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As a lover of children's literature, mother and bookseller of 13 years, I want to put good books into kid's hands. I share my philosophy on what makes a book good as well as book reviews and lists of great books for every reading taste and ability with a focus on new readers. I also highlight some wonderful books that are not always on the shelf at bookstores, but might be at your library and can definitely be ordered. All books mentioned are available in paperback unless noted.
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I missed Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan when it came out in February of 2015. Scholastic is one of the few publishers I don't get review copies from and, working in a library instead of a bookstore now, I an not as up on what's new in the world of kid's books as I once was. I even missed the March, 2015 review of Echo in the New York Times Book Reivew, which I usually scour. Echo crossed my radar in January of this year when it won a Newbery Honor, along with two other superb books, The War that Saved My Life and Roller Girl. While I hate the fact that I didn't read Echo right when it came out, I am so, so glad that I knew absolutely NOTHING about it (save that it won an award) before I began listening/reading it. Having worked with and been an avid reader of children's literature for more than 20 years, I've kind of read it all. There aren't too many plots or characters that surprise me or feel really new and original. Echo surprised me - it's as if A. S. Byatt, an author of novels for adults that are magnificently crafted and often centered around a work of art - wrote a kid's book. If you want to be surprised by a story and you trust me and the librarians who hand out the Newbery awards, stop reading my review after the next sentence and go out and get your hands on a copy of Echo. Actually, I very, very strongly suggest LISTENING to the audio of this book (as well as buying it - you WILL want to own it) because - tiny spoiler alert - music is an integral part of Echo, and you get to hear it in the audio.
Stop reading HERE if you want to be surprised
I was definitely surprised when I started listening to Echo and there were music credits before the story began. I was especially surprised when harmonica music kicked in. Like several minor characters in the book, I, too, did not take the harmonica seriously - nor did I notice the drawing (wonderful artwork by Dinara Mirtalipova) of one on the cover and spine of Echo! Echo is a work of historical fiction wrapped in the cloak of a fairy tale that is ultimately a story about the power of music to, "pass along . . . strength and vision and knowledge," and even overcome fear, intolerance and hatred. The story visits three very different children at three different times, starting in 1933 and ending in 1942. The common thread that connects these three children is their passion for music, embodied, at that time, in the harmonicas that they own. Surrounding these stories is the tale of a boy that begins just before the start of the 20th century. From a Gypsy, who presses a mouth harp on him for free, he buys a book titled, The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger. The book tells the story of three abandoned princesses with beautiful singing voices. Trapped in the woods under the spell of a witch, they need a messenger to take something out into the world for them, something that will break the spell. Becoming lost in the woods, Otto meets the three princesses from the book. Desperate to know the end of their story, they enchant the harmonica that the Gypsy gave him and he agrees to send it into the world where, if it can "save a soul from Death's dark door," the spell will break and the princesses can return home.
The stories of the three central children in Echo would have been a satisfying book on their own, but linking them with the fairy tale of the three sisters imbues Ryan's novel with a quality of hopefulness and beauty, much like the sound of a well played harmonica. Part one begins in 1933, in Tossingen, Germany, with young Friedrich, a gifted musician. Part two begins in Pennsylvania, 1935. The third and final part begins in 1942, just after Pearl Harbor, in California, a harmonica at the heart of each story. Friedrich has a port wine birthmark on his face and suffers from seizures. Hitler's persecution of physically disabled forces Friedrich and his family to make difficult choices and his story ends without closure, his life in danger. Part two, features orphan brothers, the eldest of whom is a gifted musician, with his only hope for survival hinging on his ability to make it into a renowned harmonica band. Mike and Frankie are adopted by a painfully grieving heiress who needs to produce an heir to keep her fortune, their story also ending in a moment of danger and uncertainty. Finally, Ryan turns to Ivy Maria Lopez, shining a light on xenophobia and racism.
It is Fresno, 1942, and Ivy is the child of migrant farm workers. Her brother, Fernando, has just enlisted and her father has just accepted a job running a farm in Orange County. When they arrive at the farm, the Lopez's discover that it belongs to a Japanese-American family that has been sent to an interment camp. Their oldest child, a son in the Marines, is coming home on leave to sign the running of the property over to Mr. Lopez, if he approves of him. Ivy, and her parents, struggle to understand how the Yamamoto family, with a father who fought in WWI and a son fighting in WWII could be treated this way, while at the same time Ivy experiences racism and segregation when she learns that she is not allowed to attend her neighborhood school, but must go to one that will "Americanize" children like her. Living in California and working with the children of immigrants, many of whom are also the children of migrant workers, this part of the story resonated most with me.
The last two parts of the novel tie together all three stories in a marvelous, deeply satisfying way that had me weeping. Ryan returns to the fairy tale, bookending Echo with the conclusion to the story of the three princesses as well as the story of Otto, now the messenger, and the enchanted harmonica that he must send out into the world and how it gets there. Echo is a big book, but as many reviewers have said, and as was my experience, you will soar through it, drawn along by the beauty if Ryan's writing, the craft of her story and the humanity of her characters.
Source: Purchased Book & Audio Book
Ben Hatke is a gifted graphic novelist who creates stories perfectly balance themes of family, bravery, and belonging with wonderfully detailed illustrations and characters you won't forget. For his second picture book, Nobody Likes a Goblin, Hatke visits a medieval world where even a goblin needs a friend.
Goblin has a daily routine, and his best friend, Skeleton, is part of it. Skeleton lives in the Treasure Room and one day while he and Goblin are goofing around with the treasures, the room is raided! Goblin decides to abandon the safety of his routine and head out into the world to find his friend. He stops to as a hill troll if he has seen anything and in the process agrees to find the troll's "Honk-Honk," which was also plundered. The troll's parting words warn Goblin to be careful because, "Nobody like a Goblin." Across the fields and through the village, with an angry horde (that includes a few warrior women) on his little green tail, Goblin searches and rescues. The two hide out in a cave where Goblin finds his tribe. Together, with a ghost and one of the warrior women, the new tribe delivers Honk-Honk to his owner and settles down in the dungeon for a fine feast.
This adventurous and rollicking story might sound simple, but Hatke's magnificent watercolor and ink illustrations add an an almost cinematic layer to the text. There are many little details to be pored over and humans and creatures alike to be examined. The palette is gently pastoral, making the creatures and the action less than scary, despite the caves, bats, rats and skeletons. Nobody Likes a Goblin is enchanting, entertaining and timeless.
Source: Review Copy
I love books about books and I love mysteries. However, especially in the world of children's literature, it's very challenging to find a well written book of either genre, let alone both together. A solid, believable mystery often means character development is sacrificed. Or, as in two of my all-time favorites, The Westing Game and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, superb character development overshadows the mystery that sets the plot in motion. As an eleven-year-old reader, Ellen Raskin's characters, from Turtle to Theo Theodorakis to Sydelle Pulaski, stuck in my memory well into adulthood. But, as a kid, I was also a little disappointed that the actual clue-gathering game in the book wasn't entirely solvable for readers. With Book Scavenger, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman has written a miraculous middle grade novel that almost perfectly balances character development with a solid, believable, puzzle filled mystery that readers can unravel themselves. Even better, the mystery revolves around books and book lovers! Add to this Sarah Watts's charming illustrations and you have an unforgettable book with character you will want to spend time with again. Book Scavenger is Bertman's debut novel and it is masterfully written, especially when considering the multitude of details she weaves into the plot and her characters, making it almost feel like three or four books in one. When she was a baby, Emily Crane's parents decided they wanted to live in all fifty states. Emily's mom even started a blog about their experiences called 50 Homes in 50 States. As Book Scavenger begins, the Cranes are moving from New Mexico to San Francisco. Emily is growing tired of not being able to set down roots, and Bertman writes poignantly of her growing frustration with this. However, as a dedicated Book Scavenger, she is thrilled to be moving to the home base of publisher, puzzle master, book lover and eccentric, Garrison Griswold. Like Chris Gabenstein's game creator, Mr. Lemoncello, Griswold is a bit of a Willy Wonka-type. However, Griswold's puzzles revolve around books, and his Book Scavenger website allows participants to hide books (you can even purchase clever book disguises from the website) and leave clues for other Book Scavengers to find it. Bertman's rules for book scavenging open Book Scavenger and are very well thought out and doable. So doable, in fact, that she created a low-key version of Griswold's game that you can play here! Emily has the good luck to meet James, upstairs neighbor and grandson of the owner of the building her family moves into. James is a puzzler, although not a Book Scavenger, and he helps Emily decode an especially difficult clue to a book. Emily, James and Matthew head down to the Ferry Building to look for the book and, on their way home discover an even better hidden book. Just the day before, as he was on his way to announce his newest literary-puzzle-scavenge-game, Griswold was attacked and left unconscious. Emily finds the book that was to start the games, an edition of Edgar Allan Poe's, "The Gold-Bug." In the short story, the protagonist cracks a cryptogram that he hopes will lead him to a buried treasure and Griswold has a similar mystery planned for his followers. Emily quickly realizes that the book she found is part of Griswold's new game and that she is being followed, possibly by Griswold's attackers. With James's help, along with Hollister, a dreadlocked bookstore owner who was best friends and partners with Griswold decades ago, they rush to uncover the mystery and find the treasure - if there is one. Bertman does a magnificent job weaving literary references and puzzles of all kinds into Book Scavenger. Set in San Francisco, the Beat writers, from Kerouac to Ginsberg to Ferlinghetti and his landmark City Lights Bookstore are part of the plot. In addition to the challenge of Griswold's new game, Emily struggles to be a good friend to James, mend her relationship with Matthew and ultimately tell her parents that she does not want to be part of their adventure anymore. Matthew is also a well developed character and his devotion to a band called Flush along with his homemade videos using their music, dovetail seamlessly with the mystery and adventure of Book Scavenger. As with all children's books, the bad guys can't be that bad. The villain in Book Scavenger is a sour sort with a sense of entitlement that drives him to drastic measures, but it is really the goons he hires to do his dirty work who commit the crime of shooting Griswold in the subway at the start of the novel.
Finally, Bertman works in references to Masquerade, the picture book written and illustrated by Kit Williams that was published in 1979 and promised clues to a buried treasure. I remember seeing Masquerade in a bookstore shortly after it was published and begin intrigued by the beautiful illustrations, not realizing that there was a treasure - and controversy - connected to this book. Masquerade, along with a family connection to Edgar Allan Poe, all of which are explained in Bertman's notes at the end of the book, inspire Griswold in his literary game creations.
Coming January, 2017!!!
Source: Purchased Book and Audio Book
for more reviews of books that are mysteries with puzzles, like these:
Red's Planet is the first in a comic book series from Eddie Pittman. Pittman, who says he taught himself to draw in the back of math class, has been a professional cartoonist, working in animation, comics and illustration for over 25 years. He has worked on films like Mulan, Tarzan, Fantasia 2000, Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor's New Groove and most recently the show Phineas & Ferb and the influence this work has on his graphic novel is delightfully evident, in both the bright color palette and cinematic sweep of his panels. And, Red's Planet is overflowing with visually fantastic, fascinating characters that I want to get to know better. At first glance, I feel like I can almost begin to guess their back stories. And, while Red's Planet is the first book in the series and almost entirely set up for the rest of the series, every panel of every page is engrossing and exciting. There will be many, many readers waiting for the second book, due out Spring 2017!
Red's Planet begins with a spooky UFO abduction in the dark of night on a country road. An old guy and his dog are zapped up into a triangular ship and never seen again. This story, "The Mysterious Zeke Hainey Incident," is being read out loud to a roomful of kids by another kid. We quickly learn that Red (we never learn her real name) is one of many foster children, headed down to breakfast and out the door to the bus. Red has intentionally worn non-regulation shoes and tells the kids she is headed home to change. Instead, she plays hooky and ends up in the backseat of a police car in big trouble. Instead of juvie, Red finds herself gone the route of Zeke Hainey.
Like all good interplanetary stories, readers find themselves in a bustling marketplace. Here, the Aquilari, "ancients of Chelonia, collectors of time, the last sages of the wandering," and they are on a mission to collect rare items - and creatures. The police car with Red in it, as well as a few other things, make it onto the ship, but things are quickly going pear shaped again for Red as the Uskog pirates demand their treasure, which they believe is on the ship. As battle ensues, the ship veers off course and lands on a dusty planet that Red thinks looks like Texas. A multitude of aliens emerge and begin making sense of things, shunning Red left and right.
Red manages to befriend Tahee, a cute, big-eyed fuzzy guy who, when the ship took off, grabbed a strange glowing egg that he now carries everywhere with him. Red makes some dangerous foes but also a new friend in the crotchety Goose, a feline in a Hawaiian shirt who is sort of a forest ranger for the planet. With his grudging help, she and Tahee manage to get the rest of the aliens to safety, but first they get a glimpse at the amazing cargo that the Aquilari - and their robot boss who, after taking a rock to the head is a bit loopy - are collecting...
Source: Review Copy
Kristy Dempsey and Mark Fearing join forces to deliver the Superhero Instruction Manual! Despite the comic book feel and solid set of instructions, the Superhero Instruction Manual remains wonderfully free of conflict and violence, instead delivering a wonderful story of familial love.
As a boy pores over the Superhero Instruction Manual, ready to take the "seven easy steps" that will turn him into a superhero, his sister watches in the wings, hoping to join forces with him. He picks a name, a partner and a disguise. He secures a secret hideout and chooses his superpower with quite a few amusing missteps. Fearing's colorfully funny illustrations alternate action packed comic book panels with full page illustrations that include instructions from the manual - and disclaimers.
Superhero Instruction Manual culminates with a true emergency when Fluffy the sidekick takes off after a squirrel in the park. Happily, Super Sister is not too far away and she saves the day. Dempsey and Fearing wrap up their story with a sweet ending, telling readers that a "true superhero is always there when it counts," as the Super Siblings share a cookie in their super hideout.
Source: Review Copy
Don't miss Mark Fearing's AWESOME graphic novel:
If you love literature and you have read quite a bit of it, then you know that there are many varieties of good writing. There are writers who are gifted at story telling and craft a work that draws you in and pulls you along at a fast clip. There are writers who are gifted at creating memorable, complex characters that they allow you to get to know intimately. There are writers who put words on a page that read like lines from great poetry, their sentences like a handcrafted delight you savor on your tongue. Then there are writers who turn the world on its side, making you see and think about it in a whole new way. There are a few writers who embody all of these qualities, Philip Pullman
and Frances Hardinge
coming readily to mind. Interestingly, Pullman and Hardinge are also the only authors of literature for children to win the prestigious Costa Award
, which is comparable to the Pulitzer, and is traditionally given to works written for adults.
Fly By Night was the first book by Hardinge that I read and I knew immediately that I was reading something truly special. Hardinge created a complex world ruled by religion and literacy in the absence of an effective monarch, all set in an alternate history universe. Everything about Fly By Night amazed and continues to amaze me, from the setting to the characters and their intricately Dickensian names to the mysterious political and religious intrigue driving the plot. Hardinge's newest book, and Costa Winner, The Lie Tree, is every bit as magnificently written as Fly By Night but it is also a much more personal, poignant story that is more pointedly philosophical and political. And, as I slowly came to realize over the course of the book, The Lie Tree is also a book about women and especially the challenge of being a woman in the 19th century and the various ways that women met with these challenges. As the main character observes near the end of the novel, "Faith had always told herself that she was not like other ladies. But neither, it seemed, were other ladies."
As the novel begins, Faith Sunderly, teenaged daughter of the gentleman scientist and clergyman, Reverend Erasmus Sunderly, finds herself tucked between two crates on the deck of a ship that is taking her family and many of their belongings from Kent to the remote island of Vane where her father has been invited to observe an archaeological dig. Hidden from sight, Faith overhears her father and her Uncle Miles discussing the real reason for their retreat to the island. As Miles points out to Erasmus, one of the most "widely read and respected newspapers in the nation has decried you a fraud and a cheat."
Faith respects and reveres her father, constantly hoping that her interest and intellect in the sciences will win her his attention, but seed of knowledge takes root in her and begins to grow. When her father is found dead and her seemingly frivolous, beautiful mother Myrtle schemes with Miles to make his death look like an accident and not a suicide, which would leave his family destitute, Faith decides to take matters into her own hands. She steals her father's papers - his scientific notebooks, his letters, his financial records, and begins reading through them. She discovers that, years ago while traveling through China Erasmus encountered rumors of a very rare plant specimen. In an attempt to help a fellow Englishman accused of murder, he found the secret hiding place of the plant but was unable to save his countryman. Faith quickly uncovers the hiding place of this specimen, which Erasmus brought to Vane and hid before his death, as well as the true nature of this strange plant, the Lie Tree.
Through his experiments, Erasmus came to learn that the Lie Tree thrives and bears fruit when a lie is whispered to to. The more people who believe the lie, the larger the fruit. In turn, consuming the fruit reveals a truth to the person who eats it. A religious and scientific man, Erasmus perpetrated a lie that he hoped was big enough to reveal, in the interest of truth, if man was, "crafted in God's image and given the world, or was he the self-deluding grandson of some grimacing ape?" He would, "borrow from the Bank of Truth, but in the end would pay back in full and with interest." As Faith reads through her father's notebook she decides to use the Lie Tree to discover her father's murderer.
The idea of lies and the variety of lies consumed me as I read The Lie Tree, so much so that I missed an important theme in the book until almost the end. As Faith's investigation begins, there are necessary lies she must, as a young girl, tell, in order to be able to move about the island. As the lies pile up, she finds herself easily using the the fears of her six-year-old brother against the ill-treated, vengeful housemaid who robs the Reverend Sunderly of his grave, prompting an inquest. The more lies Faith tells, the more she is able to insert herself into situations that give her a glimpse into the machinations of the adult world and life on the island. She also stands back and watches her mother manipulate both the Reverend Clay and Doctor Jacklers with lies of omission as Myrtle maneuvers to keep the family solvent. When Faith finally manages unveil the murderer, it is someone who has also told lies and hidden truths in the passionate pursuit of scientific discovery and she finds herself thinking, "We could have been friends." She also finds herself spluttering in disagreement, along with the murderer, when her captor declares, upon seeing the Lie Tree, that there are things, "science cannot explain." The complexities are rich and varied in this stunning book.
As I read The Lie Tree, I marked sentences and passages that exemplified Hardinge's gorgeous prose and had to stop midway because there were too many slips of paper falling out of my book. But I do want to share a few with you here:
She had tumbled off the safe, hallowed shore of childhood, and now she was in no-man's water, neither one thing nor another, like a mermaid. Until she dragged herself up on the rock of marriage, she was difficult.
As usual, the adulation slid off the Reverend's stony reticence and was soaked up by the handkerchief of Myrtle's busy charm.
Faith thought that it must be very relaxing being Dr. Jacklers, deaf to the crunch of other people's feelings beneath his well intentioned boots.
There was a dangerous joy in talking, even with this enemy. It made Faith realize how she had been trapped in her own head. Trapped in the house. Trapped in the Sunderly family.
And, finally, when Faith confronts her mother and begins to understand her reasons for inviting the attentions of other men after the Reverend's death, Myrtle explains the laws regarding a suicide, telling Faith,
This is a battlefield, Faith! Women find themselves on the battlefields, just as men do. We are given no weapons, and cannot be seen to fight. But fight we must, or perish.
If you have read this far, I am sure you will get a copy of The Lie Tree and experience for yourself the, "distinctive voice and vividly crafted prose of France Hardinge," as a favorite writer of mine, Linda Buckley-Archer, author of the excellent Time Quake Trilogy , says in her review.
Frances Hardinge's other new book, review coming soon!
Books by Frances Hardinge
US covers on the left, UK covers on the right
Source: Review Copy
At the school where I am the librarian, my students rarely experience the kind of silence that allows them to listen to the world around them. When I can, I sit them down to practice focusing. We choose one thing to focus on (counting our breath, the ringing of Tibetan singing bowls) and we notice when our minds wander. Then we bring ourselves back to focusing. I feel pretty certain that these are the only minutes of the day, possibly even the week, when they are still, quiet and awake, and I am grateful to be able to give them this experience, this chance to sit with themselves. I tell you all this because reading Andy Goodman's picture book, It was so quiet I could hear a pin drop reminds me vividly of these rare, quiet times. As she sits in a swing, the narrator says, "As I listened to the breeze. . . I could hear kites flutter, a busy bee buzz, a leaky tap drip and my wristwatch tick."
She goes on to list all the things she hears, and slowly these sounds get louder. As they do, the text gets louder and the illustrations more vibrant. The narrator hears the dog bark, the baby wake, Jill singing in the bath, Peter whistling. Things continue to escalate and the narrator begins to question herself. Is that elephants stampeding? A steam train accelerating? A loose cannon firing?
Goodman's illustrations are perfectly paired with the text. The expansive, marvelously thick white pages have images that feel a bit like antique clip-art, allowing the reader to use her or his own imagination as the story unfolds. The gentle colors of the initial quietude give way to a more vibrant palette as the story arcs. Being quiet, the mind wanders and listening leads to imagination. I love the stream of consciousness progression of It was so quiet I could hear a pin drop and everything that it inspires. It's also the perfect book to read leading into a moment of focusing/meditation/quiet with kids, which is something we all need now and then.
Source: Review Copy
Chicken in Space is a marvelously illustrated picture book about imagination, creativity, perseverance and adventure written by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Shahar Kober. Chicken in Space begins, "Zoey wasn't like the other chickens." The aviator caps and goggles should be the first indicator. Then there are the blueprints. Zoey is going into space and she is not taking "no" for an answer, despite the very reasonable concerns and protests from her pal Sam, the pig.
There are no problems, just opportunities, and Zoey takes them where she finds them. No ship? No problem. A basket and a bunch of balloons (which have been bobbing in and out of the illustrations from the start) get these friends airborne in no time.
As with any adventure, there are challenges, and this is where Zoey's magnificent imagination comes in! A baseball? No! It's an asteroid! Kites are comets and birds are alien attack ships that bring on a crash landing amidst sacks of corn. Zoey is thrilled with the success of their mission, but Sam is not so sure. However, back in the farmyard, he has a different story to tell!
And Zoey has the perfect gift for this pie loving pig - a moon pie! As Chicken in Space comes to and end and Sam is wanting to share his moon pie with Zoey, she already has her head buried in her next adventure!
Source: Review Copy
How can I not like The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien? Having three kids of my own and working with kids, I have been getting asked what my favorite animal is for over 20 years now. And not only do I get asked what my favorite animal is, I get asked specifically what are my favorite mammal, sea animal and reptile - red panda, narwhal and Komodo dragon, respectively. Two years ago, I discovered the blobfish and the axolotl while reading Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Earth's Strangest Animals and became a little obsessed. In fact, a student of mine even made me a Pokemon blobfish card...
With The Blobfish Book, Olien has a story within a story, meta kind of thing going on. Blobfish, seen initially as a quasi-cute cartoony character, is about to read The Deep Sea Book, which he takes a red crayon to, making it his own.
Readers will actually learn a bit about deep sea creatures and how they live in The Blobfish Book, despite Blobfish's defacement. However, if this book sparks curiosity in your young readers, be sure to check out Glow: Animals with Their Own Nightlights by W.H. Beck, which I reviewed last year.
The twist comes when the enthusiastic, slightly goofy Blobfish finally gets to the page displaying his species and is deeply saddened to learn that the blobfish was once voted the world's ugliest animal. He burst into tears, but his fellow deep sea creatures come to his side and draw up a final page for the book, showing the world that blobfish are in fact cute, friendly and fascinating. The Blobfish Book ends with a two page spread that gives readers more facts about the cast of characters and the environment that they live in.
The Blobfish Book is a good way to introduce readers to this curious creature. But, as a fan of the fish itself, I have no doubt that there are lots more creative possibilities for blobfish in picture books and am sure they are already being written and illustrated...
Source: Review Copy
I don't usually have the time to review follow up books in a series, but Emma Virján's Pig In a Wig series of beginning to read books is such a find that I want to call it to your attention as often as possible. The illustrations are bright and colorful with fantastic picture clues and the gently rhyming stories are always entertaining and just silly enough to keep kids reading over and over.
In What This Story Needs is a Munch and a Crunch, the Pig in a Wig plans a picnic for all her friends. As before, the phrase, "What this story needs," appears often in the text, which is never more than a sentence per page. In fact, the book has only five sentences total! Emerging readers will find this book engaging and feel success at the end, which comes quickly. The story arc follow the picnicking animals as they eat and play and then, as the skies grow dark, find a new place to picnic. These books are a staple in my school library and I can't wait to see what the Pig in a Wig does next!
Source: Review Copy
I didn't intend to review Mo Willem's The Thank You Book, the 25th and final book in the Elephant & Piggie series that began in 2007. I first encountered these books as a bookseller and story-time-reader while working at Barnes & Noble. I wasn't a big fan of Willems's Pigeon books, mostly because I found them challenging to read out loud. I quickly discovered that Elephant & Piggie books were a joy to read out loud and had mass appeal, from little kids to parents to even teens! Then my youngest son started learning to read and my appreciation of what Willems was doing deepened immensely. You can read all about that experience HERE. I want to take this time to tell you what a deeply satisfying end to a series The Thank You Book is and share my experiences with Elephant & Piggie as an elementary school librarian and, of course, say THANK YOU to Mo Willems!
Willems's The Thank You Book is both a wrap-up and a genuine thank you to readers. While spending time with Gerald and Piggie is always a treat, I remember how exciting it was to pick up a new Elephant & Piggie book over the last nine years and find a new character in the story. Snake from Can I Play, Too? is probably my favorite. All these characters are back in The Thank You Book and on the endpapers! And, in a really awesome wink, Pigeon appears in the pages (and not just the endpapers) of The Thank You Book! Piggie apologizes for not including him in their books, to which Pigeon (in his own font) responds, "That is what you think!" The Thank You Book reads like the best ending to a long running television series possible. Readers get to revisit old friends and familiar story lines while also seeing their favorite characters do what they do best one last time.
I am finishing up my second full year as an elementary school librarian. More than 80% of the students at my school are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 65% of them are reading at grade level and 55% of them are English language learners. When I took over my library it had languished through more than a year of substitute librarians cycling in and out of the space and several years of a diminished or non-existent book buying budget. There were just a few Elephant & Piggie books on the shelves and they were not circulating. Taking advantage of my employee discount at Barnes & Noble one last time, and taking advantage of the generosity of my amazing principal, I bought a copy of every book in the series and began reading them out loud to my students - all grades. Gerald and Piggie became instant celebrities in the library. Today, we have at least three copies of each book in the series on the shelves (in their own special section) and they are always almost all checked out. They are a staple for my first graders, but I especially love checking them out to the kindergarteners. Technically, I'm not supposed to check books out to the kinders, but it's hard to say "no" to those adorable little faces. And I absolutely love telling them to look for Pigeon at the end of the book -and in all of Willems's books! Sometimes I have to nudge the second and third graders away from Elephant & Piggie, or encourage them to get one book at their reading level and one E&P. And, happily, I occasionally get older students checking these books out to read to younger siblings.
Willems's books have become a common thread for all of my students. As I read The Thank You Book over and over, about 25 times in all to all grades, I choked back more than a few tears. I explained to the students that this would be the last Elephant & Piggie book and their disappointment and shock was always audible. They didn't always understand why I was sad that this was the last book, but when I told them it was like saying, "Goodbye," to two good friends who were moving away, the lightbulbs went on - just like Piggie's often did. Having had two years now to inspire my students to read by hooking them with Willems's humor, I am looking forward to seeing our reading scores rise. And, while I am sad to think that there will be no more new books from Gerald and Piggie, I look forward to whatever it is Mo Willems does next, and I especially look forward to getting to share it with my students! THANK YOU, MO WILLEMS! Your books have made a difference in my life and the lives of my students.
More-igami is the debut picture book from Dori Kleber, illustrated by longtime favorite G. Brian Karas. More-igami is a fantastic picture book for so many reasons. The main character shows perseverance or, grit, to use the hot new word in the world of education, as he struggles to master a skill. More-igami is a marvel of diversity in a picture book, featuring African American, Asian and Hispanic characters. But, best of all, More-igami is just a really great story with marvelous illustrations that is a joy to read our loud.
Joey loves all things folded, from maps to accordions to tacos to, of course, foldaway beds. When Joey's classmate, Sarah, brings her mother to school to teach the class how to make origami cranes, Joey's mind is blown. Mrs. Takimoto tells Joey that she can teach him the folds, but if he wants to be an origami master, he'll "need patience and practice." No problem! Joey practices everywhere with everything, including folding the $38.00 he found in his mother's purse. Frustrated and out things to fold, Joey heads to the restaurant next door because "fajitas always made him feel better." There, he finds a place to practice folding and help out Mr. Lopez. Even better, he finds a new friend to share his talent with - as long as she has patience and is willing to practice!
Karas's illustrations are perfectly matched to Kleber's text, which wonderfully, simply shows the frustration and determination that Joey possesses. The hand drawn texture of Karas's illustrations add to the creative feel of More-igami, which will undoubtedly inspire readers to do some folding of their own, especially since there is a two page spread at the end of the book that shows you how to fold an origami ladybug!
Source: Review Copy
I absolutely adore BLOCKS by Irene Dickson! I often consult Kirkus Reviews to see what they think of a book and occasionally their reviewer will sum up a book so perfectly I have to quote, and that is the case with BLOCKS. Of Dickson's book, Kirkus succinctly writes, "A cleverly simple book builds skills as well as towers." Ruby builds with red blocks on the verso, Benji builds with blue blocks on the recto. They parallel play until Benji borrows a red block and a tussle follows. And the structures they have built come crashing down. Ruby even loses a shoe. Both children look stricken and the tension is palpable. Dickson does so much with few words and bold illustrations in BLOCKS. Even if you can see it coming, it is exciting to see the conflict and the resolution in this wonderful picture book. And, while Dickson could have ended BLOCKS with Ruby and Benji happily building together, a final page turn reveals Guy with his green blocks.
As a parent, I find so many teachable moments in BLOCKS. As a librarian who just won a grant that has brought three different sets of blocks (Kapla, Magnatiles and TEDCO Blocks & Marbles) into the library, I especially am grateful to have this book to pull off the shelf when the battles begin...
Source: Review Copy
Molly Idle is the brilliant creator (and choreographer) of the first two books about Flora, an expressive, if not always graceful, little girl who seems to find herself frolicking with birds of all shapes and sizes. Flora, in a swimsuit, swim cap and flippers, has danced with a flamingo. Flora has skated with a penguin. Now, in Flora and the Peacocks, Flora faces her greatest challenge - dancing with not one, but two peacocks. For this dance, Flora has a fan and two elegant partners. As with the first two books, clever flaps change the plot of these wordless picture books with just a flip. Flora's fan and the tails of the peacocks flip and flap to change the tone as the three try to orchestrate a dance that leaves no one out. As you might expect, there are jealous moments, frustrating turns and even some stomping off stage. But, Flora and the peacocks find a way to dance together by the end of the book, which culminates in a magnificent gatefold that opens to a huge 18 by 33 inches. Besides being gorgeously illustrated, all three of Idle's Flora books are examples of masterful design and paper engineering that make these stories so readable and memorable. It's hard to capture all of the magic of the Flora books in words. Happily, Chronicle Books, the publisher of these excellent books, has made a book trailer!
Source: Review Copy
A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman with illustrations by Corey R. Tabor has the feel of an instant classic. Hoffman's rhyming journey of imagination is paired perfectly with Tabor's layered, playful watercolor illustrations and pencil drawings that have a hint of magic to them. Best of all, A Dark, Dark Cave has one of my favorite things to do with kids at the center of the story!
As the "pale moon glows," a sister and brother go spelunking. Hoffman repeats the refrain, "a dark, dark cave," throughout the text, creating a gentle suspense that builds with each page turn while Tabor's illustrations blend the real with the imaginary in a satisfying way that keeps readers guessing - are these two REALLY in a dark, dark cave all by themselves?
A light appears in the darkness, revealing that, in fact, the sister and brother are in a blanket cave! As a kid and a parent, building blanket forts is definitely one of my all-time favorite things to do. We even build blanket forts on rainy days in my library. But, sadly, for this sister and brother, the bright light means Dad coming in and asking them to find a more quiet game because the baby is sleeping. This could easily have been the end to A Dark, Dark Cave. Happily, it is not. There is one more imaginary adventure in store for these siblings, and more marvelous illustrations (and a change in palette) from Tabor!
I hope you will seek out A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, who worked with preschoolers for over 35 years before writing this book, and Corey R. Tabor, making his picture book debut. I read hundreds of new picture books a year (and almost as many old ones) and it is truly rare to find a book of this kind!
Look for Fox and the Jumping Contest
illustrated AND written by Corey R. Tabor
Coming October 2016!
Source: Review Copy
Having been a bookseller for so many years, I am very familiar with Lauren Myracle and her two very popular series, the Winnie Years and the Internet Girls, which, told entirely in texts, emails and IMs, was especially innovative and popular (and prescient) when first published in 2004. But, having a proclivity for fantasy, it took me until now to finally read one of Myracle's books. The blurb for Wishing Day grabbed my attention immediately. On the third night of the third month after her thirteenth birthday, every girl in the town of Willow Hill makes three wishes: the first is an impossible wish, the second is a wish she can make come true herself and the third is a wish made from her deepest, secret heart.
Natasha Blok is the oldest of three sisters born in under three years. In fact, her sister Darya is in seventh grade with her. Ava, their youngest sister is in sixth grade. As Wishing Day opens, Natasha is at the ancient willow tree, planted by her grandmother many times removed, the woman who started the wish tradition. Her aunts, Vera and Elena, are steps behind her, waiting anxiously for Natasha to make her wishes. Natasha's mother Klara disappeared eight years earlier, leaving her father sinking into sadness and silence and her aunts moving in to raise their nieces. Of course Natasha wants her mother back, but she also wants to be kissed and she secretly wants to be somebody's favorite.
Myracle weaves a story rich with characters. Natasha is a typical big sister, stepping in and caring for her siblings after her mother vanishes. Yet, she also let a distance grow between herself and Darya, who, with a head of red, shiny curly hair, a flair for fashion and a firm disbelief in magic of any kind, especially when it comes to the Wishing Tree. And, an even deeper secret than her three wishes is hidden under her mattress. Natasha is a writer, albeit a writer who has yet to finish a story. As Wishing Day unfolds, Natasha learns more about her mother's life before she disappeared, finishes writing her first story and kisses a boy. She also has her deepest secret self revealed when her sisters discover her writing and enter it in a local contest, is not kissed by the boy she thinks she wants to kiss her and might not even want to be kissed at all and, most surprising, discovers that she IS someone's favorite.
Myracle weaves in a thread of magic - beyond the Wishing Tree itself - in the character of the Bird Lady, an eccentric, ancient legend in Willow Hill who has a sparrow nesting in her fluff of grey hair. The Bird Lady appears every so often to utter cryptic words to Natasha, who begins finding meaningful notes around town. The ending of Wishing Day will leave you wondering and wanting more (especially more answers) and, quite happily, there is more to come because this is an intended trilogy! I suspect that the next two books will focus on serious, gorgeous, skeptic Darya and the ethereal, playful, free spirit Ava as Natasha's sisters turn thirteen and make their own wishes.
Source: Review Copy
Before I Wake Up . . . is the fifth book I have reviewed by Britta Teckentrup and her illustrations are as magically wonderful as ever. A simple rhyming text follows a girl through her nighttime, dreamworld adventures, a protective, comforting lion at her side.
Teckentrup begins, "Before I wake up, I float through my dreams . . . imagining worlds. Never ending it seems." The rhymes sometimes feel forced, but the illustrations are so unique and marvelous that it is easy to overlook. The girl and her lion travel by sky and by boat, over and under water, in and out of woods and jungles. Teckentrup establishes a dream landscape in a variety of ways. Sometimes the narrator is seen multiple times on a page, sometimes she seems to float across the page. As morning approaches, the palette lightens with it. Dark blues and blacks shift to oranges, reds and eventually yellows. The final page shows the narrator, tucked beneath a sunny yellow quilt with a toy lion snuggled at her side, ready for the new day.
While I am a big fan of Teckentrup's style, I think that my favorite thing about Before I Wake Up . . . is the book itself. Published by Prestel, an internationally renowned publisher of art, architecture, photography and design books, appealing to "all those with a passion for visual culture." Holding Before I Wake Up . . . in my hands, this is evident. This gorgeously designed book (it's trim size is square!) is printed on thick matte paper with a sturdy paper-over-board cover and stitched binding that makes reading it a multi-sense experience. Before I Wake Up . . . is a memorable book that children will cherish, but also one that makes a beautiful gift.
Source: Review Copy
I opened the cheerfully colored, creatively illustrated Where's the Elephant? by French children's book illustrator Barroux expecting a fun look-and-find book and got so much more. Where's the Elephant? is indeed a look-and-find book, and it is not always easy to find the elephant and his companions, a parrot and a snake, but it is also a subtle lesson on deforestation and loss of habitat that affects so many of the world's animals.
Where's the Elephant? is a journey through time and space. The book begins with an expanse of blue ocean with the tip of a lush island seen at the edge of the opposite page. A two page spread that shows a lollipop colored forest (can you find the elephant? Snake? Parrot?) But a page turn shows a clearcut starting. A few page turns later, and it's very easy to spot the elephant and his friends because their habitat has been taken over by houses and roads. Huddled in the few trees left, the wild animals eventually find themselves caged in a zoo.
But, bars can't hold them for long. Soon they are making their way to a new island, a new habitat. Hopefully one that will stay wild.
Barroux ends Where's the Elephant? with the story behind the book. During a visit to Brazil five years ago, he saw parts of the Amazon rain forest set on fire to clear the way for the production of soybeans. This inspired him to look for a way to talk about deforestation in a picture book. Inspiration came to him at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2014 and this amazing book is the brilliant end result. Little listeners will enjoy looking and finding while older readers will be inspired to ask questions and learn more about this serious subject.
Source: Review Copy
A Brave Bear pairs prolific author Sean Taylor with Emily Hughes, a new illustrator I've been wanting to review for a while now. Hughes's illustrations are a story in their own, but Taylor's narrative makes A Brave Bear a memorable story about a falling down and getting up again that parents will find sweet and young listeners/readers will relate to instantly. And, A Brave Bear also makes a fantastic Father's Day gift!
A Brave Bear begins before the title page with the words, "Everything was hot" and an illustrations of two bears in their den. The language of A Brave Bear continues on in this simple way, with the little bear narrating. Papa Bear says, "I think that a pair of hot bears is probably the hottest thing in the world." Little Bear suggests they cool off in the river and the pair begin the long trek downhill. There are grassy parts, bushy parts and jumping parts. Jumping over the rocks, Little Bear says, "I think a jumping bear is probably the jumpiest thing in the world." But Papa Bear cautions him to take small jumps. Of course Little Bear takes a tumble and gets hurt, but Papa Bear knows just what to say and do and the two make it to the river where Little Bear declares that a "pair of wet bears is probably the wettest thing in the world." As they walk home, the sun is glowing, the air is glowing and, "even tomorrow is glowing."
With A Brave Bear, Taylor has written a story that perfectly captures one of the many moments of childhood that are major to the little person experiencing it, but easily surmountable to the adult standing by. The subtle empathy, compassion and calm that Papa Bear shows is especially meaningful and is sure to resonate with readers. And rare in a picture book. Thank you, Sean Taylor and Emily Hughes for this gem!
Source: Review Copy
More books by the spectacular Emily Hughes!
Benji Davies new picture book, Grandad's Island, is a wonderful story of friendship, adventure, imagination and saying goodbye. I especially love that Grandad's Island is a book that can be read and understood on more than one level. Davies's illustrations have a cinematic feels and are packed with colors and details that will bring you back again and again, as will the charming characters of Syd and Grandad.
A gate at the bottom of Syd's backyard leads right into Grandad's and the two are clearly as close as two peas in a pod. When Syd drops by for a visit and can't find Gradad anywhere, he finds him in the attic where, surprisingly, there is a big metal door that opens onto the deck of a huge ship!
The pair head out to sea and, after a pleasantly long journey, they reach an island. After disembarking, the two head into the jungle where they turn an old shack on stilts into the perfect vacation house.
Syd and Grandad explore the island, paint and swim and clearly have a wonderful time. Then Grandad tells Syd that he is thinking of staying on the island. "But won't you be lonely?" Syd asks.Grandad assures him that he doesn't think he will. Syd sails the ship home, and the trip seems much longer without Grandad. Back at home, Syd visits Grandad's house and hears a tapping at the attic window, where an envelope is sitting on the ledge. A toucan can be seen flying away. The final illustration shows the contents of the envelope - a painting of Grandad and a new friend, an orangutan.
This might seem like a simple story, but it is the details of Davies's illustrations that add depth to it. Grandad is an explorer, a traveller, and his house shows that. Books, plants, keepsakes and paintings (of and island that looks quite a bit like the one they travel to), done by Grandad show that he has had a rich life. It's also clear how much Grandad loves Syd, even if he is saying goodbye to him. Syd heads home with Grandad's hat on his head. Older readers might see Grandad's Island as a story of saying goodbye to a loved one and the special memories that are left behind. But, whatever story readers takeaway from Grandad's Island, it will be one that is full of joy, love and an appreciation for life.
Source: Review Copy
I first learned of artist Louise Bourgeois as a freshman at art school, although I did not learn about the role of fabric in her life. However, even if you know nothing about the art and life of Louise Bourgeois, Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois is a must-have picture book biography that is a stunning work that illustrates the links between childhood, creativity and artistic inspiration. Author Amy Novesky has written several picture book biographies of artists, from Billie Holiday to Geogria O'Keefe to Me, Frida, a book about Kahlo's time in America with Diego Rivera. Novesky's biography is brought to life beautifully by a favorite of mine, Isabelle Arsenault.
Born outside of Paris in 1911, Louise and her siblings were raised by a river. As a child, she spent much of her time in nature, sometimes spending the night in a tent, lulled to sleep by the "rhythmic rock and murmur of river water." Arsenault's illustrations immediately bring to life this idyllic world, layering in a woven feel to her artwork that echoes both Bourgeois's heritage and future work. Novesky's well crafted, poetic text makes Bourgeois's experience and artistic influences immediately understandable.
Louise's family restored tapestries and her mother would often work outside in the sun, "her needle rising and falling beside the lilting river, perfect, delicate spiderwebs glinting with caught drops of water above her." When Louise is twelve, she learns the family trade as well and decides that drawing is "like a thread in a spider's web." Novesky incorporates passages from Bourgeois's diary into Cloth Lullaby, which are printed in red.
Louise comes to think of her mother, who is her best friend, as a spider, "Deliberate . . . Patient, soothing . . . Subtle, indispensible . . . And as useful as an araignée (spider.)" Louise's father would bring home cloth scraps from his travels and her mother would take the two halves of cloth, reweaving them to make a whole. Louise heads to the Sorbonne to study mathematics, but the death of her mother leaves her feeling, "abandoned and all alone. A thread, broken."
Louise turns to art. First painting, then sculpture. As a tribute, she creates giant spiders made of bronze, steel and marble that she names, Maman (mother). Eventually, Louise begins to sculpt in cloth, using fabrics from her life - childhood clothing, her new husband's handkerchiefs, napkins from her wedding trousseau - to make books. Novesky writes, "Weaving was her way to make things whole." Bourgeouis spends the last years of her life weaving her childhood memories into works of art.
Novesky's authors note is wonderful, putting Bourgeois's career into context, including the prestigious retrospective of her work at the Museum of Modern art when she was seventy-one. More quotes, photographs of the artist and her work as well as sources make learning more about the artist a must. Arsenault's illustrations bring to life a world that I'm sure readers will want to know more about. Cloth Lullaby is a book that I know I will be reading over and over, taking in the beauty and the sadness of the childhood that inspired a creative life, and inspired this superb book.
Source: Review Copy
You may know Peter Brown as the illustrator, and often author, of many wonderful picture books, including the brilliant, Children Make Terrible Pets. Brown has written his first novel, The Wild Robot, and it is phenomenal. As I read the first page to myself, I thought, "I HAVE to read this out loud to my students." I knew they would love it as much, and as immediately, as I did, but I also knew that this book would make us all think and talk and ask questions, and it has. I stopped reading, took the book to school, and read it out loud to first and second graders the next day. But I could not wait to finish it. At home, reading before bed, I pored over the pages, stopping often to think to myself, "Man, I love this book," and, "This book is amazing." When I finished reading The Wild Robot I paused, took a breath, thought about it and then wrote a letter to the author, which is something that I do once or twice a year when I really am floored by a book. The Wild Robot called to mind almost instantly a book that I have long considered a top five favorite and one of the first books I reviewed here, Abel's Island, by William Steig. Both books feature non-human characters in alien environments, learning to survive and also learning what it means to be alive and what it means to be connected to others.The Wild Robot begins with a storm at sea and a cargo ship losing its load. Some of this cargo, crates containing the Rozzum Unit 7134, reach and island where all but one are smashed against the rocky shore. Activated by a raft of playful otters, the robot becomes operational, springing to life, so to speak. The first several chapters of The Wild Robot follow Roz as her programming (Survival Instincts) kicks in and she navigates the island she has come to live on. The only environment she has ever known, she learns what she can about the island and its inhabitants, initially through observation. It is a wonder to read on as Roz experiences, observes, grapples and evolves.
Soon, the animals of the island take notice, and react, to Roz's presence, as benign as she is, and yet another fascinating layer to this story unfolds. Roz is alien and the animals shun her, but she still manages to continue to observe and learn from them. She tries to connect with them, but most attempts fail. Until she unwittingly orphans a goose egg. Roz takes it upon herself to see that this life, too, does not end. For this, she needs the help of her island animal community. And for this, they, sometimes grudgingly and often with a barter in mind, come to her - and the goslings's - aid. Roz evolves, from alien to parent to protector and unifier. Her presence on the island disrupts the natural world and possibly changes it forever, and that is something else to think about.
Brown does not shy away from the brutality of nature (although he is gentle with his presentation) or the brutality of humans (here, not so gentle - parents of sensitive children be forewarned) and for this I love The Wild Robot even more. The Wild Robot is a book you and your children will ever forget.
Books by Peter Brown!
Otters Love to Play is the fantastic new non-fiction picture book from Johnathan London, author of the Froggy series of picture books, and Meilo So. It's hard not to love otters, in part because they are so playful, and London and So perfectly capture this - and many other fascinating facts about otters - in this highly readable book.
Otters Love to Play employs a format that I love in a non-fiction picture book because it allows me to read it to all audiences. A larger font at the top of the page delivers broad information about the subject while a smaller font at the bottom of the page provides detailed facts. Backmatter includes an index and further information about otters. Otters Love to Play begins with a lakeside scene, So's illustrations are the perfect mix of bleeding watercolors and tight pen and ink sketches that bring both the otters and the forest to life over the course of four seasons. On the very first page, I learned that otters often use the abandoned dens of beavers, muskrats and woodchucks!
Of course, Otters Love to Play focuses on the playful way that learn to survive in the wild, from developing agility and speed to strengthening family bonds. London engages reader with facts like the size of an otter at birth (about as big as a candy bar) and with onomatopoeic words that capture the energy of these creatures. Otters Love to Play is the perfect first non-fiction book to introduce little listeners to, as well as a book that emerging readers and solid readers will love to tackle on their own!
Source: Review Copy
I have been fascinated by the platypus since I was a kid. I tried to get my kids interested in them but, despite the fact that we are frequent visitors to one of the best zoos in the world and they were able to buy a small plastic replica of one, it was always really hard to find books on the platypus - and see it in person - making it hard to feed that interest. Now, with Platypus, Sue Whiting has written a picture book that follows this secretive animal throughout its day while also adding fascinating facts along the way. Mark Jackson's illustrations perfectly suit this mysterious and rarely seen creature with his broad strokes and muted pallet. Written in the two-level text style that I really like, Whiting sets the scene with this fantastic first sentence, "Beyond the snaking bend in the creek where the water lazes in a still green pool, a scraggly gum tree perches on the edge of the bank." Platypus already feels mysterious, and we haven't even seen this monotreme (an egg-laying mammal, a word I learned in the backmatter of Platypus) yet! The secondary text on the first page of Platypus tells readers that this creature is one of the most puzzling animals, so much so that when British scientists first studied it in 1799 they thought it was a fake.
Platypus continues on as the platypus, who is always moving, forages for food about twelve hours a day, storing fat in its tail - a thick, firm tail is a sign of a healthy platypus. Their sensitive bills act like radar and they store it in pouches in their cheeks. Mainly nocturnal, the platypus returns to his burrow and sleeps most of the day. Whiting cover nesting and egg-laying on a single two page spread, but goes into more detail (with illustrations) about the life of the platypus once it hatches from the egg, which is a big part of what makes this mammal so interesting. The backmatter also includes an index and more puzzling facts about the platypus.
Platypus is a great read out loud, but I think it is best discovered independently and read in the spirit of wonder that this monotreme inspires!
Source: Review Copy
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Follow the Moon Home is a unique picture book written by environmental advocate Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau, acclaimed children's non-fiction (and fiction) author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Meilo So. A curious book, I sat with Follow the Moon Home and thought about it for quite a while before writing this review. Because I was just wrapping up a week of reviews of non-fiction picture books about animals, I thought maybe Follow the Moon Home was a book about a real group of children who organized the community in an effort to protect hatchling turtles, but reading the backmatter and searching the internet proved this wasn't the case. While fifth graders from ninety-six schools in South Carolina successfully organized to make the loggerhead turtle the state reptile, the specific "Lights Out for Loggerheads" effort in Follow the Moon Home is fictional. Although fictional, Follow the Moon Home is packed with fantastic non-fiction information in the backmatter. Truly, Follow the Moon is a book about community and community action as well as a message to all of us to value the insights and inspirations of our children. As Cousteau writes in a note to parents and teachers, "Too often, adults see kids only as volunteers for environmental projects, as participants rather than seeing them as critical thinkers capable of solving any number of problems." Follow the Moon is a blueprint in story form for kids and adults, gently showing us all how to listen and how to take action and the perfect book for any teacher or school using a project based learning curriculum and seeking to incorporate character education and community participation into everyday learning.
Viv's family moves to town just in time for get to join a summer school class. The second page of Follow the Moon Home is not to be missed by adult readers - teachers or parents - as it shows Viv's teacher with a lesson plan for a class project centering on community action. The story moves at a fast pace and the authors are focused. Running into a classmate on the beach (the pudgy Clementine - thank you Meilo So, for illustrating a girl with a body shape like mine when I was a kid!) Viv learns about loggerhead turtles and the struggles that the hatchlings face in their journey back to the ocean. Soon, the two are sharing their thoughts and ideas with the class and a community project is coming to life!
The authors detail the steps the class takes to educate and bring together the community and gain their support as the story unfolds. Their classroom becomes the Loggerhead Lab and readers see clearly how the kids develop a plan to fix a problem and gather together to make it happen. The school where I am a librarian is a project based learning school where character education and community connections are the foundations of our curriculum. As the librarian, I am constantly asked for books - at all levels - to support this and they are very rare. I am so thrilled to be able to add Follow the Moon, with its great story and invaluable, inspiring back matter to the shelves. Thank you to Philippe Cousteau, Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So for creating this invaluable book!
Source: Review Copy