Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History: Walter Dean Myers and Floyd Cooper

Book: Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-9

FrederickDouglassFrederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History is a picture book biography written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In straightforward fashion, it traces the life of a man named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, born a slave in Maryland, who eventually (changing his name along the way) becomes a writer and leader of the abolitionist movement, as well as an advocate for women's rights. Myers gives particular focus to Frederick's quest to learn to read. His owner's wife starts to teach him, but her husband fears that learning to read will "make (Frederick) unfit to be a slave." He's right about that, in fact, and Frederick eventually escapes to Massachusetts. 

This is a very text-dense picture book that refers (though it doesn't dwell upon) to mature matters, including the fact hat Frederick was beaten for arguing with his master. I think it's more suitable for kids in elementary school than earlier. Reading it with kids will of course spark discussion about slavery, the causes of the Civil War, early women's rights, and the militant abolitionist John Brown. Like this:

"When he was nineteen, Frederick fell in love with a free black woman, Anna Murray. But he was a slave and could not be with her as he chose. The lure of freedom because almost unbearable, but to try to escape was a risky business. Slaveholders did not want to lose their precious "property." When slaves who tried to escape were caught, they were often punished severely.

Frederick new he had to take the chance!"

I do have one quibble about the book. The text skips over the fact that British sympathizers bought Douglass' freedom from his owner. This information is included in a timeline at the end of the book, as is the text of the document officially freeing him. But as I was reading the book I found it odd that this wasn't mentioned. I'm sure that Myers had a reason, but to me it was confusing. The timeline is helpful, though. 

I was quite pleased with Cooper's illustrations, rendered in erasers and oils on board. The old-fashioned sepia tones transport readers to the time of the story. We see Frederick as mostly serious throughout the book, but it's a picture of him as a boy enrapt as the mistress of the house reads to him that tugs at the viewers heart. 

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History covers a lot of historical ground, educating young readers about Douglass himself, as well about America in the 1800s. Myers does a nice job, I think, of humanizing Frederick, while keeping the story focused on the facts. This, I think, is the right balance for a book for younger readers. His focus on the power of words also comes through without being didactic, and delivers a more powerful message about education because of that restraint. Frederick Douglass would be a strong addition to any library's biography collection. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: January 24, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Goldfish Boy: Lisa Thompson

Book: The Goldfish Boy
Author: Lisa Thompson
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12 

GoldfishBoyThe Goldfish Boy is a very impressive debut novel by Lisa Thompson. Set on a small street in a suburb outside of London, The Goldfish Boy is about the mysterious disappearance of a toddler. The story is told by first person narrator Matthew, who is wrestling with his own demons. As Matthew strives to figure out what happened to little Teddy, he also shares clues with readers about the triggers for his own steadily worsening obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Matthew's voice is simply fascinating, unusual and distinctive, painful yet funny. So trapped by his fears of germs that he is virtually unable to leave his house, Matthew entertains himself by watching his neighbors out the window. He even takes little notes. This viewpoint and attention to detail position Matthew somewhat for putting together the clues about Teddy's disappearance, though he ends up needing some on-the-ground help from two neighbors. 

The two mysteries (Teddy's disappearance and the root of Matthew's compulsions) captured my interest. But it was really Matthew's voice that kept me reading The Goldfish Boy. You know you are in good hands when you find passages like this:

"I lived on a quiet, dead-end street in a town full of people who said how great it was that they didn't live in that big, smelly city of London--and who then spent most of their mornings desperately trying to get there." (Page 1)

and this:

"Mr. Charles could have been anything from sixty-five to ninety-five years old. He never seemed to get older. I figured he'd found an age he quite liked and just stopped right there." (Page 3) 

Here's one of many passages about Matthew's OCD:

"My bedroom was the best part of the house. It was safe. It was free from germs. Out there, things were dangerous. What people didn't seem to understand was that dirt meant germs and germs meant illness and illness meant death. It was was quite obvious when you thought about it. I needed things to be right, and in my room I had complete control. All I had to do was keep on top of it." (Page 12)

The Goldfish Boy is a book that has the potential to make young readers feel more compassion towards students who are struggling with inner demons. The other characters in the book, particularly two other twelve-year-olds living on Matthew's street, are complex and intriguing. We learn through flashbacks, for example, about Matthew's relationship with his childhood friend Jake, who is now a bit of a bully. Thompson traces Jakes's evolution from bullying victim to bully, and casts just the faintest hint of Matthew's culpability through lack of loyalty. Matthew's developing relationship with newer neighbor Melody, who has her own questionable habits, is both entertaining and thought-provoking.   

The Goldfish Boy is book that I think will intrigue both children and adults.  It has strong characters, a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery, and a protagonist with a unique and compelling voice. I was surprised to learn that it was Lisa Thompson's first novel. It is a most assured debut, and I look forward to Thompson's future work. Highly recommended. 

Publisher:  Scholastic Press (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: February 17: The #Cybils Awards, #WRAD17, Schools and #Play

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. A highlight this week is the fact that the Cybils Award winners were announced on Tuesday (Valentine's Day). Other topics this week include #BookGivingDay, #BookLists, #math, book selection, bullying, charter schools, friendship, growing bookworms, libraries, play, reading, schools, screentime, student volunteers, Valentine's Day, World Read Aloud Day, writing. 

Book Lists

WormLovesWormFor Valentine's Day: 10 Great #PictureBooks about Love – #BookList from @tashrow

28 Black #PictureBooks That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball | Scott Woods  #BookList #DiverseBooks

A curated #BookList from The Classroom Bookshelf to align with @litworldsays 7 strengths (curiosity etc) for #WRAD17 


Cybils-Logo-2016-Round-SmThe 2016 #cybils winners are LIVE  #kidlit #ya #poetry #graphicnovels #nonfiction + more.  Thanks to all our judges!

5 Multicultural #Cybils Chapter Book Nominees, highlights from R1 judge Claire Noland  #DiverseBooks #kidlit 

#Cybils Announcements Coming Tomorrow | judge @gail_gauthier runs down #YA speculative fiction finalists #kidlit 

Happy 11th Blogiversary to @MsYingling, long-time #cybils category chair for middle grade fiction 


Multicultural Statistics for 3400 books received by @CCBCwisc in 2016  #DiverseBooks #kidlit #YA

Events + Programs

WRAD1712 Apps & Websites for World Read Aloud Day (or any day!)  #WRAD17 @litworldsays  @classtechtips  #ReadAloud

Building a World of Empathy Through the Simple Yet Profound Act of #ReadingAloud @pamallyn @ReadBrightly  #WRAD17

Celebrate World Read Aloud Day #WRAD17 on 2/16 w/ these free online + offline resources @Scholastic 

BookGivingDayBlogBadgeIn addition to #ValentinesDay + #Cybils Day today is International #BookGivingDay 2017  @bookgivingday | Give books! 

Valentines for Walking Books: A Student Volunteer Success Story from @abbylibrarian that brightened my day 

Growing Bookworms

On Kids Who Delight in Characters Behaving Badly by @kirleclerc @nerdybookclub  #JunieBJones + more

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Willems_elephants_cant_danceLife lessons in “best friend” easy readers @teddyballgame83 @HornBook  #kidlit @The_Pigeon #FrogAndToad

When They Still Just Hate to Write… | Some tips for how parents + teachers can support #writing @pernilleripp

Comical Information | Jennifer Wharton discusses + recommends #nonfiction #GraphicNovels @sljournal

So Many Books, So Little Time: Tips for #Reading Strategically | @donalynbooks @nerdybookclub  | Abandon books +more

A Good Scare: How Horror Books Can Help Kids Conquer Their Fears | @CurtisJobling @ReadBrightly  #kidlit

Schools and Libraries

CreativeBlockPlayReviews of three new books for #educators on the Importance of #Play @sljournal 

Are teachers harming kids by assigning #screentime in class + #homework asks @Screensandkids @BAMRadioNetwork

How Access to Nature During The #School Year Can Help Students Thrive | Leah Shaffer @MindShiftKQED  #Play

Not surprising, but worth reading: School bullying linked to poorer academic achievement @DailyGenius @drdouggreen

Hidden Digital Spaces (like @Twitter chats) Where Innovation in #Education is Brewing  @MIND_Research #Collaboration

Buh-bye Barriers - A call from @lochwouters Stop #Library Fines + improve access [See also this followup:]

Parent shares why she (and others she knows) chose #CharterSchool for her daughter @anaperiodista @HuffingtonPost

In the age of robots, our #schools are teaching children to be redundant| @GeorgeMonbiot @guardian on other ways


Examples of (and motivation for) using #Math Talk with Preschoolers @easycda @BAMRadioNetwork  #STEM #ECE

In Call for Early #STEM Learning, #Libraries Cited as Potential ‘Charging Stations’ | Lisa Jacobson @sljournal

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog: Peter Meisel and Paul Meisel

Book: Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog
Author: Peter Meisel
Illustrator: Paul Meisel
Pages: 80
Age Range: 5-7 (Illustrated early reader, full-color)

StinkySpikeStinky Spike: The Pirate Dog kicks off a new series in Bloomsbury's Read & Bloom line of early readers with full color illustrations. Written by Peter Meisel and illustrated by Paul Meisel, the book introduces Spike, a dog who works at a shipyard chasing away birds, and who excels at chasing down bad smells. One day, in the course of his duties, Spike falls in the water and is swept out to sea, saved only by an old wooden bucket full of bits of rotten fish. After some adventures on the high seas, Spike is taken in by a crew of a rather inept pirates, who christen him Stinky Spike. But can Stinky Spike's strong nose help the pirate crew in their quest for treasure? 

Peter Meisel's text is kid friendly, full of strong, alliterative sentences, not too difficult for newer readers. Like this:

"Spike was in trouble. "Scram, flappers!" he howled as he bolted at the birds.

But there was a patch of slippery, slimy seaweed on the dock. Spike's paws slid out from under him. He skidded off the edge of the dock.

SPLASH! Spike landed in the ocean." (Page 18)

And here are the pirates talking:

"Crusty clam shells! This sea dog stinks worse than rotten anchovies." Zip gagged.

"Or spoiled sardine stew!" Zelda choken.

"Blimey, that's quite a stench. What be your name, mutt?" Fishbeard scowled.

Bonus points for the ship having a female first-mate. With an eye patch, no less. 

Pirates, a dog, and a host of bad smells. What is not to like for the kindergarten and first grade crowd? Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog has three chapters, wide text spacing, and at least a half-page of illustration for every page spread. Paul Meisel's illustrations are full of entertaining details, like fish literally poking out of Captain Fishbeard's beard. He uses wavy lines to indicate the presence of bad smells, of which there are many. The pirates are ragged but not at all intimidating, and Spike himself is an intrepid, if pungent, figure. In short, this is a fine addition to the ranks of early readers. A second installment, Stinky Spike and the Royal Rescue, releases on the same day as the first (though I have not seen that one). I suspect that Stinky Spike will be a hit with the primary-grade crowd, and that other titles will be forthcoming. Recommended, especially for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: February 15: Picture Books, Literacy Milestones, and Reading Choice

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have four book reviews (all picture books) and a post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (dying to finish a book and having to wait). I also have one post in which I recount several smaller steps along my daughter's path to literacy, and two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter.

Reading Update: In the past two weeks I sadly only completed one book. I read: 

  • Ingrid Thoft: Duplicity (Fina Ludlow). G.P. Putman's Sons. Adult Mystery. Completed February 4, 2017, on Kindle. This PI series is a bit dark, but I like the Boston (and surrounding suburbs) setting. 

Usually I at least get in audiobook reading time, but due to an illness, I've been unable to exercise, and hence even my audiobook reading time has been significantly curtailed.  I'm currently listening to W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton and reading The Most Frightening Story Ever Told by Philip Kerr. I have some travel coming up and do hope to get more reading time in soon. 

MouseScouts2My husband and I are just about finished reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling to our daughter. We decided that we wanted to listen to the last 2 chapters together as a family, and finding time for that has been a little tricky.  She continues to read from chapter books on her own. Most recently she became very excited about reading The BFG by Roald Dahl. I warned her that it might be a bit too challenging to be enjoyable, but she delighted in being able to tell people that she was reading a 240 page chapter book. It was a hard read, though, with a lot of made up words and the giant speaking in grammatically questionable sentences. She has now put it aside for a Mouse Scouts book by Sarah Dillard that I think will be a better fit. I try to mind my own business as much as possible, and let her figure things out on her own. You can find her 2017 reading list here

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook