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. 

We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands adapted and illustrated by Rafael López is a lively picture book based on the original hymn, He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, which has now become a popular member of the folk music genre. The words joyfully invite children and animals from all over the world to sing, dance and clap together in celebration of the sun, the wind, nature and each other.

The illustrations are expansive, colorful and captivating in the details such as a picture of a boy carefully studying a snail that sits protected in the palm of his hand. The author-illustrator has used a variety of approaches from collage to photoshop to create the eye-popping pictures of children playing in the sun and singing in the rain. One of the most outstanding illustrations is a vertical two-page picture layout of a hot air balloon rising in the night sky full of smiling children from many cultures. Also, a monkey, a giraffe, a gorilla and a rhino are pleased to be aboard.

One scene after another is held together by a constant unrolling of a ball of multi-colored yarn which visually holds the unity of the pictures and the world together. This balances well with the rhythmic repetition of the song’s words and refrain which auditorily hold the story together.

We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands adapted and illustrated by  Rafael López and offered in both Spanish and English editions, is an energetic and multi-generational “read and sing” for  parents, grandparents and young children 3-5 years of age (Orchard Books/ Scholastic, 2018).

Cuddly Critters for little Geniuses written by Susan and James Patterson and illustrated by Hsinping Pan is a collection of creatures from around the world, not often discussed, that will delight the curiosity of young children. The creatures are organized into three categories: Flyers such as the Sugar Glider, Royal Flycatcher and the Potoo, Swimmers such as the Parrotfish, the Puffer Fish and the Blobfish and Crawlers such as the Blue Poison Dart Frog and the Tonkin Monkey.

Many of the animals featured in this book can do fantastic things. The Potoo, for instance, looking very much like a piece of wood, can hide right in front of your eyes as it sits quietly on the branch of a tree. The Sugar Glider can float long distances through the air without ever touching the ground due to the webbing between its arms and legs.  The Pangolin, a mammal with a coat of scales, has an appetite for twenty thousand ants per day!

The illustrations are energetic, colorful and fun. The Royal Flycatcher has a plume of feathers sprouting from the top of its head! The Scarlet Macaw flies across the page all blue, gold and orange. The double spread illustration of the Snowy Owl is beautiful and commanding. Under the book jacket the book cover itself reveals a joyful gathering of all the book’s critters. And the texture and weight of the paper inside is perfect for little hands that will want to turn the pages over and over again.

Cuddly Critters for Little Geniuses written by Susan and James Patterson and illustrated by Hsinping Pan is beautifully developed and designed for ages 3-6 (JIMMY Patterson Books/Little Brown and Company, 2018).

The Night Box written by Louise Greig and illustrated by Ashling Lindsay is a poetic telling of a gentle story about that time and that place where the end of Day and the beginning of Night meet.

Max enjoys Day but when Day gets weary it is time for Night to take over. Max assists with this transformation by closing the window drapes, hearing a song from his Mom and opening his Night Box. It just takes two clicks of his special key! “Up comes the lid… Whoosh! Day slips inside as Night sweeps out. Darkness tumbles into the air. It dances and whirls around the room. It goes under the bed, under the chair-everywhere!”

Max enjoys this ritual. He knows that Night is gentle and brave and kind. But, most importantly, he knows nothing is alone in the Night.

The cadence of this beautifully-written story is reassuring and the soft internal rhymes which are gently placed here and there prepare Max for sleep.

The illustrations are full of night details such as fauns and kittens and little boys going to sleep and owls and badgers and moles just coming out to play. Most spectacular is the artist’s rendering of a white-winged swan gracefully gliding home through the star-spangled night sky.

The Night Box written lyrically by Louise Greig and illustrated with charm and care by Ashling Lindsay is a comforting bedtime story for children 4-7 years of age (Clarion Books/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).

She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger is an introduction to thirteen scientists, artists, activists and thinkers who have advanced knowledge and made the world a better place.

This celebration of women from diverse cultures includes New Zealand’s Kate Sheppard who successfully led the fight to give all women the right to vote making New Zealand the first country to do so in 1893, Wangari Maathai from East and Central Africa who was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work that was responsible for the planting of more than 50 million trees and for demanding rights for all individuals, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan who works for girls’ rights to go to school and who is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize and Poland’s Marie Curie  who won the Nobel Prize twice, once in Physics and once in Chemistry, to name just a few.

The one-page biographies nicely bring forward each woman’s contribution along with a lasting quotation. Each biography has a visually-striking illustration. The material about J.K. Rowling from the United Kingdom features the writer’s difficulty when trying to find a publisher for her Harry Potter stories. She was turned down over and over again. However, she persisted! Today her series is available in eighty languages with more than 400 million books in print! Rowling’s quote reads, “We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”

She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger is compiled and designed perfectly for young readers 5-8 years of age (Philomel Books/ Penguin Young Readers Group, 2018).

The Thank You Book written by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin is a lovely book full of an abundance of things to be thankful for, both big and small.  Children will experience the examples lyrically brought forward to their ears and charmingly-illustrated for their eyes.

A thank you is suggested in word and picture for an array of beautiful experiences from playtime and puddles, books and birthdays and swings and stories to family and home and the earth and the stars. One of the most touching thanks is “for when hurt or sad or not- so- good gets better.”

The illustrations include children, adults and animal characters holding hands, feeling the grass between their toes and eating together at the family dinner table. Two exceptionally-detailed illustrations depict the joys of playing in a tree house with entrance and exit of ladder and slide and marching in a parade with banners waving messages of peace, kindness and love. Birds, butterflies, ducklings, bees, dogs, cats and a hedgehog all play a role in this visual sonnet.

Humor is also a part of this book. The author suggests a thank you for “zippers that zip jackets when warm days turn cold” and the illustrator cooperates with a picture of the little white dog, having put on his glasses, helping the little stripped cat zip up a coat.

The Thank You Book written by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin is a perfect gift book for children 4-7 years of age
( Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018).