My three year old grandson loves “things that go.” Here are three books perfect for him and other fans of cars, trucks, trains, and buses.

Cover of book shows a 1950s era car with a boy standing next to it in a tropical cityAll the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle (Henry Holt: 2017) is set in Cuba and narrated by a boy who is going with his family to a party for his newborn cousin. But first, he and his father have to fix their 1950s era car. The book is full of wonderful onomatopoeia and is fun to read aloud. It has wonderful illustrations of Cuban cityscapes and country scenes (researched on location, as the illustrator’s note at the back explains) and of the many, many old cars that still drive on Cuban streets. I loved the focus on the inventiveness required by the boy and his father to keep the car running. It reminded me of a mechanic I knew in the Netherlands. He had also been a mechanic in Ivory Coast. When I asked him which he preferred, he said, “Here, you just order a part and put it in. But there it was more interesting because you had to figure out how to solve it without a new part.” Hooray for human resourcefulness! (And don’t skip the gorgeous endpapers–covered with drawings of many different models of vintage cars seen on Cuban streets.)

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2017) is a picture book biography of the beloved author and illustratorCover of book shows woman and 2 boys in front of cable car, snow plow, steam shovel, and locomotive of such classics as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House. The book shows Jinnee–as she was called–drawing vehicles for her transport-mad sons. I love how the story evoked the books that I knew so well as a child. I’m not sure how fun the book would be to read if you didn’t know at least a few Virginia Lee Burton titles–but who doesn’t? And what a great addition this title would be to an author study. John Rocco, the illustrator, does a great job of paying homage to Burton’s work while creating his own distinctive illustrations.

Cover of book shows a World War I warship painted in extravagant stripesDazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton, illustrated by Victo Ngai (Millbrook: 2017) is one of my favorite books yet by Chris Barton. He explains in clear, bouncy prose the Navy’s attempt to confuse submariners by painting their ships in wild, exotic patterns. I love how the book opens. We see a spread with scores of gun-metal gray warships and one extravagantly striped and colored ship. The text reads, “One of the ships on this page is painted in sneaky, stripy camouflage. You probably can’t even see it. Oh. You can see it? Hmmmmm.” The same clarity and good humor continues throughout the book, adeptly aided by the beautiful art. I was fascinated to read about the role of women in this camouflage enterprise–and in the author’s note Barton talks about how a historic photograph helped him uncover that piece of the puzzle. A book that will entrance–dazzle!–young and old readers alike.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Cowboy feeds a dogie with a baby bottle.My grandfather was a real cowboy. I feel sad that I never got to share Real Cowboys with him. He would have appreciated this book and nodded his head at it, “Yep. That’s right.” This wonderful title for young readers describes what real cowboys actually do, turning the cultural image of the cowboy on its head.Snapshot of man in flannel shirt and cowboy hat.

The book starts “real cowboys are quiet in the morning,” explaining why they need to be. We see that cowboys are not only quiet but also gentle, good listeners, patient, peace-loving, and capable of crying. Sure, they are strong and tough, but they also take turns, care about the environment, and are artistic. They are also girls and boys and every color imaginable.

Jonathan Bean’s art surprised me. I was expecting something like his art in This Is My Home, This is My School, but here his illustrations are much sketchier and more impressionistic, even edging toward Cubism.

Real Cowboys, by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2016

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

On cover of The Kid from Diamond Street a girl leans jauntily on baseball bat.I love stories about gutsy women. I love stories about gutsy kids. Here’s a book about both–a gutsy girl.

Edith Houghton loved baseball. But in the 1920s there were no Little League teams for girls. Didn’t matter. She kept playing, and when she was 10 years old (ten!) she joined a professional team. She was by far the youngest and tiniest member of the team, which required her to find ways to alter her uniform so it wouldn’t fall of of her. But it didn’t stop her playing ball.

In fact, she played so well, when she was 13 she was invited to be part of an exhibition team representing the US playing in Japan. This book tells the story of how Edith Houghton began playing ball and then the great adventure of her trip abroad with her teammates.

I was floored that I had never heard of this remarkable girl. I loved seeing Japan through her eyes. Vernick chooses wonderful quotes that keep the point of view strictly Edith’s. (I did wish that the quotes had been attributed in the back matter.)

Vernick and Salerno teamed up for another great baseball book about unlikely players, Brothers at Bat. This one is a great book for baseball fans, for gutsy women, and for passionate kids.

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2016.

Children around a globe. I participate in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.A 1

mary garden This book is a lyrical tribut to the artist behind the quirky garden art at a Wisconsin beach home. The back matter tackles the community controversy the art created, but the main text of the book is a gentle celebration of the quiet, persistent vision of someone who didn’t see the world like everyone else did. The story is told simply boiled down to the bare essentials of how Mary Nohl came to create the fantastical creatures that surround her home. It’s a story that joyfully affirms the beauty that can happen when people quietly follow their own path.


A great trailer for the book.

In Mary’s Garden, by Tina and Carson Kugler. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2015.

gingerbreadThis is an inspiring story about a Revolutionary War patriot who fought by firing up his ovens and feeding the troops. The back matter tells a bit more about how his generosity and commitment to the American cause probably helped woo Hessian mercenaries over to the side of the Americans. Vincent X. Hirsch’s illustrations wonderfully follow the gingerbread theme.\

Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Hirsch. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2015.



This book is built around an insight so obvious you’ve probably never thought about it. I hadn’t! Despite what we teach toddlers, bunnies don’t only hop and birds don’t only fly. All living creatures move in different ways at different times. Page builds that insight into her clever structure: we see each featured animal move in two different ways, and the second way it moves is the first way the next featured animal moves. Such a simple and elegant structure, and so effective!

A spread at the end gives a little more detail about each animal. Steve Jenkins’ illustrations and the book design are gorgeous.

Move! by Robin Page, illustrated by Steve Jenkins. Houghton Mifflin: 2006.

Turkeys and Pilgrims are important, of course, but this book speaks to another aspect of modern-day Thanksgiving: the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade. Both text and illustrations are brilliant, and will give you a new appreciation for all those character balloons bobbing about on your TV screen!

Balloons over Broadway, by Melissa Sweet. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2011

This moving autobiography tells the story, in first person present tense, of a boy who stutters but can speak fluently to animals. We live with him through the despair and loneliness of school and then find, with him, the joy of researching jaguars in the wild. We see his passion to protect the jaguar from poachers overcome his disability. “I have a voice now to speak for animals.”

And we get that whole story in 789 carefully-chosen words. This book proves the idea that conciseness gives writing power.

A Boy and a Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by CáTia Chien. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2014.