Little Cub by Olivier Dunrea
The author of the Gossie books returns with this companion book to Old Bear and His Cub that explains the way that Old Bear and Little Cub met. Little Cub lived all alone near the forest with ono one to take care of him. He was often hungry and slept alone and cold outside. Old Bear lived alone too. He had plenty to eat and a warm place to live, but no one to share it with. Then one day, Old Bear heard odd noises coming from a pile of rocks. It was Little Cub, trying to sleep curled into a ball. It was Old Bear who named him Little Cub and Old Bear who took him home, gave him food, tucked him into a warm bed, and promised to teach him how to fish. And it was Little Cub who filled up that empty bed so that neither of them had to be alone any more.
This is such a warm story. Showing the way that Little Cub and Old Bear came together to be a family is honey rich. Dunrea takes him time showing the parallels between the two bears’ lonely lives. Though they are different in age, in being able to care for themselves, they are alike at heart and searching for something new.
Dunrea’s writing is simple but also cheery. Though it explores a child alone in the cold wilderness, one doesn’t worry because there is a sense of safety throughout. Children will understand the hunger and chill and also that level of joy that is clear. A large part of this are the illustrations that show blustery winds but also have the security and solidity of Old Bear right there too. He is the hope for Little Cub, one that radiates across the pages.
Fans of Dunrea will enjoy this new series and those who read the first in the series will cheer to see Old Bear and Little Cub return. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.
The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
A great-grandfather shares his life’s story with his great-granddaughter who picks out a cigar box filled with matchboxes to find out more about. He has been collecting matchboxes that are filled with small items documenting his life, a diary of objects. They tell of his poor childhood in Italy where he’d be given an olive pit to suck on to make him less hungry. There is a picture of his father who went to work in America and sent money home. His story then turns into one of an immigrant with a trip to the port and then aboard a large ship. He tells of arriving at Ellis Island, of the terror of possibly being denied entrance, and the eventual reunion with his father. The entire family, including the children, worked to earn enough money to survive. Life became better and he learned to read until he started in the printing industry and opened a bookstore.
Fleischman writes of the tentative relationship of a young child and her great-grandfather who are just getting to know one another for the first time. This is a story filled with small gems, treasures of stories that the two of them explore side by side. The small matchboxes are a wonderful device to add surprise and delight to the story. Fleischman has created an entire picture book told only in dialogue, making it a pleasure but challenge to read aloud.
Ibatoulline’s illustrations are precise and detailed. The matchboxes are shown up close and just opened, as if the reader had been the one exploring them. The stories are shown in sepia tones with modern day in full color. They are filled with a beautiful warmth in both cases.
A distinguished picture book, this is a brilliant combination of historical story and vivid illustrations. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker
In the latest installment of the Clementine series, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite series, Clementine is taking a spring field trip with her class to Plimoth Plantation. Clementine has agreed to be partners with her friend Margaret on the trip, mostly because the fourth graders have a rule that you have to eat without making any noise. Margaret wants to partner with Clementine too, since Clementine doesn’t mind dirty things at all and Margaret most definitely does. Then a new classmate comes along and complicates things. Olive has her own language that she teaches everyone and is well on her way to being very popular, when she is paired with Clementine for the field trip. With all of their plans in disarray, what will happen on the field trip?
Just as with all of the Clementine books, Pennypacker has created a modern girl living in a modern family. She merrily inserts levity throughout the book from the cleaning of the statues in the park to the stinky bus they have to take on the field trip. The character of Clementine continues to be complex, artistic and monumentally creative. This of course can lead to getting into trouble, but what jolly trouble it is!
This series belongs in every school and public library. Get it into the hands of creative kids and those who want a good giggle. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Red Kite, Blue Kite by Ji-li Jiang, illustrated by Greg Ruth
Based on the true story of a family friend, this book tells the story of a father and son separated during the Cultural Revolution in China. Tai Shan and his father, Baba, loved to fly kites together from the roof of their home in their crowded city. Then bad times come and the schools are closed. Baba is sent to a labor camp and Tai Shan is sent to life in a small village with Granny Wang. Both Tai Shan and his father continue to fly their kites, using them as a signal to one another and a way to maintain contact. Eventually, Baba is taken further away to another labor camp where they cannot communicate with kites. All that can be done is to wait until Baba is free again and their kites can soar together once more.
This picture book will be best understood by older children. There is no need to have a background in Chinese history to understand this book because the story is so universal. The use of kites as imagery of freedom and connection works particularly well, especially in the ending which is particularly uplifting after the tension and sorrow of the rest of the tale. Jiang writes in prose that is filled with the emotion of the time. He writes with deep compassion and doesn’t shy away from the pain that fills Tai Shan’s days separated from his father.
Ruth’s illustrations capture the mood of the story very effectively. He moves from bright golds and oranges in the city to the dull colors of khaki and earth when the two are separated. The color scheme is only alleviated by the pop of color from their kites. When the two are together again, the color begins to return to the landscape.
This is a striking and universal look at families that are torn apart by war and the haunted time they spend apart. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
Early lives in a warm and loving family. Her father Dash is a lover of words and word games. Her mother Sum and little brother Jubie make up the total of four in their family. But when Dash gets involved in something shady, their loving family becomes three. Then people raid their home, breaking down the door and they are forced to head to a shelter without knowing where Dash is or how he will find them again in the big city of Chicago. Early finds she has to be the strong one as her mother begins to falter and her brother is so little. Shelter life is difficult and it takes Early some time to realize that she is in the middle of a mystery that she can help solve.
Balliett demonstrates her own love of words and wordplay throughout this novel. Told in beautiful prose, she writes poetically about the city she loves, the beauty of snow, and the power of family. She incorporates wordplay through her protagonist, who looks at words the way her father taught her to. Many times words sound like what they are, points out Balliett, and just reading this book will have readers seeing words in a new way.
Balliett also introduces young readers to the poetry of Langston Hughes. One of his books is at the heart of not only the mystery of the book but at the heart of the family. As Hughes muses on dreams and their importance, both Early and the reader are able to see his words and understand them deeply.
The aspect of the homeless shelter and the difficulties the family and Early face there is an important one. Balliett is obviously making a point with her book, sometimes too obviously. There are also some issues with plotting, with the book dragging at points and struggling to move forward. That aside, the writing is stellar and the characters strong.
Another fine offering from Balliett, get this one into the hands of her fans. It will also be great choice for reading aloud in classrooms with its wordplay and strong African-American characters and family. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
Released March 26, 2013.
Carey’s mother has been gone for over a month, leaving Carey alone with her little sister, Jenessa. They live in a large woods and sleep in an old camper with no heat. Her mother had left them before, but usually not this long, just long enough to get more meth. But this time, their mother was not the one who came to their camp, a man and woman arrive, claiming that the man is Carey’s father. They take the girls back with them. Carey and Jenessa have never had a hamburger, never watched TV and never really been cared for. Carey was the only reason that Nessa had survived at all, often serving as the only love she had. But now the girls were expected to live with Carey’s father, his wife and their stepsister in their home. It’s a new life filled with challenges that Carey will only be able to accept if she can see the truth of why her mother took her away and also the truth of what she had been forced to do in the woods.
Murdoch has written a book that has a very compelling premise and happily, she is able to make the book about far more than that first bit ripped from the headlines. She writes about the power of music to heal, the ability of family and love to make things right again, but also the agony of betrayal, the ferocious power of abuse, and the building danger of lies. Carey is a heroine who has undergone real tragedy in her life, but here is she far from being a victim. She is instead immensely resourceful, caring and desperate to do what is right for her little sister.
Murdoch also weaves into so much of the book Carey’s connection with nature. It is the place she turns when in distress, moving even to the outdoor courtyard at the high school in order to find solace outdoors. Her love of music in also part of it, having played her music under the open sky for so long. When Murdoch writes of nature, she is part poet, creating a depth in this novel that lifts it to another level.
This story is one of a tough heroine who has to be strong for both herself and her little sister. It is a tale of survival but also one of recovery and honesty. I’d think this one would booktalk extremely well thanks to its strong premise that will nicely tantalize teen readers. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Macmillan and Netgalley.
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
Cady has a Talent for baking cakes and making just the right one for a specific person. Miss Mallory’s Talent is matching children with the perfect home, but she hasn’t been able to find the right fit for Cady for years. Will has a Talent for hiding, passing through walls and disappearing along with his pet ferret. Zach has a Talent for spitting, something just right for a troublemaker. Marigold is desperately searching for her Talent, trying all sorts of things with no luck. Then there is the mysterious man who has a Talent for knots who seems to appear whenever he is needed most. There is even a man who steals Talents and keeps them in jars, as he frantically searches suitcases for a slip of paper he lost over 50 years ago. The stories of all of these characters are just a tangle at first, but slowly the stories come together into one gorgeously designed knot of a tale.
Graff has created a world like ours but with more than a touch of magic infused into it. While most of the characters have Talents, there are some who don’t have any. There are others who only discover their talent late in life like Marigold. But in this book it is not the magical bits that make it special, instead it is the intricate storytelling, the puzzle. Readers who want a straightforward book should not look here. This is a book that hints, it rambles, it invites you in for cake and adventure, then wanders a bit more. But the wandering is rather the point, the cake is particularly important, and one wouldn’t want to miss a ramble.
Give this one to the dreamers, the wanderers, and those who want a hint of magic, sweetness and frosting with their stories. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.
Building Our House by Jonathan Bean
Told through the eyes of a young girl, this picture book chronicles her family’s move from the city to the country. There in a bare field, they are going to build their own home. The family works for a year and a half on their house, living in a very cozy trailer while they complete enough of the house to live in it. Slowly the house takes shape from pegging out the corners to digging out the foundation to the incredible use of hand tools to work on the lumber for the frame. Through it all, the entire family is involved in the process and what an amazing process it is!
There are plenty of lumber, rocks, trucks and construction in the book to keep children intrigued. It is great to see a construction book where children are right in the middle of things, helping and getting fully engaged and dirty. The story is based off of Bean’s own childhood when his own parents built their family home from the ground up. It is told from his older sister’s perspective. I think that is what really comes through in this story. It is intensely personal but also wonderfully detailed so that children really get the feel of what it is to spend over a year building a home.
Bean’s writing and illustrations work beautifully together. The illustrations are filled with small touches like the cats who join the family. The seasons rush in and out, changing plans and creating a colorful background for the story. This is a house that honors the site it is built on with all of the nature around it, the book does as well.
Get this into the hands of young construction enthusiasts definitely! But it has appeal far beyond that since it is a story of family at its heart. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Road Trip by Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen
This collaboration of father and son is about a road trip to rescue a border collie puppy. Ben and his father have not been getting along lately. His father just told Ben that he has quit his job and started to flip houses. That means that Ben’s hockey camp that he had been promised may not happen this summer. The road trip is a way for the two of them to spend time together along with their adult border collie, Atticus, and for his dad to avoid his ticked-off mother. When Ben realizes what is happening, he invites along a friend that his dad doesn’t really approve of. That friend will not be the last surprise passenger on the trip as they quickly trade their failing truck for a school bus. Told in alternating chapters, Ben and Atticus explain the journey in their own unique points of view.
This is really a love story to dogs. Atticus is a huge part of the story, his reactions to people foreshadow what sort of person they will turn out to be. The use of his perspective is also cleverly done so that his actions are explained to the reader even though the other humans in the book may not fully understand them. Happily, the various odd characters who join them on their journey are also well drawn and interesting.
The writing is clever and fresh in this slim volume of just over 100 pages. It is a great pick for reluctant readers. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.