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.
The winners of the Red House Children’s Book Award were announced on February 22nd. The award is the only British national book award that is voted on entirely by children. Here are the winners:
Superworm by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Atticus Claw Breaks the Law by Jennifer Gray
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Released March 11, 2014.
I am so pleased to see a follow-up story to Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary! This new book focuses on the daughters of Mary and Mouse. Maria is a little girl who has a mouse for a best friend named Mouse Mouse. The two of them never reveal to anyone else that they know one another because otherwise the mice would either be driven off or have to move. The two girls live parallel lives, getting ready for bed in the same way and both calling for their mothers at the same time. But both mothers are nowhere to be found! The search is on by both girl and mouse to figure out where their mothers have gone. They both look all over their homes, check with their fathers, and ask their siblings. Nothing. Then they notice a light on in the shed and both head directly for it. And if you read the first book, you will know exactly who they will find in the shed.
Donofrio has written a clever parallel story that reveals the lives of two friends. The upstairs downstairs aspect of the book has incredible appeal as does the wee details of mouse life. There are little touches throughout the book that make the text charming and lovely. Her pacing is also adept and keeps the entire book moving along and yet completely appropriate for bedtime reading.
So much charm and style comes from the illustrations. I particularly enjoy looking closely at the world of the mice created from borrowed items from the human home. These little touches truly create a world under the floor that any reader would love to discover or live in themselves. The illustrations are rich with color and details, worthy of lingering over when you aren’t quite ready for lights out.
Beautifully written and lovingly illustrated, this book is a suitable companion to the first. They both stand alone fully on their own, but I’d think that anyone finding out there was another in the series would want to read them both, probably back to back. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC received from Schwartz & Wade.
Superworm by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The creators of The Gruffalo return with a silly new book that features one incredible worm. Superworm is super-long and super-strong. So when baby toad hops into the road, Superworm becomes a superworm lasso. The bees are bored and moping? It’s Superworm to the rescue with a game of jump rope. When Beetle falls into the well, Superworm turns into a fishing line to get her out. Everything seems to be going so well for Superworm, until a villain enters the story. Wizard Lizard sends his servant crow to capture Superworm and then uses magic to force Superworm to dig for treasure underground. But the others saw Superworm carried off and now it is up to them to be the heroes and save Superworm!
Donaldson writes in rhymes in such a playful and engaging way. The result is a book that reads aloud beautifully and begs to be shared with children. With the examples of the rescues that Superworm performed coming first, I was happily surprised when a villain was introduced and at the turn of events towards the end of the story. It makes for a very dynamic picture book that is sure to be a hit at story time.
Scheffler’s illustrations hit just the right tone. They are bright colored and he takes the rescues and the action to the perfect funny extremes. He also capitalizes on the kid-appeal of bugs, worms and toads.
Add this to your spring time stories, it is sure to be a delight with young readers and listeners. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
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.
Leo Loves Baby Time by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Ruth Hearson
A follow-up to the wonderful Lola series, this new book aims for a slightly younger audience. It focuses on Lola’s little brother, Leo. Leo loves going to Baby Time at the public library. He gets to play games, sing lots of songs, play with animals and make friends. The book also focuses on Leo getting ready to go. He has breakfast, sits in his stroller and heads to the library. Families who go to similar programs at their public library will enjoy seeing the familiar games and songs here. Those who haven’t tried it yet, may be inspired to climb into their strollers and head on over.
As someone who works in a library, McQuinn clearly understands how programs for babies work. She highlights all of the positive things that the programs do. She also limits the words on the page to make this book ideal for very young children who are just heading to their first library programs. Hearson’s illustrations have a cheery warmth to them that really capture children interacting in a program and connecting with one another too.
Printed on sturdy pages, this book is safe to hand to very small children who are progressing past board books. It would also be a great one to use with families just starting to use libraries in your community. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
This sequel to the award-winning Better Nate Than Ever is one of the strongest second books in a series I have read. After getting cast as ET in the upcoming ET: The Musical, Nate is now living in New York City with his aunt who is also an actress. But Broadway isn’t everything that Nate has dreamed it would be. There seems to be a feud between the video-game creator who is their director and the choreographer. Nate is an understudy and a member of the chorus but he can’t tap dance and is put into extra classes to improve. But there are also high points. Nate has a secret admirer who leaves notes and gifts, and he certain he knows who it is. Nate is also secretly helping another of the ET actors with her lines and they become close friends over manicures. Like any great Broadway story there are twists and turns and some romance too. It’s one hell of a second act.
Federle writes in a way that is so easy to read and creates books that are impossible to put down until the final curtain falls. This ease of reading though is because he is really writing directly for children in a way that is open, honest and speaks to all children whether they are actors or not. Add in Nate’s questioning his sexual identity and you have a book with plenty of depth.
What Federle does best is to create characters who surprise and delight. Nate himself captures this. Nate could come off as a stereotypical actor, but instead because the book is in first person, Nate reveals all of his inner dialogue. Much of which is screamingly funny. But Nate is not the only deep character here. Even tertiary characters are interesting and offer glimpses of how unique they are. Among the secondary characters, there are many who would make great books all on their own. Federle is a master of creating characters and making us care for them.
Bravo! This is a smash production filled with humor and delight. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Little Monkey Calms Down by Michael Dahl, illustrated by Oriol Vidal
This is the latest in the Hello Genius series and is a nice addition. Little Monkey is having a very bad day. He has an ice cream cone, but it drops on the floor. Little Monkey throws a tantrum but then uses some coping techniques to calm back down. First, he lets himself cry a bit, then snuggles with a blanket. He takes deep breaths, sings quietly and is still and relaxed. Once he feels calmer, his parents give him lots of loving attention and they are set to have a good day.
This book handles toddler tantrums in a very positive and child-centered way. It offers ideas for even the youngest children to model. The narrator voice sounds like a parental voice, so its advice is offered lovingly. I particularly appreciate a book that tells a child it is fine to cry after a disappointment. The entire book exudes warmth and love for this little monkey.
Vidal’s illustrations are invitingly cartoon-styled. Little Monkey’s tantrum is really something to behold but so is his final quiet time where the page shines with bliss.
A great pick for toddlers, this book will be appreciated by parents using gentler parenting techniques with their children as well as schools and parents looking for mindful books for young children. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Hello Genius and NetGalley.
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.