Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks. ~ Dr. Seuss

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Little Melba and her Big Trombone

Little Melba and her Big Trombone
by Kathryn Russell-Brown (Author) , Frank Morrison (Illustrator)

Big Dreams!

It was the early 1920’s and in Kansas city, there is music in the air. Jazz and blues bands are at the corner of every street. Anyone who wanted to make music, wanted a gig in KC! And little Melba is soaking in all the music.

Little Melba sure is special. As far as her memory goes, she has loved listening to music. The plink of a guitar, hummm of a bass, thrum-thrum of the drums and the ping-pang of the piano. Melba has music in her mind even when she is asleep!

Little Melba and her Big Trombone Music in her dreams

Melba was only seven when she had a chance to choose an instrument to play.  When she spies a long funny looking horn, Melba is smitten! But the trombone is BIG and Melba is well.. small! Momma isn’t too sure, but Melba pleads and gets her wish.

At a very young age, Melba teaches herself to play a very difficult instrument. She has the music in her head. Now she must produce it on her instrument. And she does so with grit, determination and charm!

In high school, this child genius is the star player of the band. Other kids are jealous and struggle to keep up, but nothing stops Melba. She turns her hurt into soulful music.

Its 1943 and Melba is 17. Melba writes her own music now.  She is part of a new band and travels with them all over the world. She composes more songs, arranges them, and spins rhythms, harmonies and melodies. Her bold notes mesmerizes the crowds.. Yet, Melba is lonely. She is the only woman on the band and some of the men are cruel to her. In certain cities, she faces discrimination. But despite all the bad, ugly and wrong, Melba persists. Her music keeps her going.

Little Melba and her Big Trombone Only One

“Little Melba and her Big Trombone” is a beautiful dedication to the extraordinary musician Melba Liston (1926-99). Russell-Brown captures the music with clever onomatopoeia. Exaggerated lines of the trombone, muted colors of orange and blues capture the spirit and essence of music. Our favorite picture was the very last page which shows Melba in a beautiful gown stretching her hand to play her trombone. The poise and grace of the woman and instrument are beautifully captured by Morrison.

A gem of a biography and a lovely tribute to a musical prodigy, Melba Liston.

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis (Author), Gilbert Ford (Illustrator)

Highly Successful!

Yes, it sure is.. a picture book biography of Mr Ferris, the man who built the world’s first Ferris Wheel! How did it come to be? Read on..

In 1889, the World Fair visitors in Paris, France was dazzled by Mr Eiffel’s Eiffel Tower. Brilliant and breathtaking, the world’s tallest building stood 81 stories high and boasted views of the entire charming city of Paris. Four years later, the World Fair is scheduled to be held in Chicago, USA. Now its America’s turn to “impress the world”.

A nationwide contest is held. Who can build an impressive structure? Who can outshine the famous French tower?

Mr Ferris and his Wheel Contest Opens

Drawings poured in. But sadly many of the popular ones were simply Eiffel tower “look-alike’s”. Was this the best American engineers could do? An ambitious American mechanical engineer had his eye on the contest. To him this was a dare! He had spent his career building the country’s bigger bridges, tunnels, roads. George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. certainly had ideas for a structure that would dazzle and MOVE!

Sadly when George made his case to the chiefs of the fair, his ideas were tossed. No one believed that his structure could stand! “Its too flimsy” they complained. But George knew that he could do it. Somehow he convinced the judges to allow him to build his structure. Although they agreed (reluctantly), no one was ready to fund him! Geroge did not give up and managed to break ground on Jan 1893.

Geroge faces many challenges, people scorn him, they ridicule his ideas. However, George persists and goes on to display his creation.

Mr Ferris and his Wheel Up up and away

This is a very successful picture book biography. Author Davis’ writing is engaging and exciting. It almost feels like a page turner. Along with the story line, Davis also puts in snippets of information giving additional details to the readers. When I read this aloud in school, I was excited by so many  personal connections that the kids made whilst listening to the story.

As you can see, the illustrations are brilliant! Rich, deep colors captures the mood of the story. The strong line art and hand drawn characters add a certain charm and realism and makes it very interesting to read and see.

Overall, a well done conversation starter, picture book biography!

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Thomas Jefferson, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

Thomas Jefferson, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything
by Maira Kalman (Author, Illustrator)


We all know Thomas Jefferson for his writing of the Declaration of Independence. But who knew that there was so much more to know about him. In “Thomas Jefferson, Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Everything”, award winning author and illustrator, Maria Kalman portrays Thomas Jefferson, as a linguist, scientist, mathematician and architect!

The book opens to a bright, vibrant colorful illustration showing “red-haired” Thomas Jefferson with a book looking out at the plantations where he was born, Virginia. Thomas was well known as the third president of the United States. But he really was a scholar, a person who was curious and wanted to learn about everything!

Thomas Jefferson Life LIberty and pursuit of everything introduction

Thomas Jefferson loved to read and he read about everything. He read about shoes, bees, cheese , history, science and so much more. “I cannot live without books” was his motto. He was passionate about building his home, a place he imagined would allow light and air to flow through. A home surrounded by green pastures, various flora and fauna. He went on to build his home in Virigina and called it Monticello.

Thomas Jefferson Life LIberty and pursuit of everything home

Over the next few pages, we discover the many things that he was passionate about. Author Maria Kalman gives us a glimpse of into Jefferson’s daily life. How he loved collecting Native American art and made his house a museum showcasing things that he loved. How his vegetable garden was his pride and a place to be happy. And how he would make time for music and practiced almost 3 hours a day.

Following this “sneek peak”, Maria then introduces Thomas Jefferson as a president and his accomplishments in the office.

Thomas Jefferson Life LIberty and pursuit of everything Louisiana Purchase

What I was more intrigued about was how Maria handled the topics of slavery and his relationship with Sally Hemings. This is a picture book clearly aimed at a younger audience, ages 5+. Considering the age group, Maria does a fantastic job in introducing the idea of slavery and her thoughts behind what Thomas Jefferson felt.

She also introduces Sally Hemings as a beautiful lady “with whom Jefferson had children with”. When I read this out with daughter, I didn’t get a whole lot of questions. The later part describes “To hide your background is a very sad thing”.. Maria describes how many people had to pretend to be someone with lighter skin. This part evoked a lot of emotion and conversation starters for us.

Our favorite part was the last page. The book ends with a note “If you want to understand this country and its people and what it means to be optimistic and complex and tragic and wrong and courageous, you need to go to Monticello..maybe you will lie down and thing about “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything”.

A brilliant introduction to the iconic Thomas Jefferson.

Find  it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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The Mad Potter

The Mad Potter
by Han Greenberg & Sandra Jordan (Authors)

 Geroge E Ohr, Eccentric Genius

George E Ohr was a 19th century American potter. He was largely unknown until years after his death, in 1967, a treasure trove of his work was discovered. “The Mad Potter” is a chapter book, picture book, biography.

“The Mad Potter “opens with a full page picture of George standing on his head. The next page talks about how Jim Carpenter, an antiques dealer, stumbles upon a large collection of George E Ohr’s pottery, among them his unique “Mud Babies”. George would often proclaim that “his pots were worth their weight in gold”. And although in his lifetime, almost no one wanted them; almost 50 years after his death, his words seemed to come true.

The Mad Potter Inside2

What was genius about George E Ohr’s pottery? Why are his pieces unique and museum worthy? The authors tell a tale of George’s journey into the world of pottery and art. They describe him as being the “black sheep” of the family who much later in his life finds his true calling.. his vocation. In Geroge’s words “When I found the potter’s wheel I felt it all over like a duck in water”.

Soon after, George starts creating and churning out pots, pans, pitchers, kettles, vases, bowls, teapots and many, many different pieces of earthenware. His pieces are dazzling and colorful as he experiments techniques of mixing and molding. His pieces are creative and puzzling because he uses his imagination and frenzied creativity. His pieces are unique and contrary, just like his own persona. George loved to put on a show. He loved to entertain and self-promote. A lot of his own self can be seen in his work.

The Mad Potter ArtObjects Tiled

Despite all his showmanship, George simply wasn’t successful at selling his art. People would come to see his show and laugh and talk. But they always left empty handed.

The Mad Potter Portrait

This picture book non-fiction is a wonderful account of his life and work. Through photographs of George and photos of his pottery, this book showcases his genius. The authors present this fascinating biography of Geroge Ohr through colorful photos of the art coupled with vintage sepia toned photos of the artist himself.

Towards the end of the book are two notes. The “Ohr-O’Keefe Museuem” note details the construction of the museum and how it was built to capture the unique and quirky nature of the art within. But my favorite part was the “How to look at a Pot” note where the authors do a super job of explaining how sensory words such as color, texture, form, lines can be used to capture the essence of the piece.

The Mad Potter Museum

A highly informative, engaging and certainly unique biography of Geroge E Ohr, “The Mad Potter”.

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Feathers, Not just for Flying!

Feathers, Not just for Flying!
by Melissa Stewart (Author), Sarah S. Brannen (Illustrator)

Many uses for the feathers

 My little one is always fascinated by feathers. If she ever finds a feather lying about, she will pick it up and examine it. I am pretty sure that there are lots of children who would do exactly that Smile

Birds and feathers go together, like trees and leaves, like stars and the sky” opens the book. Melissa Stewart goes on to explain that although most birds have thousands of feathers, the feathers are not the same. And that’s because they have different jobs to do..

Feathers Not Just for flying Kinds2

The book then goes on to explain these many different jobs and uses of feathers. Each double page spread, presents us with a unique way that feathers are used by the birds. On one side we see the shape, size and color of the feather up-close. Alongside the feather, is a small familiar object (such as a piece of a blanket to indicate warmth, a sponge to indicate soaking water etc.) which helps readers to identify its use and relate it to the use of the feather.  A few lines of description highlight the functionality and usefulness of the feathers. On the other page, a beautiful water color illustration of the bird with an appropriate setting adorns the page.

Feathers Not Just for flying blanket

Part journal, part scrap-book, this creative non-fiction is a superb way of getting children acquainted with the subject. We loved the presentation and style of the book. The facts are easy to read and nicely summarized. Kids will love to read unusual facts such as how the heron will raise its wings while searching for food. The shade blocks out the sun’s glare and allows it to spot tasty fish to eat.

I am continuously impressed by the creative presentation of Non Fiction picture books. Making nonfiction accessible to children of this age group requires imagination. Melissa Stewart, author of over 100 nonfiction picture books, does not disappoint! In “Feathers, not just for flying”, Stewart uses 16 birds as an example, from backyard blue jays to exotic birds like the peacock and winged manakin. 

The book concludes with a note and diagram about how scientists use classification. And in the Authors note section, she describes how she came upon working on the book and subject.

Feathers Not Just for flying Kinds

A well-researched and beautifully presented, this book is a keeper! 

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Pippo the Fool

Pippo the Fool
by Tracey E. Fern (Author), Pau Estrada (Illustrator)

Fool or Genius?

The Cathedral in Santa Maria del Fiore in the city of Florence, Italy is a structure to be marveled at. Its architecture and engineering was a source of pride to the city dwellers. The only thing missing was a dome! The city fathers came up with a solution – a contest! Contestant who wins the prize would be awarded 200 gold florins of prize money, AND receive honor and instant fame!

Pippo the Fool Contest

Pippo Brunelleschi was a goldsmith. He made gold into fine jewelry. But his real talent (and passion) lay in designing and making peculiar machines. His inventions and structures were so outlandish, that he soon earned the nickname “Pippo the Fool”!

Pippo heard about the contest and decided to enter. After all, this was his golden chance to prove his worth and show people his true genius. But building the dome was no easy task! “What could support the enormous done without ruining the beauty of the cathedral? What could hold it up until the mortar dried? How can tons of marble be lifted out of the quarry and hoisted up so high?”

Indeed! this was a job for a genius! Pippo delighted at the challenge. He got down to task and spent weeks pouring over designs and drawings. He calculated exact dimensions for everything. He carved out stones that fit like jigsaw puzzles. He even mixed cement that could withstand earthquakes!Finally Pippo was ready.

On the day of presentation, Pippo saw many famous and brilliant architects come from all over Europe. But none of their designs worked. When it was Pippo’s turn, the judges were aghast! They simply couldn’t believe that his plans could work. They just tossed him out.

But Pippo didn’t loose heart! He decided to build a model. A model that would prove that his plans DID work! When he was finished he invited the judges to inspect it. Will they find flaws again? Or would the judges award the project to “Pippo the Fool”?

Pippo the Fool Model

This is a TRUE story of Pippo Brunelleschi’s Dome. An architectural Masterpiece. Tracey Fern weaves a tale that highlights the difficulties, challenges and obstacles that Pippo faced. Masterfully, Fern takes you through the process of the actual building, of how Pippo cleverly solves each of his problems through design and planning. Fern also runs a parallel story of ego and pride when Pippo is asked to work alongside his arch nemesis Lorenzo. The story tells about Pippo’s big-hearted nature and how he overcomes his pride and builds the dome for the simple joy of building it.

Pippo the Fool Working

Pau Estrada’s detailed and colorful illustrations draws you in. We marveled at the mini model of the dome. Estrada’s drawings of the construction of the real dome made us stop and look. An Author’s note at the back shows the REAL dome from the late 20th century. All the kids at story time wanted to take a up-close look and check to see how true it was to the art work inside.

Such a wonderful story.. not to be missed!

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books


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Rosie Revere, Engineer

Rosie Revere, Engineer
by Andrea Beaty (Author), David Roberts (Illustrator)

Learning to Fail And Not Giving Up!

Rosie Revere is a shy little girl. She doesn’t speak in class. Rosie likes to be alone and build things that she finds in the trash and other places. She has a stash of miscellaneous things. Rosie wants to be an engineer!

Rosie Revere Engineer Collecting

One day Rosie comes up with an invention. A unique hat made for her favorite uncle Fred who is a zoo-keeper. This super special hat is guaranteed to keep the snakes away. Indeed, Rosie is very proud. So when uncle Fred laughs until his eyes fill up with tears, Rosie is “embarrased, perplexed and dismayed.” She tucks her hat away and keeps her dreams to herself.

For a long time Rosie does not build things. Until one day her great-great aunt Rose comes to visit her. Aunt Rose used to work at building airplanes a long time ago. But aunt Rose never got to fly. Truly, for aunt Rose, it was a dream unfulfilled for a very long time.

That night Rosie lays wide-awake. She can not sleep. A daring idea keeps her awake. An idea to invent a machine that will help her aunt fly. But she looks at her hat invention and thinks “No, not I!”

Rosie Revere Engineer Success

Rosie Revere, Engineer is a tale about failing but not giving up. Rosie fails at her hat invention. She is mocked and feels ridiculed. But when Aunt Rose comes into picture, Rosie is given hope. Rosie gets the necessary boost to believe that failing is simply the first step to succeeding. That the only TRUE FAILURE is GIVING UP!

We loved this story. The rhyming verse makes for a great read-aloud at home and in classrooms. We loved that the story is centered around a female character. Parents of little girls can celebrate that tinkering with things is not just a boys domain. But most of all we loved the lesson behind failure. After all engineering is all about prototyping and testing many many times before the final product is made.

A GEM of a book!

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books

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Mini Myths

Mini Myths
by Joan Holub (Author), Leslie Patricelli (Illustrator)

Be Patient, Pandora!

Little Pandora notices a neatly wrapped box tied up with a string. She has no idea who it is for and what is inside it. As she stares at the box, her mother passes by and warns her “Don’t open the box Pandora!”

Be Patient Pandora Inside 2

Can Pandora resist the temptation? Will her curiosity get the best of her?

Be Patient Pandora Inside

Play Nice, Hercules!

Hercules is a naughty little boy. He likes to be big and strong. He likes to be stomp! So when he notices his little baby sister making a castle out of her play blocks, Hercules simply HAS to knock them over!!Smile

Be Nice Herclues Inside

Can Hercules play nice? Will he fix his mistakes and make things better again?

The Mini Myths board books are a “modern” twist to the mythological tales of Pandora and Hercules. An author’s note at the back narrates the myth in short; however, the tie-in is obviously beyond the understanding for this age group. Having said that, I really like the short story and the “morals” of these Mini Myths without necessarily needing the tie-in.

Joan Holub’s simple short words and sentences are perfect for a toddler read aloud story. Leslie Patricelli well known for her colorful toddler books “Yummy, Yuck” is a natural fit for the Mini Myth set.

FTC DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of the above books from the publishers for an honest opinion. I have NOT received any compensation for this review. All reviews and opinions are entirely my own!

Find it here: Library, Amazon, Better World Books


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