Crank This Book: Crankee Doodle by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell

Crankee Doodle

There are a lot of books out there written for children that take on “issues” in a very self-conscious, overt way. You know the kind. They’re well-meaning, but in my opinion, are too, dare I say earnest and serious in the way they approach their issues, which run the gamut from peer pressure, bullying, to more serious psychological problems.

Books, especially books written for children, become oh so much more interesting and meaningful when there’s humor present.

Case in point: Crankee Doodle, a new picture book by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell (Clarion Books, 2013). It’s a hilarious spin-off on the “Yankee Doddle” song and, in my crazy parenting context, a parody of the difficult child.

My older child stole each and every one of Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda books from my shelf. He’s pilfered the entire series, while my younger one adores Cece Bell’s Sock Monkey picture books. So I figured that we were in good hands here. Indeed, we were.


When Yankee (or is that Crankee?) Doodle is bored, pony suggests they go to town. But noooooooooooo! Crankee shoots down the idea, and unleashes a torrent of reasons why going to town is the worst idea ever. I’m too tired. It’s too far.There’s nothing good in town. Town is too expensive. Stuff they sell is made badly and just falls apart. And on and on.

Keeping in line with the song, pony suggests they could go to town to buy a new hat, and then a feather to put in said hat that Crankee could call macaroni. In a sequence of rejections that’s reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, each suggestion is rejected until Crankee finally throws a mongo tantrum:

“Even if I did want something from town–which I do not–town is just too far. I’m exhausted from standing here arguing with you all day! I DO NOT WANT TO GO TO TOWN, I WILL NOT GO TO TOWN, AND I CANNOT GO TO TOWN!”

As parents may well predict, Crankee indeed goes to town and has a wonderful time. Now what was all that fuss and fight about?

I live with a child who is perfectly content to stay at home and puts up a fight when I try to drag him out from one place or another. (Ok, fine. If I announce I’m going to the cookie store, the creatures get their shoes on and bolt out the door, but you know what I’m saying.) There’s frequently the legion of “no”s, foot-dragging, and yes, even the mongo tantrum. But once we get to where we’re going? We’re fine. We usually have a grand time, like Crankee who liked going to town after all. See? It really wasn’t all that bad.

Cece Bell uses bright reds, yellows, and blues for her illustrations. She draws both Crankee and his pony with simple, flowing lines (the eyebrow and nose are a single line), but manages to create a lead character with a wide range of facial expressions that will delight young readers.

Tom Angleberger demonstrates the fun you can have with wordplay. Ever wonder why Yankee Doodle called the feather in his hat macaroni? Sure, but then the train of thought in your head moves along to the next station and you’re thinking about your favorite pasta dish: lasagna. Now that’s fancy. And fun, I might add. We had lots of giggles at that one.

My children loved the silly story, wordplay, and hilarious antics in this book. Parents might appreciate how it makes fun of the stubborn child.

“So what was that tantrum all about?,” I wondered aloud.

“What tantrum?,” the kid will ask me. Completely dumbfounded. Momentary amnesia has hit again. “Oh, that. I was just trying to trick you.”

Exasperated Sigh.




Warning: Shameless Self-Promotion Ahead

And now for a bit of shameless self-promotion. I’ve got a book review of Christine Gross-Loh’s Parenting without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents around the World Can Teach Us, published in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. If you’ve ever wondered how to raise a child, or how parents around the world approach child-rearing, you’ll find this book thought provoking.


Reporting Live from Mission Control, or How to Live with a Control Freak Who’s Only Waist High

mission control

I love listening and watching children as they play; it’s as educational an experience as it gets. Being a good reader teaches you, amongst other things, how to pay attention to language.

I noticed about two years ago that my son’s creative play had a certain theme to it: control. During his play, he’d talk about control, build controls for machines, or even construct control rooms from which rocket missions were launched. As you may guess, he took his place as “controller,” and spoke of how he, or the Lego figure who stood in for himself, was controlling things.

“This firefighter is  controlling the water from the main hose,” he’d explain. Or this: “He’s operating the controls for the excavator.” Then came the capstone: “This is the firefighter who is controlling everybody else.” Or: “I can control everybody from this control room here.”

At first I thought: Hell no, you can’t control everything, kid. I’m the parent and I’m in control of this ship. Second thought: Oh, shit. I’m in for one crazy ride.

It doesn’t take a clever English major type to realize that for this kid, it’s all about control. Control has expanded beyond play and has become a maddening obsession in my house. No, I don’t want to sit in my car seat, I want to sit in my sister’s even if it is pink and purple. No, I don’t want to come to dinner now, I want to come to dinner as soon as I find the blue Lego piece that’s been missing for two years. Sure, you may have just put a brand new CD into the player and I’ve never heard it before, but I’m going to tell you that you have to listen to track five. Right now.

This is crazymaking and I know it, but I’m not sure how to deal with it. I set firm boundaries and remain consistent. I try to stay calm. Perhaps that’s the hardest thing of all. By the end of the day, I’m worn down from setting limits.

I try to point out when my son is actually in control, or create age-appropriate opportunities for him to exert his control. Example: You get to choose the music we listen to in the car while we drive you to camp.You get to pick what park we go to this morning.

Even though I try to do these things, I find that it’s a lot to keep in my head. It’s as if I need mommy flashcards to remind me how to parent like this.


A couple of months ago, I read Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal. It’s basically a young adult biography of Jobs. (I’d love to tackle the Walter Isaacson version someday soon, but let’s be honest. Time is limited these days and that is a brick of a book.) As I read through the first few chapters about the young Steve Jobs, there were many moments in which I recognized that my son possessed similar characteristics, namely that of the stubborn control freak.

This comparison by no mean suggests that my son is going to grow up to be like Jobs. That would be presumptuous. It also does not mean that we’re dealing with some kind of diagnosable psychological disorder, such as autism. All I’m saying is that some people have the need for control, and that perhaps, one day, this can be channeled in more positive directions.

But for right now, we’re doing our best here in mission control. He’s controlling the latest rocket launch to the moon right now, and me? I’m strapping myself in tight because it’s gonna be one hell of a ride to the moon.


When Dreams Take You Farther

Farther cover

Baker-Smith. Farther. Templar Press: Somerville, MA, 2010. Ages 5 and up.

I was tooling around at my local library when Grahame Baker-Smith’s picture book, Farther, caught my eye. I took one look at it and knew I had to have it. It wasn’t the sticker on the cover that announced it as the winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal (UK’s equivalent to the Caldecott). No; it was the title.

I’m a huge fan of Sherman Alexie’s fiction (Reservation Blues, Indian Killer, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and more recently a YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) and was immediately reminded of him as I tucked this book into my library bag.  In Reservation Blues, there’s a word play on the words father and farther, as one of the main characters tries to make sense of his father’s alcoholism and, eventually, abandonment. In Alexie’s book, fathers push their children away, so fathers get farther away from their children. (Check out the song “Father and Farther,” which is a collaboration between Alexie and Jim Boyd. But get your tissues out first, hear?)

Grahame Baker-Smith develops the same idea as Alexie. The father in his book is obsessed with flight. He dreams of it, and tinkers every chance he gets to make a flying machine that will put him in the skies. Sometimes he’s attentive and present in the moment, but he’s often somewhere else in his thoughts or hard at work on his set of wings that will take him away.

The artwork here is intricate and multi-layered. There’s bits of gold-layering on top of strangely two-dimensional figures. In the picture below, the father holds the child, but clearly seems not in the moment. His body is rigid, and his gaze falls somewhere to the side. When the father tries out his newest set of wings, it’s the boy who gets left behind. Literally; he’s grasping onto the unraveling strings of his father’s rattletrap wings. All that golden grandeur is juxtaposed with an ashen-looking child.




DSC06462 (a close up of the previous panel)

This book is full of understanding and forgiveness. It’s only when the boy becomes a father that he understands what it’s like to have a “busy, bossy dream” that won’t give him a moment of peace throughout the day.

This book made me think of my own parents, and their respective obsessions and interests. When I was a kid, I’d see a parent get on the computer, exercise, or read the paper and think: “Why don’t they just focus more on ME!?” (I actually cringed as I wrote that just now.)

Now that I’m a parent, I understand why a person needs to have things outside and separate from their children, because the honest truth is that children will take from you whatever you’re willing to give. That, and parents give a lot more than most children will ever know.  As a new parent, I wanted to give it my all, and guess what? My kids took it all. After half a decade, I found myself looking in the mirror wondering where I’d gone.

It’s strange, but for a long time I’d feel guilty if I left my children with my husband to go shopping. Or exercise. Or to the library to read a book. The basic stuff that you took for granted when you didn’t have a child becomes coveted and scarce. Some people are better than others at making time for themselves; I’m still learning how.

The father in the story dies in the war. Now a young man, the boy makes some adjustments to his father’s wings and flies, knowing his father is with him. And he knows that his son just might have the same bossy dream as his father. How will this little baby grow up? Will he push his son farther away too? Will he find balance? How?

Now on to you, readers. Do you have a bossy dream? How do you find your balance?

Jo Empson’s Rabbityness

Rabbityness by Jo Empson

Empson, Jo. Rabbityness. Auburn, Maine: Child’s Play, 2012. Ages 3 and up.

There’s this wonderful picture book that I just happened to pick up at the library, Rabbityness. Initially, it was that cute black rabbit and the colorful cover that attracted me. I loved the big splotches of paint. What’s “rabbityness?,” I wondered? And so began my adventure with this lovely book.


Essentially, Empson tells the story of a rabbit who liked to do things that were uncommon, or “unrabbity.” Sure, he liked jumping, hopping, and washing his whiskers, but he also liked painting and making music. And when rabbit paints and makes music, there’s splotches of color and musical notes everywhere. It’s exuberant, energetic, and explosive.

But one day, rabbit disappears and the world turns gray. Essentially, the other rabbits remember him by finding his paints and instruments, and use them to  make their own art and music. In celebrating their friend, the rabbits also learn and grow. “In time, all the rabbits discovered they liked doing unrabbity things too!” Their gray world changes into one full of color.

rabbit music

This is quite an unconventional story for a picture book, but it’s one that is (for this writer and readers) very much appreciated and welcomed. This book asks more questions than it answers, but I really like that about it. We barely meet the rabbit before he disappears. Why does he disappear? Why so suddenly? Where does he go? Is he dead? We really don’t know.

Reading this book coincided with the memorial service for a friend, professor, and fellow activist, who died after a long illness.  As I sat listening to reminiscences about this beloved person, I felt like I “got” this book. Here was somebody who was in midst of many smart people at a university where the public display of intelligence is king. Given all that, this person was never pretentious. He was down to earth and funny. He was politically committed in a culture where apathy was more “cool.” If you disagreed with him, he’d say what he thought, but was never disrespectful about it. (I still remember a disagreement about whether “good” literature should “show” or “tell” its readers its message.)

There’s that saying that we’ll be judged by how we treat others who have no power over us. My friend could have just told me that he knew better than I, and that I should just listen to him. No; instead, he challenged me. “Oh? But I think that literature that tells can be just as powerful, if not more, than literature that shows.” In my youthful hubris, I remember thinking he had it all wrong.

But now I’m starting to think that I had it all wrong. To hell with literary theory; I’m talking about basic human goodness.

As I left that memorial service, I felt sad, but also full of hope. Maybe I could capture a part of that person’s essence by being good and respectful, too. I was beginning to think that these things were impossible, but maybe they were in reach after all. Or unrabbity.

Anyway, this is what this book made me think about. It’s weird how you can open a picture book expecting something childish, and you’re suddenly transported somewhere you’d never expect.



Review of Elif Shafak’s Honor published in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


I hope you can tolerate just a bit of shameless self-promotion, because every bit of it helps this poor teacher/writer find an audience in that increasingly-loud din of the book blogosphere.


I have written a review of Elif Shafak’s new novel, Honor, and it’s published in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. You can read the review here. Perhaps the mark of a good book is in its afterlife; how it stays with you long after you finish it. It’s been over six weeks since I finished Honor, but I’m still thinking about the characters, their desires, and their messy unresolved conflicts.

I strongly encourage you to add this book to your summer reading list! It won’t disappoint.


The “Helicopter Parent:” How Involved Should Parents Be?

helicopter parent

I recently finished reading Christine Gross-Loh’s Parenting without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents around the World Can Teach Us. The book is chock-a-block full of all sorts of parenting issues. This book looks at the American style of parenting from the outside, and contrasts it with how people in other parts of the world parent. From infant sleep to “picky” toddler eating habits; from teenage boundary testing to raising resilient kids, this book takes it all on.


It’s been a few weeks now since I finished the book, but one thing has stayed on my mind: the “helicopter parent” who hovers over his or her child at all times. If you’ve got children, you know the type (or perhaps you are the type). You follow your child around the park, assisting at each and every turn; you intervene in each of his toddler social misunderstandings to make sure nothing “bad” happens. And fights? Forget it. You do not allow your child to get into a single fight with another child, because We Don’t Hit in our family.

Gross-Loh has a fascinating discussion of how American parents tend to be (surprise, surprise!) helicopter parents, while Japanese, European, and Scandinavian parents tend to believe that scrapes, bruises, and yes, even fights, are necessary parts of childhood.

With older children, helicopter parents get involved in the completion of each and every homework assignment, making sure it’s completed to a high standard. Helicopter parents think nothing of complaining to their child’s teacher or coach about how unfairly said child has been graded or accommodated.

The point is: many parents nowadays see their children as precious vessels that need cosseting and protection. The current cultural belief is that this constitutes “good parenting.” To not watch your child like a hawk means that you’re a Bad Parent.

For example, if a child falls while playing at the park, and you’re not there to stop it, you get the Look. The if-you-were-doing-your-job-your-child-woudln’t-have-fallen-in-the-first-place look.

But really: What’s so bad about falling? What’s so bad about not getting enough play time on a team sport? What’s so bad about getting a ‘C’ on a spelling test?

Of course, falling can break bones. You can end up on crutches and with a leg in a cast during summer vacation for cryin’ out loud. And yeah, while that would suck, that experience would probably turn you into one hell of a cartoonist, or reader, avid listener-of-music, and watcher-of-movies. Maybe you’d even get a sense of humor. Or empathy. In other words, you’d find other things about yourself to nurture.

If somebody’s always there to make sure you don’t fall, don’t fail, and don’t get the short end of the stick, then what does that do to your sense of self? Your resilience? It not only doesn’t do anything, but it actually damages it, because you end up thinking that life’s a cakewalk.

How unrealistic is that? How unprepared for “actual reality” would that make your child? Very.

I admit that I’ve done my share of helicopter parenting, and I worry about my kids constantly. But starting now, I’m going to try looking at those “unsavory” experiences of childhood as necessary stages for growth and development.

When my child gets into a misunderstanding with kids at the park, sure he’ll come home and cry about it, but over time, he’ll understand better how to get along with others, than if I stand there watching him every time. We’ve got to trust in our children, and that they can figure things out for themselves.

So please, if you see me at the park, and my child falls, please don’t give me that look. I really am trying to be a good parent; I just want my children to know that if they fall, they can get up and get right back on that jungle gym.


Terry Pratchett’s Weird Tribute to Dickens: Dodger


Pratchett, Terry. Dodger. New York: Harper, 2012.

When I read a book for review, I’ve got the book in one hand, and a pencil in the other. I underline passages and take notes, lots of notes. My notes tend to be about what happens, and what I think that means. Because ok, I tend to have a really shoddy memory for these things.

As I read Dodger, I found myself taking copious notes, but this time they weren’t so much about what transpires in the novel. No, these notes were more about how the novel said what it did. I was in awe of Pratchett’s use of language, and found myself jotting down phrases, sentences, and single words.

You don’t find words like skint, shonky shop, disembogued, firkytoodle, and hey-ho-rumblelow in every novel now, do you?

You can probably guess that there’s also a lot of literary allusion in the novel, for Dodger is modeled after Charles Dickens’s master thief Jack Dawkins, aka the Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist. Dodger’s elder landlord, Solomon (or “ikey mo”) is modeled after Fagin. In the first few pages of the novel, Dodger is introduced to a writer named “Mister Charlie Dickens.” There’s so much fun when Dodger says or does something, and Mister Charlie whips out his notebook and starts scribbling. (Example: he fears Serendipity will be taken away to some bleak house. Upon uttering that phrase Mister Charlie utters “excuse me,” and goes to his notebook with a fury.)

There’s been much discussion over beers amongst literary friends: Charles Dickens or George Eliot? Earnest social commentary or irony? Confession: I fall in the Dickens campe; Bleak House is one of my favorite novels of all time. And if I’m ever feeling low on ideas, or just low and in need of a good creative jolt, I pull it out, or pop in the amazing BBC adaptation.


But this is not just a story about Victorian London from the perspective of the Artful Dodger. And it’s not just postmodern pastiche, either. It’s more like a weird tribute to Dickens, and a wild rumpus through Victorian London.

Dodger is a tosher, someone who enters the sewer system in order to find money or other valuables. Out late one night on the tosh, he pops out of a drain only to save a young woman from being beaten to death. Dodger, Mister Charlie and his friend “Ben” Disraeli, the notable politician and writer, are drawn into the mystery of who this mysterious woman is. Dodger feels compelled to protect the beautiful mystery woman (who’s ironically named Simplicity), and mixes it up by donning the clothes of a gentleman and plumbing the depths of street life in order to figure things out.

Even though Dodger is a dirty, sewer-stinking thief who seems to uncontrollably pick the pockets of all and sundry, his fortune changes the day he saves Simplicity. In short, he becomes a hero. In addition to saving the girl, he stops Sweeney Todd (the fictional “demon barber from Fleet Street”) from killing him during a most unfortunate haircut. In doing so, Dodger realizes that terms like “hero” and “villain” are subjective and open to interpretation. “[T]he important thing in all of this was how you seemed and he was learning how to seem. Seem to be a hero, seem to be a clever young man, seem to be trustworthy. That seemed to fool everybody, and the most disconcerting thing about this was that it was doing the same to him, forcing him on like some hidden engine” (194).

The novel is dominated by dirty streets, sewers, and unbelievably poor souls. Pratchett admits Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, which gave voice to the  untold stories of the beggars, thieves, and prostitutes of Victorian London, as the single biggest influence in the composition of the book. So perhaps it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of moralizing in this novel, which is often spoken by the mouth of none other than Solomon, who has some of the best quotes:  “Money makes people rich; it is a fallacy to think it makes them better, or even that it makes them worse. People are what they do, and what they leave behind” (205).

Ok, one more. Please? Early on the book, Solomon gives Dodger some sage advice: “[T]he game we play are lessons we learn. The assumptions we make, things we ignore, and things we change make us what we become” (47).

If you read this book, you’ll find yourself immensely entertained. Stunned by the innovative use of language, most definitely. You’ll howl with laughter at what the Dickensian world looks when written by the weird pen of Terry Pratchett. And, like Dodger, you’ll probably realize that while truth may be obscured by fog, there’s hope that at least its essence is still somewhere intact. Goodness will out.


Finding Quiet: A Review of My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde and Oyvind Torseter

Fathers Arms Boat

Lunde, Stein Erik. My Father’s Arms Are a Boat. Illustrations by Oyvind Torseter. Translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2013. Ages 3 and up.

It’s difficult to find picture books that embody quiet in both their narrative and visual presentation. Or picture books that don’t tell you everything, but show you just enough so that wonder what exactly is going on. It’s obvious that, in My Father’s Arms Are a Boat, there is more going on than meets the eye.

A young boy and his father live in a remote house. It’s the middle of a Scandinavian winter, but neither of them can sleep. The father send the boy to bed, but instructs him to leave the door ajar, “So that your dreams can come out to me.”


Nevertheless, the boy can’t sleep. “It’s quieter now than it’s ever been,” he notes. To match this creeping quietness, there’s lots of “empty” white and black space on this page.

What is quiet? For this boy, it seems as if quiet is the scary time of day when he’s all alone. He curls up on his bed, cold, but doesn’t keep his blankets on.


On the next page, the father is shown sitting by the fire. His body is hunched over, the expression on his face forlorn.

The boy leaves his quiet room and goes back out to his father. “He puts both his arms tight under my knees. My body is curled up like a ball. I rest my head against his shoulder.”

The sentences here are short and tight, and evoke the love each feel for each other.

The boy pours out his worries: what if the bread he left on the tree stump is eaten by the fox? What if the birds wake up and there’s no food? What then?

“Then they come back again. They fly back and forth, until there is no bread left on the stone. Granny says the red birds are dead people.”

Of course; the boy is not just worried about little red birds going hungry. Astute readers will notice the sad expressions, the fear of quiet, the sleeplessness, and the slumped postures in this book and realize that this is a book about grief.

“Is Mommy asleep?” I ask. “Mommy’s asleep,” says Daddy. “She’ll never wake up again?” I ask. “No, not where she is now.”

In the dark of night, the two go outside. The fox has taken the bread, but when the boy sees a shooting star, he makes a wish. Tired, the father carries the boy home. The father looks back to a dark, human-like shape in the woods. What is that?


For me, this is the darkest, but ironically, most hopeful illustrations of the book. It’s as if the illustrator has personified the grief that haunts each character. It’s faceless and dark. The father turns his head, but his body is pointed straight for his house.

Back in the house, the two watch the fire for a long time, unable to sleep. “Everything will be all right,” says Daddy. “Are you sure?” “I’m sure.”

And you know what? It is. In the morning, the red birds have bread waiting for them on the stump.

Oyvind Torseter’s illustrations are some of the most unusual I’ve ever seen in a picture book. They seem to be three-dimensional, made from paper and cardboard, but there’s also digital elements here as well. Black, gray, and white predominate in this book, with bits of red (the fox, birds, and fire) popping for emphasis.

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat was awarded the Norwegian Ministry’s Culture Prize for the Best Book for Children and Youth, and was nominated for the 2011 German Children’s Literature Award.


Nonfiction Monday, May 13, 2013

girl in library

Perhaps if you’re here, you’re one of those people who love nonfiction. Perhaps you’re the type of person who, when settling down to read a good book, reaches for a biography, a history, or something scientific.

Well, good for you.

I’m the type of person who can subsist entirely on a diet of fiction; I find that it’s difficult for me to focus my attention while reading a nonfiction work (I always say reading nonfiction makes me feel ADD), unless it’s got a substantial narrative thread running through it that makes it feel like fiction. Crossover nonfiction works are particularly interesting; Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon held me in rapturous attention. I never even entered the nonfiction part of the library as a child because, well, I just wasn’t interested.

“That’s the boring part,” I’d tell myself. I’d only go there if I absolutely had to. I preferred to read about things like hobbits, tesseracts, or talking lions. Stuff that can absolutely, positively never exist.

It wasn’t until I had a child that I appreciated the beauty of nonfiction literature written for children. I had a child (a boy) who appreciated narrative, but was drawn to nonfiction. He’d study books that had detailed cross-section drawings of engines. He’d ponder over visual dictionaries and encyclopedias, soaking it all in.

In fact, his whole approach to literature was different from mine. He seemed to need books to teach him real things, to answer specific questions, and he studied in them with an intensity that surprised me.

So, as any good parent does, she encourages what her child loves best. So now, when I go to the library, I inhabit the nonfiction section. My child and I set up camp in the midst of books about Star Wars spacecraft cross sections, the Apollo missions to the moon, the immune system, and penguins.

And I’ve realized that my child has taught me a a few lessons about reading and nonfiction that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Here goes:

1. People come to literature with different purposes. Some seek narrative, while others seek unmitigated facts. And that is ok.

2. Some children have an intense interest in a subject matter, and turn to nonfiction to answer their questions about that interest. In my case, there were times when we checked out every single book our library owned about fire trucks, the Apollo space missions, and various bridge designs.

3. There is a wide range in what’s considered nonfiction. It’s not just “boring” facts written with dictionary-like prose. There’s room for a ton of creativity here. There are beautiful photoessays about animals in nature. There are detailed renderings of engines and vehicles, which exist in reality or in the imaginations of science fiction. There are black holes that speak with cartoon bubbles, prompting us to think further. There are biographies with unusual illustrations or historical nuances.

4. Nonfiction is here to stay. Jonathan Hunt wrote a thought-provoking article about nonfiction, “The Amorphous Genre” in the May/June 2013 Horn Book, in which he discusses how the Common Core State Standards will emphasize nonfiction over fiction as a child progresses through the public education system. “[B]y the fourth grade, students will read a balanced ration of fifty percent fiction and fifty percent nonfiction for school reading assignments. As students age, this ration gradually begins to favor nonfiction until, by twelfth grade, they will be expected to read seventy percent nonfiction and thirty percent fiction” (31).

What have you learned about nonfiction literature for children? Or the differences in how we approach writing or reading nonfiction? I’d love to know!

All right, Julie. Enough postulating. Let’s get to the books, already! If you’ve blogged or written about nonfiction, click on here to enter a link to your blog post about nonfiction. I’ll post them on Tuesday!

If for some reason, this form does not work for you, feel free to leave a comment or send me mail at: instantlyinterruptible(at sign)


last train

Tara at A Teaching Life writes about teaching literary essay forms to sixth graders, and which teacher’s aids have helped give her refreshing ideas for the task. Also there is a discussion of a beautiful story of a family of Hungarian Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, The Last Train: A Holocaust Story (2013) by Rona Arato.

temple grandin

Laura at Laura Salas: Writing the World for Kids shares Sy Montgomery’s biography of the scientist and autism advocate, Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World (2012). Laura says that after reading it, she really felt that she knew Temple Grandin personally. An added bonus: Laura will giveaway her autographed copy of the book to one lucky winner.

no backbone

At Books4Learning, you will find a fun discussion of the No Backbone: Marine Invertebrates Series by Natalie Lunis (Bearport, 2007). Books in this series cover marine invertebrates such as squids, crabs, and jellyfish and feature large, vivid pictures.

Annos Journey

You might know author/illustrator Mitsumasa Anno for his math books, but Myra at Gathering Books introduces us to two other gems: Journey and Medieval World. With great attention to detail, Myra looks at both, musing: “His books are structured like little puzzles with hidden codes that the reader is encouraged to uncover as one gets to analyze its threaded, multi-varied connections.”


Andromeda at A Wrung Sponge features a review and giveaway of Mary Holland’s Ferdinand Fox’s First Summer (Sylvan Dell, 2013). With eye-catching photographs, children can follow this cute fox kit, the runt of his litter, through his first summer.

youve got spirit

Ms. Yingling at Ms. Yingling Reads pairs a novel about cheerleading  (OMG: The Glitter Trap by Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson, illus. Abigail Halpin) with You’ve Got Spirit: Cheers, Chants, Tips, and Tricks Every Cheerleader Needs to Know by Sarah R. Hunt, illus. Lisa Perrett (Millbrook, 2013), a practical nonfiction book that gives tips and how-tos on all things cheerleading. Because after all, you may not be a cheerleader, but as a reader, you’re a cheer-reader!


Janet at All About the Books with Janet Squires introduces An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers by Natasha Wing, illus. Julia Breckenreid (Holt, 2009). Albers was part of the German Bauhaus movement in the 1920s; his studies and experiments with color continue to impact artists and designers today.


Amy at Amy O. Quinn has a review and giveaway of Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe (Sylvan Dell, 2007). This “delightful” scrapbook-style journal features lots of photographs, and interesting tidbits about loggerhead sea turtles. Readers will be curious to know that the journal is that of the young mother in Monroe’s novel, Swimming Lessons, but it can stand on its own as an informative nonfiction title!


Loree at A Life in Books reviews the creepy-but-fascinating Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson (Millbrook, 2013). Reading into the wee hours, Loree couldn’t put this one down! Really: Did you know there are “… things … that can take over the bodies and brains of innocent creatures? Turn them into senseless slaves? Force them to create new zombies so the zombie makers can spread?”


Lynn and Cindy at Bookends review Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People by Susan Goldman Rubin (Abrams, 2013). From this comprehensive review, it sounds as if Rubin’s biography deftly presents this controversial artist’s political and aesthetic contribution to the world in a visually stunning way.

extreme earth

Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff reviews Seymour Simon’s Extreme Earth Records (Chronicle, 2012). Readers can step beyond their mundane lives and find out what life is like in different, more extreme places. In his book, Simon discusses what it’s like to live on remote places such as Antarctica, the island of Trisan da Cunha, and the Atacama Desert in Chile.


Jennifer at Jean Little Library reviews a fascinating picture book about python snakes, Python by Christopher Cheng and Mark Jackson (Candlewick, 2012). Jennifer thinks this would be the perfect book for a kindergarten or first grade class in a snake-themed unit.

Charles Dickens

Jennie at Biblio File reviews Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London by Andrea Warren (Houghton Mifflin, 2011), an official nominee for the 2013 YALSA Award for Excellence in nonfiction for Young Adults. Jennie discusses how Warren ties the author’s life to elements of his fiction, and the historical descriptions of life in Victorian England, including debtor’s prisons and workhouses.

Miracle Mud

Ami at A Mom’s Spare Time reviews Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball by David A. Kelly and Oliver Dominguez (Millbrook, 2013). This book will be fascinating for the baseball aficionado, but this true story will also appeal to anybody.

digital.medAnastasia at Booktalking introduces a new nonfiction book that she’s authored. Targeted towards young adults, Internship and Volunteer Opportunities for People Who Love All Things Digital (Rosen, 2013) will guide high school students through the internship and volunteer process in order to find meaningful career paths.


It’s true–most middle class American kids live lazy, indulged lives in which they’re not responsible for much. Catherine at Mrs. Little got great pleasure in reading …If you Lived in Colonial Times by satirist Ann McGovern. Kids today will be surprised to hear how their counterparts lived centuries ago. No ipones or ipads?! Impossible!

urban garden

Tammy at Apples with Many Seeds reviews Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City by Hadley Dyer (Annick, 2012). Now that spring has finally sprung, our thoughts turn towards spending more time outdoors. This book will inspire urban children to garden, and will give practical advice for how to accomplish productive gardens within the bustle of a city.


Lisa at Shelf-employed reviewed Pluto’s Secret by Margaret and DeVorkin Weitekamp (Abrams, 2013). In this book, poor ousted ex-planet Pluto gets the chance to speak for himself. Find out how he was discovered, and how he feels about being relegated to dwarf planet status!

Thanks to everybody who contributed a blog post to this weekly roundup! I can’t wait to dig in to these new books.