Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Qin Leng
A boy and his family adopt a dog from the animal shelter. The boy has a hard time choosing a dog and finally decides to take Norman, because he’s been there the longest. Norman was a stray and doesn’t really have a tail, more of a stump, but he can wag it along with his entire backside. Once they got home, they discovered that Norman did not follow basic dog commands at all. He just tilted his head sideways and didn’t do anything. The family realized that Norman was just not smart, but at least he was funny and friendly. Then one day in the park, a man was playing with his dog and Norman started to follow the commands! But the boy couldn’t understand a word of what the man was saying, he was speaking in Chinese. Norman spoke Chinese! Now it was up to the family to figure out how to communicate with their Chinese-speaking dog.
Adderson’s gently humorous text leads readers to simply believe that this is the story of a rather slow dog being adopted into a family. The twist of the language appears abruptly, changing the course of the book and the reader’s opinion of Norman in an instant. It works tremendously well thanks to the set up in the text before that. Perhaps the best part of the book is the family’s attempt to learn Chinese so they can speak to their dog. I love that the solution is changing themselves instead of changing Norman.
Leng’s illustrations have the same quiet humor as the text. They feel like glimpses of real life moments, unstaged and candid. Done in simple lines and quiet colors, they support the story and help tell it.
A celebration of diversity and differences in doggie form, this picture book is just as clever as Norman. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The winners of the 2014 South Asia Book Award have been announced. The award is administered by the South Asia National Outreach Consortium and is given annually for up to two outstanding works of literature for children or teens which “accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diasporas, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world.” Up to five Honor Books and Highly Commended Books will also be recognized.
Here are the winners and recognized books for 2014:
A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury
Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby
Bye, Bye, Motabhai! by Kala Sambasivan, illustrations by Ambika Sambasivan
Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez
The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia
Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand, art by Sachin Nagar
HIGHLY COMMENDED BOOKS
The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna written and illustrated by Demi
Gobble You Up! by Gita Wolf, art by Sunita
In Andal’s House by Gloria Whelan, illustrations by Amanda Hall
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman
Torn by David Massey
Henny by Elizabeth Rose Stanton
Henny was born just a little different than all of the other chickens. She was born with arms instead of wings! Henny liked her arms sometimes like when they flapped when she ran. Other times, she didn’t like her arms. Sometimes she liked being different and other times it made her feel sad and lonely. Henny had to worry about different things than other chickens like gloves or mittens. She tried to fit in with the other chickens, but she was always different no matter what she did. Then one day, she caught a falling egg and started to see how many ways she could use her arms and hands.
Stanton has captured exactly what it feels like to be distinctly different from others and the transformation that can occur when you realize the good parts of being unique. The text of the book is simple. She uses humor throughout the book to make sure the spirit stays light, even during Henny’s darker moments of doubt.
The watercolor illustrations are also quite funny. I particularly love the image of Henny running with her arms flapping behind her and that being one of Henny’s favorite things about her arms. By the end of the book, you are almost surprised to see other chickens with wings since the arms suit Henny perfectly.
A great pick to start discussions about being different, the light touch here keeps the subject approachable. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
The New York Times list of top children’s books of the year doesn’t tend to include Latino authors, listing only one Latino author in the last ten years.
So the group Latinas for Latino Lit has remedied that by creating their own list of the best children’s books by Latino authors. Two members of the group appeared on NPR and talked about both the books on their list and other issues like what language those books should be in.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow Chance didn’t fit in well at her elementary school, so she is attending a middle school across town which none of her previous classmates will be attending. But Willow is just not made to fit in with others. She does fine with her adoptive parents who are accepting of her obsession with gardening and medical conditions as long as she doesn’t tell them everything since that would make them worry. And one of the things she doesn’t tell them is that the middle school thinks that she cheated on a major standardized test because she got a perfect score. So she is sent to counseling though Dell, the school counselor has no idea what to do to help her. Two siblings who also go to see Dell have their own ideas though and that is how Willow comes to be out driving with Dell and the others when she finds out that her parents have been killed in a car accident. Now Willow has lost her parents, her home, her garden and her will to explore. This is a story that is about community, building your family one person at a time, and the wonder of what having people in your life that care can do. It is the story of the amazing Willow Chase.
Sloan’s writing verges on verse at times with its short lines, lined up neatly and speaking profoundly and honestly. It is writing that examines and explores but also moves the story forward at speed. It is imminently readable with plenty of white space and few if any dense paragraphs of text. Rather it has a wonderful lightness about it, even when describing tragedy. And this book is filled with loss and grief that is handled with a gentle depth. Yet it is also a book filled with joy and overcoming odds and inspiration.
Sloan creates not just one incredible character in this novel but an entire group of them. At first the book seems disjointed with the various perspectives shown, since we get to see things not only from Willow’s point of view, from the other teens, but also from the adults as well. But those disparate parts come together in a way that a book from just Willow’s point of view never could have. They add an understanding of Willow’s appeal to others that would not have been possible without it.
This is a tragic story with an indomitable heroine that will leave you smiling through the tears. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Neighbor Is a Dog by Isabel Minhos Martins, illustrated by Madalena Matoso
Originally published in Portugal, this book is a charming import. It is the story of a young girl who gets a new neighbor who just happens to be a dog. The dog is very friendly and kind, but the girl’s parents are not impressed, thinking that he would quickly start acting like the dog he was. Soon after that, more new neighbors arrived, this time a pair of elephants. The girl’s parents complained about them too, but the girl thought they were very nice. Finally, a crocodile moved in. That proved to be too much for her parents and they moved away. But before they did, the little girl finds out that her parents are considered the odd ones in the neighborhood. The final clever twist at the end shows exactly why.
Martins writing is just as vibrant as the bold illustrations. She tells the story with wonderful little touches like the elephants helping with washing cars and the crocodile giving purses and shoes as Christmas gifts. All of these details add to the world that she cleverly building and that wonderful surprise twist at the end. Done in vibrant colors, the illustrations are created in hot pinks, deep blues and bright reds. It is a modern world, with the pop colors adding to that feel.
A look at acceptance and diversity through the eyes of a child, this book will speak to all children about preconceptions and tolerance. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Am the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
In this book that combines verse and photography, children from around the world are celebrated. The images and verse both speak to the wide diversity of people and cultures that make up our world. At the same time, the universal aspects of children from all cultures are celebrated too, including their strength and spirit. The combination of a simple and powerful poem and dynamic photographs make for a book that is just as vibrant as its subjects.
Smith is a Coretta Scott King Award winner and his photographs here speak to his skill. He captures children mid-motion and often in full smile. His photos are combined with a poem that is simple but also strong, offering subtle rhyme and incorporating enough culture-specific words that a glossary is offered at the end.
Beautiful, warm and inclusive, this title is a celebration of children across the globe. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Chickens Build a Wall by Jean-Francois Dumont
The chickens on the farm have built a wall but no one else is quite sure why. It started when the hedgehog suddenly appeared in the middle of the farm. The chickens were all very concerned about this strange new animal that quickly curled itself into a prickly ball. But most alarming was when it had disappeared the next morning. Perhaps it was after the chicks and eggs! None were missing, but that didn’t stop the hens from accusing the hedgehog of eating their worms. The rooster decided that they could not stand by and have this continue happening, so they leapt into action and built a wall. It was not just a small wall, but one that grew so high that one could not see where it ended in the sky. Can this wall save the chickens? And what is it saving them from exactly?
Dumont tells a story about flighty chickens who jump to absurd conclusions immediately about a foreign creature. The hens are frantic in their reactions, going to such lengths to protect themselves from nothing at all. Readers will see parallels between gated communities and the chickens’ wall as well as the fast judgments made about people who are different from ourselves. This would serve as a very nice book to introduce for discussions about diversity and community.
Dumont’s illustrations have a wonderful silliness to them. The chickens are pop-eyed and always moving quickly. The hedgehog is still, low and quiet. The two set each other off nicely in both the illustrations and the storyline.
Translated from the original French, this book has a universal appeal and also a clever quirkiness that adds charm. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueiro, illustrated by Poly Bernatene
One morning, the frogs in the pond woke up to discover a very pink visitor among them: a little pink pig. They tried to ask the piglet why he was there, but all he would say was “Ribbit!” The other animals soon heard about the unusual pig and hurried to the pond to see him. All of the animals except the frogs found the entire situation hilarious, but the frogs were getting more and more angry. The animals went in search of the wise old beetle to ask his advice, but when they returned the pig was gone. All of the animals began to wonder what the pig had wanted all along and it wasn’t too late to find out!
Folgueira has created a book with the feel of a traditional folktale but one that also has the humor and feel of a modern story. Told in a clear voice, the book invites readers to wonder about what is actually happening in the book. Happily, the ending ends the questions, but until then there is plenty to think about.
Bernatene’s illustrations have bright tones and fine lines. The watercolor texture of the pages and the pictures add a welcome rustic warmth to the story that suits it well. She has also created one of the most engaging little pigs, with a merry grin and closed eyes formed out of just a few curved lines. Pink perfection.
This is a look at friendship and also at cultures and what happens when someone steps out of their own comfort zone and begins to explore new things. In the end though, it’s a delight of a read aloud that children will enjoy for just the story alone. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.