Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost
In 1812 in Indian Territory, two boys forge a friendship over hunting, fishing and survival of their families. James’ family runs the trading post at Fort Wayne, living right outside the walls of the fort. Anikwa’s family, members of the Miami tribe, has lived on this land for generations. Now two armies are heading right to Fort Wayne to battle, the Americans and British will meet for a critical battle. The question becomes whose side the Miami will be on when the battle occurs. But even more deep is the question of whether the friendship between the two boys and their two families can survive this battle and the losses that it brings.
Frost has mastered the verse novel, creating a work that functions as beautiful poetry with profound depths and also as a complete novel. Frost puts a human face on history in this novel that tells the story of a major battle in the war of 1812. By the time the soldiers arrive, readers care deeply for both boys and their families. So when the destruction starts, the wounds are real and the losses far beyond numbers. The poems show readers the beauty of the landscape, the bounty of the land, and all that is possibly lost afterwards.
Frost writes from both boys’ points of view in alternating poems. So the lifestyle and losses of both families is shown from their own points of view. Anikwa’s poems are done in a poetic form that creates a pattern on the page. Frost explains in her notes at the end that this is to mimic Miami ribbon work. Without knowing this while reading, I could still see the square form of James’ poem representing the fort and the home he lived in next to the motion-filled form of Anikwa’s poems that exuded nature.
An exquisite verse novel that fills history with real people and war with real loss. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Story of Fish & Snail by Deborah Freedman
This is the story of Fish and Snail who were great friends. Every day, Snail would wait for Fish to return with a new story. This time, Fish returned with a great story, one so wonderful that Fish wanted to show Snail instead of tell about it. But Snail doesn’t want to leave the book they are in. Snail wants to stay right there and play kittens instead of pirates. The two start to argue and finally Fish declares that it is THE END and leaves the book. Snail was so sad. This was not the way the story was meant to end. So Snail leans farther outside of the page and sees Fish in a watery book below. Will Snail leave his safe book and dare to tumble down to the other ocean below? Will Fish return with more stories?
Freedman captures a story-within-a-story here with her setting of two characters living not just in one picture book but many. It is the story of two opposite characters who still manage to be friends, most of the time. There is the sedentary Snail who longs for the stories but not the real adventure. Then there is the irrepressible Fish who jumps and leaps literally off of the page. The pair make for a balanced friendship but also one with plenty of room for misunderstanding too. Their conversation and fight are written strongly and honestly.
Freedman’s art is gorgeous. Readers will recognize her as the author and illustrator of Blue Chicken. She uses similar splash effects in her art here. The blues are gorgeously green and filled with light. When Fish swims the bubbles take on a stronger form as Freedman lets the watercolor dapple the page. There is one beautiful image of Snail looking down to the other book that plays with perspective cleverly.
I’ve heard Caldecott rumblings for this one and with its playful yet artistic illustrations, I’d love to see that. In the end though, it’s also a great story about friendship, books and being willing to take risks. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.
Henry’s Hand by Ross MacDonald
Get ready for a perfect non-Halloween Halloween book! Henry is a monster who often loses bits and pieces of himself. So every morning he goes through a little rhyme to make sure that all of his pieces are there. Henry’s right hand was his favorite body part. They played games together and traveled everywhere together. Then Henry got lazy and started using his right hand to do all of the chores that he didn’t want to do himself. Hand got more and more upset until finally, he just left. Hand was off to the big city on his own and Henry was left behind, knowing that it was all his fault. But how do you apologize to someone who has already left? And how do you know they are OK and not hurt? Henry had to figure out not only how to live without his right hand, but how to get him back.
MacDonald has written a wonderfully original book that is unafraid of being wildly wacky. Behind that wild premise though is a book with plenty of heart. It is a story of real friendship, the loss of a best friend, and finding a way back to reunite. MacDonald has a nice feel for pacing and drama, peppering his book with plenty of action.
This is a book set in a world that has a vintage feel about it, the city is filled with early century vehicles and technology. Henry himself is an homage to the monsters of that time, yet he is also completely friendly and nonthreatening.
Add this to your Halloween reads, monster story times, and units on body parts and friendship. It is sure to come in handy! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
The masterful Wiesner returns with another near-wordless picture book. Mr. Wuffles is a cat who disdains most of the toys his master gets him. Then one object gets his attention, a little metallic spaceship. But this is not a toy! It is filled with tiny aliens who are battered by being flung around by Mr. Wuffles. Their equipment is damaged and they have to leave their ship and head out looking for help. But Mr. Wuffles is close behind them and who can the aliens turn to for aid?
This is a magnificent picture book that turns from a normal cat picture book into something much more interesting. Wiesner has created a book that bridges genres effortlessly. He also has created a wordless picture book that never seems to be missing them. His story flows organically and is never forced. It has touches of humor throughout especially where Mr. Wuffles himself is concerned. I particularly enjoy the rows of untouched toys with price tags still attached that he walks past.
Wiesner’s art is as strong as ever. He pays attention to details both in the human home and later when the aliens arrive. The juxtaposition of the aliens with the insects of the home is particularly well done. The addition of cave paintings as communication is a delight.
Beautiful and funny this is a wordless masterpiece. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso
This is the first book in an upcoming graphic novel series for children in elementary school. Salem Hyde is a witch, so sometimes she misunderstands what the other kids at school are talking about. She insists she is a good speller and goes on to prove it by casting a spell. Unfortunately, the spell turned a teacher into an enormous dinosaur. After that, Salem’s family decide that she needs an animal companion. Salem thinks a unicorn would be perfect, but she gets a cat instead: a cat named Percival J. Whamsford III. As his name indicates, he has a very different personality than Salem. Let the fun begin!
Done in black and white illustrations, this graphic novel has the feel of a traditional comic strip rather than a graphic novel. That is not a complaint, in fact I enjoyed the more Calvin and Hobbes feel to the book with moments that stood on their own and the whole telling a full story. Cammuso’s art has a traditional vibe to it, one that will have mass appeal. The humor is slick, funny and age appropriate offering silly moments galore.
A strong beginning to a new series, Salem Hyde should be welcome at all libraries as long as she doesn’t try to “spell.” Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.
How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens
Oh my, what a charmer of a book! It is the story of a lion who comes to town to buy a hat. But the people in town are afraid of him and chase him away. He runs off to hide in a yard under a dog house where he is discovered by a little girl named Iris. Iris immediately recognizes that he is a kind lion and invites him into her house. They did their best to keep him hidden and Iris took good care of him by brushing his mane and putting a bandage on his hurt foot. They also had a lot of fun, but that’s when they would almost be discovered. A lion bouncing on a bed makes a lot of noise! When Iris’ mother discovered the lion, the lion ran off. He hid with the stone lions in front of the Town Hall. While he was there, he saw two burglars leaving the Hall. After the lion saves the day, everyone in town realizes what a kind lion he actually is and present him with… a hat.
Stephens has created a picture book that has a simple appeal. The growing friendship between the lion and the little girl is done in a very organic and natural way. Humor is sprinkled throughout as the little girl attempts to hide the lion. Stephens also makes sure that even though the lion is kind, he is still completely a lion and an animal. The two main characters are wonderfully different and make for compelling characters especially when paired.
The art in the book reads as vintage with their bright color washes. The lines of the drawings are done with a light hand and are nicely simple. This is a book that would be right at home next to Lyle Crocodile. It reads immediately as a classic and hopefully will become one!
Too clever to be called sweet, this book is warm and friendly. A perfect book to share with your big cat at home or to curl up like a lion and listen to. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.
Binny for Short by Hilary McKay
Binny’s life had been perfect but now she lost two of the most important things she ever had. First, her father died, taking his stories along with him. Then, because money became an issue, Binny’s dog had to be given away. Her dog was taken by her mean Aunty Violet, who never told anyone where Max had been sent. So when Binny found herself alone in a car with her Aunt, she told her exactly what she thought. Aunty Violet died soon after that conversation and left Binny and her family her old cottage by the sea, a tiny house but one of their very own. Now Binny finds herself in an idyllic seaside town, meeting great new friends and even better enemies, but still missing Max. Binny though is not a girl to easily give up, so she sets about planning to find her dog, no matter what.
I am such a fan of McKay and her writing. She has a natural flow both in her narrative and in the very real voices that all of her characters use with one another. Additionally, her characters are all flawed and realistically drawn which adds greatly to the veracity of her books. In the end, her books are filled with human beings who live in messy ways through their messy lives, beautifully.
Each member of Binny’s family is worthy of their own novel. Her older sister is glamorous and musical, yet works incredibly hard to afford the necessary lessons to be a musician. She is also as much a parent as their lovely but scattered mother. It is James though, her little brother, who completely steals the book. As he wears a wetsuit that he found in the trash every day that is pink and green, he has to prove that he’s a boy often, which of course means undressing in public. He is also growing poison lettuce in his window box from stolen seeds that just happened to find their way into his pocket. In other words, he’s a delight.
Strong characters and splendid writing result in a virtuoso start to a new series that will have McKay fans cheering for more. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret McElderry Books.
No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OHora
Everyone has temper tantrums, but you haven’t seen a tantrum until it is one thrown by a huge blue gorilla. Nilson has tantrums over even the smallest of things like putting on shoes, his block castle being knocked over, or other people having bananas. Amelia tries to keep him calm with treats like banana pancakes and holding her frog purse. But Nilson still has fits. Amelia though is calm throughout, always acting kindly. That all changes though when the ice cream vendor runs out of banana flavor!
This picture book nicely captures tantrums and children, offering a welcome bit of humor for children and parents going through this phase. By using Nilson as the one who loses his control, the book nicely distances the tantrums from the child reader. It also adds a wonderful sense of fun to the entire read. The ending of the book is particularly satisfying as Amelia finally loses her cool and the truth of who Nilson is really is revealed.
OHora’s art is modern, filled with bright colors and black lines. Somehow it has a feel of wood cuts, but with freer lines. The friendship of these two characters is lovingly shown in the images, then beautifully shattered with the tantrums too.
An engaging and funny look at tantrums and anger, this book will neatly fit into any story time on anger. It is also one that is a perfect bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial.
45 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson
When Ann’s parents divorced and then her parents remarried and started new families, Ann turned to food to soothe herself. Now she is 16 years old and wears a size 17. Her mother on the other hand is a perfect size 6. When they shop together, it is torture for Ann. Her mother tries to motivate her, but picking out a tiny bikini as motivation is not the right way! Then Ann is asked to be a maid of honor in her aunt’s wedding and she decides to lose 45 pounds by the wedding in 10 weeks. Ann starts out by ordering a kit from an infomercial and eating according their diet. To do that, she has to get a job to pay for the food. Her summer suddenly becomes about a lot more than watching TV and eating. Now she is attending dance lessons for the wedding, gets invited to the party of the year, and has a boy flirting with her! It’s a summer of change, and it’s not all about losing weight.
Thank goodness for the lightness of this title. This subject can be heavy handed at times, but not here. Happily, the book deals with weighty topics (pun intended) but manages to remain positive and not didactic at all. Instead it is a voyage of self-discovery for Ann and the reader. One notes quickly that she catches the attention of the cute boy before losing lots of weight. The book does address fad diets and infomercials as well as the way that parental pressure can backfire.
Yet the book is not all about weight loss. It also explores divorce and its impact on children, the way siblings can drift away, the loss of friendships, and the way that all of that impacts self esteem. It is this depth that makes the book so rich. One understands Ann’s pain and why she was eating to cover it all up. Beautifully, readers are also shown that thin people may not be quite as comfortable or healthy as they may seem either.
A great pick for teen readers, this book is about being comfortable at any size. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.