Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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Share these books with students as you help them think about accepting those who seem different from them. We also offer you some books about the work of writing.

Sophie's Masterpiece

Sophie is a selfless, kind and unappreciated artist who happens to be a spider. She creates beautiful things for herself and her friends, though her gifts are often unappreciated. Eileen Spinelli's story explores themes of stereotyping, selflessness, and tenacity. Sophie's life story is illustrated with Jane Dyer's moving and gentle watercolors with special artistic details hidden on many pages. This book offers complex layers for conversation and promises to be a classic.

Click here to view this book in Amazon +
Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Testing Miss Malarkey

Enjoy Judy Finchler's satirical look at the test preparation that can ensue when standardized testing season begins. Miss Malarkey's students must prepare for the I.P.T.U. standardized test, and the grown-ups in their lives begin to behave in strange ways as these adults grow more nervous about the impending test. With research indicating that talking about their feelings about the test can help student perform better, this book is a perfect text for opening a discussion about what is, and is not, important about standardized tests. Give yourself, and your students, a little testing perspective by spending some time with Miss Malarkey and her class as they get ready for a standardized test. This book is both ridiculous and authentic, with rich and thought-provoking illustrations from Kevin O'Malley.


In this book by Peter H. Reynolds, readers learn that creative work doesn't have to be perfect. The main character, Ramon, has an older brother who questions the realism of Ramon's drawings. While Ramon draws everywhere and all the time, his brother's criticism throws him into creative paralysis. It is his sister's declaration that his work didn't have to be perfect frees him to experiment and reawakens his artistic drive. This is a great book for exploring the balance between enjoying the creative process versus focusing on the product.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Amazing Faces

This picture book anthology compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins comes to life with Chris Soentpiet's large, beautiful watercolor portraits of sixteen people of diverse age and ethnicity. Some of the poems gently rhyme, but not every one. What every poem does do is celebrate America's abundant diversity. Amazing Faces is an oversized book, which makes it easier to read the rich blend of feelings, background, and history in each exquisite likeness. The final poem is "My People," by Langston Hughes, a fitting conclusion to a special book that celebrates the uniqueness of all people and the connections they have with the world.

Beautiful Oops!

One of the best lessons a child can learn in any process is how to embrace mistakes and turn them into something useful and productive. Barney Saltzberg offers a magical array of wondrous creations all manufactured from some kind of mishap -- a stain on a paper, a spill, a splatter of paint. Each "mistake" is conquered with an imaginative transformation into something beautiful, such as a tear in a piece of paper standing in for the mouth of an alligator. The pages of this book offer tangible explorations with pop-ups, accordion folds, lifting flaps, and even holes. This book takes the edge off of mistake-making and students will undoubtedly be stirred to absorb them into any creative process after reading it.

Click here to view this book in Amazon +
Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Courage of the Blue Boy

Courage of The Blue Boy, written and illustrated by Robert Nuebecker, is a colorful story about a boy named "Blue" who lives in a land where everything is blue. Blue, who feels there must be more to life than blue, although he has never seen anything else, imagines all the colors of the world and sets out to find them with his best friend Polly the calf, who is also blue. Blue's journey takes him and Polly through many monochromatic lands, until the day they find a big beautiful city of many colors and happily decide to live there. One day Blue makes the frightening realization that something is missing in the big beautiful city of many colors. The depth of Blue's new dilemma is profound and the solution that he finds in order to live in the world he imagines strikes at the core of what it means to be truly creative.

The Sneetches and Other Stories

As with many of the inimitable Dr. Seuss' tales, there is more to this story than meets the eye, and it rhymes! Sneetches is a cautionary tale about the evils of racism, intolerance, and conformity. There are two kinds of Sneetches on the beaches. One kind of Sneetch has stars on their tummies, the others have no star. The Star-belly Sneetches spend most of their time thinking of new ways to exclude the Sneetches with no stars, who in turn spend most of their time feeling left out.

Enter Sylvester McMonkey McBean who has the answer to everyone's problems (or perhaps the problems to everyone's answers): His star-off and star-on machines, which for a nominal fee will give you the belly of your dreams. Fortunately, for Mr. McBean, and unfortunately for the Sneetches, belly fashion begins to change so quickly that in no time at all sly Sylvester is driving away with every last dollar of the Sneetches' money. Only Dr. Suess could manage to make a story like this end on a positive note. Sneetches, ostensibly a children's story, has a message for us all, and gives the reader a lot to think about: Be happy with who you are and what you've got.

Click here to view this book in Amazon +
Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Show; Don't Tell!

In Show; Don't Tell! Josephine Nabisso engages us in conversation about living a writerly life. She debunks common myths and invites us to think about our writing differently. She writes, "The hard work of writing is to take what no one else can see -- what is in your mind... and to put it into words so that the reader has a share in what you are experiencing in your daydream." Nabisso goes on to offer writing insights and opportunities for applying them. She manages to teach topics ranging from voice to grammar, all the while maintaining her interactive style. Eva Montanari's delightful illustrations beautifully support the books intentions. If this book wins any more awards they won't fit on the cover!

You Have to Write

Janet S. Wong is an award-winning author who "hated creative writing" when she was a child. She struggled with story ideas and wrote You Have to Write about her childhood experience. Using free verse poetry, Ms. Wong encourages younger readers to value the ordinary in their lives. Everyday things that happen to children in their families, during school and on the playground are what they know best! Teresa Flavin's multicultural gouache illustrations of children communicate a encouraging message: Write what you know!

Click here to view this book in Amazon +
Click here to view this book in Amazon +

If You Were a Writer

This picture book gives a snapshot of the life of a working writer who also happens to be a mother to a curious young daughter, Melia. The story involves a days-long conversation the two have about the mental processes a writer uses to craft a story. Joan Lowery Nixon's text is full of descriptive words as Melia thinks about "showing, not telling" as her mother suggests. With the gentle encouragement of her mother, by the end of the book Melia realizes she is indeed a writer. Use this book to give your students a clear description of what a writer does, especially how writers get story ideas to begin the business of creating!