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. 

Out of Left Field written by Ellen Klages, is an energetic story about one girl’s determination to play in the Little League. Ten-year-old Kathleen Curie Gordan is spotted by a coach looking for ballplayers for the 1958 Little League season. So as not to draw attention to the fact that she is a girl, she gives her name, using her initials K and C, as Casey Gordan. She had been playing with neighborhood boys’ teams where she honed her “sort of curving knuckleball.” Try-outs go wonderfully well, she lands a spot on the Little League team and is told she will pitch the first game!

Her elation lasts only a brief time, however, when another player, jealous of her baseball skills, tells the authorities that she is a girl. A call from Little League informs her mother that girls cannot play as stated in the rule book. Katy and her mother take a look at the rule book and find it says, “Girls are not eligible”.

Katy decides to write a letter to the Little League requesting that she be allowed to play. Her mother gives her plenty of support. Response to Katy’s letter, however, is still negative and filled with silly reasons for the decision.

This causes Katy to do more research as to why girls should be allowed to play. She reads about incredible women baseball players such as the pitcher for The Chattanooga Lookouts Jackie Mitchell and Toni Stone, the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues, whom she eventually meets. There are 12 excellent short biographies of women baseball players featured in the back materials.

Out of Left Field written in a lively style by Ellen Klages and set in the late 1950s when integration of schools in the South was being attempted, is designed for ages 9-12 (Viking Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Random House, 2018).

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel written by Lisa Pliscou and illustrated by Jen Corace is a beautiful picture book biography of novelist Jane Austen. The pictures effectively imagine the 18th Century English village where Jane lived on a working farm with her Mama, Papa, sister and six brothers. She helped with the chores and learned how to sew and keep house as all girls were expected to do. So, as the text says, “There was no reason to think she would grow up to be anything out of the ordinary.”

Jane, however, had an early attraction to words. Her Papa, who was also the rector of the village church and ran a school for boys in the large house, was in the habit of reading stories aloud to the family most every evening in the parlor. Jane was drawn to the sounds and rhythms that words carried when spoken. 

While recuperating from a long and serious illness she decided that she would read the many books in her Papa’s study including Shakespeare and Swift.  After attending a finishing school where she learned French, practiced penmanship, enjoyed music and dancing and generally prepared to be a lady and a wife, Jane bravely decided that her life would instead revolve around writing.

When her Papa died she and her Mama and sister needed to move in with her brother. Although she continued to write in a new and exciting way, getting a publisher was very difficult for her as it was for most women. Not until her manuscript about two sisters entitled Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 did she feel like a real author.

BRAVE JANE AUSTEN: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel written engagingly by Lisa Pliscou with interesting back materials and illustrated with great charm by Jen Corace is a fine introduction to Jane Austen for ages 7-10 ( Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2018).

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’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).