Lasting Connections of 2006

by Laura Tillotson

Another year has passed, and it’s time to pick our favorite 2006 books with strong ties to the curriculum. The titles below are outstanding, with compelling writing, imaginative art, and an engaging presentation of information. They all have strong possibilities for classroom use but could also be read or shared just for fun.

Picture Books

Farmer, Nancy.
Clever Ali. Illus. by Gail de Marcken. 2006. 40p. Orchard, $17.99 (9780439370141).

Gr. 1–4. In this lengthy Middle Eastern folktale told in the spirit of The Arabian Nights, seven-year-old Ali works for his father at the pigeon loft in the sultan’s palace. When Ali disobeys orders and overfeeds a young bird in training, the results are disastrous, and the evil sultan demands that the boy complete a seemingly impossible task as punishment. If he fails, his father will be thrown into the oubliette, a deep black hole with a terrible demon at the bottom. de Marcken’s lush watercolors incorporate Arabic designs and calligraphy throughout, and Farmer’s effective storytelling will captivate young listeners.

Foreman, Michael.
Mia’s Story: A Sketchbook of Hopes and Dreams. 2006. 32p. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763630638).

Gr. 1–3. In this affecting picture book about a girl in the Chilean Andes, Foreman uses a sketchbook format with double-page illustrations as well as small vignettes that portray Mia and her papa’s impoverished village. What could be a sad chronicle of a family living in dire poverty turns into an adventure when Papa brings home a stray puppy. Mia loves the dog, but when he goes missing, she looks for him without success. Her search leads her to a new discovery—beautiful flowers high in the mountains, which she transplants and later sells in the city market. This is a realistic, heartwarming portrait of life in South America.

Manushkin, Fran.
The Shivers in the Fridge. Illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky. 2006. 40p. Dutton, $16.99 (9780525469438).

Preschool–Gr. 2. When storytime needs a boost, pull out this hysterical story about the long-suffering Shivers family, who mysteriously finds itself living in a pitch-black, bone-chilling landscape dotted by Egg Valley, Buttery Cliff, and Cheesy Square. Every once in a while, “the whole world began to shake, and a great blazing light shone forth,” and then a terrible monster snatched something away. Jelly and Mt. Ketchup disappear and return with regularity, but when the Shivers each set out to discover a warmer place to live, they disappear one by one, until only poor Sonny is left. With Zelinsky’s large, energetic illustrations, Manushkin’s hilarious story is a keeper.

McLeod, Bob.
Superhero ABC. 2006. 32p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (9780060745141).

K–Gr. 3. When superheroes come to mind, you might not immediately think of Goo Girl, who “shoots Great Gobs of Goo at Gangsters,” or Upside-down Man, who “wears his Uniform Under his Underwear,” but you will after reading this alphabetical compendium of evil-fighters. McLeod’s comic-artist background is evident in the oversize illustrations. Each hero appears in full use of his or her powers, complete with alliterative side comments (“She grins and giggles with glee!”). Action-packed and perfect for imitating in the classroom, this ABC book will not stay long on the shelves.

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.
Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons. Illus. by Jane Dyer. 2006. 40p. HarperCollins, $12.99 (9780060580810).

Preschool–Gr. 1. This appealing primer on proper behavior centers on a universal favorite—cookies. Dyers’ charming animal and child characters utilize cookies as they demonstrate abstract concepts such as regret, which means, “I really wish I didn’t eat so many cookies.” Perfect for use with groups, this accessible, gentle guide to good conduct will spark discussion.

Tingle, Tim.
Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom. Illus. by Jeanne Rorex Bridges. 2006. 40p. Cinco Puntos, $17.95 (9780938317777).

Gr. 2–4. This cross-cultural picture book provides an intriguing glimpse of relations between Choctaw Indians and African American slaves in the 1800s. When Martha Tom, a young Choctaw girl, crosses the river dividing her people’s land and the neighboring plantations, she befriends Little Mo, a slave, and ultimately leads him and his family to freedom. Tingle’s storytelling background comes through in the narrative’s dramatic tone, and Bridges’ full-page paintings are striking and immediate. A note on Choctaws today and Choctaw storytelling concludes the book.

Wood, Douglas.
Nothing to Do. Illus. by Wendy Anderson Halperin. 2006. 32p. Dutton, $16.99 (9780525476566).

Preschool–Gr. 2. This nostalgic look at the pleasures of free time begins, “Once in a while, along comes a day when there is nothing—absolutely, positively nothing . . . to do. And isn’t that great?” Interconnected vignettes flow across each spread and show children enjoying a range of imaginative activities. Halperin arranges the scenes according to patterns in nature, and explains in a note that these patterns sometimes resemble her own creative process. While the message about the benefits of unscheduled time comes across rather strongly, the images of children building forts, making toy ships from sticks, and watching the clouds go by is a good reminder that “sometimes, doing nothing is the most important thing” of all.


Almond, David.
Clay. 2006. 256p. Delacorte, $15.95 (9780385731713).

Gr. 6–9. In this psychological thriller, teenaged Davie is a Catholic altar boy who for the most part stays out of trouble. When a new boy with a questionable past named Stephen moves to town, Davie is alternately drawn to and repelled by his unusual manner. Stephen’s talent is creating clay figures, and one day he shows Davie how he can make one come alive in his hand. Gradually Stephen convinces Davie that with his help, they can create a life-size monster that will obey their every wish. With spot-on dialogue, excellent characterization, and a page-turning plotline, this dark, eerie novel wrestles with some of life’s biggest questions.

Dunrea, Olivier.
Hanne’s Quest. 2006. 96p. Philomel, $16.99 (9780399242168).

Gr. 2–4. From the first page of this lovely illustrated novel, readers and listeners will be rooting for Mem Pockets, a kindly old woman who lives on a farm. When Mem unexpectedly finds herself in overwhelming debt, it’s up to her hens to help her save the farm. To do so, one of them must go on a quest and learn the Secret of Laying Golden Eggs. Hanne volunteers for the job and sets off to seek the secret. After many adventures and narrow escapes, Hanne proves her bravery, purity, and wisdom and is able to return home triumphant. Rich full-page oil paintings accompany each chapter, and Dunrea’s telling effectively captures the magical Scottish setting.

Gutman, Dan.
The Homework Machine. 2006. 160p. Simon & Schuster, $15.95 (9780689876783).

Gr. 4–6. When three other kids in his fifth-grade class discover that Brenton has invented a machine that does homework, they soon become caught in a secret that spins out of control. Told from the students’ points of view as well as those of their teacher, parents, and the local police chief, Gutman’s thought-provoking novel touches on intriguing questions about breaking rules, shirking responsibility, and the role of computers in children’s lives. With a compelling subplot about a dad called up to serve in the Middle East, this accessible story will leave readers with much to think about.

Larson, Kirby.
Hattie Big Sky. 2006. 304p. Delacorte, $15.95 (9780385733137).

Gr. 7–10. When orphaned Hattie’s uncle leaves her a parcel of land in Montana, Hattie decides to strike out on her own and try to prove up on his homestead claim. By turns humorous, tender, and always realistic, this pioneer story set during World War I features a cast of memorable characters, including a kindly neighbor whose family faces increasing scrutiny because her husband is German. As local prejudices rise and her own patriotism is questioned, Hattie learns important lessons about the meaning of community, home, and family.

Lin, Grace.
The Year of the Dog. 2006. 144p. Little, Brown, $14.99 (9780316060004).

Gr. 3–5. In this lighthearted novel set during the Chinese Year of the Dog, “the year for friends and family” and “a good year to find yourself,” a young Taiwanese American girl growing up in a mostly Caucasian community sets out to do just that. As Grace makes a new school friend and enters a book-writing contest, Lin intersperses related stories about Grace’s parents and grandparents as well as black-and-white spot drawings. Inspired by Carolyn Haywood’s classic Betsy books, which she enjoyed as a child, Lin says in an author’s note that The Year of the Dog “was the book I wished I had had when I was growing up, a book with someone like me in it.”

Lombard, Jenny.
Drita My Homegirl. 2006. 112p. Putnam, $15.99 (9780399243806).

Gr. 3–5. Ten-year-old Drita has just moved from war-torn Kosovo to New York City, and so far she’s having trouble making friends. Maxie is an African American girl in Drita’s fourth-grade class, and she worries that her dad is forgetting her mom, who died in a car accident three years before. When Maxie and Drita are thrown together for a project, they soon find that they can rely on each other as they face the difficulties and challenges in their lives. Told in alternating narratives, the story has a message—that people have more in common than they think—that will spark discussion.

Nuzun, K. A.
A Small White Scar. 2006. 192p. HarperCollins/Joanna Cotler, $15.99 (9780060756390).

Gr. 6–9. The emotional complexities of living with a disabled sibling come boiling to the surface in this raw, compelling story set on a ranch in the 1940s. Ever since their mother died, 15-year-old Will has been “nursemaid” to his twin brother, Denny, and Will has become increasingly bitter and angry about it. Without telling anyone, Will sets out on his horse for the annual rodeo 70 miles away. What he doesn’t count on is Denny’s following him on his own horse, and the ensuing journey tests the limits of the brothers’ relationship. This brutally honest novel tackles tough questions about the meaning of family and responsibility with believable characterizations and a memorable setting.

Pfeffer, Susan Beth.
Life as We Knew It. 2006. 352p. Harcourt, $17 (9780152058265).

Gr. 7–10. Told in a diary format, this natural disaster page-turner follows 16-year-old Miranda and her family in rural Pennsylvania after an asteroid hits the moon and knocks life out of balance on Earth. At first put off by her mother’s new rule, “We have to watch out only for ourselves,” Miranda slowly realizes its logic as school closes, electricity vanishes, volcanoes erupt across the planet, and the sun becomes a rarely seen spectacle. Told over the space of nearly a year, this gripping survival story will captivate readers.

Stanley, Diane.
Bella at Midnight. 2006. 288p. HarperCollins, $15.99 (9780060775735).

Gr. 5–8. Stanley’s richly told fairy tale based on Cinderella is an immensely readable adventure and love story about Bella, who grows up in a peasant’s village not knowing she is of high-born blood. As a child she is close to Prince Julian, who as a young boy once lived with the same village family. As time passes, their vastly different life stations cause them to draw apart, but when a plot comes to light that threatens Julian’s life, Bella alone has the chance to try to stop it. Stanley weaves together a magical mix of medieval lore, spiritual values, and fairy tale elements into the story, and the immediate first-person narrations will keep readers engaged.

Collected Stories

McKissack, Patricia C.
Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, and Other Wily Characters. Illus. by André Carrilho. 2006. 160p. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $18.95 (9780375836190).

Gr. 3–5. The author of The Dark-Thirty offers another winning collection of tall tales, supernatural stories, and down-to-earth anecdotes about what makes humans tick. Carrilho’s full-page black-and-white illustrations effectively extend both the humor and the horror in the stories, which draw on African American history and lore. McKissack heard many of these tales as a young girl on her grandmother’s front porch in Nashville. With appearances by a pie-mooching trickster, the winner of a liars’ contest, and Frank and Jesse James, these rollicking stories are perfect for reading aloud.


Sidman, Joyce.
Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry. Illus. by Michelle Berg. 2006. 32p. Houghton, $16 (9780618448944).

Gr. 2–4. This clever picture book relates the story of a lost dog and an abandoned cat entirely through the use of concrete or shape-based poetry. Berg’s computer-generated artwork incorporates the text of Sidman’s poems; a cloud is depicted as verses set in white type (“plump / bright dome / of sugary white / sky-muffin”), and a driveway is pictured as a strip of gray words running along the bottom of the page (“hard flat welcome mat, brick-thick oil slick blown sand not-land”). As the cat and dog are thrown together during a rainstorm, the two form an unlikely friendship. Fortunately, a happy ending is in store for both characters in this smartly conceived title.

Siebert, Diane.
Tour America: A Journey through Poems and Art. Illus. by Stephen T. Johnson. 2006. 64p. Chronicle, $17.95 (9780811850568).

Gr. 4–7. Johnson’s impressive illustrations, ranging in medium from oil to watercolor to collage to mixed media, distinguish this spirited exploration of American sights. Siebert mainly employs rhyming couplets as she takes readers across the country, from Alaska’s aurora borealis to the Everglades in Florida. A two-page map at the book’s beginning pinpoints each subject’s locale and reinforces small inset maps that appear with each poem. Additional information about the subjects accompanies the verses and adds context. This classroom-friendly geographical poetry collection will inspire reading aloud as well as students’ own poetry-art pairings.

Informational Books

Allen, Susan, and Jane Lindaman.
Written Anything Good Lately? Illus. by Vicky Enright. 2006. 32p. Millbrook, $15.95 (9780761324263).

K–Gr. 3. This follow-up to Read Anything Good Lately? (Millbrook, 2003) starts off, “Written anything good lately?” and then enumerates an A to Z list of types of writing, including “a brilliant book report” and “zigzags and zeros until the next idea comes along.” Enright’s cheerful scenes feature characters in a variety of settings, and it’s easy to see how children could use this friendly book to brainstorm their own list of writing genres, or try their hands at creating fables, greeting cards, haiku, journals, and more.

Bledsoe, Lucy Jane.
How to Survive in Antarctica. 2006. 112p. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823418909).

Gr. 5–8. Part travel journal, part nonfiction book, this engaging title details what Bledsoe learned about “the coldest, windiest, driest” continent during her three trips there. With its emphasis on how scientists and others survive on the continent, readers will find Bledsoe’s conversational narrative fascinating, and subjects such as wildlife, the South Pole, global warming, and Antarctica’s history are included. An attractive design features many sidebars, drawings, and black-and-white photos, and a glossary and historical time line are included.

Cole, Joanna.
The Magic School Bus and the Science Fair Expedition. Illus. by Bruce Degen. 2006. 56p. Scholastic, $15.99 (9780590108249).

Gr. 3–6. Cole and Degen celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their enormously popular series by tackling an enormously challenging topic—the scientific method. What results is a 56-page explanation of the history of science starring Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and others, with the usual jokes, student reports, and, of course, the school bus (though it’s cardboard this time). A “gallery of scientists” spread concludes the book, with Cole and Degen making an appearance of their own. Packed with information and enjoyment, this is a wonderful way to celebrate Ms. Frizzle’s twentieth birthday.

Fradin, Dennis Brindell.
With a Little Luck: Surprising Stories of Amazing Discoveries. 2006. 192p. Dutton, $17.99 (9780525471967).

Gr. 6–9. Focusing on “a-ha” moments in science, Fradin has collected a fascinating group of stories about passionate discoverers and inventors who not only got lucky but were also “observant enough to take advantage of a serendipitous occurrence.” Readers will learn about men and women who led the way in developing anesthesia, implementing hospital hygiene, locating Pluto, discovering pulsars, and more. Black-and-white period illustrations and photos appear throughout, with each chapter focusing on a specific scientist, and an afterword and bibliographical sources are included.

Freedman, Russell.
The Adventures of Marco Polo. Illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline. 2006. 64p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, $17.99 (9780439523943).

Gr. 5–9. Freedman’s beautifully produced title follows the Polo family on their purported journey to and from China, as well as their many years’ stay at the Great Khan’s court. With an open page design and parchment-­colored pages, the book is distinguished by Ibatoulline’s gorgeous full-page illustrations. Two double-page maps show the Polos’ route to and from China, and period illuminations appear throughout. At the heart of this title is Freedman’s masterful writing, which draws readers in with captivating details that never overwhelm the main thread of the Polos’ travels. An author’s note, further information about the art, and an index are included.

Freedman, Russell.
Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 2006. 128p. Holiday, $18.95 (9780823420315).

Gr. 4–7. The Montgomery bus boycott has been covered before in children’s literature, but here Freedman gives readers a riveting day-by-day view of the drama as the African American community overcame formidable obstacles and managed to preserve the yearlong boycott as well as stay committed to nonviolence. The roles of prominent leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and others, are discussed, but the emphasis also turns regularly to ordinary workers and students who risked their jobs and even their safety as they stayed off the buses. With period photographs, source notes, a selected bibliography, and an index, this is an absorbing chronicle that will enlighten readers.

Hannah, Julie, and Joan Holub.
The Man Who Named the Clouds. Illus. by Paige Billin-Frye. 2006. 40p. Albert Whitman, $15.95 (9780807549742).

Gr. 3–5. This intriguing picture-book biography combines the story of Luke Howard, who developed the first cloud-naming system, with a fictional student science project, weather-related jokes, and more. Billin-Frye’s cheerful, cartoonlike illustrations depict the events in Luke’s life in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England, and this main story line is interspersed with pages from modern-day Grace’s weather journal, which includes age-­appropriate activities and clearly explains science concepts. Reproductions of Luke’s cloud paintings and other period illustrations are included, along with a four-page section of sky photos spotlighting the various types of clouds.

Markle, Sandra.
Little Lost Bat. Illus. by Alan Marks. 2006. 32p. Charlesbridge, $15.95 (9781570916564).

Gr. 2–4. Marks’ tender nighttime watercolors distinguish this tale of a little bat who loses his mother but still manages to survive. Filled with factual tidbits, Markle’s spare descriptions tell of the little bat’s birth and early existence clinging to a cave roof in central Texas, where death is part of life, whether due to the “waiting, hungry beetles on the cave floor,” or the snake “lurking at the entrance.” One day little bat’s mother is snatched by a barn owl while out on a hunt. Back at the cave, little bat exhausts himself as he searches for her, until finally he is adopted by a mother who’s lost her own little bat. Steeped in science, this tender picture book is marked by a satisfying against-the-odds ending.

Markle, Sandra.
Rescues! 2006. 88p. Millbrook, $25.26 (9780822534136).

Gr. 4–7. With a dynamic page design, close-up full-color photos, and Markle’s suspenseful writing, these gripping accounts of dramatic rescues will grab readers’ attention. Chapters cover a wide range of real people in extreme situations, from an avalanche victim to miners trapped in an underground tunnel, and Markle incorporates a you-are-there feeling into each telling. Many of the stories include fascinating sidebars about technological equipment used by rescue workers. A glossary, source notes, books and Web sites for further reading, and an index round out this excellent offering.

McCully, Emily Arnold.
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor. 2006. 32p. Farrar, $16 (9780374348106).

K–Gr. 3. The steps that lead Margaret E. Knight (aka “Lady Edison”) to invent a loom safety device at age 12 and a paper bag–making machine as an adult are outlined in this picture-book biography. McCully’s illustrations occasionally appear as split frames and show diagrams of Mattie’s ­inventions—a foot warmer for her mother, a whirligig for her brothers, and later her more noteworthy creations. This inspiring look at a pioneering female inventor includes an author’s note with additional historical information as well as a brief bibliography.

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw.
The Buffalo and the Indians: A Shared Destiny. Photos by William Muñoz. 2006. 96p. Clarion, $18 (9780618485703).

Gr. 5–8. In this informative photo-essay, Patent clearly explains the essential role of the buffalo in Plains Indian history, religion, and lifestyle, as well as the devastating impact of white expansion in the 1800s, as a mandated bison slaughter became part of U.S. military strategy in defeating these tribes. Period illustrations and Muñoz’s full-color photos and photo collages portray Indian life before the arrival of Europeans, while Patent describes the life cycle of the buffalo, bison hunting methods, the effects of white settlement, and the efforts to sustain buffalo herds today. A list of books and Web sites for further reading is included, along with an index.

Sousa, Jean.
Faces, Places, and Inner Spaces: A Guide to Looking at Art. 2006. 48p. Abrams, $18.95 (9780810959668).

Gr. 5–8. Inspired by an exhibit of the same name at the Art Institute of Chicago, this beautifully designed book about art appreciation will interest both artist and non-artist alike. Organized around the themes of “faces” (portraits), “spaces” (scenes and landscapes), and “inner spaces” (the images and ideas that a work of art inspires), Sousa’s down-to-earth discussion asks readers open-ended questions as she examines a range of artworks. The excellent reproduction quality of the artworks helps readers look carefully at the details of each piece, and “ARTfact” sidenotes offer additional information. Also included are a glossary and list of artists featured, and an envelope on the inside back cover contains removable materials for students’ own art projects.