Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles (Kellee’s Review)



Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

Disclaimer: This book is technically historical fiction, but I felt it belonged on a Wednesday because of its base in fact (see “A Note About The Text”).

freedom summer

Freedom Summer
Author: Deborah Wiles
Illustrator: Jerome Lagarrigue
Published January 1st, 2005 by Aladdin

Goodreads Summary: 

John Henry swims better than anyone I know.
He crawls like a catfish,
blows bubbles like a swamp monster,
but he doesn’t swim in the town pool with me.
He’s not allowed.

Joe and John Henry are a lot alike. They both like shooting marbles, they both want to be firemen, and they both love to swim. But there’s one important way they’re different: Joe is white and John Henry is black, and in the South in 1964, that means John Henry isn’t allowed to do everything his best friend is. Then a law is passed that forbids segregation and opens the town pool to everyone. Joe and John Henry are so excited they race each other there…only to discover that it takes more than a new law to change people’s hearts.

My Review:  Deborah Wiles amazes me every time I read something by her. I think I need to get everything she has written and devour it. Her books make me a better person. This one is no exception to these statements. Freedom Summer starts with a personal story of Wiles’s and sets the stage for the book: What would it be like to have a best friend who is black in the South in 1964? Do you know what it is like? Any other friendship! Except many people felt that it was wrong and you cannot go places together. Freedom Summer is about Joe and John Henry. They are both young boys. They both like to swim. They both love ice cream. However, only one can go to the pool and only one can buy ice cream from the store. I think what makes this story so impactful is that Wiles sets the stage of the friendship as something so normal (because it is!!) then shows how different their lives are. So powerful. Made me cry. It’s lyrical writing, soft and beautiful illustrations, and powerful message are so moving. Go read it if you haven’t.

You can view Ricki’s review of Freedom Summer here.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book belongs in classrooms. It will start discussions and make students think. Luckily, Deborah Wiles helps us out a ton by sharing so many resources with us on her Pinterest board and her website

Discussion Questions: Why was the pool being filled with tar?; What do you think will happen after the end of the book?; Based on Joe’s parents letting him be friends with John Henry, what can you infer their viewpoint of integration is?

We Flagged: 

freedom summer spread

Read This If You Loved: Revolution by Deborah WilesSeeds of Freedom by Hester BassSeparate is Never Equal by Duncan TonatiuhThe Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, Sin-In by Andrea Pinkney

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall readaloudbuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall


Stormy Night by Salina Yoon



Stormy Night
Author and Illustrator: Salina Yoon
Published January 6th, 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Goodreads Summary: When thunder shakes his house and rain pounds the windows, Bear is frightened. But comforting his Mama, Papa, and Floppy helps make the storm seem not so scary. Before Bear knows it, the storm has passed, because even storms need their sleep . . . and so do bears.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Living in Florida means that we have pretty bad storms about 4-6 months of the year, so I really would see how this book could be used by parents and teachers to discuss ways to overcome storm anxiety. I could see a class that is  being held (sometimes for hours) in class after dismissal because of a storm sitting around reading this book and discussing how a storm can be scary but that the end would come soon.  I, being from tornado alley, had storm nightmares for years and storms still scare me, and I really think that a book like this would be a great read for kids that have the anxiety I have. I also love how Yoon had the little bear become the “strong one” during the storm to help him forget about what he is afraid of. This is a great strategy for helping kids forget about something that is scary.

Like always, Yoon’s illustrations are just so wonderful–I love how they completely cover the page and are so colorful. Also, Yoon also always captures her characters’ emotions so well!  Her books are always a pleasure to read, and I look forward to getting them.

Discussion Questions: How does Bear overcome his fear? How did his mom help? Hid dad?; Have you ever been scared during a storm? What did you do to make it through the storm?

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Found by Salina Yoon, On my way to Bed by Sarah Maizes, A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Nightime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall readaloudbuttonsmall


**Thank you to Linette at Bloomsbury for providing a copy for review!**

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson (Kellee’s Review)


NF PB 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!


The Man with the Violin
Author: Kathy Stinson
Illustrated: Dušan Petričić
Published August 8, 2013 by Annick Press

Goodreads Summary: “Who is playing that beautiful music in the subway? And why is nobody listening?”

This gorgeous picture book is based on the true story of Joshua Bell, the renowned American violinist who famously took his instrument down into the Washington D.C. subway for a free concert. More than a thousand commuters rushed by him, but only seven stopped to listen for more than a minute. In “The Man With the Violin,” bestselling author Kathy Stinson has woven a heart-warming story that reminds us all to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.

Dylan is someone who notices things. His mom is someone who doesn’t. So try as he might, Dylan can’t get his mom to listen to the man playing the violin in the subway station. But Dylan is swept away by the soaring and swooping notes that fill the air as crowds of oblivious people rush by. With the beautiful music in his head all day long, Dylan can’t forget the violinist, and finally succeeds in making his mother stop and listen, too.

Vividly imagined text combined with illustrations that pulse with energy and movement expertly demonstrate the transformative power of music. With an afterword explaining Joshua Bell’s story, and a postscript by Joshua Bell himself.

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I must preface by saying that this book is not technically nonfiction. It is based on nonfiction, but the story is actually made up.

Too often our days go by without us slowing down and taking anything in. It may be that we are busy or stressed or late , but it has become too common to see people always rushing wherever they are going. This book shows how much we may be missing out on. It also shows the innocence of childhood, and how we need to allow children to explore and slow down even if we are moving fast. It is wonderful how the illustrations capture this for the reader. Combined with the story, this one definitely hits close to home.

Ricki also had some great thoughts and ideas in her review.

Discussion Questions: This book is an important discussion starter. What have you seen recently that was beautiful that others didn’t notice?; Sit ____ and listen to the sounds around you. What do you hear that is beautiful?; Why do you think people didn’t stop to hear Joshua Bell play?; Why did the author feel this was an important story to turn into a picture book?

Book Trailer: 

Read This If You Loved: The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon, Marvin Makes Music by Marvin Hamlisch

Recommended For: 

readaloudbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


**Thank you to Annick Press and Netgalley for providing a copy for review**

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig



The Invisible Boy
Author: Trudy Ludwig
Illustrator: Patrice Barton
Published October 8th, 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf

Goodreads Summary: Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.

When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.

From esteemed author and speaker Trudy Ludwig and acclaimed illustrator Patrice Barton, this gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource. 

Includes backmatter with discussion questions and resources for further reading. 

Review: Wow. This book affected me, so I know it would affect students. Although this is a book aimed at helping students think about how they affect others, there was one scene, early on, that shows Brian being ignored by everyone including his teacher which made me even sadder. It is so important for everyone, adults included, to think about how they treat or ignore others.

The other thing that I thought was brilliant was the way the illustrations were done. Brian comes to life actually right in front of our eyes. Such a smart way to visually show the moral of the story.

If you have not read this book yet, get it from your library or just go ahead and purchase it. You will not regret it.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book needs to be added to any kindness or empathy units out there right now. When I go back into the classroom, I will include it when I read Each Kindness, Because Amelia Smiled, and Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (check out my post on how I use Each Kindness in my middle school classroomInvisible Boy will fit perfectly.)

The author also includes recommended reading for adults and kids as well as wonderful Questions for Discussion in the back of the book.

Discussion Questions: (Found in the backmatter of the book) How many kids did it take in this story to help Brian begin to feel less invisible?; What specifically did Justin do to make Brian feel less invisible?; Are there kids in your class, grade, or school who you see being treated as if they are invisible? If yes, what could you do to make them feel more valued and appreciated?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Recommended For: 

readaloudbuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


Review, Giveaway, and Author Interview!: How To Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler



How To Cheer Up Dad
Author and Illustrator: Fred Koehler
Published March 20th, 2014 by Dial

Goodreads Summary: A hilarious book about parent and child relationships for fans of Ian Falconer and Jon Agee–a perfect gift idea for Father’s Day and beyond!

Little Jumbo just can’t understand why his dad is having such a bad day. It couldn’t be the raisins Little Jumbo spit out at the ceiling or the bath he refused to take–after all, Little Jumbo’s dad knew he hated raisins and had already taken a bath that week! Luckily, Little Jumbo is such a thoughtful elephant that he decides to turn his dad’s bad day around with some of his–ahem, his dad’s –favorite things.

How to Cheer up Dad is a standout debut featuring a charmingly oblivious little elephant with serious pluck and staying power. It turns the parent-child roles upside down is a great book for dads and the kids who make them laugh.

Review: This book was a gift for my husband and son to read together, and it is a perfect father-son book. It shows the connection that a child and parent has, and also how a child’s choices can affect a parent and vice versa. It is a wonderful conversation starter and is a wonderful way to teach this lesson. And it is funny!

Additionally, I LOVE the illustrations. Fred Koehler’s style adds an extra layer of joy to the book (with Fred’s “signature messy line work”).  The illustrations also add extra information to the story. It takes both the illustrations and the text to tell the whole story.

Author Interview: I’m so happy to be able to share with you all an exclusive author Q&A with Fred Koehler, the author and illustrator of How to Cheer Up Dad. 

Kellee @ Unleashing Readers: How did you transition from being a graphic artist to being an author/illustrator?

Fred Koehler: Awesome question! I’ve always been a writer and a doodler–in sketchbooks, my church bulletin, or the margins of my homework assignments. I studied graphic design in college and sadly, there was very little doodling to be done on a computer screen. Several years into my career as a designer I discovered drawing tablets, which allow the artist to use a digital pen that translates directly into the design software. So then I could doodle directly onto the screen and it suddenly clicked. I could use everything I’d learned as a designer and translate that into digital drawings.

The writing had always been a creative outlet for me, and I’d written at least one finished novel (which will never get published because it was awful). But… when I started to combine the writing with the drawing and the design all together, it took my artistry to a completely new level.

UR: What is the inspiration behind How to Cheer Up Dad?

FK: How to Cheer Up Dad is really a reminder to myself and parents everywhere that our kids are capable of being incredibly awesome and terribly frustrating with barely a breath in between. Kids live life without any filters, and it’s up to us as parents to decide how we’re going to react to that reality. The main character, Little Jumbo, is loosely based on both my son, Jack, and myself when I was a kid. Little Jumbo is charmingly oblivious to the massive amounts of trouble he causes, but genuinely dedicated to making things right in the end.

UR: Why elephants?

FK: The elephants came from a random doodle at Mitchell’s Coffee House in Lakeland, FL. I was there with my son, trying to work on some sketches, and my son was trying to get me to do anything but work on my sketches. I just remember being frustrated by the whole ordeal, coming home, and later seeing this doodle of two elephants in my sketchbook. Lucy Cummins, an art director at Simon & Schuster, eventually saw that sketch, and suggested how I might start to turn it into a picture book. I followed her advice and had several publishers fall in love with the characters. Eventually Kate Harrison at Dial Books for Young Readers acquired the manuscript. Plus, elephants are funny. And awesome.

UR: What illustrators and authors inspire you?

FK: One of the coolest things about this industry is the people you get to meet. Growing up I watched all the Chuck Jones cartoons, loved Jim Hensen’s work, and had every Disney animated movie memorized. When I started pursuing the path of becoming an author/illustrator, I got to meet lots and lots of other up-and-coming artists and storytellers who have inspired me. LeUyen Pham (Bedtime for Mommy, Freckleface Strawberry) recently accepted my FB friend request, so she’s at the top of my mind. I love her line work and the expressions that she gets from her characters. I got to watch Molly Idle (Tea Rex, Flora and the Flamingo) go from working for small indie publishers to winning a Caldecott honor last year. Dan Santat (Beekle, Sidekicks) has awesome writing/illustrating chops, and he gave me great advice early on. And the prolific Paul Zelinsky (Z is For Moose, The Wheels on the Bus, many others) has been kind enough to let me ask him lots of rookie questions along the way. 

UR: Are you working on anything else?

FK: Yes! Right now I’ve got two more books under contract. Little Jumbo is getting a sequel, and I’m still working with my incredible editor Kate Harrison and my awesome art director Lily Malcom on how exactly we’re going to one-up the work we did with How to Cheer Up Dad. It’s got such universal relevance and Little Jumbo is such a likable character, we’ve got to make sure and give him a sequel worthy of his potential.

Also great news is that I’m working with Rebecca Davis at Boyds Mills Press to illustrate One Day, The End, which was written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. And, since I think your readers might like to get the first sneak peek ever, I’m going to let slip a screen shot of the unnamed little girl who will star in this extremely creative book. This image is from my art direction concept that was just recently approved by the publisher. 🙂

FK Narrator

UR: Thank you so much Fred for the amazing interview and exclusive sneak peek! I, personally, am so excited for all of your upcoming projects! And because of how much I loved How to Cheer Up Dad and because of your kindness, I am happy to be able to offer a giveaway of a signed copy of  How to Cheer Up Dad with a custom illustration on the inside cover! Thank you Fred for that as well!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is great to teach cause and effect. Readers can learn about why the dad is in a foul mood and what Jumbo does to fix it. It would be a perfect way to discuss the difficult concept of cause and effect using a situation that is very accessible.

Discussion Questions: What has caused Little Jumbo’s dad to be in a bad mood? What are the effects of his bad mood? What does Little Jumbo do to help cheer his dad up?

We Flagged: 

Dad’s mood was clearly getting worse, so Little Jumbo suggested that Dad needed a time out.

Read This If You Loved: Hug Time by Patrick McDonell, Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems, My Dad Thinks He’s Funny by Katrina Germein

Recommended For: 

readaloudbuttonsmall classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


a Rafflecopter giveaway

And to all of our dad readers: Happy Father’s Day!