Cover of The Skydiving Beavers shows a beaver on the ground watching boxes attached to parachutes float toward the groudThe Skydiving Beavers is a great title–especially when you know it’s also a nonfiction story. (The only thing that I, as an Idahoan, think might have made it better would have been to keep it in its original form–The Skydiving Beavers of Idaho.)

This is the story of airlifting beavers, but it’s also the story of how scientists think and work through problems.

The story is set in 1940s Idaho–the era is signaled with the wonderful illustrations with vintage clothes and automobiles–when McCall, Idaho  was growing and encroaching on beaver habitat. I loved the refrain that Wood uses to start the story:

“It all started when the folks of McCall, Idaho, realized they ahd a problem. A big problem. A big, beaver-type problem.”

A little later she changes the refrain to show another side of the story:

“Now the beavers had a problem too. A big problem. A big, people-type problem.”

When a local Department of Fish and Game official, Elmot Heter, decides they should move the beavers away from humans, she uses this version of the refrain:

“But Elmo had a problem. A big problem. A big, transportation-type problem.”

The refrain has elegantly set up the problem and then moved us into the heart of the book.

The story shows Elmo mulling over the problem, thinking about the difficulties of moving wild animals, and coming up with different ideas for solutions. We see him drawing plans on paper and building prototype equipment in his workshop and then testing it in the field. It’s really a great inside look on the real work of daily science, and one that would go well with a class on the scientific method.

The Author’s Note expains that Elmo’s solution would be considered unwise today and explains why it’s good for humans to make room in their world for beavers. I love that the book celebrates Elmo’s ingenuity but also shows the way added knowledge can change what we consider good practices.

It’s the rare picture book that’s set in Idaho. I feel lucky that we get such a fun one!

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gysbert van Frankenhuyzen. Sleeping Bear Press: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

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


deereUntil recently I’ve always lived in big cities or their suburbs. A few years ago, though, our family moved to the country. We don’t live on a farm, but I quickly learned that farm machinery, farm tools, and farm concerns (is the rain going to let up long enough for the wheat harvest?) loom large when you’re living surrounded by farms. I started noticing that very few picture books these days speak to country kids. So I was delighted to see John Deere, That’s Who! 

This picture book biography tells the story of the inventor and blacksmith who invented and produced a better plow and whose name is on many farm vehicles today. Country kids will, I suspect, love learning about the man whose name they see on machinery about them. But the book speaks to city kids as well, with its themes of overcoming adversity and trying different strategies to solve problems.

The title of the book is also a refrain in this easy-to-read text. Maurer keeps the word count low so it’s a quick read.

The art by Tim Zeltner has a two dimensional feel to it, as if it were painted on wood by a self-taught frontier artist. And it actually was painted on plywood! You can see the telltale cracks in the paint in the art.

This is a great read aloud for lazy summer days, with the smell of new-cut hay drifting by.

John Deere, That’s Who! by Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrated by Tim Zeltner. Henry Holt: 2017

Children with book around a globe

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

The cover of Keith Haring The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing shows Haring next to his iconic crawling man imageKeith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing is a picture book biography of the contemporary artist by an author with unmatched access to information about his childhood. It’s written by Haring’s younger sister. The book takes full advantage of that family knowledge, focusing on his childhood. The first third of the book is about him before he finished high school and how drawing fit into his childhood life. We see him drawing with his family, annoying teachers with his constant doodling, creating drawing games with his friends, and giving family members gifts of art.

The rest of the book shows how, as an adult, he brought his art to the world. But those adult enterprises are nicely tied back to his childhood self with the apt refrain, “…he just kept drawing.”

I love the way books by family members can highlight quiet but important moments. And in this book, Haring has gathered many images from Haring’s childhood. They’re incorporated into the illustrations of the book and also show up, annotated, in the back matter. the back matter also has a bunch of wonderful family photos showing Haring as a Black and white line drawings in style of Keith Haringyoung person. It’s a substantial back matter–three full spreads–with images, a biographical essay, and–my favorite part–Kay Haring’s own reflections on the legacy of her brother.

Here’s another book with amazing endpapers–ones that you can get lost looking into and that will remind you why Haring is such a beloved artist.

Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, by Kay Haring, illustrated by Robert Neubecker. Dial Books for Young Children: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

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

plasticThis is the inspiring true story of how a Gambian woman finds a way to recycle plastic shopping bags. In the process, she earns money, creates bonds with the women working with her, improves the health of her community, and makes her village more beautiful.

I especially loved that the refrain fit so seamlessly with the themes in the book:

“One…then two, then ten, then a hundred.”

It’s fun to read–as every refrain should be!–but it also reiterates the main themes of the book. Problems start out small and become big. Solutions to those problems can also start out small and become big. And, of course, one person’s actions can inspire many others to act, too.

The back matter has maps, snapshots of the actual people, and an interesting note that tells how the author became interested in this topic. And don’t miss the wonderful endpapers–a collage of plastic shopping bags.

A trailer for the book.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Millbrook Press: 2015.



This is a family history book, based on Meg Medina’s experience with her own aunt. It’s a snapshot of an immigrant experience–extended family living together, working menial jobs, trying to navigate a new culture, sometimes using a child as the guide to that new culture. It’s also a triumphant, feel-good story about dreams, family love, and making a new place home.

Medina organizes the story around two refrains: “Tía Isa wants a car” in the first half of the book, and “Tía Isa bought a car” in the second half. The final spread concludes joyously:

“Tía Isa and I bought a car. To carry us all to the sea.”

The copyright page includes a photo of “the real Tía Isa.”

Tía Isa Wants a Car by Meg Medina, illustrated by Claudia Muñoz. Candlewick: 2011.

Goldie  This book is another biography of a recent public figure, this time Golda Meir. Who knew that she lived in Wisconsin as a child? I hadn’t! The book is based on a 1909 Milwaukee Journal newspaper article telling about a benefit that Golda and her friends organized. The author is very clear in the back matter about what she has invented:

Although the dialogue in this book is imagined, the events are true.

The story is told in first person, so it’s no surprise that the narrative voice is confident. The story opens with a club meeting where Golda tells her friends about a problem she’s noticed (children without enough money to buy schoolbooks) and closes with the end of the fund-raising benefit they put on. The word “naturally” and the phrase “then I knew what to do” work as refrains, pulling us through the action and tying it all together. They also underline the confident, assertive character of the woman who would become one of the great political leaders of the 20th century.

The book doesn’t try to explain Golda’s importance in world politics. Children who already know her name will bring that knowledge to the book, but the book will still delight other children with its argument that children can make a difference in the world.

Goldie Takes a Stand: Golda Meir’s First Crusade, by Barbara Krasner, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Kelley. Kar-Ben Publishing: 2014.