The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

The Scraps Book introduces readers to the life and work of Lois Ehlert. This book, peppered with photographs, Ehlert’s artwork, and the items that inspire her, demonstrates that art can be found everywhere.

This book is a great read for budding artists (as well as art teachers) as it goes into Ehlert’s creative process and some of the techniques she uses to create the collages seen in her picture books. It may also be a good addition to library Makerspaces. I envision making this a big part of my own space, urging students to read it and use it to jump-start ideas, while simply placing a variety of items at tables that students can use to create whatever art comes to them.

While The Scraps Book doesn’t really lend itself to use as a read-aloud, I think it would be ideal for an author study on Lois Ehlert, discussions of creativity, and the work that goes into creating a book. Like The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, I also think The Scraps Book could be used to inspire students to create art by upcycling and using found objects.

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Annie and Helen

Annie and Helen, written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Raúl Colón, was a nominee for the 2014-15 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Annie and Helen is an ideal book for introducing young readers to the inspiring story of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. The book takes readers through both Sullivan’s and Keller’s early lives and their quest to find a way for young Helen to communicate with the world around her.

The watercolor illustrations in Annie and Helen combine beautifully with the poetic narrative, and both are used to show readers how difficult it often was for Helen to find her “voice,” and how both Annie and Helen persevered until they were successful.

The text from actual letters written by Annie Sullivan about her experiences with Helen and photographs on the end papers make this book an excellent work for teaching about primary sources and how they can be used to present information.

Annie and Helen is also a great book to teach young readers about courage, perseverance, working together, and the impact a good teacher can have in a person’s life.

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper

Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper, written by Ann Malaspina and illustrated by Eric Velasquez, is nominated for the 14-15 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Touch the Sky gives young readers a closer look at a sports figure they may not know much about. Alice Coachman, a young, black girl from Georgia, wanted to fly through the air. Even though things were not always easy for Alice and her family in the South in the 1930s, Alice always dreamed of doing more than people had planned for her.

After seeing a track meet for the first time, Alice knew she was meant to soar. With the help of her friends, she practiced high jumping, and she was soon invited to join the Tuskegee Golden Tigerettes. Alice eventually went on to win national medals, she attended Tuskegee Institute High School, and she competed in various track and field events.

Segregation still closed many doors for Alice, but she didn’t let that stop her. This National Champion high jumper went on to compete in the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Alice not only competed, but she won the only gold medal for the U.S. women track and field team. Even today, Alice Coachman is recognized as one of the most gifted athletes in Olympic history.

Touch the Sky is a great book for teaching the importance of perseverance through difficult obstacles. Alice Coachman battled prejudice and the wishes of her own family to achieve her dream. She let nothing, not even her own doubts, stop her. That is an example that anyone can stand to follow.

Photographs and an author’s note at the end of the book provide more information about this awe-inspiring athlete. I’m hoping that many of my students use this book as a springboard for research during Black History and Women’s History Months. This book could even add to discussions about segregation, inequalities in women’s and men’s sports programs, and the history of the Olympic games.

Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender

Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender: The True Story of a Civil War Spy, written by Carrie Jones and illustrated by Mark Oldroyd, is a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Until I read this book, the story Sarah Emma Edmonds was unknown to me. I find it fascinating that a woman could go virtually her entire life pretending to be someone else and have no one be the wiser. I appreciate that this book gives young girls (and boys!) yet another heroine to read about. When learning about the Civil War, female heroes are few and far between, so it’s nice to add one more to the lineup!

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter is an excellent book about a figure that many young readers probably know very little about–Jane Goodall. This book could serve as a springboard to more reading about this fascinating woman and her important work. (I already know some of my young readers will enjoy this simply because Jane lived with chimps.)

This book may also serve as inspiration to some students. If they put their minds to it, they can accomplish great things, even if those things take them far away from everything they’ve ever known. I think that’s the biggest lesson that readers can take away from this book.

The Watcher is a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Picture Book Award.