“The Reading Life,” junior edition

Two picture books by much-awarded authors and illustrators celebrate the joys of books and reading—sometimes extravagantly.

This Book of Mine by Sarah Stewart, Illustrated by David Small. Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2019, 24 pages.

How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. HarperCollins, 2019, 32 pages.

Elissa the Curious Snail
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Reading level: Picture book, ages 4-8

Recommended for: ages 4-8

In an earlier post, Betsy rounded up four nonfiction titles on “The Reading Life.” These were all for adults and mature teens who already have a rich reading history. Books about books, reading, and libraries are often a big hit with librarians, but I wonder if their intended audience is likewise enchanted. Maybe so, but it seems to me beginning readers are drawn in by the content of a book and haven’t deeply thought about what goes on when they open it and start devouring pages. If so, This Book of Mine, by an author-illustrator team who are also married, stakes out modest territory and occupies it comfortably. It’s short and sweet with simple rhymes and homey illustrations showing people of all races, ages, and stations in various stages of enchantment while reading. The books being read inspire flights of imagination, artistic inspiration, even satisfying matter for a baby to chew on. If a reader hasn’t absolutely fallen in love with that special book yet, she can still find some aspect of “This book of mine” to relate to.

How to Read a Book is much more exuberant. The “How” is metaphorical in the extreme, as it describes peeling a book’s “gentle skin like you would a clementine,” letting “your fingers wonder as they wander,” squeezing, “every morsel of each plump line until the last drop of magic drips from the infinite sky.” Wow! I’m not sure how many book lovers, even the most devout, would describe their experience this way. The illustrations match the mood of the text, with lavish use of bright colors, word art, and collage rolling across double-page spreads. Definitely a treat for adult eyes, but young readers may find it more confusing than inspiring.


  • Both books are well done with no objectionable content.

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

One of our favorite books by Kwame Alexander is the Newbery medal-winner The Crossover. Sarah Stewart and David Small collaborated earlier on The Gardener: see our Starred Review. We love Melissa Sweet’s artwork around here: see our starred reviews of Firefly July, The Right Word, and Some Writer! (the biography of E. B. White which she also authored). For pre-readers who are starting to figure out this whole word-recognition thing, see How Rocket Learned to Read.

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