Staff Picks for Children

When you're in the Library, be sure to browse the "Staff Picks" display for additional staff suggestions.

BirdCatDog

(2014)
BirdCatDog

 

This unique graphic novel invites its readers to read it four times--there are three color-coded rows, one each for Bird, Cat, and Dog.  Read each row across to learn each animal's specific story, then read top to bottom to get the entire story, for all three characters are inter-connected.  The book is entirely wordless, so young children can tell the story themselves, and older students can analyze the story and the pictures.  The bright illustrations have lots of details to pore over.  

Don't miss Lee Nordling's other graphic novel, The Bramble.

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Josephine

The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (2014)
Josephine

This book showcases the passionate performer and civil rights advocate who danced, sang and clowned her way beyond her poverty-stricken St. Louis, Missouri childhood to become the one of the most electrifying and influential entertainers of Jazz Age Paris, and, in time, one of the most famous women in the world—yet, struggled to gain acceptance and equality in her home country.  It gives an overview of Josephine Baker’s varied life and career, focusing on highlights: dancing for both entertainment and survival as a poor youngster; stowing away in a performers’ trunk to pursue a life on the stage; adapting to an ever-changing world as her career progressed; being witness and victim of racial injustice, and doing her part to end it, even working for the French resistance during World War II; adopting orphans of different races and backgrounds, her “Rainbow Tribe.” The author, an accomplished dancer herself, treats her subject with respect and empathy, and describes well her explosive dancing style and vibrant personality.  Powell’s free verse flows right along, like improvised music and dance, and takes the reader with it.  Bold, colorful, stylized illustrations are by Christian Robinson, who knows well the Art of Fun, but can also create many other moods with his artistry.  The book has garnered numerous awards, including a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for Robinson’s illustrations, and a Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor Award.

I so enjoyed Alan Schroeder’s 1989 picture book Ragtime Tumpie, based on an incident in the life of young Josephine, and I was glad to see more books for young readers about this multi-talented and adventurous woman.  For older-grade readers who wish to know more about Josephine Baker’s contribution to the Allied war effort, see Women Heroes of World War II by Kathryn J. Atwood.  For younger readers, there’s also Jazz Age Josephine with jazzy, bluesy verse by Jonah Winter, and exuberant illustrations by Marjorie Priceman.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker is recommended for ages 9 and up.

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The Case of the Stolen Sixpence

(2014)
The Case of the Stolen Sixpence

 

 This first installment of The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins introduces an intrepid heroine who desperately wants to be a great detective like the marvelous Gilbert Carrington. Living with her grandmother and helping run a London boarding house doesn’t stop Maisie from trying hard to be a “noticing sort of person.” Soon she finds herself embroiled in not one, but two mysteries.  Touching lightly on the difficulties of the Victorian era, this fun, adventurous mystery stars a plucky, strong-minded, big-hearted heroine who is not afraid to do what’s right and stand up for her friends.

 

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Supertruck (2015)

Supertruck

 

While other trucks do special things like fix power lines, tow vehicles and put out fires, garbage truck goes quietly from alley to alley collecting trash. One day a terrible blizzard strikes the city and the other trucks find themselves trapped in the snow. Under cover of darkness, garbage truck slips into a garage and emerges as….SUPERTRUCK! Armed with a plow, he makes short work of snow piles and clears the city streets. The next morning, the other trucks look around and wonder about the amazing Supertruck who rescued them, but, like all good superheroes, Supertruck is back in disguise as a regular garbage truck. With simple, clear pictures and an easy to follow storyline, this is a good read for toddlers as well as preschoolers.

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If

(2014)
If

 

Rudyard Kipling's well-known poem, written in 1909 then published in 1910 in his book Rewards and Fairies, is beautifully illustrated by Italian watercolor artist Giovanni Manna.  Written for his 12 year old son, If begins with the phrase: "If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you", then lists multiple obstacles a person can encounter throughout their life.  The poem ends with the famous line: "Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!".  The poem is not just for children, or boys, it can speak to teens and adults as well with its inspirational message.  An introduction to the book explains the background behind Kipling's reasons to write the poem.  After his oldest child passed away, Kipling doted on his other two children, and also had high hopes for them.  When his son John was 17, he enlisted in the British army as England had declared war on Germany.  A year later, John died in the Battle of Loos.  The illustrations by Manna are colorful and inspiring, and at times whimsical--not what I expected, but still appropriate.  Highly recommended to share with elementary age students.

For another look at the same poem but with a completely different look, check out If with photographs by Charles R. Smith Jr.  Smith's note at the back of the book explains what the poem meant to him over his life.

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A Letter for Leo

(2014)
A Letter for Leo

 

In A Letter for Leo, we meet a a smiling weasel mailman named Leo who delivers all kinds of mail (even boxes to fish living in a stream), but has never received a letter himself.  He has a good life, but wishes for his own mail.  One morning Leo is startled to find that there is a baby blue bird in the mailbox that he names Cheep.  Leo takes Cheep home (after feeding him the sun-dried crickets he keeps for emergencies) when he realizes Cheep was probably left behind by his flock when they flew south.  Leo and Cheep become a family.  Over the next several pages are illustrations showing how Leo and Cheep spend their winter.  Cheep has grown up and his flock has returned from the south.  A somber wordless spread shows a forlorn Leo waving goodbye to Cheep as the blue bird flies away.  Leo goes back to regular life until what he has waited for his entire life arrives.  Its a letter--from Cheep.  It doesn't matter the letter only consists of the word "cheep", the affection from Cheep to Leo is felt throughout.  The last wordless page shows only joy.  A beautiful book.

For a book on a similar theme, try The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc.

To learn more about real mail carriers, read Mail Carriers by Cari Meister.

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Fever 1793

2000

Fever, 1793 is an impressive story of struggle, survival, and love. The author, Laurie Anderson, brings the reader into the life of a fourteen-year- old girl, Mattie Cook.  She lives in a coffee shop with her mother and grandfather in Philadelphia. Mattie hopes to one day turn her parent’s coffeehouse into something big and spectacular. After the death of her best friend, Polly and her mother; she had to overcome obstacles and find the courage to manage her life and the coffeehouse. Her world was turned completely upside down when the yellow fever hits their city. The fever strikes the city of Philadelphia in July 1793, spreading rapidly in August.  An estimate of 5,000 people in Philadelphia died from the Yellow Fever. This book is based on true events and takes the reader through a historical time period. Through Mattie’s journey she learns to appreciate and love her grandfather. She was never afraid of failure. 

http://www.apl.org/sites/default/files/staffpicks_files/0395776082_0.gifTo learn more about the Yellow Fever, read An American Plague. The book uses a blend of narrative, personal accounts, and pictures.

 

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Mr. Frank

(2014)
Mr. Frank

 

Canadian author/illustrator Irene Luxbacher's book about a tailor making his most perfect, important outfit ever is simply beautiful to read.  Mr. Frank had been a tailor for many years and has received an order that "made all the others (orders) seem dull".  He recalls mending uniforms sixty years in the past, then suits fifty years ago, forty, thirty, twenty-five, this order would be more special than any other.  This outfit was so perfect, indeed, that Mr. Frank did not want to ever sew anything else.  Nothing could ever measure up to the special outfit he was making.  So, "Mr. Frank decided it was time to pack up his shop.  He would hang up his measuring tape, unplug his iron and put away his pins for the very last time..." We see Mr. Frank flip the switch to the lights on his shop, and when the page is turned we finally learn about the masterpiece Mr. Frank has created in a beautiful wordless spread.  Turn the page again, "...well, almost."  Mr. Frank is not yet done creating wonderful clothes.  The illustrations are graphite and collage, and the small photographs found on the walls add to the charm of the book.  The outfit is perfect, and this book is perfect.

For another book about perfect clothes, try Simms Taback's Caldecott winning Joseph Had a Little Overcoat or 

 My Grandfather's Coat by Jim Aylesworth.

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Tiptop Cat

(2014)
Tiptop Cat

 

This beautifully drawn book, illustrated in pastels on paper, consists of numerous realistic panels and spreads of a stunning black and white cat.  The curious cat loves his new home, especially the balcony, because it leads to the roof, and he would perch on the chimney.  But, one day a pigeon comes close by, the cat pounces, and he falls down, down, down until he is rescued by a red awning.  Nothing is broken except his spirit.  He hides for days, until he sees a black crow which he follows.  As the crow flies up, the cat pursues, jumping up and up and up, until he once again perches on his chimney--"on top of the world again".  The story is short, but the moral is huge--try, try again.  

Don't miss C. Roger Mader's first book, Lost Cat.

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What in the World?

Fun-tastic Photo Puzzles for Curious Minds (2014)
What in the World?

January is National Puzzle Month, and the 29th is National Puzzle Day!  If you would like a great book to help you celebrate before the month is out, try this visual feast, published by National Geographic Kids.  It features a variety of photo puzzles: optical illusions, hidden pictures, “Spot the Difference” (on two-page spreads), and more!  It’s full of fun facts about nature, including how animals use camouflage for safety, how humans use vision and the brain in concert to understand the world around them, and how our perceptions can be fooled by visual tricks.  There are also word scrambles to decipher.  The book can be enjoyed in one sitting, or a bit at a time, in any order.  There is an introduction on “How to Play” at the beginning of the book, and a puzzle key towards the back. 

What in the World? is recommended for ages 8-12.

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Writer to Writer : From Think to Ink

(2015)
Writer to Writer : From Think to Ink

 

This book grew out of a blog that Gail Carson Levine began in 2009. From a rather amorphous beginning, the blog turned into a dialogue about the writing process, and that dialogue lead to this book. Written in response to actual questions, this extremely practical guide uses examples from classic and contemporary works to trace the writing process from initial spark through the development of character, conflict and plot. There is a chapter on the practical aspects of deadlines and publishing as well as a whole section on writing poetry and how to use it in a story. Each chapter is filled with writing prompts and most close with this excellent advice, "Have fun, and save what you write!" Conversational and encouraging in tone, reading this book feels like sitting down with Gail herself for a nice, little chat. Recommended for writers and readers both, this is a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a phenomenal author.  

For more fun, check out Gail's earlier book about the writing process Writing Magic : Creating Stories that Fly.

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