Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of a Football-Playing Artist, Ernie Barnes

Written and Illustrated by Don Tate

What a pleasure to get a prepublication look at this new book by Don Tate, award-winning and prolific author of books for kids.

It’s been said that “anyone can” when referring to some skills. Clearly, a little innate talent helps. Also, opportunity makes a huge difference. Ernest Barnes loved art and had a lot of artistic talent. However, growing up in The Bottom section of Durham, North Carolina didn’t give him a lot of opportunity to develop that talent. Most opportunities to shine in The Bottom involved sports. And Ernest was slow and not very coordinated. Being Black, he also didn’t have access to art exhibits in order to explore his love. He learned through art books. When a body-building coach introduced him to his muscles, he found that he could also love football and discus. And he still had time to paint. Ernest played professional football from 1960 to 1966. He used his experiences in his art. Ernest (or Ernie as one of the sports writers dubbed him) was one of the many hidden heroes of the civil rights movement. With the odds against him, he pursued his passions.

Tate does a fantastic job of showing young people how they can still pursue their dreams in spite of hurdles. His beautiful and realistic illustrations help tell Ernest’s story. His isolation from the other children. His joy when reading art books. His frustration at not being great at all sports. Author notes further explain the world in which Ernest lived. Many readers will want to learn more about Ernest. The extensive bibliography gives them great places to start. This is a story all young people should be familiar with. Pigskins to Paintbrushes will make a great addition to classrooms and bedrooms alike.

  • Title: Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of a Football-Playing Artist, Ernie Barnes
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Tate
  • Published: Abrams Books for Young Readers, August 17, 2021
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Picture book, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Sports, Art
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-4943-8
  • Extras: Notes, Bibliography

The Speed of Starlight: An Exploration of Physics, Sound, Light, and Space

Written by Colin Stuart
Illustrated by Ximo Abadía

A great overview of all matters physics, this book includes attractive illustrations, many of which demonstrate the principles mentioned. The wide range of topics should appeal the budding scientist. The author, who is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, begins with a basic definition of physics, “the science of energy, matter, and forces.” He then goes on to give a quick history of the beginning of the study of physics, including Newton, his three Laws of Motion, and our fascination with gravity. The discussion of sound includes what it is, how we hear, measurement of sound, breaking the sound barrier, and seismology. The subject of light mentions Einstein’s Nobel Prize for the nature of light, how we see, sunlight, moonlight, and rainbows. The author also talks about stars, radiation, and dark energy.

This would be great for a classroom and the introduction of each of the topics discussed. My only criticism is that, as this encourages further exploration, it would be good to have a strong bibliography readily available.

  • Speed of StarlightTitle: The Speed of Starlight: An Exploration of Physics, Sound, Light, and Space
  • Author: Colin Stuart
  • Illustrator: Ximo Abadía
  • Published: Big Picture Press/Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Science
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0855-9

Rocket Man: The Mercury Adventure of John Glenn

Written by Ruth Ashby

Another reprint from the 2004 series about heroes of American history, this exciting and informative book highlights one of our space heroes.

The book doesn’t give a lot information about Glenn’s early life. It, however, gives a lot of detail about his training as a pilot and as an astronaut. This is great, as it gives the reader a glimpse into overcoming obstacles. Glenn did whatever was necessary to be of service to his country. Being away from his family and following orders was never easy. As with all the early astronauts, Glenn was an accomplished pilot. He was often frustrated that the controls didn’t allow him more autonomy, but he understood the importance of the program and stuck with it. He was forty years old by the time he orbited the planet in Friendship 7, so he was past the cutoff to continue as an astronaut. He went into politics at the urging of friends. He was a US Senator for twenty-four years. Then he returned to space at age seventy-three as part of a study of the effects of weightlessness.

This is a great tool for getting all kids interested in space and science.

  • Rocket ManTitle: Rocket Man: The Mercury Adventure of John Glenn
  • Author: Ruth Ashby
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishing, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 120 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: History, Space Exploration, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-194-1
  • Extras: Space Explorers (including information about first three NASA programs), Timeline of Events Following 1998 Mission on Space Shuttle Discovery, Bibliography

Hooray for Women!

Written and Illustrated by Marcia Williams

Packed with information, Hooray for Women! is a celebration of some of the contributions women have made to the world. Though this has the look of a graphic novel, all the information is true. The first sixteen women are highlighted with two-page spreads. After that, many women who became distinguished in a specific category get only one panel to shine. And the author left out many, many wonderful women.

Cleopatra is the first chapter. Though she only lived to be thirty none, she had a tremendous influence on both Egypt and Rome. Boudicca was a Celtic woman who led a revolt against the Romans and became a symbol to freedom fighters. Joan of Arc is well-known, but most people don’t know a lot of details about her life. The reader then learns about Elizabeth I, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, and Florence Nightingale. Malala Yousafsai is the last woman with a two-page spread.

This is a great place for students to make a start studying each of these notable women. It is a valuable resource for classrooms and for home libraries. The approach is entertaining and should hold kids’ attention. Numerous little-known anecdotes are related.

  • Hooray for WomenTitle: Hooray for Women!
  • Author/Illustrator: Marcia Williams
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: History, Women
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0111-6

The Amazing Mr. Franklin

Written by Ruth Ashby

This is a re-print of a valuable book first published in 2004. As part of a classroom reading list, it will bring up innumerable topics for further exploration by students. As independent reading, it’s purely fascinating. Important principles are presented throughout.

Most people think of Benjamin Franklin as the elderly statesman present during the birth of the United States of America. The author gives a wonderful view of Franklin’s younger years. At ten, he began working for his father’s soap and candle making business. Bored with this activity, he began and apprenticeship for his brother’s printing company at age twelve. He hated working for his brother. At sixteen, he ran away to Philadelphia by way of an adventurous journey. He worked for one of the two Philadelphia printers until he could start his own printing company at age twenty-two. He began a public library with his buddies. He began a post office with himself as the first postmaster general. In additional intellectual pursuits, he helped established the University of Pennsylvania. He fiddled with electricity until he proved lightning is electricity were the same thing, and he invented the lightning rod. He also did the famous experiment with the kite and the key. He retired from his companies in his forties. As the elder statesman, he was the only person to sign the Declaration of Independence, the peace treaty with Britain, and the United States Constitution.

Multiple anecdotes make this a thoroughly enjoyable read.

  • The Amazing Mr FranklinTitle: The Amazing Mr. Franklin
  • Author: Ruth Ashby
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2004
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 112 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: History, Biography
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-102-7

The Echo Park Castaways

Written by M. G. Hennessey

Told in an enlightening yet gentle way, this is the story of four typical children who fall into the foster care system in Los Angeles County. Each child develops coping mechanisms unique to them, as is true in real life. The tale is told in the voices of three of the children, with rotating parts. Very effective for getting inside their heads and helping the reader understand motivations or their actions.

Vic is Latinx and strongly ADHD. He creates fantasies and is currently on a spy mission. Nevaeh (heaven backwards) is black and tries to be the little mother. She just wants to get through the system and become a doctor so she doesn’t have to depend on anyone else. Quentin has Asperger’s and is therefore ritualistic in his approach. He’s focused on finding his mother. The fourth child, Mara, barely speaks English and is definitely a follower.

Vic decides to make finding Quentin’s mother his next mission, so they set off across Los Angeles. Mara follows them, in her pajamas. Nevaeh chases them down. Three buses, a Metro ride, an ambulance ride, and a lot of walking later, they have learned a lot about each other and about the world.

Readers will learn a lot without being preached to. You can’t help but love each and every character, even the pit bull who threatens them.

  • Echo Park CastawaysTitle: The Echo Park Castaways
  • Author: M. G. Hennessey
  • Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Foster care, Family
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-242769-4

Captain Rosalie

Written by Timothée de Fombelle
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Translated by Sam Gordon

Charming, sad, and compelling, this is the story of a five-year-old with the world on her shoulders. Wise beyond her years, she is much more capable than anyone suspects. She attends school every day while her mother works in a munitions factory. Father is off fighting in World War I and is terribly missed. Rosalie’s mother reads her all the letters from her father, as no one has time to teach Rosalie to read. When a letter in a blue envelope arrives, her father’s letters stop and no one tells Rosalie anything. She must now teach herself to read the blue letter. This is Captain Rosalie’s mission: to gather information for the war effort and to help her parents.

Amazing watercolor, pencil, and ink illustrations help to tell the story. The darkness of many pages show Rosalie’s efforts to penetrate shrouded information. The light begins as Rosalie learns the truth. The reader even gets to glimpse the letters from her father, with sketches of his view of the war.

Readers learn about the despair of war and the cost of knowledge. The wording is spare but powerful. Emotionally satisfying with a unique backdrop.

  • Captain RoaslieTitle: Captain Rosalie
  • Author: Timothée de Fombelle
  • Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Independence, Literacy, War
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0520-6

Good Dog, McTavish

Written by Meg Rosoff
Illustrated by Grace Easton

The Peachy family is, shall we say, dysfunctional. In fact, each member is so wrapped up in themselves that it’s a wonder anything at all happens. What’s the answer? A dog, of course.

In this dryly humorous new book, the author finds the answer for the Peachys.

Ma Peachy is so fed up, she abandons all her motherly duties to take up yoga. When the household begins to fall apart, almost-nine Betty insists that the rest of the family find a dog at the local shelter. McTavish adopts the family and sets about straightening them out. He gets them to put away their clothing and shoes by gathering all stray items at his bed and chewing on all stray shoes. He gets them to eat better by refusing to eat anything but boiled chicken and rice with vegetables. He gets them to wake at a reasonable hour by making a fuss at a very early hour. After the family members learn to act like a family, Ma Peachy abandons her yoga.

Anyone who’s ever been trained by a dog knows how powerfully they can change a person. Beyond that, readers will see how a real family functions and what they can do to help that along. Plus, this is just a fun book.

  • Good Dog McTavishTitle: Good Dog, McTavish
  • Author: Meg Rosoff
  • Illustrator: Grace Easton
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 112 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Chapter book, Humor, Family
  • ISBN: 978-1-5362-0058-4

Charlie Bumpers vs. The End of the Year

Written by Bill Harley
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

Charlie has reached the end of fourth grade, and the author has reached the end of this series.

Not only must Charlie say goodbye to fourth grade, but he must say goodbye to Hector, one of his best friends. Hector’s family is moving back to Chile. Not wanting to let all that go, Charlie and his other best friend, Tommy, devise a scheme to ensure that Hector needs to stick around for fifth grade. They try to convince the teachers that Hector should be chosen as School Ambassador, a position of great responsibility. Charlie and Tommy discover that changing an adult’s mind about anything is not an easy task. They also find that making copies on Tommy’s dad’s copier can lead to disaster – or disastrophe, as they call it. Meanwhile, Hector is being bullied by the Jerzollies of Darkness – three fifth graders who are jerks, bozos, and bullies. Charlie has to figure out how to help Hector with them. Of course, he finds he has more support than he suspected.

The story is fun, engaging, and relevant. The illustrations are great additions to the story and beautifully done. Like Charlie, we’re sad to see fourth grade end.

  • Bumpers End of the YearTitle: Charlie Bumpers vs The End of the Year
  • Author: Bill Harley
  • Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Chapter book, Humor, Coming of Age, Bullying
  • ISBN: 978-1-68263-042-6

Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry)

Written by Gary Golio
Illustrated by Ed Young

“Smile though your heart is aching … just smile” – “Smile” by Charles Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin had an unbelievably hard childhood in London. This is a fascinating look at the Chaplin people may not know. His father, an actor and singer, left the family when Charlie was a baby. His mother, also a singer, made a meager living with her singing, but her voice left her when Charlie was only five. That was the exact age Charlie was when he discovered he could make people laugh and cry with his antics. The family wound up in the poor house, with his mother being ill. His older brother was off hanging around with and working with boys his own age, leaving Charlie all alone. But Charlie continued to entertain. He reached the heart of a promoter, who sent him on a tour of America. Eventually, he entered silent films, doing nearly every job related to that industry.

The collage and ink illustrations create silhouettes more than appropriate for a star who, though he was very famous, broke into movies without a voice.

Readers will not only learn about one of the most famous stars of all time, but they will find out how a person can rise from the most squalid of circumstances to the highest heights. Since Chaplin often made people both laugh and cry at the same time, readers can also explore the relationships of many emotions.

  • SmileTitle: Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry)
  • Author: Gary Golio
  • Illustrator: Ed Young
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, March 26, 2019
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Biography, Entertainment
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9761-7
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