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New Picture Books in 2007

Just click on the titles to read our original reviews for these picture books and easy readers published in 2007.


Title: Rudy Rides the Rails: A Depression Era Story
Author: Dandi Daley Mackall
Illustrator: Chris Ellison
Publisher:  Sleeping Bear Press
ISBN:  978-1-58536-286-8
Year: 2007
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  4.3

Concepts: human resources, scarcity, Great Depression, unemployment, economic history, jobs, altruism

Review:  Rudy, a thirteen-year old boy, and his family face extreme hardship during the Great Depression.  More than half of all workers in Akron, Ohio, had lost their jobs, including Rudy’s father, and new paid work was difficult to find.  Ma waited in relief lines for what could often be stale and moldy food, and Rudy’s sisters found sustenance at the soup kitchen and local mission.  Not wanting to be a burden on his struggling family, Rudy decided to take a step similar to other teenagers he had heard about: he hopped a train to go West as a hobo.  Dreams of a better life in California and the chance to send money back home helped to sustain him as he experienced hunger, cold, fear, and fatigue while traveling.  Along the way, Rudy learned of a hidden network of kindhearted strangers who made it a point to feed hungry hobos passing through.

While the Great Depression may seem like a distant and obscure event to young children, this exceptional book brings the topic to life with its moving text and realistic illustrations.  According to the author’s note, a quarter of a million teenagers turned to hobo life as a survival strategy during the Depression, facing issues similar to those that the homeless face today. As historical fiction, Rudy Rides the Rails does an excellent job in providing children with a rich context for understanding problems of unemployment, scarcity, and recession in the economic world around them.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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Title:  Steel Drumming at the Apollo: The Road to Super Top Dog
Author:  Trish Marx
Illustrator:  Ellen B. Senisi
Publisher:  Lee & Low Books
ISBN:  978-1-60060-124-8
Year:  2007
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 6.0

Concepts:  human resources, schooling, careers, incentives

Review:   This powerful book takes the reader on an exciting journey from Schenectady, New York to the Apollo Theater in New York City as the Hamilton Hill Street Drum Band tries to become the top act in the Amateur Night competitions.  Along the way, we learn about the interesting and diverse backgrounds of the seven band members: Ahmel, Aaron, Spencer, Dayshawn, Andre, Steven, and Dha’Sean. Their family backgrounds, commitment to hard work, and their creativity in music and dance are conveyed through a clever blend of narrative and quotes.  Photographs from the boys’ childhoods, performances, and jam sessions add to the reader’s emerging sense of the valuable roles that family, school, and community have played in their personal development.  The accompanying CD (with the band’s competition song plus other original tracks by each band member) further helps the reader to experience their talents and energy.  

The side bars with background information provide interesting facts about the Apollo Theater, the origins of the steel drum, the church as a location for teens’ social lives, and making beats in hip-hop and rap.  We also learn about the importance of institutions such as the John Sayles School of Fine Arts, a part of the high school that these boys attend, in providing a specialized curriculum to prepare students for further schooling and careers in the arts.  Another element in the mix is the Hamilton Hill Arts Center, a gathering place for young people in the toughest part of Schenectady. Directed by a woman who was active in the civil rights movement, this center provides the space, opportunities, and mentoring that all helped to inspire the Hamilton Hill Street Drum Band.

The main source of the book’s excitement and “can’t put down” feel comes from the Apollo Amateur Night competitions and the boys’ progression to the final face-off.  Woven throughout is a sophisticated set of lessons about working hard, nurturing talents, mentoring, studying, and responding to positive incentives.  The book is as meaningful in social studies content as it is rich in artistic expression.

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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Title:
  The Best Eid Ever
Author:  Asma Mobin-Uddin
Illustrator:  Laura Jacobsen
Publisher:  Boyds Mills Press
ISBN: 978-1-59078-431-0
Year:  2007
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 3.8

Concepts:  scarcity, wants and needs, altruism, economics of conflict

Review:  Aneesa wondered if she would be able to enjoy Eid al-Adha, the big Muslim holiday marking the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. This year her parents had decided to travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, and the house seemed so quiet with just Aneesa and her grandmother.  But Nonni had a surprise to cheer up her granddaughter: a large gift-wrapped box containing three gorgeous sets of clothes from Pakistan, complete with matching bangles and handmade shoes. She had also prepared Aneesha’s favorite curried lamb dish to enjoy after returning from prayers.  It took an encounter at the prayer hall with two refugee girls for Aneesha to realize just how fortunate she was. The girls had fled their war-torn country with little more than the clothes on their backs, and their father worked long hours, even on Eid, to try to make ends meet.

An outstanding book, The Best Eid Ever provides readers with an interesting account of the Eid holiday and Muslim culture as seen through the eyes of a young child.  Wrapped into the story is an important lesson about the economic hardships associated with war, and a child’s growing awareness of the difference between wants and needs.  The lush colors and expressive features in the pastel pencil illustrations add a rich dimension to this enjoyable story. 

Review by:
  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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Title:  Surfer of the Century
Author:  Ellie Crowe
Illustrator:  Richard Waldrep
Publisher:   Lee & Low Books
ISBN:  978-1-58430-276-6
Year: 2007
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  6.2

Concepts:  human resources, discrimination, scarcity

Review:  Duke Kahanamoku, widely regarded as the person who spread the popularity of modern surfing, also won six Olympic medals over the course of swimming career.  This fascinating book tells the story of Duke’s upbringing on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu and his quick progression up the ranks to become Hawaii’s fastest young swimmer and later an Olympic champion. He also promoted the sport of surfing, which was previously only known in Hawaii, in Australia and the United States, and he introduced the idea of using surfboards for rescue and lifeguard operations. Woven throughout the interesting biographical account are powerful economics lessons related to scarcity and discrimination.  Financial constraints and barriers associated with racism contributed to the challenges that Duke faced in his quest to compete internationally and become the “fastest swimmer in the world.”

Review by:  Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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Title:
The Fying Bed
Author:  Nancy Willard
Illustrator: John Thompson
Publisher: The Blue Sky Press
ISBN:  0-590-25610-6
Year: 2007
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level:  5.0

Concepts:
  poverty, entrepreneurship, wants and needs, consumers

Review:  Guido and his spouse, Maria, live in the beautiful city of Florence in a small apartment over the bakery they inherited from Guido’s father.  Although they work extremely hard and lead frugal lives, the money they generate from the bakery is simply not enough to cover their living costs.  A dwindling customer base is the main reason for this sorry state of affairs, for Guido, unlike his father, skimped on the key ingredients and made flavorless dough.  Although Guido resorted to selling off their furniture, piece by piece, Maria drew the line when he sold their bed and she demanded that he find a new one.

Serendipity leads Guido to an extraordinary bed shop, where he acquires what is, unbeknownst to him, a magical bed.  This bed takes Guido and Maria to a magical town far away, where a master baker gives them a special kind of yeast. When Guido and Maria bake bread with the unusual yeast, the delicious smells and tastes bring them so many new customers that their financial constraints disappear virtually overnight.  Unfortunately, they learn the hard way that such a gift is not to be squandered through greed and short-sightedness.

The Flying Bed offers readers a powerful set of lessons about entrepreneurship and poverty, cleverly woven into an imaginative story with stunning images. Children and adults alike will appreciate the interesting plot, the well-developed characters, and the eye-catching scenes from Florence and the bakery.  This first-rate book makes a valuable addition to any collection of children’s literature with substantive content and dramatic illustrations.  The Flying Bed puts fun and magic into the business of learning economics.

Review by:
 Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children

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