Archive for September, 2014

September 15, 2014

dancing, dazzling Josephine Baker

by Wendy Lawrence

I love a book that you can’t easily categorize, and this is one of them. At first glance, you think it’s a picture book, bright and boldly covered. But it’s also thick, almost like a middle grade book, and is 104 pages. When you look at the words, you realize it’s a kind of poem, the whole book written in beautiful language that mimics the dancing of its protagonist, Josephine Baker.

josephineTitle: Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker
: Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrator: Christian Robinson (who has worked for Pixar and Sesame Workshop)
Genre: Nonfiction, Poetry, Art, Dance, African-American
Ages: 7 – 10, but younger children could be read a few pages and older children could use as a research text

This book tells of the life of an amazing woman who ran away from the slums of St. Louis with a dance troupe and made her way to Carnegie Hall and theatres in Paris. She fought tremendous racism, performing at clubs where she wasn’t even allowed to walk through the front door, places she wouldn’t have been allowed to eat. Josephine Baker ended up leaving for Europe where she felt better received and found tremendous success. The book doesn’t dance around any issues: it talks about the Ku Klux Klan, World War II. It talks about how she bleached her skin with lemon juice and how, even after beings so well received in France, she was called a “savage” and a “devil” in Austria. Always wanting to please, she dressed the next night in all white and sang a gorgeous lullaby, a Negro Spiritual called “Pretty Little Baby”. It worked. They called her an “angel”.

Josephine Baker adopted twelve children throughout her life, her famous “Rainbow Tribe”. They came from eleven countries and Josephine brought each of them up celebrating their own religion–Buddhist, Shinto, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and animist. She had a gorgeous and interesting life. She was still performing in her seventies when she died in her sleep after a long night of dancing.

The press release that comes with the book dutifully mentions how it is perfect for February (African-American history month) and April (Poetry month), but seriously, let’s hope it’s read all year long. I love that you can use this book to introduce some very heavy topics to your child, but in a very colorful, happy, positive way, not only because of the colors in the book, but because of the colorful, energetic character who titles it.

September 12, 2014

play with your books in Photoplay!

by Wendy Lawrence

When I saw this book, I immediately wanted to buy a copy for every kid I knew. I settled for only one and gave it to an artistic niece as I thought its subtleties might be lost on my younger boys, whose art tends to be a bit more on the abstract side. But I love everything about this book and think you will too. It would make a really nice–and unique–gift for your next birthday party or (dare I mention it yet) the holiday season.

photoplayTitle: Photoplay!
Author: M.J. Bronstein
Genre: Picture Book with a twist–you draw some of the pictures!
Ages: 5 and up

This is an interactive picture book with photographic pages that have pieces missing, just asking for your young artist to fill in the spaces. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the book trailer:

I love the way this book allows kids to interact with their reading and make their art a conversation between the author and themselves. Maybe if you ask nicely, they’ll let you play too, and you can talk to your own kid through the pictures you each add! And after you do, you can check out what others have done in the gallery, or even email in your own work!


September 9, 2014

Around the world in 24 time zones

by Wendy Lawrence

It takes awhile for kids to understand the whole notion of “time”. My three-year-old, for example, will ask for a “3-minute” snuggle and to time it, he will do one of two things: he will either count to 3 (this at least makes some sort of sense) or he will count down to 3, starting from some arbitrary number like 10 or 20 (and if it’s 20, the counting down isn’t often that linear). Either way, when he gets to the predetermined number, he decides that his predetermined time is up.

Another thing he does is talk about the past with all sorts of incorrect descriptors. “Remember last year when we ate oatmeal?” he says about that morning’s breakfast. Or “remember yesterday when we went to Seattle?” he says about last year’s trip. You get the picture. It will all fall into place at some point, of course, but in the meantime, I enjoy the vocabulary lapses immensely.

atthesamemomentTitle: At the Same Moment Around the World
Author: Clotilde Perrin
Genre: Picture Book, History, Culture, Science

This book won’t teach him any of that. BUT, it is related to time. When we go on trips, we often try to talk to our kids about the time zones. This has little effect, as you can imagine, given my previous description of what we are working with. But this book might help us out.

At the same moment around the world, by Clotilde Perrin is a beautifully conceptualized, written, and illustrated book about the time zones. It’s a long and skinny book with only 24 scenes. It starts with an illustration of a beach and a ship and says

It is six 0’clock in the morning in Dakar, Senegal. Keita wakes up early to help his father count the fish caught during the night.

The book moves through the world, stopping next in Paris where Benedict drinks hot chocolate before school, then to Bulgaria, Baghdad, and Dubai. It travels through China on the New Year and Japan and Russia before crossing the Americas, where a girl in Arizona watches a night train pass through the desert. It stops in one place in each time zone before returning to the original picture again. Keita and his dad are counting fish but on the first and opposite page, our focus is now on the boat we had seen earlier.

At the same moment, on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, it is five o’clock in the morning when Chloé finds herself tired from dancing all night.

I love everything about this book–the prose, the illustrations, the very idea of it. I love the way each page’s illustration continues to the facing page’s illustration, even though each is a different story in a different place. I love the diverse set of characters, places, and actions, and the way it makes a very abstract idea incredibly tangible.

This would be a wonderful book to read to kids before a vacation that crosses time zones. It would be great to compare this book to a world map and find all the places mentioned. Kids could then find other places that share a time zone with the place in the book and could ponder what kids in those cities might be doing at those times of the day. It would be a fun activity for a wide variety of ages, a good thing to do on an airplane ride or a rainy day. And anything that helps kids see that the world is both big and small is a good activity.

September 5, 2014

If you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to summer…

A little while ago, I wrote about A Warm Winter Tail, by Carrie A. Pearson. It will be time to read that soon, but wait. Not. Quite. Yet. My tomatoes still aren’t yet red. My grass is still green (and I guess at this point it will remain that way). And the kids just got dropped off at school a few hours ago. So there’s time. And what is there time for? How about Person’s latest book, A Cool Summer Tail.

Like the first one, it starts with the voice of a child:

How do humans stay cool in the summer, Mama?
Do they hang out their tongues,

like a spring that’s been sprung,
breathing fast in and out like this?

Kids will learn how other animals adapt to the warm summer months through the illustrations and the words which tells us what humans don’t do, but what animals clearly do.

coolsummertailTitle: A Cool Summer Tail
Author: Carrie A Pearson
Illustrator: Christina Wald
Genre: Picture Book, Science
Ages: 2 – 6

Check out this book and use it as a great reference for talking about the changing seasons–very apt right now–and how animals adapt differently than humans. I also think it would be fun to talk about which of the adaptations humans CAN do (lay on the cool dirt like a bear, for example, even if we don’t often), and which we definitely CAN’T (spread our wings for shade like a butterfly).

September 2, 2014

Kick off the school year with reading

Title: Dino-Football Author: Lisa Wheeler Illustrator: Barry Gott Genre: Picture book Ages: 5-8yrs

Title: Dino-Football
Author: Lisa Wheeler
Illustrator: Barry Gott
Genre: Picture book
   Ages: 5-8yrs

By Angela Verges

It’s the time of year where parents are kicking into gear for the start of another school year. In addition to back to school season, it is the beginning of football season for my family. My teen son has played football since he was a little tyke.

We decided to welcome the season by selecting some of our favorite football themed books to read. One of my favorite picture books is Dino-Football by Lisa Wheeler and Barry Gott. The author uses rhyme to tell the story of the Greenblade Snackers and the Redscales on the gridiron.


The illustrator brings the story to life with colorful, active Dino’s. There’s an interception and even an end zone dance by one of the Dino’s. Did you know that Dino’s tailgate before a game? You have to check out the story to see what I mean.

One of my son’s favorite football books is Kickoff! by Tiki and Ronde Barber. This chapter book was inspired by the childhood of former NFL football players (and twin brothers) Tiki and Ronde Barber. My son has always been a reluctant reader, to find something that he likes to read speaks volumes about that book.

Title: Kickoff! Author: Tiki and Ronde Barber Genre: Chapter book Ages: 8-12yrs

Title: Kickoff!
Author: Tiki and Ronde Barber
Genre: Chapter book
Ages: 8-12yrs


I liked reading Kickoff! because of the underlying theme of teamwork and perseverance. My son liked the book because he could relate to the characters.

If your child is feeling like he has the back to school blues, huddle up and select a book to kick off his new season of school.

What book would you select to read to kick off the back to school season?