When Stella Was Very, Very Small

When Stella Was Very, Very Small by Marie-Louise Gay.

After several Stella books and some Sam books too, readers will get the treat of seeing a much younger Stella in this new picture book.  A tiny version of the imaginative Stella moves quickly from one imaginative idea to the next.  Stella races her rubber ducks in the bathtub, listens to the stories the trees tell in the wind, and explores the jungle of tall grass in her backyard.  By the end of the book, Stella is bigger and Sam has appeared so she has someone to share her stories and imagination with.

Gay portrays an imaginative child who happily plays in her own creative world alone but just as merrily includes a younger sibling.  Gay uses poetic words to describe Stella and her surroundings.  One of my favorites has the trees outside Stella’s windows talking in the evening.  It gives readers an even clearer sense of Stella’s internal world.  Beautifully and tangibly written and captured.  Gay’s illustrations are just as successful.  Her watercolors offer a vivid glimpse into Stella’s imagination.  Yet the illustrations are more about her reality than her imagination.  Done with just the right touch and tone, this book is a pleasure.

Readers who already love Stella and Sam will be the first in line for this book, but those who are just discovering them will find themselves welcomed into a wondrous new world.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

All the Broken Pieces

All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg

Matt Pin was airlifted from war torn Vietnam to the United States and has been adopted into a loving family.  Now at age 12, Matt is struggling with the internal scars of war, combined with his questions of identity.  He has haunting memories of his mother and brother whom he left behind in Vietnam.  Matt has trouble giving a voice to his internal struggles, while externally he is having difficulties at school and is being bullied by boys on his baseball team.  Can Matt manage to make peace with his past so he can embrace his future?  Or are the two so intertwined that they are one and the same?

A searing verse novel, this book offers powerful poetry that clearly conveys the emotional scars of Matt and of the community around him.  Vietnam is a multi-faceted subject and Burg does an admirable job in paying tribute to its many aspects.  Poetry is a wonderful medium for this sort of exploration, allowing things to be said clearly that would have to be danced around in prose.  Burg’s poems create a cohesive novel yet offer verses that will linger in the memory and mind, that speak to our humanity and our past.

Here is one verse from the early part of the novel that captures the power and talent of the writing:

He never saw my face.

But she was already swelled

with love for him when he left,

taking with him

his blue-eyed promise

that it would not end there,

with the smell of burnt flesh

and the sound of crying children.

Highly recommended for tween and teen readers, this book covers powerful subjects without turning away or flinching.  Readers who are not poetry readers and those who claim not to like verse novels should be encouraged to try this one.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by A Year of Reading.