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Monument Maker: Daniel Chester French and the Lincoln Memorial
Author: Linda Booth Sweeney
Illustrator: Shawn Fields
Published September 3rd, 2019 by Tilbury House Publishers

Summary: This is the story of how a farmboy became America’s foremost sculptor. After failing at academics, Dan was working the family farm when he idly carved a turnip into a frog and discovered what he was meant to do. Sweeney’s swift prose and Fields’s evocative illustrations capture the single-minded determination with which Dan taught himself to sculpt and launched his career with the famous Minuteman Statue in his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts.

This is also the story of the Lincoln Memorial, French’s culminating masterpiece. Thanks to this lovingly created tribute to the towering leader of Dan’s youth, Abraham Lincoln lives on as the man of marble, his craggy face and careworn gaze reminding millions of seekers what America can be. Dan’s statue is no lifeless figure, but a powerful, vital touchstone of a nation’s ideals. Now Dan French has his tribute too, in this exquisite biography that brings history to life for young readers.

Praise: 

“The environment that nurtured Daniel Chester French is given loving treatment by Sweeney and Fields. . .  As Sweeney traces French’s way in the world, French goes on to create numerous statues of Civil War heroes, including the epic sculpture of Abraham Lincoln enshrined in his memorial. A timeline and author’s note fill in various gaps in the text, and Fields’ drawings are both powerful and graceful, just as French would have wanted, depicting a largely white cast but including some figures of color, including one of the two modern children who observe the story. . . Both bracing and winning, a fine tribute to the sculptor and his world. (Picture book biography. 8-12) ” – Kirkus Reviews

*Junior Library Guild Gold Standard

Note from the Creators:

When Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, fifteen-year-old Dan French had no way to know that one day his tribute to the great president would transform a Washington, DC marsh into a national gathering place. He only knew that he liked making things with his hands.

As a boy, Dan plowed the straightest lines on his family’s farm, but as a teen, he failed (quite spectacularly) out of MIT.  And yet, almost 50 years after Lincoln’s assassination, Daniel Chester French drew on his memories of Lincoln and his artistic talent to create a lovingly sculpted touchstone for a nation’s ideals, reminding millions of seekers what America strives for and still can be.

This is the story of how one young boy became very, very good at what he loves, and for that talent to inspire people across a country and around the world.

We hope this book both delights and unites!

About the Author: Linda Booth Sweeney is an accomplished writer and an educator specializing in the exploration of living systems. www.lindaboothsweeney.com

About the Illustrator: Shawn Fields studied art at the School of Visual Arts, the Arts Student’s League, and the New York Academy of Art. His work has been exhibited at ArtBasel Miami, Forbes Gallery NYC, Arcadia NYC, and is collected worldwide.

Review: If you have ever been to the Lincoln Memorial, you know that a very talented artist sculpted the statue you find within. Monument Maker tells us how a young farm boy takes something he is good at and makes it not only his job but his passion. And I think that is what I loved the most–it showed that there is so much more to life than what others want you to be good at and what society expects you to do well at. We all have talents and passions, look at what Daniel Chester French did with his!

Sweeney and Fields did a fantastic job telling his story while also tying in the theme mentioned above, celebrating history, and setting goals for the future. Overall, a truly deep and well done middle grade picture book!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: With ties to art and history as well as social-emotional learning, Monument Maker can find its home in may different classrooms.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What did Dan’s family do to help support him in his endeavors?
  • What are the different steps in creating a large monument like the Lincoln Memorial?
  • How did Daniel Chester French become one of the best in his field?
  • What is something you love that you want to do when you grow up? How can you become an expert?
  • Why was it important for Daniel to learn how to draw even though he wanted to be a sculptor?
  • What does Daniel Chester French failing out of some classes yet becoming a master sculpture tell you?
  • How does the author tie together Lincoln, French’s sculpture, other history, and the future?

Flagged Passages: 

“History shapes our lives. And what we do with our lives can shape history. That’s how it was with Daniel Chester French.”

“Soon afterward, Dan’s father returned from Boston carrying a cardboard box. In it was ten pounds of cold, wet clay for a family sculpting night.

One by one the family gave up, but not Dan. He kept at it until the shape of a dog’s head appeared in his hands. From then on, Dan worked on the farm during the day and sculpted birds and animals at night.”

Read This If You Love: Art, Abraham Lincoln, Architecture, Sculpture

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Don’t miss out on other nonfiction picture books! Check out Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 

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Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland Into a Home
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal
Published: September 10th, 2019 by Calkins Creek

Summary: The early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, as a maker of American buildings—highlighting his passion, imagination and creativity.

Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Wisconsin prairie where he was born, with its wide-open sky and waves of tall grass. As his family moved across the United States, young Frank found his own home in shapes: rectangles, triangles, half-moons, and circles. So, Frank pursued a career in architecture. Unlike everyone else, he didn’t think the Victorian homes fit the beauty of the land. Using his love of shapes, Frank redesigned the American home inside and out, developing a unique architecture, the Prairie House.

Author Barb Rosenstock and artist Christopher Silas Neal explore the early life and creative genius of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, highlighting his passion, imagination, and ingenuity.

Backmatter includes historical photos, author’s note, quotations, sources, source notes, architectural plans and a photo gallery of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings across America.

About the Creators: 

Author Barb Rosenstock is the author of many picture book biographies, including Otis and Will Discover the Deep, Secret Kingdom, Dorothea’s Eyes, Ben Franklin’s Big Splash, and The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero. Her picture book about Kandinsky, The Noisy Paint Box, won the 2015 Caldecott Medal.

Illustrator Christopher Silas Neal is the author and illustrator of multiple picture books, including I Won’t Eat That and Everyone. He is also the illustrator of Kate Messner’s Over and Under the Pond, Over and Under the Snow, and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt.

Book Trailer: 

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ and discussion guide I created for Prairie Boy: 

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about the book on Barb Rosenstock’s Prairie Boy page.

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Terrible Times Tables
Author: Michelle Markel
Illustrator: Merrilee Liddiard
Published August 6, 2019 by Cameron Kids

Goodreads Summary: Inspired by a Victorian math primer, Terrible Times Tables is a modern take on learning one’s multiplication tables, from numbers 2 to 10, featuring elementary school themes of homeroom, field trips, cafeteria food, holidays, and recitals. Featuring a reluctant narrator and a few unwitting critters, learning math has never been so much fun or amusing.

My Review: Ah! This book is so charming. The art and the words feel simultaneously old-fashioned and contemporary! It feels just like an older Victorian math primer, but yet the words make it relevant to children today! I read this with my son (who is in kindergarten and too young for multiplication), and we were giggling away at the rhymes and illustration. I’d love to see this book in classrooms. It makes math genuinely fun!

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: Elementary school math teachers will find great joy in this book. Students might write and illustrate their own math primer with a theme. In this book, each number has a different theme, and I think students would love to create their own! This text is very inspiring for me as an adult, and I wanted to play with words, too! 🙂 I can’t wait for my sons to be old enough to use this book.

I’d also love to compare this with an older, Victorian math primer. Kids would get a kick out of that!

Discussion Questions: Which theme was your favorite, and why?; How do the words and art work together to make this book so successful?; How does the author integrate clever rhymes to make readers enjoy math?

We Flagged: “4 x 1 is 4

Sam pukes. Same pukes some more.”

Read This If You Love: I’m Trying to Love Math by Bethany Barton; On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne; Math 

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Just Like Beverly: A Biography of Beverly Cleary (Growing to Greatness)
Author: Vicki Conrad
Illustrator: David Hohn
Published August 13th, 2019

Summary: Just Like Beverly follows the life of beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary from her early years in Oregon to her career as a successful writer who wrote stories, including the wildly popular Ramona and Henry Huggins series, for kids just like her.

As a young girl, Beverly Cleary struggled to learn to read and found most children’s books dull and uninteresting. She often wondered if there were any books about kids just like her. With hard work, and the encouragement of her parents and a special teacher, she learned to read and at a young age discovered she had a knack for writing.

Beverly Cleary’s story comes to life in this narrative nonfiction picture book as she grows to follow her dreams of writing the books she longed for as a child, becoming an award-winning writer and one of the most famous children’s authors of all time.

Beautiful illustrations capture Cleary’s sense of humor, struggles, and triumphs, and are filled with Easter eggs throughout for fans to discover.

Praise: 

“Hohn captures her lively spirit through illustrations, reminiscent of those by Alan Tiegreen for Cleary’s own books, that will keep young readers entertained. A loving and informative tribute worthy of celebrating Cleary’s 103rd year of life.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred

“Conrad writes with clarity and features significant details that bring Cleary’s experiences and personality to life for kids today. Hohn makes good use of color, light, and pattern in his imaginative illustrations, which interpret the text sensitively. The artwork looks fresh and appealing while suggesting the period, the emotional resonance, and the upbeat spirit of Cleary’s books.”–Booklist, starred

“A celebration of Cleary, literacy, and the pursuit of ambitious dreams, this charming picture book will enhance any biography collection.”–School Library Journal

“Debut author Conrad’s storytelling is straightforward, ably conveying—in tandem with Hohn’s homespun, vintage-style illustrations—the various eras of Cleary’s life and her passion for writing and for nurturing readers.”–Publishers Weekly

About the Author: VICKI CONRAD is a teacher with a passion for literacy development and inspiring students to love reading just as much as she did as a child. Growing up, she was always found with a book in her hand, and she has stayed that way ever since. When she is not writing or teaching, she is traveling the world, growing a garden, or searching for stories. She has called Seattle her home for many years. She doesn’t mind the rain, as long as she has coffee, friends, and good books for company. Just Like Beverly is her first book.

About the Illustrator: DAVID HOHN is an illustrator based in Portland, Oregon. His days are spent in the studio imagining what it would be like to be someone else, doing something else–and then he paints it.

Review: It was so wonderful reading about Beverly Cleary’s childhood! It truly showed how supportive teachers and parents plus some access to books truly can result in brilliance! It just took some guidance, praise, and confidence to make her bloom as a writer.

From a parent and teacher point of view, I loved that Beverly saw a issue in the children lit world and used a talent to work to try to solve that issue–what a great role model!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: There are three ways I picture this book being an asset in the classroom.

First, it is a wonderful addition to any picture book biography text set/mentor text set.

Second, it is a beautiful book to read aloud! And truly would lead to wonderful discussions.

Third, I could see it being used in conjunction with Cleary’s novels. How does her childhood story connect to the novels that she wrote?

Discussion Questions: 

  • When looking for stories about kids like you and your friends, what type of characters are you looking for?
    • [Writing prompt] Write a fictionalized story that you can relate to.
  • What character traits did Beverly have to be as successful a writer as she was?
  • What does Beverly’s pride in winning a contest that she was the only entry say about you?
  • What do you believe is the author’s purpose for writing this title?
  • How does Beverly’s story fit the theme of “Growing to Greatness”?
  • How is children literature different now than it was during Beverly’s childhood?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Beverly Cleary!; Picture book biographies about writers such as Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet; A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider by Barbara Herkert; A River of Words by Jennifer Bryant; Papa is a Poet by Natalie S. Bober

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Don’t miss out on other nonfiction picture books! Check out Kid Lit Frenzy’s Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 

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“The Picture Book That Started As An Assignment”

I still remember sitting at my school desk wondering what to write about. It was eighth grade and my teacher, Ms. Ribar, had asked her English class at All Saints Middle School to write a creative story. My classmates were scribbling away, but I was stuck. What should I write?

Every writer at every stage deals with the problem of coming up with ideas. Where do ideas come from? It’s very likely the most common question an author gets. Looking back, I can see that the idea for my story came from a combination of luck, life, and imagination.

As luck would have it, there was a pencil lying on my desk. When I glanced around the room for inspiration, the pencil caught my eye. It could have been a binder or a paperclip, but it wasn’t. No surprise then that a pencil features prominently in my story.

At the time, I was 13 and my life had been turned upside down by the arrival of a new brother. He was two then and I’m sure that he was disrupting my ever-so-important teenage world. So, it’s not surprising that a little brother was a key character (or should I say antagonist?).

Most importantly, the freedom to imagine and create in that classroom let me consider a range of possibilities. What if the pencil was magic? What if everything it drew became real? What if everything it erased was gone forever?

That idea and the inspiration of my eighth grade teacher stayed with me for a long time. When I was finally ready to commit to writing creatively, the story resurfaced. After weeks of rebuilding the story from memory and revising it to work as a picture book, it finally found a home. Fast forward to today, that story I wrote in English class all those years ago has become my debut picture book, Arabella and the Magic Pencil, illustrated by Shaney Hyde and published worldwide by EK Books in September 2019.

Now, as a new author, I get to bring my story full circle – back to the classroom. I like to think that Arabella and the Magic Pencil belongs there. Hopefully, it offers young readers a sense of endless possibility. Students can imagine their own stories about a magic pencil and the class can problem solve together figuring out how to get your brother back if you’ve erased him. (Yes, Arabella really does erase her brother.)

I reconnected with Ms. Ribar to acknowledge that this book began in her classroom. As always, she was encouraging and supportive. I hope that young learners appreciate the teachers who are there every day helping them discover their talents before they even know what they are.

Arabella and the Magic Pencil
Author: Stephanie Ward
Illustrator: Shaney Hyde
Published September 10th, 2019 by EK Books

About the Book: Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything a little girl could want. That is, until her brother, Avery, the master of mayhem, comes along. While she certainly loves him, she finds that it’s sometimes very hard to like him. So she spends her days creating marvelous, magnificent things with her magic pencil, and trying to ignore him. But when he spoils her perfectly proper tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! But things aren’t the same without him — can she get him back?

Arabella and the Magic Pencil is a charming story, which will appeal to any child coming to terms with a new sibling and to caregivers who are supporting changing family dynamics, as well as those who love fantasy and engaging, alliterative language.

“A magical story with luscious language, whimsical illustrations and strong emotional core that will surprise and delight young readers.”
– Debra Tidball, award-winning author of The Scared Book and When I See Grandma

About the Author: Stephanie Ward is an award‐winning children’s author and reviewer who splits her time between London, Seattle and Sydney. She spent 15 years in public relations before deciding to dedicate herself to what she loves – writing stories for children. Stephanie has five award‐winning picture book manuscripts.

About the Illustrator: Shaney Hyde is an Early Childhood Teacher from Melbourne who runs art workshops for children and draws inspiration from her own playful childhood. Arabella and the Magic Pencil is the first book Shaney has illustrated, fulfilling a long‐held dream.

Thank you so much for this guest post looking at how one assignment can change everything!

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Lights! Camera! Alice!: The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: Simona Ciraolo
Published: September, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Meet Alice Guy-Blaché. She made movies—some of the very first movies, and some of the most exciting! Blow up a pirate ship? Why not? Crawl into a tiger’s cage? Of course! Leap off a bridge onto a real speeding train? It will be easy! Driven by her passion for storytelling, Alice saw a potential for film that others had not seen before, allowing her to develop new narratives, new camera angles, new techniques, and to surprise her audiences again and again. With daring and vision, Alice Guy-Blaché introduced the world to a thrilling frontier of imagination and adventure, and became one of filmmaking’s first and greatest innovators. Mara Rockliff tells the story of a girl who grew up loving stories and became an acclaimed storyteller and an inspiration in her own right.

About the Creators: 

Mara Rockliff has authored many books for children, including: Anything But Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of MagicAround America to Win the Vote; and Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France. She lives in Pennsylvania.

Simona Ciraolo is a children’s book author and illustrator. She grew up in Italy where she received a degree in animation from the National Film School. She also earned an MA in children’s book illustration at Cambridge. She lives in London.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ and discussion guide I created for Lights! Camera! Alice!:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about the book on Chronicle Book’s Lights! Camera! Alice! page.

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My Name is Wakawakaloch!
Author: Chana Stiefel
Illustrator: Mary Sullivan
Published August 27th, 2019 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary: In this lighthearted picture book, the intrepid, determined, and savvy Wakawakaloch learns to embrace what makes her special while lifting up her neanderthal community.

No one can pronounce Wakawakaloch’s name. Why couldn’t she be called something simple . . . like Gloop? That’s a name you can find on a T-shirt! But after a visit with her tribe’s elder, Wakawakaloch discovers what her name means, and how powerful names can be. Gloop may be easy to say, but the girl who helps her friends embrace differences and wear their names proudly? Her name is Wakawakaloch!

Praise: “Wakawakaloch’s frustrations surrounding the mispronunciation of her name will resonate with many. . . .This bombastic main character allows the story to shine.” —Kirkus

About the Author: CHANA STIEFEL is the author of more than 25 books for kids about exploding volcanoes, stinky castles, and other fun stuff. In addition to My Name Is Wakawakaloch! she is the author of Daddy Depot, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends, 2017). Recent nonfiction titles include Animals Zombies . . . . & Other Real-Life Monsters (National Geographic Kids, 2018), which was selected as a Top Ten YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers in 2019. Check out the fun book trailer and more at her website: chanastiefel.com.

Twitter: @chanastiefel
Instagram: @chanastiefel

ReviewThis is such a timely books for classrooms, well for society in general! Pronouncing and remembering students’ names correctly is so important and not can have a lasting effect:

https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/gift-of-pronunciation/
http://neatoday.org/2016/09/01/pronouncing-students-names/
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/a-teacher-mispronouncing-a-students-name-can-have-a-lasting-impact

Wakawakaloch starts this conversation at a young age, not only for teachers but for other students. Name is part of our identity and Wakawakaloch should be mad that others aren’t trying!

Not only is the concept important, it is really well done! Done in a way that doesn’t feel preachy, is funny, but also still gets its message across clearly.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: If I was reading this aloud in my classroom, I would focus on the theme then complete activities about names. Every name has a story, either a personal one or a historical one.

(Please be careful about asking about history of names with all students as this may be a tough subject for anyone who doesn’t have access to a stable family environment to discuss why they were named their name. Make sure to have alternate assignments for this situation.)

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why is it so important to know peoples’ names?
  • Why is Wakawakaloch’s name so important?
  • What does not learning someone’s name say to them?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: What if We Were All the Same? by C.M. Harris, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, My Name is Elizabeth! by Annika Dunklee, Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

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**Thank you Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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