Rivka’s Presents by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by Adelina Lirius


Rivka’s Presents
Author: Laurie Wallmark
Illustrator: Adelina Lirius
Published July 11th, 2023 by Random House Studio

Summary: In this heartwarming story about the importance of community, a little Jewish girl living on the Lower East Side during the flu pandemic of 1918 can’t start school because her father is sick, so she makes a trade with her neighbors: chores for lessons.

It’s 1918 on the Lower East Side of New York City, and Rivka is excited to start school. But when her papa gets sick with the flu, her mama has to go to work at the shirtwaist factory and Rivka needs to stay home and take care of her little sister. But Rivka figures out a way to learn anyway: she trades chores with the grocer, the tailor, and an elderly neighbor for lessons. As the seasons change, Rivka finds she can count pennies for the iceman and read the labels on jars of preserve. And one day, Papa is no longer sick, and Rivka can finally start school! Full kindness and love for your neighbors, here is a story that introduces life on the Lower East Side for a Jewish family during the flu pandemic of 1918.


★ ”Simply told but unexpectedly moving, the narrative honors generations of immigrant families and communities that have done their best to educate their children despite language barriers and poverty.” —Booklist, starred review

“A unique book that would be a great asset to collections.” —School Library Journal

“This tale will be at home in any discussions about American immigration and young people pursuing education despite barriers, as well as those focused more specifically on Jewish immigrants in this period.” —The Bulletin

About the Creators: 

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark writes picture book biographies of women in STEM. Her titles include Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars; Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, which received four starred reviews and a Cook Prize Honor; Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code; Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life, a Crystal Kite Winner and Cook Prize Honor recipient; and others. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA and is a former software engineer and computer science professor. You can find Laurie online at www.lauriewallmark.com.
On Twitter: @lauriewallmark
Facebook: @lauriewallmarkauthor
Instagram: @lauriewallmark

Adelina Lirius is an illustrator based in Stockholm, Sweden. She loves painting imaginary scenes, portraying nature, and depicting the different cultures she grew up with. Adelina is the illustrator of a picture book adaptation of The Secret GardenThe Fort by Laura Perdew; and I, Too, Am Mozart by Audrey Ades, which received a starred review from School Library Journal. Visit her on Instagram @adalinaillustration.

Review: This story of resiliency shows what those hungry for learning will do to make sure they can fill their brains with the knowledge they seek. Rivka finds herself unable to go to school because her father is ill with the 1918 influenza, so she is in charge of her younger sibling. But Rivka searches for a way to help out and to learn–she does this by trading her time and chores for knowledge. Through connections with community members, she learns her letters, arithmetic, and civics. All of these teachers help build the foundation for Rivka’s education!

I loved the combination of the emotional narrative and the realistic and sweet illustrations. It, like Booklist states, is unexpectedly moving because Rivka’s story travels from the pages right into the reader’s heart.

Teaching Tools for Navigation & Discussion Questions: Utilize this author-provided curriculum guide for teaching tools and discussion questions!

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Love: Historical fiction picture books, Picture books about the love of learning

Recommended For: 



**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!!**

Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold


Just Harriet
Author: Elana K. Arnold
Illustrator: Dung Ho
Published February 1st, 2022 by Walden Pond Press

Summary: From the award-winning author of A Boy Called Bat comes a new young middle grade series in the tradition of Ramona and Clementine, starring an unforgettable girl named Harriet.

There are a few things you should know about Harriet Wermer:

– She just finished third grade.

– She has a perfect cat named Matzo Ball.

– She doesn’t always tell the truth.

– She is very happy to be spending summer vacation away from home and her mom and dad and all the wonderful things she had been planning all year.

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t entirely the truth.

Of course, there’s nothing Harriet doesn’t like about Marble Island, the small island off the coast of California where her nanu runs a cozy little bed and breakfast. And nobody doesn’t love Moneypenny, Nanu’s old basset hound. But Harriet doesn’t like the fact that Dad made this decision without even asking her.

When Harriet arrives on Marble Island, however, she discovers that it’s full of surprises, and even a mystery. One that seems to involve her Dad, back when he was a young boy living on Marble Island. One that Harriet is absolutely going to solve.

And that’s the truth.


“An engaging series opener about the power of truth to moor and free even the sulkiest of souls.” -Kirkus Reviews

“This series opener is a winner.” Publishers Weekly

“A gentle, slow-moving summer adventure that’s big on character growth.” -School Library Journal

An appealing chapter book for young readers.” -Booklist

About the Author: Elana K. Arnold is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels and children’s books, including the Printz Honor winner Damsel and the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of. Several of her books are Junior Library Guild selections and have appeared on many best book lists, including the Amelia Bloomer Project, a catalog of feminist titles for young readers. Elana teaches in Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program and lives in Southern California with her family and menagerie of pets. You can visit her online at www.elanakarnold.com.

Review: When I first read the Bat books by Elana K. Arnold, I was so happy with the new edition to the reading ladder between early chapter books and solid middle grade, and Just Harriet fits solidly in there as well. Harriet is going to be loved the way that Ramona was loved by readers of the past (like me!). She is a bit sassy, super smart, quick witted, and full of curiosity. And her supporting cast of characters fill the background with joy -from her grandma, Nanu, to the owners of the ice cream parlor, Hans & Gretchen. Then add in the very special setting of Marble Island, and you have a special book that is going to find a bunch of happy readers! I can’t wait for more Harriet in the future.

 Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: Walden Pond Press has a Chapter-By-Chapter Guiding Questions and Discussion Points guide available!

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Ramona Quimby by Beverly Cleary, Bat series by Elana K. Arnold, Aven Green series by Dusti Bowling, Bink and Gollie series by Kate DiCamillo

Recommended For: 



**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**

Tinyville Town by Brian Biggs


Tinyville Town Series
Author & Illustrator: Brian Biggs
Published by Appleseed, an Abrams Imprint starting in 2016

Brian Biggs describes the series as Sesame Street meets Fisher Price. 

I say it is Richard Scarry meets Mr. Rogers and Thomas the Train (but there are no talking trains).

There will be at least 8 books. 

Though hopefully more because I want one about every member of the town!

There are two kinds of books in the series: 

Board books about individual members of the society

Large-format picture books about how the whole town comes together. 

This set up is perfect because when you read the picture book, you can find all of the members of the board books in the picture book. They become friends that you recognize like a search-and-find within the story.

In the classroom, Tinyville Town would fit perfectly with Junior Achievement and early-ed social studies as students learn about jobs and communities.

Parents, your kids will love these books! It is a perfect combination of everything kids and adults want in picture books.

For more information:
Here’s an interview with Brian Biggs about Tinyville Town
Here’s Brian Biggs’s Blog Post about Tinyville Town

Recommended For: 



Lousiana State University’s Line 4 Line Program: A Barbershop Literacy Program in Baton Rouge


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Last year, I started hearing about barbershops that would cut young boys’ hair for free if the child read to them while they got their haircut. When I first heard about the program, it brought tears to my eyes because I felt that it is such an invaluable service.  In February 2011, NEA released “Focus On: Blacks” which states that 42% of Black students attend under-resourced schools and less than 50% of Black male students graduate on time. These statistics show that there is a dire need to help our Black male youth. The barbershop programs are just one way that communities are working on getting books into young Black boys’ hands to increase literacy rates, and thus, increasing success in lives overall.

In December, my father started working at the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, and he sent me this photo:


And my heart melted! I knew right away that LSU must have a program like what I had heard about. Then, I read a CNN article on March 3rd highlighting a similar program in New York, and I knew that I had to share what LSU is doing in Baton Rouge.

The program in Baton Rouge is called Line 4 Line.  It grew out of LSU’s Neighborhood Arts Project, the outreach program of LSU’s Museum of Art, as well as the Art Works Program, a program which focuses on bringing kids from low-performing schools to the art museum. The LSU program is so much more than just a reading program at a barbershop. They have worked to add books and reading to so many different parts of their community, including reading programs during museum tours and Little Libraries.

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Lucy Perera, the Coordinator of School & Community Programs at the LSU Museum of Art, told me exactly when the idea formed and how it grew into what it is today. The rest of this post features her words:

I usually incorporate reading in all our museum programs for kids. One month we were making books as our project, and the students were reading after the art portion of the program. One 1st grader was just so happy to be holding a book! He was trying to sound out the words, and he was slowly getting it, and I was helping him and said to him to keep working on it. I asked him if he had books at home, and the answer was no. I asked if he could take books out from your school library, and he said no he couldn’t because he lostt one, and they won’t let him take anymore out. So I gave him the book to take back on the bus (I ride the buses to and from the program just to get to know kids/teachers/school community better), and at the end of the bus ride his teacher grabbed it from him saying, ‘That’s not your book!’ He looked at me, and I was so shocked by the whole ordeal as well not wanting to step on the teachers toes, I let this happen. Each month thereafter, Richard, the student, would always talk to me about that book and give me updates on his reading—I just felt he WANTED to learn but he had so many obstacles—from teachers, to librarian, to family—and this happened again and again with other kids—I saw them being intrigued by the books we had out for them to look at when at the museum, but their reading levels were low, and they just didn’t have them at home.”

The next part of my story involves Neighborhood Arts Project (NAP), a summer program where we always had a reading station with a carpet and rugs and a teen instructor assigned to help the kids or read to them.  Then last summer, we received a big donation of books which we gave out, and the kids were so excited! They took so many of them! It was such an amazing gift. They mentioned how they would read them to siblings or start a library in their house, and then some of the older boys shared their struggles with reading and how they were now getting in trouble at school. So I decided we needed to get kids books into their houses because while public libraries are great, they are often not accessible. Also, our bookmobile program has switched over to being a digital bus. And the whole issue of getting a library card requires an ID which many of these parents simply don’t have – let alone cars to get them to a library.

So that is where the free Little Libraries came about. I had one of our LSU students (architecture undergrad) who works with me for NAP design a simple structure, and we worked with a few community partners to build them. Then we had kids from our NAP sites paint them — we place one at a NAP site and the other one ended up at the barber shop.

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Line 4 Line came about after reading about the Iowa barber who gave haircut for kids in exchange for reading, and I figured it would be perfect for Baton Rouge. It took me a while to find the right barber. I just kept putting the word out to other Black men about the program and finally found O’Neil Curtis at O’Niel’s Barbershop. He is ideal because he is young and gets the importance of reading as well as the importance of being a good role model to young kids who don’t have a positive male figure encouraging them to read at home. So I met with him, and he was excited.. I placed the library  and planted a little garden around it, and we kicked off the program in December. Another local school did a massive book drive which gave us around 4000 books which we have been stocking in libraries and giving out—at a food drive, with a Thanksgiving turkey give away in New Orleans (and for these programs the adults were so happy to get the books for their kids and for themselves).

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Line 4 Line takes place once a month, and O’Neil and his other barbers come in and volunteer to cut hair of boys ages 2-13 years for a few hours. I have my helpers who work for NAP assist. We set up books in the barber shop — books from my collection which are either art or Black focused, or classics of all different levels —  and kids come in, and I find out their grade, assess their reading level,  and help them pick a book.  They then read the book to me or one of my helpers with the barber assisting and encouraging while getting hair cut.

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For very young readers, we have had younger but strong readers do the reading, or I will work one on one to help them decode and sound out words. As the program is still very new I see lots of ways to adapt, and ways to track progress for repeat kids, and I want to set up an in-house library for all ages in the barbershop and maybe a reading list. There is much to be done to expand this program including book groups or short topics discussions and maybe even mentoring/tutoring — right now we also do art projects with the kids who are waiting for haircuts and at the end of the  evening they can go take books home from the Free Little Library.

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Line 4 Line is a community program of the LSU Museum of Art that works to close the achievement gap and foster positive opportunities for Black youth by providing out-of-school reading, art and mentoring programs.

Line 4 Line strengthens community from within through the creation of impactful opportunities that develop literacy and foster positive expression. The program is designed to be easily expanded and replicated.



LINE 4 LINE  is a community-based literacy and arts program that uses barbershops as  unconventional learning sites for Black youth. Growing out of the LSU Museum of Art’s Neighborhood Arts Project LINE 4 LINE leverages the cultural and social significance of barbershops  in Black communities to help under-served youth identify positively as readers and learners. LINE 4 LINE also creates a safe and dynamic program space that encourages learning, exploration and mentoring for young adults to make them truly literate citizens. The guiding principal of the LINE 4 LINE program is to connect relatable Black men and women  to Black youth as positive role models and mentors to encourage, foster and support the concept of lifelong learning.

LINE 4 LINE addresses three important needs of Black youth living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and serves as a program model to expand into other communities.

  1. Provides Black boys  with opportunities to interact with relatable adult males in positive healthy role model relationships through the Barbershop Program which gives regular free haircuts to boys in exchange for reading a book, and makes free take-home books  accessible to the wider community via a Free Little Library. Books used for this monthly program are considered powerful teaching tools and are selected to be culturally relevant, age appropriate, gender responsive. The reading program works with trained teen mentors who along with Barbers engage and assist children in reading, as well as educators who help track progress.
  2. Establishes in the Barbershop  a safe and dynamic creative space for boys to build healthy relationships  around reading and experiencing positive relatable adult role models who support reading. Creates additional educational opportunities by including post-haircut hands on art making via the LSU Museum of Art’s Neighborhood Arts Project.
  3. Gets books into the hands and households of children and parents. Plans to create a barbershop library of books for patrons of  all ages and levels that focuses on and celebrates Black writers, culture, history and experience. This library will include an honor system lending library, as well as  on-site books and take home bibliographies with easy links to where relevant books are available locally at libraries, and/or on-line.

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I cannot wait to see how program expands!

Keep up with the Baton Rouge Neighborhood Arts Project and Line 4 Line on Facebook!

Learn more about the LSU Museum of Art on Facebook!

Kellee Signature

**Thank you again to Lucy Perera and Daniel Stetson of the LSU Museum of Art!
All photographs taken by Simone Schmidt.**

Follow the #ButterflyTrail Blog Tour and Review!: Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay


Butterfly Park

Butterfly Park
Author and Illustrator: Elly MacKay
Published May 5th, 2015 by Running Press Kids

Goodreads Summary: When a little girl moves to a new town, she finds a place called Butterfly Park. But when she opens the gate, there are no butterflies. Determined to lure the butterflies in, the girl inspires her entire town to help her. And with their combined efforts, soon the butterflies—and the girl—feel right at home.

Elly MacKay’s luminous paper-cut illustrations and enchanting story encourage community, friendship, and wonderment in the beauty of everyday life.

Kellee’s Review: What a wonderful book about community and perseverance! MacKay’s beautiful paper-cut illustrations push this book to a whole new level. I am in awe of her work! It is amazing that each of the intricate pieces of her illustrations are cut out and designed. In addition to the illustrations, I really liked this story of a community gathering together to rebuild a butterfly park. I think the book highlights beauty in nature as well as working together to reach a goal. This is a wonderful book to read aloud and wonder at with children.

Ricki’s Review: Let me count the ways I love this book. Illustrators are getting more and more creative with their craft. Drawings and paintings are old news it seems. I absolutely adored the paper cut outs, which inspired me to hop onto the internet to look at other creative forms of artwork. I kept thinking about how neat it would be for students to create a class book similar to this one! We describe further ideas for classroom implementation of this book in the next section, but I can’t help but to express how inspiring this story is. My husband kept looking over as I said, “Ooooo.” This would be a great resource for creative writing classes because teaches students to break the mold with the presentation of their prose.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be a wonderful introduction to tone and theme. There are a few different themes that could be discussed as well as the drastic tone change of our narrator from her move to the end of the book.

Additionally, on the reverse side of the book jacket, there is a poster of butterflies and flowers.  It charges the reader to “Plant Your Own Butterfly Garden” which would be a wonderful project for a class. The flowers included are labeled and specifically shown because they are ones butterflies love. You could even go as far as to research the different flowers to determine why butterflies like them the best.

I also think this book could be an amazing mentor text for an art project on paper-cut illustrations. Students could make their own illustrated books using the paper-cut technique.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think the whole neighborhood helped the girl?; Could the young girl have finished the butterfly park without help?; Why was the butterfly park so important to the girl?

We Flagged: 


“And then there was her house, plain and gray like all the others.
But next to it was a gate unlike any other. The girl repeated the letters. Suddenly, she felt very lucky!”

Read This If You Loved: Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, The Sky Painter by Margarita Engle, In the Garden by Elizabeth Spurr

Recommended For: 

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Read other reviews of Butterfly Park by following the Butterfly Trail!
Stops on the #butterflytrail can found at http://www.runningpress.com/butterflypark.

Signature andRickiSig

**Thank you to Valerie at Running Press Kids for providing copies for review!**