The Market Bowl by Jim Averbeck
Mama Cecile taught Yoyo to make bitterleaf stew, the same stew they sold at the market. But Yoyo thought that the entire process took too long, so she took some shortcuts herself. Then she snuck her batch of stew along with them to the market. Mama Cecile warned Yoyo that they must always accept a fair price for their stew, otherwise Brother Coin, the Great Spirit of the Market, would remove his blessing from their bowl. After selling all of Mama Cecile’s stew, there was still one customer left, so Yoyo pulled out her own stew and tried to sell that. But she rejected his small offer for her stew. Thunder rolled and through the next days, no one came to their staff at the market. Now it was up to Yoyo to fix what she had done. That would take traveling to see Brother Coin in person.
Set in modern-day Cameroon, this story skillfully blends folk elements as it talks about the culture as well. The book will make a great read aloud thanks to the ease of the language used and the natural rhythm of the storytelling. It would also be a great candidate for storytelling for those reasons too.
Averbeck’s art has a strong modern edge to it. He shows the gorgeous textiles that people wear. Additionally, he uses textures and patterns to create other objects as well, such as the shanty houses and details of interior scenes.
A modern-day folk tale, this is a rich glimpse into Cameroon. The book ends with a recipe for bitterleaf stew too! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.
Bluefish by Pat Schmatz
Travis misses his home after moving with his grandfather but even more, he misses his dog. He used to have lots of room to roam in the country, but he’s stuck in a small house with his alcoholic grandfather. At his new school, he is nearly silent but loud Velveeta will not allow him to withdraw far. She joins him at lunch after seeing Travis help out a boy being bullied, firmly adopting him and filling his silence with all of her words. The two unlikely friends are both hiding secrets. As the story progresses, the secrets are shared with the reader first and then with each other. This story explores the meaning of friendship and how we can all be friends that help one another in our own unique way.
Schmatz’s writing is clean and clear. She doesn’t fill the story with flowery language, instead exploring the story alongside the reader. The book is filled with characters who are struggling, including both Travis and Velveeta. Another example is Travis’ grandfather who is battling his addiction and trying to be a parent to Travis. There is nothing perfect here, and the message is clear that perfection is not something that is necessary or needed. It is the striving, the doing that matters.
The two main characters are well drawn and intriguing. They are very similar to one another in many ways and yet so different in others. Their struggles may not be the same, but the two definitely need one another to get through. There are also other adults who help, including one incredible teacher and a librarian. It is a joy to see two adults helping children written free of any didacticism.
This powerful read offers great characters, no easy answers, and no grand solution of an ending. It’s a book that is about the journey. Appropriate for ages 11-14.
Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.
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Little Croc’s Purse by Lizzie Finlay
This little morality story features Little Croc who found a purse one day. He had to decide if he was going to return the purse with its money or keep it all for himself. He decides to return the purse, but on his way to the police station, he meets with several temptations. He manages to avoid spending any of the money and once he’s at the police station finds out that the woman who owns the purse wants to meet him. When she arrives, she checks for a special locket in a hidden pocket and then leaves the entire purse and the money for Little Croc. Little Croc doesn’t spend it all in one place either, leading to a very satisfying conclusion to this book.
Finlay manages to make not only a morality tale, but a picture book that works as a story as well. While there is definitely a moral about honesty here, the story is about more than that. Her writing is light-toned and even the moment with the bully is brief and easily handled. This helps lift the tone of the entire book.
Her whimsical illustrations also do that with a tiny crocodile lugging a very large, very flowery, rather pink purse. Even better, when Little Croc does buy something for himself, it is a pair of very red boots. He also never shrinks away from carrying the purse and owning it as his own after it has been given to him.
A book about honesty, thoughtfulness and caring for others, this book is sweet and jolly. Keep it in mind for parents looking for books about manners and honesty for preschoolers. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
The King and the Seed by Eric Maddern, illustrated by Paul Hess
King Karnak has no heir and is coming to the end of his reign. So he puts out a call for anyone who wants to be king to come and join in a competition. Knights come from across the land, ready for the battle to begin. But the king surprises them all by handing each one of them a seed and asking them to bring it back in six months to show what they have grown. A boy, Jack, who came only to witness the competition, gets a seed for himself. Jack tries and tries to make his seed grow, but nothing works and six months later he heads back to the castle. There he finds the knights with armloads of plants, huge flowers, all different from one another. Jack doesn’t want to admit his defeat to the king, so what’s a boy to do?
Maddern’s storytelling has a great flair, filled with small touches and humor that really bring the story to life. The book has a strong message that is not overdone. It also has a classic folk tale format that is mixed with a modern storytelling style, creating a very engaging book. Hess’ illustrations are bright-colored and offer interesting perspectives on the action. They will work well with a group.
Ideal for reading aloud, this book is a great modern folktale that emphasizes the importance of honesty. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from library copy.