Yo’GRT: Peanut Butter and Cupcake


Yo’GRT = You’ve Got to Read This!

Border, Terry (2014).  Peanut Butter and Cupcake.  New York: Philomel Books.

Pages: 32

Age Level Recommendation: 4 and up

Topics/Tags: food, friendship, “new kid”

“[T]he creatively zany photographs…will make this a read-aloud hit!” ~School Library Journal

My Review:

This is the Hoosier picture book author I want all Indiana kids to know about!  Terry Border has taken “playing with his food” to a new, story-telling level.  Kids will delight in the bright, delicious pictures.  The text is playful and the story is witty and memorable.  Children will quickly catch on to the story progression and eagerly await the introduction of…Jelly!


Border has written two follow-up books, also scrumptious: Happy Birthday Cupcake (2015), and Milk Goes to School (2016).

Author website:



Yo’GRT: The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp


Yo’GRT = “You’ve Got to Read THIS!”

Yancey, Rick (2005). The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp. New York: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books.

Pages: 375

Grade Level Recommendation: 7th and up

Topics/Tags:  unlikely hero, action/adventure, Arthurian, mythology and religion, military, secret society, car geek, modern epic

Lexile: 810L

A Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year, Carnegie Medal nominee, and Book Sense Children’s Pick.

“A white-knuckle, page-turning read.” ~Booklist

My Review:

This Arthurian tale is pure adrenaline.  Alfred Kropp is an unspectacular, awkward teenager who has his world turned upside down when he is unwittingly dragged into a mission to save the world from a modern knight-turned-bad descendant of one of the Knights of the Round Table.  Readers will root on and empathize with the hero who is a well-rounded character with believable feelings and impulses as well as an unfortunate childhood (one might think of Harry Potter).  It’s a goofy, intense, violent, and heart-tugging adventure that will be especially enjoyed by those tough-to-convince boy readers.

Book two, The Seal of Solomon, was intense and entertaining but I thought not quite as enduring as the first installment.  I will update once I have read the third book, The Thirteenth Skull.

Content Caution:

There is a lot of violence and gory detail to these books and some language, but essentially no sensuality.


Scott, Michael (2007). The Alchemist. Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

Also set in modern times with roots in legendary history, these teen heroes get caught up in adventures they never expected.

Ye Castle Stinketh


Steifel, Chana (2012). Ye Castle Stinketh: Could You Survive Living in a Castle? (Ye Yucky Middle Ages Book).  Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc. 

Pages: 48

Grade Level Recommendation: 4-7

Topics/Tags: history, Middle Ages, castles, warfare, sanitation, bathroom humor

Lexile:  700L

“This book is flying off the shelf at the library.” ~Suzan Lawrence, elementary school librarian, via Amazon.com

My Review:

I began reading this book to my kids (ages 4, 7 and 10) who initially found the topic very amusing.  After several pages, they realized its purpose was primarily to inform and secondarily to “gross out,” and they wandered off.  I think, however, that in a more formal reading setting, this book would delight many types of kids and especially boys.

The premise is to inform kids about how gross all the facets of castle life really were and to dispel any romantic notions they might have of castles based on fairy tales and Disney movies.  Castle life would absolutely gross out almost any person used to a first-world, 21st century way of life.  For starters…no sewers, very little hygiene and people (and animals) packed into tight quarters.  Add in the realities of warfare, a foreign diet and diseases and we are left with many opportunities for the authors to paint a picture of how nasty life in the Middle Ages was.


The tone of the book is comical and silly—not at all heavy with the realities of the daily life of Middle Age people.  Take for instance, this section on what people ate at parties: “People enjoyed eating every part of the animal.  Cooks whipped up ‘fancy’ dishes using animal brains, livers, hearts, lungs, guts, necks, feet, and buttocks” (28).  The word choices are clearly made to entertain kids who find bathroom humor and grossness hilarious.  All the while, vocabulary terms are highlighted and defined with a glossary in the back of the book.

The illustrations add to the juvenile humor, depicting people in the bath, climbing out of toilets, and holding in a retch while dead animals are flung overhead.


The book concludes with the glossary, and pages for “Further Reading” and “Internet Addresses” for more research.

Overall, I think this book would delight children in the midst of the “potty humor” ages and who are interested in medieval life.  I found it to be an easy, entertaining and educational read.


Extension Activities:

  • Have kids design their own “inventions” for medieval needs, such as bathroom fixtures, beds, siege weapons and farm implements. Ask them how it could make daily life less gross.
  • On page 25, we learn that “Four out of ten people in the world today do not have access to a toilet.” Talk with the kids about some ways that we can raise awareness and help to bring sanitation and better water conditions to people in these areas of the world.

Book Pairings:

Aliki (1986). A Medieval Feast. New York: HarperCollins.

This story depicts a meal for a medieval king as it is prepared.

MacDonald, Fiona (2013).  You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Medieval Knight! New York: Franklin Watts. 

This book also portrays medieval livelihoods in a comical light.

Hey Batta Batta Swing! The Wild Old Days of Baseball


Cook, Sally and Charlton, James (2007).  Hey Batta Batta Swing!: The Wild Old Days of Baseball. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. 

Pages: 56

Grade Level Recommendation:  1-5

Topics/Tags: baseball history, sports, America, pastimes

Lexile: 1050L

“Baseball buffs will find this a diverting—and occasionally wild—outing indeed.” ~Publisher’s Weekly

My Review:

I will preface my review by saying I like baseball, grew up following professional baseball, and married a die-hard fan.  I think it likely that readers who appreciate this book will be baseball fans already.

The book is written for a picture book audience.  I would put the “sweet spot” age level at third or fourth grade.  The prose is a conversational style and makes use of many old terms and phrases from bygone baseball days (which are usually bolded and defined in the sidebars, though not always).   The illustrations are fun and colorful yet have an antique style.


We learn about how the game became “America’s Pastime” and how such things as gloves, team names and colors, and players’ uniforms evolved.  For instance, the Brooklyn Dodgers got their name from their fans who had to “dodge” trolley cars to get through the city streets to see the games.  The Pittsburgh Pirates got their name from a Philadelphia team from whom they “stole” one of their best players.

There is even a section about how players received nicknames.  Babe Ruth got his nickname when a player saw him with his new manager and said “There goes Dunnie with his new babe” (26).

We also learn that cheating is a firm legacy of the sport, dating all the way back to the beginning days well before the steroid scandal of our modern sport.  Pitchers “doctored” balls to make them spin in crazy ways, teams would freeze bats and balls to change the velocity of hits and runners would steal third base from first when the umpire wasn’t looking.

The book contains many interesting tidbits from baseball’s history.  And though told in an engaging way, there are a few times when the authors use baseball terms without defining them, terms like “infielder,” “touching the bag” and “doubles rule”.  They never give a brief explanation of the basic structure of the game and the teams. This could present a problem for children who do not know the basics of the sport and thus limit the audience.

The book also does not contain any source list or recommended reading for further learning.

Overall, I think that Hey Batta Batta Swing! is a nice book for kids who like baseball and enjoy learning about the history of the game.

Extension Activities:

  • Take the child(ren) to a baseball game. Nothing will teach them about the dynamics of the sport like seeing a game in person.
  • Have kids make up a team name and design a logo and/or uniform.

Book Pairings:

Charlton, James, et al. (2014).  How to Speak Baseball.  Chronicle Books.

This book is written by the same author team as Hey Batta Batta for an adult audience.  It includes many more phrases and explanations of how baseball became what it is today.

Sports Illustrated Kids (2016).  Baseball: Then to WOW! Sports Illustrated.

Kids who really enjoy Hey Batta Batta Swing! will love this highly-illustrated/photographic book filled with the same kind of history-of-the-game details.

The Right Word


Bryant, Jen and Sweet, Melissa (2014).  The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 

Pages: 42

Grade Level Recommendation:  2-5

Topics/Tags: biography, history, English language, word choice, doctor, Caldecott, honor book

Lexile: 590

My Review:

The biography of Peter Roget and the story of how he wrote his Thesaurus may sound like the kind of book that will bore late elementary kids to tears.  However, I found it to be a beautifully engaging story that I think many children will find very compelling.  To make my case, I feel I only need to show one page of the marvelous illustrations:


The story is told about how young Roget took his love of making sense of the world, and used it to make the world a more sensible place.  His Thesaurus allowed himself and his readers to always find “the right word” for every instance. Children will be able to read about an ordinary kid while also seeing how his ideas developed.

Illustrator Melissa Sweet used a mixed media style to beautifully layer her illustrations which are based on Roget’s own journals.  Her collages are made up of pictures relevant to Roget’s life and the words he spent his life ordering into usable groups.   Within many of the page are words layered into the illustrations—words that looked like they were snipped from Roget’s own notebooks.

Author Jen Bryant tells of the young Roget, a boy who moved often and was not able to make many deep friendships.  So, to occupy his time, he began writing in journals.  He did not draw or write stories, but rather used his precious pages to make lists of words, often with their meaning.  Roget was interested in everything, so his lists included everything—ecology, geology, geometry, zoology, physics.  It is no surprise that he became a celebrated doctor when he grew up.  In addition to being a medical doctor, he gave many lectures on science and inventions.  His children eventually convince him to publish his book of lists, called Thesaurus, or “treasure house” in Greek.  It was an instant and lasting bestseller.

Each of the book’s page spread is loaded with details for kids to investigate.  This book will appeal to children who enjoy

  • drawing and art,
  • the sounds of language,
  • putting things in order,
  • history

In addition to the text, the author provides a “List of Principal Events” that include events from Roget’s life as well as what was happening in history at that same time.  Both the author and illustrator include a note to the readers about their work on this story and the book concludes with sources and books “for further reading.”  Even the end papers are so beautifully illustrated as to warrant many happy minutes of perusal.

This book is so affirming of childhood hobbies as a means to a creative future, that I believe children will read this book and approach their own hobbies with more zeal and aspiration.  However, because of this book’s topic and placement in the nonfiction section, I am afraid that it will quickly become lost in the stacks.  I think that it will be more likely to find its way into children’s (and teachers’) hands if it is displayed face out.  The cover is attractive and the Caldecott medal shouts “read me! I’m awesome!”

Extension Activities:

  • After reading the story, have kids make a list of some of their own hobbies
  • Have kids choose one hobby and write as many different words associated with that hobby that they can think of. After they have exhausted their own mind, have them look through Roget’s Thesaurus to see how many more words are in his list.
  • Kids might enjoy illustrating one of Roget’s entries with pictures of animals, objects, or even word art.
  • Have kids make a timeline of their own life events similar to the one at the end of The Right Word about Roget’s life. Have them guess what kind of education, career and family they might have.

Book Pairings:

Bryant, Jen and Sweet, Melissa (2008).  A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos William. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

The same author/illustrator team joined up to create this biography, also a Caldecott winner.

Davis, Kathryn Gibbs and Ford, Gilbert (2014). Mr. Ferris and His Wheel. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

This book tells the story about how a man took his dream and made history.

Quiet Power


Cain, Susan (2016). Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Pages: 254

Grade Level Recommendation: 5 and up

Topics/Tags: introversion/extroversion, personality, psychology, social issues, self-help

Lexile: 1020

“An intriguing and potentially life-altering examination of the human psyche that is sure to benefit both introverts and extroverts alike.” ~Kirkus

My Review:

After reading Cain’s fantastic debut, Quiet, when it first came out, I immediately had several thoughts:

  1. I wish I had read this book when I was in middle/high school,
  2. I wish more teachers would read this book to understand introverted students, and
  3. I wish Susan Cain would write a version for kids.

My #3 wish has come true with this volume, Quiet Power, a book written to help kids understand their personality AND to help them understand other people’s too—and to celebrate the differences.

The premise of Quiet Power is to define introversion and help destigmatize the words “introvert,” “quiet,” and “shy.”  According to Cain, our culture prizes an “outgoing” quality above others, and conversely shames and discourages less pronounced personality styles.  She uses her text to affirm and encourage “quiet” kids to embrace who they are and to use their qualities to make the world a better place.

Though introversion is a complex psychological term without a single way to define it, Cain says that typically introverts are “drawn to the inner world of thoughts and feelings, while the opposite, extroverts, crave the external world of people and activities” (7).  Introverts may or may not be shy, but usually need quiet time to restore mental and physical equilibrium.  Conversely, extroverts require socialization and stimulation to find similar restoration.  Neither group is more or less likely to possess good social skills, intelligence or to do great feats or achieve fame.  Both personality types are needed in a healthy society.

Cain uses real life examples of introverted kids who have harnessed their personality type to achieve social success and to make important contributions to society.  Many of these examples are ordinary kids, some of them are famous—including Emma Watson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Eleanor Roosevelt, Stephen Wozniak (Apple inventor), Beyonce and almost the whole Washington Nationals baseball team.

Cain breaks the book into several sections to give kids insight into successfully navigating each facet of life while being an introvert: school, socializing, hobbies, and home life. Each chapter concludes with several action steps that kids can practice so as to thrive as a “quiet” type.  My favorite sections are at the end, addressed to teachers and parents to help them understand and embrace the unique needs of “quiet” kids.  Amusing graphics that flesh out Cain’s tips are interspersed throughout the book, including the following graphic depicting ways introverts can and should nurture themselves (235):



I believe that self-understanding is a critical key to personal health—people need to know their own limits and strengths so that we can thrive as individuals and members of society.  As librarians, we see many “quiet” types in our libraries.  It is important that we try to understand and consider their needs just as much as more “outgoing” types of people.  Quiet Power is such an excellent and affirming read to offer our patrons and our own understanding of our clients.  I heartily recommend this book as well as the adult version.



Extension activity:

  • Cain describes a “lemon test” that psychologists have used to measure the sensitivity of introverts vs. extroverts in which they discovered that introverts react more to stimuli than extroverts (22). Set up a similar test for a group of students, such as her example of music volume while completing a worksheet (23):  have students first decide if they believe they are introvert/extrovert, then have them use their portable listening devices to listen to music while completing an activity.  After an allotted amount of time, have each student describe what number level their volume was set to.

Book Pairings:

Telgemeier, Raina (2016). Ghosts. New York: Graphix.

A young girl learns to overcome fears for the sake of her younger sister.

Van Draanen, Wendelin (2016). The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones. Random House. 

A boy becomes the hero of his own life through his fantastical adventures in his notebook.

WHO WAS Joan of Arc?


Pollack, Pam and Meg Belviso (2016). Who Was Joan of Arc? New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

Series Website: www.whohq.com

Pages: 105

Grade Level Recommendation: 3-7

Topics/Tags: Biography, History, Series, Culture

Lexile: 0810

My Review:

My 10-year-old daughter has lately been devouring a nonfiction series called “Who HQ.”  She will check out a stack of 6-8 titles on each library trip and inevitably have them read within a few hours.  Children’s librarians have concurred: this series is a hot one…as far as nonfiction goes, competing with LEGO books and Guiness Book for circulation.

I had to read one to find out the appeal! I selected Who Was Joan of Arc?  Here are my take-aways:

  1. It reads very fast.
  2. It made complex historical events seem understandable and relevant to a youth audience.
  3. It includes illustrations on every page (though they were pretty boring and not in color).
  4. It reads VERY fast.

I’ll admit that I am a little stumped at the fervor with which kids are picking up these books.  When I closed the last page, I felt that it was a fairly standard juvenile biography.  It included a table of contents, an index, a timeline, and side bars explaining topics relevant to Joan’s life.

My theory as to the appeal is that Who HQ harnesses the power of “the series” for kids: they know what they are getting and they appreciate that familiarity.  Each book is a 5” x 7.5” paperback, and with the pictures on every page, it requires much less effort to finish than many other books the third through seventh grade student encounters.


The series is broken into three groups, “Who Was,”  “What Was,” and  “Where Is” groups.  Within each group are many topics and persons who would be of high-interest to kids in this age range such as Who Was Dr. Seuss?, What is the Super Bowl?, and Where is the Grand Canyon?

I was fascinated to learn about Joan’s visions and conviction that she was hearing voices from heaven.  The book recounts several instances where Joan knew of something (often a battle) or predicted an occurrence well before it happened or anyone could possibly know.  The authors tell Joan’s story with a tone of respect for her as a young heroine—a quality that will especially validate young readers.  The timeline at the back of the book seems a little suspicious because it says that Joan was just 8 years old when she left home to fight for the king of France, but that it was not until she was 13 that she received her first vision from heaven.

Overall, I think this was an entertaining read.  Who HQ is a nice series for teachers to suggest to reluctant readers who may be intimidated by more dense nonfiction volumes.

Extension Activities:

  • Have kids design their own coat of arms to represent their family
  • Have kids write a letter of encouragement to a leader or representative they admire.

Book Pairings:

Girls Who Rocked the World: Heroines from Joan of Arc to Mother Theresa by Michelle Roehm McCann

Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr