The Children's Bookshelf

The Children’s Bookshelf from WCMU Public Radio showcases new children’s book titles meant to engage young readers in the joy of story found in both the written word and illustrations. The target audience includes teachers, librarians, parents and grandparents as part of their role to foster the love of reading.  Each of the two minute reviews have accompanying study questions and activities and are available as podcasts.  

Children's Bookshelf host Dr. Sue Ann Martin.

The series host and reviewer is Dr. Sue Ann Martin, Professor Emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts in the College of Communication and Fine Arts, at Central Michigan University.

Our theme music for The Children’s Bookshelf is the polka from Denes Agay’s “Five Easy Dances”, performed by the Powers Woodwind Quintet, in residence at Central Michigan University’s School of Music. It is taken from the album GEMS, on the White Pine label.

The Children's Bookshelf only accepts for possible review titles that are sent from the children's book divisions of national publishers. 

Ocean Meets Sky written and illustrated by brothers Eric Fan and Terry Fan is a touching story about a little boy who misses his dear grandfather. Young Finn remembers the time they spent together and all the stories his grandfather told him about a faraway place where the ocean met the sky. In his honor and because his grandfather would have been 90 years old on this day Finn decides to build a boat and sail off in search of this magical place.

Finn constructs his boat out of wooden poles, an old door, a window frame, a bed sheet, an old tire, a broom and some rope.  Children will enjoy how these found objects are fashioned into a perfect boat including a lower deck where Finn takes a nap before setting sail.

During his journey Finn meets a great golden fish. The fish offers to lead him to the magical place. First, they pass the Library Islands. This illustration is breathtaking in its conception and mesmerizing in its details. The island has incredible birds and huge walls made out of stacked books including great novels such as Treasure Island and Moby Dick and honored picture books such as Harold and the Purple Crayon and the Fan brothers’ own The Night Gardener.

When Finn reaches the special place where the ocean and the sky meet he beholds an awesome sight: ships and balloons and fish and castles merge into one enchanting scene brushed in hues of blue, grey and soft white. As Finn follows the golden fish to the moon he sees his grandfather’s face in the moon and has a chance to say goodbye before his mother awakens him from his dream.

OCEAN MEETS SKY written and illustrated with great care and imagination by the Fan Brothers is a kind story on many levels for children 4-8 years of age (Simon and Schuster, 2018).  


MANY: The Diversity of Life on Earth written by zoologist and author Nicola Davies and illustrated by Emily Sutton is a visually powerful journey through forests, deserts, oceans and streams to find the interconnectedness of all living things. The book’s tour guide is a young determined girl, clip board in hand, who travels everywhere looking and seeing, taking notes and voicing discoveries. Young readers will find her observations fascinating and genuine.

She can be seen in the beautiful watercolors earnestly following her curiosity amongst the trees, the birds, the animals, the insects and the creatures of the sea. She reads books about mushrooms (there are 100,000 different kinds), takes a hot air balloon ride to view birds that live at the top of trees and chases down feather mites with her binoculars. She suits up and dives deeply into the ocean to watch starfish play as angel fish, sharks, stingrays and seahorses swim.

There are two pages devoted to over 30 creatures that have been discovered in just the last fifty years! The illustrations will give young readers perhaps their first view of these creatures such as the spongebob fungus, the pignose frog and the shocking pink dragon millipede.

The earth’s glorious pattern of diversity of life, however, is in jeopardy from chemicals, deforestation and over fishing. Our young travel guide and scientist-in-the-making sadly studies pictures of species that are already extinct including the Carolina Parakeet, the Tasmanian Wolf and the laughing owl.

MANY: The Diversity of Life on Earth written in a gentle style by Nicola Davies and illustrated in exquisite detail and color by Emily Sutton will engage readers 5-8 years of age (Candlewick Press, 2017).


HOORAY FOR BIRDS! written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins is a happy and fun-filled celebration of birds both in the sky and on the ground. Young children will eagerly interact visually and auditorily to the wonderful pictures and sounds gathered together in this beautiful oversized volume for children 2-5 years of age.

The rooster, with head raised, chest out and tail feathers displayed, wakes up the whole book with a rousing cock-a-doddle-doo! Then the fun starts. The chickens cluck, the starlings swoop, the ostrich runs, the cardinals tweet, the penguins waddle and the woodpecker pecks while the pink stork stands on one leg! The story invites the child to sing along, flap their wings and enjoy both the movements and sounds that burst forth on each page. “Can you imagine ...just for one day...you’re a busy bird? Yes, a bird! Hooray!”

The illustration of each bird is rendered in Lucy Cousins’ signature style: bold back outlines and richly-dense colors. The colorful birds fly, sing, catch flies and take care of babies against sunshine yellow, ripe orange, fresh green and deep blue backgrounds.

The clever end papers will also fascinate youngsters. On the front end paper all the birds are awake except the owl and on the back end paper all the birds are asleep except the owl. 

HOORAY FOR BIRDS! written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins is a treasure trove of birds of all kinds, lively colors, movement and sounds for children 2-5 years of age (Candlewick Press, 2017). 


WHALE IN A FISHBOWL written in gentle words and rhythms by Troy Howell and illustrated in soft lines and colors by Richard Jones is a thoughtful story about Wednesday the whale who lives in a giant fishbowl in the middle of the city. She is all alone and very much separated from the city life that whirls around her including cars, truck, office workers, families and pets.

One day she leaps up from the bottom to the top of her fishbowl and sees a patch of beautiful blue out passed the city. Wednesday doesn’t know what it could be, but oh how she longs to see it again! When she starts leaping and leaping crowds gather and clap at what they think are her tricks. But it takes one little girl to innocently tell the whale that she is not only beautiful but that she shouldn’t be living in a fishbowl. “You belong in the sea!”

Not understanding the word sea but with this thought in her heart the whale decides to try again to see the blue. She gathers her strength and makes one last attempt. This time she not only performs her highest leap but leaps right over the top of the fishbowl turning it over as she goes. The water carries her down through the city and glides her into the beautiful blue where she belongs and can live happily with other whales.

The special design elements of this book include deep blue-green end papers and a perpendicular gatefold that pulls out to show Wednesday’s spectacular leap!

WHALE IN A FISHBOWL written by Troy Howell and illustrated by Richard Jones is a story told in a soft whisper about freedom for children ages 4-8. (Schwartz and Wade/Random House, 2018).


The Journey of Little Charlie written by Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis, is a powerful story set in 1858 and told through the eyes of Little Charlie Bobo, the twelve-year-old son of poor white sharecroppers in Possum Moan, South Carolina.

Little Charlie’s Pap has just died in a freak accident and the landlord’s vicious overseer, Cap’n Buck, comes calling to collect $ 50.00 he says  Pap owes. With no way to pay that debt Little Charlie decides to work it off by taking Cap’n Buck’s forceful suggestion that he accompany him on a trip to bring back some thieves who stole $4,000 and escaped into Michigan some ten years earlier with their young son Sylvanus. During the journey Little Charlie comes to grips with the evil intentions of this mission when he finds out there were no thieves at all but rather two slaves worth $4,000 who stole themselves.

The story is skillfully told in dialect and will keep middle- grade readers engaged with Little Charlie’s growing need to do the right thing as he travels North to Detroit and over into Canada to trick Sylvanus into coming back with him. The authenticity of the dialect is especially effective in establishing the book’s setting. This is a natural book for reading aloud.

In the Author’s Note Christopher Paul Curtis talks about the one tenth of one percent of people who do the right thing: “And getting to know Little Charlie, I was convinced that even though he was raised awash in racism, ignorance, and all-encompassing poverty, he was a part of that  brave minority.”

The Journey of Little Charlie written by Christopher Paul Curtis and partially inspired by a true event is perfect for readers ages 9-12  (Scholastic Press, 2018).


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