Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath (InfoSoup)
Released May 12, 2015.
Sophie has just moved to a farm they inherited from her great-uncle. Sophie’s father hunts for a job while her mother shuts herself in a room to write articles in order to pay the bills. Sophie’s father also works on the farm, trying to figure out how to care for the grapes and how to start the tractor. Sophie discovers a flyer in the barn about exceptional chickens from Redwood Farm Supply. She wants to start raising chickens herself and starts to write letters not only to Redwood Farm Supply, but to her dead Great-Uncle Jim and her deceased Abuelita. Soon Sophie discovers a small house on the farm and then a little white chicken with a grumpy attitude appears. Sophie has a chicken of her own! But a lady shows up and wants to steal the chicken just as Sophie is realizing that this is definitely one of those “exceptional” chickens from Redwood Farm Supply. It is up to Sophie to keep her chicken safe from the chicken thief and also discover what happened to the rest of her great-uncle’s flock of amazing birds.
Jones has inventively mixed magical realism with farming and chickens in this children’s novel. Sophie mentions several times in the book that there are not many other brown-skinned people around their new home. Then her letters to her Abuelita show her own Hispanic heritage in a way that is natural and organic. The book is rich with the wonder of figuring out how to care for all chickens, but it also tingles with the mystery of Redwood Farm Supply, who Agnes actually is, and why she can’t type well at all. Then when the amazing chickens arrive in the story, it’s a treat to see each breed of bird explained but also how their natural traits are heightened into super powers.
Sophie is a great main character. She’s a girl who is not afraid of the hard and dirty work of a farm and caring for chickens. She is lonely and isolated in their new home, partly due to her absent but also helicopter parents who over protect her. While there is plenty of magic in the book, the story also has down-to-earth elements that keep it grounded, including the slow process of making new friends, the pressures of a family low on money, and the satisfaction of hard work paying off.
A delightful mix of magical chickens and farm life, this book will appeal to fantasy readers but also to kids wanting more realistic fiction too. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes
On a family farm, the day starts out with bright sunshine and laundry drying on the line. Soon though, clouds move in and the weather changes, becoming colder. The rain starts to fall and it falls for a long time, combined with thunder and lightning. When the rain slows, the dogs and the little girl head outside, discovering along with the pigs the joy of muddy play in the sunshine. Sun sets and baths are given. The night ends with the sparkle of stars in the night sky and everyone tucked into bed except for the whales jumping in the moonlight.
Told in very simple poetry, this picture book shines and shimmers on the page. White’s poem captures the wildness of a summer storm, the feeling of the endlessness of the rain, and then the slow return to sunshine and warmth. In particular, she creates that sense of impending storm beforehand as well as the slow pitter patter of the drops as they slow and then end. Her poetry is complete accessible for even the smallest of children who will enjoy the repetition and the farm setting with all of the animals.
Krommes is a Caldecott-award winning illustrator. Her scatchboard and watercolor illustrations are incredibly detailed and marvelously textured. She creates a sense of place so clearly here, with the little house perched on the edge of the water, the whales jumping, and the farm. Her detailed art plays homage to the simple things in the life, the cat on the other side of the screen door, a jumprope over a bedpost, abandoned umbrellas, and mud.
This book is a joy and is a perfect springtime or summertime read when the big storms are blowing through. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Big Bug by Henry Cole
Start with a close up of a ladybug in this picture book and then everything is put into perspective. If you step back, the big bug on the first pages is not so big compared to the big leaf it is sitting on. That leaf turns small when seen as just a part of a flower. Then a big dog appears only to be dwarfed by the big cow on the next page. This continues until the reader is looking at the big sky. Then the book reverses and the perspective gets closer and tighter, returning in the end to that same dog now sleeping inside.
This is a very simple book that is superbly done. Cole plays nicely with perspective and with concepts. The book can easily be used as a way to show the differences between big and small, but I think the real treat is showing children that perspective is important and understanding size is too. With only a couple of words on each page, the book is imminently readable, especially by a child just starting to read on their own.
Cole’s art is clear and lovely. The perspective changes are done vividly and the page where you linger with the big big sky for a moment is particularly lovely with its little farm and little tree. It also serves as a very clear pivot point in the book thanks to the design of the page.
Show this one to art teachers, preschool teachers, and kids who enjoy a huge insect. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Little Simon.
Henry’s Map by David Elliot
Henry was a pig who believed in being neat and tidy with everything in its place. So when he looked out from his very clean sty, he was bothered by the messiness of the farmyard. He decided to make a map, so that everyone could find things on the farm. That meant he had to travel around the farm and write things down. He included the sheep and the woolshed, Abigail the cow with her tree, Mr. Brown the horse and his stable, and the chicken coop. Then all of the animals climbed up a nearby hill to look down on the farm and compare it to Henry’s map. But when they looked closely, none of them were where they were marked on the map! Luckily though, they all knew right where they belonged thanks to the map and back they all went, even Henry.
Elliot has a feel for writing picture books. His pacing is delightful, the storyline is dynamic but not frenetic, and the characters are personable and ones that you want to befriend. Henry is a little pig with a big vision, and there is satisfaction in him completing a big project on his own. Elliot also nicely navigates having just the right amount of text on the page, enough to tell a full story but not too much to overwhelm or bog it down. Add the twist of the animals being alarmed at not being in the same place as the map tells them they should be, and you have a very strong read.
Elliot is the artist behind the Brian Jacques series of books. Here his art has a wonderful playfulness but also a timelessness. This book is beautifully illustrated with lots of jolly characters and one very serious pig. The map itself looks like something a child would make complete with drawings and misspellings.
A top pick, this picture book is perfect for map units in preschool and elementary school. It also makes a fun addition to any farm or pig story time. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.
The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Summer Miyamoto is positive that her family is completely out of luck. Nothing is going right for them at all. Her parents had to return to Japan because of a family emergency, leaving her behind with her grandparents and little brother, Jaz. Now the four of them are heading out to do harvest season for the first time without her parents. Summer and Jaz have to get all of their homework assignments, so they really don’t have the time off. Summer is also expected to help her grandmother cook for the others working on the harvest, so she is very busy. But she isn’t so busy that she doesn’t notice the very cute son of the people they work for or the problems that her brother has making friends. She is also worried about her grandparents from the pain in her grandmother’s back that incapacitates her at times to the exhaustion that her grandfather seems to be suffering from. All of this weighs on Summer who just wants the bad luck to end but it may take Summer being something her grandmother would not approve of to save the family in the end.
Kadohata has created a very compelling story of a family who travels the United States harvesting wheat with giant combines. She offers just enough details about the machinery and the process for readers to understand it which helps make the work much more understandable. But this book is far more about this particular family and its dynamics. The grandparents offer a unique mix of sage advice and confusing world views. Jaz, the younger brother, is a great example of a very smart child who has almost no social skills. All of these characters are written as complete people, not ever stereotypical.
Summer herself is equally well drawn. She is at a confusing time in life in general, being a pre-teen who is starting to notice boys. That is complicated by her grandmother’s old-fashioned take on boys and girls as well as her own responsibility for her family that puts her in situations that require her to be more adult and less child.
A beautiful and intense look at a Japanese-American family struggling with an interesting lifestyle and just surviving a year of bad luck. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
The Passover Lamb by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss
Miriam has been selected to sing the Four Questions at the seder, the special Passover meal, at her grandparent’s house. She has been practicing over and over again. When she discovers that Snowball, one of their ewes, is going to have a baby, the family wonders if it will disrupt their Passover plans. Snowball has her lambs in time, but her third lamb is ignored and she refuses to nurse him. Miriam is very worried for the little lamb, but also wants to head to the seder and sing her part. So she comes up with a clever plan to care for the newborn lamb and be able to be with her extended family. This Passover story is a gentle reminder about compassion and a beautiful introduction to Passover.
Marshall writes with a gentleness that weaves throughout the entire story. She allows Miriam to really be the center of the story, her family members are important but Miriam is certainly the lead. She is the one who discovers that the ewe is going to have a baby, bottle feeds the newborn lamb and figures out the solution, all on her own. This is child-led compassion that comes from a deep and natural place.
Mai-Wyss’ art is done in watercolors. The results are rich and colorful, nicely capturing a small family farm. Just as with the text, Miriam is often front and center in the illustrations.
A superb book about caring and compassion, this is a strong addition to any public library. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Books for Young Readers.
Life-Size Farm by Teruyuki Komiya
This fourth in the “Life-Size” book series takes on farm animals in glorious full-size photographs. Just like the others in the series, there are panels that offer more detailed information, including the animals name, age, and scientific name. There are details about physical characteristics that are explained further as well as a list of facts. All of these are presented in bright colors and with a playful feel. But it is the photographs in their large size and with the clarity and detail that they offer that will have children taking this book home and lingering over it.
Several of the pages unfold to show even larger images of animals. The huge furry alpaca and the enormous cow will generate lots of interest. What is most amazing here is that the size of all of the animals is surprising and fun. Even better, the quality of the photographs is always high and offer lots of small details to pay attention to.
A great pick for library shelves, though the size is large enough to make them not fit on shelves easily! This is an excellent addition to a popular nonfiction series for children. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Seven Footer Kids.
It’s Milking Time by Phyllis Alsdurf, illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
This picture book looks at milking time on a modern dairy farm. A little girl works alongside her father. She helps to bring the cows in from the field and then into the barn. She scoops feed into their stalls and helps get the milkers ready. Then she opens the big barn doors and the cows enter the barn and line up in their stanchions. The little girl goes around and locks them. Milking starts, and there are quiet moments to look out at the growing corn, but then milk is ready to be carried to the milk house, a pitcher filled for the family. Then the calves must be fed, the manure shoveled, and finally the two walk up to the house in the twilight.
Told with great detail and a loving tone, this story shines with love for the heartland and dairy farms.
While the farm is clearly modern, there is a great timelessness to the story with the interaction of farmer and cows, the buckets of milk, and even the pitcher of milk for home use. Alsdurf uses a refrain throughout the book, “Every morning, every night, it’s milking time.” That repetition works well, reminding readers that this same activity happens over and over again on a farm.
The illustrations add to that feeling of timelessness. They are done in soft colors with late afternoon light flowing golden over the images. They also have soft edges, like favorite jeans that have been washed many times. They are pure comfort.
For librarians in Wisconsin, this book is a natural fit. It’s good to see a farm setting that is not historical but keeps that pastoral feel. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.
Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman
This vibrant picture book plays with color and perspective as well as characters who leave the flat page and enter the real world. The picture is almost finished when one of the chickens in the picture pops her head out. She then stands up and walks over to the paint pots that are waiting to finish the picture. When the chicken peeks into the blue paint, she accidentally tips it over and ends up painting herself. She is joined by a little duckling and then more who splash around in the new blue puddle, turning themselves and the cat who walked past blue. Soon all of the animals are blue. Now what can be done to turn them all back to normal?
There is a wonderful playfulness about this title. Even the grumpy animals end up enjoying the escapade. At the same time, there are lots of options to discuss colors, perspective, and art. The book has real depth to it, allowing it to be read just as a cute story, or used more seriously with children.
The words are simple and try to stay out of the way, allowing the art to really shine here. And shine it certainly does. It dazzles and glows, inviting young readers into the humor of the book and revealing a magical quality that is lovely. From the freshness of the first spill of the blue to the sogginess and flatness that results, there is an exploration of the media here right on the page.
Highly recommended, this is one of my favorite picture books of the year. It is a charming jewel of a picture book that is fun, silly, yet offers plenty to learn. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking Books.
Also reviewed by Fuse #8.