The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
Released March 24, 2015.
This fourth book in the fabulous Penderwicks series is sure to please longtime fans and inspire new ones. While the Penderwick family is still the center of the story, the focus this time has moved to Batty and Ben rather than the older Penderwick girls. Batty continues to play the piano, loving music passionately. She has also just discovered that she has a noteworthy singing voice thanks to a new music teacher at school. So she has to find a way to make money for singing lessons, since the family needs a new car and to put the Rosalind, Jane and Skye through college. Batty starts a neighborhood business that offers services like dusting and digging up rocks, specifically a Ben job. But the only jobs she gets offered are to dog walk, something that she really doesn’t want to do because it seems very disloyal to Hound, who died recently. Batty has big plans to unveil her singing to her family, but her planning goes seriously awry as Skye starts to push Jeffrey away from both herself and the Penderwick family.
Returning to the Penderwicks is such a treat. The new focus on the younger members of the family makes me hope that there will be more such treats to come too. Birdsall writes with a such a feel for characters. They all shine through, each unique and distinct from one another. Batty is the same person as that small child that we all fell for in the first novel and so are all of the family members. Adding a new family member in little Lydia is also a treat and she is just as special and wonderful as the others.
Birdsall’s writing pays homage to so many great writers, feeling both modern and vintage at the same time. Her writing is funny, wry and immensely comfortable. It’s a joyous mix of stories, chaos and noise. It is the pleasure of old friends and new adventures that you get to share. The springtime setting is beautifully conveyed and suits the story perfectly as Batty starts to unfold herself into something new along with the trees and flowers.
If you have read the previous books, this one is another delight. If not, what are you waiting for? Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Knopf.
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
This nonfiction picture book tells of a history that will surprise modern American children. It is the story of love and one family that was brave enough to stand up to a racist law. Mildred and Richard Loving fell in love in the small town of Central Point, Virginia. They had different colored skin and so they were not allowed to get legally married in Virginia. So they crossed state lines into Washington, DC and got married there. When they returned to Virginia though, they were arrested for violating the state law against interracial marriage. The two moved to Washington DC and raised their children there. Things started to change in the 1960s and the Lovings took their case all the way to the Supreme Court to win the right to marry one another in the state of Virginia.
This book is strikingly beautiful with a rich warmth that flows directly from the story and art. The author and illustrator are a husband wife team who are also interracial. Their passion for this subject shines on the page. Alko explains that subject matter with a vibrancy, offering information on the laws in a way that is suitable for small children. The drama of the arrest is also clearly captured, exposing the ludicrous law to today’s perspective.
The art of the book was done by both Qualls and Alko. Their styles marry into a beautiful richness that fills the pages. They are filled will playful hearts and flowers that add a lighter note to the images. At the same time they have detailed paintings filled with texture and power at their center. The combination of both has created a stunning beauty of collage and painting.
An important piece of our civil rights history as a nation, this picture book documents one family willing to take up the fight for themselves and others. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Desert Wilderness by Narelle Oliver
Set in the ferocious center of Australia, this book looks at one of the harshest climates in the world and the animals that not only survive there but thrive there. The “Dead Heart” of Australia can appear completely uninhabited at first, but this book has us look closer and see what the Aboriginal people have known for thousands of years. The huge salt lake has lizards, shrimp and frogs if you know where to look. The mulga scrublands have tangled timber but that is also shelter for spiders, ants, geckos, and birds. Down deep under the earth, there are even more animals sheltering. Even the oceans of rock and sand have animals living there. Explore an amazing ecosystem along with early explorers of Australia who failed to see the creatures hiding around them.
Oliver takes readers on an amazing journey through various regions of the center of Australia. Even the rocks and sand and plants themselves are wild and different from other parts of the world. Everything seems to combine to make the most uninhabitable ecosystem in the world, but that’s not true if you look deeper. Oliver takes readers deeper into the desert and readers will discover the beauty and life hidden in this desolate landscape.
Oliver’s illustrations combine line drawings of the creatures with smudged drawings of the early explorers. The combination of the crisp line drawings with the more smudged ones is very successful, giving readers a taste of both the animals themselves and the history.
A brilliant look at a fascinating habitat, this book goes far beyond the stereotypical kangaroos and koala bears of Australia. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
Born in California, Mai has grown up as a beach girl in Laguna. So she has big plans this summer to spend time at the beach and time with a boy she’s interested in. But her plans have to change when her parents force her to accompany her Vietnamese grandmother back to Vietnam to see if rumors of her grandfather still being alive after the War are true. Mai hates Vietnam immediately, while the food is good and there’s so much of it, it’s also hot, smelly and filled with mosquitoes who love to bite Mai more than anyone else. Mai hides the fact that she can understand the language even if she won’t try to speak it at all. Now she is stuck alone with her grandmother in a tiny village filled with her extended family, dial up Internet access, and a grumpy cousin who seems to only care for her pet frog. Yet as time passes, Mai discovers the beauty of Vietnam, of slowing down and of taking care of family.
Lai has created another wonderful read, this one almost a love letter to Vietnam. She takes readers into the country side and village life, showing first the oppressive heat and lack of modern conveniences, but then revealing in a beautifully natural way that there is much to value perhaps because the days are filled with extra time to be together. The changes in Mai happen organically as she slowly acclimates to her new surroundings and the new society. Nothing is rushed here, even the storytelling is gently done though never dull.
Mai makes a great lens to see Vietnam through, both outsider and relative. Her struggles with the language are cleverly portrayed along with some details about pronunciation in Vietnamese. When she begins to try speaking, the words move to broken English on the page, indicating her troubles speaking the language. At other times, it is Vietnamese on the page. Mai’s growing friendship with her cousin also happens at its own pace and with its own blend of English and Vietnamese.
Rich in details and completely immersive, this novel will inspire travel dreams in those who read it, perhaps to discover their own family roots. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.
The shortlist has been announced for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. There are 18 books on the shortlist for this British children’s book prize and refreshingly 15 of them are by women. The winner in each category as well as the overall winner will be announced on March 26.
BEST ILLUSTRATED BOOK
Atlas of Adventures by Lucy Letherland, words by Rachel Williams
Blown Away by Rob Biddulph
The Dawn Chorus by Suzanne Barton
The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony
The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull
Where Bear? by Sophy Henn
BEST FICTION FOR 5-12s
A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson
Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen
Cowgirl by G. Gemin
Girl with a White Dog by Anne Booth
Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
Violet and the Pearl of the Orient by Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Becka Moor
BEST BOOK FOR TEENS
The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Dead Ends by Erin Jade Lange
Half Bad by Sally Green
Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
Smart by Kim Slater
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
The Rainbow Project is a joint project of the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table and Social Responsibilities Round Table. Each year they select The Rainbow List, books with “significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender content, and which are aimed at youth, birth through age 18.”
Here is their Top Ten list:
Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet E. Cameron
Far from You by Tess Sharpe
Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Not Every Princess by Jeffrey Bone and Lisa Bone
Secret City by Julia Watts
Sweet Tooth by Tim Anderson
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman, illustrated by Kristyna Litten
We Are the Youth: Sharing the Stories of LGBT Youth in the United States by Laurel Golio and Diana Scholl
The Association for Library Service to Children have announced their list of the 2015 Notable Children’s Books. The books are selected by committee and are defined as “Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.”
The list covers preschool through grade 8. Lots of great reads!
The 2015 Amelia Bloomer Project List has been announced. It is part of the Feminist Task Force of the American Library Association’s Social Responsibility Round Table. There are over 40 titles on the main list and then the list also has a Top Ten. Here are the titles in the Top Ten:
Because I Am a Girl: I Can Change the World by Rosemary McCarney
Every Day Is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney
Hidden by Donna Jo Napoli
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai
Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
My Notorious Life by Kate Manning
A Pair of Twins by Kavitha Mandana, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath
Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
A Woman in the House (and Senate): How Women Came to the United States Congress, Broke Down Barriers, and Changed the Country by Ilene Cooper, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb
The author of What Happened on Fox Street returns with a beautiful story set on a little island in a large lake. Flor loves her island home, loves being able to ride her bicycle everywhere, loves that her best friend is the only other person in her grade at school, and loves that she knows all of the people who live there year round. But things start to change that Flor has no way to control. Her best friend is sent off the island to attend a different school, leaving Flor the only person in sixth grade. Flor’s mother leaves to take care of her sick grandmother, and with her parents always fighting, maybe she won’t be back. Even her very responsible older sister is hiding something from Flor. Flor has to figure out how to live in this new island landscape where everything is changing around her. But in change there is also opportunity, perhaps a new friend (or two) and also seeing things for what they actually are.
Springstubb writes a love letter to her island setting. She imbues each bike ride of Flor’s with a beauty and a celebration of this small island and its nature. Her writing sparkles like sun on the water as she picks unique metaphors to show both her characters emotions and the setting. Here is one of my favorite examples: “Her heart’s a circus, with trapezes and tightropes and people shooting out of cannons but no nets – someone forgot the nets.” Springstubb also shows emotions rather than telling about them. Flor’s emotions come out in the way she digs her toes in sand, how she pedals her bicycle and through what she notices in the island itself.
Flor is a great young protagonist. She reads like an eleven year old, desperate to hold her family and friends together. She has a youthful and frenzied love of her island, something that readers can see may change in the future but it is her connection to this place that makes this book work so beautifully. She is fiercely protective of her siblings, throwing herself in to defend and protect them even as she proves that she has no understanding of teen love, something refreshing in a young protagonist.
Strong written, this book is beautiful, deep and rich just like its island setting. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.