The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici (InfoSoup)
Told in verse, this nonfiction picture book celebrates the life and work of Louis Fuertes. As a child, Louis loved watching birds and caring for them if they were injured. Even in his youth he started drawing and painting birds, despite the fact that his father wanted him to be an engineer. He kept drawing and painting in college, and learned to paint quickly and capture birds in action. At the time, the practice was to hunt the birds and then paint the dead bodies posed. Fuertes instead watched birds in life and painted them. Soon he was traveling the world to see different birds and paint them for museums, books and scientific record. Fuertes painted murals at the Natural History Museum and had a series of collectible cards with his paintings of birds on them. He helped make bird watching one of the most popular sports in the world by reinventing the way artists approached painting wildlife.
Engle speaks as Fuertes in her poems, giving him a voice to describe his own life and his own art. The book swirls like birds wings, moving from one colorful part of the world to another, delighting in the diversity of bird life everywhere. The format is rather like Fuertes’ work itself. She captures Fuertes in his real life, speaking as himself, traveling around the world, and then settling down to be the Bird Man in his old age. He is in his natural habitat throughout. Engle also captures the power of art and the importance of following the natural gifts you have.
The illustrations by Bereghici are bright with color and filled with birds. She labels each one, so that readers can learn about the different types of birds along the way. The book is filled with different habitats, even showing Fuertes underwater attempting to learn more about ducks so that he doesn’t have to shoot them. The illustrations of the birds are serious and detailed while there is often a playfulness to Fuertes’ image on the page.
A beautiful celebration of an artist who forever changed the way that birds and wildlife are painted. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko (InfoSoup)
Lizzie works alongside her father who is a doctor in San Francisco at the turn of the century. It gives her a break from the loneliness of attending a school where the girls won’t speak with her and from her brother who is getting more and more moody and secretive. It’s very unusual for a girl to be allowed to help a physician and Lizzie plans to go to college herself rather than being married off to a rich beau. But something strange is happening on the streets of San Francisco and there are rumors of plague in the city. Chinatown is suddenly quarantined and no one is allowed in or out. Lizzie’s family’s Chinese cook is caught in the quarantine and unable to return home. When Lizzie hears noises in his rooms, she investigates and discovers that his son has been staying there. The two become friends and he even convinces her to try to be friends with the girls at school too. Soon Lizzie is going from having no friends to having several, but even glittering social events can’t distract her from the medical mystery afoot in the city.
Choldenko has written a book that explores racism from a unique angle and perspective. Starting with the rumors of plague in San Francisco, she has built a mystery with a sound footing in history. Throughout the entire story, racism is a central theme as is social standing. Lizzie breaks both social conventions by befriending the cook’s son, someone who shows her just how much more there is to know about his father too. Though Lizzie is close to the servants and never demanding or cruel, even she has much to learn about their lives and the social forces at work.
Lizzie is a strong and brave heroine who risks her own social standing and reputation to do what is right. I enjoyed that she has trouble making friends, preferring books to approaching others. It is also noteworthy that she makes a great friend herself and the winning personality that readers immediately experience is the same that she shows those that she befriends. Lizzie also stands up to her aunt, someone who is trying to control her destiny and future. Yet even that aunt has another side, one that Lizzie has to work hard to discover.
Another strong historical novel from Choldenko, this book will be enjoyed by her fans who will like Lizzie immediately. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Wendy Lamb Books and Edelweiss.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle (InfoSoup)
Released August 4, 2015.
In this verse memoir, Engle tells the story of her childhood during the Cold War. With half of her family coming from Cuba and a grandmother who still lived there, Engle had a strong connection to Cuba. It was there that as a child she found herself, connected to the island culture and lifestyle, ran wild in nature, and discovered a quieter life. It contrasted with her life in Los Angeles, filled with bustle and crowded with people. Through both of these distinct worlds, she has a constant, her love of books and words. As the Bay of Pigs escalates, Engle fears for her island family and has to deal with the increased hatred of Cuba and Cubans in America. Cut off from family with the Cuban embargo, Engle can do little to help and again turns to her words to express herself.
Engle is one of the best verse novelists working today. While all of her previous books are splendid, this one is personal in a new way, one that offers up her heart. She shows her love of Cuba so vividly and so profoundly that her connection there runs through the entire novel. At the same time, she also shares the loneliness of a girl who likes books and words and who struggles to make friends at times. Add to that the political turmoil that has continued for decades and you have a book that could have been a tragedy but instead rises beyond that and straight into hope.
As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional. She captures emotions with a clarity in her verse that makes it immensely compelling to read. There are poems that show a pig being slaughtered on the farm in Cuba that makes it sound both brutal and delicious, the perfect mix of tempting and revolting. There are poems that capture the night sounds of Cuba and the longing for a horse of her own. They show the beauty of milking cows, the strength of a hard-working hand, the joy of connecting with a horse as you ride it. It all melts together into a picture of Cuba that is both personal and universal.
Give this to children who loved Brown Girl Dreaming for another verse memoir that is sure to inspire young readers to see the world in a more diverse and brilliant way. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
My Wilderness: An Alaskan Adventure by Claudia McGehee
This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Rocky and his father, painter Rockwell Kent, who spent a winter in 1918-1919 on Fox Island, just off the coast of Alaska. Rocky was nine years old at the time. He and his father repaired an old shed and turned it into their cabin. While his father spent time painting, Rocky drew a bit and explored the island a lot. He saw wildlife in the woods, collected shells and stones and the beach. Evenings were spent in the cabin, eating dinner and sharing stories. When the winter came, days filled with different activities like taking snow baths, making snow houses. They took trips to a larger island in their dory, rowing when the weather was good. They faced one large storm when returning home, barely making it to land. All too soon, their time in the wilderness was done. It was a time that Rocky always felt was the best in his life.
McGehee takes readers along on an epic journey to Alaska. The mountains are huge, the water freezing, the woods thick and the animals are everywhere. Told from the point of view of Rocky, the book allows young readers to see Alaska through his eyes and marvel along with him at the wonder of nature. As he walks the woods and explores the shore, he dreams that there may be monsters or pirates around, but looking again he always sees something that fits into the natural scene. The days are filled with exploration and evenings spent together, one gets the sense that there was more than enough adventure to fill their days.
The illustrations are done on scratchboard giving the feel almost of woodcut prints on the page. The result is a very organic feel with thick lines and an interplay of bright colors and deep black. The more natural feel works very well with this Alaskan subject matter, creating an old fashioned feel that enhances the book as well. McGehee captures nature with an ease that makes one want to enter the deep green woods alongside Rocky.
Explore the Alaskan wilderness in all of its wonder in this historical picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng (InfoSoup)
Released August 4, 2015
Piper is heading off to her first day of second grade. She looks forward to much of it, from riding the boat to school from the tiny island where they live to the donuts and other treats they get each morning on the way. But she is also desperately missing her older brother Erik. So she puts on his earmuffs and refuses to take them off. She’s sure that her teacher will understand, however when she gets to school she has a new teacher who looks like a princess but can also be awfully grumpy about things like earmuffs. The next day, after promising everyone that she would take the earmuffs off when she got to school, Piper decides that it’s best not to go. Unfortunately, sirens go off and she is stuck up in a tree waiting for everything to calm down. Everything is getting worse and worse until Piper discovers the treasure in the fairy tree outside her house.
Potter writes consistently wonderful books no matter what age she is writing for, so it should be no surprise that she also excels at writing for elementary-aged children. These simple chapter books offer a charming mix of reality and a dash of magic in the form of the fairy tree and the treasure it offers. In Piper, Potter has created a great girl character who is determined and wonderfully creative in the way she solves problems. This of course is what lands her in all kids of trouble, much to the delight of the reader.
Leng’s illustrations are simple and friendly. They capture both the dynamic Piper and her family as well as the unique island they live on. The adult characters too are wonderfully warm and human. I particularly enjoy the neighbor Mrs. Pennypocket in her overalls and her boots, the one who introduces Piper to the magic tree.
A strong new series for elementary-aged kids, this book and the second book in the series will be enjoyed by fans of Clementine and Judy Moody.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
This is the second book featuring Dory, better known as Rascal by her family. In this book, Dory is headed to school. Her older siblings insist that she leave her best friend, Mary, who happens to be a monster that only Dory can see, at home. Dory agrees, since Mary had caused so much trouble at school the year before. Dory is going to try instead to be a regular girl and not get into trouble, but that’s not very easy when a new adventure comes her way. She also meets a girl in her class who appears to be a princess and talks about the castle she lives in and her pet dragon. Her siblings don’t believe that Rosabelle isn’t imaginary though. As Dory figures out that this may be a new real friend, thanks to their shared huge imaginations, she may also need help rescuing Mr. Nuggy, her fairy godmother, from the clutches of Mrs. Gobble Gracker.
I adored the first book in this series thanks to its embracing of a character who is wonderfully quirky and entirely unique. Dory is a girl with a huge imagination and also one who does not bow to social conventions easily. From wearing her nightgown all of the time at home to packing salami for lunch and then eating it like cookies, Dory does what makes her happy and doesn’t care for what others think. That is tested when she tries to befriend Rosabelle and while Dory works to make friends she still doesn’t change herself for it. Instead the two create a great synergy of imaginative play together where fairy godmothers with beards, evil sharp toothed women, dragons, monsters, and knights fight an amazing battle.
The illustrations are in the same style as the first book, drawn as if Dory herself was doing them as she tells her story. The entire book bursts with energy and funny moments. I particularly enjoyed seeing favorite characters from the first book return and the consistency of Dory’s imaginative play. While Dory may be entering a new year in school, all of the wild characters she invented in the first book are back in the second.
Fans of the first book will love this second one. Dory is exactly who I’d love as a friend! Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
The House That Jane Built: A Story about Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown
Jane Addams was a girl born into comfort and wealth, but even as a child she noticed that not everyone lived like that. In a time when most women were not educated, Addams went to Seminary. When traveling with her friends in Europe she saw real poverty and then also saw a unique solution in London that she brought home with her. In Chicago, she started the first settlement house, a huge house that worked to help the poor right in the most destitute part of town. Hull House helped the poor find jobs and offered them resources. Addams also created a public bath which helped convince the city that more public baths were needed. She also found a way to have children play safely by creating the first public playground. Children were often home alone as their parents worked long hours, so she created before and after school programs for them to attend and even had evening classes for older students who had to work during the day. By the 1920s, Hull House as serving 9000 people a week! It had grown to several buildings and was the precursor to community centers.
Jane Addams was a remarkable woman. While this picture book biography looks specifically at Hull House, she also was active in the peace movement and labeled by the FBI as “the most dangerous woman in America.” In 1931, she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She wrote hundreds of articles and eleven books, she worked for women’s suffrage, and was a founding member of both the ACLU and the NAACP. At the turn of the century she was one of the most famous women in the world. The beauty of her story is that she saw a need and met it with her own tenacity and resources. She asked others to contribute, but did not step back and just fund the efforts, instead keeping on working and living right in that part of Chicago. Her story is a message of hope and a tale of a life well lived in service to others.
Brown’s illustrations depict the neighborhood around Hull House in all of its gritty color. Laundry flies in the breeze, litter fills the alleys, and children are in patched clothes and often barefoot. Through both the illustrations and the text, readers will see the kindness of Jane Addams shining on the page. Her gentleness shows as does her determination to make a difference.
This biography is a glimpse of an incredible woman whose legacy lives on in the United States and will serve as inspiration for those children looking to make a difference in the world around them. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (InfoSoup)
Callie returns in triumphant fashion in this second Calpurnia Tate book following the Newbery Honor-winning first novel. Calpurnia continues to study science and nature at her grandfather’s side. Together they begin to dissect worms and insects, moving upwards towards vertebrates. Callie develops several scientific devices to measure latitude and barometric pressure. When the barometric pressure drops seriously low and an unusual gull shows up in the yard, Granddaddy heads to the telegraph office to sound the alarm for coastal areas, but there is little to do in places like Galveston Texas where tens of thousands of lives are lost. Meanwhile, Callie’s brother Travis is continuing to bring home stray animals like armadillos and raccoon, leaving Callie to help hide the evidence. Their cousin who survived the hurricane in Galveston comes to live with them, moving into Callie’s room and bearing secrets of her own. Through it all, Callie struggles with the expectations for girls around the turn of the century, trying to find a way forward towards education rather than marriage.
Kelly writes of science in a way that will have any reader eager to start looking at the writings of Charles Darwin, reading about health issues of cows and horses, dissecting their own grasshoppers, and heading outside to find the North Star. She turns it all into an adventure, filled with outdoor excursions, smelly animals, and rivers to explore. At the same time, it is also a look at the expectations of a girl from a good family and the difference between her future and that of her brothers. Callie’s struggle with this inequity speaks to her courage and her tenacity, two parts of her character that are evident throughout the book. This dual nature of the novel adds lots of depth to the story, allowing fans of nature and fans or strong heroines a shared novel to rejoice about.
Kelly’s characters are wonderfully well rounded. Callie is not perfect and is far more interesting and human for that. She is not patient, hates to play the piano and sew, and speaks up at times that would be unseemly. At the same time she is wonderfully wild, brazen at times, and heroic at others. She stands by those who support her and thwarts those who oppose her. She cunningly uses people’s self interests to promote her own and is constantly learning from those around her. Even the secondary characters are well drawn and have depth. From Granddaddy to Callie’s mother to her cousin Aggie, all can surprise because they are crafted as full human beings.
This romping novel is a fitting and fabulous follow-up to the first. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.