February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Herculean History Lessons in New Picture Books │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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They say good things come in small packages. In fewer than 40 pages, readers young and old learn that Prince Albert was an inventor. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words inspired his community to action. The writer of a classic children’s book was a pioneer in aviation history. This week’s selections, wonderful for sharing in the content areas, provide tremendous examples of people who made an impact on history.

Thomas JeffersonKALMAN, Maira. Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2014. ISBN  9780399240409. JLG Level: E : Easy Reading (Grades 1–3).

If there ever was a man interested in everything, it was Thomas Jefferson. He knew seven languages, designed his house, and played the violin. He collected maps, bones, paintings, and Native American artifacts. He helped to write the Declaration of Independence, became president, and negotiated with France for the Louisiana Purchase. Yet this same man who said slavery was an “abomination [that] must end,” owned 150 slaves.

Kalman delves into the complex world of the third president’s life, from farming to fathering children of slaves. The sophisticated font and artwork allow the book to be naturally shared with independent readers. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation provides resources for teachers, including new online courses.

Home for Mr. EmersonKERLEY, Barbara. A Home for Mr. Emerson. illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic. 2014. ISBN 9780545350884. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

“Every spirit builds itself a house, and beyond its house a world…Build therefore your own world.” That’s just what Ralph Waldo Emerson did. He and his wife, Queenie, built a home in Concord, Massachusetts and filled it with books, family, and friends. Each day he wrote his thoughts into his journals. He traveled the country sharing his ideas. The more famous he became, the more visitors came to his home. It’s no wonder that when tragedy struck, Emerson was not alone.

Kerley’s wonderful introduction to the writer includes ideas about how to build a world of your own. On her website, teachers will find Common Core connections. The Classroom Bookshelf blog recently featured the picture book biography. Teaching ideas for grades 3 – 8, websites, and related titles provide you with resources for your unit of study. Watch a video on PBS. Now a National Historic Landmark, the Emerson house also has its own organization.

Pilot and the PrinceSÍS, Peter. The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Farrar/Frances Foster Bks. 2014. ISBN 9780374380694. JLG Level: BE : Biography Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was an adventurer. At age 12 he wanted to be a pilot, so when he got a chance to fly, he took it. His mother was not happy. He later changed her mind―she even paid for his private lessons. As he grew older, he wrote stories of his experiences. He learned from pilots who delivered the mail by air. The day finally came when he would fly the mail from France to Spain by himself. The pioneer days of the late-1920s forced Antoine to use his eyes to watch the land. Maps were sometimes inaccurate. Sometimes two planes flew together in case one crashed. He lived in the desert, and later explored new flight paths into South America. Was he afraid of nothing?

Sís’s biography can be read to younger students, but intermediate readers will pour over the tiny script as they gather even more information woven among his illustrations. A biography of the author/illustrator can be found on his website. You can follow him on Facebook. PBS produced a video that celebrates an exhibit featuring de Saint-Exupéry’s literary works. For older students, you may want to watch Chasing the Sun which features the pilot as an innovator.  An extensive biography of the Frenchman can be found on PoemHunter.

Anna & SolomonSNYDER, Elaine. Anna & Solomon. illus. by Harry Bliss. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson Bks. 2014. ISBN 9780374303624. JLG Level: P+ : Primary (Grades K–1).

After coming to America from Russia, Solomon saves money to bring his wife over, too. But every time he buys Anna a ticket, she sends a relative in her place. How much longer will he have to wait?

Synder’s debut picture book is based on her own family’s stories of immigration to America. Bliss is the author’s son-in-law. After hearing about the grandparents’ journey, he encouraged her to write the story so that he could illustrate it. Teachers may want to use Scholastic’s lesson plans on immigration. For primary sources and other activities, check out the Tenement Museum.

Queen victoria's bathing machineWHELAN, Gloria. Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine. illus. by Nancy Carpenter. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. 2014. ISBN 9781416927532. JLG Level: P : Primary (Grades K–1).

“It would be a disgrace to see more of a queen that her hands and face.” How would she ever be able to swim in the ocean? Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, got right to work. He would design an invention that would protect her modesty, yet allow her to be one with the sea.

Based on royal history, Whelan’s amusing tale to keep the queen out of the public’s eye brings the now open-to-the-public bathing machine to their attention. Read more about Albert’s invention at BBC News, where you can also watch a video. For more resources on Queen Victoria, including her journals and history, visit the title tab on JLG Booktalks to Go. You can follow the illustrator on Facebook.

Additional Resources

In an effort to organize these links, I have created a LiveBinder. All websites will be posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources will be added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see LiveBinder main tabs. Each tab is a book title. Under each color-coded tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Please visit JLG’s new LiveBinder, JLG Booktalks to Go.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com. (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)


Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.

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  1. Donna Miller says:

    Your LiveBinder is a great resource – thanks for sharing!