Review: Lala Salama by Patricia MacLachlan

lala salama

Lala Salama by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

This poetic lullaby transports readers to Tanzania and life by the lake, Tanganyika.  It is the story of a small family with a father who heads off to work on the lake in his boat.   The mother stays on the shore with her baby, washing the baby, carrying water, working the fields, and cooking food.  The animals of Tanzania are around them in all of their exotic beauty.  Then as the sun sets, the father returns spend time with his family and eventually sails off to the lake again.  The mother and baby sit on the shore, watching the night and the lights on the boats.  This picture book is beautifully foreign, tremendously tranquil, and has a lushness that is exquisite.

MacLachlan’s writing is pure poetry.  It has a great hushed quality to it throughout the entire story of the day.  She also deftly weaves in references to Tanzania, creating such a solid sense of place that this story could never be anywhere else in the world.  She references the colors of the sky, the roofs, and the lake.  She speaks of the hard work, and at the end of each stanza comes the refrain: “Lala salama.”  There is also a deep sense of love throughout the work, wrapping all of the poetry with motherly adoration.

Zunon’s illustrations carry the same lushness as the poetry.  Done in oil paint on watercolor paper, they have a deep color palette that becomes even more deep and dazzling as night falls.  It almost shines with light at times, then seems to drink the light from the room.  Beautiful.

A lush, poetic lullaby of a picture book, this makes a great diverse addition to bedtime reading.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Giant Seed by Arthur Geisert


The Giant Seed by Arthur Geisert

This follow-up to the charming Ice continues the story of the community of pigs.  One night, an enormous seed landed near the homes of the pigs.  The pigs immediately set to work planting it, watering it, and caring for it.  It grew into an enormous dandelion.  Just as the flowers were blooming, a volcano near their village started to erupt.  Hot ash fell onto their homes and the pigs were forced to flee.  They found the solution in the dandelion seeds, riding them to a new island filled with trees and fresh water. 

Geisert’s pig stories are told entirely through pictures.  The long, narrow format of the book allows for a series of panels, one picture on each page, or a lovely long image that takes up the entire spread.  Geisert uses all of these formats for his images.  His illustrations are done in etchings with fine lines and small details.  The mystery of the real size of the pigs continues with one wondering if they are either very tiny pigs or the dandelions are truly larger than trees. 

As readers face another disaster alongside the pigs, they will enjoy the whimsical solution and the impressive art.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Review: Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey by Mini Grey

traction man beach

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey by Mini Grey

Traction Man and his faithful sidekick Scrubbing Brush are on the way to the beach.  There they explore the depths of the Rockpool to discover what creature live beneath the calm surface.  They are then called upon to guard the picnic from any intruders.  Unfortunately, Truffles the dog decided to bury Traction Man.  Happily Scrubbing Brush was there to dig him free.  But just as they are feeling safe, a wave comes and sweeps both of them out into the ocean.  When they resurface, they have been discovered by a girl who carries them to the Dollies’ Castle where there are garlands, sweet treats, and plenty of pink.  Truffles returns to save Traction Man from the castle, and Traction Man and the dolls head off on a shared adventure, to explore digging to the Center of the Earth.

This is the third Traction Man book, and I continue to delight in them.  Grey has exactly the right tone in the writing with Traction Man often speaking like a movie announcer and always in capital letters.   She incorporates plenty of humor into the book, but the reader is not laughing at the adventures or the play of the children.  Instead it is the inherent humor of action figures, their worlds, and that strong dialogue voice. 

Grey also uses small details throughout the book to really create a full world for Traction Man.  Garbage on the beach has brand names and logos, the text of the book is shown on graph paper with torn edges, action sequences are put into frames and read like comic books.  The end pages of the book are just as fun with details about Beach-Time Brenda, one of the dolls, at the front of the book and a comic featuring both Traction Man and Brenda at the end. 

A great summer read for Traction Man fans, this third book can stand happily on its own.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Ellen Levine Dies


It seems to be a season for losses in the children’s book field.  Author Ellen Levine has died at the age of 73 from lung cancer.  Her children’s books focused on historical fiction about immigrants and minorities. 

Her Henry’s Freedom Box from 2007 received a Caldecott Honor for Kadir Nelson’s artwork. 

Leo Dillon Dies is carrying the sad news of the death of Leo Dillon, half of the duo of Leo and Diane Dillon, the amazing husband and wife artists that create such detailed, emotive works.  Their work celebrates diversity, dreams and design.  They are magical, haunting and powerful. 


The pair won two consecutive Caldecott Medals for Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears and Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions.  They also work on book covers as well as children’s picture books.  If you read science fiction and fantasy, you will recognize their art.

Review: Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

three times lucky

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Mo LoBeau arrived in the small North Carolina town of Tupelo Landing as an infant riding on a hurricane wave.  She was discovered by the Colonel, a man also trapped in the storm who completely lost his memory.  Now at age 11, Mo helps the Colonel and Miss Lana run the café that is attached to their home.  It’s a quiet life, punctuated by the hope of her long-lost mother finding one of the bottles that Mo sends off upstream.  Then the law comes to town and things get interesting.  A murder was committed in a nearby town, then someone is murdered right in Tupelo Landing!  Mo and her best friend, Dale, form a detective agency and try to stay a step ahead of the police as they investigate the murder, try to clear Dale’s name, and worry that the Colonel may be mixed up in things too.  All Mo knows is that it is up to her to continue to trust the people she loves so fiercely and to prove their innocence. 

I must admit that I sighed a bit when I discovered that this was another book set in a small town in the south.  I knew that it would be filled with interesting small town characters, probably have a spunky heroine, and expected that it would be pretty formulaic as well.  It does have interesting small town characters, but also ones that resemble modern society.  As much as this is a story of a family that is created out of love alone, it is also the story of what a small town community can be.  Yes, Mo is spunky.  She is also smart, savvy and wonderfully inventive.  And while the story starts out in a familiar way, it quickly turns into a book that is a fun, fast-paced read.

The story is not as light-hearted as it might seem on the surface.  Dale lives with his mother in fear of his drunken father returning and beating him.  There are families that are divided in other ways, including money.  And without giving anything away, there are twists that are surprising in a children’s book.

Turnage’s writing is filled with humor.  She creates memorable characters, dancing quickly with stereotypes and then reaching beyond them to something that means much more.  She is not afraid of real danger in her book and she is also not shy about deep love.  It is a book about family, community, bravery and friendship. 

This is one to read on a slow summer day, preferably one threatening a nice fat thunderstorm.  Now if someone can just find me a real café like Miss Lana’s I’m all set.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.

Children’s Books Ireland Winners

The CBI Book of the Year for 2012 has been announced

The winner of the CBI Book of the Year is also the winner of the Children’s Choice Award, the first time the same book has won both awards!

The winner is:

Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan


The Eilis Dillon Award is awarded to a first time author or illustrator.  The winner is:

The Butterfly Heart by Paula Leyden


Three additional awards were given this year:


The Judges Special Award went to My Dad Is 10 Years Old by Mark O’Sullivan

The Honour Award for Illustration went to Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

The Honour Award for Fiction went to Maitríóisce by Siobhan Parkinson


There is also a 2012 shortlist that features the best of Irish writing and illustration for young people.  It includes the titles above and the following four:


A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

Bruised by Siobhan Parkinson


O Chrann Go Crann by Caitriona Hastings, illustrated by Andrew Whitson

Will Gallows and the Snake-Bellied Troll by Derek Keilty

Review: A Home For Bird by Philip C. Stead

home for bird

A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead

Vernon, the toad, was out finding interesting things when he met Bird.  Bird wasn’t much for talking, not responding to anything that Vernon said, not even when he introduced Bird to his friends, Skunk and Porcupine.  Despite his silence (and his stiffness and button eyes) Vernon proceeded to show Bird around the river and forest.  But when Bird didn’t react even to watching clouds together, Vernon started to worry that Bird was depressed.  So Vernon and Bird set out to help Bird find his home.  They  looked at all sorts of homes, but none of them were right for Bird.  Then they came to a small blue house where they decided to stop for the night.  In the house was another small house, a cuckoo clock, up on the wall.  And that was where Bird and Vernon spent the night.  Until in the morning, Bird finally found his voice.

Stead writes and illustrates with a wonderful charm.  His writing is so solid that it is a joy to read aloud.  The story is carefully crafted and then playfully told, making for a book that is a pleasure to share.  Vernon is a character that children will relate easily and happily to.  Bird will immediately be recognized for the toy he is, but the story is less about that mistake by Vernon and more about the journey to find where Bird belongs.

The illustrations have a wonderful freedom to them, filled with swirls of color, that fill the air and cover the walls.  Stead draws the main characters with detailed fine lines, but their world is a more childlike, looser scrawl that reveals trees, flowers and dirt.   The way the detail plays against the less structured backgrounds adds to the cheer of the title.

Finding ones home, friendship and a grand quest fill this picture book to the brim and combine wonderfully with the charm of the illustrations.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

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

For more general library, e-book and social media links, you can visit my list of tweets and pins on my Sites and Soundbytes blog.

A.A. Milne’s Real-Life "House at Pooh Corner" Hits the Market – Curbed National I just need the other 3.2 million

B.J. Epstein: Harry Potter and the Ivory Tower: Children’s Literature and Academia #kidlit

CBC Diversity: Feeding the Demand for More Diverse Books

Elizabeth Laird’s top 10 books about tough stuff from out there | Children’s books #kidlit

Giving Birth to ‘Bitterblue’ #yalit

Jeff Kinney on plans to write 10 books in The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series #kidlit

Minecraft in the Classroom and Library — The Digital Shift – and my teen son’s favorite game –

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 on Vimeo

Oh, The Places We Went: My Travels with Jean by Wendell Minor #kidlit

Parents Encourage Creativity in Kids by Helping Them Tinker #creativity

To Do: Gertrude Stein’s Posthumous Alphabet Book

Top 10 Fantasy Novels by Female Authors inspired by ‘The Killing Moon’ | Kirkus Book Reviews – with lots of#yalit

Why I Write "Strong Female Characters"