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.

Microbes, butterflies, and prairies



An Unusual Butterfly Journey

by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz

Millbrook Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7613-9342-9

Picture Book Nonfiction

Grades 2-5

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.


Some farms grow vegetables or grains, and some raise cows, sheep, chickens, or pigs. But have you ever heard of a butterfly farm? How do you raise a butterfly?


There are many different kinds of farms out there, but this is the first time I’ve heard of butterfly farms.  It makes a great deal of sense that there would be such a thing, I’ve just never thought about it before now. This book beautifully describes what happens on a Costa Rican butterfly farm, how the butterflies are raised and transported to places around the world.  The photographs do a wonderful job of illustrating what the author is describing.  The extra information at the end is very useful, explaining the insect life cycle in terms of butterflies, beetles, and flies.  The reference lists and glossary also make this a great resource as well as the link to further resources from the publisher.  A wonderful book that would be very useful in teaching children about the life cycle of butterflies.



The World of Microbes

by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

Candlewick Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7315-4

Picture Book Nonfiction

Grades 1 and up


Find out how the smallest things on the planet do some of the biggest jobs in this intriguing introduction to the world of microbes. 

All around the world — in the sea, in the soil, in the air, and in your body — there are living things so tiny that millions could fit on an ant’s antenna. They’re busy doing all sorts of things, from giving you a cold and making yogurt to eroding mountains and helping to make the air we breathe. If you could see them with your eye, you’d find that they all look different, and that they’re really good at changing things into something else and at making many more microbes like themselves! From Nicola Davies comes a first exploration for young readers of the world’s tiniest living organisms.


Microbes as organisms too small to be seen by the human eye are a topic that would be hard for children to understand since it’s a rather abstract concept.  Nicola Davies has done an excellent job in explaining the concept of these small creatures that out number people by many millions to one.  The amazing world of microbes comes to life in Davies’ words and Sutton’s illustrations.  There is just enough detail to be interesting without becoming overly complicated for the intended audience.  The illustrations show the differences in sizes between different microbes and how different they look as well as how quickly they can multiply.  It’s a subject that can be rather overwhelming yet made palatable by the excellent work of Davies and Sutton.



by Phyllis Root, illustrations by Betsy Bowen

University of Minnesota Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8166-7980-5

Picture Book 

Grades 1 and up

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.


Author Phyllis Root and illustrator Betsy Bowen last explored the vast, boggy peatlands of northern Minnesota in their book Big Belching Bog. Now, in Plant a Pocket of Prairie, Root and Bowen take young readers on a trip to another of Minnesota’s important ecosystems: the prairie.

Once covering almost 40 percent of the United States, native prairie is today one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Plant a Pocket of Prairie teaches children how changes in one part of the system affect every other part: when prairie plants are destroyed, the animals who eat those plants and live on or around them are harmed as well. Root shows what happens when we work to restore the prairies, encouraging readers to “plant a pocket of prairie” in their own backyards.

By growing native prairie plants, children can help re-create food and habitat for the many birds, butterflies, and other animals that depend on them. “Plant cup plants,” Root suggests. “A thirsty chickadee might come to drink from a tiny leaf pool. Plant goldenrod. A Great Plains toad might flick its tongue at goldenrod soldier beetles.” An easy explanation of the history of the prairie, its endangered status, and how to go about growing prairie plants follows, as well as brief descriptions of all the plants and animals mentioned in the story.

With Betsy Bowen’s beautiful, airy illustrations capturing the feel of an open prairie and all its inhabitants, readers of all ages will be inspired to start planting seeds and watching for the many fascinating animals their plants attract. What a marvelous transformation could take place if we all planted a pocket of prairie!


While the focus of this book is on Minnesota prairie and wildlife, the principles in regard to building a small prairie in your backyard certainly apply to a lot of other places.  I loved how the author and illustrator go through the building of a prairie from one plant and animal to more and more until a full-blown prairie has taken root.  I enjoyed hearing about the different animals and plants and how interconnected their lives were. It was sad though to think how little prairie is left in its natural state.  This book would make a great teaching tool for teaching about the prairie habitat as well as teaching about environmental repair.  A great resource and enjoyable look at the beauty of the natural world that we would do well to take care of before it’s gone altogether.

Hands-on Science at Its Best: The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature

Today at Wrapped in Foil blog we have a discussion of a 2015 finalist for the  AAAS/SubaruSB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Hands-on Science Book category, The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature (BBG Guides for a Greener Planet) by a team of educators from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and illustrated by László Veres.


What a lovely title! First of all, the book is beautifully illustrated. In fact the illustrations are so detailed and complex, it could easily be used as a seek-and-find book for the youngest set.

It is also packed with information. Roughly organized by season, it has hands-on activities, explanations of careers (such as nature educator and field biologist), explanations of habitats, and identification guides.

The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature is an exciting new book for young nature lovers and scientists. Every nature educator is going to want a copy, as well.


We have a summary of all the AAAS/SubaruSB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books finalists at Growing With Science blog, many with links to reviews.

Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights

Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights
by Larry Dane Brimner (Author)

Booktalk: In 1965, as the grapes in California’s Coachella Valley were ready to harvest, migrant Filipino American workers—who picked and readied the crop for shipping—negotiated a wage of $1.40 per hour, the same wage growers had agreed to pay guest workers from Mexico. But when the Filipino grape pickers moved north to Delano, in the Central Valley, and again asked for $1.40 an hour, the growers refused. The ensuing conflict set off one of the longest and most successful strikes in American history.

Snippet: The Delano grape workers wanted better wages. Growers only paid them 90 cents an hour, plus 10 cents a log, or box, of grapes picked. At the end of the day, the average picker earned about $1.20 per hour, while some other farm workers were earning more.

See more booktalks at the Booktalking #kidlit blog.

Nonfiction Monday

It’s Nonfiction Monday!

Copyright © 2014 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.
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Tuesday Tucks Me In

Tuesday Tucks Me In

written by Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter

photographs by Dan Dion

2014 (Roaring Brook Press)

Source: Mebane Public Library

Look at that cover. How in the world was I going to pass this book up? Tuesday is a service dog for Luis Montalvan, a veteran of the Iraq War. The book is told from Tuesday’s point of view. He helps Luis navigate through the day. Luis has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Luis suffers from nightmares both day and night. Tuesday walks beside Luis to help him walk along the streets of Brooklyn. He helps calm Luis’s nerves when there are a lot of people around. Walking down stairs is challenging for Luis as he has difficulty with his balance. Grabbing Tuesday’s handle keeps him upright. It’s a wonderful relationship between man and beast.

This is a compelling story, but the star of the book is the photographs. Children will love seeing Tuesday with a toothbrush in his mouth or attempting to slurp an ice cream cone. I like the attention this book will bring to service dogs. Before Tuesday Tucks Me In, my experience with service dogs in children’s literature was through dry informational texts. This book will also allow young readers to begin to understand that war affects more than the body. Tuesday Tucks Me In celebrates the bond between a service dog and a veteran.

Janet Halfmann’s Animal Teachers

Our featured picture book today, Animal Teachers by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Katy Hudson has been been off to a great start since it was released in September. It has been nominated in the 2014 Cybils elementary/middle grade nonfiction category and has already won the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio 2014 Gold Best award.

Animal Teachers

Have you ever wondered how baby animals learn? Are they born knowing everything they need to survive or do they learn from their parents and peers like we humans do? Animal Teachers will answer those questions with some surprising examples. The reader finds out that chicks need to be taught what proper food is and young cheetahs need to be taught how to run. Who would have guessed?

For the text Janet has used what could be described as a “reverse Q & A.” Each two-page spread first tells what a baby animal learns from its parents and then asks a few questions about similar things humans might do, drawing the reader in. It is a wonderful way to inspire conversations and deeper understanding.

You will definitely want to share this fascinating and sweet book with the animal lovers. It would also be a great resource for the classroom, allowing students to discover new things about animals and learning.

If you would like to learn more, try our full review at Wrapped in Foil, as well as some related information and activities at Growing With Science.

The United States Marines

The United States Marines (U.S. Military Forces)
by Michael Green (Author)

Booktalk: For younger readers, a simple introduction to the United States Marine Corps.

Snippet: The Marines quickly respond to threats against the United States. They are often the first troops called into battle.

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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by Matt Tavares

Candlewick Press, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5646-1

Nonfiction Picture Book

Grades 1-5

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

Before he is known as the Babe, George Herman Ruth is just a boy who lives in Baltimore and gets into a lot of trouble. But when he turns seven, his father brings him to the gates of Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, and his life is changed forever. At Saint Mary’s, he’s expected to study hard and follow a lot of rules. But there is one good thing about Saint Mary’s: almost every day, George gets to play baseball. Here, under the watchful eye of Brother Matthias, George evolves as a player and as a man, and when he sets off into the wild world of big-league baseball, the school, the boys, and Brother Matthias are never far from his heart. With vivid illustrations and clear affection for his subject, Matt Tavares sheds light on an icon who learned early that life is what you make of it — and sends home a message about honoring the place from which you came.
Babe Ruth was known for a lot of things, but baseball was his greatest passion.  In this book, Tavares takes the reader on the journey as George Herman Ruth develops this initial passion into a career and becomes a baseball legend.  A mischief maker from the time he was little, his desperate parents finally put him into Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.  George hated the rules, the work, and going to class.  The only thing he didn’t hate was the opportunity to play baseball almost every day.  He like the other boys loved to watch Brother Matthias hit home runs.  Over time and with a great deal of practice, George becomes a fabulous ball player and even when he leaves to play in the minors and then the majors, he never forgets where he learned to play.  He maintains contact with the school and when the school is devastated by fire, Babe Ruth steps forward to help.  This is an appealing and enjoyable book about how a young boy turns his passion into a life.  I appreciated the fact that the book mentions Ruth’s continued mischief making without giving a lot of specifics.  I also liked the author note at the end explaining the research he did and the fact that there were few images to refer to for the illustrations and how that contributed to the legend of Babe Ruth.  A great book for baseball fans.


written by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0521-2

Picture Book Nonfiction

Grades 1-5

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed were solely my own.

As a boy, Kenichi “Zeni” Zenimura dreams of playing professional baseball, but everyone tells him he is too small. Yet he grows up to be a successful player, playing with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig! When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, Zeni and his family are sent to one of ten internment camps where more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry are imprisoned without trials. Zeni brings the game of baseball to the camp, along with a sense of hope.
This true story, set in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, introduces children to a little-discussed part of American history through Marissa Moss’s rich text and Yuko Shimizu’s beautiful illustrations. The book includes author and illustrator notes, archival photographs, and a bibliography.
This is a beautiful book about an important time in American history.  As much as I love my country, the United States has done plenty of awful things over the years.  This book takes a look at one of those things, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  But I really liked the positive way that Zeni chose to face this serious injustice.  Zeni, a young Japanese American fell in love with baseball the first time he saw it played.  And despite his small size and his parents discouragement, he chose to keep playing.  He even had the opportunity to play ball with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth (one of my favorite parts is seeing the photograph of the five-foot Zeni dwarfed by Gehrig and Ruth in a photo in the end notes).  But his skill and popularity did not save him when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  But he refused to let the unfairness of his imprisonment to stop him from playing baseball.  With the help of his sons, and other prisoners, Zeni built a baseball stadium. It’s admirable that they found a source of hope in the midst of the challenges they faced. With this type of book, I always appreciate notes by the author and/or illustrator explaining why they did things they way they did and what they did to fill in some of the blanks.
For more review check out my blog here.

Scientists in the Field Series: Chasing Cheetahs

When a series has been running as long as the Scientists in the Field series has been, it is easy to get a bit jaded and ignore new releases. “Ho hum, another gorgeous science book for middle grades.” That would be a mistake, however, because pretty much every title in this series has been high quality and adds something new.

SITF Cheetah

Take Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cat by Sy Montgomery and with photographs by Nic Bishop, for example. It features the work of Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund and passionate advocate for cheetahs. It is a real call to action to save the cheetah from extinction, as well as a blueprint for innovative thinking about how to pull it off. No wonder it has been nominated for a 2014 Cybils award in the children’s nonfiction category.

See a previous review by Sue at Nonfiction Monday as well as my review at Wrapped in Foil.

Happy Nonfiction Monday!