Digging for Words: Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built by Angela Burke Kunkel

Digging for Words: Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built by Angela Burke Kunkel; illustrated by Paola Escobar. 2020. Illustrations were made digitally. Published by Schwartz & Wade Books.

Brief summary: Jose, a garbage collector, begins his nightly route in Bogota, Columbia. Jose keeps the books others discard in the trash and adds them to his own library. Each Saturday, he kindly opens his home full of shelves of books for others to borrow, as there is not a library in their area.

Comments: There is a parallel story of a boy in the neighborhood also named Jose who looks forward to Saturday when he can borrow a book from the garbage man’s home library.

This is a superb story to remind many of how lucky we are in the USA to have more free access to books with so many public libraries and Little Free Libraries.

The back pages have an Author’s Note, Featured Books, and Selected Online Sources. There are photos of Jose in the back too.

I thought of that famous quote, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” as I was reading this picture book. I also reflected upon what my life would be like without having a public library close to where I live.

A Ben of All Trades: The Most Inventive Boyhood of Benjamin Franklin by Michael J. Rosen

A Ben of All TradesA Ben of All Trades: The Most Inventive Boyhood of Benjamin Franklin by Michael J. Rosen; illustrated by Matt Tavares. 2020.

Brief summary: This narrative nonfiction biography is a glimpse in the boyhood of Benjamin Franklin. Young readers can see another side of the famous man through his character as a boy. His grit to persevere when trying to solve a problem or improve an invention is a good model for young readers. It will also have children laughing with Benjamin’s antics especially when trying to figure out how to swim faster.

Ben’s father notices that his son excels at each of the tasks given to him by several different tradesmen. It’s just that Ben was not enjoying doing the same thing over and over. Hoping for his son to find a career, Benjamin is sent to his older brother, James, who works in a print shop. Benjamin enjoys printing and excels with this new skill.

Comments: This book gave us a glimpse of his personality as a child…full of imagination and curiosity and wonderment.

Notes are in the back.

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade; illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. 2020. Acrylic paints. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Brief summary: Gwendolyn grew up in Chicago listening to her father reciting poetry from the book collection they owned. Gwendolyn began to fill notebooks of her own poems. She submitted her poetry as early as eleven to a newspaper and poetry contest. Inspired from seeing her words in print, she continued writing in high school and college. She married and had a son. She continued to write poetry and began to have them published. After two books, she received a Pulitzer Prize recognizing and honoring her poetry!

Comments: I first discovered Gwendolyn Brooks poetry in my twenties and shared them with my students. They loved the rhythms and rhyming as much as I did.

Back pages include Clouds(written by her at age fifteen), Author’s Note, Timeline, Sources for Quotes, Select Bibliography, and Acknowledgments

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh; illustrated by Marianne Ferrer. 2020. Watercolor, gouache, and graphite. Published by Kids Can Press.

Brief summary: With the collaboration of Sundar Paliwal, young readers learn of this true story that takes place in a village called Piplantri, India. They celebrated the birth of a son with music and food, while the birth of a daughter was met with silence. Sundar, one of eleven children, walks with his mother each day for hours in the heat to collect water from a well. His mother is bitten by a poisonous snake and dies. Many years later, he grows up, marries, and becomes a father of three with two daughters and a son.

While working in a marble factory, Sundar sees how the mining takes away from the soil causing it to be dry. He asks the owners to plant trees to restore what was taken, but they refuse. He quits his job. After running for the village head, sarpanch, he wins. He lectures about changing traditions to honoring both boys and girls and shares how there are other countries that treat both sexes equally. He talks about water and electricity. He tells how the factory is killing the land and urges the village members to plant trees.

Soon, villagers begin to plant trees every time a girl is born. He brings engineers to his village where his people are taught to dig trenches to store water for drinking and to water the trees. When the termites come, they grow aloe vera plants to deter the insects. The trees begin to prosper bringing in fruit and animals. They decide to plant 111 trees every time a girl is born. Mothers and daughters take care of their trees and decorate them with ribbons and threads.

Comments: WOW. This story is amazing! One person CAN make a difference.

End pages include: More About Sundar and Piplantri, Why 111 Trees?, What is Gender Inequality?, Sundar’s Plan, Aloe Vera, Extraordinary Change, How Did Sundar Become an Eco-Feminist?, and Are You an Eco-Feminist?

Photos of Sundar and the trees are also included in the back.

Hello, Neighbor!: The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell

helloneighborHello, Neighbor!: The Kind and Caring World of Mister Rogers by Matthew Cordell; illustrated by Matthew Cordell. 2020. Pen and ink with watercolor. Published by Neal Porter Books.

Brief summary: Readers learn about Mr. Roger as a talented boy who was shy and sometimes bullied. He grows up and has many jobs such as a minister, musician, and children’s television host. Young readers will learn how Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was developed.

Comments: This narrative nonfiction biography shows the gentle nature of Mr. Rogers and how The Neighborhood helped children viewers learn to be themselves. There are many wonderful and detailed watercolor illustrations.

The back pages had sections: About Fred Rogers, Visual Glossary, Mister Rogers and Me, and more. I appreciate the photos of in the back. 

Be sure to check out this awesome KidLitTV interview with Matthew Cordell and his writing of Hello, Neighbor!


The Forest Man: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Anne Matheson

theforestmanThe Forest Man: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Anne Matheson; illustrated by Kay Widdowson. 2020. Published by Flowerpot Press.

Brief summary: Jadav Payeng and his family lived on Majuli, a river island in the middle of the Brahmaputra River in India. Because of the constant flooding from monsoons of this river and the receding of the water, the island starts to disappear, leaving a lot of sand. Teenager Jadav, decides to try to get the lush vegetation and animal species back to the island by planting trees. Having moved from the island, he rides on a bike full of trees, rows across the river in a rowboat, and plants the trees adding fertilizer and insects.   The trees started to take root making the island stronger to the flooding. He plants for forty years, and the trees began to grow creating the habitat for various animals.

Jadav Payeng received many honors and awards for his work of  the reforestation to the island of Majuli.

Comments: This is a story of how one person can make a difference through hard work and perseverance. The back sections have a glossary, a picture dictionary of the animals that live on the island, a timeline, and further reading.

Each book bought plants a tree through Trees for the Future at http://trees.org

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.