Helping Children Grow

Grow: A Novel in Verse written by Juanita Havill and illustrated by Stanislawa Kodman is a delightful book that pushes the boundaries of middle reader fiction. First of all, Grow is written in appealing verse, which leaves much of the page open for whimsical illustrations and gives it a lighter, more delicate feel. Secondly, it is filled with strong, and realistic adult characters, which are often left out of children’s and young adult’s fiction.

Kate, a twelve-year-old girl, is the main character. She helps her neighbor, a large woman named Berneetha, to start a garden in an abandoned lot. At first all the neighbors seem skeptical, but soon they are drawn in by the lure of growing plants and Berneetha’s welcoming spirit. Along with the plants, a sense of community develops as well.

That is not to say this is a light-hearted story, it does have depth. Early on a vehicle hits one of Berneetha’s cats, killing it. Later the garden is threatened when the lot changes ownership. Harlan, a boy that has been working on the garden, is accused of stealing a truck. And underlying is a message about female body image and weight, as Kate struggles with both.

Grow is a book you want to share and discuss. It would be perfect for a literature circle or book club, because it doesn’t take long to read and yet it offers a wealth of material to think and talk about. Reluctant readers would find it appealing because the action is fast paced. Think about how fun it would be to start a garden, or grow some plants, as a supplementary activity. At the very least, this book should be accompanied with a bouquet of fresh flowers and a tray of garden vegetables for a snack.

Juanita Havill, a gardener herself, knows the therapeutic value of mucking around in the soil. Spend some time with this great little book and you will too.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (April 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1561454419
ISBN-13: 978-1561454419

Edit: Book Review Blog Carnival #24 is now up at Inkweaver Review.

Nonfiction Monday Round-up

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday, a celebration of nonfiction children’s books. As usual, please leave your links in the comments section.


For my review, I have chosen a lovely book that is hard to find, at least it isn’t in any of our local libraries. Greene & Greene for Kids by Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen is loaded with history, gorgeous illustrations, information about turn-of-the-century architecture, and inspired hands-on activities. After writing a very popular book about Frank Lloyd Wright, Kathleen Thorne-Thomson has chosen to use a similar format to honor two architects with less name recognition, Charles and Henry Greene.

The Greene brothers designed houses in California, particularly in the area around Pasadena. They were big in the Arts and Crafts movement, and designed charming craftsman bungalows. The author obviously is passionate about the Greene brothers’ work and does a wonderful job of finding the details that children would be interested in reading. She also gives a feeling of what America was like when the brothers were growing up and how their designs are influenced by their time and environment. For example, she explains how at the turn of the century people started having the money and the desire to have creative and interesting homes.


The 19 activities are creative, too. They range from art projects, such as carving an Ivory soap sculpture, through making a root beer float (complete with history of the ingredients), to creating a small water garden. With this variety, a child can easily find something to spark his or her interest.

On the cover this book says, “art, architecture, activities.” I’d say that adds up to A+.

Be sure to take a look at all these wonderful posts.

Abby at Abby (the) Librarian takes us to new depths in the ocean with her review of Down, Down, Down by Steve Jenkins.

At Lori Calabrese Writes!, Lori reviews Eleanor, Quiet No More by Doreen Rappaport. It is a biography about former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Kim reviews Plant Secrets by Emily Goodman at the Wild About Nature blog.

Shirley takes a look at Why is Snot Green? And Other Extremely Important Questions (and Answers) at SimplyScience. As usual, she includes two neat activities to reinforce learning.

Sarah at In Need of Chocolate shows us first hand that nonfiction is popular with children with her post about First Field Guide: Mammals.

Carol discusses an editor’s essential tools for editing children’s nonfiction at the Lerner Books Blog. A purple pen and dark chocolate, how fun!

Today Mary Ann reviews The Frog Scientist by Pamela Turner at Great Kid Books blog. She says it’s a fascinating look at Tyrone Hayes’s research about how pesticides affect frogs.

Barbara has a number of great reviews at INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. See A ‘Super’ Find by David Schwartz, Artist Discoveries by Anna M. Lewis, Writing Across the Species Divide by April Pulley Sayre, Cultural Sensitivity: A Humbling Experience by Gretchen Woelfle, and Finding My Next Big Love by Deborah Heiligman.

Jone over at Check It Out writes about Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy, the story of Roy’s own aunt’s experiences during World War II.

Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews loves Clara’s War by Clara Kramer, another book about events during the Holocaust.

Amanda at A Patchwork of Books reviews the popular ER Vets: Life in an Animal Emergency Room.

Elizabeth at A Fuse # 8 Production may have pulled a few pranks in her day, but today she investigates Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual.

Cindy says, “At Bookends we reviewed Mission Control: This is Apollo by Andrew Chaikin and Alan Bean. Apollo 12 veteran Bean’s paintings are a fine addition to this stellar book.”

At Scrub-a-Dub-Tub Terry examines Famous Figures of Ancient Times, a set of historical paper doll/puppets that can be used to re-enact events or make up new stories.

Wendie wraps up our round-up with her review of the beautiful picture book One World, One Day at Wendie’s Wanderings.

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information on past and upcoming round-ups, stop by Picture Book of the Day.

Tools of Timekeeping Review

Tools of Timekeeping: A Kid’s Guide to the History & Science of Telling Time (Tools of Discovery series) by Linda Formichelli and W. Eric Martin

Every once in awhile you stumble across a book that teaches you things you never expected. Tools of Timekeeping has been one of those books for me.

Linda Formichelli and W. Eric Martin delve into the history of telling time in a thorough and engaging way. Each page is filled with a compelling account of timekeeping through the ages and the people who changed it. They have tried to place each discovery or invention in the context of its period, so that children understand how problems are solved with every development. I was pleasantly surprised that I learned something new in every chapter.

Even better, 15 hands-on activities show kids how to build their own working water clocks, sundials, “sandglasses” (hourglasses), incense clocks and more. This is the part I found most enlightening. Although I had a vague idea how to make a sundial, Formichelli and Martin’s instructions help you make an incredibly accurate and detailed sundial, down to finding your latitude so you can get the angles correct. Later on they discuss how to make a close approximation with a hand sundial. I think it was important to show this the simpler one later, after the children had worked through how to make an accurate one and know how much really goes into it.

Hands-on activities assist any learner delve into the material more deeply and gain a better understanding of the concepts presented, but in the case of the hands-on or kinesthetic learner these activities are critical. This book presents activities that are spot-on relevant and extremely detailed, not just vague afterthoughts as is too often the case. The authors have made the abstract ideas come to life through these awesome projects.

In addition to all the new facts I picked up from this book, I realized something about myself. I realized I enjoyed being an art masterpiece volunteer because with each lesson we presented a relevant hands-on activity, having the kids draw, paint or sculpt. Also, I love science because after learning a concept or developing a question, it is time to do a hands-on experiment to test it out. This realization helps me focus on my strengths as a writer. Who would have thought reviewing a book could do that?

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Note: Older children and young adults would also find this book useful and appealing.
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Nomad Press (July 1, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0972202676
ISBN-13: 978-0972202671
Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 7.9 x 0.4 inches


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Write About Now.

On Creativity and Writing

I have always wondered why I don’t mind taking a hundred photographs and throwing out the 50 or even more that are slightly out of focus or didn’t capture the image the way I wanted, but that I expect every word I write to turn out brilliantly.

Thanks to my friend Deb for pointing out that in every creative process you need to be willing to create some (and maybe a lot of) duds, learn from them, throw them out either literally or figuratively, and keep trying. Sometimes you need to perform exercises that are meaningful only to your own process in order to produce works that speak to others in the future.

What do you think?