Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Love Her

Author: Amy Novesky
Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley Newton
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (June 18, 2013)
Source: Personal Copy
Audience: Grades 1 to 3
Keywords: Biography, American Jazz, Women Singers

Description from GoodReads:
Billie Holiday—also known as Lady Day—had fame, style, a stellar voice, big gardenias in her hair, and lots of dogs. She had a coat-pocket poodle, a beagle, Chihuahuas, a Great Dane, and more, but her favorite was a boxer named Mister. Mister was always there to bolster her courage through good times and bad, even before her legendary appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Newton’s stylish illustrations keep the simply told story focused on the loving bond between Billie Holiday and her treasured boxer. An author’s note deals more directly with the singer’s troubled life, and includes a little-known photo of Mister and Lady Day.

My thoughts on this book:
Picture Book biographies are difficult on a variety of levels.  How do you condense someone's life down to 32 to 40 pages and most often without a lot of words? Then there is the challenge of what colorful bits of a person's life do you keep in and what do you leave out.  Some individuals made some great contributions to art or music or science or math but along with being absolutely brilliant they often had some interesting character traits which may not be the best thing to highlight in a book written for 7 or 8 year olds.

With that in mind, I appreciate how Amy Novesky tackles the life of Billie Holiday.  In this picture book biography, Novesky shares Holiday's rise to fame and musical contributions through a unique aspect of the singer's life, her love of dogs.  And she certainly loved dogs.  There are at least eight dogs mentioned in this book.  However, the main focus is on a boxer named, Mister.  Did you know Mister had a mink coat? Pretty stylish dog. 

Though Novesky does not explicitly mention that Holiday spent a year in prison for drug possession, she does mention that the singer got into "trouble and had to go away for a year".  The book wraps up with Holiday's return to stage and Mister's presence in the wings on that evening.  The author's note at the end provides more insight into Billie Holiday's life and some additional resources.  Vanessa Brantley Newton's illustration compliment and enhance Novesky's words making this a win-win on several levels.

I am looking forward to including this book in some of the units that I do with students during the school year.  Look for a copy of this book at your local library or independent bookstore.    

Don't forget to link up your nonfiction picture book reviews...

Book Review - Forest Has a Song

Author:  Amy VanDerwater
Illustrator:  Robbin Gurley
Publisher:  Clarion Books (March 26, 2013)
Source:  A copy for review
Format: Hardcover
Audience: Ages 6 to 9
Keywords: Poetry, Nature, Forests

Amy VanDerwater: website | blog | twitter | facebook
Robbin Gourley: website |

Description from GoodReads:
A spider is a “never-tangling dangling spinner / knitting angles, trapping dinner.” A tree frog proposes, “Marry me. Please marry me… / Pick me now. / Make me your choice. / I’m one great frog / with one strong voice.” VanDerwater lets the denizens of the forest speak for themselves in twenty-six lighthearted, easy-to-read poems. As she observes, “Silence in Forest / never lasts long. / Melody / is everywhere / mixing in / with piney air. / Forest has a song.” The graceful, appealing watercolor illustrations perfectly suit these charming poems that invite young readers into the woodland world at every season.

My thoughts on the book:
Over the past few years, I have grown to love children's poetry.  Initially, I wasn't a big fan of poetry in general.  However, I started to put some concerted effort into reading children's poetry and discovered that there were some wonderful books out there.  Now I look forward to discovering new books of poetry and sharing them with children.  Debut author, Amy VanDerwater's Forest Has a Song is a beautiful addition to the world of children's poetry and it arrives to us just in time for both spring and National Poetry Month.

VanDerwater explores the forest and the changing seasons with each of her 26 poems.  She has managed to capture the magical qualities of life in the forest with poems that are accessible to all readers. One of my favorite poems is entitled Moss:

Barefoot on this emerald carpet
toe-by-toe I squish across.
I softly sink in velvet green.
Oh how I wish for socks of moss.

As I read this poem, I could feel the soft, damp, coolness of the moss as my feet sank into it.  Can't you?  This is part of the brilliance of VanDerwater's writing.  She has the ability to not only make the reader understand but to also see it and feel it.

VanDerwater's poetry is complimented by Robbin Gourley's gentle artwork.  The combination makes for a beautiful book on multiple levels.  Also, don't miss out on the book trailer created by VanDerwater's husband.  It is a wonderful way to introduce readers to the book.

Forest Has a Song will make a wonderful addition to your school or classroom library, consider picking up a copy of at your local Independent Bookstore.   And happy National Poetry Month - it almost here.   

Check out the official book trailer:

*I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.

Thank you to BlueSlip Media for offering a copy of Forest Has a Song for giveaway.  Don't forget to enter for a chance to win a copy of Forest Has a Song a Rafflecopter giveaway

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

As part of the Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge 2012 (Twitter: #nfpb2012), my goal is to read and review as many of the new non-fiction picture books that are released this year.  Wednesdays will be my primary day to post the reviews for this challenge.

In honor of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards which were announced on Monday, January 23, 2012, I am giving a shout out to one of my favorite picture books of 2011 and the winner of the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award.  What is the Sibert Award?  The winning book is considered the "most distinguished informational book for children".  This year's winner is Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade

Many congratulations to author and illustrator, Melissa Sweet for an amazing job.  

Check out Melissa's website ( for some great pictures and information about Balloons Over Broadway.

Kirkus Reviews did a great interview with Melissa. Click here to read it.

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a wonderful interview with Melissa.  Click here to read it.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children has created an activity kit to be used with the book.  Click here to download the activity kit.

And though I don't typically send folks over to Amazon, they do have a very cool look into the inside of Balloons Over Broadway.  With their Click to Look Inside feature. 

So what is the book about?  Here is the description from GoodReads:
Who invented the first balloons for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? In brilliant collage illustrations, the award-winning artist Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.

What do I think of it?
Melissa Sweet has married together the perfect combination of facts and information with an eclectic mix of collage, illustrations, and fabulous design.  Readers will explore the history behind the Macy's Day Parade in an unique and wonderful manner.  This is one book that you will want to own and giveaway. 

If you are participating in the Nonfiction Picture Book challenge and would like to link your recent reviews, please add your link to the Mr. Linky below.