Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Feathers do so many things for birds and this book looks at all of the ways that feathers help birds in the wild. Sixteen different birds are featured in the book, each one with a specific focus on what they use their feathers for. There is the wood duck who lines her nest with feathers to keep her eggs cushioned. The red-tailed hawk uses their feather to protect them from the sun as they fly for hours. Other birds use their feathers in unique ways like the rosy-faced lovebird who tucks nesting materials into her rump feathers to take back to where she is building her nest. Towards the end of the book, the author looks at all of the different sorts of feathers that birds have.
Stewart tells readers in her Author Note that this was a book she had worked on for some time as an idea. Her use of metaphors to show what feathers do is an inspired choice, making the book all the more accessible for children. She provides details with specific birds, explaining how they use their feathers and also providing little pieces of information on how the birds live and their habitats.
The watercolor illustrations are done to look like a naturalists field journal with scraps of paper, loose feathers, notes, cup rings, and scraps of fabric. All of the images of the birds have their locations as well, adding to the field journal feel. The result is richly visual book that may inspire readers to start their own bird journals.
This is a book that will instruct and amaze, just the right sort of science book for young readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
Felicity’s mother loves to move to new places, so Felicity has lived all over the country. But when her mother returns to the small town of Midnight Gulch, Felicity quickly realizes she has never lived in any place quite like this one. Midnight Gulch had once been full of magic of all sorts, but then a curse took the magic away and drove two brothers apart as well. But there is magic left in town, if you know where to look. It’s not big magic, just little pieces that were left behind. Felicity has one of those pieces of magic herself, she can see words everywhere, words spoken aloud and words thought silently. She is a word collector keeping a list of the words she finds. Others in town have some magic too, including Jonah, a mysterious boy who calls himself the Beedle and does good deeds around town. Then there’s also the ice cream factory that makes a flavor that evokes memories both sweet and sour. Felicity loves Midnight Gulch, but can she figure out a way to keep her mother from moving on to new places again?
This book was such fun. Lloyd has created an entire town that is filled with a wonderful mix of magic and history. Throughout the book, we learn about what first made Midnight Gulch so magical and then how it was taken away. Then little by little in tantalizing ways readers see the magic that is left and are offered clues about how it may return someday. It’s a book that is surprising and very readable.
Felicity is a great protagonist as she struggles to keep her family in one place. As she finds out more about her own family history and discovers members of her family and community she never knew before, she finds herself less lonely in a way that she never though possible. Perhaps the most delightful piece of all is that Felicity does not need her magic to solve her family’s issues, rather it is about piecing together a mystery and solving a riddle.
Glowing with magic, this novel is a shining read that should be savored just like an ice cream cone on a hot day. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Violet feels like she just doesn’t fit into her family. Whenever she goes anywhere with her mother and sister, people are surprised to hear that she is related to them. They are both white and blonde while she has brown skin and brown hair. Violet’s father died before she was born, and while her sister knows her other grandparents, Violet has never met hers. But now Violet takes things into her own hands and starts researching her African-American grandmother who happens to be a well-known artist. Violet convinces her mother to allow her to go to her grandmother’s new gallery show but things do not go as Violet had dreamed. Violet just wants to put the pieces of her family into a whole where she fits seamlessly, but it may be too late for that.
It is a joy to have such a charming and positive book that speaks to biracial issues. Woods does a great job of focusing on both the positive and negative aspects of being bi-racial and having two distinct sides of the family. I was particularly pleased that all of the adults in the book were supportive and loving towards Violet as she explores her African-American heritage. Woods also addresses the differences in religions in the book, something that children who come from two religious heritages will appreciate.
Violet herself is a particularly radiant protagonist. Though she worries about fitting into her family and seeking out the other side of her family, at heart she is an optimist and approaches each event with a sense of adventure and openness. This is a book that cheers children on to explore their own families and discover others in their world who will adore them too.
Positive, cheery and yet addressing difficult situations, this book is a pleasure to read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
The River by Alessandro Sanna
Travel through four seasons along the Po River in this breathtakingly beautiful book. Made almost entirely of watercolor images shown as either full-page or a series of panels, this book asks readers to pay close attention to the images and discover the story told there. Each season starts with a brief paragraph that offers clues to what is going to happen. Autumn is a season of floods. Winter is described as warm, which will surprise many young readers as will the newborn calf. Spring is music and white clouds. Summer is dry and hot. Each of those seasons is brought to life with the watercolor images with palettes that change through the seasons, purples in autumn, blues in winter, gold in summer. Each more beautiful than the last, so that you just want to begin it again when it ends.
This is the first book by Sanna to be printed in the United States, but he is well known in his native Italy. He has created a book here that is artistic and wildly lovely. Told primarily through his art, the storylines are consistently seasonal, intense and surprising. The use of the river as a symbol for the passage of time works perfectly here. The changing colors also serve to remind readers that time is passing, change is constant and the world is gorgeous.
One big question with this book is what age it is appropriate for. With its minimal words, it might be expected to be perfect for small children, but thanks to its artistic approach, I believe the audience is quite a bit older. Children who enjoy art will be able to appreciate it in elementary school. Yet the audience I see really loving this book are middle and high school teens who will delight in the watercolors, the surprises and a picture book that suits them well.
Beautiful, moving and vast, this nearly wordless picture book will be enjoyed by elementary aged children through adults.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns, illustrated by Ellen Harasimowicz
When I started this book, I expected a beautiful book about the life cycle of butterflies, but then discovered this was so much more! In Costa Rica there is a farm that raises butterflies. The book begins by showing what a container received in the mail that is full of butterfly pupae looks like. The life cycle of butterflies is explained as is the pupa stage in particular. Then we head to Costa Rica and the farm itself and here is where the book turns into an amazing tour of sustainable butterfly farming. Readers get to see inside the greenhouses where the butterflies live and lay their eggs. The roles of the farmers are shown in detail as is the beauty of the natural world around the farm. Food for the butterflies, their transformation from egg to caterpillar to pupa, and the harvesting process are all detailed out for the reader. This book takes a familiar yet captivating transformation and turns it into a trip to Costa Rica and back again.
Burns text is very engaging. She describes the processes in detail but also throws in words that show how she too is excited by what is happening. Cabinets are described as “crawling with caterpillars” and the pupae are “sturdy and tightly sealed…ingenious packages ready to travel.” Her own delight at what is being described is evident and makes for very pleasurable reading.
The photography by Harasimowicz is simply beautiful. All of her work is not only clear and crisp but also demonstrates the various steps in the process. She uses different perspectives and different levels of distance to create a dynamic feel throughout the book.
A wonderful and lovely surprise of a butterfly nonfiction book, this one is a superb pick for butterfly fans and library collections. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Millbrook Press.
Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
Lucy and her family have moved often, following her father’s love of new places to photograph. So when they move to New Hampshire and a house on a lake, the moving process is nothing new. On her first day at the lake, Lucy meets Nate, a boy who summers on the lake with his family and grandmother. Nate invites her along to help document the loons that live on the lake and soon Lucy is out on the lake every day. Lucy longs to be a great photographer like her father, who has left for the entire summer on a photography shoot. So she decides to enter a photo contest for youth, the only problem is that her father is the judge. As Lucy sets out to prove her own skill at taking photos, she finds herself on a different parallel journey, one that will reveal new friends, expose difficult truths, and one that is far more important than winning any contest.
Lord has written another exceptional book for middle graders. Lord excels at creating seemingly simple books that open with a premise and then blossom into something far more complex by the end. Here she explores several themes that center on families. There is the deteriorating grandmother who is aware of what is happening but unable to stop it. There is Lucy’s own family that is fractured at times but remains strong. There is a search for approval that Lucy undergoes as well as her own harsh criticism of her work. Through it all, honesty is overarching, an unflinching sense of reality and truth that makes it impossible to look away.
Beautifully written, the entire book is memorable. Lucy is a great character, a strong heroine who has self-confidence issues but is also talented, friendly and warm. She is a rare young character who moves often with her family and yet the book is not about her scars from that transient life. Rather it is about so many other things that that is just a small factor in a rich tapestry of her world.
Brilliant, soaring and honest, this book is another great read from one of the best. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Scholastic.
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
A celebrated poet and author of books for children and teens, Nelson tells the story of growing up in the Civil Rights era and her connection to poetry. In fifty poems, several of which have been previously published, Nelson reveals her growing up from age 4 through 14 during the 1950s and 1960s. The poems show her progression from child to a self-aware teen who is directly impacted by the changes in civil rights. Nelson also touches on the Cold War and feminism along with race in these poems. Each poem here is a gem, carefully crafted and firmly placed in its setting in the book. Beautiful.
In her author’s note, Nelson mentions that she prefers not to see the character in the book as herself but rather as “The Speaker.” The first person perspective though will leave readers assuming that this is Nelson’s personal story and journey and it’s difficult to change that perception after reading the entire book. Perhaps even more than the historical period it is The Speaker’s love of poetry and writing that makes the connection to Nelson as that person ring so true. It is that love of poetry and words that makes each poem so beautiful, but also makes the narrator come alive.
Beautiful and worth rereading and revisiting, this collection of poems that forms a story is deep and worth submerging yourself in. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Florence Nightingale by Demi
This picture book biography shines thanks to its rich artwork. It tells the story of Florence Nightingale’s life beginning with her wealthy childhood in England. Florence’s mother was known for her parties, but Florence liked to spend time by herself and even as a child pretended that her dolls were sick and needed to be in a doll hospital. Florence traveled in Europe as a teenager and realized that she was called to help people. Her parents were dismayed when she declared that she wanted to be a nurse. Then later Florence got a chance to help in an orphanage and her parents allowed her to choose her own way. Florence excelled at organization, documentation and hygiene. She transformed the different places she worked at, eventually going to Turkey to help the soldiers during the Crimean War. Florence grew ill later in her life, but never stopped working on improving nursing and patient care around the world. She was an inspiration for many both as a nurse and a woman.
Demi writes with depth and detail in this biography. She paints a clear picture of Nightingale from childhood through her development as a nurse and finally as a world-renowned expert in nursing. It was fascinating to learn of Nightingale’s wealthy background and her unwillingness to turn her back on her calling.
Demi’s art is as rich as ever with her saturated colors that give way to other pages with rich yet delicate texture. Nightingale appears wearing her deep blue dress that somehow shines on the page even though it is often the darkest color there. Ones eye just travels straight to her and the heart of the story.
Rich and detailed, this is a winning picture book biography to introduce children to a major female figure from history. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Return to the world of the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky in this follow-up novel. Mo and Dale continue to run their Desperado Detective Agency but the mysteries have gotten smaller. Then an old inn goes up for sale and Miss Lana, Mo’s guardian, accidentally purchases it. That’s when it is discovered that that inn comes with a resident ghost. Now it is up to Dale and Mo to figure out why the ghost is haunting the inn, something they also manage to make into a homework assignment to do double duty. But the mystery of the ghost is tied up in other secrets in Tupelo Landing, secrets that have been kept for decades but that must be revealed to solve this mystery.
Returning to Tupelo Landing was immediately like being reunited with friends. There was catching up to do, but it was easy and warm right from the beginning. Turnage’s writing is rich and layered. She excels at descriptions, creating analogies that are surprising and constantly original. Here in Mo’s voice is a description of Lavender, the boy she plans to marry eventually:
Lavender has eyes blue as October’s sky and hair like just-mown wheat. He’s wiry and tall, and flows like a lullaby.
All of your favorite characters from the first book are back again. There are the Colonel and Miss Lana, continuing to figure out their relationship while running a restaurants whose theme changes every night. There is Grandmother Miss Lacy whose funding saves Miss Lana and the inn, but who may be dealing with secrets of her own. There is even the scary Red Baker who may be closer to the ghost than anyone else. There is even one complex new character who takes time to learn about because his secrets are held very close. And then of course there are Mo and Dale, the two detectives at the heart of the story and who give the story its heart.
Funny, heartfelt and memorable, this sequel is just as good as the award-winning original. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Group.
Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America by Tonya Bolden
This nonfiction book takes a detailed look at a period in history that most of us know nothing about. It is the history of Indian Territory and the slaves who worked and lived there. It is the story of Oklahoma becoming a state, the establishment of black towns, and the changes that the oil boom brought to that area. It is also the story of one girl who is caught up in this history, made rich by the circumstances, and just like many other black children trapped by the corruption of those around her.
The history here is completely fascinating. Bolden brings it to life by focusing on one girl, but that focus really is a way to enter the story rather than the bulk of the story itself. Instead the story is the history and the twists and turns that it created. Bolden manages to piece together the story of Sarah Rector against this history, displaying the corruption of the adults and the system, the rush of wealth that comes and goes so quickly, and the racism that drove it all.
Bolden always creates nonfiction that is compellingly written. She shares sources at the end, offers a complete index, and her dedication to accuracy is clear throughout her books. Using primary documents, she has managed to bring together text and illustrations that paint a complete picture of the time.
Fascinating and powerful, this look into an unknown section of our history makes for one amazing read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.