The Ride: The Legend of Betsy Dowdy


The Ride: The Legend of Betsy Dowdy by Kitty Griffin, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

The story of Betsy Dowdy has been part of an oral tradition for over 200 years.  While she may not have existed, this is a wonderful American story of bravery and determination.  Betsy was 16 years old in 1775 when the news came of the redcoats marching to Great Bridge to take ponies and supplies.  There was no hope that anyone could make it to General Skinner’s militia fifty miles away in time to bring aid.  But Betsy could not help in other ways.  She couldn’t fight.  But she could ride.  So despite the danger and the dark, she set off riding her trusty pony, Bess.  The ride was not easy.  They had to swim across a channel in December, and that was the start of the ride.  Betsy had to endure packs of dogs, ice cold temperature, and falling from Bess several times.  But in the end, she got to the general in time.  The day was saved thanks to one brave girl and her tireless pony.

Betsy Dowdy is a girl version of Paul Revere.  Griffin writes with great historical details, that bring the time period to life.  But it is Betsy herself who is the focus of this book.  Wonderfully, Betsy’s fear is allowed to show and her desperation and fatigue.  She is a very human heroine and because of that she is all the more impressive. 

Priceman’s illustrations are filled with deep colors from the purple of the frightening forest to the deep blue of the river.  Done in gouache and ink, the illustrations are wonderfully dramatic, conveying motion forward in a variety of ways.  One of my favorite images is Betsy riding into the dawn of the new day, the colors changing as she moves through the setting.  One feels the sudden surge of hope that light brought.

A powerful story of girl power that should be used in American Revolution units with elementary children.  Girls will enjoy a story that includes more action than sewing or rolling bandages.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum.

Also reviewed by The Fourth Musketeer and Kiss the Book.

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes


Pocketful of Posies: A Treasure of Nursery Rhymes by Salley Mavor

This book contains classic nursery rhymes like “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  The text is unchanged from the classic style, making this book a reassuring one to share with children.   The surprise and wonder of the book is its illustrations.  Done in fabrics and threads, the illustrations have a great dimensionality to them, lifting off of the page.  There is also an almost irresistible urge to try to feel the fabric’s softness on some pages.  If you look closely, you will find other objects in the illustrations as well:  small shells, acorn caps, pine cones. 

The bright colors make the book immediately appealing.  The softness of the illustrations, created by the fabric, continue to add to the appeal.  This becomes more than a book of nursery rhymes and turns into a book that can be pored over time and again.  It is a refreshing and interesting style that is timeless and lovely.

Highly recommended, this would make a gorgeous baby gift.  Stand it up in the library facing out, and it won’t take long for someone to whisk it away to check out.  Appropriate for ages 1-3.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by: Young Readers.

Harry & Hopper


Harry & Hopper by Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood

Harry got Hopper when he was a jumpy puppy.  He taught him to sit, stay and play ball.  The two of them were inseparable.  Hopper even slept with Harry, moving from the bottom of the bed to the top over the course of the night.   But then Harry came home from school and Hopper wasn’t there.  His father broke the news of the accident gently to Harry, explaining that Hopper had died.  Harry couldn’t sleep in the bed he shared with Hopper, so he started sleeping on the couch instead.  At school, Harry couldn’t tell anyone about what had happened.  That night, Harry was awoken from sleeping on the couch by a dog leaping by the window.  It was Hopper!  The two of them spent the night together playing.  The same thing happened night after night, but Hopper was getting less solid and less warm.  Eventually, Harry had to say goodbye to Hopper.

This book should come with a box of tissues.  Sniffle.  Wild depicts the bond between boy and dog with a clarity that makes it very tangible and real.  The loss comes quickly and without prelude, jarring the reader.  As Harry moves through his grief, the return of Hopper brings that process into a similarly tangible state.  The slow disappearance of Hopper over the nights, depicts the acceptance of loss.  Harry’s grief never comes to full resolution, something that is particularly beautiful about this book and its writing. 

This book won the Kate Greenaway medal for its illustrations, and rightly so!  Blackwood’s illustrations are done in laser print on watercolor paper with watercolor, gouache and charcoal.  They have a charm to them that is emphasized by the use of lines to slow motion.  Additionally, the shadows that appear with the grief add to the darker feeling of that section of the book.  Through it all, there is a warm light in the darkness, often provided by Harry and Hopper themselves. 

A beautiful book of loss and grief, this book deserves a spot in libraries where it is sure to find an audience.  Perhaps offer a Kleenex as a bookmark upon check out.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Feiwel and Friends.

Check out a gallery of the illustration on the Guardian website.

Words in the Dust

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Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

This is the wrenching tale of Zulaikah, an Afghani girl who lives with a cleft palate that has earned her the nickname of Donkeyface from the bullies in her neighborhood.  It is a modern story, set after the defeat of the Taliban.  Zulaikah lives with a harsh taskmaster of a stepmother, her beloved older sister, and two younger brothers.  Despite her face, she is the one her stepmother sends to the  market for supplies, giving the other children a chance to mock her.  With the Americans in town, Zulaikah is offered the chance to have her face repaired.  She also meets Meena, an old friend of her late mother who offers to teach her to read.  These are immense opportunities for her, but will she be allowed to take advantage of them?

Reedy is a debut author  who served in Afghanistan with the National Guard.  Zulaikah’s story is based on a girl he met in Afghanistan.  Reedy has created a marvelous lens for readers to better understand Afghanistan, its culture and its people.  The day-to-day life shown here is so very different from our own, that one never forgets that this is a different country.  Yet Zulaikah’s hopes and dreams are universal.  So this book manages to offer a view of a foreign country at the same time it is showing our united humanity.

Zulaikah is a heroine who has seen unthinkable things, lives with a very visible disability, and yet remains hopeful about the future.  She is a girl living in a culture that devalues women and girls, and while she searches for someone to teach her to read, she is not straining against the culture she is a part of.  That is a large part of what makes this book so successful.  This is a girl who is a product of her family and culture, yet radiant with inner beauty and always hope.

This is a particularly timely book that offers a perspective of modern Afghanistan.  It also offers a very human character who will have you viewing news of Afghanistan differently, now with a spirited girl to inspire understanding.  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Also reviewed by:

Me and You: A Glorious Goldilocks


Me and You by Anthony Browne

This is a version of Goldilocks that is sure to make readers think.  The story of Goldilocks is told opposite that of the Bear family.  Goldilocks comes from a rough part of town, complete with broken windows and graffiti.  After chasing a balloon that gets away, she finds herself in front of the Bears’ home.  It’s a pretty yellow home, obviously comfortably middle class.  The Bears have headed out for a walk in the neighboring park, chatting about work, the home and the car.  When they return, they find that their house has been disturbed.  From here the story continues in the traditional way.  Goldilocks flees the house, finding her way home to the arms of her mother.  This is a Goldilocks tale that will have readers thinking.

Browne has created a book that emphasizes the differences between Goldilocks and the Bears.  The Goldilocks story is told in wordless format with a very realistic feel and muted colors.  In many of the images the only bright color is Goldilocks’ hair.  Contrasted with that are the images of the Bears.  Shown in pastels done in a much softer line, the images are comfortable and bright.  But readers’ eyes are sure to wander back to the darker side of the page and Goldilocks.

Is Goldilocks the villain that has been portrayed in the past?  Is she a greedy little girl who wants the items of some poor bears?  Not here.  Here Goldilocks may be homeless, is definitely in need of warmth, and is lost.  This book turns the tale on its head, creating a heroine out of a lost girl and questioning the motives of the comfortable bears.

This is an important look at a fairy tale that asks modern questions.  I’d recommend using it with other versions of the same story and saving this one for last.  It is certainly a book that will have young listeners talking.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus & Giroux.




A Garden for Pig

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A Garden for Pig by Kathryn K. Thurman, illustrated by Lindsay Ward

Pig lives on an apple farm where they grow lots and lots of apples.  And what does Pig get to eat?  Apples, apples, and more apples.  Mrs. Pippins owns the farm and she makes all sorts of apple dishes for pig to eat, but he is sick of apples all the time.  What he really wants to eat are vegetables!  So Pig breaks into the vegetable patch and begins gulping down squash, seeds and all.  When Mrs. Pippin finds him in the garden, she is not happy.  She ties Pig up.  When she catches him trying to break the rope, she shuts him in his pen.  Though Pig tries to escape, he can’t.  But he is determined not to eat any more apples!  Pig notices the next day that his pen looks a lot like a garden.  And after digesting the squash, he has the seeds he needs to make one.

Thurman’s words are simple and have a jaunty rhythm to them.  There are wonderful sounds woven into the book that children will enjoy mimicking.  Pig’s determination and tenacity as well as his creative solution to the problem add to the appeal.

Ward’s collage and cut paper illustrations have a warmth to them.  This is accentuated by the use of fabrics that offer a texture to the images.  In the apple orchard, there are words on the paper that make up the leaves: apple recipes.  The illustrations are large enough to read to a group.  And goodness knows, the poop event at the end will be a hit!

A friendly and warm introduction to gardening in an organic way, this book is a happy addition to gardening story times.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Kane Miller.

Also reviewed by:

Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale


Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale by Karen Henry Clark, illustrated by Patrice Barton

This is an adoption story that takes a more fairy tale approach.  In China, perfect baby is born.  However, her parents don’t have enough food for themselves and worry about the future of this tiny baby.  So they put trust in the moon and send their baby away down the river.  On the journey, several animals help that baby.  While she sleeps, she is carried by a turtle, flown high by a peacock, sheltered by a monkey, and guided by a panda.   On the other side of the world, a family is waiting for a child.  While they wait, they prepare for her.  They create a garden, plant trees, build her a room, and fill it with pretty things and lots of books.  They know she is there, but where?  They travel long distances following the moon’s path.  And when the moon paths of the baby and the family meet, so do they.

So often adoption books are about the concrete steps taken from one family to the next.  It is a pleasure to read a book that is whimsical and magical about adoption.  Clark’s writing celebrates the connection between child and new family while paying homage to the birth family as well.  The entire book is suffused in a gentle beauty that allows anyone reading to know immediately that this is a joyous tale. 

Barton’s illustrations are particularly fine.  From the first two-page spread of the new baby and her bright-eyed beauty, the illustrations are captivating.  They have a subtle humor to them as well as a soft touch that matches the tone of the book.  Done in sketches and then digitally, the images have interesting textures.

A very successful fairy-tale telling of the adoption story, this book may not answer the questions of how an adoption takes place, but it does speak to the magical nature of love.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Knopf Delacorte Dell.

Up and Down: High Flying Friendship


Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers

Jeffers continues his story of the friendship between a boy and penguin in this fourth book about the boy.  The boy and the penguin are great friends.  They do everything together.  But when the penguin decided that he had to learn to fly, he knew he had to do it on his own.  The boy tried to help, looking up information and trying to connect the penguin with flying experts.  But when the penguin figures out a solution, he heads off immediately to make it happen.   The boy had no idea where the penguin went.  The penguin finds himself alone and lost, unable to get in touch with his friend.  When the boy discovers where the penguin is, the question is whether he will be able to reach him in time to see his friend succeed or fall. 

This book is written with the same charming simplicity of the earlier books.  There is such a gentle and loving spirit to these books.  Yet they still have a spirit of adventure and surprise.  The friendship between the two characters is strong and true, supporting one another even if the other friend needs to do something on their own.  This is a touching story of real friendship.

Jeffers’ illustrations are done in the same style as the earlier books in the series.  They are done in a modern style that is infused with warmth from the charm of the characters and the bright colors. 

A fitting follow-up to Lost and Found, this book will appeal to fans of Jeffers and to new readers as well.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel Books.

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I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: Gross, Gruesome and Great Fun


I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History’s Strangest Cures by Carlyn Beccia

Have a symptom?  Look it up in this book, but beware!  Some of the cures listed just may not work.  It’s up to you to try to guess which ones would actually help and which might really hurt.   What would help a cough?  Caterpillar fungus used in ancient China?  Frog soup used in 16th century England?  Cherry bark used by ancient Native Americans?  Readers turn the page to discover which of the three would help.  The reasons behind the use of the cure and then the real results are offered, giving a readers a fascinating tour through medical history.  Happily, some of the cures are gross.  That and the way the information is presented as a guessing game make this book appealing to children, including reluctant readers.

Beccia has taken a cheerful approach to what could have been a very dark book.  Instead the tone stays rather merry, talking about the nutritional boost of frog soup, the healing power of spider webs, and much more.  Her illustrations add to the fun with images like maggots with smiling faces and stinky socks tied around the neck.  They have an interesting blend of macabre and silly.

There are some misses in the book.  At one point, a woman of the 19th century is shown in a short skirt, looking very modern except for her cap.  The book maintains a great pace and tone, but falls short at the end where the healing power of mother’s kisses takes on an overly sweet tone.  I also have concerns about the imagery of the mothers and children, because the only one with darker skin is prehistoric.  The only Asian faces are ancient.  It is a frustrating misstep in a book that is good overall.

Get this into the hands of reluctant readers who enjoy gross things and you too will get to talk about maggots at the dinner table!  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.