Monthly Archives: January 2015

Free Fridays: Me with You – A Captivating & Quick Read


I saw this book in the Peabody Library and was immediately drawn to it. The illustrations in this book, created by Christopher Denise, are intricate, colorful, and heartwarming.  They go along beautifully with the text, advancing the story by demonstrating so much emotion through facial expressions and colors.

Me With You

Published in 2013, Me with You by Kristy Dempsey centers on the theme of friendship, specifically between a grandfather and his granddaughter. Each page depicts a different event, demonstrating the different roles that the daughter and her father have within their friendship. No matter what the event may be, positive or negative, the pair is always working together and looking out for each other. From cheering each other on during a baseball game, to keeping each other company when they’re feeling sick, this grandpa is always by his granddaughter’s side; even when she has trouble sharing her toys or simply feels discouraged.  Without a central plot or complex character development, this simple book is perfect for very young students, specifically ones who are learning to regulate their emotions.


In addition, the book does a great job of demonstrating the importance of being an individual, in that it is great to have interests and hobbies that are different than those of the people around you. Both characters make time to participate in separate activities, due to some of their dissimilar hobbies. While the young bear is off with friends at a summer camp, her grandfather enjoys caring for his garden.


For students who might be unable to relate to having a strong relationship with grandparents, this story can easily be narrated as  a father and daughter instead.

I absolutely adored this book, and believe that it will be extremely relatable for grandparents, parents, and children alike.

Alyssa Janco

Traditional Thursdays: The Wreck of the Zephyr


This book is not all that traditional, but having been published in 1983, I think Traditional Thursdays is the best place to review The Wreck of the Zephyr. This is honestly one of my favorite books from my childhood and I was quite surprised that nobody had done it for this blog before.

The Wreck of the Zephyr was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, a Caldecott winning author that most people know from his more popular books like Jumanji and The Polar Express (he is also from Michigan and graduated from the U of M, so he’s a hometown hero to me).  While The Wreck of the Zephyr is one of his lesser known books, it is still a literary and visual masterpiece.

imgresThe tale begins with the author wandering in the hills above a small fishing village, where he runs into an old man and the wreck of a small fishing boat, resting far above the shore. When asked about the peculiar wreck, the old man tells a story of a young boy long ago who was the best sailor in the entire village. The story goes one to describe this boy’s adventure that ultimately ends with him finding a hidden town that knows the art of sailing in the sky, him receiving a pair of magical sails, and eventually, in his sailing hubris, crashing the boat into the hills and injuring himself. The book ends with the old man walking away with a limp, hinting that he was that boy from long ago.

The plot and written portion of the book are similar to a lot of Van Allsburg’s books, with the ending leaving the reader to decide what actually happened. The story is fantastical and mysterious, giving the reader a beautifully haunting book that feels like a flipping through the pages of a dream.



The illustrations are perfectly suited to the story, with misty, stormy colors and great lighting effects that accentuate the dream-like nature of the book.

In the end, The Wreck of the Zephyr is an almost modern fairy tale, with a story and pictures that would make for a great bedtime story or something of that nature. In this way I think it is entertaining for children and adults alike to read, which is a happy medium that is often hard to come by. If you liked Jumanji or Van Allsburg’s other books, then give The Wreck of the Zephyr a read. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

~Peter Burke



Winners Wednesday: Rita Williams-Garcia and One Crazy Summer


During this past month, we honored Dr. King and celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. So, what better time to discuss the Coretta Scott King Award than now! The award, named after the wife of Dr. King, is given annually to outstanding African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults. The award has three categories: the Author Award Winner, the Illustrator Award Winner, and the John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

INTRODUCING THE 2014 AUTHOR AWARD WINNER: Rita Williams-Garcia! Author of the new book “P.S. Be Eleven” the sequel to her 2011 Newbery Honor winning novel “One Crazy Summer,” her stories tell of the adventures of three sisters– Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern– as they take on the world in the late 1960s.

Unknown-2 It’s 1968 and things are heating up around the country: following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, the country is in disarray. In comes Williams-Garcia’s story of three sisters, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, suffering through their own kind of heat– summer in Brooklyn. Looking for something more than cooler weather, the three girls leave behind their Papa and Big Ma (grandma) for the summer  and hop on a plane to Oakland, California, in search of their mother who abandoned them seven years ago. Set in one of the most tumultuous years in American history, this story tells the comical adventure of three girls traveling across the country to find part of themselves. Each sister, unique in who she is, tells a story from a child’s point of view of what it is was like to be a African-American girl in the world of the 1960s and chronicles the historical events that unfolded before their eyes. The story addresses important issues of race, identity, growing up without a mother, and learning to face the harsh realities of the world.

Eleven year old Delphine plays the mother role of the trio, trying from the first page of the novel to keep her sisters united as a family, despite their real mother leaving them. The reader watches as Delphine continues to support her sisters through disappointment– meeting their mother Cecile and realizing she doesn’t want her girls there, missing on on exciting things like trips to Disneyland and movie star watching, and having to spend their summer instead at a community center camp run by the Black Panthers. Over the four weeks that the girls spend with their mother, much of their time is spent at the community center. In these interactions, the reader comes to understand each sister as a unique character as each girl learns more about their family, the country, and their culture than any of them could have ever bargained for.

Williams-Garcia’s book raises important questions for the reader about the role race and identity in the development of young children’s personal voice. This emotional story addresses issues of cultural and historical relevance and begs the reader to consider hard topics, like what it means to find one’s personal identity in an era of hate and hurtfulness. The beautifully written work not only tells a great story, but also offers important educational insight in a manner that is accessible and enjoyable for young readers. The book, written for ages 9-12, pushes the reader to consider topics outside his or her comfort zone by examining the experiences of characters otherwise very similar to the readers themselves. I think that this book is the perfect combination, pairing an engaging story of three young girls with the important story of the civil rights movement in the United States.

Williams-Garcia’s chapter book One Crazy Summer was recognized as one of the best in it’s year of publishing, earning the distinctions of a Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist, and a Scott Odell Award for Historical Fiction in addition to being one of the books the lead to Williams-Garcia being named the 2014 Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner.

By Lauren Christopher

Trendy Tuesdays: Sofia the First Princesses to the Rescue!


Sofia the First is currently a popular children’s show on Disney Junior. According to, the series tells the story of Sofia who becomes the princess of Enchancia when her mother marries the king. She goes on many different adventures, and different Disney princesses join her along the way. I was not aware of the television series before reading this book, but knowing that it is based on a tv series makes a lot of sense. There is not much initial character development because the readers already know Sofia!

This is a picture from the television series.

Here is a picture from the television series.

Book Cover

Here is the book cover.

Sofia the First Princesses to the Rescue is by Catherine Hapka and is illustrated by Grace Lee. This particular book tells the story of what happens when Sofia’s family goes to visit the kingdom of Wei-Ling. Her brother and Prince Jin of Wei-Ling find a treasure map, and they run off to find the treasure. Emperor Quon of Wei-Ling becomes distressed when he discovers the boys’ plan because a jaguar guards the cave where the treasure is. The fathers run after the boys and tell the princesses to stay behind. The girls follow their fathers and almost give up when they face some roadblocks. However, they run into Mulan, and she tells them that they are stronger than they know and that they can get past anything if they want to do it. Mulan


The girls find the cave and end up saving their families who were trapped by the jaguar. The book ends with a fireworks show celebrating the rescue.

This book does a really great job of defying gender stereotypes. The princesses are ultimately the heroes in the story and are not simply damsels in distress like we often see in princess tales. There are not even any potential love interests! I have personally always loved the character of Mulan because I believe she really defies the idea of what a girl should be. However, I feel like the story of Mulan is appropriate for six-year-olds and up because of some of the violent moments. Sofia the First is geared toward three to five-year-olds, and I love that these younger girls will feel empowered by this book.

The book also includes diversity; Sofia’s family goes to visit an Asian kingdom. I love that Hapka portrays Jun, the Asian princess, in such a positive light. Without her, the girls could not cross the lizard pond, which illustrates the fact that we all have gifts and talents that others do not. However, Hapka portrays the princesses slightly stereotypically in terms of race. Amber, Sofia’s sister, tries to fight off the lizards with her fan, but Jun tries an Asian flute. Jun also carries fans, but they are very different than Amber and Sofia’s. Although Princess Jun appears to be slightly stereotyped, Mulan is a princess that is viewed as a warrior. While Hapka’s created characters may fall under racial stereotypes, she incorporates other well-known characters who do not.


The illustrations in this book are absolutely incredible! I personally think they are even more beautiful than the Disney animations. The colors are vibrant and full, and looking at the pictures makes me want to visit the fictional kingdom of Wei-Ling. The text falls in the middle of the pictures, which really helps the readers feel involved in the story.

I think this book tells a great story of empowerment for preschool and young elementary school girls. The story may not be very interesting for adults to read, but I think anyone can be captivated by the pictures of Wei-Ling. I think that any young girl will love reading the Sofia the First books.

By: Emily Barker

Marvelous New Picture Books: Under the Freedom Tree!


Under the Freedom Tree

By: Susan VanHecke Illustrated by: London Ladd


Through free verse poetry and bold illustrations, Susan VanHecke and London Ladd work together to share the story of the end of slavery. Beginning in 1861, Frank, James, and Shepard embark on their journey to escape slavery. The men end up in Slabtown, settling with other escaped slaves. There they worked to better their lives and teach their children to read. In 1863, under the freedom tree, they learn the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and that all slaves are freed!


This book has an unusual writing style in that it is written in free verse poetry. The rhythm of the poetry allows for a nice ability to be read aloud. Poetry can be tricky in books as aspects of the story could be left out for sake of keeping rhythm, but this book does a nice job of carrying on the plot and giving detailed information.

photo (2)

The illustrations are appear like paintings; in places you can see the texture of the canvas show through the designs. The coloring of the illustrations match the plot, like when they are escaping through the night, the scenes are dark, and when they are working very hard, the scenes are red, dirty with soil and bricks. The African Americans are depicted correctly for the time and in a positive way, but the faces could have more detail to really make them lifelike.

photo (3)

Overall, this picture book uses poetry and striking illustrations to depict the Civil War and many African Americans’ escape from slavery. This would be a good book for a teacher’s unit on the end of slavery for older elementary grades. Poetry can be complex, so it would best be read to the older elementary grades so they can appreciate it. It could even be used in a poetry unit to show that all poetry does not have to rhyme. The descriptive vocabulary would be good for teaching tier 2 vocabulary, such as “glinting” and “weary” to help students broaden their vocabulary and better understand the book. We enjoyed reading this book and would definitely recommend it for teachers to have as part of their classroom libraries!


-Holly Reichert and Lauren Patrowsky