The Best Nonfiction Picture Books….


When I was in middle school (or junior high as it was called), I wanted to learn about Walt Disney so I went to the Xenia Library and checked this book out:

I can’t recall many details about Walt, but I can clearly picture myself finding this bright blue book on the library’s adult shelves. This was the 1970s. There were no “Who Was” books, and most of the biographies in the children’s room were about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Nothing against our first and sixteenth presidents, but my non-fiction diet was limited.

Today we live in a golden age for picture book biographies. Kids can still read about presidents, but they can also learn about inventors and athletes and artists and writers. Some of the best books focus on an incident from a well-known person’s childhood that guided their careers. Others focus on challenges that stood in the way of success. The best of them leave a young reader wanting to know more.

Below are five of the most inspirational new picture book biographies – and five favorites from the past few years.  There’s a lot to learn from all of these people:

The Best of the New:

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins and illustrated by Lucy Knisley

All of these books celebrate curiosity, and Margaret Hamilton, the American computer scientist, began asking big questions when she was a little girl: “Why didn’t more girls grow up to be doctors? Or scientists? Or anything else they wanted,” she asks.  Knisley’s lively cartoon-like illustrations show the young Margaret reading and drawing and playing the piano before learning to write code.  As the director of software programming for an MIT laboratory working for NASA, Margaret is instrumental in guiding Apollo 8 and 9 and 10.  When NASA was ready to send a man to the moon, they counted on Margaret’s code:

Margaret and the Moon will inspire young readers to shoot for the moon!

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

From her first visit to an Aquarium in New York, Eugenie Clark was fascinated by sharks. Although there was pressure on Eugenie to follow a more traditional path, she devoted herself to learning “everything she could about them,” and became a respected scientist who was called the Shark Lady!

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

It’s impossible not to be inspired by the career and determination of the 84-year-old associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.  There’s even a new book, The RBG Workout written by her personal trainer, being published next week!  Her philosophy of “disagreeing without being disagreeable” is a good guide during these divisive times.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Sometimes picture book biographies for young readers can tell stories about people we haven’t heard about before.  Audrey Faye Hendricks is a perfect example of picture book as introduction to a brave person and an important movement. She was only nine-years-old when she marched for freedom in the Birmingham Children’s March. The picture of a little girl sleeping on a bare mattress in a jail cell is a powerful example of personal sacrifice and commitment to a cause.  After I read this book to a group of 4th and 5th graders last year, I asked them if there was anything they felt strongly enough about that they would take a risk.

A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White by Barbara Herkert ; illustrated by Lauren Castillo

This book will be published in two weeks, but I’ve seen most of it in various forms, and I will be standing by the school mailbox on October 24. The book opens with young Elwyn White being sick in bed and making friends with a mouse. He begins writing in a journal and the animals he loved so much – and we know where that leads….

And here are five picture book biographies I regularly pull from Inly’s shelf:

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Brian Selznick (a book about a man who, in the 1800s, created life size model of dinosaurs.  I’m not a dinosaur enthusiast, but this is hands-down one of the best books about passion and determination I’ve ever read.  When kids are tempted to give up, I show them this book.)

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton and illustrated by  Tony Persiani (the story of the brothers who figured out how to create fluorescent colors.  A timely book about innovation and creativity!)

Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Kruss and illustrated by David Diaz (I first read this book to my son when he was seven or eight, and it entered our weekly rotation.  An amazing story of overcoming tremendous odds.)

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man by David Adler and illustrated by Terry Widener (It’s hard to read the closing pages of Gehrig’s life story without welling up. If a teacher or friend asks you to recommend a good book about dignity, this is the one.)

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustred by Brian Selznick (Selznick’s illustrations capture the drama and historical significance of the moment Marian Anderson sang in front of the Lincoln Monument.)

I’m leaving so many good book off this list that deserve to be there: Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown, Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, the Big Words series by Doreen Rappaport, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull.  All classics among an embarrassment of riches!

Happy Reading!



Reading Around the World – and A Reader Writing His Own Story…

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We started our trip around the world in Canada this year – mostly because I was excited to share Carson Crosses Canada by Linda Bailey with our lower elementary students.

Inly has a three-year curriculum that includes the Ancient World, America, and the World. This is a “world year,” and my goal is to read stories from authors outside of the United States and follow our progress on a map. Exceptions to our international reading will be made for major holidays – my favorite part of Halloween is The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey!

We are not traveling efficiently, but rather on a whim. Since school started, we’ve read stories set in Canada, Japan, and India. In the interest of a broader selection, the rules are somewhat flexible. Preferably, the author or illustrator will live in the country we read about, but the setting works too.  For example, Adele and Simon in China by Barbara McClintock will be included because it’s a wonderful introduction to China.

With impeccable timing, four new books arrived last week that are perfect additions to our journey:

Tea With Oliver by Mika Song

I would read this book to my classes anyway, but the fact that Song grew up in the Philippines makes it even better. Oliver is a cat who “talks to himself a lot.” More than anything, Oliver wants to have tea with a friend.  The problem is that he literally doesn’t see Philbert, a mouse who lives under the couch and would love to join Oliver for tea.  Many potential tea friends show up for a party, but they are far too busy dancing to want tea. There’s a happy ending to a story as sweet as the cookies that appear on the last page!

Robinson by Peter Sis

Sis’s beautiful new book is based on a experience he had as a child in the Czech Republic. He went to a costume party dressed as one of his heroes, Robinson Crusoe, but the other children don’t appreciate his costume. Feeling embarrassed, the young boy goes home and crawls into his bed where, in a dream sequence that reminds me  of Max sailing off “through night and day….to where the wild things are” he arrives in a world of his own imagination.

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

One of the most beautiful books published in the last few years is A Lion in Paris which was also written and illustrated by Alemagna.  This one is equally special. Like Robinson by Peter Sis, it is a tribute to the imagination. A mom and a child arrive at a cabin on a rainy day, and the child immediately begins playing a hand-held video game. “Actually,” the text reads, “I was just pressing the same button over and over.”  When mom takes the game away and encourages her child to go outdoors, the child tucks the video game into the pocket of the bright orange rain slicker.  It’s not long, though, before the game falls into the pond.  The adventures, both literal and magical, begin after that.

Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

Undoubtedly, there will be a week when everyone is feeling a little grumpy. Perhaps a grey day in January?  This book by the Japanese author and illustrator is laugh-out-loud funny and a sweet spot read-aloud for young children.  A little boy, determined to undress himself before his bath, gets stuck in his shirt. Naturally, he begins to wonder what life would be like if he stayed stuck in his shirt!

A Memorable Library Visit…..

Among the greatest pleasures of working in a school library are those unexpected moments when you can literally witness a child in the act of creation – not the kind of creating that happens with a 3D printer, but building with words. On Friday, while Mary and I were talking about the week ahead, a student came into the library. He explained that he was working on an identity project and wanted to make a list of the books he loves. With joy and determination, he stacked books all over the table, stories that together are a part of who he is. After watching him collecting and typing or a few minutes, Mary and I began to help. We shelved while he visited every shelf to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.

With his permission, here are some of the books on his list:

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Books by Stuart Gibbs

books by Kelly Barnhill

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Books by Chris Grabenstein

Books by Brian Selznick

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

And he didn’t forget picture books…

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crocket Johnson

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

There were many others, but he may still be adding titles…….

Happy Reading!




A Book, A Baseball Player, and Virginia Lee Burton



First, the book: Her Right Foot – written by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris.

I expect that in early 2018, the cover will be adorned with a shiny gold award sticker, but buy it now while the view of the State of Liberty’s right foot is fully visible – as she steps into the sea. This is a timely book, to put it mildly.  As the 24-hour news cycle causes stress and anxiety, Eggers’ book gave me a few minutes of pure joy. It is thought provoking and full of heart.

Beginning with the story of the Statue’s origins (“After all, the Statue of Library is an immigrant, too.”), it continues to explore – with good humor and funny asides – the significance of the Statue’s right foot which is clearly taking a step forward.  Truthfully, I had never noticed, but now I want to go back to Liberty Island and look again.

Eggers’ book is full of fun facts about the iconic Statue. For example, did you know that the parts to construct the Statue of Liberty were put into 214 crates for its trip across the Atlantic Ocean?  And I learned that what is now Liberty Island was once called Bedloe’s Island.  Beyond the trivia, though, what stands out are the book’s final pages which I won’t spoil here.  I’ll just say that reading them brings clarity to the conversation about immigration.

Like the Statue of Liberty, baseball has a special place in the American story.  This morning, in honor of the Jewish holidays, NPR’s Only A Game had a story on Hank Greenberg’s 1934 decision to be on the field on Rosh Hashanah – a game the Detroit Tigers won with Greenberg’s walk-off home run. Nine days later, on Yom Kippur, Greenberg sat out, and the Tigers lost. Listening to the segment about those eventful days in Detroit, brought back memories of writing my book, Hammerin Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer, which was published in 2011. Greenberg’s decision was literally front-page news in Detroit, a city which was also the base for Father Charles Coughlin’s popular radio show which included anti-semitic rhetoric.  It’s an amazing story, and one worth hearing if you don’t know it.

Here’s a link to Only A Game’s segment:

Author visits are one of the highlights of working in a school library, and we were lucky to welcome the author and illustrator of a wonderful new book to Inly last week.  Sherri Rinker and John Rocco, the author and illustrator of Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton, told our 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders about the author behind the classic picture books, The Little House and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  The Little House is one of my favorite picture books so it is a special treat to have a tribute to “the little house” in our new library.

Happy Reading!






Inspiring Children’s Books About Immigrants and Refugees…


With immigration and the status of refugees on the nation’s front burner, kids are going to have questions. There are many good children’s books that will encourage kids to wonder about what it’s like to move to a new country.  Here are five picture books that are gateways to deeper questions:

Welcome by Barroux (I love this sweet and engaging book about three polar bears looking for a new home.  They keep meeting animals who have “reasons” the bears can’t move to a new land.  Reasons like there’s “not enough room” or, like the giraffes, pretend not to hear the polar bears at all.  What is especially appealing about this book is that it can be read to young children as a story about welcoming new children to their classroom or after school activity.  The book’s message is just what the title says!)

I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien (This is a really sweet book, and like Welcome, it’s perfect for very young children) O’Brien’s tells the story of three immigrant children at a new school.  The kids are from Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia, and they are struggling to learn a new language, fit in with new classmates, and hold on to their traditions.  Parents and teachers sometime ask me to suggest books that teach empathy. This is the book.)

The Journey by Francesca Sanna (Inspired by the author’s visit to a refugee camp in Italy, Sanna describes her book as “a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.”)

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (This is a truly unforgettable book. Badr is a stone artist, and he uses stones and pebbles to illustrate a Syrian family’s experiences as refugees.  The story is told in dual language text: English and Arabic.  A masterpiece.)

Teacup by Rebecca Young (The story of a young boy looking for a new place to live.  He travels on a boat carrying “a book, a bottle, and a blanket. In his teacup he held some earth from where he used to play.”  The oil paintings of the boy alone on the sea are incredibly powerful.)

On the topic of immigration and mixing cultures….

Every year I can count on a number of parents who will stop by the Inly Library to talk about the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The books are thrilling and beautiful – and problematic.  As a childhood (and adult) fan of the Little House books, I understand the questions parents have about how to navigate a series that includes passages like: “White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick. Now do you understand?” Understand?  Not really. But reading the books to an older child, a child able to engage in conversation, presents an opportunity to talk about stereotypes, racism, and our country’s complicated history.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth, there was a good story about the series.  Here’s a link:

The sweet illustration at the top of the post is by Penelope Dullaghan.  She is the artist responsible for the beautiful cover of Lucky Broken Girl:

I follow Dullaghan on Instagram which is where I saw the banner picture – and a note reading “feel free to share.”

Finally…here’s a cute picture Mary took in the library this week:

Happy Reading!


New School Year = New Books


As the books come out of the boxes and join Inly’s Library, I begin making a mental list matching books to potential readers.  The kids return to school on Wednesday, and there will be immediate waiting lists for: the third book in Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series, Babymouse: Tales From the Locker, and The Force Oversleeps, the fifth installment in Jarrett Krosoczka’s Star Wars series.

But the best part of unpacking is finding new favorites, gems that will be perfect read-alouds or conversation sparks.  If you are looking for books to add to a classroom or home library, here are five picture book standouts from the boxes…

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco

This picture book biography of the author of Mike Mulligan and The Little House, is one of the most beautiful books of the season.  Echoing Burton’s style in her timeless classics, Big Machines tells the story of Burton’s life and her creative process.  There are countless possibilities for using this book in the classroom and the art room. I’m interested in using this book to talk about Burton’s focus on how time (and people) impact their environments.

How To Be An Elephant by Katherine Roy

The artwork is the star here.  Roy follows the life of a newborn elephant and provides information about every aspect of life as an African elephant – if you can take your eyes off the illustrations!

Come With Me by Holly McGhee

Teachers and parents want to teach children to be empathetic, and for obvious reasons, the volume of that conversation has risen over the past six months.  The hard thing is that empathy can’t really be taught in the way math or grammar are. It has to be witnessed every day – in the words we use and read and hear.  McGhee’s book is a book about small actions that make the world a better place.

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt

When my son was young, maybe three, we were in the grocery store one day.  As I pushed the basket, he suddenly asked: “why are we here?” I launched into an explanation of how we buy food each week and how the grocery store works, when he stopped my over-long response.  “No,” he said.  “Why are we here?  On this planet?  At this time?”  That’s a whole different question that I don’t remember how I answered, but it would have been easier if I had this book. Such a natural question, right?  Of course, kids wonder: why am I me – and not someone else? There are no simple answers, of course, but Britt’s book provides kids a way to express their wonder at being alive.

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds

Time for a break! After all of that thinking about “big questions,” we all need something more lighthearted, and this is just the book.  Jasper Rabbit (the star of Creepy Carrots!) is back – and he’s older and braver – until the lights go out and his new underwear begin to glow….

I hope you had a wonderful and restful summer.  A new year of stories from the school library begins tomorrow!


Book-Themed Days in Maine…


I spent a few days in Maine last week, and as wonderful as it was, I felt agitated. We spent the days outside enjoying beautiful ocean views, lobster rolls, and picturesque harbor towns, and then in the evening, we returned to our cottage, turned on the news, and were stunned by the images on TV.  Like many people, I felt off balance.  Were the words “very fine people, on both sides”  really being spoken by the person who is supposed to unite and heal our country?

When school opens, Inly’s students will be welcomed to the library with a display of new books that are beautiful and inspiring. Libraries are the perfect places to start conversations, share knowledge, and engage with an increasingly diverse world.  These are hard days, but I am grateful for the opportunity to put good words in children’s minds and hearts.

My days in Maine were full of inspiration. We spent an afternoon in Damariscotta, Barbara Cooney’s home until her death in 2000.

The author of Miss Rumphius lived in this house, just down the street from the main commercial area:

A quote from Miss Rumphius greets you at the entrance to the children’s garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. It reads: You must do something to make the world more beautiful.

The gardens are amazing – worth a trip to Boothbay.  And so many book connections!

Among other delightful features, the children’s garden has a story barn which includes books about Maine and the outdoors.

We also stopped at one of our favorite bookstores, Left Bank Books in Belfast.

One of the best parts of being in Maine was the nearness of Charlotte’s Web.  The book shows up almost everywhere – especially if you’re looking for it:

Happy Reading!


Late Summer Thoughts….

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It is still technically summer, but as soon as the calendar turns to August, I can hear the faint sound of the new school year approaching and there are bright orange visual clues in the grocery store where I can already stock up on Halloween candy!  But before I take a couple of weeks away from my blogging life, here are a few things that have caught my attention….

The Great American Read, an eight-part PBS series about the “place of reading in American culture,” will begin next May.  The first episode will be a two-hour program featuring a list of America’s 100 best-loved books – and the last week will include the top ten titles.  I think it’s a safe bet that To Kill a Mockingbird will be #1.  The Great Gatsby?  Huckleberry Finn?  Charlotte’s Web? The guessing begins…

Earlier this week, I walked through the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston and learned that Catie, star of the Catie Copley picture books, died in May. But Gracie, her successor as the hotel lobby ambassador, is just as welcoming and lovable.

During a recent trip to Philadelphia, we visited the Benjamin Franklin Museum where this interesting box was on display:

The “Lion’s Mouth Box” was used by members of the Library Company of Philadelphia to leave suggestions.  If there was a book you wanted in the library collection, you left the title in the “Lion’s Mouth.”  Note that it was only “gentlemen” who could make suggestions.

In a display about Franklin’s childhood, I found this quote from his Autobiography:

“From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books.”  I could relate completely. His quote reminded me of when I first began making money from babysitting and would spend it as soon as I could get to a bookstore.

I also read a book this week – The Losers Club by Andrew Clements.  Clements is one of the most popular authors for middle grade readers, and I wanted to be ready to talk with kids about it when school starts next month. As always, Clements captures the reality of school life perfectly, and this book has the added bonus of being about books and reading!  It’s about a sixth-grade boy named Alec who loves to read so much that he often misses what his teachers are saying because he’s reading something else. When he finds out that he has to join an after school club, he decides to start his own and call it the Losers Club so other kids will stay away.  A quiet club means more time to read. But of course, things don’t go exactly as planned.

The Losers Club should go on display with Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein and Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.  Rather than a “loser’s club,” there could be a club for kids who want to read books about books!

On a completely different note, this was also the summer I went to my first book-themed bathroom…

When I was in Amherst for the Emily Dickinson program, one of our classes was in a building on the Amherst College campus. During a “bio break,” we discovered the Harry Potter-themed bathroom – immediately obvious to one of my classmates when she recognized the Mirror of Erised…

We all took pictures before returning to class!

And last but certainly not least…

Our niece’s daughter with a book that is clearly worthy of taking down the slide!

I hope the end of your summer includes a slide – and a book!