Coy, J. (1996). Night Driving. New York: Henry Holt.
A boy and his father share a drive through the night. They sing cowboy songs, watch the sun set, talk about baseball and stopping at an all-night diner. The boy hopes to stay awake long enough to see mountains for the first time.
This simple story delightfully captures the bond between a father and son on a late-night drive during the 1950s. The black-and-white pencil illustrations capture the feeling of moonlight on the plains and accentuate the adventure that the father and son are sharing. The story is both relatable for any child whose parents have let them stay up later than usual for a special event and engaging: Will the boy be able to stay awake long enough to see mountains for the first time?
Frame, J.A. (2003). Yesterday I had the blues. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle.
This vividly illustrated book uses a young boy’s description of his feelings using the metaphor of colors to describe the range of feelings people experience. Yesterday the narrator had the blues and today he had the greens. Perhaps tomorrow he’ll have the silvers?
The bright illustrations and cleverly crafted prose of this book capture young readers’ interest as they introduce those readers to metaphors that are integral to interacting with and understanding the world around them: The metaphoric link between colors and moods. Young readers are also reminded of the importance of family both as the narrator describes his family members’ moods, but also as he describes the “golden” way that his family makes him feel.
Hall, D. (1979). Ox-cart man. New York: Viking.
The ox-cart man sets off for the market with a load of goods produced by his family. What will he see along the way and what, if anything, will he return with?
A Caldecott winner that originated as a poem published in the New Yorker, this classic children’s book tracks the cycle of producing, selling and buying needed goods in a 19th century New Hampshire village. The simple, but profound story will engage younger readers with its illustrations and clear, easy-to-understand language and older readers who will appreciate its message about life’s seasons, needs and cycles.
McMillan, B. (1988). Fire engine shapes. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
Fire engines have shapes of many types, as narrator Stephanie Tamaki found out. Can you spot all of them (and Stephanie herself) in each photo?
This wordless book of photographs introduces young readers to the many shapes on a fire engine. Young readers are encouraged to identify all of the shapes and to find the narrator, who in some pages is barely visible on the photo. Older readers may find the book’s premise and lack of words a little too simple for them, but children of all ages will gain a new perspective on the items around them through the exercise of finding shapes in the photos.
Atinuke (2015). Double trouble for Anna Hibiscus. La Jolla, CA: Kane/Miller
Anna Hibiscus, a young girl living in Africa, is not sure what to do with new twin brothers she names “Double” and “Trouble.” The story begins with Anna Hibiscus leaning against her obviously pregnant mother’s tummy. When she meets the new babies a little later, she tells her cousins “That big bump was brothers.” Her interest and joy are short-lived when, in short order thereafter, the adults in her extended family are either sleeping or too busy for her. Anna hides and cries, until the adults turn their attention to her.
This charming, colorfully and expressively illustrated book not only captures the dynamics of an expanding family, but also offers a snapshot into life in a modern African city. Tobias’ illustrations capture not only Anna’s body language, but also her strong emotions that any older sibling will recognize.
Kellogg, S. (1984). Paul Bunyan. New York: Harper, Collins.
This retelling of a classic American “tall tale” tells the story of a little boy who grows up to be exceptionally large and his pet ox, Babe. Paul and Babe get too big for their home and set off across America. As the legend goes, Paul and Babe help to create many of the prominent landscape features and geographical landmarks of the United States. The story ends on a note of ambiguity as the thunder that is heard above the Alaskan Mountains is rumored to be not thunder, but Paul’s laughter.
The author/illustrator’s whimsical illustrations add a layer of humor and detail to this classic “tall tale.” It’s fun to look at all of the small details he adds to the illustrations and speculate as to why he might have added them (cats that appear drunk and a milking cow with an extra teat, anyone)? The author also adds story details (like the fact that Paul’s “enthusiasm” for logging is causing problems in the town where they live) that add to the overall narrative. This is one of those books that appears deceptively simple, but that has many layers that even readers who are very familiar with the story of Paul Bunyan will appreciate.
Rylant, C. (2006). Henry and Mudge and the Great-Grandpas. New York: Simon and Schuster.
This installment of the popular easy-reader series features the adventures of Henry and his dog Mudge as they visit Henry’s great-grandfather at his great-grandfather’s retirement home. The pair visit all of the grandpas that live in the retirement home, explore the woods, swim in a secret pond and play checkers. They also listen to the lively the stories of each of these old men.
My three-year-old niece is a huge fan of this series, so it was a no-brainer to read it to her. She seemed pleased by the illustrations and the story line, so I suppose that means it was a success! Rylant treats the subjects of aging and the life of the elderly with her characteristic humor and flair.
Parish, H. (2005). Amelia Bedelia, Bookworm. New York: Greenwillow Books.
Amelia Bedelia loves to help people and do what she’s told. However, her good intentions may have gone awry in her latest adventure. After Amelia drives off in the bookmobile after a day spent at the library, Amelia runs the risk of “having the book thrown at her” unless she can somehow explain to Mrs. Page, the librarian, that she was just trying to help out.
My niece loves this series, also, so I thought it would be an appropriate selection. I find some of Amelia’s hijinks to be a bit improbable, but I think the target audience appreciates the simple-to-follow story lines and easily-resolved dilemmas. As ever, the colorful illustrations seem to engage young readers and help to illuminate the drama.
McCloskey, R. (1943). Homer Price. New York: Viking Press.
This classic work of fiction tells a series of stories about Homer, a young boy living two miles out of Centerburg, where Route 56 meets 56A. Homer’s many friends and relatives, who include Aunt Aggy, Uncle Ulysses, the Sheriff and the boys, Miss Terwilliger and Miss Naomi Enders, live in town. These six farcical vignettes provide a humorous interpretation of small-town life Midwestern America in the 1930s and 1940s.
Homer Price was one of my favorite childhood books and it was my great joy to revisit it after so many years. Like the Peanuts comic strips I love dearly, Homer Price tells the story of a version of America that was long-gone by the time I was a boy and probably will be unintelligible to my kids when I read it to them. Just the same, I will be sure to read it to them to see what they think and whether they can relate to the stories and the book’s themes.
Milne, A.A. (1927). Now we are six. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd.
This classic collection of thirty-five poems deals with Christopher Robin’s childhood experiences and his coming to terms with the world around him. The poems talk about childhood illnesses, parents and summer adventures.
I was always a big fan of the Winnie-the-Pooh series growing up, but had a harder time appreciating Milne’s verse. It was a pleasure to revisit this book and appreciate Milne’s clear, simple and soft verses that reflect a child’s evolving sensibility and understanding of the world. Reading these verses made me think about my own childhood and I will be interested to share them with my kids one day.
Bryant, J. & Sweet, M. (2014). The right word: Roget and his thesaurus. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s.
Peter Mark Roget, a young, reclusive book lover, preferred the company of books over kids his age. Peter began writing his own book at a young age; however, rather he chose to write lists of words he loved rather than stories. By combining his lists and by trying to seek out exactly the right word to express what he meant, Peter put together Roget’s Thesaurus, one of the must-have reference books for any writer.
I loved the concept of this book! The authors very cleverly imagine the story of Roget and the writing of his thesaurus. As a lover of Roget’s work I thought this re-imagining of his creative process was a fabulous introduction to the subject for young readers who might be too early in their process of learning to read to understand or appreciate what a thesaurus is. Plus, this vividly illustrated introduction just might encourage a few more new readers to pick up a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus when they are ready to do so!
Rockcliff, M. (2015). Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Christopher Ludwick, a German native, came to the Colonies as a young man looking to set up his own bakery. He did so and baked wonderful gingerbread for his town. When the Revolutionary War began, he joined Washington’s army and quickly jumped into action as a baker to address the soldiers’ hunger and complaints about poor food. Ludwick’s food also helped him to convince mercenaries hired by the King of England to lay down their arms.
This story is a bit short on details, an oversight rectified in the author’s note. That’s too bad, because the story of this little-known American patriot both deserves to be told and is entirely relatable for the younger readers for which it is intended. This is the type of book I’d love to share with a group of young children to add to their understanding of history, albeit with some supplemental information to help them better understand Ludwick’s life. Fortunately, the wonderful illustrations add a lot to the experience of the story.
Hoberman, M. (2009). All kinds of families! Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co.
Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman asks what it means to be a family in this charming book of verse. Hoberman shows that families of all size, shape and type are all around us. Everyday objects like buttons, celery stalks, bottle caps and rings, can be grouped together to form families, just like our families.
I thought that this book was a beautifully written and very relatable introduction to diversity for young children and beginning readers. The idea that families are all around us in the collections of things that we see is easy to understand even for young children and helps to de-mystify the idea that families can be made up of many types of people from many different backgrounds.
Chambers, A. (1999). Postcards from no man’s land. New York: Penguin.
This coming-of-age story follows a young man who journeys to Amsterdam to honor his grandfather by placing flowers on his grandfather’s grave. The trip takes an unexpected turn when Jacob, the young man, finds himself falling in love with another young man, raising questions about his sexuality. Jacob also learns that his grandfather’s experiences in Amsterdam were not exactly as they had seemed when he meets Geertrui, the young woman who nursed Jacob’s grandfather during World War Two. Geertrui’s experiences with Jacob’s grandfather mirror the protagonist’s struggles with his own unexpected change of heart.
Challenged for its focus on a young man dealing with feelings of love for another young man, this story is a sweet and lush coming-of-age story that eloquently captures the unexpected ways that our lives change. I appreciated the author’s sensitive handling of the protagonist’s emerging identity and personal struggle as well as the way that the author weaved together stories old and new.
Pirsig, R. (1974). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. New York: Macmillan Audio.
A best-selling classic upon its initial publication more than forty years ago, this “inquiry into values” uses the story of a father and son’s cross-country motorcycle trip to demonstrate the value of pursuing quality in one’s work. Woven through the story are vignettes about the road, small digressions on motorcycle maintenance and the narrator’s quest for self-discovery and self-identity after an at-times-troubled past.
I realize this may not be YA literature for all, but I first read this book when my parents and I were traveling cross-country when I was 15. I have revisited it periodically over the years and thought it would be funny to do so in the form of an audiobook. I generally agree with the author’s comment in an introduction to one of his editions that the book is neither particularly factual about Zen Buddhism nor about motorcycle maintenance. It remains an interesting bit of Americana that I hope would find some traction with teens today.
Carroll, L. (2013). Alice’s adventures in wonderland and Through the looking glass [Kindle edition]. New York: HarperCollins
Alice lives a quiet life until one day she follows the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole. She suddenly finds herself in a world surrounded by creatures like the Mad Hatter, the Duchess, and the Cheshire Cat. Alice quickly realizes that nothing in Wonderland is the least bit ordinary.
The format change didn’t add a lot to this classic; however, I think this is the kind of book that might benefit from an electronic format. If well done (a big if, but still), the existing illustrations in this fanciful classic might be brought to life in a way that would add to, rather than distract from, the vivid and unusual story and plot.
Duck Duck Moose (2016). Princess fairy tale maker (Version 2.1) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id527336678?ign-mpt=uo%3D4
This app allows young children to create their own fairy tales using a variety of characters and elements. Users can “draw” on this screen using virtual crayons and can “voice” characters using their own voice. They can also move the resulting scenes around to simulate animated characters.
As mentioned I have a three-year-old niece and as we all know we’ve discussed diversity writ large at some length. I was a little concerned when I saw this app because it seemed like exactly the sort of thing you wouldn’t want your little kid playing with: An app that shows little girls (or little boys) stereotyped images of fairy tale princesses in fairy tale settings. Unfortunately, the app was pretty much as I expected, with little sophistication and little consideration of diversity. I certainly wouldn’t want my niece playing with it and I don’t think I’d recommend it to a patron’s child.
Hanevald, A. (Producer) & Gubbels, S. (Director). (2011). Through Ellen’s ears [Motion Picture]. The Netherlands: Hollandse Helden.
“Through Ellen’s Ears” is a moving, 18 minute film that tracks the struggle of a young girl and her family as they wrestle with the decision of which school she will attend as she graduates from elementary school.
Filmed in the Netherlands, “Through Ellen’s Ears” tracks the story of Ellen and her friend Myrthe, two eleven-year-old girls with hearing loss. Ellen wishes to avoid the isolation of an all-deaf boarding school, but her total deafness may prevent her from being accepted into “regular” or “hard-of-hearing” schools.
Though short in length and spare in dialogue, the film leaves the viewer with a powerful impression not only of the experience of being deaf, but also of challenge of coming of age as a young woman with deafness in the “hearing” world.
An award-winner at film festivals around the globe, “Through Ellen’s Ears” is appropriate for middle-school, high-school and adult audiences, all of whom will engage with the film’s themes in different ways. A link to the film is here: https://vimeo.com/53206443