Monthly Archives: October 2016

Free Friday: My Pen

Free Friday: My Pen

My Pen is an incredibly creative picture book by Christopher Myers, a Coretta Scott King Honor author and Caldecott Honor illustrator. Through the pages, readers glance into the mind of a young boy who finds solace in drawing pictures with his pen. He describes his joy in drawing with an almost poetic flair. The boy’s narration throughout the story makes his adventure more inclusive for the readers, as if they were stepping into his shoes and picking up his pen. It is an excellent tale that promotes children’s imagination in an age where many kids would rather pick up a tablet or cell phone than a book or a pencil; Myers suggests that these “old-fashioned” tools are essential for the complete creative development of a child.

My Pen immediately stands out due to its incredibly detailed illustrations. Myers cleverly drew each picture with pen and ink. One would think that a picture book containing only illustrations drawn with a simple black pen would be boring, but this book is anything but. Myers creates more lifelike scenes with a pen than some artists do with watercolor or oil paint. Each drawing includes so much depth; Myers details every wrinkle and shadow with subtlety and finesse. Just as impressive, each of the protagonist’s drawings look authentic, as if a child actually drew them. The contrast between these drawings and Myers’ actual illustrations is astounding–they couldn’t possibly have been drawn by the same hand, could they? The detail Myers brings to each of his illustrations is what makes them truly outstanding.

Myers’ subtlety in My Pen continues beyond the illustration quality. In my favorite spread, one in which the author draws a collage of children, he includes many children of color. Because the illustrations are black and white, and because it is not mentioned in the text, this is not something that a reader would notice upon first glance, but when I looked closer I saw shading, hair textures, and facial features that indicated that many of these children were black. Myers also included some white and Asian children, but the overlying majority is black. This is a perfect example of a multicultural book that doesn’t rely on its multiculturalism to tell the story; rather, it includes multicultural characters to provide readers of color with representation in literature and show the world that each ethnicity has diversity within itself. When I first read this book, I didn’t even ponder the race of the narrator or the author until I reached this page, but after backtracking and examining the pictures closely, I realized that they both were black as well. It is such an achievement to find a book that authentically represents our diverse population, and this book does that perfectly. I would recommend this for any teacher’s bookshelf and for any reader from kindergarten to fifth grade because the lessons it teaches are ones that anyone learn and appreciate.

By: Lexi Anderson

Traditional Thursday: Amazing Grace


Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman (1991)


Amazing Grace tells the story of a beautiful young girl who loves stories, adventures, and fun.  Grace often spends her time pretending to be characters from her favorite stories, including Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider, and Hiawatha.  At school, her teacher explained that the class would be putting on the play Peter Pan.  Grace really wanted to be Peter, but a couple of her friends said she couldn’t possibly be Peter because she was a girl and because she was black.  Of course, upon hearing from Grace that her friends had said those things, her mother was very upset.  Grace felt sad about the whole ordeal, so her grandmother took her to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet, starring Rosalie Wilkins, an African American ballerina, as the “Stunning New Juliet.”  Seeing Rosalie Wilkins perform inspired Grace to practice hard for the Peter Pan role, and ultimately she got it!


I think this story is great for all children because most of it is relatable; children love playing pretend and they love listening to stories.  Grace is a character who is easy to love and identify with.  If you are looking to bring a more diverse collection of books to your classroom, I believe this is a good example of African American children’s literature.  This book can also be a good conversation starter for prejudice and racial discrimination.  


Posted by: Cynthia Vu

Winner Wednesdays: Battle Bunny



Battle Bunny, written by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers, is an exceptionally funny and witty book showing the creativity that children can put forth. At first glance, this book seems to resemble a Little Golden Book. Upon further investigation however, readers can see that there are No. 2 pencil scribbles over the cover, and every succeeding page. A child named Alex was  given the original sappy story, Birthday Bunny, by his “Gran Gran.” Alex decided to improve the boring story about a bunny on his birthday, by making changes with his pencil, transforming the gentle bunny into an evil villain.


The book, now titled Battle Bunny transforms into a creative work. Readers are able to see Alex’s train of thought as he edited the original story. Battle Bunny is wreaking so much havoc, that the President of the United States is forced to call Agent Alex to come in and save the day. Alex makes his edits by scribbling out words and drawing pictures over the animals, and the in the margins of the book.


The contributors of this book did an excellent job making the story seem as though a child scribbled through an already existing book and making it his own. The content of this book is appropriate for children in kindergarten through third or fourth grade. The illustrations are beautifully executed, and the pencil lines look authentic and are consistent throughout the story. The two page spreads seamlessly fit together. I am impressed with how well Scieszka, Barnett, and Myers executed their idea so well. Children will love how personable this story is for them, as it allows kids to use their imagination and think creatively. Overall, I would recommend this book to teachers and parents to have in their personable libraries for a fun and engaging read that children would gladly spend their time studying and pouring over.


By: Kayla Pruitt


Marvelous Mondays: Preaching to the Chickens



Preaching to the Chickens: The story of young John Lewis is a new book written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. It gives us a glimpse into the childhood of John Lewis, a civil rights leader who was a member of the Freedom Riders, and is now a Georgia congressman. In this book, John grows up on a huge farm in Alabama, where, much to his delight, he is put in charge of the sixty chickens. Preaching to the Chickens tells the story of how the chickens quickly became friends to John. Inspired by the ministers at his own church, John would preach to the chickens in his yard, even peaking to each chicken with a different teaching. What’s more, to John, the chickens would often respond, clucking and nodding their heads. He speaks up for the chickens to prevent them from being sold, saves them from the well, heals them, and even baptizes them.

What stood out to me most about this book is the style of the prose, and its tone. It’s beautifully written, and carries a warm tone. It’s almost as if if the pages on a book could be humans, they would embrace and welcome you the minute they were opened up. More importantly, the words of Asim’s book are inspiring, with every page imparting some kind of uplifting word. For example, he writes, “John learned to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves,” and John preaches, “God makes miracles every day.” The words of this book are empowering, and I especially appreciate how this book does it effectively without preaching at children or talking down to them. This book can present more sophisticated themes and ideas, but it successfully presents them in a way children will understand and enjoy.


To go along with the beautiful prose are the beautiful illustrations. They are done mostly in watercolor, and seem to have an impressionistic aura. I am fascinated by Lewis’ use of watercolor to bring so much depth, dimension, and life to the illustrations. These illustrations, along with the prose, do a beautiful job of capturing life and culture on a Alabama farm. You can almost feel the heat of the southern sun on a day of labor radiate off the pages. The illustrations successfully immerse you in the story.


This book is great for children in that it sends a message of hope, whether the reader of the book is also a Christian or not. The book ends with John grown up, but still dreaming his dreams of preaching in front of a crowd. Thus, this would be a great supplement to a history lesson on civil rights, for example, because as fate would have it, John Lewis did successfully get to do just that, and change the world because of it. Any child, regardless of what they believe, will feel inspired by John’s story.


Post by Joyce Hwang

My Name is · Me Llamo Celia


Para español, procede hacia abajo en esta misma  entrada.

title-pageThe award winning book, My Name is · Me llamo Celia, is one of a couple of bilingual books written by Monica Brown and illustrated by Rafael López.   They also created in the same spirit, Tito Puente: Mambo King · Rey de Mambo, This beautiful book is a great non-fiction historical picture book about Celia Cruz, the Queen of the Cuban Salas. The reader follows here from her humble beginnings in La Habana, Cuba, to becoming a popular singer in the United States. The book is written in first person which make it feel like it is Celia is telling the story.  The rich descriptions provide flavor to the book describing her dress, song, life with such vivid figurative speech that brings to mind a clear image and the feel of the music. This aspect does make it a little more challenging of a read that would be best suited for more advanced readers independently or younger readers with assistance.

López’ illustrations are full of life with vibrant colors and detail that want to be studied.  Additionally the illustrations reflect and affirm the Latino culture, bring her life to the elaborate and colorful feel of story. This amazing cross-cultural read is definitely worth picking up.


El libro ganador del premio, My Name is · Me llamo Celia, es uno de muchos libros escritos por Monica Brown e ilustrado por Rafael López. También ellos crearon, Tito Puente: Mambo King · Rey de Mambo, en el mismo estilo. Este bello libro es un gran libro de la no ficción histórica sobre Celia Cruz, la Reina de Salsas Cubanas. El lector sigue desde sus humildes comienzos en La Habana, Cuba, para convertirse en una cantante popular en los Estados Unidos.  Narrador en primera persona, crea la sensación de que  Celia nos cuenta su historia.  Las descripciones abundantes dan  intensidad a su vestido, sus canciones, y su vida con vivo discurso figurativo que no da una imagen clara y la sensación de su música.  Este aspecto es un poco desafiante lo que mejor para  los lectores o lectoras más jóvenes.

page-2Las ilustraciones de López tienen muchos colores vibrantes y detalles que invitan a reflejar.  Asimismo, las ilustraciones reflejan y afirman la cultura latina, dar su vida a la sensación elaborada y colorida de la historia.  Este asombroso libro de una mezcla cultural definitivamente vale la pena leer.

Posted by: Kirsten Nieman

An Alphabet Adventure


By Charlotte Jeanne

Take your child on a journey through the alphabet and across the country in The Alphabet from the Sky!  The end-papers represent the adventure that the book has to offer – they are high quality aerial photographs of winding roads, rivers, and mountains. The book begins with a note from the authors, Benedikt Groß and Joey Lee, which tells the reader, “let your imagination take you across America on a journey to discover the alphabet like you’ve never seen before.” The chunky, colorful text is exciting and fresh. The authors give an example of how to use their book with the letter “A” and end their note by saying, “Have fun!” 




The authors are extremely successful on giving children unique perspectives and learning opportunities through a game of discovery. Each page is a different, extremely high quality, aerial photograph of a different place in the country. The photographs show different houses, neighborhoods, and cities. Children get a variety of bird’s eye views. Some places include rural Royersford, Pennsylvania and the tropical city of Miami, Florida. A letter from the alphabet is hidden within each photograph, formed from elements of the geography. For example, a “B” can be found in curving roads of a neighborhood.


This book allows children to explore new landscapes and practice letter recognition.  It also encourages learning about different cities and states. Each page includes a small map of the United States with a dot from where the photo was taken, along with the name of the city and its geographical coordinates. While younger readers may focus on finding the letters hidden in the aerial shots, older readers can use the images to learn about new places and geography.

The photos are extremely high resolution and interesting to pore over. There is detail in every square inch. This book is wonderful for an early reader to pick up and read on his or her own. Children will love to search  each page for different houses, mountains, trees, and a letter of the alphabet. Even a young preschooler who does not know the alphabet will enjoy the detailed photos from a unique angle. 

The book is also great for reading aloud. Children in a classroom setting will enjoy searching for the letter. The Alphabet from the Sky truly takes the reader on an exciting, nation-wide scavenger hunt!

The Alphabet from the Sky was published in 2016 by Penguin Random House LLC.

Winners Wednesdays – Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type



Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type immediately caught my eye at the used book store last week. I had seen it in countless classrooms and home libraries, but had never gotten a chance to look through it. After flipping through the first few pages, I could easily see how the book has garnered so much popularity – and why it was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2001.

The giggle-inducing picture book, illustrated by Betsy Lewin and written by Doreen Cronin, is written in a blunt storytelling style that adds to the humorous nature of the book. The premise is simple – the cows at Farmer Brown’s ranch somehow acquire a typewriter, and use it to communicate their demands for electric blankets to the distressed farmer. After a bit of back and forth, the cows and the farmer reach an agreement. Young readers will be delighted by the cows’ antics and the farmer’s ensuing frustration. Even though there is no “main character” among the animals, readers can’t help but root for the group of mischievous cows.cows-2

Click, Clack, Moo also plays with sounds and repetition that engage children in the reading. Almost every page ends with onomatopoeia that highlights the sheer absurdity of typing cows: “Click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo. Clickety, clack, moo.” This repetition is the perfect invitation for choral reading in a classroom or other group environment!

The book’s illustrations are lighthearted, playful, and overall superb: Lewin uses bold lines and bright colors to invoke a goofy energy. Her use of perspective also draws the reader into the story. In several illustrations, the reader is situated behind the characters or objects in the scene, creating the illusion of peeking into the action. Further, the notes between the animals and farmer are included as part of the illustrations, so that the text and images blend seamlessly together.cows-3

With a witty plot and even funnier illustrations, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type deserves a spot on every parent, teacher, and child’s bookshelf.

Post by Sami Chiang

Trendy Tuesdays: This Is My Book (and no one else)


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This Is My Book by Mark Pett is a cute and humorous picture book that introduces both basic and abstract concepts about how a book is created to its readers. As the author/illustrator, the main (human) character demonstrates his task by creating Spike the Panda, who turns out to be quite a sassy companion.


The author wants to share his list of rules for his book with us readers, but Spike seems to have other ideas in mind

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The author becomes increasingly frustrated as Spike adds fun elements to his pages. Spike eventually confronts the flustered man and explains that sometimes its okay to have fun and make new rules and that the ownership of the book is shared.


I really enjoyed this book because it was interactive, introduced a rich vocabulary for young readers, and made me laugh! Mark Pett did a wonderful job making the characters come to life through his illustrations. He also added a small, blank booklet at the end for readers to create their own books following the read, which I thought was very clever. Be sure to add this to your list of books to check out :).

Posted By: Noelle Yoo

Marvelous Mondays: Max at Night


Max at Night is a picture book written by Ed Vere. Vere is an award winning and New York Times bestselling writer and illustrator of picture books. He was born in London, UK and has been nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal for his book Banana (2008). He wrote Max at Night as part of a series of picture books written about a cat named Max. The book was written in 2015 and published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc).


The cover of the book is intriguing, illustrating a cute cat staring wide-eyed at a bright moon that seems to almost leap off the page. The graphic imaging of the cover gives it a modern feel and sparks interest from readers, in addition to the end pages that portray a calming image of Max hanging from a tree branch underneath a star covered sky. The illustrations in this book contain many neutral, darker colors that convey a very pleasing atheistic, especially if read to a child at bed time.


Vere’s picture book follows Max in his search for the moon so that he can say goodnight. The text is integrated in clever ways on each page, it is consistent with the illustrations rather than distracting.There is a forward-backward sequence of events as Max embarks and returns on his journey, allowing a child to easily follow the book’s plot and make predictions. The repetitive nature prompts interaction from the reader as they progress through the story.


Overall, Max at Night is a great choice for bedtime because it is short in length but still includes many of the elements of a good story (plot, setting, clear POV, unique style, characterization, etc). The illustrations are minimalistic, colorful and create a relaxing tone throughout the story that allows the reader to unwind. Next time you are searching a book shelf for a bedtime story, keep this one in mind!


Goodnight, Max!

Posted by: McKenzie Scott

Winners Wednesdays: Art and Flying


A book about a boy who tries to understand the hardships of life through art….


Bird by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (2008)

How does this book qualify for Winner Wednesday, you ask?  Well, it won the…

  • Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award
  • Best of 2008, Kirkus Reviews (& starred review)
  • 2009 ALA Notable Children’s Book
  • Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent & Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award (won by Shadra Strickland)
  • Bank Street College Best Children’s Book 2009
  • 2009 Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers
  • 2011 West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award

Zetta Elliott tells the difficult story of a boy named Mehkai (nicknamed Bird), who is trying to understand the conflicts occurring between his older brother, Marcus, and his family.  Marcus is a victim of drug addiction; he constantly fights with the family, vandalizes public spaces with graffiti, and hangs out with the wrong crowd.  Even though Marcus couldn’t beat his drug addiction, it is obvious that he still deeply loved and cared for his family, especially for Bird. ‘“Do what I say, not what I do,” he would snarl like a fierce pit bull.  Marcus could be scary sometimes.  But then he’d smile a little so I’d know we were cool.’    


Bird really loves to draw.  He does it to pass the time and to help him think through all the things happening around him.  Drawing helps him to cope with his brother’s drug addiction and Granddad’s death.  Readers look up to how Bird deals with his family’s problems by using pencil and paper: a positive outlet for his confusion and mix emotions.    b_ze_3

This picture book is beautiful in many ways.  The illustrations are thoughtful and they blend the world of reality with the world of imagination.  It is also written in free verse, which reminds me of a street-style, loose rap.  

This book addresses hard topics: deaths of loved ones and drug addiction.  It may be difficult to use in a classroom; however, depending on where you are teaching, maybe most of the kids in your classroom are dealing with these things in real life.  That said, if Mekhai is a child they can relate to, then this book could be even more valuable to them and is worth bringing into the learning space.

~Posted by: Cynthia Vu