newworldThis fascinating book, about emigration from Germany, immigration to the US, and genealogical research, was originally published in Germany. Charlesbridge Publishing has brought the English translation out this year. The design of the book feels different than other American books–it’s a narrative story but it’s laid out on the page more like a Dorling Kindersley book, where tiny packets of text explain small, detailed illustrations. I can’t imagine how it would work as a read-aloud but it’s certainly an engrossing read for an independent reader.

In this story, we see the Peters family pushed by economic conditions in 1869 to leave Germany. We follow their preparations and their complicated transportation path all the way to Nebraska. We watch them set up a new household and make friends. In a wordless spread, we see their farmhouse and prosperous farm once they have been in America a few years.

The next spread shows the same farmhouse (but with modern updates, like a swimming pool) and many more outbuildings and motorized farm equipment. Now we follow the descendants of the original Peters family as they research their ancestors and make a trip back to Germany to try to find their ancestral home.

This is a fascinating story of immigration and of family connectedness.

In the New World: A Family in Two Centuries, by Christa Holtei, illustrated by Gerda Raidt, translated by Susi Woofter. Charlesbridge: 2015.

crabsThis book (by my critique partner, Lisa Kahn Schnell) came in the mail today and our whole family sat down together to read it aloud. It’s packed with fascinating information about horseshoe crabs and the web of life they’re part of. The book is structured around a series of elegantly simple two word sentences, one on each spread of the book:

“They’re coming…It’s happening…They’re feasting…”

Those sentences tell the story concisely; they’d be great to read by themselves to wiggly toddlers. But my fifth and sixth grader lapped up the more in-depth information also included on each spread. Unready for the book to end, we read the back matter aloud together, too (did you know that almost every medical device doctors use on you is dependent on horseshoe crabs?).

Now we just have to plan a trip to Delaware Bay during horsehoe spawning season.

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, by Lisa Kahn Schnell, illustrated by Alan Marks. Charlesbridge: 2015

friends 2

Who knew that two icons of the fights for civil rights, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, were dear friends? This inspiring book tells the story of how they defied social conventions to become friends, joined forces to fight for what the believed in, and weathered the storms when their opinions differed about the way things should be.

The author includes extensive back matter: an “Author’s Note,” that gives more detail on events mentioned in the book, an “Author’s Research note” that tells about how she got interested in the topic and how she researched it, an “Illustrator’s Note,” “Source Notes” showing not only where all the quotes in the book came from but also all the source of all the other factual statements, a “Selected Bibliography,” and a “Timeline.”

The author acknowledges, “This story is based on true events, but I had to use my imagination to fill in details when no facts could be found. For example, when Susan and her father went to Frederick’s house on Alexander Street, no one knows for sure who drove the buggy.” I especially appreciate the respect that notes like these show for the reader. They draw clear lines between what was invented and what comes from historical documents.

It’s an inspiring book to pick up today, when we’re remembering the man who had a dream that “one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”

Friends for Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony & Frederick Douglass, by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell. Charlesbridge: 2014.

It’s hard to find a new angle on topics that have been written about before. Over. And. Over. But Selbert does so charmingly:

Rufus’ best friend, Winston Churchill, is a busy man, but most days Rufus and Winston share a walk.

From this auspicious beginning, we watch Churchill save the Western world from the perspective of his poodle. Selbert never, however, slips into cloying cuteness. This is carefully-crafted nonfiction, and she sticks to the facts. Most pages include a quotation from Churchill. Rather than incorporating the quotes into the text, they are worked into the art, appearing as card tacked onto bulletin boards.

An inspiring look at a great man.

War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert. Charlesbridge: 2013

This is an inspiring story with haunting art. It tells of three slaves who escape to the shelter of a Union fort during the Civil War and what follows their brave action. Van Hecke’s language is spare and evocative. She even leaves out articles to distill the language . We get unadorned image:

May moon gleams bright as Colonel’s buttons. Three slip out unseen.

She tells the whole story in just 668 well-chosen, carefully-placed words.

Under the Freedom Tree by  Susan Van Hecke, illustrated by London Ladd. Charlesbridge: 2014.

“Birds and feathers go together, like trees and leaves, like stars and the sky.”

Melissa Stewart’s lyrical voice makes this information-packed book a great read aloud. The layered text structure is elegantly simple. Each spread compares a function of feathers to something in a child’s frame of reference–“Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella”–and then smaller print (the second layer of text) explains that sweeping generalization in greater detail.

The first layer of text is very short–only about 175 words–but it provides a perfect framework for understanding all the information packed more densely in the second layer of text.

In the back matter, Stewart talks about the scholarly articles about feathers that first piqued her interest and about her struggle to find the right structure for this information.

Feathers: Not Just for Flying, by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Charlesbridge: 2014.

stone giant

This book opens with a giant block of marble standing in a courtyard in Florence and tells the story of how that chunk of rock became Michelangelo’s iconic statue of David. The book doesn’t break any new ground historically, and it doesn’t rely on primary documents, but the clever structure makes it a great introduction to Michelangelo. Focusing first on the marble rather than on Michelangelo actually helps us see the artist more clearly because we understand better the world in which he worked.

The writing is rich with sensory details:

In summer the stone dust mingled with the sweat on his skin and made a kind of mud. In winter his breath hung in the air. He stopped only when he had to, to eat or to sleep.

Even if you don’t have plans for a trip to Florence in the near future, it’s worth visiting the statue David here in this book.

Check out the one minute trailer for the book.

Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley. Charlesbridge: 2014.