Counting Lions by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton (InfoSoup)
Counting one by one, this book tells the story of ten endangered and threatened animals. It begins with the lion on the cover, solitary and watching the savanna. Two gorillas are next, a mother and child, breathing the same breath together. The book moves on, each creature captured in captivating and brief verse that speaks to their way of life and the behaviors they exhibit. Each one is accompanied by a photo-realistic charcoal drawing that is haunting and incredibly detailed.
Cotton’s verse is profoundly lovely, managing to show each creature as an individual and give voice to their relevance and stature. The tigress and her cubs is a “warrior of the forest” while the macaws are “a colorful, fluttering explosion” and the giraffes are “peaceful patterned giants.” Each short verse will have readers seeing these animals in a new way, entranced by their beauty.
The illustrations are simply phenomenal. They are charcoal but with such detail that you can see the individual hairs in the lion’s mane, the each feather on the penguins, and every wrinkle of the elephants’ skin. Beautiful and powerful, these illustrations are a striking way to introduce these creatures.
A stunningly gorgeous book, the verse and illustrations marry to create a story of the threatened creatures of our world. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Night on Fire by Ronald Kidd (InfoSoup)
Billie longs to be able to leave her small Alabama town of Anniston and head for a bigger city where things happen. She hopes to be a writer one day too. As the battle for civil rights comes right to Anniston with the Freedom Riders, Billie discovers that there is a lot more racism in her city than she had ever known. She sees it in her own father at home with the way he interacts with their housekeeper, Lavender. She sees it in her school in the way that people react to the news of the Freedom Riders and she sees it in action when the bus the Riders are aboard is attacked. Billie begins to realize that she too has certain points of view that need to change. She wants to be a rider in life, not a watcher. So when she learns that the Freedom Riders are back on the road, she and Lavender’s daughter head to Birmingham aboard the bus together. Along the way, they are faced with overt racism for being together and Billie begins to understand that her actions can have impact to support larger change.
At first I was very disappointed to see a white character as the lead in the book. Then as the book continued, I realized the power of what was being shown on the page. Kidd demonstrates through a very approachable young protagonist that racism is everywhere, even in people who do not seem to be racist at all. Billie is a great example of societal racism and someone who longs for change but can’t see their own role in the process and the subtle ways that race in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement is so pervasive. In Billie, Kidd manages to show a modern racism that is just as toxic as the more overt kind. It is carefully done, never overplayed, and offers a space for understanding and change to happen.
Kidd brings the Civil Rights Movement to life before the eyes of the reader, placing Billie in the midst of not only the Anniston Freedom Riders riot but also in Birmingham with the Freedom Riders and Martin Luther King, Jr. In both situations, there is real violence happening and real danger of people being murdered. Kidd pays homage to the bravery of the Freedom Riders and to their cause. He shows the price of silence and the challenge to speaking up against your home and community. It is a powerful piece of historical fiction.
Rich and layered, this is not a simple book. It will challenge readers to look at themselves and their biases and prejudice. It is a book that speaks to the modern Black Lives Matter movement and that encourages everyone to become part of the solution and not witness in silence. Appropriate for ages 10-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Albert Whitman & Company.
Jonathan Auxier won two of the 2015 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards with The Night Gardener. He received both the Children’s Literature Award and the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Other winners include:
Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
Nancy Knows by Cybèle Young
Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction
Why We Live Where We Live by Kira Vermond, illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People
Dance of the Banished by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
John Spray Mystery Award
Julian by William Bell
Amy Mathers Teen Book Award
What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn
CBC Fan Choice Award
Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay
A Year Without Mom by Dasha Tolstikova (InfoSoup)
Dasha is twelve when her mother leaves Moscow to go to school in America. Dasha is left in the care of her grandparents. It is the early 1990s and things are changing in Russia. Dasha though is more interested in her first crush on a boy, her friendships, and her trip to Germany for Christmas. She misses her mother terribly and has to figure out how to have a life without her there. Dasha’s life reaches a crisis when she fails an important test because she is having problems with the boy she likes and her friends. When spring comes, Dasha’s life changes again with her mother returning and deciding to take Dasha back to America with her.
This autobiographical graphic novel is something unique and very special. Tolstikova tells a story that is both universal and also very personal. She speaks of liking boys, struggling with friends who are changing, lives changing due to parents leaving, and the strength of family. She also tells her specific story of living with her grandparents, growing up in Moscow, and the self-imposed pressure of getting into a better school.
The graphic novel is illustrated with outstanding and quirky illustrations that are effortlessly modern. Done in primarily black and white line, subtle colors are also on the pages to lift it from any dreariness. Pages are dynamically different from one to the next both in size of the illustrations to using only words in large fonts when someone is yelling.
Beautiful and haunting, this graphic novel captures a time in the author’s life that is fleeting and special. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith (InfoSoup)
This modern take on the classic holiday song has family members from around the nation traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the holidays. One family traveling by car comes with 2 dogs, 2 pies and one enormous teddy bear. When their car runs out of gas, they are rescued by a horse and sleigh. The next family, a gay couple with older daughter and baby, travel from a major city via subway and then train. They discover there aren’t any rental cars, but again they are rescued by the same sleigh. Two more families join the pattern, both with diverse family members, and all needing the rescuing sleigh in the end so they can all make it to Grandma’s house by night.
I love the jaunty rhyme here. While it can seem stilted when read silently, once you try to read it aloud it is magically fun and the rhyme works to create a real rhythm to the story. The repetition for each family no matter how they are traveling to Grandma’s house makes for a book that even small children will enjoy. Each meets with a disaster and then is rescued by that same sleigh. Hurray!
The diversity on the page here is especially welcome. Nothing is mentioned in the text, it is the illustrations that bring this large family filled with different types of families together. There is the gay couple, the multiracial family, and one family that may or may not have adopted children. Staying open to interpretation also means that many families will see themselves reflected here.
A great addition to holiday book shelves, this take on a classic song adds a modern sensibility to heading to Grandma’s house. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Sterling Children’s Books.
First Book has a gorgeous new video out that speaks to the power of books in combating poverty and making sure that parents are their child’s first teacher:
The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi (InfoSoup)
Diva is a little white dog who lives in a grand apartment building in Paris. She is so small that she is smaller than a foot, which makes her run whenever she hears footsteps of strangers coming. She loves to spend time in the apartment courtyard, though even there she is often startled or scared. Flea is an alleycat who spends his time moving from place to the place in Paris. He has had a lot of adventures throughout the city and has many tales to share. This unlikely pair meet when Flea unintentionally upsets Diva by hanging around her courtyard. Diva teaches Flea about things like going inside for breakfast while Flea teachers Diva about exploring out in the public streets and learning to meet people rather than running away.
Willems was living in Paris when he discovered this story right at his own apartment building, a little dog who was friends with a stray cat. He has taken that initial inspiration and created two outstanding characters in Diva and Flea. The combination of being pampered and frightened is quite clever and a much more creative choice than being pampered and spoiled rotten. Flea too is not stereotypical. He has a very metropolitan flair rather than being uncouth and rude. Their friendship develops right on the page, each of them learning from the other and seeing one another in a new way with each encounter.
The art by DiTerlizzi is gorgeous. He captures the compact vigor of Diva and her panic attacks. Then there is the rangy motion of Flea, where you can almost see him move on the page with his shifting muscles under his fur. Paris too is captured along with them as they look at the Eiffel Tower. I was grinning ear-to-ear to see Willems himself pop onto the page as the person that Diva first attempts not to run away from. Clever indeed.
Another winner from Willems, this book offers his fans a new chapter book with some grand new characters. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The winners of the National Council of Teachers of English Children’s Book Awards have been announced. Below are the two winners of the awards and there are honorable mentions and recommended books in each category as well.
Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown
A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern (InfoSoup)
Emily prides herself on being a leader in a group at her high school that promotes good causes and explains larger issues. So she is very ashamed when she freezes in the middle of a crisis. When she witnesses Belinda, a developmentally disabled classmate, being assaulted at a football game, she does nothing to intervene. Now she and Lucas, a boy who also failed to come to Belinda’s rescue, have to do community service at a center for people with disabilities. As work at the center, they start to realize the damage that they did through their silence. They search for ways to also directly help Belinda, but Belinda is no longer at school. It will take one big idea that will stretch all of their abilities to start to see serious healing.
McGovern has written an amazing book here. The narration in the novel switches between Emily and Belinda, so readers are able to see the true impact of the assault on Belinda as well as the repercussions in Emily’s life. The book moves readers from the drama of the assault to focus much more on the aftermath and the need for understanding and advocacy.
Belinda is a great character. Her point of view is such an important piece of this novel, showing a bravery after taking time to simply disappear into Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth for awhile. Her disability is never hidden and yet also not exploited in any way. The way she is shown honors the way her brain works and the intelligence that she clearly has. I also appreciate that Belinda is far from perfect. She is demanding of others, often rudely criticizing them in public, and is not subtle at all. Again, this rings very true and honest. She is not a victim but a survivor.
An important teen novel about stepping up and taking action and responsibility but also about the lives of people with disabilities and the place they deserve in our communities. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.