Lasting Connections of 2003

Another year brought boxes and boxes of new children’s titles to Book Links’ offices. After reading, weeding, and much soul searching, we have put together a list of favorite titles for 2003. The books below were chosen for effective, solid writing, imaginative art, and engaging presentation of information, and all have strong possibilities for classroom use.

Picture Books

Aylesworth, Jim. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Illus. by Barbara McClintock. 2003. 32p. Scholastic, $15.95 (0-439-39545-3).

Preschool–Gr. 2. In this spirited retelling of the familiar tale, a feisty Goldilocks forgets “not to do things that her mother told her not to do” and lands in trouble when she raids the three bears’ house. Printed on thick, creamy paper, McClintock’s detailed, Victorian-inspired artwork lends the story richness, while Aylesworth’s keen ear for rhythmic language makes this perfect for reading aloud.

Ichikawa, Satomi. My Pig Amarillo. 2003. 32p. Philomel, $15.99
(0-399-23768-2).

Preschool–Gr. 2. Pablito is ecstatic when his grandpa presents him with a yellow pig, which Pablito names Amarillo—and he is equally crushed when Amarillo disappears. In this story set in Guatemala, Ichikawa poignantly captures the joy of having a best friend of the animal sort, as well as the heartbreak of losing a pet. Pablito’s grief is as emotionally charged as his love for his pig, but Ichikawa’s conversational telling and beautifully expressive watercolors never manipulate. Ultimately, Grandpa helps Pablito find an appropriate way to say good-bye to Amarillo, and readers and listeners will appreciate the comforting but realistic conclusion.

Jenkins, Steve, and Robin Page. What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? 2003. 32p. Houghton, $15 (0-618-25628-8).

Preschool–Gr. 2. As with Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution (Houghton, 2002), Jenkins once again employs graphic, textured, cut-paper art and a generous use of white space to convey the natural world to younger readers, this time with a coauthor. Pairs of double-page spreads begin with a question (“What do you do with a nose like this?”) and illustrations of a particular body part from a variety of “mystery” animals. Upon turning the page, readers find a complete illustration of each animal with information on how each uses its nose, eyes, ears, tail, and more. Perfect for group sharing, this title also features additional information on each animal’s physical adaptations at the back of the book.

Long, Melinda. How I Became a Pirate. Illus. by David Shannon. 2003. 44p. Harcourt, $16 (0-15-201848-4).

Preschool–Gr. 3. Shannon’s hilarious portrayal of a coarse pirate crew animates this fanciful story of a modern-day boy’s adventures aboard their ship. When young Jeremy meets the fearsome-looking sailors on the beach, he decides to join them. But despite the many pleasures of pirating (no vegetables, table manners, or bathing), Jeremy soon finds that there are downsides to the business as well and grows eager to return home. Shannon’s goofy, vibrant acrylics feature pirates aplenty, and the first-person telling is fresh and appealing.

McDermott, Gerald. Creation. 2003. 32p. Dutton, $16.99
(0-525-46905-2).

Preschool–Gr. 2. Master folklorist McDermott deftly turns his attention to the Creation story from Genesis in this sumptuous picture book. Told in the first person from the point of view of the Creator, the spare, lyrical text springs to life through McDermott’s bold, double-page gesso-and-fabric paintings that depict the evolving world, from sky and sea to man and woman. Share this beautiful retelling with a selection of other Creation stories, including Phyllis Root’s lighthearted Big Momma Makes the World (Candlewick, 2003).

O’Malley, Kevin. Mount Olympus Basketball. 2003. 32p. Walker, $15.95 (0-8027-8844-0).

Gr. 2–5. Greek mythology and basketball? O’Malley shoots and scores with this humorous spoof pitting a team of Greek gods and goddesses against five mighty mortals in a no-holds-barred game of hoops. Cheerful toga-clad sports announcers call the game, which often gets dirty, as when Hera turns the ref into a cow. At halftime a double-page spread on ancient Greece gives a brief overview of that civilization’s culture. Dynamic acrylics put readers at the heart of the action, and cheeky sportscasting and court talk lend authenticity to the game. For readers who are new to Greek mythology, a bibliography and list of Web sites are included.

Reynolds, Peter H. The Dot. 2003. 32p. Candlewick, $14 (0-7636-1961-2).

Gr. 2–5. This fable employs few words and simple watercolor-and-ink drawings to tell of Vashti, who is convinced she can’t draw. When her teacher challenges her to “make a mark and see where it takes you,” Vashti makes a solitary dot on her paper. Eventually, that dot and the caring teacher spur Vashti to explore her subject further, as she mixes colors, varies dot sizes, and even paints a dot “by not painting a dot.” Ultimately Vashti’s newfoundcreative spark rubs off on a classmate, starting the cycle again. In other hands this story about the power of the creative spirit could be preachy and overdone, but Reynolds keeps the voice fresh and the message subtle.

Shannon, George. Tippy-Toe Chick, Go! Illus. by Laura Dronzek. 2003. 32p. Greenwillow, $15.99 (0-06-029823-5).

Preschool–Gr. 1. In this playfully told story, Little Chick and his family trek to the garden every day looking for “sweet itty-bitty beans and potato bugs.” But what will they do when a gruff dog blocks their way? After her older siblings unsuccessfully try to clear the way, Little Chick’s clever trick solves the problem and saves the day. Storyteller Shannon’s bouncy text and Dronzek’s vibrant acrylics make this tale about the self-confident chick perfect for storytime.

Novels

Buchanan, Jane. The Berry-Picking Man. Illus. by Leslie Bowman. 2003. 96p. Farrar, $15 (0-374-40610-3).

Gr. 3–5. Jump-start your next classroom ethics discussion with this thought-provoking chapter book. Nine-year-old Meggie is angry that her mother has befriended Old Sam, the local “berry-picking man” and a former psychiatric hospital resident. Meggie is ashamed of herself for not liking Old Sam because he smells bad and embarrasses her, but she also feels put upon for being expected to be his friend, especially when her sisters and father don’t seem to be held as accountable. This multifaceted story, marked by Bowman’s expressive watercolors, authentically explores the nature of empathy and compassion.  

Cushman, Karen. Rodzina. 2003. 224p. Clarion, $16 (0-618-13351-8).

Gr. 5–9. In 1881 Chicago, Rodzina is a chubby, anxious, tough orphan, who, with 21 other foundlings, embarks on a train journey west in the hopes of finding a new home and family. Cushman’s memorable cast of characters and sharp attention to historical detail make readers feel like fellow travelers, and Rodzina’s near-miss adoptions (first with two old maids who need a workhorse and then as a potential child bride) demonstrate the true perils of her situation. Ultimately, Rodzina’s perseverance at finding the right sort of home pays off. This witty historical novel includes an author’s note on the history of orphan trains and a list of related reading.

Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. The Conch Bearer. 2003. 272p. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $16.95 (0-7613-1935-2).

Gr. 5–8. Before his father left Kolkata, India, to find work, 12-year-old Anand had a happy home and school life. But no one has heard from Anand’s father in months, and Anand and his sister and mother have had to move into a one-room shack, while Anand works long hours to help make ends meet. All that changes when Anand meets a mysterious healer named Abhaydatta, who has set out to retrieve a magical conch, a revered object that has fallen into the wrong hands. Anand and Nisha, a street girl, accompany Abhaydatta on his quest, which eventually leads them to the enchanted Silver Valley in the Himalayas. Divakaruni keeps readers guessing in this action-packed fantasy that will appeal to Harry Potter fans.

McCaughrean, Geraldine. Stop the Train! 2003. 304p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0-06-050749-7).

Gr. 5–9. Loosely based on the history of Enid, Oklahoma, this madcap tall tale follows 12-year-old Cissy Sissney, her parents, and their newfound neighbors as they arrive en masse in Florence, a town that has yet to be built along the just-finished Red Rock Railroad line. When unfortunate circumstances cause trains to bypass the fledgling settlement, potentially dooming it to oblivion, the townspeople’s relentless determination comes into play as they use bullets, snowdrifts, and rancid lard in various schemes designed to stop the train. McCaughrean’s colorful characterizations—from the illiterate schoolmistress to the stranded Mormon bound for Utah—and her flair for the dramatic give this page-turner zing.

Peck, Richard. The River between Us. 2003. 176p. Dial, $16.99 (0-8037-2735-6).

Gr. 7–up. As in Fair Weather (Dial, 2001), Peck expertly brings an era to life, in this historical novel set in a small Illinois town on the Mississippi at the opening of the Civil War. Fifteen-year-old Tilly Pruitt’s life becomes much more exciting when her mother takes in two stranded steamboat travelers from New Orleans. Delphine is a flamboyant belle who catches Tilly’s twin brother’s eye, while Calinda, who may or may not be Delphine’s slave, captivates Tilly’s sister with her card-reading and visions. But all is not what it seems with the Pruitts’ visitors, and as Tilly learns more about Delphine and Calinda, she also begins to discover the degree to which the war will impact her life. Framed by a grandson’s retelling 50 years later, this suberb novel is marked by Peck’s deft storytelling and compelling characterizations.

Spinelli, Jerry. Milkweed. 2003. 224p. Knopf, $15.95 (0-375-81374-8).

Gr. 7–up. In this suspenseful historical novel, an orphaned boy survives in Warsaw at the outbreak of World War II and eventually inhabits the Warsaw ghetto until it is emptied of its inhabitants. Named Misha by another street boy who invents an identity for him, the narrator straightforwardly tells of his raw and gritty existence, as well as the hope powering his will to survive. Readers are dropped straight into the action, with little background on Nazis, the ghetto, or the events of the Holocaust, but Spinelli’s gripping narration will keep them turning the pages. Not for the squeamish, the harrowing scenes of human misery portrayed here are made all the more compelling by the fact that they actually happened.

Woodson, Jacqueline. Locomotion. 2003. 128p. Putnam, $15.99 (0-399-23115-3).

Gr. 3–6. In this novel in verse, Woodson’s poignant depiction of 11-year-old Lonnie Motion, who lost his parents four years before in a house fire, shows the power of poetry to alleviate grief and anger. Lonnie and his little sister have been placed in separate foster homes, and as Lonnie continues to deal with the pain of separation and loss, his fifth-grade teacher shows him how to put words together to create poems. “Write it down before it leaves your brain,” she says, and Lonnie takes her advice to heart, writing sonnets, haiku, and rap about both his new life and his family memories. The variety of poetic forms makes this a good choice for classroom use.

Poetry

The Kingfisher Book of Family Poems. Edited by Belinda Hollyer. Illus. by Holly Swain. 2003. 224p. Kingfisher, $18.95 (0-7534-5557-9).

K–Gr. 5. Whether the subject is aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, grandparents, stepfamilies, or pets, this British-flavored anthology of poems about families covers all the bases. A legion of poet greats is featured—from Shel Silverstein to James Berry to Jack Prelutsky—and Swain’s likable cartoon line drawings appear on selected spreads. Readers will find realistic reflections of their own families here, whether it’s an annoying sibling, a kind stepparent, or a nutty grandma, and poems about adoption, separated parents, and foster care are included as well. Use this balanced collection as a read-aloud with younger children or as a springboard for poetry-writing sessions about family with older students.

Moses, Will. Will Moses Mother Goose. 2003. 64p. Philomel, $17.99 (0-399-23744-5).

Preschool–Gr. 2. Folk artist Moses brings a clever twist to this collection of more than 50 nursery rhymes and riddles. Pairs of spreads show first a selection of rhymes accompanied by small depictions of each subject. The following spread is a wordless scene, where viewers can search for the characters from previous pages. Children will enjoy poring over Moses’ fanciful, warmhearted oil paintings. An index of first lines,
a page on the identity of Mother Goose, and a bibliography are included.

Biographies

Chandra, Deborah, and Madeleine Comora. George Washington’s Teeth. Illus. by Brock Cole. 2003. 40p. Farrar, $16 (0-374-32534-0).

K–Gr. 3. In this sympathetic portrait of our first president’s dental woes, Chandra and Comora employ short, rollicking verses to tell simultaneously of Washington’s road to the presidency and total toothlessness. Cole’s spry art takes advantage of all the humorous illustration possibilities, from George sneaking Jordan almonds (and losing a tooth) to George being inaugurated (with two teeth), surrounded by toothy, grinning well-wishers. A substantial time line recounts Washington’s military and political achievements as well as his futile efforts to save his teeth. Readers will never look at a portrait of an unsmiling George the same way again.

Cooper, Ilene. Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy. 2003. 176p. Dutton, $22.99 (0-525-46923-0).

Gr. 5–9. Handsomely designed and filled with archival photos, this illuminating biography traces the early life of JFK. Jack’s character-forming rivalry with his older brother, Joe, and the many physical ailments that plagued him are vividly portrayed here, and readers will also gain insight into the Kennedy clan’s rise to prominence. Engaging, fun-to-read source notes offer additional tidbits, and a bibliography, index, and family tree add to this impressive title.

Demi. Muhammad. 2003. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry, $19.95 (0-689-85264-9).

Gr. 3–7. In this beautifully rendered biography, Demi introduces young readers to the prophet Muhammad, from his childhood and first revelation from God to the growing popularity of Islam and his role as leader of the new religion. Inspired by two-dimensional Persian miniatures, Demi’s delicately painted story panels incorporate a variety of Islamic elements and depict Muhammad as a golden silhouette, in keeping with the idea that the prophet should not be represented as a human form. Pair this exquisite book with David Macaulay’s Mosque (Houghton/Walter Lorraine, 2003).

Fleming, Candace. Ben Franklin’s Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman’s Life. 2003. 128p. Simon & Schuster/Anne Schwartz, $19.95 (0-689-83549-3).

Gr. 6–10. Taking inspiration from Poor Richard’s Almanack, this browser’s delight of a biography uses a scrapbook structure to narrate Franklin’s life and accomplishments. Each page features a series of anecdotal text boxes highlighting various events and happenings and may be read in whatever order readers choose. Fleming uses Franklin’s own words along with period engravings and documents throughout. This fascinating, lively account of one of the most colorful figures in American history offers much to readers both new to or already familiar with Franklin’s life and times.

Greenberg, Jan. Romare Bearden: Collage of Memories. 2003. 48p. Abrams, $17.95 (0-8109-4589-4).

Gr. 3–9. Veteran arts chronicler Greenberg masterfully presents the work of collage artist Bearden in this biography that reveals as much about African Americans in the twentieth century as it does about the artist’s life. Greenberg’s lyrical, accessible text never talks over readers’ heads, and she smoothly integrates Bearden’s own words about his art and life throughout. This oversize title features a vibrant, open page design with brightly colored boxes of text, archival photographs, and sharp reproductions of the collages. A time line, list of additional reading, and glossary are included.

Krull, Kathleen. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. Illus. by Yuyi Morales. 2003. 48p. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-201437-3).

Gr. 2–5. In this thoughtful picture-book biography of one of America’s most notable civil rights leaders, Krull begins with Chavez’s tranquil early life and then describes the family’s arduous existence as migrant workers in California after drought destroyed their livelihood. The immense challenges farmworkers faced come through clearly, and Krull effectively puts Chavez’s struggles and successes into context as he began a lifelong fight for fair and safe working conditions. Morales’ sumptuous acrylics saturate the spreads and contrast lush farm landscapes with grim depictions of field labor.

Niven, Penelope. Carl Sandburg: Adventures of a Poet. Illus. by Marc Nadel. 2003. 32p. Harcourt, $17 (0-15-204686-0).

   Gr. 2–6. The accomplished author of an adult biography of Sandburg pays tribute to the poet in this thoughtfully rendered picture book. Approaching the multifaceted Sandburg by subject rather than chronologically, Niven cleverly uses double-page spreads with labels such as “Vagabond,” “Journalist,” and “Family Man” to pair accessible information on various aspects of his life with his poems and other writings. Nadel’s extensively researched watercolor-and-crosshatch art is warm and nostalgic. Illustration notes and a time line round out this fine title.

Nonfiction

Aliki. Ah, Music! 2003. 48p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0-06-028719-5).

Gr. 1–3. With her signature cartoon-style layout and plenty of cheery spot art and balloon dialogue, Aliki tackles the subject of music in an easily understood manner. Whether defining musical terms such as pitch and tone, explaining the types of instruments in an orchestra, covering different kinds of dance, or outlining the history of music, Aliki packs information into her presentation without overwhelming the reader. This splendid introduction has much to offer both music lovers and those who are not as familiar with the subject.

Christelow, Eileen. Vote! 2003. 48p. Clarion, $16 (0-618-24754-8).

Gr. 2–5. Using the framework of a local mayoral election and narration by a candidate’s endearing pet dogs, Christelow patiently and engagingly explains the election process, including debating, volunteering, fund-raising, and voter apathy, not to mention the history of voter rights and negative campaigning. Bright watercolors in a comic-style format feature both straight text and lots of witty balloon dialogue, and a glossary, time line of voter rights, page on political parties, and additional resources make this an excellent classroom resource.

Freedman, Russell. In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights. 2003. 208p. Holiday, $24.95 (0-8234-1585-6).

Gr. 5–10. Covering one amendment in each chapter, Freedman gives an impressive, direct overview of the Bill of Rights, providing historical background and easily-understood accounts of the key Supreme Court cases interpreting each amendment. Readers will come away with a stronger grasp of American history, from the American Revolution to the civil rights movement, as well as the essential role of the Supreme Court in shaping society. An excellent classroom discussion starter for topics ranging from flag burning to capital punishment, this title features endnotes, an index of Supreme Court cases, and a bibliography.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924. 2003. 144p. Orchard, $17.95 (0-439-37590-8).

Gr. 5–up. Focusing on five young immigrants to America from southern and eastern Europe, Hopkinson portrays the difficult, hardscrabble existence of the tenements of New York’s Lower East Side. With archival photos and succinct descriptions, the volume is sprinkled with direct quotes from the immigrants themselves, lending immediacy and a sense of daily life. These personal stories effectively demonstrate the dramatic life changes and challenges of that time and place.

Leedy, Loreen, and Pat Street. There’s a Frog in My Throat! 440 Animal Sayings a Little Bird Told Me. 2003. 48p. Holiday, $16.95 (0-8234-1774-3).

Gr. 2–5. Buffaloed by animal sayings? Pick up a copy of this inventive picture book and you’ll be in hog heaven. Oversize double-page spreads illustrated with Leedy’s characteristically whimsical art are chock-full of figures of speech organized by animal (including pigs, birds, sheep, and cats). Each saying is accompanied by its meaning and an often literal visual depiction, from butterflies fluttering in a stomach to a goose sporting bumps. Ideal for ESL students and browsers, this imaginative title also includes a useful index of featured animals.

Stanley, Jerry. Cowboys and Longhorns: A Portrait of the Long Drive. 2003. 96p. Crown, $18.95 (0-375-81565-1).
Gr. 5-up. Like Russell Freedman's In the Days of the Vaqueros (Clarion, 2001), Stanley's grim, gritty depiction of cowboy life offers a startlingly different view of one of the most romanticized figures in American history, but here the focus is on the Long Drive. This arduous journey involved cowboys, mustangs, and longhorn cattle as they traveled from Texas to Kansas in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. Stanley's gripping prose blows away stereotypes, and his graphic descriptions of the brutal capture of wild longhorns, the daily threats to a cowboy's life, and the horror of a stampede make for a vivid portrayal. Stills from Hollywood westerns and period drawings and photos effectively contrast the perceived view of the cowboy with reality.