The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Violet feels like she just doesn’t fit into her family. Whenever she goes anywhere with her mother and sister, people are surprised to hear that she is related to them. They are both white and blonde while she has brown skin and brown hair. Violet’s father died before she was born, and while her sister knows her other grandparents, Violet has never met hers. But now Violet takes things into her own hands and starts researching her African-American grandmother who happens to be a well-known artist. Violet convinces her mother to allow her to go to her grandmother’s new gallery show but things do not go as Violet had dreamed. Violet just wants to put the pieces of her family into a whole where she fits seamlessly, but it may be too late for that.
It is a joy to have such a charming and positive book that speaks to biracial issues. Woods does a great job of focusing on both the positive and negative aspects of being bi-racial and having two distinct sides of the family. I was particularly pleased that all of the adults in the book were supportive and loving towards Violet as she explores her African-American heritage. Woods also addresses the differences in religions in the book, something that children who come from two religious heritages will appreciate.
Violet herself is a particularly radiant protagonist. Though she worries about fitting into her family and seeking out the other side of her family, at heart she is an optimist and approaches each event with a sense of adventure and openness. This is a book that cheers children on to explore their own families and discover others in their world who will adore them too.
Positive, cheery and yet addressing difficult situations, this book is a pleasure to read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Nest by Jorey Hurley
This simple and elegant picture book takes a look at a year in the life of a robin. It begins with an egg in a nest and two proud parents. By the next page, the egg has hatched into one very hungry baby bird. As the tree flowers, the little bird is fed by its parents. Then comes the first flight as a speckled robin chick. There are berries on the tree to feast on and when autumn comes the green leaves have turned orange and yellow and started to fall. The last of the berries are eaten while snow flies in the sky. As spring returns, the young robin meets another young robin and they build their own nest together. All of this is told in images since the text of the book is simple single words on each double-spread picture. This is a beautiful and impressive book for the youngest children.
Hurley’s illustrations are strong and clear. Done in PhotoShop, the illustrations have the feel of cut-paper collage in their simplicity. They will project well to a group of children. The storyline is far more than the words on the page, and children will want to discuss what is happening throughout the book.
A wonderful pick for spring units, this book is a celebration of nature and seasons. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I hope you find interesting:
Children’s Books: A Shifting Market http://buff.ly/1cQkXVp
Classic children’s book ‘Harriet the Spy’ turns 50 – The Washington Post http://buff.ly/1ewXfde
Fall 2014 Children’s Sneak Previews http://buff.ly/1gzT17l
Getting the right books into every young child’s hands | Dallas Morning News http://buff.ly/OzdFgt
Just Enjoy the Pictures: Hand-Crafted Versus Digital Art – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/OzbcTl
Kids Are Never Too Old to Be Read to by Parents| Joe Paradise | http://buff.ly/OzdsK3
The Official SCBWI Conference Blog: Marla Frazee: Art of the Picture Book Panel http://buff.ly/OzelCp
Passport to a World of Reading: USBBY’s 2014 Outstanding International Books List | SLJ – http://buff.ly/OzbwBs
READER’S CHIT | Nurturing the creative spark http://buff.ly/OzdAJB
Seven Islamic-themed children’s books | The National http://buff.ly/1cQl2IO
Books for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2014 – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/Mv9Kzb
An Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings | Blog | Epic Reads http://buff.ly/1cQ811S
Markus Zusak: The Book Thief film’s biggest hurdle was Death | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1cQ7WeG
The River by Alessandro Sanna
Travel through four seasons along the Po River in this breathtakingly beautiful book. Made almost entirely of watercolor images shown as either full-page or a series of panels, this book asks readers to pay close attention to the images and discover the story told there. Each season starts with a brief paragraph that offers clues to what is going to happen. Autumn is a season of floods. Winter is described as warm, which will surprise many young readers as will the newborn calf. Spring is music and white clouds. Summer is dry and hot. Each of those seasons is brought to life with the watercolor images with palettes that change through the seasons, purples in autumn, blues in winter, gold in summer. Each more beautiful than the last, so that you just want to begin it again when it ends.
This is the first book by Sanna to be printed in the United States, but he is well known in his native Italy. He has created a book here that is artistic and wildly lovely. Told primarily through his art, the storylines are consistently seasonal, intense and surprising. The use of the river as a symbol for the passage of time works perfectly here. The changing colors also serve to remind readers that time is passing, change is constant and the world is gorgeous.
One big question with this book is what age it is appropriate for. With its minimal words, it might be expected to be perfect for small children, but thanks to its artistic approach, I believe the audience is quite a bit older. Children who enjoy art will be able to appreciate it in elementary school. Yet the audience I see really loving this book are middle and high school teens who will delight in the watercolors, the surprises and a picture book that suits them well.
Beautiful, moving and vast, this nearly wordless picture book will be enjoyed by elementary aged children through adults.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns, illustrated by Ellen Harasimowicz
When I started this book, I expected a beautiful book about the life cycle of butterflies, but then discovered this was so much more! In Costa Rica there is a farm that raises butterflies. The book begins by showing what a container received in the mail that is full of butterfly pupae looks like. The life cycle of butterflies is explained as is the pupa stage in particular. Then we head to Costa Rica and the farm itself and here is where the book turns into an amazing tour of sustainable butterfly farming. Readers get to see inside the greenhouses where the butterflies live and lay their eggs. The roles of the farmers are shown in detail as is the beauty of the natural world around the farm. Food for the butterflies, their transformation from egg to caterpillar to pupa, and the harvesting process are all detailed out for the reader. This book takes a familiar yet captivating transformation and turns it into a trip to Costa Rica and back again.
Burns text is very engaging. She describes the processes in detail but also throws in words that show how she too is excited by what is happening. Cabinets are described as “crawling with caterpillars” and the pupae are “sturdy and tightly sealed…ingenious packages ready to travel.” Her own delight at what is being described is evident and makes for very pleasurable reading.
The photography by Harasimowicz is simply beautiful. All of her work is not only clear and crisp but also demonstrates the various steps in the process. She uses different perspectives and different levels of distance to create a dynamic feel throughout the book.
A wonderful and lovely surprise of a butterfly nonfiction book, this one is a superb pick for butterfly fans and library collections. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Millbrook Press.
The winners of the Red House Children’s Book Award were announced on February 22nd. The award is the only British national book award that is voted on entirely by children. Here are the winners:
Superworm by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Atticus Claw Breaks the Law by Jennifer Gray
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Released March 11, 2014.
I am so pleased to see a follow-up story to Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary! This new book focuses on the daughters of Mary and Mouse. Maria is a little girl who has a mouse for a best friend named Mouse Mouse. The two of them never reveal to anyone else that they know one another because otherwise the mice would either be driven off or have to move. The two girls live parallel lives, getting ready for bed in the same way and both calling for their mothers at the same time. But both mothers are nowhere to be found! The search is on by both girl and mouse to figure out where their mothers have gone. They both look all over their homes, check with their fathers, and ask their siblings. Nothing. Then they notice a light on in the shed and both head directly for it. And if you read the first book, you will know exactly who they will find in the shed.
Donofrio has written a clever parallel story that reveals the lives of two friends. The upstairs downstairs aspect of the book has incredible appeal as does the wee details of mouse life. There are little touches throughout the book that make the text charming and lovely. Her pacing is also adept and keeps the entire book moving along and yet completely appropriate for bedtime reading.
So much charm and style comes from the illustrations. I particularly enjoy looking closely at the world of the mice created from borrowed items from the human home. These little touches truly create a world under the floor that any reader would love to discover or live in themselves. The illustrations are rich with color and details, worthy of lingering over when you aren’t quite ready for lights out.
Beautifully written and lovingly illustrated, this book is a suitable companion to the first. They both stand alone fully on their own, but I’d think that anyone finding out there was another in the series would want to read them both, probably back to back. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from ARC received from Schwartz & Wade.
Superworm by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The creators of The Gruffalo return with a silly new book that features one incredible worm. Superworm is super-long and super-strong. So when baby toad hops into the road, Superworm becomes a superworm lasso. The bees are bored and moping? It’s Superworm to the rescue with a game of jump rope. When Beetle falls into the well, Superworm turns into a fishing line to get her out. Everything seems to be going so well for Superworm, until a villain enters the story. Wizard Lizard sends his servant crow to capture Superworm and then uses magic to force Superworm to dig for treasure underground. But the others saw Superworm carried off and now it is up to them to be the heroes and save Superworm!
Donaldson writes in rhymes in such a playful and engaging way. The result is a book that reads aloud beautifully and begs to be shared with children. With the examples of the rescues that Superworm performed coming first, I was happily surprised when a villain was introduced and at the turn of events towards the end of the story. It makes for a very dynamic picture book that is sure to be a hit at story time.
Scheffler’s illustrations hit just the right tone. They are bright colored and he takes the rescues and the action to the perfect funny extremes. He also capitalizes on the kid-appeal of bugs, worms and toads.
Add this to your spring time stories, it is sure to be a delight with young readers and listeners. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord
Lucy and her family have moved often, following her father’s love of new places to photograph. So when they move to New Hampshire and a house on a lake, the moving process is nothing new. On her first day at the lake, Lucy meets Nate, a boy who summers on the lake with his family and grandmother. Nate invites her along to help document the loons that live on the lake and soon Lucy is out on the lake every day. Lucy longs to be a great photographer like her father, who has left for the entire summer on a photography shoot. So she decides to enter a photo contest for youth, the only problem is that her father is the judge. As Lucy sets out to prove her own skill at taking photos, she finds herself on a different parallel journey, one that will reveal new friends, expose difficult truths, and one that is far more important than winning any contest.
Lord has written another exceptional book for middle graders. Lord excels at creating seemingly simple books that open with a premise and then blossom into something far more complex by the end. Here she explores several themes that center on families. There is the deteriorating grandmother who is aware of what is happening but unable to stop it. There is Lucy’s own family that is fractured at times but remains strong. There is a search for approval that Lucy undergoes as well as her own harsh criticism of her work. Through it all, honesty is overarching, an unflinching sense of reality and truth that makes it impossible to look away.
Beautifully written, the entire book is memorable. Lucy is a great character, a strong heroine who has self-confidence issues but is also talented, friendly and warm. She is a rare young character who moves often with her family and yet the book is not about her scars from that transient life. Rather it is about so many other things that that is just a small factor in a rich tapestry of her world.
Brilliant, soaring and honest, this book is another great read from one of the best. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Scholastic.