picture books

Homeschool Gift Guide: Everybody Needs Books!

Homeschool Gift Guide: Everybody Needs Books!

The “something to read” is always my favorite part of shopping. I can’t buy all the books for my own family, so here’s a roundup of fabulous titles for many ages and interests.

Summer Reading: Ballots for Belva

Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Reading level: Elementary

Whatever your opinion about this year’s Presidential election (and if my friends on Facebook are any indication, most of you probably have a lot of opinions!), it’s pretty amazing that just a century after women won the right to vote, a woman has a real shot at becoming President of the United States. 

But Hillary Clinton won’t be the first woman to appear on the ballot—that distinction goes to Belva Lockwood, who — in 1884 and again in 1888 — decided to do something about the fact that women weren’t allowed to vote by running for President. (That’s right—though there were laws prohibiting some from voting, no laws said women couldn't run for President.) It was a bold move, but Belva’s life had already been a history of bold moves: Unlike most of her peers, Belva went to college and to law school, and became a lawyer, even arguing cases before the Supreme Court. Plenty of people thought Belva was being unladylike and inappropriate, but she was undeterred. And she had a surprising amount of support: Even though women couldn’t vote for her, Belva managed to receive more than 4,000 votes in the 1884 election as the official candidate for the National Equal Rights Party. Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's Race for the Presidency tells her story—one that doesn't appear in most U.S. history books.

This picture book biography of Belva’s life keeps things simple, introducing readers to Belva through a series of events in her extraordinary-for-her-time life. The author pays special attention to Belva’s passion for equal rights for everyone—for women, yes, but Belva’s campaign also advocated equal rights for African-Americans, Native Americans, and other marginalized groups. She also takes a fairly matter-of-fact approach to the criticism Belva received for her unorthodox activities—from both the media and more traditional people and sometimes even from her fellow women’s rights activists. 

Though this is a picture book, it’s not just for younger readers. Older kids will find Belva fascinating, too, and this book is a great introduction to her life. (The bibliography at the back of the book guides you to further reading suggestions,) I liked the period illustrations (though what’s with the random cats?), which really help tell the story. There are a few places where the storytelling falls a little flat for me, but Belva is absolutely interesting enough to pull you along through an occasional dry patch.

(If you’re playing summer reading bingo, this one counts as a biography of a historical figure you learned about this year if you’ve been following the 2016 election, as a nonfiction book, or as a book you can finish in one day.)

Magazine Extra: Great Picture Books for Homeschool Reading

Sometimes, a great picture book is just what you want. We couldn’t squeeze all our favorite young reader titles into the summer reading guide in our summer issue, so we’re sharing some of the best here.

We’re big fans of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends here, so it’s so surprise that we were enchanted by Beekle’s adventures as he travels from the island where imaginary friends wait to be imagined and into the real world, where he just knows the right friend is waiting for him.



Spare, simple words pair with dazzling illustrations in this Caldecott Honor Book about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. It’s not what you expect in a typical picture book, but that’s part of its charm.


Three Bears in a Boat
By David Soman

The illustrations in this simple story—about three bears who set out to sea to replace their mother’s accidentally broken seashell—are full of quirky details and literary references.


By Jenny Offill

"You can have any pet you want as long as it doesn't need to be walked or bathed or fed,” says her mother. And so our young narrator adopts a pet sloth in this charmingly illustrated tale.


A bear eats a monk’s homework in this book, inspired by a note in a 12th century manuscript and featuring illustrations in the style of medieval manuscripts.


Red: A Crayon's Story
By Michael Hall

A blue crayon is mislabelled as “red” and suffers an identity crisis in this surprisingly nuanced book about learning to accept yourself for who you are.


An English girl helps her mother gather wild blackberries for a blackberry fool in 1710; in 1810, a kitchen slave and her daughter make the same dish; and blackberry fool is also on the menu for a mother and daughter in 1910 Boston and a father and son in present-day San Diego. Easily one of my favorite books of the year.


We love e.e. cummings around here, so I was delighted to discover this whimsical picture book biography, including several of cummings’ poems.

Magazine Extra: Great Nonfiction Books for Homeschoolers

Biographies, treasure hunts, and just plain fascinating people make these nonfiction stories as compelling as good fiction.

Gorgeous illustrations and a larger-than-life subject make this picture-book biography one of our favorites.


The cohost of NPR’s Morning Edition has put together a fascinating history of U.S. expansion, starring President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee chief John Ross, and a territory battle that would shape the modern United States.


Teens will dig this story about the hunt for notorious pirate Joseph Bannister’s lost ship, the Golden Fleece.


Haven’t you always wanted to know about the group that inspired Middle Earth, Narnia, and modern fantasy as a genre?


It’s great to see one of our favorite authors get the biography treatment in this young reader.