Book Review: Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank

Armstrong & Charlie cover imageCharlie is about to start 6th grade when he learns that kids from a mostly African American neighborhood will be bused into his school and his friends are transferring out. His parents think it’s important that he stay.

Armstrong’s parents signed him up for Opportunity Busing to an all-white school, despite the fact that he doesn’t want to go. He has to get up super-early each morning to catch the bus, and none of his close friends will be on the bus.

The two boys clash when they end up next to each other in Mr. Mitchell’s class, but after a few fights, a few trips to the principal’s office, and a trip to science camp, they learn to know and appreciate each other for who they are instead of the expected stereotypes they assume about each other.

Armstrong & Charlie by Steven B. Frank takes place in the 1960s, when schools were being desegregated and communities resisted the change. Charlie’s family is still grieving the death of his brother from illness, and Charlie mourns the loss of his friends too. Armstrong’s dad lost a leg in the Korean war, and his inability to work strains the resources of a family with six children. Both families believe in the value of hard work, honesty, and integrity.

Even though Charlie and Armstrong learn to see each other as people, not just members of a certain race, others they know are more likely to judge someone based on skin color. When one of Charlie’s friends and even his dad express prejudice, he has to decide to ignore it or challenge it.

The author’s bio contains a note that the novel was inspired by his own sixth-grade year at Wonderland Avenue Elementary. Even though the novel takes place decades ago, the issues he addresses are still relevant today.

I highly recommend Armstrong & Charlie for readers aged 9 to 12. Issues for book clubs to discuss include historical ones like desegregation of schools as well as current perceptions of race and ways prejudice keeps us from understanding people who appear different from us.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Little Sid by Ian Lendler

Little Sid cover imageBefore Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, he was a spoiled young prince that everyone wanted to please. People gave him everything he could possibly wish for, but it didn’t make him happy. So he set out to seek happiness in places throughout the countryside. Along the way he discovered the truths that would guide him for the rest of his life.

Ian Lendler’s picture book, Little Sid: The Tiny Prince Who Became Buddha, draws upon traditional Buddhist fables to create a children’s story about what is truly important in life: relationships and recognizing that while happiness will come and go it’s important to be present in the moment.

It also contains a message that may resonate with parents today, as Little Sid reminds his parents that instead of always being preoccupied with many other things they sometimes need to give him their full attention.

Xanthe Bouma’s illustrations add a touch of whimsy to the story, and they change color to depict Little Sid’s mood as he searches for happiness. It’s a look that keeps the story moving along while encouraging readers to notice the details.

For those interested to know more, a note at the back gives a short bio of Siddhartha Gautama.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Guyku by Bob Raczka

Guyku cover imageWhat do you have when you write a poem that’s three lines long, a total of 17 syllables, and it speaks about something a guy would do? Guyku, of course. Bob Raczka, who wrote Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys, says “haiku is a wonderful form of poetry for guys” who like to catch bugs, climb trees, skip stones and throw snowballs.

The haiku here is divided into seasons, highlighting lots of different activities kids can do in nature.

Here’s a sample from spring:

The wind and I play

tug-of-war with new kite.

The wind is winning.

Here’s another from winter:

Icicles dangle,

begging to be broken off

for a short sword fight.

Peter H. Reynolds’s illustrations are cute and capture the fun, easy-going spirit of kids having outdoor adventures. In a note at the back Reynolds says he was thrilled to work on the book, because “the invitation for boys to swim in the ‘poem pond’ needs to be issued more often, and more loudly.

The short poems in Guyku are a great way to get kids to read poetry and possibly get inspired to write their own. I recommend it for ages 5 to 8.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Knock Out by K. A. Holt

Knock Out cover imageLevi wants to be just like anybody else, but sometimes he can’t breathe well, and lately it’s been getting worse. His mom and older brother hover over him, wanting to keep him safe. His dad tells him to toughen up, go out for a sport. He chooses boxing, liking the way he gets to feel strong while he hits a punching bag and the way he can strategize in the ring. But ignoring his health issues won’t make them go away. Instead, if he wants the chance to follow his dreams Levi must be honest with himself and those he loves.

Knock Out by K. A. Holt explores what happens in a family when a child is sick and everyone else adjusts to what he needs. Levi’s parents are divorced and his older brother looks after him like a dad would. His mom works hard to afford Levi’s health expenses. Levi appreciates what they do, but he also wants to explore his limitations. He’s also feeling left out as his best friend, a girl named Tam, becomes friends with another girl in school. Boxing lets him feel powerful and in control, something he otherwise doesn’t get much from life.

Told in free verse and shaped poetry, Knock Out will resonate with anyone wanting to break the image of the person they’ve always been and let out the person they feel they are inside.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni

I Am Loved cover imageThe art of an award-winning illustrator melds with the poems of an award-winning author for the picture book I Am Loved.

Ashley Brian’s illustration are colorful, rhythmic, and they stand out as pieces of art in their own right. He chose a dozen Nikki Giovanni poems for this collection, poems that celebrate familial love, friendship, and nature. Here’s an excerpt from the poem, Because.


I wrote a poem

for you because

you are

my little boy


I wrote a poem

for you because

you are

my darling daughter


It’s a sweet sentiment that young children are sure to cherish when a parent reads the words to them.

I Am a Mirror, a poem near the end, encourages the child to look in the mirror on the page and think about the grandparents and ancestors who have come before him, gain strength from their stories, and know that he is loved.

I Am Loved makes a great addition to any child’s bookshelf both as a way to encourage an appreciation for poetry and art, as well as to celebrate the closeness of family relationships.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Robots and Drones by Mairghread Scott and Jacob Chabot

Robots and Drones cover imageWhen I think of robots and drones, ancient Greece doesn’t come to mind. In fact, an early kind of robot called an automaton let Greek people drop in a coin to get water. In the 1600s Japan, a moveable robot could serve tea and collect empty cups. These stories and others covering past and present-day inventions are told in Robots and Drones: Past, Present, and Future by Mairghread Scott and Jacob Chabot.

Part of the Science Comics graphic novel series, Robots and Drones provides a great introduction to young readers aged 9 to 12 about these gadgets and the role they play in our lives. It also encourages them to get into building their own through robotics groups and home kits. The narrator is a robotic bird that takes readers on a journey to help them learn how robotics work. It also imagines what some inventions will bring in the future, and encourages kids to dream up new ones. A glossary in the back defines the terminology.

Robots and Drones does a great job of making science seem accessible, and it seems likely to encourage kids to get interested in learning more and experimenting on their own. I expect kids will love it.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: TouchThinkLearn: Wiggles by Claire Zucchelli-Romer

Wiggles cover image“Your little fingers wriggle, your little fingers wiggle.” The opening line to TouchThinkLearn: Wiggles by Claire Zucchelli-Romer sets the tone for what’s to come in this interactive board book. Wiggles teaches toddlers concepts like left and right and up and down, and fast and faster as they poke, and tap and swirl their fingers along colored, grooved shapes.

The fun starts with a grooved rectangle bordering the first pages. Parents can guide little fingers as the words instruct: “So take one finger from your left hand, and take one finger from your right hand. They’re going to take a spin all around the track.”

The pages and grooves are sturdy and colorful, encouraging movement to enhance multilevel learning. Fingers tap, hop, slide, go slow and fast, ride waves, dance, swirl, and zigzag. Children learn coordination along with colors and shapes.

Wiggles is fun for parents to read too, with words that create sounds and have a rhythm when spoken aloud. They may even find themselves drawn to the irresistible grooves with their own fingers.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Fly Girls by P. O’Connell Pearson

Fly Girls cover imageDuring World War II, people all over the U.S. were asked to pitch in to help the war effort. For women especially, this meant they got to do jobs they would not have been otherwise allowed to do. One of those jobs was flying military aircraft. In the 1940s, women had a hard time being accepted as pilots at all, much less in a military setting.

Fly Girls: The Daring American Women Pilots Who Helped Win WWII by P. O’Connell Pearson tells the incredible story of the some of these women. Despite facing discrimination on bases, they bravely flew planes while being shot at, so they could help soldiers gain skill at shooting planes down. They ferried planes from factories where they were built to bases where they would be used, freeing up men to serve in combat, where women weren’t allowed.

Every step they gained had to be fought for, as many in the military thought women should not be allowed to fly planes at all. They even faced sabotage on some bases where they worked. Also, it took decades and an act of Congress for the women pilots to be recognized for the work they had done.

Fly Girls is a fascinating look at the personal stories of the women who defied accepted gender roles and refused to be grounded when they knew they could help. Historic photos, sidebars with info about events happening elsewhere with war efforts, and quotes from the women and others bring the story of this chapter in history to life. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs and readers aged 9 to 16.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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