Learning about visual and literary arts can be an immersive experience, especially for those just starting to dive into journalism or poetry. All the books here offer hands-on advice and historical and critical analysis. From media literacy to art history to digital content-creation, successful examples of various art forms and their creators are presented here, along with numerous invitations to join in. Whether readers are looking to write a novel or design a flow-chart, these titles offer the means to get started.
Preschool to Grade 4
Guillain, Charlotte. What Is a Graphic Novel? ISBN 9781410968272.
––––. What Is a Novel? ISBN 9781410968265.
––––. What Is a Poem? ISBN 9781410968296.
––––. What Is a Short Story? ISBN 9781410968289.
ea vol: 32p. (Connect with Text). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2015. lib. ed. $29.99.
Gr 3-5 –Introducing students to major literary forms, subgenres, and styles, this set also attempts to convey the excitement of reading. Unfortunately, it falls flat for lack of specificity. There are no examples to support statements such as “Some stories have a surprising twist to keep readers on their toes!” The authors featured are somewhat predictable, like J.K. Rowling, and aren’t well integrated into the discussion. The design is lackluster as well. VERDICT Overly general, these books won’t connect with readers.
Johnson, Robin. The Word Wizard’s Book of Homonyms. ISBN 9780778719205; ISBN 9780778719243.
––––. The Word Wizard’s Book of Prefixes and Suffixes. ISBN 9780778719212; ISBN 9780778719250.
––––. The Word Wizard’s Book of Pronouns. ISBN 9780778719229; ISBN 9780778719267.
––––. The Word Wizard’s Book of Synonyms and Antonyms. ISBN 9780778719236; ISBN 9780778719274.
ea vol: 24p. (Word Wizard). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Crabtree. 2015. Tr. $17.70. pap. $7.95.
Gr 2-5 –This series attempts to make grammar seem engaging. Though Johnson tries hard to communicate delight, bland statements such as “Words are magical!” will leave readers cold. Some books take too long to get going or fully define concepts, beginning instead with an overly general introduction praising the magic of language. The artwork includes some authentic looking children. However, the kids’ overacting and exaggerated expressions often detract from the seriousness of the text. Subpar cartoons, wacky costumes, and overly bright, cluttered pages also distract. VERDICT Not recommended.
Murray, Kara. Abbreviations. ISBN 9781477773642.
––––. Antonyms and Synonyms. ISBN 9781477773567.
––––. Parts of Speech. ISBN 9781477773604.
––––. Prefixes and Suffixes. ISBN 9781477773482.
––––. Rhymes and Rhythms. ISBN 9781477773680.
––––. Similes and Metaphors. ISBN 9781477773529.
ea vol: 24p. (Core Language Skills). glossary. index. photos. PowerKids. 2015. lib. ed. $23.60.
Gr 2-4 –A snappy set on grammar that doesn’t waste any time doling out information in accessible and palatable bites. Readers will easily navigate concise and useful explanations, examples, and charts. “Figure It Out” boxes ask children questions to test out how well they learned concepts from that chapter. Art featuring a diverse group of kids connects seamlessly to the text (for instance, a picture of a boy holding an enormous bar of chocolate, accompanied by the caption “If someone tells you this chocolate is semisweet, you can imagine how it will taste.”). Questions throughout help readers connect (“Does the simile ‘My brother is as happy as a dragon’ make sense?”) to the information presented, and the design is colorful, fresh, and energetic. VERDICT This series truly grasps a child’s point of view. An exemplary grammar and language set.
Pearson, Yvonne. Concrete Poems. ISBN 9781631436949.
––––. Limericks. ISBN 9781631436963.
––––. Narrative Poems. ISBN 9781631436994.
––––. Prose Poems. ISBN 9781631436970.
Simons, Lisa M. Acrostic Poems. ISBN 9781631436925.
––––. Cinquain Poems. ISBN 9781631436932.
––––. Haikus. ISBN 9781631436956.
––––. Rhyming Poems. ISBN 9781631436987.
ea vol: illus. by Kathleen Petelinsek. 24p. (Poetry Party). ebook available. further reading. glossary. illus. index. websites. The Child’s World. 2015. lib. ed. $27.07.
Gr 3-5 –These flawed poetry guides define different types of poems children will enjoy and can easily create. The books make these forms accessible to budding young poets. The prose is serviceable, though at times it strains for an enthusiastic tone. Haikus includes such a confusing, poorly written example that will quickly put off readers. The biggest drawbacks of the series are the stiff, cartoonlike illustrations. VERDICT Uneven writing and weak art mar this series’ appeal.
Rustad, Martha E.H. Learning About Ads. ISBN 9781491418307.
––––. Learning About Fact and Opinion. ISBN 9781491418314.
––––. Learning About Media Literacy. ISBN 9781491418338.
––––. Learning About Privacy. ISBN 9781491418321.
ea vol: 24p. (Media Literacy for Kids). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Capstone. 2015. lib. ed. $24.65.
K-Gr 2 –Generating a sense of excitement about media literacy while also emphasizing the importance of awareness and safety is a difficult task. This series accomplishes just that. These books introduce young people to the basics of navigating information, from decoding ads to analyzing whether an article uses fact or opinion. The titles feature images of diverse children, well-designed pages, and strong, concise writing that will resonate with kids, though the text in Privacy tends toward the alarmist (“The internet is full of strangers. Everyone can see what is online.”). Students are given useful, concrete advice, such as withholding their names and addresses, not telling people where they’re going after school, and creating user names that are different than their real names. There are practical activities, such as having kids come up with strong passwords that can’t be hacked or guessed. VERDICT A clear-sighted perspective on media that will trigger lively discussion.
Thomas, Tig. Calico Pie and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421668.
––––. The Camel’s Hump and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421620.
––––. The Cats Have Come to Tea and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421583.
––––. The Four Princesses and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421545.
––––. If You Should Meet a Crocodile and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421507.
––––. Jabberwocky and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421460.
––––. The Land of Counterpane and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421422.
––––. Mr. Toad and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421309.
––––. My Shadow and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421347.
––––. The Owl and the Pussycat and Other Poems. ISBN 9781482421385.
ea vol: 40p. (Favorite Poems). illus. index. Gareth Stevens. 2015. Tr. $31.95.
Gr 2-5 –This series anthologizes, sometimes in excerpted form, many famous and lesser-known poems (and a few works from plays, such as those by William Shakespeare), without any accompanying analytical text. Each text has a loose theme (Mr. Toad focuses on nature, while The Owl and the Pussycat emphasizes humorous poetry). Although many of these time-honored offerings will translate well to contemporary audiences, such as “The Owl and the Pussycat,” others do not. A Christina Rossetti poem (“What Does the Bee Do?”) declares that Father’s role is to earn a living while Mother’s task is to “Lay out the money,” which may seem both sexist and linguistically confusing. Shakespeare’s Macbeth also seems an odd choice, even in a condensed format, for a children’s poetry book. Some art is stronger than others, with a few of the volumes containing a blend of different illustrators that clash in style. Certain titles feature a slanted font, which will be hard for young readers to decipher. VERDICT These books seem out of touch with current poetry tastes; weak art sinks the ship.
Grades 5 & Up
Bailey, Diane. A History of Dance. ISBN 9781624035524; ISBN 9781629691220. LC 2014943860.
Eboch, M.M. A History of Film. ISBN 9781624035548; ISBN 9781629691244. LC 2014943861.
––––. A History of Television. ISBN 9781624035562; ISBN 9781629691268. LC 2014943867.
Moore, Shannon Baker. A History of Music. ISBN 9781624035555; ISBN 9781629691251. LC 2014943864.
Perdew, Laura. A History of Art. ISBN 9781624035517; ISBN 9781629691213. LC 2014943858.
Rissman, Rebecca. A History of Fashion. ISBN 9781624035531; ISBN 9781629691237. LC 2014943873.
ea vol: 112p. (Essential Library of Cultural History). ABDO. 2015. Tr. $34.22. ebk. $34.22.
Gr 10 Up –Though this set about major art forms is written for a sophisticated high school audience, those same readers won’t necessarily need words such as subjective defined for them. The books are effective in places: Art contains a clearly written overview of cave paintings and interesting observations (for instance, photography was initially seen as a “mechanic process” rather than art). However, many descriptions in Art lack illustrations, though the images that do appear are high quality. Dance suffers from confusing and vague writing in places. Film and Television are among the stronger titles. VERDICT An uneven series. Because the reading level of these titles is fairly advanced, those making purchasing decisions may prefer to select books for an adult audience written by subject specialists.
Culp, Jennifer. What Is a Play? ISBN 9781622756681.
Freedman, Jeri. What Is a Technical Text? ISBN 9781622756728.
Henneberg, Susan. What Is a Song? ISBN 9781622756643.
Nagle, Jeanne. What Is Nonfiction? ISBN 9781622756568.
Roza, Greg. What Is Fiction? ISBN 9781622756605.
ea vol: 32p. (The Britannica Common Core Library). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Britannica Educational. 2015. lib. ed. $23.45.
Gr 4-6 –Well-researched writing and dynamic art combine to make a skillfully created series about literary genres. Culturally sensitive, the books contain a much needed global perspective. What Is a Play? begins with a definition of the theater that lets students know that Asian cultures emphasize movement as much as dialogue. The books contain specifics, so kids won’t have to puzzle over vague concepts. Though uncluttered, the layout is sophisticated, and each photo imparts useful information. Those already familiar with these topics will not be bored as they learn about the complexity of each genre. Photographs depict subjects of different ethnicities, and the books feature well-chosen excerpts from an incredibly wide variety of sources: The Arabian Nights, Tales of the Genji, and a memoir by Native American physician and writer Charles A. Eastman, as well as classics, such as Black Beauty and Anne of Green Gables. VERDICT This set offers a fresh new take on literary genres, making them accessible and appealing to a wide group of readers
Fromm, Megan. Accuracy in Media. ISBN 9781477780701.
––––. Digital Content Creation. ISBN 9781477780602.
––––. Ethics and Digital Citizenship. ISBN 9781477780664.
––––. Gathering and Sharing Digital Information. ISBN 9781477780626.
––––. How Policy and Profit Shape Content. ISBN 9781477780640.
––––. Privacy and Digital Security. ISBN 9781477780688.
ea vol: 48p. (Media Literacy). bibliog. further reading. glossary. websites. Rosen Central. 2015. lib. ed. $30.25.
Gr 9 Up –How do we differentiate between a blog and news website? With print journalism outlets on the decline and self-publishers on the rise, how can we determine what information is truthful? What ethical obligations do reporters have? These are some of the pertinent questions that this series explores. Well written and well researched, with sharp insights, powerful photographs, and relevant examples, this set is a winner. Issues of great interest to teenagers, including censorship, self-expression, and social media, are explored in great depth. Fromm seamlessly weaves moments from history into contemporary debates. Although this series seems timely, most stories will not become dated even as social media develops. VERDICT Highly recommended for advanced, intellectually motivated readers.
Fromowitz, Lori. 12 Great Moments that Changed Newspaper History. ISBN 9781632350251.
––––. 12 Great Moments that Changed TV History. ISBN 9781632350275.
Smibert, Angie. 12 Great Moments that Changed Internet History. ISBN 9781632350244.
––––. 12 Great Moments that Changed Radio History. ISBN 9781632350268.
ea vol: 32p. (Great Moments in Media). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. websites. Amicus/12-Story. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50.
Gr 4-6 –Primary sources have never looked so lively. These excellent books are divided into 12 chapters, each one detailing a different moment from each media form’s history. These intense, dramatic, and remarkable events (“Napster Revolutionizes the Music Industry,” “Quiz Show Scandals Change TV Advertising”) invite students to see history as a compelling narrative rather than a collection of dates and names. Each book contains clear primary source documents and short, readable chunks of text. Sidebars are engaging, making good use of font size so readers can tell what information is most important. The story of Nelly Bly’s reporting on Blackwell’s Island, NY, is a particularly strong aspect of Newspaper History. VERDICT A must-have that brings history alive.
Gosman, Gillian. Analyze It. ISBN 9781477773857.
––––. Construct It. ISBN 9781477773819.
––––. Express It. ISBN 9781477773932.
––––. Graph It. ISBN 9781477773772.
––––. Publish It. ISBN 9781477773895.
––––. Send It. ISBN 9781477773734.
ea vol: 32p. (Core Skills). glossary. index. photos. PowerKids. 2015. lib. ed. $26.25.
Gr 3-6 –Students learn about various digital skills through this series, from the basics of email to more sophisticated online content creation. Though these titles tackle useful subjects, the execution is lacking. Send It begins with a history of email and discusses email hacking before giving a basic overview of how to compose or send an email. The author attempts to interact with readers, asking what they would put in the subject line, but fails to provide illuminating examples of good and bad subject lines. Graph It includes example of graphs and charts that seem weaker than what many kids are capable of creating on their own. VERDICT Though these texts are competent, they won’t engage readers.
Hall, Homer & others. Student Journalism & Media Literacy. 352p. (High School Journalism). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2015. lib. ed. $106.60. ISBN 9781477781326.
Gr 9 Up –This single volume packs a lot of information about news writing for today’s teenagers, who may be blogging rather than writing a traditional newspaper. Among the topics presented are digital content creation and multimedia work, in addition to journalistic staples, such as editorial, columns, and sports writing. Attractive photos, quotes, and sidebars will draw in readers. Each page is laid out skillfully with helpful tips. Checklists include “Five Factors Essential to News,” “Foundation of Journalistic Writing,” and “Tips from the Trenches.” Some excerpted articles are quite moving. Interview hints will help the nervous first-time reporter, and advice about using technology like EverNote will help students organize material. This text offers a more practical, less theoretical companion compared with other series on this subject. VERDICT An excellent addition to English or journalism classes or clubs, especially those serving sophisticated students.
Wood, Alix. Art Installations. ISBN 9781482422740.
––––. Body Art. ISBN 9781482422771.
––––. Graffiti. ISBN 9781482422818.
––––. Junk Sculpture. ISBN 9781482422856.
––––. Performance Art. ISBN 9781482422894.
––––. Urban Street Art. ISBN 9781482422931.
ea vol: 32p. (But Is It Art?). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2015. lib. ed. $26.60.
Gr 6 Up –Bold, arresting images dominate this well-written series, which tackles boundary-pushing and public art forms, such as unusual installation art and yarn bombing. Each title contains an “Is It Art?” chart that weighs both sides of the argument and that will get teens wondering for themselves. Pages contain arresting photos with a splotchy-paint or crayon-rub graphic. The layout is colorful and dynamic, crammed with text rendered in eye-catching fonts, conveying a sense of energy. Subjects include the thought-provoking, disturbing, whimsical, and unforgettable, from sidewalk “gum art” to defaced stop signs to sunflowers planted in desolate urban areas to white “ghost” bikes that honor fallen cyclists. VERDICT An entertaining book that will have students crowding around. Unsettling in the best of ways.
The cream of the crop here are high school texts: Rosen Young Adult’s Student Journalism and Media Literacy, Rosen Central’s “Media Literacy,” and Gareth Stevens’s “But Is It Art?” Several books for elementary or middle school students presented here were disappointing, with some exceptions, such as “Britannica Common Core Library” (Britannica). Because readers would rather experience art or poetry for themselves, rather than hearing about it, the best titles, for all ages, weave analysis around rich textual or visual examples. “Great Moments in Media” (12-Story) lets kids feel as though they were present during major breakthroughs, bringing history alive, while “But Is It Art?” surprises and even shocks, drawing readers in—the goal of all quality nonfiction.