Amy Says Read This

Seriously, you should totally read this.

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Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt! by Leslie Kimmelman

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Kimmelman, L., & Gustavson, A. (ill.) (2009). Mind your manners, Alice Roosevelt!. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN: 9781561454921

Annotation: Teddy Roosevelt could handle almost anything. Except his oldest daughter, Alice, who liked to break rules and get into mischief.

Reaction: This picture book is as much about Teddy as about Alice, but it did have some fun facts about the President’s daughter, including that she owned a pet snake at one point!

The art is detailed and reflects the mischievousness of Alice and the whole of Roosevelt family. Gustavson’s depictions of Alice and her family’s antics are really my favorite part of the book, making it a much more enjoyable read than the text alone.

This book is not quite as much fun as What To Do About Alice, which focused more on Alice’s exploits rather than her father trying to get her to behave, but it was a good read. I enjoyed the way it depicted the family, and I think it’s always fun to see “behind the scenes” in the lives of famous people.

Media Used: Oil on prepared paper

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website


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Pssst! by Adam Rex

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Rex, A. (2007). Pssst!. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN: 9780152058173

Annotation: When a little girl visits the zoo, all the animals ask her to pick up supplies for them.

Reaction: I originally picked up this book to use it during a storytime, but upon a second reading, I realized that this would just go right over my kids’ heads. The pages with the animals making their requests feature illustrations that are too small for storytime purposes, and I think the humor is probably a little too tongue in cheek for the preschool set. That said, this is a DELIGHTFUL book. I think kids starting around 7 or 8 would really enjoy this. The animals and their requests are ridiculous and hilarious.

Rex does a great job with the illustrations. I love the simple line drawing backgrounds and the super detailed characters. He really captures all the girl’s feelings through her body language and subtle facial expressions. He also adds tons of great funny details in the backgrounds and zoo signage, which makes a slow perusal of this book fun.

This could be a great read aloud book, especially for someone who is good at doing character voices (I am not; I always feel too silly).

Media Used: Oil and acrylic on watercolor paper

Author’s Website

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Apples to Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson

Hopkinson, D., & Carpenter, N. (ill.) (2004). Apples to Oregon: Being the (slightly) true narrative of how a brave pioneer father brought apples, peaches, pears, plums, grapes and cherries (and children) across the plains. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780439800112

Annotation: When the family gets ready to move from Iowa to Oregon in 1847, Daddy can’t stand the thought of leaving his fruit trees behind. So he brings them along.

Reaction: I really enjoyed this look at how orchards came to Oregon. I never would have thought to wonder where those original fruit trees came from, and this is a fun look at how one man got a wagon full of trees nearly 2,000 miles across the country. The narrator has a great, authentic voice and heroically protects her Daddy’s baby trees.

The art is silly and adds to the lighthearted tone of the story. I love the image of Daddy singing a lullaby to his trees in his long johns.

This book would be great in an Oregon 4th-5th grader class, as part of a local history unit. Teachers in the rest of the country could also use it when studying the Westward Expansion.

Media Used: Oil paint

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website: None

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Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli

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Napoli, D. J., & Nelson, K. (ill.) (2010). Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781416935056

Annotation: When the women of Kenya have problems, they go to Wangari to solve them, and she has a tree to fix every issue.

Reaction: I love Donna Jo. She has written a lot of fairy tale/mythology retellings that I devoured in high school, so when I saw this picture book sitting on the shelf at the library, I knew I wanted to check it out. This story is pretty simple, in that there’s no major conflict or action, but it is a powerful story of a woman peacefully changing her country by encouraging her people to embrace nature. The tone is very mellow and calm, and the entire story evokes a strong sense of peace and tranquility. It was so nice to read because it had such a calming effect on my hectic day.

Because the story is simple, the art really stands out and shines. Nelson used fabric and oil paint on gessoed board to create the illustrations, and the bright fabrics really bring Kenya to life for the reader. He uses fabrics for everything except the faces and hands of the people, which are so beautifully detailed in rich chocolate brown oil paint. The patterned fabrics add a lot of wonderful texture to the pictures, and I love that he uses them for unexpected things: the green of the seedlings and browns of the fields, plus all the colorful clothes.

This book would well used in 5th or 6th grade social studies, possibly paired with One Hen.

Media Used: Oil paint and fabric on board.

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website

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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

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Kamkwamba, W., Mealer, B., & Zunon, E. (ill.) (2012). The boy who harnessed the wind. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780803735118

Annotation: In the African country of Malawi, a 14 year old boy teaches himself how to build a windmill to produce electricity and pump water for his father’s farm.

Reaction: This book was really inspiring. I had to tell my husband about it when I finished because William’s accomplishments sort of blew my mind. He was a boy with no money and not a lot of education, yet he was able to create a windmill out of junkyard scraps based on instructions he needed a dictionary to read. Because of his drive, determination and ingenuity, William was able to better his life and the lives of his family, and he was given opportunities to continue his education and get his story out to the world. Ultimately, this problem solver is going to be able to help make his entire country and the world a better place.

The bright colors of the art really suit the African landscape, and the cut paper adds a lot of texture and dimension to the oil paintings.

Media Used: Oil paint and cut paper

William Kamkwamba’s Website

Bryan Mealer’s Website

Illustrator’s Website

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I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen

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Christensen, B. (2012). I, Galileo. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN: 9780375867538

Annotation: Galileo was a radical scientist and mathematician whose most memorable work proved the Copernican theory of a sun centered universe, though he also invented the compass and microscope and experimented with pendulums.

Reaction: I enjoyed this first person biography of Galileo. He was such a forward, progressive thinker, and it’s really too bad that the Church wasn’t ready for his discoveries. Christensen does a good job of showing his need to always be learning new things; even when the Church forbade him from talking about the Copernican theory, he kept right on examining the world around him and learning things no one ever had before.

The art is really nice, and I like the thick black lines Christensen uses to outline, which gives the reader the feeling of looking at stained glass windows. She uses lots of vivid colors that only add to the illusion of stained glass. I also really loved her depictions of Galileo’s various experiments, particularly the one with his father, testing lute strings with various lengths and tensions.

Media Used: Gouache resist with oil paints.

Author’s Website

Lesson Plan
Grade Level: 5th-6th
Subject/Content: Science/experiments
Summary of Lesson: Students will recreate some of Galileo’s experiments
Focus Question: How do you design and conduct scientific experiments?
Books/websites used: I, Galileo
School science text

–>From I, Galileo, students choose one experiment to recreate in small groups
–>Conduct experiment and draw conclusions
–>Present findings to the class
–>Discuss, as a class, the findings and the process of conducting the experiment

–>Develop teamwork skills
–>Learn how to conduct an experiment
–>Experience the scientific process
–>Learn how to draw conclusions based on data collected during experiments
–>Develop public speaking skills through presentation of findings to class

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Underground by Shane W. Evans

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Evans, S. W. (2011). Underground. New York: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN: 9781596435384

Annotation: In the dark of night, a family of slaves creep away from their plantation. They hide, they run, they find aid until they reach their goal: freedom.

Reaction: The simply language in this story allows the art to convey complex ideas.

Evans’s illustrations really express the fear and danger of escaping, especially through his use of large, worried eyes that are often the brightest spot on the page, and the bright gold of the rising sun at the end of the book allows the reader to feel the same hope and joy that the now freed slaves are experiencing.

I would use this book as part of a 5th or 6th grade history unit. It ties in nicely to discussion of the Underground Railroad and the lengths slaves had to go to find freedom.

Evans uses the rising sun at the end of the book as a symbol for the freedom the escaped slaves have found.

This book has won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrators.

Media Used: Mixed media, oil paint, pencil and digital collage

Author’s Website