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Our Nation’s Documents: The Written Words that Shaped Our Country

Written by Time for Kids Editors with Melanie Kletter
Illustrated by Aaron Meshon

Complete overview of the major documents in the history of the United States. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution with all amendments, the Monroe Doctrine, the Emancipation Proclamation, Wilson’s 14 Points, Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights, and the Truman Doctrine are all presented in their entirety. Brief historical perspectives and biographical information about the authors of the documents are also included. The truly innovative role comes with the discussion goes on in the margins of every page. Shown as a series of text messages, the discussion asks the questions most children would ask. During impeachment, “Okay, so the House brings charges. Then what happens?” The messages also bring a touch of humor – childish humor. For example, in response to evacuation of Russia in the 14 Points, the question, “Why would you want to vacuum Russia?”

Highly recommended as a reference to keep on hand for further study. Great way to keep kids engaged.

  • Our Nation's DocumentsTitle: Our Nation’s Documents: The Written Words that Shaped Our Country
  • Author: Time for Kids Editors with Melanie Kletter
  • Illustrator: Aaron Meshon
  • Published: Liberty Street/Time Inc. Books, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 112 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 Up
  • Genre: Creative Nonfiction, History, Civics-
  • ISBN: 978-1-68330-848-5
  • Extras: Table of contents, Timeline, Index, Credits

Germs: Fact and Fiction, Friends and Foes

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrated by James E. Ransome

How do microorganisms feel about our many efforts to wipe them out? This humorous look at the history of germ warfare attempts to answer that question by showing that germs have always been around us and always will be. The author states that she has struggled for years to get her children to wash their hands. Hopefully this look at the germ world will encourage hers and all children to realize the importance of that simple gesture. It’s also important to realize that many microorganisms are not only desirable but essential to our existence. This is a great place to begin learning about the love-hate relationship we have with these organisms.

The author begins with an overview and quickly moves on to the era in which bacteria were discovered.  The work of Anton van Leeuwenhoek and Louis Pasteur are highlighted and delightfully illustrated. The war to contain microorganisms and to propagate the “good” ones goes on. Knowledge and vigilance are our best weapons.

  • GermsTitle: Germs: Fact and Fiction, Friends and Foes
  • Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome
  • Illustrator: James E. Ransome
  • Published: Henry Holt and Company, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Picture Book, Creative Nonfiction, Biology
  • ISBN: 978-0-8050-7915-0
  • Extras: Author’s Note, Glossary

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up

Written by Sally M. Walker
Illustrated by William Grill

With poetry and a little bit of humor, the author imparts a lot of information about the Earth and her components.

fragile outer crust
shell around mantle and core –
Earth: a hard-boiled egg

The haiku form is perfect for exploring the not-so mudane and showing just how wonderful our world is. Impressionistic colored-pencil illustrations bring forth many images to the reader’s mind.

The author starts off with the Earth in her entirety. She then investigates minerals, rocks, and fossils. She then moves on to earthquakes and volcanoes. Atmospheric and surface water, glaciers, and groundwater come last. Each has at least one haiku and a full page of background.  

This is a great place for kids to start learning about both the Earth and about poetry. The reader should try their hand at writing their own haiku about the world around them.

  • Earth VerseTitle: Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up
  • Author: Sally M. Walker
  • Illustrator: William Grill
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 4
  • Genre: Picture Book, Creative nonfiction, Geology, Poetry
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7512-7
  • Extras: Sections highlighting each individual theme, Suggestions for Further Study

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

Written by Heather Lang
Illustrated by Raúl Colón

In the early days of flight, many women and men distinguished themselves as clever, hardy, and fearless. None was more fearless than Ruth Law. Packed with information about Law’s most famous flight. This marvelous picture book appeals to the imagination and shows that nearly anything is possible with skill and determination. Agai-nst all odds, Law flew form Chicago to New York City – much of it nonstop – in 1916. The author does a beautiful job of showing how difficult that flight was. With an old plane, in frigid  weather, and with everyone telling her it was impossible, she did it! She even wore a skirt because women must. The author’s research was meticulous and she shows how a story can be both accurate and exciting.

Wonderfully action-packed illustrations accompany the text. The reader will feel they’re flying along with Law and even sense the bite of the wind and her joy at being airborne.

Great tie-in with early twentieth century history, flight, and women’s history.

  • Fearless FlyerTitle: Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine
  • Author: Heather Lang
  • Illustrator: Raúl Colón
  • Published: Calkins Creek, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Picture Book, Nonfiction, History, Flight
  • ISBN: 978-1-620-91650-6

Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words

Written by Donna Janell Bowman
Illustrated by S.D. Schindler

In a little-known but somewhat amusing incident in his youth, Abraham Lincoln participated in a duel. The reason it’s not widely known is that Lincoln was so embarrassed by the episode, he swore to never insult anyone again and did not talk about the duel.

James Shields was a Springfield attorney in 1842, just like Abraham Lincoln. He was also state auditor, and Lincoln disagreed with his solution to a banking issue. Just to poke fun at Shields, Lincoln wrote a letter to the local publication of the Whig party and signed it Aunt Rebecca. Folks enjoyed Lincoln’s letter so much, they continued writing letters as Aunt Rebecca and making fun of Shields. Shields was livid and demanded to know who insulted him. Lincoln’s name came up as one of the letter writers. Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel. As the object of the challenge, Lincoln could make up his own rules. He devised impossible rules with swords as the weapons. Lincoln ended up apologizing, with Shields accepting.

Anecdotes such as this are priceless ways to get acquainted with historical figures who are otherwise larger than life. The author weaves an entertaining and humorous tale. The illustrator follows right along by helping the figures come alive. This would be fun as independent reading but more fun as a read aloud with plenty of room for discussion.

  • Lincolns DuelTitle: Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words
  • Author: Donna Janell Bowman
  • Illustrator: S.D. Schindler
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Picture Book, Nonfiction, History, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-852-3
  • Extras: Author’s notes and bibliography

Nutcracker Mice

Written by Kristin Kladstrup
Illustrated by Brett Helquist

It may seem a little early to start thinking about Christmas stories, but this charming addition to Nutcracker lore is well worth a look. It may be time to start learning about the ballet in preparation.

This version revolves around two young females – a girl named Irina whose parents work at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and a dancing mouse named Esmeralda – at the time of the first performance of the Nutcracker Suite.  Irina and Esmeralda become unlikely allies when the theater tries to rid the theater of the mouse population. Irina loves mice and Esmeralda loves the doll clothes/ballet costumes Irina sews. The mouse ballet company uses a space behind the walls as a theater of their own and use the music provided by the theater’s orchestra. They change the story to Clara and the Mouse King so the mice can win and to add some romance.

The illustrations are fun, creative, and detailed, adding much to the story.

The reader can learn a lot about the music and story behind the Nutcracker, a lot about ballet, and a little about Russia as well.

The mouse characters seem almost real, so the fantasy is nearly forgotten. This would be a great read-along chapter-by-chapter for a younger child or a fun story for older children to tackle.

  • Nutcracker MiceTitle: Nutcracker Mice
  • Author: Kristin Kladstrup
  • Illustrator: Brett Helquist
  • Published: Candlewick, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Fantasy, Ballet, Classical Music
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8519-5
  • Extras: Nutcracker Suite Scenario, Clara and the Mouse King Scenario

Lucky Enough

Written by Fred Bowen

In this installment of the Fred Bowen Sports Story Series, the reader gets a feel for how superstitions and lucky charms play a role in the wide world of baseball.

Trey Thompson is a good, but not great, player who wants to up his game and play for a traveling team. He manages to dazzle enough in the tryouts to make the team. But he relies heavily on ritual – a lucky charm in his pocket, a favorite bat, touching the four corners of home plate with his bat before he bats, and not stepping on the baseline – and pays little attention to actually improving his game. It’s not until he loses the charm that he starts to realize that hard work might also yield some results.

Much of the story revolves around Trey’s connection to his grandmother. Even that relationship changes when Trey realizes she worked hard for what she achieved. In this way, the reader learns in a fun way that talent needs to be developed. The best achievements are those we work hard for. Bowen delivers a life lesson without preaching and while telling a good story.

  • Lucky EnoughTitle: Lucky Enough
  • Author: Fred Bowen
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska                                                     
  • Format: Hardcover, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Sports, Family
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-957-5
  • Extras: The Real Story: Baseball Superstitions and references

Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales

Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

Disney, Hollywood, and others sometimes miss the fact that beneath the silliness and hype is often a very good story. This wonderful new book tells those stories again and attempts to get back to something of the original flavor.

Seven tales, most of them familiar to the reader, at least in some form, take place in a world of the author’s imagination. Included are Snow White, The Frog Prince, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and three tales of lesser renown. Each tale has in common a frozen forest where many things happen. The first lesser known tale is about three wishes granted to a starving woodcutter and his family. Of course he uses the wishes foolishly, but it comes out all right in the end. The second tale is about a generous girl who ends up with a reward of pearls and a stingy girl who gets only toads. The last lesser known tale is about a man who loves a foolish girl. Before he can marry her, he must convince himself that there are even more foolish people in the world.

Delightful watercolor and ink illustrations introduce each tale and set the stage for how the tales unfold.

This would be an interesting resource for classrooms, where teachers could use the tales as read alouds or to help students hone their own storytelling skills. Or in a home to use for together time and bedtime.

  • Brave Red Smart FrogTitle: Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales
  • Author: Emily Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Rohan Daniel Eason
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska                                                     
  • Format: Hardcover, 104 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Folk tales
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6558-6

Books! Books! Books! Exploring the Amazing Collection of the British Library

Written by Mick Manning & Brita Granström

This is more a celebration of the all things written than anything else. In highlighting so many of the British Library’s most prized possessions, the author also highlights the fact that so much of the world’s knowledge is currently passed along on paper. Preservation of that paper preserves our connection with that knowledge.

The oldest book in the collection is the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a book found in the coffin of the seventh century saint. Another old book is from the thirteenth century – the Lindisfarne Gospel, a book hand-lettered and painted by a monk. In addition to old and rare books, the collection includes an amazing variety of written material. From Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks to original music to newspapers. From atlases to cookbooks to medical books. From Jane Austen to Arthur Conan Doyle to Charles Darwin.  

The authors make every bit of the collection sound exciting. Hopefully, the excitement will carry over to other books for the reader to explore. Exploring the stories behind the works in the library is a good beginning.

  • Books Books BooksTitle: Books! Books! Books! Exploring the Amazing Collection of the British Library
  • Author: Mick Manning & Brita Granström
  • Published: Candlewick, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Books
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9757-0
  • Extras: More about the Works and the Authors, Glossary

Dangerous Jane

Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Alice Ratterree

In this time of great social upheaval, it’s more important than ever to ask “What can I do?” Not everyone can do all the things Jane Addams did, but everyone can take inspiration from her example and do as much as possible.

In this heartfelt and significant biography, Slade shows the life of the social warrior. Jane was born into relative wealth, but that did not mean she had an easy life. Her mother died when Jane was two. Jane suffered from spinal tuberculosis, which left her spine deformed. She felt isolated, which added to her ability to empathize with all the immigrants in Chicago. She traveled the world but never forgot her commitment to the underprivileged. She raised money and bought a building near the immigrant populations of Chicago. She renovated Hull House and welcomed families, taught them English, and provided education. Hull House continued to grow to many buildings. Sad and appalled at the start of World War I, she helped form the Women’s Peach Party from the International Congress of Women. Her peace-driven activities earned her the label “dangerous” from the people who wanted to win the war. But she never stopped. She knew that people with differences needed to learn to listen to each other. In 1931, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first female American to receive this honor.

Gorgeous watercolor illustrations give the feel of Jane’s world and her activities over the years.

It’s imperative kids be given the opportunity to follow Jane’s example.

  • Dangerous JaneTitle: Dangerous Jane
  • Author: Suzanne Slade
  • Illustrator: Alice Ratterree
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, September 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History, Social Justice
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-913-1
  • Extras: More About Dangerous Jane, Timeline
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