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Earth Day Books

  • April 17, 2010 5:28 am

Christopher's Harvest TimeIn honor of Earth Day (April 22), here is a collection of books with environmental themes from my Girls and Boys lists. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

Christopher’s Harvest Time, by Elsa Beskow
Fiction, ages 4 and up. A charming book about a boy who sees the flowers and plants come alive in his garden. We’ve had this book on our shelf for years, and my boys really enjoyed it when they were younger. A few days ago the younger boy (almost 8 years old) asked me to read it to him again, and imagine my surprise when the older one (12 years old) perched on the arm of the chair and eagerly looked at all the pictures! This book is truly special. It depicts boys who are gentle and in tune with nature, and the pictures are beautiful.


Riparia’s River,
by Michael Caduto
Fiction, ages 5-9. Four children (two girls and two boys) discover that their favorite swimming hole is smelly and overgrown with slimy green stuff. A mysterious woman who calls herself “Riparia” shows them that the water has become polluted due to herbicides and fertilizers from a nearby farm. With Riparia’s guidance, the children work with the farmer to solve the problem. This book combines an environmental message with an example of youth leadership and initiative. Highly recommended!

Sandy’s Incredible Shrinking Footprint, by Femida Handy and Carole Carpenter
Fiction, ages 5-8.  On a trip to the beach, Sandy is horrified at a pile of trash she encouters. As she cleans up the mess, she meets the “Garbage Lady,” an eccentric woman who cleans up the beach. The Garbage Lady teaches Sandy about her environmental “footprint” and how to reduce it. The illustrations were created using recycled and natural material.


The Princess Who Danced with Cranes,
by Annette LeBox
Picture book, ages 4-7. Princess Vivian loves to play in the marsh near her castle, and especially to see the cranes. But when everyone in the kingdom goes bonkers over a new game called Gullywhupper, they fill in the marsh for more lawn to play on. Eventually, Vivian remembers the marsh and the cranes, and convinces her father and others to restore the marsh. Lovely illustrations.


Noah’s Wife: The Story of Naamah,
by Sandy Sasso
Fiction, ages 4 to 8. Noah saved all the animals on earth from destruction by the flood. But what about the plants? In this book we find out that Noah’s wife, Naamah, gathers seeds to save all the plants on earth. Beautiful color illustrations.

The Story of the Root Children, by Sibylle von Olfers
Fiction, ages 4 and up. The root children are boys and girls who bring
the seasons. Beautiful illustrations.

Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet, by Janet Wilson features full-color, two-page spreads about 10 young people from around the world, as well as shorter profiles of 20 more. At the back of the book are suggestions for how readers can get involved and make a difference. My son and I enjoyed reading about William Kamkwamba of Malawi, who put together windmills using salvaged parts; Kruti Parekh of India, who incorporates environmental messages in her magic shows; Fang Minghe of China, who takes photos of illegal wildlife being sold in order to help the police catch these criminals; and all the other young people in this book.

Save My Rainforest, by Monica Zak
Nonfiction, ages 5 and up. The true story of Omar Castillo, who at the age of 8 walked 870 miles with his father in an attempt to save the Lacandon Rainforest in Mexico. An inspiring story!

The Woman Who Outshone the Sun, by Zubizaretta, Rohmer, and Schecter
Folktale, ages 5 and up. Lucia Zenteno arrives in a village and the animals and plants immediately love her. But the people are suspicious and drive her away. When she leaves, the village’s river goes with her. Humbled, the people ask her forgiveness. She returns the river and reminds the villagers to treat even strangers with kindness. This story is part of the oral tradition of the Zapotec Indians of Mexico. Color pictures, English and Spanish text.

Lucky Beans, by Becky Birtha

  • April 3, 2010 7:42 am
lucky beans

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Marshall is sick of the beans his African-American family often eats during the Great Depression. His father is out of work, and relatives are staying at their house. One day Marshall sees a huge jar of beans in the window of the furniture store. The person who guesses the number of beans in the jar will win a sewing machine! Marshall knows his mother could use the machine to earn money for the family.

First, Marshall must counter racism: a white girl tells him that only whites are eligible to win. Instead of believing her, Marshall asks the storekeeper, who tells Marshall that anyone can win.

Marshall’s mother shows him  how to figure out the number of pints in a quart. Marshall remembers what his teacher taught about estimation. With these tips, Marshall and his family come up with an estimate of the number of beans in the jar, and the family ends up winning the sewing machine. There is only one problem: they win the jar of beans too!

This book depicts a boy who learns from the women in his life. The story is based on truth: the author’s grandmother really did win a sewing machine by guessing the number of beans in a jar. Kids will enjoy learning about history and math from this gentle, funny book.

I have included this book on my boys list.

You Can’t Do That, Amelia! by Klier and Kemly

  • March 13, 2010 8:45 am
Amelia

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Throughout her life, Amelia Earhart was often told, “you can’t do that!” This accessible picture book uses this refrain to highlight Earhart’s persistence, creativity, and courage. As a child, she built a kind of “roller coaster” in her yard. As a young woman she worked as a nurse and thought about enrolling in medical school, but airplanes and flying fascinated her. Despite the doubts of others around her, she took flying lessons, bought her own airplanes, started an organization for women pilots, and set records for height and distance. Earhart’s compassion is also emphasized: she stops to help a fellow pilot during an air race.

The book ends with Earhart’s successful transatlantic flight, and does not cover her fatal attempt to fly around the world This allows the book to end on a positive note for young readers. However, the appendix includes a complete biography and timeline of her life.

My 7-year-old son used this book as the basis of a biography project for his 2nd grade class. The book led us to watch a short video online about efforts to search for the truth about Earhart’s disappearance.

I have included this book on my girls list.

Feminist Folk Tales

  • February 20, 2010 7:28 am

Woman who outshone the sunMany traditional folk tales feature men and boys as the heroes. However, there are a number of traditional folk tales showing women and girls as strong, intelligent, and resourceful. Here is a list of books from small publishers. Both girls and boys will enjoy reading or hearing these tales. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

Watch Out for Clever Women, by Joe Hayes

Five traditional Hispanic tales featuring clever women, including “The Day it Snowed Tortillas,” about a woman who prevents robbers from claiming three gold bags her husband found, and “In the Days of King Adobe,” in which an old woman tricks two rogues who try to steal her ham. English and Spanish on the same page.


Pajaro Verde,
by Joe Hayes

A magical tale based on New Mexican folklore. Mirabel falls in love with a green bird (Pajaro Verde) and marries him despite her sisters’ and mother’s jeering. He is of course a prince in disguise, and when he is injured, she must rescue him. Another twist in the story is that Mirabel’s sisters have various numbers of eyes, from nine to one. The illustrations are gorgeous. English and Spanish text.

Mighty Mountain and the Three Strong Women, by Irene Hedlund

A Japanese tale about a wrestler who, on his way to the capital to compete in the Emperor’s wrestling match, encounters three women stronger than he! They help him train for the competition, he wins, and then he returns to marry one of the women. A funny story with beautiful color illustrations.


Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India,
by Uma Krishnaswami

Eighteen folk tales from India, including the story of Chitrangada, who chooses to rule her kingdom rather than remain the wife of a handsome prince; and Supriya, who teaches adults  about compassion. Told in a simple, engaging style.

Tatterhood and Other Tales, by Ethel Johnston Phelps

Twenty-six fun, absorbing tales featuring strong, brave and/or clever girls and women, including stories from from Norway, southern Africa, England, Sudan, Scotland, Native Americans, Japan, India, Ivory Coast, Ireland, China, Wales, and Ecuador.  A rich treasury for family reading. The same author has also written Maid of the North, featuring more tales of strong and clever women from around the world.


Mother Scorpion Country,
by Rohmer and Wilson

In this tale from the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua, Naklili loves his wife Kati so much that when she dies, he follows her to Mother Scorpion Country, the land of the dead. Kati protects both of them from dangers along the way, and when Naklili realizes he doesn’t belong with Mother Scorpion, Kati sends him back to the living. Beautiful color pictures add to this memorable, slightly spooky story. English and Spanish text.


Clever Rachel,
by Debby Waldman and Cindy Revell

In this retelling of a Jewish folk-tale, Clever Rachel is a girl who loves riddles. A smart boy, Jacob, hears about her and decides to challenge her. He is astonished when she answers his best riddles in no time flat. But when a desperate woman visits Rachel needing answers to some riddles, Rachel and Jacob realize they must work together to help solve the riddles.


The Woman Who Outshone the Sun,
by Zubizaretta, Rohmer, and Schecter

Lucia Zenteno arrives in a village and the animals and plants immediately love her. But the people are suspicious and drive her away. When she leaves, the village’s river goes with her. Humbled, the people ask her forgiveness. She returns the river and reminds the villagers to treat even strangers with kindness. This story is part of the oral tradition of the Zapotec Indians of Mexico. Color pictures, English and Spanish text.

Black History Month Books

  • January 30, 2010 11:01 am

In Her HandsIn honor of Black History Month (February), I’ve highlighted biographies and picture books about African-Americans from my list. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage, by Alan Schroeder

Augusta Savage, a poor African-American girl living in Florida in the 1890s, loved to make figures from the clay she dug up around her house. Her father, a preacher, discouraged this hobby, believing the figures to be profane and sinful. At the age of 27, she won a sculpture contest at the county fair, and used the prize money to move to New York, where she gained entry to the Cooper Union School of Art. She became a noted sculptor and art teacher. Rich paintings by JaiMe Bereal accompany this absorbing biography. This picture book is suitable for kids ages 6 and up.

Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom, by Tim Tingle

This picture book tells the story of a Native American girl, Martha Tom, who helps a family of slaves escape into her tribe’s Choctaw territory. Written by a Choctaw storyteller and beautifully illustrated by a Cherokee artist, this is a haunting, magical tale.

Elizabeth’s Song, by Michael Wenberg

This is the true story of the childhood of Elizabeth Cotten, who composed the folk song classic “Freight Train” at age 11. Her unique, self-taught way of playing the guitar (upside down and left-handed) gave rise to the phrase “cotton-picking.” Wonderful illustrations and a memorable story.

Book of Black Heroes, Vol. II: Great Women in the Struggle, by Igus, Ellis, Patrick and Wesley

Black women throughout history are profiled in this easy-to-read compilation featuring famous and not-so-famous women
freedom fighters, educators, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs, policy
makers and scientists. Suitable for ages 10 and up.

Susie King Taylor: Destined to be Free, by Denise Jordan

 Susie King Taylor was born a slave and was just 14 when the Civil War started. Because she had been secretly taught to read, she became a teacher to Black children and adults during the war. She also worked as a nurse. Much later, she was the first Black Civil War nurse to write her own story. This short chapter book is suitable for ages 7 and up.