Tag Archive: community

hula-hoopin queen

The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Kameeka just knows she can beat Jamara at hula hooping, but her mother reminds her that today is Miz Adeline’s birthday, so she can’t go and hula hoop.  Instead Kameeka has to help get ready for the party.  Kameeka helps sweep, dust, wash floors, clean windows, and peel potatoes.  Her mother makes a cake but Kameeka is so distracted that she sets the temperature too low and the cake is ruined.  So her mother sends her out to get more sugar.  On the way home from the store, Kameeka meets Jamara and the two start competing for who can hoop the longest.  It isn’t until another of their family friends walks up that Kameeka remembers Miz Adeline’s party.  Now Kameeka is going to have to explain why there isn’t a cake at the party.  But some quick thinking finds a solution and then Kameeka herself is in for a surprise, hula hoop style.

This clever picture book shows different elements of a community.  There are moments of good-natured competition, times that you have to put your own wishes aside and think of others, and other times where forgiveness is important too.  Godin manages to wrap all of this into a very readable book that invites readers into the heart of a tight-knit community where the older generation may just has some tricks up their sleeves too.

The illustrations by Brantley-Newton show a diverse urban community with busy streets and brightly-colored stores and shops.  She uses patterns to create the curbs on the road, wall coverings and floor textures.  Despite being animated and dynamic, the illustrations keep a lightness on the page that keeps it sunny.

Community-driven, intergenerational and a great look at personal responsibility, this book has a wonderful warmth and charm.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.


Hermelin: The Detective Mouse by Mini Grey

Released August 5, 2014.

Hermelin is a mouse who lives in the attic of Number 33 Offley Street.  His attic is filled with books and boxes and a typewriter that Hermelin uses to write with.  When Hermelin notices that the Offley Street Notices board is filled with people missing things, he knows just what he has to do.  So he starts working as a mouse detective and solving the mysteries of Offley Street.  He does this by noticing things and then leaving typed notes for the people to help them find their missing items.  Then when tragedy almost strikes the youngest person on Offley Street, Hermelin is the one to save the day!  Soon everyone wants to know exactly who this Hermelin person is, so they invite him to a thank you party in his honor.  He just isn’t quite what they were expecting…

A new Mini Grey book is always a treat and this one is perfectly lovely.  Hermelin is a winning character with plenty of pluck as he goes about solving mysteries.  Happily, the mysteries are just as small as Hermelin himself, making the book all the more jaunty and fun.  Grey spends some time showing Hermelin’s attic and how he lives.  The small details here add a rich warmth to the book and it is also the details that create such a vibrant world on Offley Street with the humans as well.

Done in her signature style, the illustrations are filled with details.  One can read the cereal box, the milk carton, and the titles on the books as well as giggling at the flavors of cat food on the shelf.  Hermelin himself is a lovely white mouse with inquisitive eyes and a face that shows emotions clearly.  The entire book is a pleasure to immerse yourself into and simply enjoy.

Clever and filled with adventure, the vast appeal of this detective story is no mystery at all.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.

whispering town

The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro

In Nazi-occupied Denmark, Anett and her family are hiding a Jewish woman and her son in their cellar.  They must wait for a night with enough moonlight to see the boat in the harbor that will take them to safety in Sweden.  Anett works with their neighbors to get extra food to feed them and extra books from the library for them to read.  On her errands, Anett notices solders questioning her neighbors and she heads home quickly to warn her parents who in turn knock on the cellar door to alert the people they are sheltering.  Eventually, the soldiers come to Anett’s house but no one is home except Anett who manages to keep calm and turn them away.  But how will the woman and her son escape with no moon that night?  It will take an entire town to save them.

Elvgren tells a powerful story based on actual history in this picture book.  Presenting that history from the perspective of a participating child makes this book work particularly well.  The support of the town is cleverly displayed as Anett moves through town, informing people that they have “new friends” and the others offer extra food and support.  That is what makes the resolution so very satisfying, knowing that these are all people standing up to the Nazis in their own special way, including Anett herself.

Santomauro’s illustrations have a wonderful quirky quality to them.  Done with deep shadows that play against the fine lines, the book clearly shows the worry of the Danish people and also their strength as a community. 

This is a story many may not have heard before and it is definitely one worth sharing.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital copy received from Kar-Ben Publishing.

snicker of magic

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.

water in the park

Water in the Park: A Book about Water and the Times of the Day by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

This picture book opens with the sun rising just before six in the morning on the park.  The turtles warm their shells in the pond and the glow of the sun lights the water.  Dogs and their owners arrive for their morning walks.  When they arrive, the turtles slip back under the water.  By seven, babies have arrived at the park and are getting their drinks from the drinking fountain and setting up for a day of play.  At eight, the sprinkles in the water play area are turned on.  The day progresses with puddles, plants being watered, an ice cream truck, people cooling off in the shade, and lots of splashing.  In the evening, the rain comes and everyone clears out of the park, leaving it again to the turtles and the silence.

Purely satisfying, this book shows the cyclical nature of the day as well as the water cycle too.  All of the many ways that people use water in a park are shown here with a glorious sense of watching people’s lives from a bit away.  We get to know the personalities of children and dogs, the joy of the sprinklers, the heat of the day, and the merriment of a full day spent at the park.  It is also a celebration of the neighborhood park, where people from all over come together in a love of green space and water.

Graegin’s illustrations are filled with small touches that make them a pleasure to explore.  This book is not ideal for sharing with larger groups because so much of its charm is in the details.  It is those details that let us get to know the different people and animals without any explanation.  Small dramas play out in these pictures.

A wonderful book, this story will speak to children from both country and urban settings who know the joys of parks, ponds and community.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss.

special gift for grammy

A Special Gift for Grammy by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

Hunter collected a big pile of stones and put them on his grandmother’s porch.  When his father and grandmother ask him what she is meant to do with them, Hunter replied, “What everyone does with a pile of stones.”  Hunter turned out to be right.  Everyone who saw the stack of stones knew just how to use one or more of them.  The postal carrier used one to weigh down the mail on a breezy day.  Workmen used them as hammers or weights.  They are used to stop wheels from rolling and show people what way to turn.  When Hunter returned only six little stones were left.  But this time it’s Grammy who knows just what to do with them.

I have one big issue with this book: the title.  It does very little to convey the charm that is inside this book.  I love the idea of a pile of stones that everyone borrows from and uses.  Then the end of the book is intensely satisfying.  I must admit though that with the uninteresting title, I almost passed on this book, expecting it to be a book about the death of a grandparent or a saccharine poem about familial love.  Instead it is a well-designed look at community, family and connections.  I’d much rather have had the title reference the stone pile or stones or rocks. 

The illustrations are done in collage, acrylic and pencil.  They have gorgeous deep colors, combined with lots of texture from the collage.  The collage is done in such a subtle way that it is almost invisible, just adding a level of texture and pattern to the paintings. 

This book truly is a special gift, but one that could use a new title.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins Publishers.

who put the cookies in the cookie jar

Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? by George Shannon, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Lots of hands can take the cookie from the cookie jar, but even more are involved in getting the cookies there in the first place.  There are the hands that mix the dough and put it on the cookie sheet.  Then there are the ones that made the cookie sheet and oven mitts too.  Hands feed and milk the cow that makes the milk. Hands churn the butter.  Hands plant and harvest the wheat.  Hands feed and gather the eggs.  Many hands doing important work, make that cookie arrive in the cookie jar.

This is a great spin on a traditional song.  I’d pair it with the more traditional version in a program to get kids to see it from both sides.  Shannon celebrates all of the hard work that goes into things that we take for granted.  He focuses on their efforts but also on all of us being part of a larger global community that really matters. 

Paschkis’ illustrations have a warm feel to them.  They hearken back to more traditional images yet depict a modern and multicultural world.  Their bright colors really make the book pop and will work well with a large group.

Perfect for a cookie story time, I’d advise having some cookies to share when reading this and other cookie books.  Yum!  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Company.

great unexpected

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

When the boy falls out of the tree right at Naomi’s feet, she thinks it’s a dead body.  But instead it’s Finn, a boy who seems to have come from nowhere and be tied to no one.  Naomi too could seem adrift as an orphan, but after her father died a neighbor couple took her in and gave her a home.  Her best friend Lizzie is also an orphan and hoping to be adopted by her foster family.  Their story entwines with that of a wealthy woman in Ireland whose background is slowly exposed and the connections tightened.  This is a journey of a book, one that offers great eccentric characters, a town that has many secrets, and the amazement of unexpected ties to one another.

A new book by Creech is always something I look forward to and this is one of her best.  The intricate ties and reveals in the book make it a spectacular read and a book that unwinds like a curving road before you.  The writing is solid and lovely.  Creech takes the time to make each character special, even when just glimpsed for a single scene.  There is always something tantalizing about them and you know there are further depths there. 

Creech’s novel is all about hope and connections in life.  It is a book that uplifts and brings joy.  There is also some darkness here, death and life next to each other, survival and loss.  It is not an easy world that is portrayed here and things are not simple.  But there is beauty and hope and transcendence.

Highly recommended, this is a book that will delight Creech fans and create new ones.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

one year in coal harbor

One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath

Return to the world of Horvath’s Newbery Honor winning Everything on a Waffle in this follow up.  Primrose Squarp is back living with her parents in Coal Harbor and everything should be just fine, but there’s more trouble brewing in town.  Primrose just knows that if people would listen to her, it would all work out fine.  Like Uncle Jack and Kate Bowzer: Primrose knows they are in love, but they just won’t admit it.  Then there’s the lack of a best friend, though the new foster kid might just be the right person.  And finally, there’s logging happening outside of town that’s bringing in protesters and developers, making for all sorts of excitement.  Horvath lives up to the first book here, giving readers another chance to spend time in Coal Harbor.

Horvath has created a beautiful setting for her book that is so much a part of the story that it could not have happened anywhere else.  She has then taken that setting and populated it with amazing characters.  There are snotty girls, loving friends, intriguing strangers, and at the heart an extended family that provides support through everything.  While the characters may be wild at times, there is such a network of community in the book that it all makes merry sense.

Though there is a sense of community and family throughout, Horvath also deals with some darker issues here.  There is the question of development of wilderness and the death of a pet.  While this darkness is there, it is not all encompassing.  The town continues to function and life goes on. 

Horvath’s writing is also exquisite.  I particularly enjoy the parts where Primrose (who is wise and interesting and exactly the sort of person any reader would want as a best friend) is thinking about life.  Here is one of my favorite passages from page 148:

…but it was as if he and I and the hills were all part of one thing, separate from other things on Earth. Just as my mother and father and I were part of one thing, separate from all else. And these small subsets within the universe, I decided, are maybe what people love best. Whether it is you and the ocean or you and your sisters or you and your B and B, your husband and children.

Fans of the first book should definitely read the second, and truly, who in could ever pass it up!  I envy new readers of the pair of books who can read them back to back and spend an extended time in Coal Harbor.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley from NetGalley.

amelia anne

Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

When the girl is found dead on the highway near Becca’s small hometown, the entire town is enveloped in the question of who she was and who killed her.  All Becca knows is that she is going to leave town at the end of the summer, and leave her boyfriend behind too.  But then her boyfriend breaks up with her right after they have sex, and Becca’s world shifts.  She too becomes captured by the drama of the murdered girl and finds herself unable to move forward with her plans to head to college.  Amelia Anne, the dead girl, was already in college.  Caught with a boyfriend who no longer understands her, Amelia continues to date him waiting for the best time to break up.  Two girls who end up in the same small town for very different reasons, one at the beginning of her life and the other at the end. 

Rosenfield’s writing is unique and heady.  She writes with all of her senses, creating a feeling that is almost smothering at times, flying high in others, and always remarkable.  Her writing is best when creating a world for just two people, something that happens often here.  Those dynamics ring true and painful and wistful. 

Her writing about the small town and its history of death is also beautifully done.  As readers, we inhale along with the characters, breathing in the scents of the woods and the roses.  We witness the fact that small town knowledge can also kill, work through grief with people, and jump to the wrong conclusions.  It’s an exhilarating ride of a novel that also takes the time to truly create its own setting and history.

Amazing writing, a violent mystery and a small town setting create a book that is impossible to put down, yet invites you to linger with it longer.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Dutton Books.


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