Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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In this Ten Titles collection of book reviews, we offer you a bit of variety. This list includes books good for celebrating Valentine's Day, some books good for students to practice summarizing, and some books good for both!

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch

Just in time for Valentine's Day, this book by Eileen Spinelli and Paul Yalowitz illustrates how love can change us. Mr. Hatch follows a lonely routine each day until he unexpectedly receives an anonymous gift with a card signed, "Somebody Loves You." Realizing that someone loves him changes the way Mr. Hatch thinks of himself and, as his self-opinion becomes more positive, so do his interactions with others. The palette of Yalowitz's illustrations complement Mr. Hatch's changing moods, engaging readers visually. The surprise ending introduces an unexpected tension that will engage your students emotionally. Use this book to help students consider the power of loving and being loved.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Come On, Rain!

Few books offer a perfect marriage of image and text the way the words of Karen Hesse and the illustrations of Jon J Muth come together in Come On, Rain!. After relentless summer heat, the children in an urban apartment complex wait with their mothers for the renewing rain the bulging clouds and greying skies foreshadow. The words and the illustrations are filled with anticipation, building in intensity until the skies give way and the rhythmic rain compels mothers and daughters to dance in the streets. Poetic images and image-laden words make this a magical book. Hesse and Muth create characters and settings with such vibrance and authenticity that we find ourselves chanting with them, "Come on, rain!"

14 Cows for America

Carmen Agra Deedy wrote her new book, 14 Cows for America, in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. A native son of a tribal community returns from a trip to America to summarize the events of 9-11. Based on a true story, this book invites deep text-to-world connections. Thomas Gonzalez's stunning and expansive illustrations capture the African setting and communicate the power of community. 14 Cows for America offers a deep perspective on what it means to have a lot.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash

For a hilarious example of how not to summarize something, read your students Jimmy's recounting of his class field trip. In The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble and illustrated by Steven Kellogg, Jimmy's mother wants to know about Jimmy's class trip to the farm, but Jimmy's summary of events is wildly confusing. This now-classic story, told with a wealth of unsupporting details and in scrambled chronology, is a marvelous text for launching conversations about summarizing. After reading the story, let our children write the summary Jimmy should have told his mother!

Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Day

Children often feel they have to wait until they grow up to change the world. This sweet story of a very ordinary girl illustrates the extraordinary power of one person. Mary's one small act of kindness launches a chain of events that impact the lives of over six billion people! The math showing the consequences of Mary's gesture is shown on a lovely two-page spread -- truly impressive! Fumi Kosaka's simple yet expressive illustrations make this story of "paying it forward" come alive. This picture book would be an excellent way to introduce the idea of service learning to children, and the mathematical "summary" at the end of the book illustrates that you don't have to be big to make a big difference.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Mr. Katapat's Incredible Adventures

At some point in their development, readers discover that books take you anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Stephane Barroux's tribute to the transformative power of books is written and illustrated so that children can grasp this concept. We meet a man who lives grand adventures through the books he reads, while the reality of his life is pretty mundane. Things change drastically, however, when Mr. Katapat literally runs into the soon-to-be Mrs. Katapat while both have their faces buried in books. Call this an unconventional love story; it's perfect for children and book-loving adults -- and for summarizing on Valentine's Day!

The Important Book

First published in 1949, The Important Book by noted children's author Margaret Wise Brown is a classic. The book is an exercise in finding the main idea, as Brown makes statements about one true characteristic of everyday objects. Brown is actually playing a game with the reader because one person's "important thing" is not at all that of another. The point is to examine the world around us and teach children to think for themselves. Brown makes us think about the essence of everyday items in new ways. The lovely illustrations are provided by Caldecott Medal winner Leonard Weisgard and he does a lovely job of visually illustrating the roundess of an apple. Use this book as a catalyst for your students to mine the essence of themselves during a getting-to-know-you exercise at the beginning of the year. Bring it out again when you are teaching main idea and have your students create their own lists of important objects.

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

Love Letters

What better way to tell someone your feelings for them than with a letter? Here, Arnold Adoff's collection of witty, often affectionate and poetic notes are written to classmates, teachers, family members and pets and are coupled with the fun-to-look-at collages of Lisa Desimini. Most of the letter-writers are anonymous with signatures such as "Your Valentine Avenger" or "Mr. One-And-Only." At other times, the recipient would know exactly who sent the letter, such as when "Big Belly" sends his grandmother a love note declaring his love for her sugar cookies. Everything about this book is eye-catching and commands the reader's attention to detail. Young readers might be inspired to come up with their own Adoff-style love letters.

Doggy Slippers

Uncover the touching and often humorous sentiment of love for our pets in Jorge Lujan's collection of poems written by children from all over Latin America. The children's ages range from five to thirteen and are published here as part of a project in which Lujan proposed the topic and kids responded in verse. One child compares himself to his pet monkey, except for a list of qualities that make them different, including the fact that "I don't stink." Another gives a very specific description of the toy poodle named Olivia that a little girl would like to buy. One simple three-lined poem credits a little one's kitty with making life better "when things go wrong." Isol's illustrations, loose and childlike, add the perfect amount of tenderness to each poem.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Half of an Elephant

In some children's books, the pictures can stand alone and still be as interesting as the text they are meant to illustrate. This is the case with Gusti's Half of an Elephant. The digital collages depict half-animals after "One night,... the world split in two." All of the world's creatures, represented as compilations of springs, pieces of wood, and other random parts, are left with half of their bodies missing. They yearn to be complete as their former selves, but find that being something different isn't all that bad. To illustrate that we can reinvent ourselves, Gusti's final spread is of the reunited front and back halves of the elephant with the tail leading the head. There are so many details to behold in this book that kids will have fun with multiple reads.