Review: What We Wear by Maya Ajmera

what we wear

What We Wear: Dressing Up around the World by Maya Ajmera, Elise Hofer Derstine, and Cynthia Pon

This bright, colorful picture book shows cultural apparel from around the world.  The book revels in the unique colors, structure, beading and design.  Filled with images of children with smiling faces wearing their unique clothing, the book does contain some simple information on the clothes.  They are grouped in categories like dance and play, school clothing, and celebrating who we are.  The simple structure and basic information makes the book more appropriate for preschoolers than elementary students.

Because of the simplicity of the text, this book’s quality rests solely with the clarity of its images and the way they are presented.  Happily, the book has photographs of children of a variety of races, dressed in gorgeous colors and clothing.  They are shown on pages of equally bright colors that really add spice to the design. 

A very friendly look at costumes throughout the world, this book is a solid addition to preschool nonfiction collections.  It reminded me of looking through my mother’s Unicef calendars as a child.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge Publishing. 

Review: Mr. and Mrs. Bunny–Detectives Extraordinaire by Polly Horvath

mr and mrs bunny detectives

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

Madeline has always taken care of her parents rather than the other way around.  She knows they won’t come to her school events, not even the graduation ceremony that Prince Charles will be attending!  Because they aren’t interested, she has to find a way herself to get the required white shoes for the ceremony.  But when she returns home after waitressing, she discovers that her parents have been kidnapped by foxes!  The only one who can help them is Madeline, who will also need help.  She finds it in Mr. and Mrs. Bunny who have just become detectives, having purchased the necessary fedoras for that sort of work.  The three set out to solve the mystery and rescue Madeline’s parents.  On the way, they have to consort with garlic-bread munching marmots, stand up to the Bunny Council, learn to drive a car wearing disco shoes, and become fast friends.

Horvath takes a clever premise and allows it to twist and turn in her hands, creating a book that is quirky and ultimately lovable.  Her writing is uproariously funny, taking modern culture and making wonderful fun of it along the way.  At the same time, this remains a talking animal book, retaining all of the warmth and charm of that sort of tale.  So there is also plenty of tea, hot soup, and even prune cake to go around.  Think of it as a cozy mystery for children.

Blackall’s illustrations add to the warm but quirky feel of the book.  Scattered nicely throughout the book to encourage young readers, the illustrations have a modern edge but also pay homage to old-fashioned children’s books.  She was the perfect pick for the book.

An ideal read aloud for elementary classes, this book also makes a cozy read all on your own.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.

Review: Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger


Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Wow.  That could be my entire review, just WOW.

Let me try to do better than that though.  Seeger looks at the different sorts of green that surround us.  There is sea green, shown with a turtle gliding through not only green but purples, reds, oranges and yellows too.  Lime green, pea green, faded green and fern green.  There are odd sorts of green too like wacky green, slow green and even no green at all.  The book is written simply with only a couple of words per page, making the focus of the book the illustrations.  And what illustrations they are.  This is my pick for the Caldecott winner so far this year. 

The illustrations are paintings that are done with plenty of thick paint, the brushstrokes visible making the pictures tactile.  They have a great depth of color and maintain a playful lightness that speaks to the young audience.  Turn the first page and you will be astonished to find die cuts in the page, done so smoothly and carefully that they don’t ever look like holes in the page until the page is turned. 

The book is a delight of surprises, new perspectives, and just speaks to everything that this format can be for children.  It is an unrivaled success as a concept book.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Words Set Me Free by Lesa Cline-Ransome

words set me free

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

This picture book tells the story of Frederick Bailey, who would grow up to become the great Frederick Douglass.  His biography is also the story of the power of the written word and the ability to read.  Born a slave, Frederick was separated from his mother early in life and sent to live with his Grandmamma.  His mother would walk 12 miles at night to see him while he slept.  At age 8, Frederick was sent to work for another master in Baltimore.  It was there that he first learned his letters, until his mistress was told to stop teaching him as it would make him unfit to be a slave.  Daring white children to write better than him, Frederick continued to learn to read.  Returned to his home, Frederick taught the other slaves to read too, eventually writing his own way free from slavery.

A glimpse at an amazing mind and leader, this book takes us back to his childhood.  It is a testament to the damage and horrors of slavery, as readers see Frederick taken away from one person after another in his life.  It is also a celebration of the human spirit and the power of writing to change a life.  Cline-Ransome’s writing is exemplary.  She tells the story with wonderful detail, rich with meaning, and plenty of depth.  The book has more words than most picture books, but the story being told needs those words to shine best.

The illustrations are also rich.  There is such an aching feel to the image of the slave mother visiting Frederick that it is a portrait in heartbreak.  Other illustrations capture emotions beautifully as well.  The soaring nature of Frederick hidden up high and reading a newspaper rises against a purple-blue sky. 

The author and illustrator have created a wonderfully cohesive work with soaring prose and powerful illustrations.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter and Pinterest accounts that you might find interesting:

Amazon Seals First YA Deal with a ‘Kiss’ #yalit

Announcing the New Top 100 Polls! « A Fuse #8 Production #kidlit

Ask Lorna: vampire-less books for teenagers – Telegraph #yalit

Bologna children’s book fair digital award pits startups against Disney | #kidlit

‘Casa De Mi Padre’s Gary Sanchez And NALA Films Reteam With Helmer Matt Piedmont On ‘King Dork’

Commentary: Teenage girls find meaning in dystopian fiction #yalit

Interview with Molly Leach about the design of the new edition of Wrinkle in Time — The Horn Book #kidlit

Jeremy Irons joins Viola Davis in ‘Beautiful Creatures’ #yalit

Nathan Fillion To Play Greek God Hermes In ‘Percy Jackson’

Nickelodeon Heads to Random House #kidlit

Story time to go: Libraries try to reach kids who aren’t being read to at home – The Washington Post #libraries

Review: Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan

kindred souls

Kindred Souls by Patricia MacLachlan

Billy has lived on the farm his entire life.  He was raised in the sod house that is now tumbled down and covered by weeds.  Billy is the center of his grandson Jake’s world, especially their walks around the farm together.  Jake gets to see the farm through Billy’s eyes and spend time as his kindred soul.  When Billy gets sick, Jake isn’t worried.  He knows that Billy will live forever.  There’s only one wish that Billy has ever spoken about and that is having another sod house built on the farm.  As Billy recuperates in the hospital, Jake and his older brother and sister decide to build a house for him.  But the job is huge and Billy is coming home soon.  Can they pull off the special surprise?

MacLachlan excels at creating great depth in small packages.  This is another of her very short books that plunges readers into a family and immediately takes up space in your heart.  There is the beauty of a long life lived on a farm that is almost spiritual.  There is a young family that has an elder as their center.  And then there are the small moments that create their days and weave together a story that is bittersweet in the best way.

This small book looks at the role of grandparents in the lives of children in a quiet yet powerful way.  Billy is the center of the book, since he is the center of Jake’s world.  The book, told in the first person by Jake, also explores connections between generations that are strong and true.  The sense of kindred spirits is strong but never overplayed.  This entire book exudes a quiet strength that makes for a compelling read.

A strong book that would make a great read-aloud (especially by grandparents), this book is a beauty.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Astrid Lindgren Award

Dutch author, Guus Kuijer has won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.  The award carries the large prize of 5m Swedish kronor or over $700,000. 

According to The Guardian:

The 12-member international jury of children’s literature experts said the award-winning Dutch author combined "serious subject matter and razor-sharp realism with warmth, subtle humour and visionary flights of fancy" in his writing. "With an unprejudiced gaze and a sharp intellect, Guus Kuijer portrays both the problems facing contemporary society and life’s big questions. Respect for children is as self-evident in his works as his rejection of intolerance and oppression," they said in their citation. "His simple, clear and precise style accommodates both deep philosophical insight and graceful poetic expression."

Kuijer has written over 30 books, mostly for teens.  He has won the German children’s literature award twice and is a four-time recipient of the Netherland’s children’s literature prize, the Gouden Griffel.

Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

one and only ivan

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is the gorilla that is part of the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  The big billboard outside the mall shows Ivan as a ferocious beast, but he’s really a very easygoing guy.  He doesn’t remember anything about his life before he came to live with humans.  He was raised in Mack’s house as long as he was little and cute, but when he got bigger he was put into his domain: a glassed-in room.  He watches TV, lots of Westerns, and hangs out with his friends: an old elephant named Stella and a stray dog named Bob.  He also does art, scribbles that Mack sells in the mall gift shop.  Things change at the circus as money gets tighter until Mack purchases a baby elephant for the Big Top.  Ruby has been taken from her family and is full of lots of questions.  She makes Ivan look at his small, enclosed world more closely and inspires him to make promises that he will probably never be able to keep. 

I read this book in one long gulp, unable to get Ivan and his tiny, limited world out of my head.  The book is written from Ivan’s point of view, one that is distinctly gorilla and wonderfully familiar and foreign at the same time.  Applegate manages to give us a taste of being animal while never imbuing Ivan with human sensibilities, yet he is entirely relatable for readers.

The use of art to bridge the language gap between humans and gorillas is equally effective.  Ivan’s ruminations about art and how to capture taste and feel on paper is lovely.  Ivan’s world may be small and enclosed, but through art and his relationships with others, it grows larger and larger. 

This is a book that captivates.  It is compelling readers, bubbling with humor, yet addresses issues that are deep and complex.  It is a book that is memorable, rich and simply marvelous.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award Winners

The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) has announced the winners of the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Awards. 


The winner for writing is Maria Teresa Andruetto from Argentina.


Illustrator Peter Sis from the Czech Republic won the illustration category.