Elem. – Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

Marshall, Linda Elovitz. Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit. Unpaged. 978-1-499-80960-2. Little Bee Books, 2020. $17.99. Grades K-3.

This picture book biography of the beloved children’s author begins with her life as a girl growing up in London.  As a child in the city, Beatrix kept busy sketching animals, including her pet rabbit Benjamin Bouncer, but she and her brother yearned for the summer when they would go to her family’s country home and enjoy nature. Beatrix always wanted to do something important with her life and hoped to pursue a career, but this was difficult for women to do at that time. Not to be denied her dream, she self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit and its popularity led to a contract with a publisher.  Peter Rabbit became a well-known character and her collection of stories grew.  Missing the country, she bought a farm and married.  Fearing that trains and housing plans would destroy the countryside, she began buying more farms and land to preserve it. The author donated over 4000 acres to the National Trust, ensuring that the area looks the same today as it did in her time.  Children will enjoy the charming illustrations done in soft watercolors by Urbinati.  In the back matter, the author explains how a visit to the Lake District was her inspiration for this book. One quibble is that the text would benefit from a photograph of Beatrix Potter and a timeline of her life.

THOUGHTS: This is an interesting biographical portrait, because Marshall writes about Potter’s conservation efforts, an aspect of her life that is often not discussed. This picture book works well as a read aloud and could be used in ecology units or for Women’s History month.  An excellent choice for all elementary collections.

Picture Book Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
921 POTTER or 823.912

Elem. NF – Dangerous Jane; Our Story Begins; American Gothic; The Girl Who Ran

Slade, Suzanne. Dangerous Jane. Peachtree, 2017. 9781561459131. Unpaged. $17.95. Gr. 2-5.
Slade’s work is a simple introduction to the life of Jane Addams, American social worker and peace activist, who founded Hull House, a settlement house for immigrants in Chicago.  Beginning with her early life, the author tells us that Jane became aware of poverty when visiting a poor part of town and vowed to help people in need when she grew up.  On a trip in Europe as a college graduate, she saw poverty in London and visited a settlement house that helped poor people acquire job and literacy skills.  This inspired Jane to return to Chicago and found Hull House.   Later we read that Jane Addams was involved in the peace movement to bring an end to World War l.   Initially, she was scorned for these efforts and was called “Dangerous Jane” by the FBI.  However, by 1931, public opinion became favorable and she earned the Nobel Peace Prize. This picture book biography does not give a lot of details about her other contributions, such as the founding of the NAACP. More information is contained in the author’s note and timeline, where some of the gaps are filled in. The illustrations by Alice Ratterree are done in soft muted watercolors.  However, Jane stands out in every drawing, because she is always pictured wearing bright green, even as a child.  There are two black and white photographs in the back matter.  THOUGHTS: This text serves as a good introduction to the life of this important figure in American history and will make for a great read aloud.  Students wishing to learn more will need to seek additional resources, which the author provides in the bibliography.  This book is a worthy addition to elementary collections.
Picture Book; Biography     Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Weissman, Elissa Brent Ed. OUR STORY BEGINS: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun. Atheneum Children’s Books, 2018. 978-1-4814-7208-1. $17.99. 192 pp. Gr. 3-6.

“Everyone’s story begins somewhere.” Authors are inherently able to reminisce about that moment when they felt the power of story start to change their lives. Sometimes it was through the received recognition or struggle or heartache that the seeds to their future careers began. Join Elissa Brent Weissman as she collects individual memories and samples from 26 authors and illustrators and revel in their variety, inspiration, and child-like gifts of bringing stories to life. Kwame Alexander shares a poem he wrote for his mom; several authors (R.J. Palacio and Kathi Appelt among them) share their love of horses and unicorns; Alex Gino shares a sci-fi short story, and Brian Selznick shares some early drawing tips. The selections show diversity of age, geography, and heritage, which provides both windows and mirrors for young readers. Plus, children will have that inspiring and relatable notion that indeed, authors were once kids too!  THOUGHTS: The insights that budding writers’ will gain from this collection cannot be measured. Seeing the editing process and imperfect samples from famous folks allows for many writing mini-lessons. Showing the variety of writing works and styles also gives classes a chance to compare and discuss. Plus, the artwork will inspire doodlers and illustrators alike to grab a pencil or paintbrush and get creating!

800; Literature     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

 

Wood, Susan and Ross MacDonald. American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4197-2533-3. $18.95. Unpaged. Gr. 1-4.

Even as a young Iowa farm boy, Grant Wood loved to draw. As he aged, his drawings progressed, and he explored the art culture beyond his midwestern landscape, but in the end, Grant came back to create a vision of the region that he loved. Readers will enjoy learning how Grant came to paint the classic American Gothic and represent common people during the Great Depression. The details of his life are sparse in the story, but the author’s note and timeline at the end help anyone looking to know more. Ross MacDonald provides color-coated images of Wood and his work in an inviting and stylized manner. The farm couple at the center of Grant’s masterpiece would be proud to share their story once more.  THOUGHTS: Although brief, the pages where Grant Wood contemplates his artistic style provide a primer through art history and the approaches that artists take. Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract, and Gothic styles are all depicted. It would be beneficial for budding artists to explore more images of Grant Wood’s art and compare them to the book.

Biography       Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

 

Yee, Christina, and Frances Poletti. The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon. Compendium Inc., 2017. 9781943200474. 48 pp. $16.95. Gr. 1-5.

This biography in picture book form is accessible to all ages of readers. Bobbi Gibb could never sit still and loved to run. Even when she was discouraged from all sides–her parents and the admissions people to the Boston Marathon–she did not give up. She trained by running across the country. Ultimately Bobbi ended up sneaking onto the starting line disguised as a boy in a hoodie, her brother’s shorts, and men’s running shoes (they didn’t make women’s at the time, even though it was 1966) and joined the race! THOUGHTS: The watercolor pictures flow perfectly with the poetry verses that express Bobbi’s joy of running. This is a great book to use as a starter for women in sports and discuss which sports still haven’t admitted women yet.

Biography; Picture Book     Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

YA NF – Pound for Pound; The Shakespeare Book

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Kopp, Shannon. Pound for Pound. New York: William Morrow, 2015. 978-06-237022-8. 288p.  $25.99. Gr. 9 and up.

In this memoir author Shannon Kopp shares her story of of recovery from an eating disorder and how she drew strength in her her recovery by working with shelter dogs, particularly pit bulls.  Growing up in a dysfunctional home (her father was an alcoholic), Kopp suffered from bulimia throughout her teen years and into her early twenties.  In and out of rehabilitation and treatment programs to no avail, she eventually began to turn her life around when she got a job working with shelter dogs at the SPCA.  The loving relationships she establishes with the dogs she works with (particularly pit bulls) gives her the strength to work through her relapses and begin to heal.  In the process she also discovered her calling – working as an animal welfare activist and finding homes for shelter dogs.  THOUGHTS:  Kopp is a first time writer, and at times that shows in the occasional awkward passage.  However, her struggles with bulimia and her deep passion for dogs are sincerely communicated.  Those who enjoy true-life stories of those who face obstacles or those who share a bond with animals may enjoy this memoir.  Be advised: Kopp does not shy away in her descriptions of her bulimic experiences.     

921 Memoir      Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

shakespearebook

The Shakespeare Book. New York: DK, 2015. 978-1-4654-2987-2. 352 p. $25.00. Gr. 7-12.

The cover of this book says it all: ”Big Ideas Simply Explained.” The Shakespeare Book offers readers an easy to understand overview of each of Shakespeare’s plays (and major poems).  A brief biographical introduction to Shakespeare is also included.  Each chapter presents a timeline of the events in the play, a summary of the plot, and a description of major characters.  Major themes are identified and discussed.  In addition, Shakespeare’s influences/inspirations in writing each play are identified.  Most chapters are four pages long, however major plays (Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet,Hamlet, etc.) have lengthier entries.  The text is supplemented by a variety of high-quality color photos and illustrations of Shakespearean productions.  Charts are also included to help explain major plot points and character relationships (for example, the entry on Romeo & Juliet features a family tree that outlines the relationships between the characters).  THOUGHTS:  This volume offers libraries an affordable and reader friendly overview of the works of William Shakespeare.  While the average chapter may only be four pages long, quite a bit of information is included within those pages.  Of particular note are the discussion of themes within each play and the illustrations, particularly the informative charts.  Readers with an interest in Shakespeare’s poetry may also find the chapters on major Shakespearean poems/sonnets informative.

822.33 Literature        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

Brown Girl Dreaming…Memoir through Poetry

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Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014. 978-0-399-25251-8. 336p. Gr. 5 and up.

Woodson beautifully weaves her memories of growing up in Columbus, OH, Greenville (Nicholtown), SC, and New York City, into poems of her youth, family, friends, and ultimately maturation as an African-American born at the height of the Civil Rights movement.  Her use of poetry to tell her story only adds to the memories of Daddy (her maternal grandfather), Dell, Hope, and Roman, her siblings, her mother, and her maternal grandmother.  Each section of this memoir focuses on a different part of her youth, from the geography of moving multiple times, to the impact of being a Witness, to her desire to write and tell stories.  Although each part of her memoir has a distinct focus, they are all intertwined because of Jackie or Jacqueline, depending on the poem and time in her life, and how each memory, event, family member, friend (and sometimes foes) help to shape her character and ultimately her writing.  This is one of the most beautiful memoirs for young people.  Not only do they get to experience Jacqueline Woodson’s youth (and the major movements in history during her youth), but they get to experience the beauty of storytelling through poetry, which in itself is an art.  This is a must have addition to any memoir collection.

811; Memoir  Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

I got to meet Jacqueline Woodson this past summer at ALA, and she is awesome.  She was very friendly and personable.  Her memoir shares her wonderful character as she grows and matures.  Her story will resonate with students who have single-parents, have moved, have been or are being raised by their grandparents, or who are just trying to figure things out in a confusing world.  Each poem adds to the previous and Woodson’s story, but also is a beautiful stand-alone piece.  The individual poems are great examples of using line and form to tell a story and are great examples for creative writing students developing their craft.    Brown Girl Dreaming is a 2015 Newbery Honor Book, National Book Award winner, and Coretta Scott King author award.