Sue Ann Martin

Host, The Children's Bookshelf

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.  She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her Ph. D thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books.  Her Ph. D is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education.  She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process.   She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio.  Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.

“Reading books aloud to young children,” Martin says, “is one of the most satisfying ways to introduce them to the beautiful sounds and lilts of the language, to the wonders of the world, to the excitement of suspense and to the pleasure of concentration, while at the same time, bonding with the child in a genuine, long lasting way.  My mother did the same for me as she read hours and hours of Robert Louis Stevenson poems.”     

GHOST BOYS written by award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes is a powerful historical novel for middle grade readers about the tragic death of an African American twelve-year old by the name of Jerome. He is shot and killed by a policeman who says he thought the boy’s toy gun was real.

 The story is told in the first person by Jerome’s ghost. It tells the reader how Jerome, a model student, son and grandson, happened to have a toy gun. The story also imagines how the daughter of the policeman who did the shooting is feeling. Brilliantly the author brings these two characters together in the courtroom where Jerome’s ghost is watching the preliminary hearing as is Sarah. She has a gift that enables her to see him, even though he is dead.


Jerome’s ghost spends time with her and they both meet the sixty-year old ghost of another slain boy Emmet Till. The conversations are full of bewilderment, hurt, anger and love. Jerome’s ghost wants to move on and get away from his family’s pain, Sarah wants to understand her father’s role and the ghost of Emmett Till wants to help them handle the realities of racism.

THE BIG UMBRELLA written by Amy June Bates with Juniper Bates and illustrated by Amy Bates is a charming picture book in honor of inclusion and community. The main character is a loving red umbrella.

Early in this brightly-colored storybook the reader is told: “It is a big friendly umbrella. It likes to help. It likes to spread its arms wide. It loves to give shelter.”


The umbrella is first seen at the front door where a young child in a yellow raincoat takes it from its leaning place and steps out into the rain. A child in a blue jacket comes along and is the first to be invited under the umbrella followed by a ballerina in a pink tutu and a runner in shorts and tennis shoes. As space gets crowded the umbrella stretches its canvas to take in all no matter how tall or short, young or old or color of skin.

THE CREATIVITY PROJECT: An Awesometastic Story Collection edited by Colby Sharp is a fun-filled but serious group of story prompts and responses written by forty top writers and illustrators from the world of children’s literature. Parents, teachers and middle grade readers will find this delightful publication full of ideas that inspire wonderful stories both written and visually-depicted.

For instance, Adam Gidwitz’s prompt requesting the writing of an encyclopedia entry about a yet to be discovered animal results in a most imaginative story by Jess Keating about a new moth. “Genius moon moths are ideavores: They feed off the creative energy of those around them...However, a word of warning: If you are inspired to create something new and do not act on it, this moth will not stick around... Often, it takes its inspiration with it.”


Other intriguing prompts by Kate Di Camillo, Jewels Parker Rhodes, Gary D. Schmidt and Kate Messer are cleverly responded to by Lemony Snicket, Grace Lin, Linda Urban and Andrea Davis Pinkney in that order.

BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS! Explore the Amazing Collection of the British Library written by Mick Manning and illustrated by Brita Granström is a pleasant and interesting tour for 8-12 year olds of one of the most unique libraries in the world with its many millions of important books, letters, charts, drawings and maps.


The book takes the reader from The Magna Carta to Handel’s handwritten sheet music and from the 11th Century tale of Beowulf to the 19th Century writings of Sherlock Holmes. Jane Austen and the Brontë Sisters dwell there too as well as the first cookbooks, Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Brief narratives about the selected twenty-one works and the writers, scientists, inventors and artists who created them are augmented in the back material.

Hu Wan and the Sleeping Dragon written by Judy Young and illustrated by Jordi Solano is a gentle tale set in ancient China. Two stories, one about the traditional Chinese custom of fashioning cricket cages out of gourds and the other about two young boys from vastly different circumstances, merge in this softly told and beautifully illustrated story.


 When he is nine years old, Hu Wan learns how to make a traditional cricket cage out of a special gourd amongst those that he and his grandfather have grown. Grandfather knows it is time to pass this art down to the next generation.