David Herlihy on bicycle history
7 May 2012
New Historical Fiction for Kids
9 May 2012

Great Historical Fiction for Kids – House Baba Built

me-janeMe…Jane, Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
Reviewed by Children’s Library Volunteer Kristen Crans

Budding young scientists who are drawn into the exploration and discovery of nature
will find this story recounting the childhood of the famous environmentalist, Dr. Jane
Goodall, to be an inspiration. With her toy chimpanzee, Jubilee, in hand, Jane
discovers all that she can in the natural world around her, starting when she is just a
young child. The book follows her through to when she is actually able to live out her
dreams of studying, helping, and living among the animals in Africa.

Having received a Caldecott Honor for the illustrations in this text, Patrick McDonnell
incorporated many techniques into this work, including some of Dr. Jane Goodall’s very
own drawings and word puzzles that she created as a child. To check out her word
puzzles and drawings firsthand, take a look at Me…Jane, found in the Children’s Library with the  Easiest
Reader Picture Books under EM.

altThe House Baba Built, by Ed Young

Reviewed by Children’s Library volunteer, Carole Black

The House Baba Built – an Artist’s Childhood in China is a picture book tribute to the author’s father who built his family a strong home in the safest part of Shanghai before the outbreak of WWII.   It is the Young family’s history of their childhood home, designed with many rooms, a swimming pool, places to roller skate, to ride bikes and scooters and even to slide down the banisters!

In this pictorial biography, an eclectic mix of drawings, photos and paper collage on beautiful pastel colored backgrounds, convey the author’s memories of life with family and friends and the changes that took place in the house before, during and after the war.  He talks about his feelings of shyness, his imagination and how he related to those around him.

The House that Baba Built was a very social house, full of family, guests, laughter and life…Baba was the heart of the house, entertaining everyone.  One gets a real sense of what it would have been like to grow up in a big, close-knit family and the improvisations that would have had to be made to accommodate the inevitable deprivations of war.

As the war progressed, the family adapted to many changes.  Extended family came to live at the house in an apartment Baba created on the roller skating rink and, three years later, everyone was asked to compromise again when the bedrooms were converted into an apartment for a German refugee family who came to live at the house.  As meat became scarce,  the few available seasonal foods had to be stretched to feed many people.

Young provides a descriptive narrative on the impact others had on him, his childhood role-playing adventures, strategy and war games, his interest in fighting crickets and American movies.  His memory of school life in Shanghai includes the student rebellion against enforced Japanese language lessons along with  fonder memories of making origami boxes for trading silkworm eggs.

When the bombing began towards the end of the war, and the family took shelter in the bombproof double-tiered brick-walled hallway with the 18 inch thick concrete slab roof.  Young remembers it as the safest place in the house – windowless, but full of stories and light.

After the war, the family celebrated with a party for family, friends and soldiers with music, dancing and the fresh foods that everyone had missed during the war.  Baba even added a bridal suite for his daughter and her new husband.

Young includes many post war photos of family,  some who stayed at the house and others who left to raise their own families.  He also provides an interesting time-line of events and an author’s note at the end of the book.

The concepts in this story may be more suited to the 8+ crowd, but younger children may enjoy reading it with an adult one on one.

Ed Young also wrote Seven Blind Mice and he has illustrated numerous other children’s books available at the American Library.

New @ the Library:  The House Baba Built may be found in Juvenile Fiction Easiest Readers under EY.


johnpaulgeorgebenJohn, Paul, George & Ben: Written and illustrated by Lane Smith

Reviewed by Children’s Library Volunteer Kristen Crans

If you are looking for a fun and interesting way to introduce your child to the United States of America’s founding fathers, then look no further.  John, Paul, George & Ben is a light, comical, and entertaining book, with some real facts mixed in. It introduces readers to the five men who helped shape the United States into what it is today.  The author focuses on one characteristic of each man, and shows how important that characteristic ultimately came to be in the formation of the country, and in the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Lane Smith’s pen and ink drawings, enhanced by 18th century-style illustrative embellishments, coupled with large emphatic text, catches the attention of a light-hearted reader that needs more than words to keep him or her engaged.  It is reminiscent of the style used by author, Jon Scieszca.  The book is rounded out with a true/false section, where clarifications are made as to what contained within the story is factual and what was added just for laughs.  This silly yet somewhat educational read can be found in the Children’s Library with the Easiest Reader Picture Books  under ES.

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