Elem. – Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine

Anderson, Beth. Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine. Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30325-8. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

“Imagine. Discover. Create.” Throughout his childhood, these whispers call to Franz Gsellmann. The words run through his mind even as his parents rely on him to do the more practical work of helping out on the family farm. As Franz busies himself milking cows, gathering eggs, and picking apples, the whispers continue calling to him. One night, many years later, he wakes from a dream with an idea for a fantastical, magical, phantasmagorical machine. Unsure about how to make his dream machine a reality, he draws inspiration from the World’s Fair in Belgium. For the next 23 years, he visits flea markets and junkyards, filling bags and carts with odds and ends of all kinds. He hauls everything back to his workshop where he tinkers in secrecy. When he finally reveals his creation to his family and neighbors, he’s crushed when they don’t understand his vision. They want to know what the machine does, but they miss the point that sometimes, a creation doesn’t need a practical purpose. Some things can be appreciated simply for their artistic beauty, ingenuity, and creativity. Backmatter pages include a brief biography of Franz Gsellmann as well as black and white photos of him with his machine. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be a thought-provoking addition to STEAM lessons as it highlights the ideas of perseverance, experimentation, creativity, and optimism. It also draws connections between science and art and shows the value of thinking outside the box. Share this with art teachers too to kickstart units about recycled art or self-taught artists. 

621 Applied Physics          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
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Elem. – The Stars: A Gazillion Suns

Perdew, Laura. The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (Picture Book Science). Nomad Press, 2021. 29 p. 978-1-619-30992-0. $9.95. Grades K-3.

This nonfiction picture book introduces the reader to the basic principles about the galaxy and the stars. The book goes over information about the sun in our solar system, how stars are created, why they twinkle, as well as how they end. Throughout the book, there are two extraterrestrial commentators who have silly commentary to the reader, and at the end of the book there is an activity for the reader to complete related to the constellations. There is also a glossary in the back of the book; however, there is no table of contents.

THOUGHTS: This is a great introduction to space and the constellations for a young reader. The addition of the two extraterrestrial commentators is a great choice by the author, and the illustrations add to the charm of the whole book. Highly recommended for an elementary collection. 

523.8 Constellations          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – My Tiny Life by Ruby T. Hummingbird

Meisel, Paul. My Tiny Life by Ruby T. Hummingbird. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44322-2. 36 p. Grades K-2. $17.99.

This charming picture book is told from the point of view of a hummingbird called Ruby. Written in a diary format, the humorous narrative follows the bird’s life cycle. The story begins with Ruby exiting his tiny egg and looking forward to a tasty meal of insects and nectar delivered by his mother. Soon the small bird begins to fly and finds his own source of food. Ruby needs to learn to defend himself from the other hummingbirds, who also enjoy eating at the flower-shaped feeder. With the arrival of fall, this tiny creature flies to Mexico and makes an exhausting return trip by flying 500 miles nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico. In the spring, Ruby turns his thoughts to finding a mate. The text is sparse, with one or two sentences per page, which allows the pictures to take center stage. Meisel uses watercolors, acrylics, and gouache to create his colorful large scale full bleed illustrations. He does an excellent job showing the motion of the hummingbird’s fast beating wings and its amazing aviation skills, as the birds go up, down, backwards and even upside down. The author includes facts about these feathered friends on the front endpapers and in the back matter and gives helpful comparisons to allow readers to imagine their actual size.

THOUGHTS: Children will enjoy poring over the drawings as they read about this interesting animal. They may want to check out other books in Meisel’s “A Nature Diary” series to learn about the praying mantis, the bluebird and the always popular stink bug. This book is a worthwhile addition to elementary collections as a good resource for science units, as a mentor text for point of view, and creative nonfiction and for just plain enjoyment.

598.764, Hummingbirds          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Kate’s Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse

Spires, Elizabeth. Kate’s Light: Kate Walker at Robbins Reef Lighthouse. Margaret Ferguson Books, 2021. 978-0-8234-4348-2. 40pp. $18.99. Gr 3-5. 

This picture book biography features Kate Walker, a German immigrant who was one of the first women on the Eastern Seaboard to be put in charge of an offshore lighthouse. Kate took responsibility for the Robbins Reef lighthouse in New York Bay when her husband, John, passed away. For more than 30 years, she carried out the grueling daily tasks of caring for and cleaning the light and siren, performing water rescues, and tending the light ‘round the clock. Although life wasn’t always easy, and was at times very lonely, Kate discovered life in the lighthouse also had its rhythms and its advantages, such as being able to watch the Statue of Liberty’s dedication through binoculars from the catwalk. Emily Arnold McCully’s watercolor and pen and ink illustrations, featuring mostly blues, greens, and grays, beautifully capture the constantly changing weather and water around the lighthouse. Two pages at the end of the book provide additional factual information about Kate and the challenges and obstacles she overcame during her 33 years at Robbins Reef. Primary source photographs also allow readers to glimpse real images of Kate going about her work in the lighthouse.

THOUGHTS: Pair with Sophie Blackall’s Hello Lighthouse for a nautical-themed storytime. Or, use both texts together for a fiction and nonfiction compare-and-contrast discussion. This would also be an excellent addition to women’s history units.

Picture Book Biography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Weatherford, Carole Boston. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-534-45228-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is introduced to a new generation in this vibrant picture book. While this biography is brief, it succeeds in conveying the essence of Franklin’s life. The oil paint illustrations by Frank Morrison draw readers into the story, their richness implying the importance of her family, faith, community and music. The rhyming couplets on each two-page spread succinctly summarize aspects of Franklin’s history, the rhyme scheme unifying the book. Understandably, the abbreviated format does not allow for deeper exploration of her life, and no mention is made of darker events such as her parents’ separation, her mother’s death before Aretha was 10 years old, or the children she bore at age 12 and 14. (The information about her parents is mentioned in the Author’s Note following the story text.) The book accomplishes its intended purpose beautifully, celebrating the life of a revered talent. Hopefully a nearby adult will pair a reading of the book with an introduction to Franklin’s glorious music.

THOUGHTS: A lush, inspiring introduction to a musical icon and activist. With a motion picture biography slated for release in August 2021, this could be a timely purchase.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Over and Under the Rainforest

Messner, Kate. Over and Under the Rainforest. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-16940-8. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Following up Over and Under the Snow and Over and Under the Pond Messner explores the rainforest both high and low. Christopher Silas Neal’s artwork, overwhelming the pages in luscious saturated shades of green, draws the reader into the forest along with the young narrator and her guide. Above is a world of monkeys, insects, and birds. Colorful toucans, flit among the branches. Capuchin and howler monkeys and sloths move through the leafy growth. Below are critters and creatures, both cute and deadly: agoutis and crocodiles, anteaters and spiders. As the day wanes, the rainforest fades to purples, creatures of the night emerge, and the young narrator heads for home, Abuelita and supper. Messner’s informative text never overwhelms the reader. Facts are lovingly wrapped in description to evoke life in the rainforest.

THOUGHTS: Messner never disappoints, and this book will be a solid addition to any elementary collection, useful as a read-aloud or with a classroom curriculum.

Picture Book         Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Kamala Harris Rooted in Justice

Grimes, Nikki. Kamala Harris Rooted in Justice. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-46267-0. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Kamala Harris Rooted in Justice follows Kamala Harris from growing up as a young girl in Oakland until she ran for President of the United States in 2019. The biography of Kamala is backed by the story of a young girl named Eve who is talking with her mom about an incident that happened at school.  Eve’s story helps drive the story of Kamala Harris’s life, and you easily can follow Eve’s narrative as it is in a different font compared to Kamala’s. The illustrations show Kamala’s life and mirror the story, as well as showing Eve and her mother throughout the story. The book ends right when Kamala Harris dropped out of the 2020 Presidential race, and does not include her becoming Joe Biden’s Vice President nominee. The illustrations are beautiful and give extra detail to the story as the reader goes through.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful addition to an elementary school biography collection that I highly recommend!

Biography          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter
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