Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena WilliamsGame Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illustrated by James E. Ransome. 2018. Cut paper, pencil, and acrylic paints. Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Brief summary:  Six days a week, Venus and younger sister, Serena learn how to play tennis early in the morning on a public court after sweeping off the trash. Their three older sisters lose interest in tennis but not them! With hard work and determination, the sisters slowly start to win more and more tournaments and are soon able to compete in some of the most famous ones like the Australian Open, Wimbledon, New York City’s U.S. Open, and even the Olympics.   They began to gain fame and are known as the Sister Act, ranking first and second in the world.

Comments: This is a great book to teach grit! The rags to riches story is encouraging to those who are trying to beat the odds. Readers will learn that it does not matter what your background is as long as you excel at something, are determined, and willing to work really hard.

Afterword, Source Notes, Selected Bibliography, and Further Reading sections are in the back.

(I have the comment moderation turned on. Your comment will appear after it has been approved. Keep in mind that young readers may be reading the picture book I reviewed, so I will not approve your comment if there is inappropriate language. Be kind; be polite. No spam or ads, please. Because I am working as a library media specialist, it may take me a day to get back to my blog.

If you see that I made a typo or grammatical error, I’m totally cool with you politely letting me know. No need to be snarky. I am fully aware that I have an attention span of a hummingbird and miss things when I proofread. I also realize that I am not a professional writer, but I am willing to learn and improve).


When Sophie Thinks She Can’t…by Molly Bang


When Sophie Thinks She Can’t…by Molly Bang; illustrated by Molly Bang. 2018. Published by The Blue Sky Press.

Brief summary: Sophie is home trying to put puzzle pieces together to make a square, her sister walks by and quickly arranges them. The sister exists the rooms saying, “Too bad you’re not smart.” Sophie goes to school the next day where they learn what smart means and how they must exercise their brains to become stronger just like their muscles. Their teacher gives them a math problem to solve together in small groups. Sophie becomes frustrated and can’t figure it out.  The teacher then teaches them another word–yet.  She encourages her students to keep working on the problem. The students eventually get the correct answers.  The teacher then adds “er” to smart.

Comments: Super example of fixed mindset and growth mindset. Teachers could use this book to demonstrate those mindsets but also the word “yet”.  We have not found the answer YET.

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say

Silent Days, Silent Dreams

Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say; illustrated by Allen Say. 2017. Burnt match sticks,  sharpened stick dipped in soot mixed with spit, wastepaper, cardboard, cotton wads, rags, Q-tips, big nails, toothpicks, brushes, and fingers. Published by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Brief summary: James Castle was deaf, mute, autistic, and believed to be dyslexic, and although he attended five years at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind, he did not learn to write, read, speak or even use sign language. He created his own calligraphy and made hundreds of books and albums. Living in poverty, he drew on what paper was around and created over 15,000 pieces of artwork often using match sticks and spit. Readers will learn about the harsh life this artist had endured from being different. The bullying. The isolation. The unkindness from his own relatives.

Comments: I suggest reading  the author’s note in the back first. Allen Say’s friend, Cort Conley, asked him to create a portrait of a local Idaho artist. Mr. Say agreed to do a portrait drawing after receiving the artist’s photo and catalog of works.  Allen Say became intrigued by the artist and his unique style of drawings so researched him more. Many publications and relative interviews about Mr. Castle had conflicting stories.  Allen Say wrote this book and created the artwork in the same way James Castle created. The artist’s  portrait is in the back.  The tools Allen Say used are shown as well.  I was impressed that Mr. Say totally submerged himself into understanding Mr. Castle   by experimenting and using the same tools  as the artist.

I think this would be a superb read aloud not only to learn about this  artist but to better understand empathy, perseverance, and uniqueness from another’s life. Can you imagine not being able to hear, speak or communicate with others? What  do you think it was like for Mr. Castle to see his works in a gallery? Did the time period he live in understand him? Did people understand autism more now or then? How did his relatives treat him? How would you feel if your family treated you the same way?

Buy here.

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up by Dan Santat

After the Fall

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up by Dan Santat; illustrated by Dan Santat. 2017. Published by Roaring Book Press.

Brief summary: The story begins after Humpty Dumpty gets out of Kings County Hospital and has recovered from his fall, that is physically recovered.  Humpty Dumpty tells and shows the reader about his fear of heights that developed from the fall. He is unable to enjoy anything up high. He walks past where the accident happened and really wants to be up high where the birds are, but just can not. He watches the birds from the ground until one day a paper airplane flies by him piquing his interest of flying and being up high. After a lot of perseverance, he comes up with the perfect paper airplane and takes it to the wall to fly. It goes over. He nervously climbs the wall to retrieve it and discovers what his true self is afterall.

Comments: One of my all-time favorites! My students in all grades loved this book and especially the surprise ending.  As we checked in books, I had the nursery rhyme on the Smartboard when they came in.  (I never assume they know the nursery rhymes). I taught the book as a fractured nursery rhyme and before I read the book to them, explained what are the characteristics of fractured folklore. The students were mesmerized by the story and illustrations.  The younger ones had to think a bit more to get the ending and what happened. Afterwards, with the older students, this led to many conversations about their own fears and overcoming them. I could see this being shared by a counselor to talk about fear.

Writing. This could be the beginning of a writing exercise with nursery rhymes and what happened afterwards. What happened after the mouse ran down the clock? What happened to Baa Baa Black Sheep’s wool?

Art connection. Origami. The paper airplane books are now checked out all the time.  I had to put out extra paper and was amused how several students would gather in a circle to make airplanes.  New rule: No throwing paper airplanes in the library.

Buy here.

Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva by Jacqueline Jules

Drop by Drop

Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva by Jacqueline Jules; Illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg. 2017. Published by Kar-Ben.

Brief summary: Akiva, a poor shepherd, takes care of a wealthy man’s sheep. Rachel, the daughter of the wealthy man, notices how kind Akiva is to the sheep. Although Akiva cannot read or write, Rachel sees that he is smart. The two marry without the blessing of Rachel’s father. After many years, Rachel lovingly encourages her husband to learn how to read and write. Akiva protests that at forty, it is too late to learn. She does not share his doubt. He decides to try by sitting with the children in a classroom and begins to learn to read a little at a time just like the drops of water he notices  making a hole through the stone he saw next to the stream.  His wife, once again, encourages her husband to further his education by going to study the Torah where he excels and becomes famous for his wisdom. Meanwhile, Rachel, works hard to keep a home for them upon his return.

Comment: What a wonderful story to teach perseverance, growth mindset, and sacrifice to reach a goal that may seem unattainable. This book is based on Rabbi Akiva, a great sage of the first century.

Buy here.

(I may receive a small commission for purchases made with links in this post through the Amazon Affiliate Program.  Books in this picture book blog are not sent to me in exchange for a review, but instead, are checked out from a p

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spires

The Thing Lou Couldn't Do

The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spires; illustrated by Ashley Spires. 2017.  Published by Kids Can Press.

Brief summary: Lou and her friends love to use their imaginations together during play time and go on all sorts of  adventures. But when Lou’s friends decide to climb  a tree to play, she comes up with many excuses of why she cannot join them instead of admitting she is afraid or has never climbed a tree. Lou convinces herself that she really doesn’t want to climb the tree. Her friends kindly offer to show her how to climb a tree. She tries but is not successful on her attempt. Her compassionate and empathetic friends take the game to another place outside. Lou keeps working on climbing the tree leaving the reader wondering if she will be successful.

Comments: A good read aloud to encourage trying something, failing, but trying again. Growth mindset example of how we can always learn new things even if they are scary at times. Students would also see an example of compassionate friends who do not make fun of Lou but instead, encourage  and help her. Ashley Spires’ The Most Magnificent Thing is also a great story of teaching perseverance and imagination. She is also the author of the graphic novel series titled Binky. I look forward to seeing more picture books by this author/illustrator.

Buy here. 

(I may receive a small commission for purchases made with links in this post through the Amazon Affiliate Program.  Books in this picture book blog are not sent to me in exchange for a review, but instead, are checked out from a public library).

Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner

Early Sunday Morning

Early Sunday Morning by Denene Millner; illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. 2017. Published by Agate Bolden  This is the first of a new series by Denene Millner.

Brief Summary: June enjoys going to church every Sunday with her family but is  a little nervous for the coming Sunday, as she will sing her first solo with the youth choir. Throughout the week, several people give her advice of how not to be scared. The day has come, and her mother and younger brother, Troy, get all dressed up in their finest clothes. Daddy worked an extra shift at work and will need to rest at home. June goes to Sunday school and learns about love. She puts on her white robe afterwards and is ready to sing in the  children’s choir. She waits while Pastor Scott leads prayers and when it will be her turn to do her solo. Although she is nervous, June takes a deep breath and focuses on one spot in the back of the room. At that time, her father opens the church’s doors and shouts, “Sing, Baby.” June is able to sing in front of the congregation with her father beside her.

Comments: We often do not see many religious based books in elementary school libraries even though a child’s religion plays an enormous role in his/her life. This book captures how important church is in June’s life. I think while we are talking about making sure our libraries are diverse, it is important to expose students to different religions in their community to better understand and appreciate each other.  This book also teaches how, although we may be afraid at times, we must move on and conquer that fear. June had the love of her father(who must have been exhausted from doing a double shift the day before) who gave up his rest to be there for his child.

Buy here.

(I may receive a small commission for purchases made with links in this post through the Amazon Affiliate Program.  Books in this picture book blog are not sent to me in exchange for a review, but instead, are checked out from a public library).

Story Behind the Name Series

Story Behind the Name Series consists of four biographies(as of July 2016) that are written and illustrated in an interesting and fun way that makes the reader want to know more about the individual. Students will enjoy reading these narrative nonfiction books for reports as well as reading for fun.  The illustrations are large and colorful. The books have a glossary, read more, internet site referrals, and critical thinking using the common core sections. No index or table of contents. I bought all four for my elementary school library to be used with 4th and 5th grade biography reports. All four are also available in library binding.

George Ferris’s Grand Idea: The Ferris Wheel by Jenna Glatzer; illustrated by Stephanie Dominquez


John Deere’s Powerful Idea: The Perfect Plow by Terry Collins; illustrated by Carl Pearce


Gustave Eiffel’s Spectacular Idea: The Eiffel Tower by Sharon Katz Cooper; illustrated by Janna Bock


Milton Hershey’s Sweet Idea: A Chocolate Kingdom by Sharon Katz Cooper; illustrated by Alvaro Iglesias Sanchez