!!!

Another Mount-Everest high point for me was getting to share a session with Jennifer Roy, who wrote what may very well be the most important children's book of the past year, YELLOW STAR (Marshall Cavendish), real history told in free verse, inspired by interviews with her aunt who was one of a dozen children to survive the Nazi terrors in the Lodz ghettos during WWII. The brilliance of this book is that besides being honest and powerful, it is one that is truly age-appropriate for intermediate readers on the Holocaust, a subject that often seems impossible to broach. I expected to meet someone in her 70's, and was stunned that such a wise and sensitive book was delivered by someone who was so young. It was a pleasure meeting one of her sisters and her mother, and also learning that she also had an identical twin sister, Julia DeVillers, who is the author of HOW MY PERSONAL, PRIVATE JOURNAL BECAME A BESTSELLER, which is airing later this month (July 21!) on the Disney Channel as "Read it and Weep". A lot of talent in one family, and a happy chapter, I think, in the legacy of her family's rich history. The session was deftly facilitated by Kathe Pinchuck. I was very delighted not to have to follow Jennifer as she gave a fantastic presentation incorporating maps and pictures, and had everyone's heart beating faster and more than a few tears flowing. Her experience as both a gifted and talented and special education teacher really shone through, both as a speaker and as the creator of a book that belongs in every classroom of every faith. She would be a dream guest author at any school, that's for sure! Visit her home page at
See these women? These are heavy hitters here. To the left is former award committee chair Heidi Estrin, who now runs the Book of Life podcast (2007 winner of the Bronze medal for outstanding audio blog...congratulations, Heidi!) , and who at one point was sporting a fabulous t-shirt illustrated by Caldecott winner Simms Taback that we all need to incorporate into our summer wardrobes. Rachel Kamin, on the right, is the current chair and a shockingly dynamic leader, who also was a stellar presence at one of the best sessions I have attended at any conference ever, titled "Adventures in Book Reviewing," which moved along at a well-timed clip that could have been a t.v. show, it was so fun to watch. Over hours that flew by like minutes, attendees were treated to a variety pack of author talks, reviews of the best books of the year by a hard core panel of librarian reviewers (Rachel Kamin, Nancy Austein, Kathy Bloomfield, Susan Berson and Kathe Pinchuck), and a brutal literary pummeling session titled "what's hot, what's not" in which reviewers with opposing views of the same book vehemently stated their cases with the fervor of high-school-debate-team-meets-roller-derby. Believe me, authors in the audience were sweating! Rachel Kamin duked it out over Micol Ostow's EMILY GOLDBERG LEARNS TO SALSA, among others. (Rachel, please get a blog! The whole world needs to hear your sassy, saucy POV!) All of this was followed with an exciting preview of what the Sidney Taylor committee is looking at now, including submissions that did not necessarily fully fit their criteria but were excellent in their own right. It was truly fascinating and enlightening, as someone who approaches books from such a secular perspective, to see each book analyzed from so many different lenses of religious practice: liberal, reform, conservative, and beyond. I really came away even more deeply appreciating what a reader brings to a book and how that impacts the interpretation of the content. I'm sure this is true whether the reader is an adult or a child. It was also impressive how even when the discussion became heated and people were very invested in their opinions, the warmth did not dissipate. This was a showcase of booklovers and people-lovers hard at work, and neither passion was compromised.

The awards ceremony was very touching, with kind and unusual attention and description given to the work of each awardee. Of course I cried when local girl and goombah Brenda Ferber accepted her gold award for her novel JULIA'S KITCHEN, I was so very, very proud of her. Earlier in the day, she gave a wonderful session in which she read extensively from her real-life journal, describing the ebb and flow of emotion and the hard work she put into her manuscript, all leading up to the great news that she had won. You've got to check out her son Sammy's hilarious take on his mom's great victory on her blog! If you want more vicarious conference attendance, check out the AJL blog comprised of entries from many attendees.

Most of all, I was proud of AJL. I've said it before and I'll say it again and again, my own great honor notwithstanding, the Sidney Taylor Award is a hyperion of what a book award should be, and sets an example for other book awards that establish criteria based on the author instead of what's in the binding. Meticulous debate, transparency, and a love of literature were clearly the order of the day, and every day that went into the work of AJL this past year. I would hope in future years the American Library Association would embrace this award as they have The Coretta Scott King Award and Pura Belpre Award, as it would only reflect well on them to do so and there is clearly a large enough body of work to warrant it. Meanwhile, kudos to everyone who worked so hard to create such a phenomenal conference. I look forward to attending the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Taylor Awards at the AJL conference in Cleveland next year, and urge anyone who works with books and children and who is interested in professional development to join me!

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


One good throw-down deserves another! Here are rocking non-fiction recommendations, one for every finger on both hands. So often we think of kids who get lost in fictional stories as the real readers, but remember, non-fiction is real reading, too! By affirming our children's quest for information, history and how-to, we are supporting critical thinkers and bringing boys and reluctant readers into the fold.

A SECOND IS A HICCUP: A CHILD'S BOOK OF TIME by Hazel Hutchins, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Scholastic)
"How long is an hour?/Sixty minutes singing by./ If you build a sandy tower/ Run right through a sprinkly shower/ Climb a tree and smell a flower/ Pretend you have a secret power/That should nicely fill an hour." How about a day? A month? A year? The abstract concept of time is given a poetic and tangible treatment in this lyrical book. Gentle, washy watercolors depict young children busy within a warm circle of family and friends. In perfect time with the preschool world view a la Ruth Krauss (A HOLE IS TO DIG), this title is both useful and sweet. (4 and up)

THE SNOW BABY: THE ARCTIC CHILDHOOD OF ROBERT E. PEARY'S DARING DAUGHTER by Katherine Kirkpatrick (Holiday House) Yes, this is a wintery pick, but consider it Christmas in July or your read-aloud answer to central air conditioning! I read this book on an airplane, and literally had people craning over the aisle to see the beautiful and unusual photographs of the great junior adventurer, Marie Ahnighito Peary, whose daddy Lt. Admiral Robert Peary was hell-bent on winning the race to the North Pole. An intimate and very complete look at a family on a mission, the book captures the adventure of racing down cliffs, dodging avalanches, relocating a meteorite, witnessing a walrus slaughter and being trapped amidst icebergs and midnight blizzards, as well as the dualities of Marie's frustratingly genteel life in the states and the free spirited one spent amidst her Inuit friends. Children who love non-fiction history or survival stories in the vein of Gary Paulsen will whoop with joy and disappear with the book as fast as a dog-sled will carry them, however, my one compunction is that there was nothing distinctively for children in the writing style; the straighforward essay-like text peppered with facts, long names and geography may leave some children with less prior knowledge in the dust (or the snow, as the case may be), only suggesting all the more that this is a book to be shared. The photos are plentiful, evocative and gorgeous and go far to take the reader away to the snowy landscape, with Marie at the helm (see page 31, she looks so marvelous with those buttons up and down her hood). The details of the lives are moving, from Peary's African-American companion Matthew Henson becoming an uncelebrated clerk after accompanying Peary on his celebrated adventure; the devoted wife Josephine Peary who suffered the loss of a child and followed her husband literally to the end of the earth, only to discover he was messing around with some chick named Allakasingwah; and the controversy against Peary's claim that he ever was first at all. At the core of this story with its very adult conflicts is the optimistic and confident child who finds friends all around the world, and will find a friend in readers today, a century later. Overall, this is a compelling, well-researched book that reads like a treasured photo album with a narrator to tell you the stories behind the people. Make the discovery! (8 and up)

DRUMBEAT IN OUR FEET by Patricia A. Keeler and Julio T. Leitao, illustrated by Patricia Keeler (Lee & Low) After seeing the Batoto Yetu performance of young dancers in New York City, the author was inspired to write this truly informative and exuberant tribute to the art form of African Dance. Double-page spreads seep from sepia-toned scenes from Africa into energetic full-color watercolors of a class in Harlem in preparation for a big show. We see the powerful dance that accompanies a boy's coming of age, the
Mukanda; the image-dances that imitate lumbering elephants and high-flying birds; we learn the meaning behind the face-paint of the Yoruba and Shona; we vicariously hear drums that speak, animal skin voices that carry for miles, and communicate with each other through call and response; we honor ancestors and spirits through dance, masks, libation and celebration. The author maintains an amazingly seamless flow between the factual information and the movement toward the big performance. Notes after the text include vibrant full-color photos, as well as a clear map, pronunciation guide, and a listing of the author's sources. This high-interest, high-octane book has a tremendous immediacy and children will definitely come away from it knowing things they didn't know before. It is a brilliant contribution to multicultural literature as well as literature about the arts, and will bring out the dancer/drummer/painter in every reader. If children enjoy this book, they will also enjoy jumping in to CAPOEIRA! GAME! DANCE! MARTIAL ART! by legendary children's author and photojournalist George Ancona (also published by Lee & Low), where readers can learn the basic steps and background of the expressive Brazilian movement that synthesizes many art forms. (both 6 and up)

PALEO SHARKS: SURVIVAL OF THE STRANGEST by Timothy J. Bradley (Chronicle) Dinosaurs. Sharks. Dinosaurs. Sharks. Ask a boy what they want to read about, and at one point another, they will say dinosaurs or sharks. So how about a book that combines dinosaurs and sharks...that's right, that's what I said! Hard-core dinosaur-shark fans can delve into this full deck of super-toothy prehistoric undersea delights, illustrated with handsome, moody, decidedly graphic-novel-esque artwork, informative sidelines and enough new five-syllable names to keep paleontologists busy for a while (don't worry, pronunciation follows each word). Buzz-saw mouths! Tongues with teeth on them! Whale-eating sharks! This ain't no fooling around. What Jaws would check out if he had a library card. (7 and up)

TELL ME A PICTURE by Quentin Blake (Millbrook) Summer means visits to museums, and we have the renowned illustrator of Roald Dahl's works and Children's Laureate as a dream guide though the marble halls. Blake is dedicated to making art accessible to all, and this book is particularly effective in that regard, as we follow some cartoonish characters on an alphabetic exploration of the National Gallery. The artist is introduced, we see the painting, and then are tuned into questions and reactions of our cartoon counterparts. It gives some heavy fine art a light touch by allowing the person looking to respond without intrusive commentary, and the really brilliant stroke in this book is that it includes children's book illustration alongside the work of Old Masters. We move from Goya and Edward Hopper to Roberto Innocenti and Lizabeth Zwerger. In this way, the value of art for children is deeply affirmed, and such juxtapositions also ask children to look for and value art everywhere. The message is: Look! Look! Look! This is the most sensitive and developmentally appropriate art book for children that I know, and though this is not the newest book (it's in paperback!) I am dreadfully concerned that it's not in everyone's collection. Own some great art today by adding it to yours. (5 and up)

DOGS AND CATS by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin) By far, the most requested topic at my school library is "pets," and this fact-filled compendium by a Caldecott-winning illustrator delivers. The book can be clevery flipped, dogs on one side and cats on the other, like getting two books in one, converging in the middle to answer about felines and canines: "friends or enemies?" The whole book takes an inquiry based approach, answering questions like "where did the first dog come from?" "How is a dog breed created?' "Why do cats scratch the furniture?" Did you know cats don't have a collarbone, and can't taste sweets? Can you name the first dog in space? This book is fat with fun facts in language that is never dumbed down, fetchingly illustrated in Jenkin's signature torn-paper style. Sure to be a pet reading pick. (6 and up)

DADBLAMED UNION ARMY COW by Susan Fletcher, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root (Candlewick) "That dadblamed cow! When I went off to the railway station to ride with my regiment, I told her, 'Git home now, you dadblamed cow.' But she snuck on board when nobody was looking. 'Whose dadblamed cow is this?' Captain asked. Dadblamed cow said, 'Moo.' That dadblamed cow! She followed me to the war. Marched step by step all the way South. Clop two three four, Clop two three four. Dadblamed, footsore cow!" The loyal bovine follows her swearing soldier all the way into battle, where her devotion and her udders go far to save lives. Based on a true story of a cow that marched with the Union Army during the Civil War (author's note included), this colloquial, spirited tale that the youngest history enthusiasts and military families can enjoy captures the voice and frustration of its narrator, and is accompanied by folksy, sketchy landscapes of the war and its weary combatants. A book with a lot of heart, and milk with which to wash it down. (5 and up)

THE GOLDEN RULE by Ilene Cooper, illustrated by Gabi Swiatowska (Abrams) A thoughtful conversation between a boy and his grandfather is inspired by the words, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." How does one start to practice such a rule? Can the little boy stretch his imagination and put himself in somebody else's shoes? By telling the truth, helping others in need and listening to others he finds the way to gild himself with what is truly golden. This book asks big questions such as what would happen if the whole world practiced what they preach, and ends with a high note of personal responsibility. The context of a boy speaking to a loved one keeps the story from being too preachy, and thoughtful artwork incorporates iconic imagery from all over the world. If you want to split library classification hairs, this does not officially qualify as a non-fiction book, but it's greatest strength is its aspects of philosophy and religion, and a look at the way The Golden Rule is worded from six different faiths. This is a powerful and necessary springboard into conversations with our own children, and would also be a welcome gift for any teacher or religious leader. (5 and up)

JANE ADDAMS: CHAMPION OF DEMOCRACY by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin (Clarion)

"Then Jane Addams came into the room! It was the first time that I looked into those kind, understanding eyes. There was a gleam of welcome in them that made me feel I was wanted. She told us that she was glad we had come. Her voice was warm and I knew she meant what she said. We were all poor. Some of us were underfed. Some of us had holes in our shoes. But we were not afraid of each other. What greater service can a human being give than to banish fear from the heart of a child?"

My high school history teacher Ms. Weissenberg once assigned what was for me a watershed book, ALTGELD'S AMERICA by Ginger Ray (now out of print), bringing the turn of the past century to life and infusing in me a lifelong interest in and inspiration through the contributions of Jane Addams and her Hull House. I was frustrated in later years by slim pickings of literature about her life. Imagine my delight in finding a children's book that does both Addams and that time period some justice! Lots of primary sources, lovely photographs and writing that doesn't balk at the tough stuff but words it in a way young people can understand brings history to life. This solid biography will also bring children to the point that they will appreciate this iconic figure from the past as a hero in the present, and is an especially poignant requisite reading choice as a woman contender enters the arena of presidential candidacy. Addams' far-reaching efforts such as co-founding the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, presiding over the Women's Peace Party and and her outspoken role as a suffragette are legendary, but my favorite of her achievements was the establishment of Hull House settlement, a place where all of Chicago's tired, poor, hungry, huddled masses could come to learn languages, take classes in child care, cooking, drawing, singing, piano, athletics, chemistry, math, gymnastics, and participate in storytelling sessions, youth clubs, and reading groups. She also delivered a baby or two. All of her affiliations and actions earned her both the monikers "Miss Kind Heart" and "Most Dangerous Woman in America," but one thing for sure, Jane Addams was a "doer." The Fradins always write about doers. You can be a doer this summer by reading aloud their biographies to your children, so they can have great mentors and grow up to be doers, too. (10 and up)

Also of interest:
Flag still unfurled from the glorious Fourth? Keep that sparkler of interest glowing with Patriotic Picks from PlanetEsme, a list of All-American children's books.

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.


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