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. 

HIDDEN CITY: Poems of Urban Wildlife written by Sarah Grace Tuttle and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford is a beautifully produced book for young readers. The illustrations and poems are a tribute to the heartiness of plant and animal wildlife within the cityscape.


The kinetic activity comes vividly alive in this book with dandelions growing, moss multiplying, inch worms digging and mushrooms appearing overnight all swollen from the rain.


There is organization to these activities that assure the reader that all is well. The poem “Community Garden” is an example.

WRITE TO ME: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind written by Cynthia Grady and illustrated by Amiko Hirao is a non-fiction picture book about San Diego librarian Clara Breed. She encouraged her Japanese American students to write to her when they and their families were forced into internment camps by the federal government after the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Clara Breed supplied the children with books to read and cards on which to write to her. And they did. Many of those letters are featured in this book. “Dear Miss Breed, Books make the day shorter and happier for us. Sincerely Yours, Florence and Margaret Ishino.”  Other letters talked about the shortage of food, the outbreak of measles in the camp and overcrowding. “Dear Miss Breed, We have one large shower and one large laundry room. We certainly don’t see how they expect over 16,000 people to be clean and also have their clothes clean. Yours truly, Fusa.”

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.