Review: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter

mrs harkness and the panda

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

In 1934, Mr. Harkness set out to China to bring the first live panda to the United States.  Unfortunately, he did not survive his journey.  So his young widow, Mrs. Harkness decided to set out and complete her husband’s dream.  Mrs. Harkness was not an adventurer; she designed tea gowns.  She knew that the journey would be hard, maybe even impossible.  But she set off for China and met up with Quentin Young, a man who had seen pandas and agreed to help her.  They packed carefully for the journey, even taking baby formula and bottles in case they found a baby panda.  They journeyed deep into China, until they finally found traces of panda activity, but no pandas.  Then they heard a small sound and followed it to a baby panda hidden in a rotten tree.  Mrs. Harkness had completed the mission!

This is a marvelous biographical picture book about an unlikely adventurer who took an amazing risk, especially after her husband’s death.  The story is told with a wonderful richness that helps bring the time period and this woman to life.  I particularly enjoyed all of the people telling her that it was a mistake and the amazing number of things she took along with her on the journey.  Potter takes the time to really create the world and this character, something that can be missing in picture book nonfiction.

Sweet’s illustrations are marvelous.  They incorporate cut paper art, maps, Chinese lettering, postcards, and lots of little touches that make them especially rich and meaningful.  At the same time, there is a sweetness to the illustrations that works particularly well with this story and the main character.  It also works well with the cuddly furry pandas too.

An inspirational story of adventure with an unlikely heroine at its center.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.

Review: Beach Feet by Kiyomi Konagaya

beach feet

Beach Feet by Kiyomi Konagaya, illustrated by Masamitsu Saito

Released June 12, 2012.

This picture book is a trip to the beach along with a very exuberant little boy.  There are salty breezes, hot sand, cool water, and plenty of sun.  The little boy races to get to the water, surprised by the heat captured in the hot sand.  That quickly turns to relief upon reaching the cool, wet sand.  Then the waves come in, cold and big, tickling around toes as the water recedes again.  It leaves behind a revealed shell, something for the boy’s toes to find.  Then there are more waves, floating in the ocean, and even more sun. 

Konagaya’s very short text is a delight.  The translation from the Japanese is successful, keeping the quiet yet excited mood of exploring a beach.  It offers just enough context to share the pleasures of the ocean without getting in the way at all, making it ideal for very young listeners.

The illustrations by Saito are rich and deep.  They move from playful exuberance to quieter moments.  The bright yellow of the sunshine, the cool grey of wet sand, the blue of the waves.  This art captures the beach perfectly.  It has a wonderful fluidity to it, captured most effectively in the skin of the child that flows from oranges and pinks. 

A successful look at a day at the beach that is perfect to share with toddlers, this book should come along with a shovel and pail.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.