Title: Seeds of Change
Author: Jen Cullerton Johnson, ill. Sonia Lynn Sadler
Genre: Picture book
Age Category: 6-to-8-years
In honor of Earth Day I reviewed Seeds of Change, by Jen Cullerton Johnson. This book is already much decorated, having garnered the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration, and a place on the American Library Association’s Amelia Bloomer List for children’s feminist literature, among other awards.
Seeds of Change, Jen Cullerton Johnson
Johnson’s Seeds of Change traces the story of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which she won in 2004.
As a young girl, Wangari grew up in rural Kenya where she learned a deep appreciation and respect for the natural environment. The great mugumo trees earned a special place in her heart: they provided a home for monkeys, birds, and geckos; tasty fruit for humans and elephants; and a shady resting place for Wangari’s Kikuyu ancestors. Continue reading →
The John Newbery medal
Today I wrap up my series on how to choose children’s books by pointing to a number of book lists and other resources that can help adults find some of the best children’s books. Relying on the opinions of those who put such lists and resources together is of course not a fool-proof way to find the best children’s books, but it can be a very quick way to zero in on some that are probably good. Such lists and resources should not replace your own judgment about children’s books—which I hope has been refined a bit over the course of this series (mine has!)—but they can be a helpful supplement. Before launching into the resources, I should probably also state the obvious: the children’s librarian at your local library is also a fantastic source of recommendations and information on children’s books. Don’t forget him or her.
If you would like to read this article series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books”. For the previous article in the series, “Disney Princess Books: Commercialism in Children’s Literature,” click here.
Lists of the Best Children’s Books
The first kind of resource that can help you find great children’s books quickly is a book list. There are many great book lists out there, but here are some of my favorites: Continue reading →
In this penultimate article in my series on how to choose children’s books, I will address the issue of commercialism in children’s literature. Specifically, I will offer some advice on avoiding overly commercial children’s literature, and why parents ought to do so. I will use Disney Princess books—and the Disney Princess Collection in particular—as a concrete example of an important kind of books I think adults should avoid exposing children to.
If you would like to read this series from the beginning, click here for the first article, “How to Choose Children’s Books”. For the previous article in this series, “Choosing Children’s Books with Educational Themes,” click here.
Disney Princess Books: Reasons to Avoid Them (and Their Ilk)
I think Disney Princess books are a prime example of the kind of overly commercialized children’s literature that adults ought to avoid when choosing children’s books. Why? Glad you asked: Continue reading →
Perhaps the most obvious way a children’s book can have developmental value for a child is by its ability to educate about a certain topic. As the child reads the book, she learns something via the content of the book. In this post I will discuss the place of educational themes in rendering a children’s book developmentally valuable, and I will offer some advice on choosing children’s educational books. Educational themes might be understood as a complement to attractive themes, which contribute to the subjective appeal of a children’s book.
This post is part of a continuing series on how to choose children’s books. To read the series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books”. For the prior article in the series, “Stories of Virtue: Character Building Stories,” click here.
Children’s Educational Books: Importance of Developmental Stage
There is no mystery to how children’s educational books can contribute to a child’s development: books with educational themes simply help a child learn something she didn’t know about before. The key, then, to choosing children’s books with educational themes is to make sure the themes of the book fit with the child’s stage of cognitive, physical, and emotional development. Continue reading →
Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Barbara Bietz (abbreviated “BB” below), who blogs at Jewish Books for Children. As you will see from the interview, Barbara is a children’s author and has a special place in her heart for Jewish Children’s Books. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Barbara’s blog, Jewish Books for Children; its focus on Jewish children’s books makes it a unique and important member of the kidlitosphere. Click here for the previous interview in this series, with Monica Edinger of educating alice.
Q: I understand that you write children’s books. How and when did you decide to become a children’s author?
BB: I have always enjoyed writing and did quite a bit of academic and technical writing. From the time I was young I would write poems and stories but was afraid to share them with others. Finally, I took a class on children’s literature with Alexis O’Neill. In the safe environment of a critique group I gradually became brave enough to share my work. Over the years I have met some wonderful writers in classes and workshops. Writing is a passion but it is also a skill that needs to be developed and nurtured. Continue reading →
Title: The Storm Before Atlanta
Author: Karen Schwabach
Genre: Middle-Grade Historical Fiction
Age Category: 9 – 12 years
Children’s Book about the Civil War: The Storm Before Atlanta
The Storm Before Atlanta is a children’s book about the Civil War. The book opens in 1863, with the Northern and Southern United States locked in conflict. Eleven year old Jeremy DeGroot is determined to die gloriously for his country as a drummer boy in the Union Army, believing that this will have him immortalized as a hero. After a few long train rides and some quick thinking, Jeremy finds himself marching into battle with the 107th New York Volunteer Infantry, and thinks he’s achieved his life’s ambition. However, Jeremy quickly learns that the real life of a soldier bears little resemblance to the songs of glorious battle and valiant death that originally inspired him.
The Storm Before Atlanta also introduces us to Dulcie, a young escaped slave who is determined to find herself as part of a Union army regiment. In doing this, Dulcie hopes to gain her freedom and eventually locate her mother and father, whom she hasn’t seen in years. Alongside these two protagonists we also meet Charlie, a Confederate soldier who wears the uniform of an enemy, but acts like a friend. But Charlie also carries a closely guarded secret, one that will affect Jeremy and Dulcie profoundly. Continue reading →
"What a curious feeling!" said Alice, "I must be shutting up like a telescope!" And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high.
Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Monica Edinger (abbreviated “ME” below), who blogs at educating alice and the Huffington Post. As you will see from the interview, Monica is a teacher and an author, and she has worked around children’s books for a long time. She has even served on the Newbery Medal committee. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Monica’s blog, educating alice; it is one of the most widely read and respected blogs in the kidlitosphere. Click here for the the previous interview in this series.
Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking and writing about children’s books?
ME: I have always been interested in children’s books. Drawing and art was what I did as a kid and so in high school I consciously decided that when I grew up I was going to be a children’s book illustrator. I worked on a number of projects, most notably illustrations for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story, “A Leaf by Niggle” [in The Tolkien Reader]. In college and after (say, when I was in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps Volunteer) I continued to do art—fairy tales, Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child, and a few chapters of another favorite book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I had an agent or two and took my work around, got a few nibbles, Continue reading →
Stories can have a powerful influence on the formation of character and values in children. As such, the potential for character formation via stories is an important criterion for adults to consider when selecting books for children. In this article, I will describe how stories of virtue and vice can shape character in children, and I will offer some advice on choosing children’s books with character-building stories.
This article is an installment in my continuing series on how to choose children’s books, which begins here. In the previous article in this series I discussed the question of how adults should handle mischief in children’s books.
Stories of Virtue: Character-Building Stories
Historically, story telling for children has been a feature of most cultures. Often, this story telling has had the purpose, at least in part, of forming the character of children. Aesop’s Fables and Grimm’s Fairy Tales are good examples of character-building stories, i.e., traditional stories that have aimed at developing character in children. As I noted in “Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters”, the success of books like William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues suggests that many in our contemporary culture also recognize the connection between stories of virtue and character formation in children. This connection with character formation is part of what can give stories developmental value for children. Continue reading →
Mischief is a very common feature of children’s books. But is reading about mischief good for kids? In this article I will discuss the developmental value (or disvalue) of mischief in children’s books, as one of several criteria for choosing books for children. I will try to distinguish benign mischief from pernicious mischief, and to give adults some guidance on choosing or avoiding books that feature mischief.
This article is an installment in my continuing series on criteria for choosing books for children. For the last article in this series, “Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters”, click here. To read the series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books.”
Criteria for Choosing Books for Children: Mischief
So, what do I mean by “mischief” in children’s books? By “mischief” I mean intentional behavior by the characters in the book that strays, to some extent, from what is appropriate or good. The function of mischief in children’s books is generally to elicit laughs. Some examples will help clarify what I mean. Continue reading →
Today I continue my (lately dormant) series of articles on how to choose children’s books. In the last article in this series, “The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development”, I discussed the “developmental value” of complex stories for children. Specifically, I argued that children’s books with complex plots and characters can promote important aspects of child development, such as reasoning abilities and memory.
In this article I will discuss a further feature that can give children’s books developmental value, namely exemplary characters. By “exemplary characters” I mean characters—fictional or non-fictional—that exhibit traits or activities that we hope for our children to value and embody in their lives. In this article I will explain how exemplary characters can encourage character development in children, and how adults can identify such characters in choosing books for children.
If you would like to read this series from the beginning, start with “How to Choose Children’s Books”. Continue reading →
Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com Children's Books
Here’s another in my series of interviews with bloggers at children’s literature websites. Today I report on my interview with Elizabeth Kennedy (abbreviated “EK” below), who blogs at the children’s literature website About.com Children’s Books. Elizabeth is one of the hardest working children’s literature bloggers you’ll meet. In this interview she shares some great insights on helping reluctant readers to embrace reading, and the impact of e-readers on children’s literature. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature websites. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Elizabeth’s blog (link above). Click here for the the previous interview in this series.
Q: I understand that you studied both English literature and children’s literature while in college. What spurred your interest in children’s literature?
EK: My interest in children’s literature grew from the time I read The Secret Garden as a child. It was the first book I had ever read during which I felt that I was actually there: seeing what was going on, feeling what the characters were feeling. Like a lot of kids, I had a somewhat difficult childhood and found great comfort Continue reading →
If you haven’t noticed, computers are transforming books and publishing. For example, e-readers like Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad—along with the e-books that such e-readers allow people to read—are all the rage.
Another development in the digital publishing revolution is the growing availability of digital children’s books for reading online. One website at the forefront of this movement is Big Universe, which allows kids to read children’s books online. Today I offer a review of Big Universe. To conduct this review I made use of a rigorously selected focus group. Well, okay, my 9-year-old daughter fiddled around on the site for a while, but she was very helpful!
Read Children’s Books Online: Big Universe
Big Universe is a website that offers three main features. First, the site makes available a digital library—including fiction and non-fiction offerings—that allows kids to read children’s books online. The library has digital books for children of kindergarten age through eighth grade, in a wide range of categories and themes, such as action & adventure, animals, birds & insects, chapter books, classics, friendship, graphic novels, humor, religious, and transportation.
Big Universe’s reader interface is very slick: when you read a book, you can turn pages either by clicking on the arrows below the book, or by grabbing the edge of the page with the cursor and peeling it back as if you were reading a real book. Pretty cool. My focus group also liked the little Continue reading →
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (Books for Teens)
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +
Today I finish my series on Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy with a summary and review of the much anticipated, and much hyped book for teens, Mockingjay. In this Mockingjay summary and review I will discuss the ending of the book/series in the last section of this post (I can’t resist, given some of the controversy in the blogosphere), so if you don’t want to spoil it, skip that part. I will not give away anything important in the “Summary” or plot synopsis, so those parts are safe.
Mockingjay: Summary of Review
Mockingjay is a stunning finish to an amazing trilogy. I loved every minute of it, and so will most teens. Collins masterfully brings resolution to the central tensions and conflicts of the story, including the struggle between the Districts and the Capitol, and the love triangle between Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and Gale Hawthorne. However, since the over-arching theme of the series is war, the close of the trilogy is appropriately untidy—indeed tragic—in certain ways. Such untidiness helps to communicate what I take to be Collins’s central message: there can be hope and joy on the other side of war, but never a complete return to the way things were. War changes things. Permanently. Continue reading →
Title: ZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World’s Zoos and Aquariums
Authors: Andrew Bleiman, Chris Eastland
Genre: Non-Fiction Picture Books
Age Category: 6 to 9 years
Non-Fiction Picture Book Summary
ZooBorns is a non-fiction picture book portrait gallery of roughly 100 baby animals born in zoos and aquariums around the world. Each “zooborn” is featured with several photos, and basic biographical information—name (if the baby has one), species, location of the zoo or aquarium where it lives, date of birth, and the conservation status of its species (e.g., extinct in the wild, endangered, critically endangered, threatened, etc.).
Along with the basic data, the book provides information and anecdotes about each animal, sometimes including part of the story of the particular baby animal in the photos (e.g., if it was rescued, what its personality is like, what it likes to do, etc.), and interesting facts about the species. In particular, the book highlights connections between zoo breeding programs and efforts to conserve threatened or endangered animal populations. Continue reading →