Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - a crossover post - Black History Month and Women's History Month 2.26.2020

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

It's the last Wednesday of February.  This month is known as Black History Month.  As readers of this blog know, I try to find representation across my posts all year long, not just one month a year.  This week I am going to do a crossover celebration.  Next month is Women's History Month.  Today I'll be celebrating some of the amazing African American women who changed, or are currently changing, our history.

The Power of Her Pen by Lesa Cline-Ransome
The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne
written by Lesa Cline-Ransome
illustrated by John Parra
Another American woman who did some amazing things that I have never heard of.... thankfully Lesa Cline-Ransome is helping change that!  Ethel Payne fought racism and injustices through the power of her pen and her voice.  She showed up, she asked the questions, she made people think.  In a time when the country was run by old, white guys (wait.... never mind, that's another post...) Ethel asked questions and fought for the rights and the issues that were important to the people in her community.  People everywhere could read her voice through the newspaper and hear someone was asking the important questions.

Serena by Karlin Gray
Serena: The Littlest Sister
written by Karlin Gray
illustrated by Monica Ahanonu
There have been a few picture book biographies about the Williams sisters in the past couple of years.  This one focused on all five sisters growing up, eventually concentrating on Venus and Serena since they were the two that went on to tennis notoriety, and then finally focusing on Serena.  I learned quite a bit of new information from this story that had not been in other books.  I have quite a few readers who cannot get enough information about these tennis superstars.  Looking forward to passing along this one!

Mamie on the Mound by Leah Henderson
Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball's Negro Leagues
written by Leah Henderson
illustrated by George Doutsiopoulos
This young woman knew what she wanted to be from the time she was little and she had the desire and passion and drive to make those dreams come true.  I thought it was really interesting as Mamie was able to identify two barriers from getting her dream - the color barrier and the gender barrier.  Just when she thought maybe she could get past one, another one would stop her.  
I know many of us have baseball book collections, this is a must add.

A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown
A Voice Named Aretha
written by Katheryn Russell-Brown
illustrated by Laura Freeman
This is the first Aretha book of the year and I know we have more coming.  This book came a wonderful quick glimpse of the life of the "Queen of Soul".  I don't think you can fully capture the essence of Aretha Franklin in a book, but this one does a great job.  
Before reading this, I can't say I really knew much about Aretha's life except what I heard in the news in more recent decades.  This book did a wonderful job filling in what her earlier years were like.
There is additional information in the backmatter that I was fascinated with, as well.

The Women Who Caught The Babies by Eloise Greenfield
The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African American Midwives
written by Eloise Greenfield
illustrated by Daniel Minter
Wait.  This book did not get any awards this past January???  It is BEAUTIFUL!  I love that the book begins with an explanation and history of a midwife.  Important for readers to understand.  Greenfield captures the beauty of this important person in her poems.  I love the last one is in dedication of the midwife who "caught" her.  And Minter's illustrations - just stunning.

Pies from Nowhere by Dee Romito
Pies From Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott
written by Dee Romito
illustrated by Laura Freeman
How many times have you read about the Montgomery Bus Boycott?  I know it happened, I know why, I know the results.  But this was the first time I read about ways people helped and supported during this time.  I found it so interesting and wish there were more stories like this!

Happy to share these stories with readers - they need to be heard!

Monday, February 24, 2020

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 2.24.2020

This weekly post comes from Jen at Teach Mentor Texts
 and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers.  
It's a great source to find new books to use with your students.

Last Week's Adventures

Some new nonfiction picture book biographies here.

A new narrative nonfiction book - Honey, the Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln - author interview and giveaway in the post!

Picture Books

A couple of weeks ago the Wisconsin State Reading Association's Children's Literature Committee published their list of recommended titles.  I scoured their list because it always has inclusive titles that I had missed.  Here are some I picked up from the library this week.  Here is the entire list if you would like to check it out!

Anya's Secret Society
Anya's Secret Society
by Yevgenia Nayberg
Anya was born in Russia and Anya was born left-hand dominant.  In a place where "the right hand is the right hand", Anya had to learn to be right-handed.  But drawing could only happen in her left hand.  To help her cope she developed a secret society of creative left-handed people.  When she moves to America, will she still need her secret society?

Dad's Camera
Dad's Camera
written by Ross Watkins
illustrated by Liz Anelli
This one will pull at your heartstrings.  A father is taking photos on an old camera of items, but not people.  The reader is told the father is forgetting things, an adult reader and readers with experience with this will understand the father has Alzheimer's Disease.  

Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon
Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon
written by Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Alan Marks
This nonfiction picture book briefly touches upon the twelve men who walked the surface of the moon.  While I knew of the items that were on the moon, I didn't know the stories behind them.  The personal stories will be interesting for young readers.

The Boy Who Touched the Stars/El Nio Que Alcanz Las Estrellas
The Boy Who Touched the Stars/El niño que alcanzó las estrellas
written by José M. Hernández
illustrated by Steven James Petruccio
A dual language account of the author's youth working with his migrant farming parents to working hard and reaching for the stars.... literally as he became an astronaut with NASA.

Not Quite Snow White
Not Quite Snow White
written by Ashley Franklin
illustrated by Ebony Glenn
What happens when a young girl who has waited her whole (young) life to play the part of a princess is told she doesn't look the part, including because of the color of her skin.

A Plan for Pops
A Plan for Pops
written by Heather Smith
illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan
A young boy spends every Saturday with his grandfathers.  Each have their own interests and that suits the young boy just fine.  He creates with Grandad.  He grows musical skills with Pops.  And the three of them always go to the library.  But when Pops has an accident and injures himself badly, to the point of always needing a wheelchair, the young boy must put all of the interests together to help him.

Bitter and Sweet
Bitter and Sweet
written by Sandra V. Feder
illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
A young girl is sad when she has to move to a new town.  Her grandmother reminds her there is always some bitter and some sweet with a new experience.  
One of my favorite new-to-me titles from this list.

And here are some picture books from my library stack!

I Didn't Stand Up
I Didn't Stand Up
written by Lucy Falcone
illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon
Inspired by the poem "First They Came" written by Martin Niemöller in opposition to the Nazi party, this is a powerful book about watching when kids are bullied and not standing up against the bullies, who are often in a more powerful position.  Definitely didactic, but this may be the story you need to start a conversation.

Anna & Samia: The True Story of Saving a Black Rhino
Anna and Samia: The True Story of Saving a Black Rhino
by Paul Meisel
A human and animal friendship story, readers meet Anna, who runs the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, and Samia, a baby rhinoceros, whose mother has just left.  Anna nurses the newborn to health and eventually teaches him to live on his own in the sanctuary.

Big Papa and the Time Machine
Big Papa and the Time Machine
written by Daniel Bernstrom
illustrated by Shane W. Evans
If you teach the Notice and Note Signposts, add this one to Words of the Wiser.


Just Like Me
Just Like Me
by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Anytime I can find a book written or illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, it goes on the must read list.  I was excited to find this new one, what I did not know is it's a collection of poetry!  Each poem features bold, brave, and brilliant girls being girls!  Sometimes they are fierce, sometimes timid, but always unique!  This is a must add to your poetry collections!

Middle Grade

The Disaster Days
The Disaster Days
by Rebecca Behrens
Definitely a book you want to hand off to your I Survived readers.
Hannah thinks she's going to babysit her next door neighbors for a few hours.  Lots of things are on her mind, like a big fight with her BFF, but all of that goes to the side when a huge earthquake hits her area.  All of sudden, she's having a babysitting adventure she never thought she would have!  Exciting book and looks like there will be a follow-up - new characters and storyline - this fall.

Efrén Divided
Efrén Divided
by Ernesto Cisneros
I've heard some really good things about this one, but what I had heard didn't even live up to the experience of reading it.  This is a book that is timely and needed.  It's raw and honest.
It's the story of Efrén and his family - his Amá and Appá and his younger siblings, Max and Mía.  It's a loving and caring and hard working family.  But they live in constant fear because Amá and Appá are illegal immigrants.  Right away in the story Amaá is deported.  The rest of the story shows the power of a family who loves each other, the raw feelings of living when something is not fair, and finding help and hope in places that surprise you.  
This is definitely going on my Mock Newbery list.
It publishes March 31st.  Preorder now!

Currently Reading

by Michelle Obama
I made some good progress in this book this week!  Hoping to finish it by next week.

Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle
Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle
written by Hilda Eunice Burgos
This one has been on my TBR for awhile.  It's not even the first time I've checked it out from the library.  But my friend Kristen Picone enjoyed it so I made sure to get to it this round of checkouts!

Looks like we're back to winter time in the Midwest.  Time to cozy up under a blanket again. Hope you're getting in some reading time wherever you are!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Spotlight Friday - Honey The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln 2.21.2020

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Spotlight:  Honey The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln

Who doesn't enjoy a good dog story?  A dog that saves the life of a kid?  Now that's going to make a really fun read aloud!

Honey The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln
written by Shari Swanson
illustrated by Chuck Groenink
published by Katherine Tegen Books

Goodreads Book Summary:
Based on a little-known tale from Abraham Lincoln’s childhood, this charming picture book written by debut author Shari Swanson and illustrated by acclaimed artist Chuck Groenink tells a classic story of a boy, his dog, and a daring rescue.

Deeply researched and charmingly told, this is the true story of one extra-special childhood rescue—a dog named Honey.

Long before Abraham Lincoln led the nation or signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he was just a barefoot kid running around Knob Creek, Kentucky, setting animals free from traps and snatching frogs out of the jaws of snakes.

One day, young Abe found a stray dog with a broken leg and named him Honey. He had no idea that the scruffy pup would find his way into Abe’s heart, become his best friend, and—one fateful day—save his life.

My thoughts
I really enjoyed this story.  It definitely is a feel good story and one that readers of all ages will enjoy.  The digital illustrations by Chuck Groenink blend perfect colors that make you feel at home in the Kentucky wilderness.  I loved seeing the cave entrance and can just imagine a young Abe Lincoln wanting to go exploring.

When you read a story like this you automatically think this is a great historical fiction account - meaning it is based on facts but much of it is made up information.  However, much of the information in the story is based on historical information.  The author includes in the backmatter that the information is pulled from a first person account, Abe Lincoln's childhood best friend.  Austin Gollaher recounted the story to a journalist who turned the stories into a book.  I was interested in hearing more about this research.  Author Shari Swanson generously agreed to share more with readers!

- tell us more about the research process

I started with the stories Austin Gollaher told people about his time with Lincoln when they were kids growing up in Kentucky. Then I travelled twice to Kentucky to explore, research, and see as many of the places where the book is set as I could and talk to lots of Lincoln experts. Then more research, diving into as many books as I could find about Lincoln’s life, reading the Kentucky chapters closely, and looking for any and all encounters I could find between Lincoln and animals for the timeline. 

- with this being a narrative, how did you pick and choose from the factual information to keep it factual?

I wanted to focus on the rescue aspect of the story so opened with one of the more unusual rescues Lincoln performed, saving the frog from the snake. There are many to choose from—he was busy—but this was the most surprising one to me. I wanted to establish Lincoln’s kindness to animals as a theme and character trait from the get-go. From there I focused on Lincoln’s rescue of Honey, their developing relationship, and the rescue of Lincoln by Honey at the end. The dialog is taken from Austin’s account of the incidents. This may make it sound simple and straightforward, but it’s a difficult process, at least for me. Finding this narrative thread, though, was the key for me to figuring out how I wanted to tell the story. Then it was on to the details like Austin calling Lincoln “Abe,” but Nancy always calling her son “Abraham,” which of Honey’s paws was broken, where the mill was set, etc. A whole wealth of information that doesn’t make it into the text but is conveyed through the art to help bring the story to life. 

- what do you think the difference between your story, which is categorized as nonfiction, and other narratives that are based on factual information but categorized as fiction?

The lucky thing for me is there are not a lot of gaps in the research for the narrative I wanted to tell. For some stories, things may not be recorded by a primary source, and the author might have to guess as to what happened, making the story fiction, or may have to make up words to put in her character’s mouth. I didn’t have to guess here. That the story is true makes it very compelling to me. Honey is an American hero, and I’m glad I am the one who got to tell his story. 

- is there any other information about the researching or writing of the story that you would like to pass along to readers?

For kids or teachers who might want to dig deeper, I have pictures and more details, including much of what I had to leave out, on my website at

- anything additional you would like young readers of your story to know?

I hope kids love Honey as much as I do. From my early experience sharing this story with children, they realize just how important that pup was in the course of history. 

Be sure you visit Shari's website to find a curriculum guide and activity kit for the book along with additional historical resources.

More about Shari:

Shari Swanson is a debut author who has been a middle school language arts teacher as well as an appellate lawyer. She received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she wrote her thesis on musicality in picture books. She lives in Southern California with her husband and their dog, Honey. To learn more, and to download a free curriculum guide and activity kit, visit her website:
Twitter: @ByShariSwanson

Facebook: Shari Swanson, Author 

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy.

I know you'll want to read this book and Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Children's Books has generously donated a book for a giveaway (US winners only).  Be sure to fill out information below and a winner will be selected on February 28th.