Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko

jonimitchellJoni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko; illustrated by Selina Alko. 2020. Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.

Brief summary: Roberta Joan Anderson painted and played the piano as a child. At ten years old, she contracted polio but was still able to sing and write songs. As a high school student, Roberta  painted in addition to playing music on a ukulele  that she bought on her own after saving up money from modeling.

She moved several times in Canada and never lost her love of expressing herself through art. 

When she was in her early 20s, she married Chuck Mitchell and changed her name to Joni Mitchell. She now lived in America and began to write her own folk songs and performed them around the continent becoming more and more famous.

Comments: I always like to see a photograph in the back pages but there was not one included, however, there are a discography and an author’s note.

This is a very basic biography of Joni Mitchell’s life full of accomplishments.

This narrative nonfiction biography could be shared in music class, women’s history month, or a biography unit.  Students will really understand this iconic Canadian folk singer and songwriter if this book is paired with her live performances which truly capture her musicality and words that made her so well known in the 1960s and 1970s.

The detailed and montage illustrations capture the folklore style.

Run, Sea Turtle, Run: A Hatchling’s Journey by Stephen R. Swinburne

runseaturtlerunRun, Sea Turtle, Run: A Hatchling’s Journey by Stephen R. Swinburne; illustrated by Guillaume Feuillet. 2020. Illustrated with photography. Published by Millbrook Press.

Brief summary: A sea turtle hatchling narrates her life’s beginning on a warm beach. Young readers learn how the sea turtle gets out of an egg, her struggle to climb out of the nest’s hole, and finally, crawling along the sand with her many brother and sisters to get to the ocean. 

She grows bigger each day planning to return to the beach to lay her eggs.

Comments: First-person narrative. Back pages include “Sea Turtle Life Cycle”, “How You Can Help Sea Turtles”, “Sing a Song About Sea Turtle Hatchlings, and “Further Reading”.

Bones in the White House: Thomas Jefferson’s Mammoth by Candice Ransom

Bones in the White HouseBones in the White House: Thomas Jefferson’s Mammoth by Candice Ransom; illustrated by Jamey Christoph. 2020. Ink drawings and colored digitally. Published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers.

Brief summary: Young readers will learn how Thomas Jefferson, often called the Father of American Paleontology, kept records of the fossils found in Virginia and his discoveries of mammoths(mastodons) fossils. Others shared their finds with him during his presidency of the United States of American when he was also the president of the American Philosophical Society. He kept his interest and curiosity and found out more about the giants that once roamed the earth. In 1801, an entire mammoth was put together causing an increase of people to become interested in learning more about fossils.

Comments: I had no idea that Thomas Jefferson contributed so much to paleontology! A great addition to any elementary library. I think it is beneficial to have books like these showing the interests of famous people that not everyone knows.

Sections in the back: Jefferson in History, Mammoth or Mastodon?, and What Happened to Charles Willson Peale’s “Mammoth”?.

Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe by Vivian Kirkfield

Making Their Voices HeardMaking Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe by Vivian Kirkfield; illustrated by Alleanna Harris. 2020. Published by Little Bee Books.

Brief summary: Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe had a lot more in common than people may have thought at a first glance of the two friends sitting together. Both had hopes, dreams, and the wish of what could happen. Ella was making herself famous through her beautiful singing voice and style. Marilyn was starring in Hollywood movies that were making her famous from her good looks and smile. They both experienced prejudices that were preventing them from furthering their careers.

Marilyn wanted to be taken more seriously than the roles she was being cast based on her physical appearance. She was given a script that would require her to sing. She listened to Ella’s records and was able to find a way to sing from the great jazz musician’s influence. Marilyn’s new movie was a success, so she wanted to thank Ella in real life. Marilyn was able to talk with her idol in person. They became friends. Marilyn was able to help Ella with her career by attending the singer’s performances and bringing the press in to see the talented Ella FitzGerald.

Comments: Had no idea these two were friends! The Author’s Note continues and fills in the story of the two friends with their backgrounds. Both were judged by their appearances. Marylin was able to help Ella stand up to racial discrimination. Beautiful story. Love the photo in the back of them together. You can see in their faces how much they liked each other.

The back pages also have Primary Sources and Secondary Sources.


The Three Billy Goats Buenos by Susan Middleton Elya

The Three Billy Goats BuenosThe Three Billy Goats Buenos by Susan Middleton Elya; illustrated by Miguel Ordonez. 2020. Published by Penguin Books.

Brief summary: This is a retelling of the classic fairy tale, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and is infused with rhyming Spanish words. Young readers will be delighted by the alternative ending for the troll when they learn why the troll is so grumpy.

Comments: Glossary with punctuation is located at the front of the story. A funny read aloud.

Ready to Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina by Lea Lyon and A. LaFaye

readytoflyReady to Fly: How Sylvia Townsend Became the Bookmobile Ballerina Lea Lyon and A. LaFaye; illustrated by Jessica Gibson(foreword by Sylvia Townsend). 2020. Digital illustrations using Photoshop CC and a Wacom Cintiq drawing tablet. Published by HarperCollins.

Brief summary: A young Sylvia, always full of music and dance, visits a bookmobile where the kind librarian helps Sylvia by supplying her with ballet instruction books whenever the young girl visits. Sylvia absorbs these and dances ballet steps wherever she goes. Her dance fever spreads to other girls in her neighborhood where she shares her new steps with them.

Years past of self-teaching. A  dance audition with Alexandra Sawicka lands the teenage dancer a scholarship to dance school. Sylvia Townsend later creates her own dance company.

Comments: I just love the fact that it was a librarian who also helped this little girl’s dream simply by finding her ballet books whenever she visited the bookmobile.

A delightful and inspirational story. Grit.

Poverty and segregation during  1950s America are lightly incorporated into the story.

“A Note from Lea Lyon” section in the back gives a brief bio background of the famous ballerina. “A Brief History of the Bookmobile” and “Bookmobiles Through the Decades” are in the back.

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery by Meeg Pincus

Winged WondersWinged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery by Meeg Pincus; illustrated by Yas Imamura. 2020. Published by Sleeping Bear Press.

Brief summary: For hundreds of years, people in Canada, The United States, and Mexico wondered where the monarch butterflies flew from and to during their migration. This book tells the story of the butterfly’s migration and how scientists, teachers, and students in 1976 worked together to solve the mystery.

Comments: Great book to introduce migration, insects, stages of a butterfly, and scientific method. Several nonfiction text features.

Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Doreen Rappaport

Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Doreen Rappaport; illustrated by Eric Velasquez. 2020. Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers .

Brief summary: Young readers learn about Judge Ginsburg’s amazing life story from when she was a young girl going to the library for books to read, to a young woman becoming a lawyer, and to  an older woman being appointed to serve on the Untied State Supreme Court.

Comments: Some of Judge Ginsburg’s most famous quotes are peppered throughout the book in large letters and quotation marks. The back has an Important Dates, Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Selected Bibliography, and other sections.

I always enjoy the narrative nonfiction pictures books by Doreen Rappaport. The only critique I have is that I would like to have seen some photos of Ruth Ginsburg in the back section.

One of the Big Words Book series

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta

The Secret Garden of George Washington CarverThe Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta; illustrated by Frank Morrison. 2020. Oil on illustration board. Published by Katherine Tegen Books.

Brief summary: This narrative biography begins in 1874 with a young  ten year old George Carver watering his plants in his secret Missourian garden. Through George’s love of botany and nature around him, he learns of the benefits of those plants and shares this knowledge with others. He attends Iowa Agricultural College. Booker T. Washington hires George to teach the people about agriculture.  He began experimenting with new crops to replace cotton, because that crop was destroying the land.  He discovers peanuts do well in the South. Carver travels and educates people about how to farm better and the many beneficial uses of peanuts.

Comments: Wow! I had no idea that there are 300 uses for peanuts. The book did not list any of those, so I’ll have to do some research. Maybe that would be a good topic for students to research and share.

Timeline, bibliography, and further reading sections are in the back.

Beautiful and inspirational illustrations. The cover caught my eye.

Moon!: Earth’s Best Friend by Stacy McAnulty

Moon!: Earth's Best FriendMoon!: Earth’s Best Friend by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by Stevie Lewis. 2019. Colored pencils and digital tools. Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Brief summary: Moon tells the story of the friendship she has with Earth. She is Earth’s best friend and only satellite. Moon tells all about how she orbits the earth, smiling the whole time and never showing her back to her BFF. Moon explains how some earthlings have walked on her and left their footprints. Earth’s friends are her’s too.

Comments: Superb beginning book about the moon, how it rotates, tides, gravity, myths and so on. Definite must for any library collection.

Back pages have interesting facts about the moon. Illustrations are large and often two-fold.

This story is told through the moon’s perspective.

Personification of the moon and earth.

Others in the Our Universe series by Stacy McAnulty:

Earth!: My First 4.54 Billion Years      Sun! One in a Billion