The Griffin and the Dinosaur by Marc Aronson & Adrienne Mayor

GriffinLynn: As an educator, a parent, and a grandparent, one of my goals has been to fan the flames of curiosity in kids. It’s a critical trait and one that often seems to get squashed somewhere along the K-12 march. I love books that encourage kids to ask questions. Marc Aronson’s books always seem to do this so well and none more than this year’s The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science (2014)….

Cindy: Books about mythological animals are popular in my middle-school library, so I’m eager to capitalize on that interest while introducing my students to a book about observation, curiosity, and persistent research…..

Check out our whole post about this book, including Common Core Connections, at our Bookends Blog post for Griffin over at the newly designed Booklist Reader.


The Soda Bottle School

soda-bottle schoolThe Soda Bottle School
by Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade; illus. by Aileen Darragh
32 pages; ages 6-12
Tilbury House publishers, 2014

This is the true story of how one crazy idea led to recycling, teamwork, and a new school. It is about Fernando and his friends who go to school in a small town in Guatemala. The students squish into the classrooms, with two kids at each desk and two classes in each room. Some days it is too noisy to think.

Then one day the crazy idea hit: could they build a bigger school using old plastic soda bottles? Before long everyone was involved collecting bottles and stuffing them with old chip bags and plastic trash to make them stronger. These were “eco-ladrillos” or eco-bricks. then they stacked the bottles between chicken wire, and later they covered that with cement. And finally, they painted the walls orange.

But the story doesn’t end there. Kutner is donating her portion of profits from the book to Trash for Peace, and Slade is donating hers to Hug it Forward. Both organizations are funding bottle schools.

You can read an interview with author Suzanne Slade over at Sally’s Bookshelf.

Nonfiction Monday

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Copyright © 2014 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved. Site Meter

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh


Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1054-4
Picture Book Nonfiction
Grades 1 and up
Source: school library
All opinions expressed are solely my own.


Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.


I appreciated the fact that this book addresses an historical event that is not very well known. We need more books that look at the experiences of a variety of different backgrounds. This book is very well put together. The design is fresh and appealing. The text is informative with being didactic. I found the inclusion of actual testimony fascinating. The other thing I really liked was that the story shows that simply winning the case doesn’t ‘fix’ everything. Even after being allowed into the white school, Sylvia faced harsh treatment from the other students. Winning in court does not mean attitudes have changed. Sometimes it takes time for attitudes to change as sad as that is, people’s beliefs don’t adjust overnight. Thanks to the urging of her mother, Sylvia found the courage to go back and by doing so she helped change the world. The notes and back along with the glossary, index, and bibliography provide a great deal of extra information for those who want to know more. An important story well-told and beautifully illustrated making for a winner of a book all around.


Sweaty Suits of Armor

sweaty suits of armorSweaty Suits of Armor: Could you survive being a knight?
by Chana Stiefel; illus. by Gerald Kelley
48 pages; ages 10-14
Enslow, 2012

When my sons were of a certain age they decided that what they really wanted to be when they grew up was knights in shining armor. They snuck the colanders from the kitchen and used them as helmets. They turned tomato stakes into swords and pot lids into shields. They also watched every version of King Arthur (and any applicable Monty Python movies) that I would allow.

What they really needed was this book, because Chana Stiefel lays it out like it was back in the day: those heavy metal suits of armor were stinky and hot! Not only that, knights had to eat bad food, wield heavy swords, and were often taken prisoner and – if lucky – ransomed off. The unlucky ones were chained in the dungeon.

Stiefel strips the romance from the Middle Ages with language that is clear, fun to read, and so descriptive you can smell the sweat-sodden padding beneath the armor. She describes life in the Middle Ages war zone (no MREs), how to train for a knight (blood, sweat and tears), and the weapons of war.

At the back of the book is a handy glossary and list of resources for the would-be warrior. And an index!

Head over to Sally’s Bookshelf to read an interview with the author.

Kitchen Math

Kitchen Math (Math Everywhere!)
by Katie Marsico (Author)

Booktalk: Math is everywhere in the kitchen! See what’s cooking inside this book—and how we need math to finish the job! You’ll need your math smarts to help measure ingredients, calculate cooking times, add and subtract fractions, double and halve recipes, convert cups to ounces and back again, and more.

Snippet: Aunt Megan says that the roast’s size affects the cooking time. Overcooking meat makes it tough. Undercooking it can make people sick.

Tony studies the label. The roast weighs 5 pounds [2.3 kilograms]. The directions say to preheat the oven to 325F [163 C]. The beef needs to cook for 23-25 minutes per pound.

Tony and Aunt Megan need to figure our how long the beef should roast.

Nonfiction Monday

It’s Nonfiction Monday!

See more booktalks at the Booktalking #kidlit blog.

Copyright © 2014 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.
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Clara and Roget, who left a mark on the world


From bestselling author Patricia Polacco’s family tree — the true story of young Clara Barton.

Animals and flowers were Clara’s best friends. She had a special way with critters and found joy in the beauty that sprang from the soil. But whenever Clara talked, her words didn’t come out right. As hard as she tried, she could not get over her lisp.

Clara’s older brother Davie understood that his sister was gifted. When folks made fun of Clara’s stilted words, Davie was always at her side reminding her that she had a talent for healing creatures. 

Davie told his sister, “Some day you are going to be a very great lady.” And that’s exactly what happened. Clara Barton became one of the most famous medical practitioners of all time, and founded the American Red Cross. 


Another winner from a prolific and talented author/illustrator, Clara and Davie introduces the reader to Clara Barton as a young girl.  I especially enjoyed reading about her relationship with her brother, Davie.  Not many brothers ten years older would take the time to help and befriend his younger sister the way Davie does.  It’s clear that Clara had a gift for healing from the time she was very young.  But like everyone else she faced her own challenges including a prominent lisp.  This lisp led many of those around her to make fun of her causing her to withdraw, but thanks to the efforts of her brother and other family members she was educated at home.  When Davie suffers a devastating injury, Clara is just the one to help him face his own heart-wrenching challenges.  Like all her other family stories, Polacco shares the experiences that helped people grow and become the people they were.  Keep in mind that biographical picture books like this one often have made up dialogue in them, after all nobody was around to record everything that someone may have said at some point in his/her life.  


For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time.

Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.


One of my favorite books of 2014, The Right Word, takes a look at the creation of Roget’s Thesaurus and the man who created it.  Not only are the illustrations remarkable (which I would expect from Melissa Sweet), the text is beautifully integrated with them to present a striking book that is both informative and appealing.  This book would be a great tool for helping children learn how to use a thesaurus and to develop an understanding of the power of having just the right word to use.  Roget strikes me as a rather interesting man to study with his word fascination as well as interest in many aspects of science so I found the author’s and illustrator’s notes at the end thoroughly intriguing.  The list of references and resources is also helpful and indicates the large amount of work that went into making this book.  It was also really interesting to see a copy of one of the pages from Roget’s notebook.  A great book and a great resource and very possibly a soon to be award winner.

Gus & Me

Richards, Keith. 2014. Gus & Me: The Story of my Granddad and my First Guitar. Hachette Audio.

Keith Richards, the rough-edged, raspy-voiced, Rolling Stones guitarist, is hardly the man that comes to mind for a picture book writer and narrator, but then again, who better to tell the story of his first guitar?

Richards wins the listener over immediately with his folksy, working class Estuary English accent (think dropped h’s and “intrusive” r’s) and unmistakable fondness for his topics – his first guitar and his beloved Granddad, Gus. It was the musically talented Gus who introduced a young Keith Richards to the guitar, teaching him how to ‘old it, and suggesting the classical Malagueña(r) as the pinnacle of guitar mastery.

I have yet to see the print version of this story, but I don’t believe it could surpass the audio book.  A story with music at its heart needs music to be understood. Richards plays bits from Malagueña in appropriate spots throughout the story, and during a visit to a music shop in London, we hear Steve Jordan on drums.  Once, the listener even hears a little chuckle – not musical, but surprisingly sincere.  Richards collaborated with other authors, but this is obviously his story, and he delights in telling it.

(Run time: about 7 minutes)

My review of Gus & Me for AudioFile Magazine appears here with a small excerpt.  Take a listen!

See all of my reviews at Shelf-employed. Or follow me on Twitter @shelfemployed

Copyright © 2014 L Taylor All Rights Reserved.