RECOMMENDATIONS ARCHIVE

Not-very-oldies and still-very-goodies...recommendations from 1999 to the present! All recommendations are teacher-tested, kid-approved. Click on images or links in red for further reviews and information.

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Picture Books

The Lion's Share by Chris Conover
This is a book fit for a king...or a prince or princess, as the case may be. When Prince Leo II, a lion, is born with wings on his back, King Leo Golden Mane proclaims, "he will go far!" In fact, little Leo flies so far, he finds himself lost in the fabled land of the polar bear King Otto, who teaches him to read, and sends him back to his own land to deliver leadership through literacy and peace. The oversized illustrations are realistic in detail and whimsical in spirit; my favorite is the double-paged spread of Prince Leo dreaming of Noah's Ark, animals marching two by two out of the pages of Leo's book. The end-papers are a whole alphabet of classics from children's literature; can you guess what each letter stands for? The Lion's Share offers an elephant's share of excellence and beauty, clearly executed with the highest standards in mind. Children of all ages, on a lap or in a large group, will love this book. Ages 5 and up.


River Friendly, River Wild
by Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Neil Brennan

Based on memories of living through the Grand Forks, North Dakota flood, the author uses free verse to carry the reader through the confusion, horror and hope of a community in the throes of survival. The dramatic story is complimented through muted paintings of fire and water, submerged homes, rescued Christmas ornaments and Red Cross trucks. This realistic, haunting book succeeds in being sensitive without saccharine. This title will surely move any empathetic reader, and teachers will find an easy connection with natural disaster studies and weather units. Ages 7 and up.


Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson
Slow and steady wins the race...and enjoys a good stroll in this story inspired by a passage from Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Young readers will root for the two bears as they make their way to Fitchburg, one by working for a train ticket, one by walking and delighting the world around him. Contemporary, angular illustrations with matte blues, greens and golds compliment the text, and will please the eye page after page. Ages 6 and up.


Gift Horse by S.D. Nelson
Whether Storm is taking his horse Flying Cloud through a blizzard, doing a Buffalo Dance around a fire or reeling under the constellations on a vision quest, every page absolutely glows with action and beauty and the story of this young Lakota's coming of age is told with the pacing of a horse's smooth cantor. This book is a feast of variety, and does not suffer for one moment through a monotony of illustration, pages looking similar to the ones before...instead, each page is a fresh step into Storm's coming of age, and both picture and text are alive with color. While this book is sophisticated in many ways, it can be enjoyed on many levels; children as young as five will be compelled along with a twelve year old. This book is a plain delight, and a welcome addition to the body of Native American literature; let's hope S.D. Nelson will be as prolific as Paul Goble!

Gershon's Monster by Eric Kimmel,
illustrated by John J. Muth

I have to admit, I balked a little when I first read this story, simply because the story was so exciting and so intense and the illustrations so dramatic, I wondered if it would be too much for the children. But the verdict is in and Gershon rates a unanimous thumbs-up! (I should always trust Eric Kimmel, did I ever meet a child who didn't love Herschel and the Hannukah Goblins ?) Gershon the baker makes mistakes, and why not? He's only human. Gershon's biggest mistake, though, comes from never saying he's sorry, never feeling regret. When Gershon and his wife are blessed with beautiful children, all of Gershon's thoughtless acts (which he had been sweeping into the cellar and dragging down to sea) seek to teach him a lesson...will Gershon change in time to save his children? A real page-turner of a picture book, it is subtitled "A Story for the Jewish New Year," but it is exciting any time of year, and a fine folk tale to celebrate the nomination of our first Jewish vice-president!

Buttons by Brock Cole
Buttons, buttons, who's got the buttons? When an old man's buttons burst, three valiant daughters devise clever and not-so-clever plans to replace the valuable buttons. This book is one of the most satisfying all year, with the language and romance of a fairy tale, and with lovely, sketchy illustrations that are perfectly married to the text. The double-page wedding spread at the end is a feast for the eyes, perfect closure. There are no holes in Buttons, and no bookshelf should be without this splendid and potentially classic volume.
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin

"Click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo." The cows on Farmer Brown's farm have gotten hold of a typewriter, and he's none too happy. They have joined forces with the hens, and it's no milk and no eggs until they get some electric blankets. With the help of Duck as a neutral party, can a deal be negotiated between the farmer and his livestock? This wacky story has a very level-headed theme about the power of communication. Mooove to the library as fast as you can to find this book that is sure to be your type of reading! Ages 4 and up.


Nine for California by Sonia Levitin,
illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith

"What good is gold, without my family?" That's what Pa says in a letter, in which he encloses all the money he has in the world, sending Mama and five "young 'uns" on a twenty-one day journey by stagecoach to California. In Mama's mysterious flour sack are all the necessities for the long ride, and whenever young Amanda wishes something would happen, it does, with adventurous results. The rustic cartoons are full of action and humor, and the earthtoned watercolors effectively carry across the dusty west. Don't miss this reading ride into frontier life!

The Feet in the Gym by Teri Daniels,
illustrated by Travis Foster

This book celebrates the great underdog of the school, the custodian! Handy Bob takes great pride in his job, wiping and washing and craping and scrubbing until the school shines, but begins to feel a little "walked on" as he wrangles with the footprints of everyone from the shuffling kindergarteners to a troupe of ballet-dancing kids to a soccer team to (gasp!) the art class to...my goodness...the marching band! How will poor Bob ever get the floor clean? The story is hilarious and a perfect read aloud, with an underlying message of persistence and pride ina job well done. The book production is outstanding, with super-glossy parts to the pages that actually makes the footprints look wet! I can't wait to have kids make their own paint footprints to lead them into their new classroom...or should I write new students' names on the feet and use them for a bulletin board featuring Handy Bob? Run, don't walk to get this book... for laughs and creative extensions, other read-alouds might very well "pail" in comparison! Ages 6 and up.

Something Beautiful
by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, illustrated by Chris Soentpeit

If you liked my piece in the May issue of Reader's Digest, you will love this book! A girl in a poor neighborhood looks through her window and sees homelessness, graffiti, danger and decay. One day at school, her teacher spells out the word "beautiful," or "something that when you have it, your heart is happy." This inspires the girl to go on a treasure hunt to find what is beautiful in her neighborhood. She finds plenty, and best of all, she finds the ability within herself to make a difference. There is plenty that is beautiful in this book: the realistic watercolors, the author's note at the end, and the empowering message that there is hope for urban America. Even though this book was published in 1998, it was a bit of a "sleeper," and I am including it here now because I would hate for you to miss out on something beautiful. Ages 7 and up.


Lost!: A Story in String
by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by C. B. Mordan

A lightning storm hits, and knocks out the power. No TV! No VCR! No radio! No computer! "I'll die!" moans the nine-year-old girl. But Grandmother has the perfect remedy for a night without electricity: a story, told with a loop of yarn and a stretch of memory. Grandmother recounts a story of a poor mountain girl who "didn't own one store bought toy," but instead twisted and turned a piece of string and used her imagination until it resembled things in her everyday life. When the girl's beloved dog runs away, she hunts for it in the woods, only to find herself lost, dependent on her resourcefulness. The young listener is excited to discover by the end of the story that the girl was her own grandmother, and that she, too, can make the "string art" that Grandmother used to tell the story. A compelling adventure, complimented by bold ink on clayboard illustrations that give the book an old-fashioned feel. Students also will be motivated to use the detailed directions included in the back of the book to create the string figures depicted throughout the story, so the next time the power is out, your students will be able to look to their powers within to spin an exciting "yarn", just like Grandmother. Ages 6 and up.


How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods
by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

Emotions go more than skin deep with this salad bar of sentiment. Treymann and Elfers have created a chef d'oerve of children's literature, with their wholly original photographs of fruits and vegetables feeling shy, bold, impatient, jealous, pouting, screaming, kissing, smiling! Thanks to it's interrogative format (my favorite is "Wired? Tired? Need a kiss? / Do you know anyone like this?") and the gamut of emotions explored, this is a book that will leave readers in a great mood over and over. Besides, you will never look at a green pepper quite the same way again. Break out the black-eyed peas and try making your own "foods with moods" with your child! Ages 4 and up.

If How Are You Peeling whets your appetite, try Freymann and Elffers latest chef d'oerve, One Lonely Seahorse. Again, using the treasures of the produce section, this team recreates an underwater paradise in which one lonely swimmer finds a sea full of friends he...and your young listener...can count on! My favorite is the octopus made of a banana peel, or is it the lobster made of ginger root? Reading was never so delicious. Read-aloud at the beach! Ages 3 and up.


Weslandia by Paul Fleischman,
illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

This tale is about how sticking to your individuality can ultimately make you the leader of your team. Young renegade Wesley plans his own civilization using the mysterious crop that he has cultivated in his backyard. In the process, Wesley changes his community's perspective of the world...and of himself. This book lends itself to classroom extensions at many grade levels, whether real research projects on the impact of natural resources to countries or the more creative assignment that Wesley gave himself...starting a society of one's own, complete with languages and sports! Kevin Hawkes' bold and imaginative artwork, with colors as lush as any farmer's market, are the perfect compliment to this inspired...and inspiring...story of how one boy spent his summer vacation. (6 and up)

Hooway for Wodney Wat
by Helen Lester,
Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

Poor Rodney Rat can't pronounce his R's, which is a problem if you're a wodent...I mean rodent. But when big bully Camilla Capybera comes to class, it's wonderful Wodney's wit that puts her in her place. What a great wead aloud! While on the subject of illustrator Lynn Munsinger, check out Wanted: Best Friend by A.M. Monson, in which Cat advertises for a new amigo, and learns the hard way that new friends may be silver, but old friends are gold! Children will love creating their own advertisements, and writing about what qualities they look for in a friend, and what qualities make them a friend in return. As usual, Lynn Munsinger's animal illustrations are at once hilarious and sensitive, putting her in the ranks of Caldecott winner Kevin Henkes. (5 and up)

Don't Make Me Laugh! by James Stevenson
Funnybones, prepared to be tickled! We are warned early on, "Do not laugh. Do not even smile. If you laugh or smile, you will have to go back to the front of the book." But who could ever resist a chuckle as Pierre, the excellent waiter, is tickled by the reader's finger and drops an enormous plate of food? Or a guffaw as the reader's gentle breathing causes an elephant to sneeze? Or a howl as a little of the reader's humming causes a hippopotamus to dance through a fancy glass store? Illustrated in a relaxed cartoon-style, Don't Make Me Laugh is a great study of cause and effect, of vaudeville, and of a perfect interactive book for children. This book will have you crying...tears of laughter. (3 and up, and up, and up!)




My Name Is Not Gussie by Mikki Machlin
Reminiscences of a hundred-year-old grandmother's experience as a Jewish Russian immigrant girl shine through first-personvignettes, each one funny, frightening and moving in turn. The storytelling voice is so personal, turning the last page of the book is truly like saying goodbye to a friend...my only complaint, if I might be a "kvetch" like Tante Feindele in the story, is that it left me wanting more, hundreds of pages worth! As it stands, it is a perfect picture book for older children, with an especially attractive layout: each double-page spread offering on one side a two-column anecdote and on the other a brightly-colored, detailed watercolor. Text and illustration are married perfectly to create this celebration of the American experience that no book-loving classroom or household should be without. (8 and up)

For another book that's got the heart without the schmaltz, check out Mimmy & Sophie by Miriam Cohen, illustrated by Thomas Yezerski. The book is "dedicated to Brooklyn and the Little Mimmy I once was," and offers four memories from the Depression featuring Mimmy and her little sister Sophie. Besides being sensitive studies in sibling relationships, through all the stories run an undercurrent of appreciation for the small joys in life. The book is generously illustrated with sketchy pen-and-ink drawings in the style of old-time etchings. Reading this book produced the same satisying feeling one gets watching an old black-and-white movie on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (5 and up)
Benny's Had Enough! by Barbro Lindgren, illustrated by Olof Landström
"Benny thinks everything is the pits," begins this story of a pig and his doll who runs away from the confines of his mother's rules and requests into an adventurous world of hot dog stands, cell phones and computers. When Benny's beloved doll is lost in a mud-hole, however, mother starts looking pretty good. Despite the modern touches, the master Lindgren manages to tell a classic tale of rebellion and redemption, and I'll bet you a ham sandwich that one reading won't be enough of Benny. (3 and up, my son's favorite when he was 4!)
The S.S. Gigantic Across the Atlantic by Peter Selgin
This is a tall tale, or rather, a tremendous one, of a ship that is so gigantic that "you can't fit it in a picture," so gigantic that it can travel around the world without moving, so gigantic it has a swimming pool for other ships. The most gigantic aspect of this book, however, is the pure imagination that went into it, prefectly conveyed through the eyes of Pipsqueak, the S.S. Gigantic's tiny lookout. 5 and up; an unsinkable choice for reluctant readers.
The Grannyman by Judith Byron Schachner
Mee-WOW! The expressive studies of a cat in action in this book rival the sensitivity of Robert McCloskey's classic Make Way for Ducklings. This is the story of old Simon, blind and deaf and bones creaking, but very much a member of the family and very much an important help when it comes to teaching a kitten the ways of the world. This book, with it's dynamic illustrations and elevated writing, celebrates the value of all life while simultaneously celebrating the genre of the picture book to its fullest. For cat lovers and book lovers alike. (5 and up)
Tasty Baby Belly Buttons by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Meilo So
Moms and Dads all know how delicious baby belly buttons are. Unfortunately, the terrible Onis have also discovered this scrumptious delicacy, and steal all the babies away! Uriko-hime, or "melon princess," is born inside a watermelon (notice her pink and black kimono!) and grows up to rescue the toddlers in trouble. Featuring a strong female lead, this Japanese folktale-adventure is paced just right for a lively storytime with lots of good chanting (like the Onis' "Belly buttons/Belly buttons/Tasty Baby Belly Buttons!"). Serve butterscotch candies or some other small round treat at the end and call them belly buttons! Or, crack open a watermelon and see what's inside (probably seeds, but you never know)! (5 and up)

Little Oh
by Laura Krauss Melmed,
illustrated by Jim LaMarche


One of the most popular books in the school library was The Rainbabies by this dynamic team, so I was very excited that they joined forces again to create this magical original folktale. A daughter, Little Oh, is constructed out of origami by a lonely woman. Through a series of adventures, Little Oh is separated by her beloved creator, only to be reunited in a surprise ending. I also like this book because it portrays step-parents in a tender light. (6 and up)

If you like Little Oh, you will also enjoy The Paper Princess by Elisa Kleven. In this story, a little girl draws her own princess out of paper, only to have it carried away by the wind. The Paper Princess is returned home after a blow through town. The collage illustrations are like watching a fireworks show, or looking over a crazy quilt; you see something new every time. This book is a real celebration of creativity. (5 and up)

Martha Walks the Dog by Susan Meddaugh
Martha the talking dog once again teaches readers about the tremendous power of words...especially kind ones! The villain of the story, a vicious neighbor dog, gets a mental makeover when his master puts a muzzle on the meanness and decides to give compliments instead. Teachers, if you want to stop put-downs in your class, give this book a spin. Also, present this book to the critic in your life, maybe s/he'll get the hint! (5 and up)

Things That Are Most in the World by Judi Barrett, illustrated by John Nickle

What is the silliest thing in the world? The quietest? The smelliest? What is the funniest book in the world? It may very well be this one! Things That Are Most in the World deserves superlative reviews, and lends itself beautifully to creative writing and language arts lessons. Make your own book of "mosts!" (4 and up)

Yoko by Rosemary Wells

When Yoko brings sushi for lunch at school, the teasing ensues. Good-intentioned Mrs. Jenkins tries to alleviate the situation with an International Food Day, but it is not until an epicurian classmate steps up that Yoko feels truly accepted. The story does a masterful job of resolving the conflict in a realistic way, and the cunning animal illustrations are both funny and emotionally insightful. I never thought Rosemary Wells would be able to surpass her masterpiece Max's Dragon Shirt, but she has proven me wrong. (4 and up)
Other Fine New and Recent Picture Books:
The Raft
by Jim LaMarche (6 and up)
How Will We Get to the Beach?
by Brigitte Luciani, illustrated by Eve Tharlet
(3 and up, my 5-year old's recent favorite! )
Jump Rope Magic
by Afi Scruggs, illustrated by David Diaz (5 and up)
Do Donkeys Dance?
by Melanie Walsh (3 and up)
Me and My Cat?
by Satoshi Kitamura (5 and up)
The Tale of Gilbert Alexander Pig
by Gael Cresp, illustrated by David Cox (5 and up)
I'm Not Going to Chase the Cat Today
by Jessica Harper, illustrated by Lindsay Harper Dupont (4 and up)
The Little Red Hen : (Makes a Pizza)
by Philemon Sturges, Amy Walrod (4 and up)
Mabel Dancing
by Amy Hest, illustrated by Christine Davenier (4 and up)


Mole Music by David McPhail (5 and up)
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco (great picture book to read aloud to older children, a true story of the author's struggle with a learning disability. Patricia Polacco is a master of picture books to read aloud to older children...for example, the Civil War story Pink and Say is a must-read! Both great for 7 and up.)
King Midas and the Golden Touch by Charlotte and K.Y. Craft (6 and up)
A Child's Calendar by John Updike (5 and up)
A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon (note: I found it hard to read aloud, but the illustrations are outstanding! 5 and up)
Marianthe's Story: Painted Words/Spoken Memories by Aliki (good story about a little girl who does not speak English, 6 and up)
Pete's a Pizza by William Steig (4 and up)
Mirror by Alexandra Day and Christina Darling (5 and up)

Fiction

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
The author was a school teacher for more than thirty years in the Alaskan "bush," and has used that experience to create vivid and authentic voices for this wonderful chapter book about adventures in a one-room school house. So many teachers in this Athabascan community flee, sickened by the smell of fish and the old ways that permeate the little town. But Miss Agnes comes, bearing beautiful art supplies, opera, and, heaven bless her, children's literature! When Miss Agnes grows homesick for her native England, can the children who love her convince her to stay? This book has so many great classroom connections and has such great read-aloud potential for second through fifth grade. Mostly, it has a tremendous power to include the reader in the experience of being a student in Miss Agnes' school, so grab a book and join the roll call!

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
I approached this book somewhat skeptically...a Native American perspective of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series? Sounded gimmicky to me! In fact, The Birchbark House was a book Erdich was born to write. A year in the life of an Ojibwa is told from the point of view of Omakayas, or "Little Frog," named so because her first step was a hop. She is the sole smallpox survivor on Madeline Island, rescued by a strange and strong old woman named Tallow, and given to a loving family. When smallpox strikes Omakayas' village a second time, though, who will survive? Besides a plot that screams for read-aloud (complete with ghost stories!), the book is rich with authentic detail of daily living and memorable characters, such as her painfully pesky little brother Pinch and her devoted pet crow, Andeg. By the end of the book, I wanted to say "thank you thank you thank you!" to Erdrich for an absolutely stellar family and coming-of-age story. The Birchbark House offers to readers of all ages and genders a long overdue perspective on frontier life with a exemplary quality of research and writing that stands independent from anything that has gone before it. An important addition to the shelves of children's literature. (8 and up)

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos
Just released in paperback! This story offers the rare first-person perspective of a boy with a severe behavioral disorder. Although surrounded by loving, supportive or well-intentioned adults, Joey Pigza cannot find it within himself to make good choices. Whether running to the school nurse after swallowing his own house key (and bringing it up again), running amock during a field trip to an Amish farm or running with scissors, Joey is running out of chances. When he is finally deemed dangerous to himself and others, he is sent to the scary "special ed" school downtown...will Joey ever find the help he needs and deserves? "You have a good heart," one parent observes in spite of Joey's trials and tribulations, and the same may be said about this book which offers a long-overdue insight into the spinning-blender world that so many kids experience. Well developed characters, humor and guts earned this satisfying read the National Book Award. A definite "don't miss" for reluctant readers. (10 and up)
Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer H. Holm
"Ladies and princesses don't get to have adventures because they get left behind," observes Amelia May, and being left behind is the last thing she wants to happen. But "no kind of young lady" is May Amelia to her teacher, father, and cruel and cantankerous Grandma. The only girl born to a Finnish American family at the turn of the century on the Nasel River, May Amelia joins her seven lively brothers on adventures at the logging camp, battling against cougars and uncovering secrets of shanghaied sailors. Secretly, though, she longs for the baby growing in her Mama's belly to be a girl. Will her dream come true? This historical fiction based on the diaries by the author's grandaunt is told in present tense, giving it a rare sense of immediacy and life. (For mature readers, 11 and up)
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
"Oh, no! Not another dog book!" was my shortsighted response when this little treasure arrived in the mail. Was I wrong! Since her mother left when she was three, India Opal Buloni lives with her father, a soft-spoken preacher, in a lonely little trailer. Thanks to the help of a smiling stray she meets, she is able to befriend the people in her small town: Otis, working in a pet shop with an arrest record and a special talent for soothing the savage beast; Miss Franny Block, bear-fighting librarian; the mysterious Gloria Dump, possible witch with a penchant for egg salad and many more original and engaging characters that will resonate with the reader like a sweet-sounding bell long after the book is closed. "We appreciate the complicated and wonderful gifts you give us in each other," prays the preacher, and indeed, the author has offered a complicated and wonderful story, not so much about a dog as it is about friendship and "loving what you got while you got it." I loved this book so much while I had it, it is included on my very exclusive "Must Reads by the Time You are 13" list. (10 and up)

The Bad Beginning: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the First by Lemony Snicket
Who says every cloud has to have a silver lining? The linings are lead for the Baudelaire orphans, who lost their parents in a fire, and it's downhill from there. Their parent in locos is completely loco, trying to do away with the poor heros to gain their vast fortune. This book is a tribute to Murphy's Law: everything that can go wrong, does. "If you have picked up this book with the hope of finding a simple and cheery tale, I'm afraid you have picked up the wrong book altogether," warns the author. "I am bound to record these tragic events, but you are free to put this book back on the shelf and seek something lighter." Misery loves company, it seems, as this series of books has achieved legions of fans, and was in fact fervently recommended to me by a fifth grader. An absolutely miserable story full of wit and exciting vocabulary that is defined for young readers throughout the book, this is a great pick for pre-teenagers who have been desensitized by television. Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling fans will take special pleasure in the dark humor...in fact, perhaps "Lemony Snicket" is a pen name for Rowling herself, or maybe Philip Pullman? Whoever it is, this book is a page-turner. (9 and up)

Pee Wee's Tale by Johanna Hurwitz
For every child who has ever wanted a pet, here is Pee Wee, the literate guinea pig! Poor Pee-Wee is adopted into a family that doesn't really appreciate him, and is released into the world of adventure that is Central Park. Luckily, he makes fast friends with Lexi, a squirrel who is nuts about giving survival advice. For those of you who have written to me requesting a title for second- and third-graders, this is a great independent read, though my young son adored it as a read-aloud...I hope his kindergarten teacher will be open to a guinea pig as a class pet! Whether or not, she is going to receive this book, which is full of great characterizations, humor, suspense and a satisfying ending. Pee-Wee's spirit will bring out the risk-taker in even the shyest young reader! (5 and up)
The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
Who is Corin? Folk keeper to the mysterious and brutal cellar spirits, clumsy servant to the family at Cliffsend, or Corrina, long-haired seal-maiden with the poetic and potent power of the Last Word? Corin/Corrina has been disguised so long, s/he isn't sure who s/he is anymore, and it takes the power of magic and friendship for the secret to be revealed. Told in page-turning journal form, The Folk Keeper is fast-paced fantasy with vivid description and exciting characters. (11 and up)
Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine
Using her own father's life as inspiration, Levine creates a gripping story of a Jewish boy sent to a bleak orphanage after the death of his father, escaping nightly to accompany an old fortune-teller who attends parties amidst the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance. Conflicts arise as Dave must determine whether to leave the orphanage for good, or stay with the friends he has come to know as family. At once funny and sad, Dave at Night is a superior read-aloud and a great tie-in to black history...make your own invitations to the Harlem Renaissance, and then celebrate with an afternoon of period music, poetry, dancing and food. (8 and up)

Clockwork by Philip Pullman

Prepare to be spooked while reading this book...which makes it an outstanding read-aloud for 6-8th grade! A storyteller is gifted at telling spine-tingling tales, but in the midst of telling one at a local tavern, the evil main character walks through the door to present the local clockmaker with a dreadful gift. Spellbinding stories within stories abound in Clockwork, and they all wind down to a satifying conclusion. (10 and up)
Surely, you know about the latest in Beverly Cleary's Ramona series, Ramona's World? Long awaited, it is just as consistently wonderful as the other Ramona books, with Cleary's same flair for giving gravity and value the daily experiences of children. Check out the Unofficial Beverly Cleary home page or Jim Trelease's author profile if you're a fan...or would like to become one!

Other Fine Fiction Books
Monster by Walter Dean Myers (12 and up)
Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey. The Captain Underpants series need not be read in any particular order, and is a must read for any comic book fan. (5 and up)
Shiva's Fireby Suzanne Fisher Staples (11 and up)
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck (10 and up)
Holes by Louis Sachar (11 and up)
Love from Your Friend, Hannah by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky (9 and up)
The Ghost of Fossil Glen by Cynthia DeFelice (a page-turning murder mystery for upper intermediate/mature readers)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by P.K. Rowling (an international bestseller; if you haven't read it yet, stop depriving yourself from the best reading adventure you've had since you were a kid!)

Non-Fiction

Big Talk: Poems for Four Voices by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Beppe Giacobbe
Two's company, four's a poem! Children will enjoy gathering around this book and picking a color, reading aloud the words for their chosen color all the way through the poem. And the poems are terrific: "The Quiet Evenings Here," "Seventh Grade Soap Opera," and "Ghosts' Grace" will bring out the best in all your young thespians. Colorful and unique, Paul Fleischman once again breaks the mold (see the recommendation for Weslandia by this author in theArchives, and for Lost! A Story in String, above.) (7 and up)

There's a Zoo in Room 22
by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Barney Saltzberg

When the class asks Miss Darling for a pet, the children are treated to a poetic trip through the alphabet, with a class critter for every letter. For example, letter E: "Please don't ask to feel/our electric eel,/because, if you bug him,/we cannot unplug him." I had the pleasure of seeing Judy Sierra read some of the poems in person. It takes a really gifted writer to maintain the energy and humor of the poems all the way from A to Z, but how could we expect anything but an "A+" performance from the author of the beloved Counting Crocodiles? 7 and up.

Buried Blueprints: Maps and Sketches of Lost Worlds and Mysterious Places by Albert Lorenz with Joy Schleh
Maps are often used to find treasure, but in the case of this gorgeous book, the maps are the treasure! Fold-open oversized pages offer imaginative, detailed explorations into The Garden of Eden, Noah's Ark, The Tower of Babel, ancient Egypt, King Solomon's Mines, Homer's Odyssey, Dracula's Castle, Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest, King Arthur's Camelot, the Great Wall of China (complete with Genghis Khan) and many other places. This book is a trip! No classroom studying map skills or classic literature should be without this exciting volume, it will inspire children to design their own maps and look at the world in a new and imaginative way. It also happens to be a great gift for the adult man (or woman) who has everything. (7 and up)

Kids on Strike! by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Open this book up to any random page, read, and you will learn something new. A must-read for any intermediate-aged student who ever claimed to "hate school," this is the well-researched, smooth reading chronicle of the struggles by children for the two million children who were struggling under child labor at the turn of the century. Kids on Strike! offers great role models for leadership, a history of industry as well as a perspective of school as a great and hard-won opportunity. This book is brimming with poignant black-and white photos, a comprehensive bibliography and a timeline of federal child labor laws. (9 and up)

Silly Celebrations! Activities for the Strangest Holidays You've Never Heard Of by Denice Skrepcinski, Melissa Stock and Lois Lyles
Celebrate UFO Days in July, National Kazoo Day in January, Mexico's Feast of the Radishes in December or Pet-Owners' Independence Day in April...this year-long cornucopia of cool crafts, facts, science experiments, recipes, jokes and recommended reading lists give parents and teachers plenty of easy reasons to party with their kids. Kids will enjoy planning their own wacky holidays after participating in any of these!
Look Alikes by Joan Steiner
Librarians, I have two words for you: multiple copies! If you have a reluctant pre-teen boy reader on your hands, move over Guinness Book of World Records and Marvel Comics! This book is as sure to be as big a hit as Eye Spy and Where's Waldo, but for my money, has them both beat. Using everyday materials, Steiner creates out-of-this-world wonderlands that need to be seen to be believed. You will never look at the cap to your toothpaste tube the same way again. (6 and up)

You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer!
by Shana Corey, illustrated by Chesley McLaren

What's proper about wearing a dress that weighs as much as a dozen bricks? What's proper about fainting from corsets and getting stuck in doorways? Nothing, decides Amelia Bloomer, the real-life lady from the late 1800's. After meeting Elizabeth Cady Stanton's cousin who was not wearing the fashion of the day, Bloomer popularized the pant by publishing patterns in her own newspaper. Ahead of her time, Bloomer made a timeless contribution to the convenience of women. The illustrator has designed windows for Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendel, and her flirtatious fashion savvy shines through with all the colors and sweeping brushstrokes of a make-up counter. The story is full of facts but reads with the fun of fiction, bouncing along and perfectly suited with a curlicue typestyle. This book hangs well with styles and smiles on every page. 6 and up.

As far as children's literature goes, it seems to be the Year of the Woman! Girls Think of Everything by Catherine Thimmesh, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (8 and up) celebrates ten women who overcame the tribulations of daily life by building a better mousetrap...or disposable diaper or space helmet, as the case may be. The extremely readable and well-researched text is brimming with direct quotes from the inventors, and is illustrated with plenty of powerful pink and mixed-media punch. Girls Think of Everything ultimately encourages both boys and girls to try their own hands at innovation, offering contact information for the U.S. Patent office, inventors' clubs, scholarship programs and even a Camp Invention! Teachers will appreciate the end-paper timeline of women inventors, dating from 3000 B.C. to the present. The ingenious, inventive author and illustrator team definitely did think of everything, as this volume is a stand-out for accessible and appealing history and biography. And while the appetite is whet for history, don't miss Girls: A History of Growing Up a Female in America,a compliation by Penny Colman (10 and up) which crosses centuries to create something that feels like a scrapbook from grandmother's attic. The multicultural stories and photographs are fascinating. And due to be released this fall is the latest in Kathleen Krull's blockbuster biography series, Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought), (8 and up) profiling scintillating sisters from every corner of the globe and every chapter of the history book, written in Krull's delicious dish-the-dirt style.


Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian (1999 Caldecott winner)
I read this out loud to first through eighth grade with tremendous success...and why not? Following one's dream is a universal theme fit for any age. Snowflake Bentley chronicles the real life of William Bentley, whose great passion is snow. Though his neighbors scoff at his fascination with such an ordinary phenomenon, his parents, hard-working Vermont farmers, spend all their savings on a camera so that Bentley may photograph snowflakes and eventually publish a book of these images, his "gift to the world." Patience, perserverance and appreciation for the wonder all around us are just a few of the virtues toted in this outstanding volume. A definite "don't miss!"
Oh, Grow Up! Poems to Help You Survive Parents, Chores, School and Other Afflictionsby Florence Parry Heide and Roxanne Heide Pierce, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott

A generously illustrated poetry collection celebrates family life. When I read favorites from this book out loud to the fourth grade, the laughter was contagious and the discussion was outrageous. Prepare copies of the poems in advance; your students will be asking! (7 and up)
Wish You Were Here (and I Wasn't): A Book of Poems and Pictures for Globe-Trotters by Colin McNaughton
Don't leave home without this book of verse! No twelve hour road trip will be complete without "Are We Nearly There Yet?" "If You're Traveling in Transylvania," "I Just Don't Believe in Aeroplanes" and, of course, "Aliens on Vacation." Whether your child's summer agenda includes Disneyworld or just some armchair travel, this book is a trip. Generous with fifty-eight pages of irreverent cartoons and poetry, it makes a great send-off gift for summer campers, too! (7 and up)

Fandex Family Field Guides published by Workman
What an exciting series of reference guides, with a diversity of topics unrivaled since the Eyewitness series. A series of long cards attached together "fan out" to reveal attractive photographs and a wealth of information. So far I have collected Leaves, Mythology, Presidents, Civil War, Dogs, Cats and Birds. They are perfect for reluctant readers, and their "flash card" style lend these books towards self-testing and expertise. I think every classroom should have a set, they are great tie-ins for learning centers, too! Try 'em, you'll like 'em! (All ages)
Other Fine New Non-Fiction Books:
Brother Sun, Sister Moon : The Life and Stories of St. Francis by Margaret Mayo, illustrated by Peter Malone (7 and up)
The Barefoot Book of Heroic Children by Rebecca Hazel, illustrated by Helen Cann (7 and up)
To Every Thing There is a Season by Leo and Diane Dillon (6 and up)
Fire! by Joy Masoff, photos by Jack Reznicki and Barry D. Smith (7 and up)
Witches and Witch Hunts: A History of Persecution by Milton Meltzer (9 and up)
First in the Field: Baseball Hero Jackie Robinson by Derek T. Dingle (7 and up)
Leon's Story by Leon Walter Tillage (10 and up)
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges (8 and up)
Seperate But Not Equal: The Dream and the Struggle by Jim Haskins (11 and up)

Reissues

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon,
illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Oooohhh! Ooooohhh! Oooohhh! Are you in for a treat! I hazard to say Eleanor Farjeon was one of the greatest children's authors of all time (do you know the hymn "Morning Has Broken?" She wrote that!), one of her stories made one of my boy students cry, it was so lovely! She has not been reissued with any other illustrator since the master Edward Ardizzone (my son Russell's middle name is Edward, by the way, after Edward Ardizzone, though sometimes my husband will insist it's after Edward Gorey). Charlotte Voake came along to foot the bill, and here we are, with a big, gorgeous edition of the story of the little girl who can do the High Skip, the Slow Skip, The Skip Double-Double, the Long Skip, the Strong Skip and the Skip Against Trouble. Born to skip, even when she's an old, old woman, heroine Elsie manages to save the skipping ground from the greedy new Lord so children and fairies can skip there forever more. Thank you, Candlewick Press, for reissuing this treasure that was first published in 1937! Break out the ropes and skip along, but whatever you do, don't skip this book! (6 and up)

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald,
illustrated by Mercer Mayer

Why didn't anyone give me this book when I was a kid? I'm glad they didn't, in a way, because I have not had such an enjoyable read since I first discovered Mark Twain! The "great brain" is John's con-artist older brother Tom, who finagles his way through chapter after chapter, conspiring to retire cruel schoolteachers, saving children lost in caves, offering a Greek immigrant boy a crash course in naturalization and teaching a peg-legged friend how to win a running race...and always turning a dime in the end. The story takes place in Utah at the turn of the century, but the seamlessness of the anecdotes and the vivacity of the dialogue make this book timeless and deserving of it's classic status. John Fitzgerald is the real great brain! Thank you to Dial publishing for making it available in a really terrific hardcover edition for only about seven dollars, which made me wonder if maybe it was another hoax by the Great Brain...but no, it's true, so you can be like me and stockpile them to give away. This first of a series is the book to give a child that never knew they could like books, this book is a lightswitch that opens a roomful of reading. (8 and up and up and up.)

The Mariah Delaney Lending Library Disaster and Mariah Delaney's Author-of-the-Month Club by Sheila Greenwald
Mariah Delaney is a little bit of a booklover and a whole lot of business woman! Whether lending out valuable books from her parent's collection in the hopes of collecting overdue fines, or inviting real live authors to her apartment for a celebrity show-and-tell, the conundrums are always creative. Mariah Delaney is an exciting character that takes a contagious amount of initiative, even though her best laid plans often go hilariously awry. In the spirit of Contance Greene and Beverly Cleary, these reissues are perfect picks for mother-daughter book clubs. Anyone who has had an idea that has spun a bit out of control will delight in the return of these well-written books. (8 and up)
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Elizabeth Ann has grown up under the frenetic care of a neurotic aunt who has instilled in the pale and fragile girl a fear of dogs, coughs and exertion. When the aunt is no longer able to care for her, Elizabeth Ann is sent to live with "those horrid Putney cousins!" in the Vermont countryside. Then, it is page after page of great ordinary-days-turned-adventure stories, as chores and friends and outdoor life turn Elizabeth Ann into a healthy...and happy...Betsy. Fischer does a great job of drawing her readers into the thoughts and feelings of her little heroine, making for a very droll and memorable read. Written originally in 1917 by Fischer to promote the Montessori method of teaching and learning, Understood Betsy still holds up as a testament to the potentials of all children. The new pencil illustrations by Kimberly Bulcken Root have a country charm well suited to this book. (8 and up)

What Do You Do With a Shoe? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

What do you do with a book like this? Read it twice, like my primary classes insist! A colorful reissue of a 1955 book, we follow two exuberant children through their ridiculous explorations of shoes, hats, cups, chairs and brooms. The dedication page of this book says it all: "for fun." (4 and up)
Featured Artist Archive


Featured Artist: Jane Ray

From Grimm's Hansel and Gretel to Wilde's The Happy Prince , nobody does a fairy tale like Jane Ray. Her gold-illuminated illustrations makes opening one of her books like peeking inside a gilded box. I especially like the princesses with eye glasses in her rendition of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and her dramatic drawings move mountains in Earth, Air, Fire, Water . Everything she illustrates lends itself very well to read-aloud, and her pictures are perfect for sharing either one-on-one or with a large group. Her artwork conveys classic literature reverently, but at the same time is informed with a contemporary perspective. Check her out!


Just look at all the books illustrated by
Henry Cole!

Henry Cole has exploded onto the children's literature scene like an uncorked bottle of champagne! The first book I ever read illustrated by Cole was A Little Bit of Winter, in which a rabbit is asked by a hibernating hedgehog to preserve for him a little bit of the season. The profound characterization of the animals in this book evokes a comparison to the great Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones; just as funny and expressive. I found the best work by Cole, however, to be when he is coupled with Pamela Duncan Edwards, teaming up to hit the target of exactly what kids want at storytime: Honk! Tale of a Prima Swanerina; Some Smug Slug; Dinorella: A Prehistoric Fairy Tale; Warthogs in the Kitchen: A Counting Book; The Worrywarts and my latest favorite, Ed and Fred Flea, in which a manipulative flea feigns illness to get the bigger share of dog. If you pick up a book illustrated by Cole, you can be assured of visual wit, like in Four Famished Foxes and Fosdyke(how many things can you find in the illustrations that begin with the letter "F?") and the hilarious Moosetache. While I am partial to Cole's expressive cartoon style, he is versatile, using a smoother touch for Little Bo by Julie Andrews Edwards (yes, the Julie Andrews of Sound of Musicfame and an excellent children's author in her own right!) and Livingstone Mouse . What luck that someone with such talent is so prolific. Take your pick of any title to test... if it's Henry Cole, you'll be picking a winner every time. Titles recommended for children 5 to 8, and older picture book enthusiasts.


A few words about age recommendations

There has been such an outcry for age recommendations on this "Don't Miss!" page that I am including them, in the hopes you will take them with a grain of salt. The age recommendations are purely based on the earliest point in which I personally would feel comfortable introducing a book to a child showing average development, and I hope you will take the "and up" that follows the recommendations very seriously; an eight year old would greatly enjoy A Big Cheese for the White House, which can be shared as early as age five, and a twelve year old could get a lot out of Dave at Night, which could be read aloud to an eight year old (please remember also that children listen at a higher reading level than they may read, so read-aloud offers more versatility). The bottom line in any reading experience should be what the author and artist has to share, and the optimum accessibility may begin at a certain age but does not necessarily end at any age (I'm living proof). Nobody knows your child or student better than you do. Please disregard any and all age recommendations here and anywhere if they inhibit your encouragement of a love of reading, and investigate all books of interest with your unique child or group of children in mind.
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