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




Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex

Pluto Gets the CallPluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex; illustrated by Laurie Keller. 2019. Traditional, digital, and galactic media. Published by Beach Lane Books.

Brief summary: Pluto receives a phone call from Earth scientists telling him he is no longer considered a planet. Pluto goes across the solar system introducing the young reader to the various REAL planets and sharing interesting facts about them as they all talk back and forth. Pluto decides to go to the sun and tells him what happened. The sun consoles Pluto while summarizing what each planet is known for the most and how special he is even if no longer a planet.

Comments: Hilarious. The title captured my attention.  Speech bubbles. Solar system puns. Large and bright illustrations. I love Laurie Keller’s illustrations! There is a “solar system fun facts” and “a note from the author” in the back. Fun book to share when doing planet units. One of my favorites for the 2019 year.

Little Libraries, Big Heroes by Miranda Paul; illustrated by John Parra

Little Libraries, Big HeroesLittle Libraries, Big Heroes by Miranda Paul; illustrated by John Parra. 2019. Acrylic paint on illustration board. Published by Clarion Books.

Brief summary: In 2009, Todd Bol cut up an old door and made a small box resembling a tiny one room school house. He filled it with books and set it on his lawn with a sign…free books. Rick Brooks, a friend of Todd’s, suggested that they could make hundreds of these for people to place throughout the country.  After awhile, the idea took off. Each Little Free Library has a number to keep track of all of them. People around the world heard about the idea and liked it. Soon Todd and Rick In 2011, the organization became an official nonprofit.

“Take a Book; Share a Book”


Back pages have  these sections: Author’s Note, More About Little Free Libraries, More About the People and Events in This Book, and To Learn More.

Go here for their website and see if a registered Little Free Library is near you:

Hey, Water by Antoinette Portis; illustrated by Antoinette Portis

Hey, water.jpgHey, Water by Antoinette Portis; illustrated by Antoinette Portis. 2019. Brush and sumi ink; digitally colored. Published by Neal Porter Books.

Brief summary: A girl shares all about the water that is around her and how it is not always the same in the way it looks or feels.

Comments: This would be a good, simple book to read when doing the water cycle in primary grades. All three water forms are examined with a more detailed section of  “Water Forms” in the back pages. A  diagram of the water cycle and a “Conserving Water” section are included.

I think by reading this as an introduction to the water cycle would help the students see the three forms of water in their world by how the young girl examines them in the book.

You Are My Friend by Aimee Reid; illustrated by Matt Phelan

youaremyfriendYou Are My Friend by Aimee Reid; illustrated by Matt Phelan. 2019. Pencil and watercolor. Published by Abrams Books.

Brief summary: Fred Rogers was sick as a young child and unable to make friends, so he created puppets instead to share his feelings with and talk to about life.  He learned to express his emotions on the piano too. His mother told him to look for people who are helping whenever they left the house to help calm her son. He enjoyed visiting his grandfather in the country. Grandpa McFeely told his grandson that he loved him just the way he was. This stayed with Fred as he went to college majoring in music. He later worked for the country’s first public television station, WQED. Years later, he produced Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood developing his own scripts, music and puppet voices.

Comments: This is a brief biography of Mr. Rogers’ life. It reveals how he came up with some of his ideas for the show such as his neighborhood of puppets and his philosophy on life.

This book’s back pages have a section about Mr. Rogers’ life.

I would share this book to emphasize kindness, community helpers, and feelings.


Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenhaler by Elizabeth Brown; illustrated by Aimee Sicuro

Dancing Through Field of ColorDancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenhaler by Elizabeth Brown; illustrated by Aimee Sicuro. 2019. Watercolor, ink, and charcoal pencil. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Brief summary: Young Helen enjoyed mixing her watercolors in nontraditional ways. In art class at school, she was able to follow the rules of how to draw and paint to please her teachers but she wished for more. She was able to follow the rules  in order to study art in college. She moved to New York where she created paintings where colors overlapped. She met the famous Jackson Pollock who was known for for his art in  the abstract expressionist movement. She began to experiment with the “soak stain” method of pouring paint onto the canvas.

Comments:  There is a quick biographical sketch, timeline, author’s note, quotes and sources, select bibliography, and poured paint/soak-stain activity. I think the activity would be perfect to do outdoors during the end-of-the-year field day or such when the students are already wet and messy.


Hildegard of Bingen: Scientist, Composer, Healer and Saint by Demi

Hildegard of Bingen: Scientist, Composer, Healer and SaintHildegard of Bingen: Scientist, Composer, Healer & Saint written and illustrated by Demi. 2019. Published by Wisdom Tales. 

Brief summary: Hildegard (1098-1179) was born in Mainz, Germany. As a child, she had “lights”, sometimes called visions of Heaven, at times when she closed her eyes. She was also able to predict the future. All of this gave her terrible headaches in which her parents thought it would be better for her to go the Benedictine Cloister of Mount St. Disibod where people who saw God could go and pray. As she was being educated, she proved to have an astonishing intelligence. She was able to compose the music after hearing the performance one time.

At eighteen, she became a nun and was later elected Abbess. She became  known for her visions. She told them to a nun and monk who began to  write them down in a book called Know the Ways of God. At 53, she finished her book and became famous. She and her nuns moved to a town near Bingen where she became Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard wrote five more books after age 65. She also wrote 77 symphonic songs. In her 60s and 70s, she toured around Germany organizing and reforming monasteries as she preached and healed. She was declared a saint in 2012.

Comments: This woman was amazing! I recommend this book  for sacred and secular libraries. She is an example of how one person can make  a difference. I was impressed how Hildegard started her writing career in her fifties. After researching her a bit on the internet, I was surprised and pleased to see that her teachings are still being recognized and followed.


The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson; illustrated by Fiona Robinson

The Blues of BluesThe Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson; illustrated by Fiona Robinson. 2019. “Montages of pencil drawings, watercolor paintings, vintage fabrics and wallpapers, wood veneers, and photographs.” Published by Abrams.

Brief summary: Anna and her father press flowers and collect  insects in Kent, England sometime in 1807. John Children has only one child, Anna, and is determined to give her the best education possible by home schooling her, since girls rarely went to school especially to learn about science.

Anna grew up to become a botanist often sketching her own specimens. Her father translates French scientific journals to English and needs 250  illustrations for a series he just finished called Lamarck’s Genera of Shells. Anna illustrates the various shells.

Anna marries and moves to London. Anna wants to attend the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge but women are not allowed. Her father shares the lectures with her. She wants to find a way to share her knowledge of the extensive herbarium she has collected. She is given membership to the Royal Botanic Society in London during 1839.

In 1841, Anna and her father learn how to take photographs. They visit Sir John Herschel where he shares how he has discovered the cyanotype print that does not need a camera to make a quick image in blue (due to the chemicals used). Anna decides to use this method and creates a book of her seaweed* which is completed in 1843. Her father shares her books with several of the scientific museums.

Comments: The color of this book and its pages are all done in blues. The end pages have labeled cyantypes of various plants.  In the back of the book, there is an author’s note, instructions of how to make your own cyanotype, bibliography, institutions holding Anna’s Cyanotypes, acknowledgements, illustration credits, and a detailed explanation of the mediums used for the book.

This book could be used for biography reports, a science and art class collaboration(students collecting specimens and then making their own cyanotype), and Women’s History Month in March.

Personal note: As I am reading this book, I am reminded of how unique it was for Anna to have a father who valued the intellect of his daughter and educated her to become a  botanist. Even with all of her work with creating and recording her specimens in several books of cyanotypes, she is not given due credit. She wrote a biography about her father and a book titled Photographs of British Algae. She did not use her name but her initials A.A. which were taken for many years as “anonymous author.”

I paused and thought several times during this book of how many other women with wonderful scientific minds were ignored during this time period because of the  prejudices towards women.

*Note: The author does not know for sure what the subject matter was for Anna’s first cyanotype.

Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Don Tate

Carter Reads the NewspaperCarter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Don Tate. 2019. Mixed media. Published by Peachtree Publishers.

Brief summary: Carter G. Woodson was born in 1875 and grew up hearing about his family’s history.  He reads the newspaper to his family and learns about the world. He works as a farmer, garbage collector, and coal miner. He opens his house to the other miners filling it with books and newspapers. He reads the newspapers aloud to those who cannot read.

After mining for three years, he moves home and starts high school finishing it in two years at age 22. He goes to college to become a teacher. He continues his formal education earning a PhD in history from Harvard University.  In 1926, he is able to create Negro History Week to be the second week of February to mark the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. He sends out pamphlets and puts notices in newspapers about it as a way to talk about and preserve African-American history. Today, we celebrate Black History Month in February thanks to Carter Woodson’s efforts.

Comments:  There are internet and print resources listed in the back along with an author’s and illustrator’s note. The back of the book also has a timeline of his life and a list of quotations. I would introduce this book at the end of January as an introduction for Black History month.