Review: The Girls in the Circle

“The girls in the circle / have painted their toes. // They’ve twisted their hair / into big yellow bows. ” pages 4-7.

The Girls in the Circle by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson.
Produced for Scholastic by Color-Bridge Books, Brooklyn, NY, 2004.
Poem illustrated as picture book, 32 pages (including back matter).
Lexile: 490L.
AR Level: 1.9 (worth 0.5 points).
NOTE: Part of the Just For You series, level 2.  This book is poetry.

The Girls in the Circle is a well-known poem, here presented with illustrations and additional commentary and activities.  A group of girls staying at Grandma’s dress up in all her things.  But when Mom arrives, she won’t let them leave until they change back… or have they?

The Girls in the Circle cover resized

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Review: Coretta Scott

“things nature never intended / a child to see / haunted them / tragedy accompanies growth / no matter who we are” p. 22

Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
Amistad imprint, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2009.
Biographical poem picture book, 30 pages.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  4.9 (worth 0.5 points)
Note: this book is an illustrated poem.

Ntozake Shange has written a poem and Kadir Nelson has illustrated it in this gorgeous, but non-traditional biography.

Coretta Scott cover

I’m not quite sure what I expected from this book.  Probably something more like Martin’s Big Words because the cover style looked similar to me.  Actually, it was quite different and I have some mixed feelings about it.  I’ve ordered another, more traditional children’s biography of Coretta Scott King which I’m hoping will compliment this one nicely.

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Review: When the Beat Was Born

“Kool Herc’s music made everybody happy. Even street gangs wanted to dance, not fight.” p. 19

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip-Hop by Laban Carrick Hill, Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III.
Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2013.
Elementary to middle grade picture book biography, 30 pages.
Winner of the 2014 John Steptoe Award for New Talent
Lexile:  AD910L  (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 0.5 points)

Have you ever heard of DJ Kool Herc?  He was a Jamaican immigrant who was instrumental in the development of hip-hop.  Step into his world and learn how hip-hop came to be with this picture book biography.

When the Beat was Born cover 2

While I’m sure an avid fan of hip-hop would get more out of this book, I was pleasantly surprised by how accessible it was to myself as a not-so-musical person.  Context is given to everything that makes it understandable, and the pictures and words work in beautiful harmony.

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Review: The Snowy Day

A favorite read-aloud for generations.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.
Viking, New York, 1962.
Realistic fiction, 33 pages.
1963 Caldecott Medal Winner
Lexile:  AD500L  (What does AD mean in Lexile levels?)
AR Level:  2.5 (worth 0.5 points)
Note: This is the first of seven books featuring Peter.

Young Peter’s day in the snow is a classic for all children, as well as a book of historic importance.

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The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

I posted some time ago about how I originally got this book – however a friend recently gifted me a new hardcover copy!  There is a book by Andrea Davis Pinkney about the making of The Snowy Day that I can’t wait to review as well.

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Review: Happy Birthday, MLK

This picture book has been a staple of classroom celebrations for more than a decade.

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney.
Scholastic, New York, 1993.
Picture book nonfiction, 28 pages.
Lexile: 800L
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 0.5 points)

This simple text describes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and death to help children understand why we celebrate on the third Monday of January.  It is titled Happy Birthday because originally MLK day was on January 15th to commemorate his birthday, but it became a move-able celebration when it became a federal holiday.

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Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney

Here we have an all-star team who really know their audience and work splendidly together.  Marzollo is best known these days for her I Spy books, and prolific illustrator (and sometime author) Brian Pinkney has many books about African-American history and culture.

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Review: Amazing Grace

Lavar Burton’s favorite picture book doesn’t disappoint.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch.
Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin Books USA, New York, 1991,  Reprinted Scholastic, New York, 1993.
Picture book realistic fiction, 24 pages.
Somehow this book appears not to have won any awards!
Lexile: 680L
AR Level: 3.5 (worth 0.5 points)

Grace loves stories, whether they are read or watched or told to her.  More than anything, she loves to act out those stories.  But when her class is producing Peter Pan, classmates say she can’t play Peter because she’s a black girl.  But Grace believes she can do anything.

amazing-grace-cover
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch

This book is something of a classic.  It was featured on Reading Rainbow and became somewhat ubiquitous in school libraries in a short amount of time.  Lavar Burton has said that Amazing Grace is his favorite picture book, and it’s easy to see why.

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Review: On Her Own

“Some children were happy at the orphanage. Living there was better than having no home at all.” p. 19

On Her Own: The Life of Betty Brinn, written by Priscilla Pardini, illustrated by Joanne Scholler Bowring.
Elizabeth A. Brinn Foundation, Elm Grove, WI, 2001.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Not leveled.

In Wisconsin, especially Milwaukee County, Betty Brinn is known for the excellent children’s museum bearing her name.  However, not many people know her story, or how her own experiences as an institutionalized, and later a foster child drove her to philanthropy.

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On Her Own: The Life of Betty Brinn written by Priscilla Pardini, illustrated by Joanne Scholler Bowring.

The first half of the book focuses on Betty’s birth family and her life in the orphanage.  On page 21, she and her sister move to a foster home.  Betty was in 17 different foster homes, so this book only focuses on the Stinson family, whom she lived with between ages 13-16.  The final pages cover her adult life from struggles to success to her early death from cancer.

This book is ubiquitous at used bookstores near Milwaukee.  At one I occasionally visit, there is always a copy on the children’s discount bookshelves, so I picked it up for a dollar.  (The paperback retails for $4.50 new.)

I’m glad that I read this because I definitely learned a lot about Betty Brinn’s life and why she was driven to do what she did.  However, I also am not sure who to recommend this for.  The words and pictures don’t exactly connect to each other.  Reading about the author and illustrator, it appears that Priscilla Pardini is an experienced author but had never written for children before, and that really shows in the writing.

There are at least two paragraphs of text in every two-page spread, sometimes more.  One two page-spread has seven paragraphs!  The text seems to be geared towards a fourth or fifth grade level while the pictures are aimed at a younger audience.  The writing is factual but doesn’t really tell a story that engages kids.

Due to the density of the small print, this doesn’t make a good read-aloud.  The kids who are drawn to the pictures typically aren’t ready to read such challenging text.  And the kids who are able to read the text dismiss it as babyish.

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On Her Own, front cover interior map of Milwaukee County Children’s Home in the 1940s.

There are some lovely details in the book.  The front and back covers have maps of the orphanage and the Stinson’s farm.  It certainly gives a comprehensive overview of Betty Brinn’s life.  The writing is solid non-fiction.  Unfortunately there is a fundamental disconnect between the disparate elements of the book.

If you have interest in Betty Brinn, orphanages, or foster care, then this book may be for you.  But I cannot recommend it in general.