Category Archives: readers’ advisory

Turn around, little house

Ms. Rupa invited people from around the library to record something for a special video for Día. Some people read or told stories; some sang songs. When you watch the video on Saturday, you’ll hear several different languages!

I recorded a children’s song in Italian since that’s the language I have spent the most time studying. My actual cultural background is from various other bits of Europe, largely Russia (or thereabouts– it depends on which year’s borders we’re talking about).

Lately I’ve noticed several books– mostly for older readers– featuring the Russian folk character Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is a witch who lives in a house with chicken feet. She’s known to fly around in the same kind of mortar and pestle you might use to grind herbs in your kitchen. She also sometimes eats people, but not always.

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Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola; illustrated by Emily Carroll
The fearsome witch of folklore needs an assistant, and Masha needs an adventure in this graphic novel.

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The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh
Happy to be adopted at last, twelve-year-old orphan Mary Hayes soon learns a terrifying secret about her new mother, the mysterious Madame Z.

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Egg & Spoon: A Novel by Gregory Maguire (author of Wicked)
An impoverished Russian country girl Elena Rudina and the aristocratic Ekatrina meet and set in motion an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and the witch Baba Yaga.

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A Question of Magic by E.D. Baker
Serafina is summoned from her village to the magical cottage of a great aunt she has never heard of and learns that she is meant to become the new Baba Yaga, whose magical role is answering the first question any stranger might ask her with the truth.

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Vasilissa the Beautiful: A Russian Folktale retold by Anthea Bell; with pictures by Anna Morgunova
A retelling of the old Russian fairy tale in which beautiful Vasilissa uses the help of her doll to escape from the clutches of the witch Baba Yaga.

More interesting women: Beyond picture books

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Amazing Women by Caryn Jenner
Shares the experiences of important women in history, including Aung San Suu Kyi, Arianna Huffington, and Madam C.J. Walker.

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Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights by Mark Cronk Farrell
Traces the life of Fannie Sellins, a union activist who traveled the nation promoting fair wages and decent working and living conditions for workers in the garment and mining industries.

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Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins
A novel in verse about three girls from different time periods who grew up to become scientists introduces the lives of insect life-cycle artist Maria Merian, fossil pioneer Mary Anning, and comet discoverer Maria Mitchell.

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A Kids’ Guide to America’s First Ladies by Kathleen Krull; illustrated by Anna Divito
Examines Americas first ladies and how they helped advance women’s rights, political causes and other important progressive changes.

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Motor Girls: How Women Took the Wheel and Drove Boldly into the Twentieth Century by Sue Macy
Presents the first generation of female motorists who drove cars for fun, profit, and to make a statement about the evolving role of women.

New picture books about interesting women

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Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff; illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
Traces the story of dancer-turned-magician’s assistant Adelaide Herrmann, placing her achievements against a backdrop of period conventions about women in the arts and her determination to continue her work after the death of her husband.

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Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles by Mara Rockliff; illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Follows suffragettes Nell Richardson and Alice Burke’s cross-country journey to campaign for women’s right to vote.

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Caroline’s Comets: A True Story by Emily Arnold McCully
Caroline Herschel was the first woman to discover a comet and the first woman to be paid as a scientist.

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Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaële Frier; illustrated by Aurélia Fronty.
Describes how a young Pakistani activist was violently targeted by the Taliban for her efforts to secure educational rights for girls.

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Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy; illustrated by C.F. Payne
Details the life and accomplishments of Mary Garber, the first woman to win the Associated Press Sports Editors’ Red Smith Award and to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Sportcasters and Sportswriters Association.

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Miss Paul and the President: The Creative Campaign for Women’s Right to Vote by Dean Robbins; illustrated by Nancy Zhang
A picture book introduction to the achievements and legacy of indefatigable suffragette Alice Paul describes how she launched campaigns, organized protests and met with President Woodrow Wilson to secure voting rights for women.

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Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang; illustrated by Jordi Solano
This picture book biography follows the life of Eugenie Clark, the Japanese-American scientist, researcher, and diver, who became famous as “The Shark Lady” for her groundbreaking discoveries about shark behavior.

On your marks, get set, go!

Are you planning to follow the Iditarod in your classroom?  Did you know that there is a whole Iditarod education web page?  It includes lesson plans for teachers and fun materials like coloring pages for students.

Are you looking for some stories about mushers and sled dogs?  The Iditarod education page includes recommended books about the Iditarod and Alaska.  Debbie Reese, blogging at American Indians in Children’s Literature, recently recommended a series of picture books about an Inuit boy named Jake and his puppy, Kamik.

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Kamik’s First Sled adapted from the memories of Matilda Sulurayok, illustrated by Qin Leng
Jake’s puppy Kamik is growing quickly, but the dog isn’t becoming any easier to handle. All Jake wants is to raise his puppy into a strong, fast sled dog, but Kamik is far from ready to pull a sled with a dog team. With some advice and a little help from his grandmother, Jake learns basic principles of how to begin training a dog to pull. Kamik finally has his first sled, and he and Jake can finally begin exploring the tundra together. But Jake and Kamik are still inexperienced, and when a blizzard starts blowing in across the tundra, Jake has to rely on his knowledge to get home. Inspired by the life memories of the author, an Inuit elder, this book lovingly presents basic dog-rearing practices that even the youngest dog lover can try.

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Kamik Joins the Pack adapted from the memories of Darryl Baker; illustrated by Qin Leng
Jake cannot wait for his uncle to meet Kamik, and to see what an obedient puppy he is becoming! Jake’s uncle is a great musher, who has won many dogsledding races, and if Kamik is good enough Jake hopes today might be the day that Kamik finally gets to run with a dog team!

Thoughts of home

Lately the news has been making me think of the place I grew up, which was historically a Jewish suburb.  There was a centrally located Jewish Community Center, and I was familiar with seeing a sukkah outside in the fall or girls in knee-length skirts (the Jewish community was largely, but not exclusively, Orthodox and Hasidic) playing softball in the parking lot in spring or summer.

Last night I was on Facebook and saw one of my friends join in a conversation with several of her friends about how to talk to their young, Jewish children about recent acts of anti-Semitism.  One mom described her preschooler talking about lockdown practice (Many of the Jewish Community Centers receiving bomb threats house preschools, and they have to be prepared).

The first resources I thought about were ones I had turned to in other cases of violence, prejudice, and scary topics in the news.  The American Psychological Association has some resources for parents and Teaching Tolerance has classroom resources.  Not surprisingly, I found the most at the Anti-Defamation League, which has a whole section on confronting anti-Semitism and recommended books for children and teens (“The Best Kid Lit on Bias, Diversity and Social Justice”).

Here are some titles from their Jewish Culture and Anti-Semitism list:

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Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II by Marisabina Russo
After many years during which her grandmother skirted the issue, a young girl finally hears the story of how several of her female relatives survived the Holocaust.

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I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
Traces the achievements of the celebrated Supreme Court justice through the lens of her many famous acts of civil disagreement against inequality, unfair treatment, and human rights injustice.

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Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen
Told to make a Pilgrim doll for the Thanksgiving display at school, Molly is embarrassed when her mother tries to help her out by creating a doll dressed as she herself was dressed before leaving Russia to seek religious freedom.

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Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco
A long-lasting friendship develops between Larnel, a young African-American, and Mrs. Katz, a lonely, Jewish widow, when Larnel presents Mrs. Katz with a scrawny kitten without a tail.

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Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp by Trish Marx
Photo-essay focusing on two Israeli children, one Jewish and one Palestinian, who, in spite of their differences and the longstanding conflicts in the region, learn to play, work, and share ideas together at Summer Peace Camp, a day camp located in Israel. Includes glossary, map, and resources for readers.

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The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren
In Denmark during World War II, young Annet, her parents, and their neighbors help a Jewish family hide from Nazi soldiers until it is safe for them to leave Annet’s basement.

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The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy
Retells the story of King Christian X and the Danish resistance to the Nazis during World War II.

If you’re looking for more books besides the ones on the ADL lists, you might try the page for the Sydney Taylor Book Award, presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries “to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.”  There are also children’s and young adult literature categories for the National Jewish Book Award (It looks like this year’s winners will be announced March 7).

The first time I encountered the story of the golem was when I pulled it out of a book display at the public library (I wasn’t really thinking about it at the time, but it was probably a Passover display).  That book was the first window I had to try to understand what it meant to be in danger from anti-Semitism.  This memory is part of why I try to do displays of everyone’s holidays– both so people can see themselves reflected, and also so people can see where their neighbors are coming from.

Will Eisner at 100

Will Eisner Week is an annual celebration promoting graphic novel literacy, free speech, and the legacy of Will Eisner, the revered comic artist and writer (1917-2005).  His work began during the Golden Age of Comics with the creation of characters including Uncle Sam, Sheena Queen of The Jungle, Black Hawk, and his most famous iconic character, The Spirit.  Throughout his career, he was determined to demonstrate what the medium he loved could accomplish, calling his first serious book format comic in 1978 a graphic novel, and then popularizing the format by writing 19 more.

Two of his works for younger readers are adaptations of classic stories in a comics format:

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The Last Knight: An introduction to Don Quixote by Miquel de Cervantes
by Will Eisner

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville
adapted by Will Eisner

Will Eisner’s name also graces the comic industry’s Eisner Awards, which includes categories for

  • Best Title for Younger Readers/Best Comics Publication for a Younger Audience
  • Best Publication for Kids
  • Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7)
  • Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)

The library owns lots of these award winners; give them a look!

African American History Biographies, part 2

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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe
Jean-Michael Basquiat and his unique, collage-style paintings rocked to fame in the 1980s as a cultural phenomenon unlike anything the art work had ever seen. But before that, he was a little boy who saw art everywhere: in poetry books and museums, in games and in the words that we speak, and in the pulsing energy of New York City. Now, award-winning illustrator Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message and art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful.
(If you’re not sure you know his work, that painting being hung at the end of the last episode of Luke Cage is a Basquiat.)
The stickers on the cover indicate that artist Javaka Steptoe (whose father has his own award named after him) won the Caldecott Medal and was the 2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards Illustrator Winner.

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A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent by Anne Rockwell; illustrated by Floyd Cooper
The true story of James Lafayette, a slave who spied for George Washington’s army during the American Revolution. But while America celebrated its newfound freedom, James returned to slavery. His service hadn’t qualified him for the release he’d been hoping for. For James the fight wasn’t over; he’d already helped his country gain its freedom, now it was time to win his own.

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Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman; illustrated by Daniel Minter
A picture book biography of Dr. William Key, a former slave and self-trained veterinarian who taught his horse, Jim, to read and write and who together with Jim became one of the most famous traveling performance acts around the turn of the twentieth century.

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Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line by Andrew Maraniss
Perry Wallace was born at an historic crossroads in U.S. history. He entered kindergarten the year that the Brown v. Board of Education decision led to integrated schools, allowing blacks and whites to learn side by side. A week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Wallace enrolled in high school and his sensational jumping, dunking, and rebounding abilities quickly earned him the attention of college basketball recruiters from top schools across the nation. In his senior year his Pearl High School basketball team won Tennessee’s first racially-integrated state tournament. The world seemed to be opening up at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt University recruited Wallace to play basketball, he courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the Southeastern Conference. The hateful experiences he would endure on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. Yet Wallace persisted, endured, and met this unthinkable challenge head on. This insightful biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a complicated, profound, and inspiring story of an athlete turned civil rights trailblazer.

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Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks; illustrated by Colin Bootman
Biography of Vivien Thomas, an African-American surgical technician who pioneered the procedure used to treat babies with a heart defect known as ‘blue baby syndrome.’

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Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton; illustrated by Don Tate
Chronicles the life and achievements of the NASA engineer and inventor, from his childhood to his accidental invention of the Super Soaker water gun.