Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Bibliographic Citation:
Baskin, Nora Raleigh. (2015). Ruby on the Outside. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1442485044.

ruby-on-the-outside-9781442485044_hrPlot Summary:
A young girl named Ruby copes with life after her mother’s incarceration. She doesn’t quite know what happened that landed her mom in prison, and she doesn’t really remember much of her life before her mother left either. She struggles with making friends and is embarrassed about her nontraditional family life, until she meets a new girl in her neighborhood that changes everything.

Critical Analysis & Personal Opinion:
Ruby on the Outside is a short, and easy read. I was immediately drawn to this book because someone very close to me was previously incarcerated. I wanted to see it from the child’s point of view and see if I could learn something from it. The story is told by Ruby Danes who lives with Matoo, her mom’s older sister. This story did have a happy ending, but I didn’t feel like it was cliché or predictable. For a little while I thought the story might be heading in a direction that seemed too coincidental to be believeable, but it ended up working out differently. I love contemporary, realistic fiction and I especially like things in stories that make it identifable and can really help you narrow in on a time frame. Ruby and the other girls in the story talk about iPhones, texting, and Demi Lovato posters which really makes you think it could be happening right now. This story felt like a memoir to me. Like I was actually reading the inner most thoughts of a young girl. It was lovely.

Awards and Honors:

  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children’s Book Council)
  • IRA Notable Books for a Global Society
  • Kansas State Reading Circle List Starred Intermediate Title
  • Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Reading List

Author Info:

Nora Raleigh Baskin is the author of 13 books, all of which are at least partially inspired by her life. Nora and her work have been recognized numerous times. She was the recipient of the Cuffie Award from Publishers Weekly for Most Promising New Author for her book What Every Girl (except me) Knows. Her novel Anything But Typical won the American Library Association’s (ALA) Schneider Family Award in 2010.


City I Love by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Bibliographic Citation
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. 2009. City I Love. Ill. by Marcellus Hall. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780810983274.

Image from (Click to view the book on Amazon)

Image from
(Click to view the book on Amazon)

City I Love is written by well-known children’s poet, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and illustrated by Marcellus Hall. It is a collection of 18 short poems about various cities across the globe from London and New York City to Venice and Mexico City. All of the poems in the book are short, some shorter than others, but the descriptive style of each poem makes the book very cohesive. The layout of the book flows together but is not exactly uniformed for each poem. Many poems cover a double page spread while others do not, but each layout works for its particular poem. This book follows a little brown dog with a backpack and a blue bird as they embark on an international adventure. Not only are the poems appealing to a young audience, but also readers will enjoy trying to find the dog and his bird companion in each poem. Another fun thing about this book would be trying to guess which city the dog and bird are in for each poem. The images are gorgeous, but they don’t have the city name written on them, which is fun. Since school age children start learning about cities and transportation early on, they can relate to these poems, but they can also learn from them. In the poem “Taxi” there is a Double Decker bus with a British flag, Big Ben in the background, and the taxi driver is driving on the other side of the car. All of these images hint that the dog and bird are in London, but younger readers may not know this, so it can become a fun game.

Many of the poems within the book do not rhyme like the poem “Sparrow,” “Lucky to be born / on this balcony, sparrow / awaits city flights”. However, some poems, such as “Sing a Song of Cities”, do rhyme. This poem begins, “Sing a song of cities. / If you do, / cities will sing back to you”.

One of the things I really like about this book is how descriptive it is. Hopkins uses many adjectives to describe each city experience, and really gives the reader a feeling about each place. For example, in the poem “City Lights”, which is about Tokyo, says, “Blazing lights / flicker / flash / glitter gleam / twinkle / sparkle / bedazzle / beam / so / brilliantly / bright”. I also like the spacing in some of the poems and the way he uses the text to create an image. For example, in the poem “Snow City”, he uses the word “down” and the letters are descending.

Highlighted Poem


Subways are people-
People standing
People sitting
People swaying to and fro
Some in suits
Some in tatters
People I will never know.

Subways are people-
Some with glasses
Some without
Boy with smile
Girl with Frown
People dashing
Steel flashing
Up and down and round the town.

Subways are people-
People old
People new
People always on the go
Racing, running, rushing people
People I will never know.

As a group we will talk about diversity. To introduce this concept to younger children I would use a crayon box, and we’d discuss how all the crayons are different, but they all go together in the same box. To reinforce that cities are full of diversity, we will read this poem aloud and discuss all the different kinds of people on the subway. The students will then make a mask out of a paper plate of one of the people on the subway that they saw today who is different from them.


Crayons Markers Paper Plates Yarn
Felt Glue Scissors Fabric Scraps

Additional Information

Check out this book trailer!

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Shannon, David. 1998. A Bad Case of Stripes. New York, NY: Scholastic Press. ISBN 0439598389.

Camilla Cream loves lima beans but cares too much what other people think of her. She wakes up on the first day of school to discover that she is covered in stripes. She stays home from school to go to the doctor who says he thinks she can go the next day. It turns out that Camilla’s stripes can change by request and the other children taunt her when she changes to match the flag or a checkerboard. After seeing lots of different people who think they can help including specialists and experts, it is finally determined that she has “a bad case of stripes” and need to only eat lima beans and be herself to cure it. Camilla hesitates at first but then agrees and her stripes never come back. This sums it up pretty well, “In order to ensure her popularity, Camilla Cream always does what is expected, until the day arrives when she no longer recognizes herself.” –

Just like my last review (Calvin Can’t Fly), A Bad Case of Stripes is about individuality, diversity, and being yourself. Camilla loves lima beans but is afraid for this fact to be known about her because she is worried what other people might think. This concept is extremely important for young readers who may be struggling with acceptance in their own lives. The story is cute, at times funny, and is easily relatable for even very young readers. While readers aren’t (I hope so at least…) going to color or shape-shift from not being themselves, I think this book highlights how you can feel like a different person, like you have no control in your life, or like you’re turning into someone or something else when you’re afraid to just be you.

The students in my library were exposed to Camilla through audio book. While I’m a fan of the audio book format, unfortunately I think it was lost on the very young students. Before reading this book we did a mini unit on bullying and cyber-bullying in which we read The Ugly Duckling, I think A Bad Case of Stripes is an excellent follow up to the unit. In my opinion, this book is a must read in all elementary schools.

Awards: Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children in 2007 National Education Association’s online poll
“The message is clear, yet not overpowering. It’s truly an enjoyable read with lots of great material for discussion.” –
“A highly original moral tale acquires mythic proportions when Camilla Cream worries too much about what others think of her and tries desperately to please everyone… Set in middle-class America, this very funny tale speaks to the challenge many kids face in choosing to act independently.” – School Library Journal, Carolyn Noah

Books to read in conjunction with this one:
Calvin Can’t Fly
The Ugly Duckling

*Watch online video of actor Sean Astin reading this story at* suggested the following post-reading discussion questions:
• Why do you think Camilla Cream came down with a bad case of stripes?
• How do you think Camilla felt when all the kids at school started calling her names?
• Do kids at your school call other kids names? What do you do when you hear this?
• Why do you suppose Camilla didn’t want to eat the lima beans?
• How do you think the lima beans cured Camilla?

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

Willems, Mo. 2004. Knuffle Bunny. New York, NY: Hyperion Books. ISBN 0786818700.

Knuffle Bunny is the story of Trixie, a young girl who is not yet vocal, and her favorite stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. Trixie accompanies her father to the laundromat where they accidentally leave behind the toy. It isn’t until several blocks away that Trixie realizes the mistake but is unable to articulate her concern to her father. Trixie is miserable and in turn makes her father miserable as they trek home. Upon arriving home, Trixie’s mother immediately notices Knuffle Bunny’s absence and the hunt is on to find the missing stuffed animal. When the family finds it, Trixie speaks her first words: Knuffle Bunny.

The story takes place in a present day, urban neighborhood. This is important because the family doesn’t have laundry facilities in their building and must walk several blocks to the laundromat. The story is relatable because the reader whether it is a parent of child has most likely had a favorite toy. Perhaps the reader thinks of their favorite toy growing up or the favorite toy of their child currently.

The story is cute and leaves an impression on the reader without having a preachy, overpowering theme. Knuffle Bunny is just a simple, cute story about about sentimental value and communication. The illustrations in this book are interesting and eye catching because it mixes illustrations of the people with actual images from real places. The setting images are black and white while the images of Trixie and her parents are in color. This adds some visual interest to the otherwise short and simple tale.

Knuffle Bunny is my all time favorite children’s book. When I started my career in education I worked as an assistant in an early childhood classroom. This book and nearly every other book by Mo Willems was loved by my students. Day after day during story time my students would request this book and it never got old. As soon as my husband and I found out we were expecting our son, I bought this book. When we discovered he had the ability to hear in the womb, I read this story to him over and over again. I hope it quickly becomes a favorite of his as well.

Awards: Caldecott Honor Book, BCCB Blue Ribbon Picture Book, and New York Times Bestseller

“The concise, deftly told narrative becomes the perfect springboard for the pictures. They, in turn, augment the story’s emotional acuity. Printed on olive-green backdrops, the illustrations are a combination of muted, sepia-toned photographs upon which bright cartoon drawings of people have been superimposed. Personalities are artfully created so that both parents and children will recognize themselves within these pages. A seamless and supremely satisfying presentation of art and text.” – School Library Journal

An unassuming little masterpiece…the book’s power lies in its rich, allusive artistry.” –New York Times Book Review

“Even children who can already talk a blue streak will come away satisfied that their own strong emotions have been mirrored and legitimized, and readers of all ages will recognize the agonizing frustration of a little girl who knows far more than she can articulate.” – Booklist

Other popular children’s books by Mo Willems:

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! ISBN 0786818697.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. ISBN 1423145143.

Website for Mo’s Pigeon character:

Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull & Paul Brewer

Krull, Kathleen and Paul Brewer. c. 2010. Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President and the Country! Ill. by Stacy Innerst. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-206639-0.

Plot Summary:
Lincoln Tells a Joke is a biographical tale of the United State’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. The story starts off with Lincoln in his early years as a boy and how reading and the power of words were part of his life early on. The story continues through life events like the passing of his mother and sister on to running for Illinois state legislature and becoming a lawyer. As the story unfolds and we see the present through public office, marriage, and presidency, the reader sees how Lincoln’s love of words and humor helped him through tough times all the way up until the last night of his life.

Critical Analysis:
Lincoln Tells a Joke is a short, simple and enjoyable story written by well-known nonfiction writers, Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer. Krull and Brewer have written other biographies, and show enthusiasm for nonfiction, humor, and children’s stories. The authors present a side of Lincoln that many people may not know. The story is presented in chronological order starting with the beginning of his life first in Kentucky and then Indiana all the way until his death at age fifty-six. Throughout the book, the authors intertwine an attractive, inviting, and funny tale with well-known facts about President Lincoln. Though the story is informative, it is not an overload of information, and therefore is not overwhelming to young readers.

The sources used for this text are cited properly and include a note from the authors about the origin of some sources. One of the best things about this book is  its use of quotes throughout the story. In the back of the book, the authors mention that some quotes come from famous speeches and others from eyewitness accounts. A works cited for all sources can be found in the back of the book.

Illustrator, Stacy Innerst uses appealing illustrations to complement the text. The pictures flow with the text and help execute the story effectively. Lincoln Tells a Joke is not only a great children’s book, but sure to be a favorite of nonfiction lovers of all ages.

If my critical analysis didn’t say it already, this is a great book. I loved this book and plan to use it with my students around President’s Day. Not only is this story historically accurate, but it is all the more appealing since it provides potentially unknown facts to the reader. I mean, I was not aware that Lincoln wrote nonsense poetry. How cool is that? I plan to acquire as many Kathleen Krull books as I can for my library.

Awards and Review Excerpts:
2004 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award
Nomination for a Cybil’s award in 2010.
Smithsonian’s 2010 Notable Books for Children

“Children will be drawn in by the straightforward prose, and librarians will enjoy sharing the book aloud. Innerst’s colorful and unconventional acrylic illustrations cover the entire page and are the perfect complement to both the text and the subject matter, making this a standout biography. Pair it with Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora’s George Washington’s Teeth (Farrar, 2003) for a unique look at two of our most famous leaders.”–School Library Journal, starred review

“Readers will smile, too, at this lighthearted look at Lincoln and the many droll quotations attributed to him.”–Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Laughter is not only good medicine. It can also be a political tool, human motivator, and saving grace, as the authors show in this upbeat overview of Lincoln’s life.”–Booklist

“Innerst’s gorgeous, textured paintings, many of them caricatures, are varied and inventive: When Lincoln’s great height is described in the text, his head and feet are cropped off the page. It’s a quirkily specific biography, but, as with Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora’s wonderful George Washington’s Teeth, illustrated by Brock Cole (2003), it reveals the human side of an American icon in an unusual, lively and thought-provoking way.”—Kirkus

This book would be perfect to be used in an elementary history class with a large emphasis on America’s history. In Texas’s American History is in 5th grade.

*Other books written (or co-authored) by Kathleen Krull:
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. ISBN 0152014373.
Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought). ISBN 0152008071.
Lives of the Pirates. ISBN 0152059083.

*Other presidential biographies for kids:
Edwards, Roberta. Who Is Barack Obama? ISBN 0448453304.
Edwards, Roberta. Who was George Washington? ISBN 0448448920
Pascal, Janet. Who was Abraham Lincoln? ISBN 0448448866.