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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Week-end book review, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 56
1. Week-end Book Review ~ The Year of the Snake; and The Year of the Dragon, by Oliver Chin and Jennifer Wood`

Book covers: The Year of the Snake; and The Year of the Dragon by Oliver Chin, illustrated by Jennifer Wood (Immedium)Oliver Chin, illustrated by Jennifer Wood,
The Year of the Snake: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac
Immedium, 2013;

The Year of the Dragon:.Tales from the Chinese Zodiac
Immedium, 2012.

Ages: 5-8

The latest two offerings in Oliver Chin’s series of Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, this year’s The Year of the Snake and last year’s The Year of the Dragon are welcome additions to this imaginative menagerie of endearing characters, whose stories embody the chief characteristics of each animal of the Chinese Zodiac in turn.

These are also tales of friendship and finding a place in the world…

Read the full review

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2. Week-end Book Review ~ Juba This, Juba That, by Helaine Becker and Ron Lightburn

Cover: Juba This, Juba ThatHelaine Becker, illustrated by Ron Lightburn,
Juba This, Juba That
Tundra Books, 2012.

Adapting a traditional “juba” rhyme, and certainly maintaining the toe-tapping snappiness for which juba is renowned, poet Helaine Becker and illustrator Ron Lightburn have created a dynamic, joyous picture book that will have young readers up on their feet dancing along in time to the words. While the poem creates a narrative of Juba having a fun time at a fairground, the illustrations contextualise the sequence within the suggestion of a dream; so despite its lively energy, the book would also work well as a bed time story…

Read the full review

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3. Week-end Book Review: Sora and the Cloud by Felicia Hoshino

Felicia Hoshino, Japanese translation by Akiko Hisa,
Sora and the Cloud
Immedium, 2012.

Bilingual: English/Japanese

Ages: 3-8

Sora and the Cloud is award-winning illustrator Felicia Hoshino’s debut as an author. Featuring Sora, a little boy whose name means “sky,” this very delicate, whisper-like story in English and Japanese is about Sora discovering the world with the help of a fluffy cloud friend. And how appropriate that cloud and sky should come together!

While Sora and Cloud float around town dreaming up adventures, little Sora gets to see many familiar places (some readers will recognize the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Chinatown) and to learn more about his Japanese heritage. “Like a mobile in the breeze, Sora’s sky adventure spins all around him,” until he drifts gently into sleep and back down to earth, where more adventures await. The last page shows Sora and his family relaxing together under a big tree – the image of his little sister looking up to the sky and saying hello to a cloud fittingly pointing to the universality of children’s sense of wonder and boundless imagination.

Fans of Hoshino’s illustration work in A Place Where Sunflowers Grow and Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin will find the watercolors/mixed media in this bilingual treat a treasure trove to pore over and marvel at. The double spread of cute ants busily moving around town, matching Sora’s impression of people as tiny ants when seen from up above, is priceless. It adds a touch of sweet humor to a story that is all warmth, delicacy and gentle embrace.

Sora and the Cloud soars in more ways than one, and is a perfect story to share with very young ones who are starting to look at the world with wonder and amazement.

The short Japanese phrases and cultural references sprinkled throughout the book are translated and explained in the end matter, where we also learn that a portion of the book’s proceeds go to the Japan Earthquake Relief.

Aline Pereira

December 2012

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4. Week-end Book Review: The Secret Keepers by Paul Yee

Reviewed by Abigail Sawyer:

Paul Yee,
The Secret Keepers
Tradewind Books, 2011.

Ages: 11+

It is 1906 in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and the world has just come to an end; the world of Jackson Leong and his family at least. After their father’s death several months earlier, Jack, his older brother Lincoln, his two younger sisters, and their mother relocated from a farm in the Sacramento area to be near family in the bustling city. Now 16-year-old Lincoln, who “was big and tall and had quickly learned everything the family needed to know about their new hometown” has been killed in the aftermath of the great earthquake, leaving Jack to keep the family together while trying to manage the nickelodeon business his brother had begun. On top of all this, Jack’s “yin-yang eyes” see ghosts everywhere: and they seem to be trying to tell him something…

Read the full review

Read our interview with Paul Yee, in which he talks about The Secret Keepers.

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5. Week-end Book Review: Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

Reviewed by Aline Pereira:

Grace Lin,
Starry River of the Sky
Little, Brown, 2012.

Ages: 8-12

Grace Lin’s new middle-grade fantasy, Starry River of the Sky, is a gem every bit as compelling as its companion, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and cut from the same bedrock too: it masterfully weaves Chinese folklore into a richly textured yarn about magic, unexpected connections and the power of stories to shape our lives.

When Rendi finds a job as a helper at an Inn after running away from home in anger, he finds the small, in-the-middle-of-nowhere village of Clear Sky and its inhabitants mysteriously odd and out of sorts. For starters, the moon seems to be missing…

Read the full review

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6. Week-end Book Review ~ The Great Race: An Indonesian Trickster Tale by Nathan Kumar Scott and Jagdish Chitara

Reviewed by Charlotte Richardson:

Retold by Nathan Kumar Scott, illustrated by Jagdish Chitara,
The Great Race: An Indonesian Trickster Tale
Tara Books, 2011.

Ages: 3+

With The Great Race, Tara Books continues its stellar presentation of picture books illustrated by talented indigenous Indian artists. Nathan Kumar Scott retells the simple Indonesian trickster tale, a version of the tortoise and hare story. The traditional craft of illustrator Jagdish Chitara, a Waghari textile artist from Ahmedabad, is painting ritual cloths that celebrate the Mother Goddess in brilliant white, red and black. He uses the same ancient techniques and colors to depict the many stylized animal characters in this endearing folk story, his first secular project…

Read the full review

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7. Week-end Book Review: Kamakwie by Kathleen Martin

Kathleen Martin (author-photographer),
Kamakwie: Finding Peace, Love, and Injustice in Sierra Leone
Red Deer Press, 2011.

Ages: 12+

Kamakwie, Canadian writer Kathleen Martin’s moving memoir in photo essay format, reports on a three-week trip to Sierra Leone that opened her eyes and heart to the suffering of the people there during and since their devastating 1991-2002 civil war. Martin accompanied a four-person volunteer medical team; the project was commissioned by the Canadian International Development Agency and World Hope Canada.  Kamakwie is the name of one of the villages the team served.

Martin’s present-tense account takes us chronologically through her experience.  A young mother herself, she empathizes deeply with mothers whose children have died of starvation or other horrors of war.  A man who lost his arm tells her that anger won’t bring back his limb; she is shocked to learn that the woman who betrayed him still lives in the same village. Martin struggles with how to respond to a deserving kid’s request for school fees, later to find the amount is only $5. She organizes English writing workshops for kids to tell their stories and to write to Canadian children, then quotes liberally from their reports and politely desperate pleas for help. She watches a child dying of starvation, learns about the superstitions that have kept her father from seeking treatment, writes frankly of her own incredulousness when she realizes how little she or even the medical team can actually do to help… and yet, they all do offer both concrete help and precious hope for the future. Martin’s candid photographs add immensely to her powerful stories about these beautiful, remarkably forgiving people.

Early on in her 200-page book, readers may find Martin’s naive reactions a bit exasperating. She veers close to stressing her own responses more than the accounts of individual survivors that bring alive their terrible history. But the double purpose of her book gradually becomes clear: Martin wants her young readers to understand both the desperate circumstances of the Sierra Leone people and also the process by which she has honestly faced painful truths about human behavior and consequently aspires to be of greater help. Her touching and revealing openness offers privileged western young people the opportunity to learn how compassion grows by experiencing it for themselves. Back matter includes an author interview and a link to the book’s website.

Charlotte Richardson
August 2012

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8. Week-end Book Review: My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Debby Dahl Edwardson,
My Name Is Not Easy
Marshall Cavendish, 2011.

Ages: 12+

What’s in a name? For many people, it stands for something that directly correlates to that person’s sense of identity. In My Name Is Not Easy, author Debby Dahl Edwardson has taken this idea of identity (whether it’s through a name, an action, or relationships with others) to show how it shapes her characters. There’s Luke Aaluk, whose Inupiaq name has been changed because it’s “too hard” to pronounce, and his two younger brothers, Bunna and Isaac. There’s Chickie, a “white Eskimo” who doesn’t fit into either world. Donna and Junior, both quiet and observant, are on the sidelines, but yearning to finally break out and make a name for themselves. Finally, there’s Amiq and Sonny, the “alpha males” of the respective Indian and Eskimo cliques who are constantly butting heads for control.

The story follows these young children for a span of four years (1960-1964) and begins with the Aaluk family discovering that their boys, Luke, Bunna, and Isaac are being shipped off hundreds of miles away to a boarding school called Sacred Heart School to become “good Christians.” As the story unfolds, the reader learns of the characters’ histories that have made them who they are today (alcoholic parents, abandonment). Edwardson steers clear of any romanticized image of Eskimos and Indians and touches on the hardships that many of them have faced through poverty and ethnocentrism.

The book not only addresses native culture, but also some of the major events that occurred in Alaska during the 1960s, such as Project Chariot.  This was a real proposal made by the US Atomic Energy Commission as a way to demonstrate the peaceful use of atomic energy, and the military really did conduct experiments on native villages using iodine-131. Edwardson doesn’t go into much detail regarding these events, but rather, she uses them as a way of conveying even more ominous things to come. All of the characters are unsure of how or why these events are occurring, but they know it can’t be good for them, their families, or their communities.

My Name Is Not Easy is a moving story and while some of the topics can be difficult to read about, Edwardson has ultimately created something invaluable, a tale to keep history alive and educate people now as well as future generations to come.

Keilin Huang
August 2012

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9. Week-end Book Review: Dear Baobab by Cheryl Foggo, illustrated by Qin Leng

Cheryl Foggo, illustrated by Qin Leng,
Dear Baobab

Second Story Press, 2011.

Ages 7-11

Following the death of his parents, seven-year-old Maiko has had to leave all that was familiar, encapsulated in his memory of the ancient baobab tree in his village, to come and live with his aunt and uncle in their red brick house in a Western city. Maiko forms a special bond with a small fir tree growing outside the house.  He listens to its whisperings, and confides his feelings and anxieties to it: his homesickness; and how Leonard, a boy at school, laughs at his ears.  When his aunt and uncle decide that the tree needs to be cut down, Maiko tries to protect it by hiding the tools.  Only when the inevitable day arrives, do his aunt and uncle realise the tree’s importance to Maiko, and an alternative solution is found.

The story is straightforward enough to appeal to young readers.  They will appreciate the way his love of his two special trees helps him to emerge with confidence from the unsettling changes in his life.  In addition, there is a subtle depth to the narrative that will make it appealing to older readers.  When Maiko hides the tools, for example, his aunt berates his uncle for leaving them out to be stolen.  The situation is not then tidily resolved – Maiko does not confess – and readers therefore find themselves asking questions that have no single straightforward answer.  The same is true of Leonard.  Something has certainly happened behind the scenes between Maiko’s telling his uncle about how he is being teased at school and our next encounter with Leonard.  It is enough to hear explicitly that while Maiko is playing with his friend Li, “They saw Leonard.  He did not laugh at Maiko’s ears.”  Older readers will probably pick up on this and ponder it.  The illustrations emphasise these key moments too.  They convey Maiko’s emotions throughout the story: his sadness , worry and guilt, but also his happiness playing in the snow, for example, or his exuberant play with Li when dressed up as a baobab for his first Halloween.

Dear Baobab is a gentle story about settling into a new home and a new culture.  It opens up many questions for young readers, who will be touched by its universally relevant themes of bullying and belonging.

Marjorie Coughlan
September 2012

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10. Week-end Book Review: The Magic Formula by Ibrahima Ndiaye and Capucine Mazille

Ibrahima Ndiaye, illustrated by Capucine Mazille, translated by Rebecca Page,
The Magic Formula
Bakame Editions (Rwanda), 2011.

The Magic Formula is a retelling of an African folktale about a magic marula tree that won’t release its fruit until a certain long, complicated phrase is recited.  Set during a drought in the land of “Farafinaland” in the year “nobody-knows”, the animals have all come together in their suffering.  Nevertheless, their individual traits emerge in the course of the lively narrative: the lion is fierce; the hyena is sneering and excitable; and the elephant is wise.

One day, the elephant calls on the animals to journey together in search of food (also offering scope for the eye-catching illustration both within the story and spread across the book’s covers).  The insects provide an “aerial escort”, and the chameleon with his “special eyes” takes on the role of scout perched on the giraffe’s head.  Sure enough, he is the first to see the magic marula tree laden with fruit – and he also spots the old woman Mama Tenga under another distant tree.  She gives the magic words to first the elephant and then the hyena – but each is distracted on the way back to the marula tree and forgets them.  It is only when, at the elephant’s suggestion, they all work together in “solidarity” that they are able to remember the words and access the fruit.

Ibrahima Ndiaye’s retelling is slightly different from another recent version of the story from Tanzania, The Amazing Tree (North-South Books, 2009) by John Kilaka, whose work has also been published by Bakame Editions.  These two versions compliment each other with their different sets of characters and the chant in Kinyarwanda in The Magic Formula and in Kiswahili in The Amazing Tree, as well as the contrasting styles of the illustrations.  Here, Capucine Mazille’s watercolours add depth to the story with a wonderful mix of charaterful facial expressions.  As well as the key characters, the line-up includes an exciting array of  different African animals, including an aardvark and a pangolin – plenty to absorb young readers. The lively dialogue also makes this a great readaloud, and young listeners will probably soon pick up the magic formula quicker than the animals themselves, adding to their enjoyment of the story

The Magic Formula, under its Rwandan title Imvugo idasanzwe, is included in IBBY’s Honor List 2012, which highlights outstanding books from around the world.  This translation into English offers us the opportunity to share this wonderful story too.

Marjorie Coughlan
October 2012

 

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11. Week-end Book Review: Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro,
Ships in the Field
Ford Street Publishing, 2012.

Ages: 8+

“Every night Brownie and I wait for Papa to come home.” – and when he arrives, “Round and round we whirl.”  This joyous ritual provides the opening sequence of Ships in the Field, a story whose essence is perhaps distilled into the notion of the transcendental power of love.  Acclaimed Australian author Susanne Gervay (I Am Jack, That’s Why I Wrote This Song) has based the story on her own childhood as the daughter of Hungarian refugees.  Told through the eyes, perception and narrative voice of a likeable, effervescent little girl, we learn that her beloved, funny Papa works in a car factory but used to be a farmer “in the old country, before it was broken”; and quiet, withdrawn Ma, who seems to have forgotten how to smile, was a teacher and now “sews dresses all day long”.  The girl’s confidante is her soft toy dog Brownie but she also longs for a real dog.

Every Sunday the family goes into the countryside and Papa says, “Look at the ships in the field.”  This makes the little girl giggle, for it conjures up a funny image, but it makes her sad too, because other people laugh at the way her father speaks – and so she staunchly joins him in his pronunciation of the word “sheep”.  One Sunday, near the “woolly ships”, she finds something very precious that signals a new chapter for all the family.

The undercurrents in the story are felt in the girl’s awareness of aspects of her family’s past.  It is never mentioned in her presence but it weighs on her nevertheless, and she confides in Brownie, “I don’t like war.”  Anna Pignataro’s beautiful watercolour illustrations perfectly capture the emotions – love, pain, joy – that emanate from the story.  As well as the ever-faithful Brownie, vignettes of a real dog appear throughout the story; and two notable sequences merge events from the past, depicting war and flight through the second-hand filter of the little girl’s knowledge and imagination.  The rough pencil outlines underlying the watercolours imbue the illustrations with energy and a sense of movement that is further emphasised in the variety of page layouts: the use of continuous narrative is particularly effective.

Ships in the Field is itself a multi-layered term, from straightforward mispronunciation to providing scope for metaphorical and poetic interpretation – or simply delight in its nonsense.  While offering a warm reading experience for young children, the book also poses questions for older readers and adults about how much young children can or should know about painful elements in a family’s past; and about the damage that can be caused by not bringing the past into the open, when children have already absorbed more than adults give them credit for.  Each rereading of this perfect synthesis between spoken and visual narrative offers something new, through the nuance of the writing or a dawning awareness of a visual motif.  Above all, Ships in the Field is a very special picture book of extraordinary depth, that carries a message of hope and reassurance that time does and will heal.

Marjorie Coughlan
October 2012

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12. Week-end Book Review ~ What We Wear: Dressing Up Around the World by Maya Ajmera, Elise Hofer Derstine, and Cynthia Pon

Maya Ajmera, Elise Hofer Derstine, and Cynthia Pon,
What We Wear: Dressing Up Around the World
A Global Fund for Children Book/Charlesbridge, 2012.

Ages: 4-7

Dressing up means something a little different to everyone, but for children dressing up is always important.  It might mean trying on a parent’s clothes in the back of a closet, putting on a costume for a performance or holiday, painting your face, playing pretend, or wearing a team uniform for a big game.  No matter where, dressing up is special, but the details of dressing up differ considerably depending on the traditions of one’s culture.

Though the outfits vary greatly from place to place, the reasons for dressing up unite us all.  This richly photographed book of smiling children from around the world dressing up in every imaginable way will open windows onto other cultures for children everywhere.  Whether vibrant beads on the head, neck, and shoulders of a Kenyan child or identical navy blue baseball caps on a Japanese team, it is clear that children everywhere delight in dressing up, whatever the occasion.  Captions accompanying the photos suggest the different reasons people wear special clothing and where to find people wearing such garments: folk festivals, cultural events, religious rituals and even school.  A world map highlights the countries the photographed children call home, underscoring the point that dressing up is universal.

Children will recognize the familiar in these pages and will also be delighted to see their counterparts in other countries dressed so differently.  The pictures are likely to inspire a sense of wonder that may lead young children to think about what they share and how they differ from people of other cultures.  The authors also make suggestions for learning more about dressing up all over the world such as going to museums, making masks and costumes on your own, and visiting cultural institutions and festivals.

Expressing one’s self and experiencing one’s culture through clothing is an important part of developing self-identity. This makes What We Wear a perfect book to have on the shelves of a pre-school or primary grade library, inspiring kids to see themselves and children everywhere as part of a global community.

Abigail Sawyer
November 2012

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13. Poetry Friday: I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti

Illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti, designed by Jonathan Yamakami,
I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail
Tara Books, 2011.

Ages: 8+

The glorious blue and intriguing cut-outs on the cover of this truly stunning book just beg you to pick it up and explore its pages.  As you open the book, the feathered (or is it fiery?) eye leaves the peacock’s head behind, and you have to keep on turning until you find the whole bird.  From then on, each page reveals a half-line of the anonymous seventeenth-century English nonsense/puzzle poem that makes up the text.  The clever cut-outs mean you can read the poem in two ways – in its original tricky layout that offers a surreal, perplexing view of all the amazing things that “I saw,” or the more logical sequence created by joining the second half of the former line to the first half of the latter:

I saw a peacock with a fiery tail
I saw a blazing comet drop down hail
I saw a cloud… [you can read the whole poem here]

The secret is in the lack of punctuation throughout and the poem would make a fun punctuation task for younger children to work out – but the poem offers much more than a school exercise and is a delight for people of all ages to ponder the essence of poetry.  Joined here with Ramsingh Urveti’s combination of black on white and white on black art influenced by his Gond roots, and Jonathan Yamakami’s imaginative book design, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tale is a veritable feast for any poetry lover.

This is Urveti’s first solo book but he was a contributor to Tara Books’ much loved The Nightlife of Trees (New Horizons Award 2008).  Here, his artwork is extraordinary in the way it manages to convey all the twists and turns of the poem whether puzzling or logical.  He incorporates the recurring “I saw” inventively throughout.  The ebb and flow of the different scales alluded to, from a mighty oak to a tiny ant, are reflected in the intensity of the patterns that at times seem to froth from the page.  The book’s physical design is full of surprises right to the end: and this is a very physical book.  In the age of the e-book, this is an oasis for anyone who loves the physicality of the book.  If you think you know just the person you’d like to give it to, you might have to get hold of two copies – this is one of those books that would otherwise be impossible to give away!

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted byRobyn Hood Black at Read, Write, Howl - head on over.

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14. Week-end Book Review: The Oldest House in the USA by Kat Aragon and Mary Jo Madrid

Kat Aragon, illustrated by Mary Jo Madrid,
The Oldest House in the USA/La casa mas antigua de los Estados Unidos
Lectura Books, 2012.

Ages: 6-8

Perhaps the best thing about The Oldest House in the USA, in my admittedly biased opinion, is that the author got it right: the oldest house in the USA is in Santa Fe, New Mexico (not far from where I grew up), and nowhere in New England.

There is a tendency in the United States to propagate the myth of European “discovery” which would suggest that this land was all but uninhabited before the Mayflower arrived in Massachusetts in 1620.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In fact, the oldest house in the USA was already 400 years old by then and had already endured its first serious remodeling project!

It was built, as the angels Teresa and Annie who protect it in Kat Aragon’s charming bilingual picture book, tell us, in 1200 by the original inhabitants of what is now Santa Fe: the ancestral Puebloans.  They lived in the house for more than 200 years before something mysteriously drove them away.  It remained vacant until the Spaniards came in 1598 and has been continuously inhabited ever since.

The angels provide the narrative, and Mary Jo Madrid’s lovely watercolor illustrations help us realize that the house has been many things to many people over its 800 year history.  The Pueblo people were living in the house again, for instance, in 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt when they managed to drive out the Spanish for a brief time.  When the Spaniards came back, however, in 1692 under the leadership of General DeVargas, they recaptured the house and installed the Spanish governor there.  DeVargas gave his name to the street the house sits on, and so it remains to this day.

The Oldest House in the USA offers readers a glimpse of a part of US history that is very different from the one that is usually packaged up for school children, one that is no less rich or interesting.  Most children will see architecture and customs completely unfamiliar to them depicted in the illustrations, which will open their eyes to the many possibilities contained in the history of the Americas when we take the time to look a little more deeply.

Abigail Sawyer
December 2012

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15. Poetry Friday/Week-end Book Review: Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So

I’m posting my week-end book review a day early to clock in with Poetry Friday as a couple of days ago I received a review copy of Kate Coombs and Meilo So‘s new book Water Sings Blue, which Kate gave us a glimpse of back in January when her first copies arrived (and if you don’t know Kate’s blog, Book Aunt, it’s well worth a read).  It arrived just in time to squeeze it into our Water in Multicultural Children’s Books theme…

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Dori at Dori Reads…


 

Kate Coombs, illustrated by Meilo So,
Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems
Chronicle Books, 2012.

Ages 4-11

The finely tuned observation in both the poetry and illustrations of Water Sings Blue draws young readers into that world of the shoreline where time just seems to disappear and exploration offers up endless possibilities for discovery.  Kate Coombs’ poems are satisfyingly memorable, with their cohesive patterns of meter and rhyme that, nevertheless, contain plenty of surprises – like, for example, the alliteration and internal rhyming at the end of “Sand’s Story”, in which mighty rocks have turned to sand:

Now we grind and we grumble,
humbled and grave,
at the touch of our breaker
and maker, the wave.

… Not to mention the witty pun on “breaker”: and the gentle wit of Coomb’s verse also lights the imagination throughout this collection.

Turning the pages, readers encounter a vast array of sea characters, starting in the air with the seagull; then listening to “What the Waves Say” before diving down to meet the creatures of the deep: like the shy octopus author (think ink…), or the beautiful but self-absorbed fish whose tail and fins act as brushes, and who concludes his/her soliloquy with the wonderfully evocative: “I’m a water artist. / You wouldn’t understand.”  As well as creatures like sharks and jellyfish, there are poems about fascinating, less well-known fish – “Oarfish”, “Gulper Eel” and “Nudibranch”: they could become a follow-up project by themselves!  There’s also a deep-sea shipwreck, and back on the sea shore, a gnarled “Old Driftwood” telling stories “to all the attentive / astonished twigs”, and a property agent hermit crab with a salesman’s patter.

Bringing all the poems together in a visual feast are Meilo So’s gorgeous watercolors.  As well as her depiction of jewel-colored corals and waves in every shade of blue imaginable, her illustrations are clearly also influenced by direct observation of the shoreline around her Shetland Isle home, from fishermen’s cottages to diving gannets.

Just like in real beachcombing, young readers will lose track of time as they pore over So’s seashores for

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16. Week-end Book Review: Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina by Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios

Monica Brown, illustrated by Sara Palacios, Spanish translation by Adriana Domínguez,
Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina
Children’s Book Press, 2011 (as of 2012 an imprint of Lee & Low Books).

Ages 4-8

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina is a perky bilingual tale about a mixed-heritage girl with a lot of spunk, by award-winning author Monica Brown (Waiting for the Biblioburro; Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People).

Inspired by the author’s personal experience as a Peruvian-American of European, Jewish and Amerindian descent, Marisol McDonald introduces us to a one-of-a-kind girl who defies stereotypes.

Stripes, polka dots and flower prints peacefully co-exist on Marisol’s outfit ensembles. In real life, however, her looks, clothes, playground games and food preferences seem to puzzle her friends, who love to say she “doesn’t match”.

Enchanting and quirky Marisol clearly marches to the beat of her own drums. And why wouldn’t she? After all, there’s nothing wrong with liking peanut butter & jelly burritos; wanting to play a game of soccer-pirates; or signing her first name in cursive and her last in print.

When a school friend challenges her, “Marisol, you couldn’t match if you wanted to!”, Marisol sets out to prove him wrong, dressing for school the next day in a single solid color, eating a “regular” peanut butter & jelly sandwich for lunch, playing a “normal” game of soccer… and feeling wrong all day long, until a thoughtful note from her teacher snaps her back to her old, cheerful, “mismatched” self.

Radiating joy and fun, Sara Palacios’ Pura Belpré Honor illustrations bring Marisol to life and convey the riches of her life and heritage. Children will enjoy looking for and finding clues in the pictures to all the different cultures, as well as to the story’s geographical—and very apt—setting.

Marisol’s lively story ends on a happy and sweet note, leaving readers with the important message that diversity is something to be embraced and celebrated.

Aline Pereira
February 2012

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17. Week-end Book Review: Moon Mangoes by Lindy Shapiro, illustrated by Kathleen Peterson

 

Lindy Shapiro, illustrated by Kathleen Peterson,
Moon Mangoes
BeachHouse, 2011.

Ages 4-8

The winner of a Moonbeam Silver Medal, Moon Mangoes is an ode to children’s imagination and a meditation on parental love, by Maui-based author Lindy Shapiro.

Sitting on the front steps of their “tiny blue house with olive green shutters”, Mama and Anuenue (Anu, for short) cuddle up just before bedtime. Facing the beautiful mango tree in the front yard, they engage in a soothing and poetic dialog, prompted by Anu’s “what if” questions.

What if I ate up all those mangoes one by one, and I got so full that I turned into a mango tree?
, begins Anu.

“I would bring you fresh, cool water to drink every morning. I’d gently pull out any weeds that block the sun…”, answers Mama.

Anu continues her litany of “what ifs” by asking what would happen if, instead of a tree, she turned into a kolohe ilio (dog), a pulelehua (butterfly), a pua’a (pig), a mo’o (lizard), a honu (turtle), and, finally, the moon that shines on their mango tree. Anu’s imagination, like Mama’s love, knows no boundaries.

Mama’s answer to each question assures Anu that she would be understood, cared for and loved, “no matter what if”.

Patterson’s full-page illustrations, whose wispy surfaces seem to have been wind-swept, aptly chronicle the inquisitive girl’s imagined transformations—from child to different animals to silvery moon, and back again.

This story will get a nod of recognition from parents; and any child who has ever snuggled with a loved one to imagine, read or listen to stories will enjoy the familiar feeling of connection and security the book conveys. Moon Mangoes’ many qualities make it a perfect choice for bedtime or lap reading.

Aline Pereira
March 2012

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18. Week-end Book Review: Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray by Sukumar Ray

Sukumar Ray, translated by Sampurna Chatterji
Wordygurdyboom! The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray
Puffin Classics (India), 2008.

Ages: 8+

Sukumar Ray was a Bengali writer born in Calcutta in 1887.   After being educated in India and England, he returned to his father’s printing press business U. Ray & Sons in Calcutta. At that time, the older Ray had begun publishing a children’s magazine called Sandesh. When Sukumar took over the press in 1915, he began to write for the magazine, producing poetry and stories, as well as illustrations for SandeshWordygurdyboom! is a collection of Ray’s writing and illustrations, translated from the original Bengali by Sampurna Chatterji. As noted in the introduction by Ruskin Bond, Bengali is a language that ‘lends itself to rhyme and rhythm, to puns and wordplay.’  Ray, influenced by the nonsense verse of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, carved out his own unique style of verse in Bengali and, thanks to Sampurna Chatterji’s excellent translation, readers can really enjoy his ‘non-sensibility’ in this English anthology.

The book is made up of a selection of Ray’s writings which include poems, stories, and even a made-up hunting diary of a Professor Chuckleonymous. Throughout the book, strange creatures abound like the Limey Cow which is “not a cow, in fact it’s a bird” or the Billy Hawk calf who “is forbidden to laugh.”  There’s the Wonster who is a pining, whining, ‘nag-nag’ or the Pumpkin Grumpkin who looks like a walrus-manatee. In the poem Mish Mash, there are all manners of creatures combined to become such oddities as the ‘duckupine,’ the ‘elewhale’ or the ‘stortoise.”

In Ray’s stories, various odd characters appear like the calculating Raven of Haw-Jaw-Baw-Raw-Law or the mischievous school boy Dashu of “Dashu the Dotty One.” There’s Professor Globellius Brickbat who experiments with cannonballs made up of “nettle-juice, chilli-smoke, flea-fragrance, creeper-cordial, rotten-radish extract,” the result of which, as you can imagine, is not flattering to the appearance of the man post-experiment.

Wordygurdyboom! is a delightful collection of writing. What is astonishing, however, is the fact that this is a work of translation. Non-sense verse relies heavily on the nuances of language; that the Bengali could be translated into English in this manner is truly, as Bond points out, ‘deserving of a medal.’ Much credit has to be given to Sampurna Chatterji for bringing this lively, witty writer’s words into English for a new generation of readers to appreciate and enjoy.

Sally Ito
April 2012

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19. Week-end Book Review: Colores de la vida by Cynthia Weill, featuring Folk Art by Artisans from Oaxaca, Mexico


Cynthia Weill, illustrated with folk art by Artisans from Oaxaca,
Colores de la vida: Mexican Folk Art Colors in English and Spanish
Cinco Puntos Press, 2011.

Ages: 2+

Hypnotic. The word is hypnotic. A deep green lizard with a jolting yellow band around its neck leaps off the light green page – literally. Green / verde. Two white polar bears curve into the even whiter page, fine black lines of their fearsome claws made bold by the painter’s brush. White / blanco. From full-color spread to full-color spread, Cynthia Weill uses hypnotic photographs of folk art figures from artisans from Oaxaca to illustrate the beauty, art, and vibrancy of the Colores de la vida, colors of life, in an unforgettable book as much about the wonder of the ways we can imagine the world around us as about names of colors.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading ABeCedarios (2007) or Opuestos (2009) will recognize the stylized, vibrantly-painted Oaxacan figures arranged in sets of twos and threes on each spread of marbleized papers in the same hues. Like her previous two books in the highly successful “First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art” series, Author Cynthia Weill brilliantly illustrates the theme of the book – colors – using folk art from other nations and culture. Using friendships formed and connections made during her time in Mexico as a Fullbright scholar, Weill employs artisans from across Oaxaca, both aspiring and well-known, to create the ceramic, tin, wood-carved and papier-mâché figures used.

Colores de la vida supplies minimal text, placing only a single word, the color name, printed in its namesake hue in English and Spanish. This lack of explanation or words, including what the animals actually are, reinforces the irresistible draw between viewer and animal figure. What are those extraordinary winged yellow figures heralding irrepressible glee as an egg hatches a third figure near them. A dragon? Another mythical figure? Each page captures a sense of wonder, of the vibrancy of color, the imagination of the artist, the name of the hue. Colors take life in this small picture book, perfect for small hands, in an astonishing pairing of visual intimacy and artistic joy that make this one of the most distinctive recent books on color – in English or otherwise.

Sara Hudson
April 2011

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20. Week-end Book Review: Juan the Bear and the Water of Life / La Acequia de Juan del Oso

Enrique R. Lamadrid and Juan Estevan Arellano, illustrated by Amy Córdova,
Juan the Bear and the Water of Life / La Acequia de Juan del Oso
University of New Mexico Press, 2008.

Ages: 7+

The 19th century waterways that irrigate the Upper Mora Valley in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains are a marvel of engineering to this day. In places, the water seems to defy gravity, and no one is quite sure how the people who built them—lacking tools as basic as a metal-bladed shovel—accomplished it. Though the history of their construction is lost, stories about the dedicated pioneers who built them have evolved, through oral tradition, into regional legends presented here in picture-book form.

La Acequia de Juan del Oso comes from the story of “The Three Juanes”: the remarkably strong Juan del Oso, son of a local woman and a bear; Juan Mudacerros, who moves mountains; and Juan Mudarríos, who can change the course of rivers. Folklorists Enrique R. Lamadrid and Juan Estevan Arellano recognize similar characters in Spanish tradition, from which the acequia technology of the American Southwest is also derived. The super-human young men, all of them exiled from their communities as a result of unintentionally misusing their special strengths and powers, work together as only they can to bring the water up and over the mountain. Amy Córdova’s rich and colorful illustrations bring the landscape and characters to life in this story that is not only about the reward of hard work but also the pain of exclusion and the value of community.

The authors skillfully incorporate what is known about the building of the canals (such as rudimentary tools, including a half-empty brandy bottle used as a level) with the legend of the boy whose mother married a bear but is forced to return home. When an innocent swipe seriously injures another child, the half-bear Juan flees to the woods where he finds his welcoming father and the other legendary Juanes. Together they accomplish the work that enables the expanding village population to inhabit a valley on the other side of the mountain. This book brings both the folktale and the limited known history of the acequia together in a way that celebrates not only the past and the legends but also the people who live in the Mora Valley today who continue to make a beautiful life in this stark, arid, and high-altitude environment.

Abigail Sawyer
May 2012

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21. Week-end Book Review: The Water Dragon by Li Jian

Li Jian,
The Water Dragon
Better Link Press, 2012.

Ages: 4+

Every day Ah Bao collects firewood in the forest near his tiny mountain village.  He carries a small ax and a rice crock made from a gourd. One day, Ah Bao notices a shiny red pebble on the ground and puts it in his rice crock. As soon as he does this, the crock begins to shake and rattle, and before he knows it, the crock is overflowing with more rice than Ah Bao could ever eat.

When he gets home he realizes that the stone has the same effect on money!  Now Ah Bao and his neighbors are never hungry or poor, but it hasn’t rained in the village since he found the magic stone. Ah Bao places the stone inside a bucket of water in the hope that it will overflow, but instead, the stone absorbs all the water in the bucket.  The next day, Ah Bao goes in search of the water dragon he dreams about, hoping he will convince it to shower his village with water once again.

Along the way, Ah Bao meets several animals caught up in trying predicaments.  He helps each of them and is rewarded in turn.  Each animal also warns Ah Bao that he will soon meet “a greedy red monster.” Undaunted, Ah Bao moves on.  When he finally meets the monster, both Ah Bao and the reader are surprised at how he handles the situation and the turn of events that follows. Ah Bao becomes a hero, but not as we might have expected!

This remarkable book is experienced illustrator Li Jian’s first foray into writing his own picture book. The story was inspired by legends he heard his elders tell when he was a child.  The pictures, which combine Li’s classical training in Chinese painting with his talent for bringing fairy tales to life, are at least as compelling as the bilingual text (in English and simplified Chinese characters).  Ah Bao is both a courageous and humble hero with a big heart and a sense of responsibility. He will be admired by children and parents, who will doubtless look forward to Li Jian’s next solo offering.

Abigail Sawyer
May 2012

N.B. Li Jian’s illustration work is currently highlighted in PaperTigers’ Illustrator Gallery.

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22. Week-end Book Review – Puteri Tioman: The Green Turtle by Rossiti Aishah Rashidi, illustrated by Farrah Ashiela Samsuri

Rossiti Aishah Rashidi, illustrated by Farrah Ashiela Samsuri,
Puteri Tioman: The Green Turtle
RainTree (Malaysia), 2011.

Ages 5-11

Puteri Tioman is a turtle who is swimming back to Tioman Island off the eastern coast of Malaysia, where she was born some twenty-five years earlier, in order to lay her eggs.  This superb picture book focuses on Puteri’s life from conception to her return to the island, as a route to understanding the life-cycle of the turtle and the principally man-made dangers to their survival.

Puteri’s individual story is reassuring for young readers.  It not only allows author Rossiti Aishah Rashidi to present interesting facts such as the consistency of a turtle egg being “soft like leather but tough”, but it also counterbalances the hard-hitting environmental message, such as turtles getting trapped in abandoned fishing nets and drowning, or mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish, a main food source, so that they “die a slow death from choking”.   The matter-of-fact tone is well-suited to the book’s young target audience, and by the time children have assimilated the dangers faced by turtles, it will come as no surprise, but will stimulate plenty of discussion, that the book ends with a question mark hovering over Puteri’s return to Tioman Island.  “Will Tioman Island be safe for her to lay her eggs?”  That discussion is then facilitated by three lists starting with “Did You Know?” facts about turtles and leading to “What Can You Do?” (beginning with the premise that “You do not have to go to the sea to help the turtle”) and “The 3Rs” – “Reduce Reuse Recycle”.

Complimenting Rashidi’s writing are Farrah Ashiela Samsuri’s gorgeously rich watercolour illustrations.  As well as her life-like portrayal of the turtles themselves, from vulnerable hatchling to leathery adult, she convincingly conveys the contrast between clean and polluted seas.  Indeed, the initial impact of Samsuri’s portrayal of the “deep blue sea” around Tioman Island grabs readers’ attention and provides an attractive visual gauge for the turtles’ story.  The use of wavy text where the writing refers to turtles swimming is also effective.

Puteri Tioman has a strong local Malaysian context, making it very significant to children in Malaysia: but its environmental message is also relevant to children all over the world.  Indeed part of the book’s power lies in its potential for helping children realise that their actions on a day-to-day local level wherever they are have an impact on environmental conservation on a global scale.

Marjorie Coughlan
June 2012

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23. Week-end Book Review: Tópé Arrives by Wendy Hue

Wendy Hue, illustrated y Zara Slattery,
Tópé Arrives
AuthorHouse, 2011.

Ages 8-11

When ten-year-old Tópé’s parents are killed in a road accident, his Uncle and Aunty come to Nigeria to take him back to England to live with them and their nine-year-old son Femi and baby daughter Happy. It’s tough having to choose what to take with him and what has to stay behind but his beloved football (soccer ball) is an essential, and at the last minute he manages to squeeze his special wooden boat into his baggage.  It’s harder still having to adjust to a totally new life while grieving for his parents.  As time goes by, though, he begins to settle into his new school.  Being good at football helps, especially when he’s picked for the team in an inter-school championship, but it also causes friction, especially with Joe, who until Tópé’s arrival had been the star player.

As Tópé negotiates his new home, he begins to note similarities as well as differences with his earlier childhood in Nigeria, and the wooden boat is an important tangible link with his past. The story follows him as he makes friends, enjoys Femi’s birthday party, goes on a sleepover that turns into a big adventure, and beats off summer vacation boredom by putting together an act for a local “Star Youth Academy” show.  In a sense this performance that draws the book to a satisfying conclusion is what really marks Tópé’s arrival – he’s made it through his first few months in England; he’s joined on stage by Femi and some good friends, including Joe; and they are playing the Nigerian dundun drums that belong to his uncle and whose sound links him to Nigeria and to his father and grandfather especially.

Wendy Hue has created an engaging story that will appeal particularly to boys, who will empathise with the different dynamics in the relationships portrayed; and Zara Slattery’s black-and-white illustrations add atmosphere.  Tópé Arrives is also the perfect middle-grade read for any young person who finds themselves thrown into new surroundings, for whatever reason, especially though not exclusively anyone adjusting to life in the UK.  Hue’s sensitive awareness of Tópé’s experience, for example, includes such details as his discomfort at having to wear a thick jacket for the English climate.  As well as the realistically portrayed hurly burly of school, the adults depicted in the story are reassuring and kind.  The reader also shares in some of Tópé’s quieter moments, and indeed Tópé Arrives also has the potential to be of comfort to a young reader mourning a loved one.

Tópé Arrives would make a welcome addition to any middle-grade book shelf, and we look forward to more writing from Wendy Hue in the future.

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24. Week-end Book Review: Tomo, Edited and with a Foreword by Holly Thompson

Edited and with a Foreword by Holly Thompson,
Tomo
Stone Bridge Press, 2012.

Ages: 12+

‘Tomo’ means ‘friend’ in Japanese and the purpose of this Anthology of Teen Stories is to offer friendship to Japan following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011: specifically, the book is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives and to “all the young people of Tohuka”.  Author Holly Thompson (The Wakame Gatherers, Orchards) has gathered contributions from creators of prose, poetry and graphic narrative, as well as translators, whose shared connection is Japan.  Their work makes for a remarkable collection.

Many of the contributors’ names such as Alan Gratz, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Debbie Ridpath Ohi,  Shogo Oketani, or Graham Salisbury may already be familiar to readers; others such as Naoko Awa (1943-1993) or Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) will be less so, though famous in Japan.  A great deal of Tomo’s success lies in its blend of expertly translated older stories with contemporary, new writing, and this is true also of the stories’ content.  Many modern Japanese phenomena colour the stories, such as the particular fashion of Harajuku girls (“I Hate Harajuku Girls” by Katrina Toshiko Grigg-Saito) or the Purikura photo sticker booths (“Signs” by Kaitlin Stainbrook), yet these sit easily alongside more traditional stories such as the magical Ainu fable “Where the Silver Droplets Fall”, transcribed and translated into Japanese by Yukie Chiri (1903-1922) and translated into English by Deborah Davidson.  The anthology is all the richer for its varied array of writing, and its success is also in a great part due to the skill of the different translators involved.

The thirty-six stories are divided into sections: Shocks and Tremors, Friends and Enemies, Ghosts and Spirits, Powers and Feats, Talents and Curses, Insiders and Outsiders, and Families and Connections.  The opening story, “Lost” by Andrew Fukuda, is the gripping account of a girl regaining consciousness in a hospital bed following the Kobe earthquake in 1995; the other four stories in that opening section, including Tak Toyoshima’s graphic strip “Kazoku”, all have the raw immediacy of being set in the aftermath of the March 11th disaster.

Among the other stories, readers will find stories to suit every mood: thought-provoking tales of conflict, spine-tingling ghost stories (I’m glad all these happen to have fallen to my reading in hours of daylight!), ostracism and friendship, romance, magic and surrealism.  Yearning to belong is a thread running through many stories, and the intensity for those characters seeking their identity is heightened where they are part of a bicultural family.  Nor does the collection flinch from addressing racial prejudice or the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War.

As with all good short-story anthologies, Tomo needs to be read slowly in order to savour the intense individual flavors of its contents.  Framed by an extract from David Sulz’s translation of Miyazawa’s thought-provoking poem “Be Not Defeated by the Rain” as well as Holly Thompson’s moving Foreword, and a glossary and note on the book’s contributors (a rich mine for future reading), Tomo is a very speci

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25. Week-end Book Review: Joy of Apex by Napatsi Folger and Ann Kronheimer

Napatsi Folger, illustrated by Ann Kronheimer,
Joy of Apex
Inhabit Media, 2011.

Ages: 9-12

Napatsi Folger’s first novel, Joy of Apex, explores a marital breakup through the first person account of 10-year-old Joy, the middle child in her family. Joy is a multicultural kid. Her mother is Inuit, surrounded by a large family of origin; her father grew up in Brooklyn, New York, of Norwegian and Scottish ancestry. Joy’s older brother, Alex, is nervously about to begin middle school. Her sister, Allashua, is an impish, Malaprop-ridden first grader.

Apex is a “suburb” of the town of Iqaluit in Nunavut, the northeast Canadian Arctic territory formed in 1999 (previously part of the Northwest Territory); it’s unreachable by road from the rest of North America. Apex is the sort of place where computer savvy kids know it’s back-to-school time when the dog poo freezes. Joy’s account covers four months–during which her mother moves out and the family begins adjusting to their new family reality–in chapters about returning to school, a birthday party, Halloween, Allashua’s medical emergency, and Christmas holidays. Ann Kronheimer’s simple line drawings and evocative cover help create the mood of this sad, but also funny and joyful, story.

Folger gives Joy an appealing voice and good skill at reported conversations, but the story could use more emotional cohesion. We never learn how Joy’s parents met or what they are fighting about. Her mother comes across as rather heartlessly preoccupied with finding herself, although Joy doesn’t express this directly. Her father is a kindly story-telling mensch, but how does he earn a living? Folger seems to want to present Joy’s family as normal middle-class people, and apart from one mention of eating bloody frozen caribou for dinner, nothing distinct about Inuit culture is discussed. It’s not clear whether Folger’s intended readers are Inuit kids, and her goal is to provide context for family breakups, or if she is writing to introduce Nunavut life to non-Inuit children.

Despite these questions, Folger has made a promising beginning to her literary career.  As she continues to hone her narrative skills and clarify her intended audience, she may play an important role both in articulating Nunavut culture to outsiders and in helping Nunavut youth adjust to the kind of stresses Joy so poignantly reports.

Charlotte Richardson
August 2012

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